Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The 1897 National Cloak Company Bldg. -- Nos. 119-121 W. 23rd Street

photo by Alice Lum
As the 19th century wound down, West 23rd Street had seen tremendous change.   The residential street of elegant homes had given way to New York’s entertainment district after the Civil War.  The wide thoroughfare was dotted with venues like Booth’s Theatre, the Grand Opera, Proctor’s Theatre, and Koster and Bial’s Music Hall by the 1870s.

Then, as the Ladies’ Mile—the shopping district of grand block-wide emporiums—inched upward along 6th Avenue and the theater district moved north towards Times Square, commerce and the apparel industry crept in.   In 1894 an ambitious loft and retail building was being erected by the National Cloak Company at Nos. 119 and 121 West 23rd Street.

It would be a structure on the cutting edge of architectural engineering.  Already the city was seeing tall buildings rise, the height of which was impossible a generation earlier, earning them the nickname skyscrapers.   The same year that ground was broken for the 10-story National Cloak Company building, construction began on the American Tract Society Building downtown that would stretch to twice the height.   New Yorkers craned their necks upward as new buildings went higher into the air.

Charles Miller was one of the workmen on the National Cloak Company building in September 1894.  In a tragic accident he was killed on the site.   It was a time when laborers were often hired casually and few personnel records were kept or information taken.    Pitifully, The Evening World reported on September 15 that Miller “was buried in Potter’s Field this morning.  His wife, who is said to live somewhere in Yorkville, has not yet been found.”

The building was completed in March 1897.  It was an interesting combination of styles, to be sure.  The sturdy two-story rusticated limestone base was sparsely decorated with Beaux Arts touches.  Here expansive windows provided visibility to the street-level retail space and flooded the second story with sunlight.   The architect melded Italian Renaissance with Romanesque in the brick and terra cotta upper eight floors.  If he had been reserved with decoration at the base, here he let loose.  Every opening was outlined with hefty, foliate terra cotta blocks; a decorative overkill that resulted in a crusted-over appearance.   Two heavy cast iron balconies added visual appeal and a central-three story central arch relieved the mass of the building.  Despite the over-ambitious use of the terra cotta quoins, the design worked.

The heavy geometric design of the cast iron balconies offered a pleasing contrast --photo by Alice Lum
The National Cloak Company, one of the leading ladies' tailors in the city, manufactured women’s suits and skirts.   The firm created only tailor-made garments “to order” and while the product line seems limited today, the 1890s was a time when women’s clothing needed to show off the wearer’s corset-formed figured.  Every fashionable women wore jackets, tightly cinched at the waist, made of the same fabric as the ankle-length skirts.  The Delineator noted that “Tailor-made suits are always in good taste and they can be worn upon almost any occasion.”

A surprising mix of tenants moved into the new building in addition to the apparel firms.   George Routledge & Sons was among them.  The publishing firm had been founded in 1835 and was still going strong, cranking out what The Literary Year-Book called “cheap, popular and standard books.”   Other publishers in the building were Pott & Company, who would stay for at least until 1921; and G. W. Dillingham.

E. Bradley Currier Company established its home here.  The firm supplied architectural items; one advertisement offering  “imported and domestic reproductions of all the periods executed in rich marble, embellished with wrought and mercury gold ornamentation.  Replicas of the famous mantels from the Tuileries, Versailles, Fontainebleau, etc.”  In addition, architects and decorators could shop for tile and marble mosaics, period woodwork, tile bathrooms and fireplaces and accessories here.

The wide mix of tenants also included Eugene Diezgen Company in 1904, sellers of drawing instruments and materials.  A similar firm, The Prudential Art Company would move from East 12th Street for “much larger quarters” in 1914.  But the majority of the companies, like National Cloak, were apparel firms.

photo by Alice Lum
Through the World War I years Jackson-Mack Manufacturing Company made silk petticoats and kimonos; Schaack Manufacturing took space in 1913, the same year that Fred Newmark leased the entire 9th floor; and the Lafayette Waist Company, Parisian Embroidery Company and Samuel Rosenthal were among the long list of clothing companies.

The newly completed building wore a spread-eagle ornament atop the parapet.  photo by Irving Underhill, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

By the 1920s the garment and millinery district had moved north to the area between 35th and 40th Streets around 6th and 7th Avenues.   As the apparel firms left Nos. 119-121 West 23rd Street, new tenants moved in.  In 1921 Steiner & Co. took space here.  The firm was long established in the stationery industry but with its new department “handling high-grade coarse paper and twine” it needed what the Paper Trade Journal called a “much larger and more conveniently equipped” headquarters.

Small mail order companies established themselves in the building, offering inexpensive gadgets advertised in the back pages of popular magazines.  The Perfection Radio Corporation of America was here in 1923, offering “ear phones, crystal sets, etc.”  The company’s advertisements urged “Let Radio Radiate Your Home.”  The Monroe Specialty Co. sold an inventive device that would sharpen used razor blades with a magnet.  Through the 1950s the Berny Novelty Company continued the trend.

photo by Alice Lum
The theater tradition of 23rd Street was revived when the Duality Playhouse offered Off-Broadway productions here in the 1990s, and the Native Aliens Playhouse opened a decade later.

The century of changes along West 23rd Street passed over Nos. 119-121.  Although the space where Victorian women were measured for fitted suits now houses a computer store, the eye-catching façade looks much the same as it did when National Cloak Company opened its doors in March 1897.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Packard Commercial School Bldg -- 253 Lexington Avenue

photo by Alice Lum

In the 1830s Silas Sadler Packard had “a natural taste for grammar and mathematics, and was always the best penman in school,” said The Penman’s Art Journal decades later.  At the age of 16 he began teaching in his home state of Ohio and in 1848 obtained a position with Bartlett’s Commercial College in Cincinnati.  Packard would always refer to his employer as “the father of the American business college idea.”

He brought that idea to New York City in 1858.  That year Silas Sadler Packard took two rooms in the Cooper Union and opened his commercial school.   Here young men learned the business math, accounting and secretarial skills that prepared them for positions as clerks and related positions.   The educator would go on to write textbooks that would be used across the country.  Among these were “A Complete Course of Business Training,” “The New Packard Commercial Arithmetic,” and “Packard’s Complete Course of Book-Keeping and Correspondence.”

Packard offered co-educational studies, a shocking idea to some -- Scientific American 1880 (copyright expired)
The Packard Commercial School was a success.  In 1863 it moved into enlarged space in the Mortimer Block on Broadway at 22nd Street.  Seven years later it took an entire floor in the Methodist Building eleven blocks to the south; and in 1887 it took over the former building of the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Fourth Avenue and 23rd Street.

The school remained in the building at 4th Avenue and 23rd Street for 23 years.
By the second half of the century things had changed in the business world.   Women were entering the workplace—or at least attempting to.   They faced a prejudice, however, from business owners who viewed the traditional role of working women as servants, milliners and dress makers.  Packard admitted 30 young women to the school, educating them for free.  The Penman’s Art Journal said he did it “for no other purpose than to prove to the business community that he had at command a number of well-trained and efficient women clerks, who were not only able to work, but were willing to do so, and who could readily supplant inefficient office boys and young men, who depended upon, their sex to hold their own, as against women, of whatever qualifications.”

Packard was a brilliant educator.  The business schools of France were founded on his model and in 1893 he was appointed president of the Congress of Business Education of the World’s Fair Congress in Chicago.   He was also an affable administrator, shattering the image of the stern Victorian schoolmaster.

On April 28, 1896 he was honored with a dinner at the exclusive Delmonico’s for his 70th birthday.  The celebration was attended by over 600 former students, teachers and friends.  To show their appreciation he was presented with a loving cup.    Shortly before he had been presented with a bronze bust of himself executive by eminent sculptor J. Q. A. Ward.

When Packard died on October 27, 1898 the school was, as noted in The New York Observer, “in the enviable position it occupies to-day in the front rank of the business schools of the world.”    The New-York Tribune said “He has been called a schoolmaster, professor, lecturer.  None of these titles fit him.  He was a father, in the highest sense, to thousands of young men and women.  He was an inspiration greater even, at times, than the best home influences.  He molded character, and had given impulse toward high ideals, cleanness of conduct and morality in business.”

By 1910 the school had once again outgrown its building.   On June 4, 1910 The New-York Tribune noted that the institution had purchased the house and adjoining stable at the southeast corner of Lexington Avenue and 35th Street.  The Murray Hill neighborhood was still a residential enclave of refined mansions, having so far escaped the commercialization of nearby 5th Avenue.  The newspaper reported that the school “will erect on the site a modern fire-proof building for its own use.”

Architect H. F. Ballantyne was given the commission to design the new structure.  Packard’s widow had bequeathed funds for the school, expressing “the earnest desire” for a “beautiful, modern and perfectly equipped school building.”  Her earnest desires were fulfilled in Ballantyne’s design.

The completed building in 1912 -- Architecture & Building January 1912 (copyright expired)
The new building needed to slip harmoniously into the quiet upscale neighborhood.  The New York Times, on July 30, 1911 described the still-unchanged area.  “From Thirty-fifth to Fortieth Streets evidences of the old time residential elegance of Lexington Avenue are seen at their best.  The only improvement in this district is on the southeast corner of Thirty-fifth Street, where the new Packard Commercial School is nearing completion, an attractive building in a once exclusive section.”

It was completed later that year at a cost of $250,000.  The New York Observer called it “Dignified in appearance and monumental in character, its exterior is consistent with the age and dignity of the institution which it houses, while its classical colonnade and architectural enrichments make it a distinct ornament among the stately structures of old Murray Hill.” 

Brownstone mansions still abut the limestone and brick building in this period postcard view.

Ballantyne described the building in his own words in Architecture and Building in January 1912.  “The style of the building might be described as Georgian, or rather a modern adaptation of that early American style sometimes called Colonial.”  The architect achieved monumentality with soaring brick pilasters along the 35th Street façade that became engaged brick columns on Lexington Avenue.  Great expanses of glass flooded the classrooms with natural light.

The school would garner additional income from the street level stores in the limestone base.   Ballantyne described this level as “treated as a massive arcade, heavily rusticated, and of great depth of reveal, providing ample support for the columns above, and yet giving an abundance of light to the stores.”

Inside students could use either of two elevators or the “wide marble stairways which give access to the class rooms above by marble walled corridors,” said the architect.  By the use of rolling partitions, the classrooms on the third floor could be opened to form a 4,000 square foot lecture hall.

The New York Observer commented on the up-to-date conveniences.  “Filtered drinking water is supplied; hot and cold water are found in the lavatories which are conveniently situated on every floor; a broad exterior fire escape is located at the rear in fact, every requisite for the safety, health and comfort of the students has been provided.”  The ventilation system forced warmed, filtered and humidified air into the classrooms by a motor driven fan.  “A complete system of interior telephones, automatic programme signals, and electric clocks, controlled by one master clock, provides rapid inter-communication and uniform time throughout the building.”

The Packard Commercial School often lured the most esteemed names in the country as commencement speakers.  So it was in May of 1914 when the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Champ Clark, addressed the graduates in Carnegie Hall.  The Speaker touched on a number of issues he felt the students should be aware of in entering the world of business and politics.

Among the assertions the Democrat made were “I like to praise a Republican when I find one who deserves it,” and “Theodore Roosevelt knows a little about more things than any human being I have ever laid eyes on.”

The school advertised its available courses in 1920 -- The Westfield Leader (copyright expired)
By 1954 the Packard Commercial School had closed.   The building caught the eye of Yeshiva University.  At the time there was a defined gender gap in Jewish education; in short women were unable to receive good Jewish education in centrist Orthodox schools.  Using a major donation from the president of Hartz Mountain Products, Max Stern, the Yeshiva established the Stern College for Women—a separate institution for Jewish female students.

It was here that Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik initiated the highly-controversial Talmud lecture for women.   Although the Yeshiva agreed to a school for women, many unbending tradionalists balked against females studying and teaching Talmud.

photo by Alice Lum
Today Stern College remains in the unchanged, monumental building, continuing Silas Packard’s tradition of extending the opportunity of education to women.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Lost 1869 Gould Mansion -- 579 Fifth Avenue

By the time of this photo businesses had encroached on the residence and Helen Gould had removed the portico.  photo Library of Congress
A time-honored tradition in New York City was the placement of two lampposts outside the residence of the Mayor upon his election.    “The lamps are placed on the two pillars of the steps and never on the sidewalk,” explained The New York Herald on Sunday, January 10, 1892.   The gas lamps were provided and maintained at the City’s expense.   They remained throughout the Mayor’s lifetime after he left office or afterward if his family desired.  Therefore, there could be numerous pairs of lamps throughout the city before the time of an established mayoral mansion.   At the time of the Herald article there were thirteen such pairs—among them the lamps in front of 592 Fifth Avenue.

George Opdyke started out in the dry goods business, amassing millions of dollars prior to the Civil War.  Always politically active, he contributed a staggering $20,000 to the campaign of Abraham Lincoln.  Elected mayor in 1862, he was living at 79 Fifth Avenue, near 15th Street, when the Draft Riots broke out in 1863.   The mob headed for the Opdyke house with the intention of pillaging and torching it.  The twin mayoral lampposts would make the residence easy to recognize.  Only the intervention of Judge George G. Barnard who mounted the steps and dissuaded the crowd saved the mansion.

Following the war, in 1869, the former mayor built a fine new brownstone residence further up Fifth Avenue at the northeast corner of 47th Street.    The elegant and refined house rose three stories to a steep mansard roof—the latest in architectural fashion recently imported from Paris—that was crested with lacy ironwork and interrupted by deep hooded dormers.  A pillared portico sheltered the doorway and, following tradition, the entrance steps were flanked by two tall mayoral lamps.

Opdyke's mayoral lamps remained after Gould purchased the home -- The New York Herald, January 10, 1892, (copyright expired)

Opdyke moved into the new mansion with his wife and six children—four sons and two daughters.  In 1892 Murat Halstead described it as “a square brownstone house, about double the width of the average house, with an extension in the rear.  It is three stories in height, with a mansard roof, which gives another story.  The main entrance is in the middle of the Fifth Avenue front, under a portico into a deep vestibule with handsomely-carved oaken doors and mosaic floor.  The hall is fifty feet long.  On the left of the hall is a small reception-room, with one window facing Fifth Avenue.  On the other side of the hall are the great drawing-rooms.  The library and the dining-room are in the rear.”

Although a year earlier he had left the dry goods business to establish the banking firm of George Opdyke & Co. with his sons, Opdyke remained a leading force in New York’s political scene.  On March 15, 1874, during the great Financial Panic, for instance, he held a meeting in the house to arrange a mass assembly in the Cooper Institute to “give public expression to pinions on national finances.”  Among the heavy-hitters present were Peter Cooper, Ethan Allen, Isaac Sherman and Elliot C. Cowdin.

The neighborhood by now was the most exclusive in the city and directly across the avenue at 578 lived the industrialist and railroad tycoon, Jay Gould and his family.  Apparently Gould coveted the Opdyke residence, for shortly after the former mayor’s death on June 12, 1880, Gould bought the mansion.

It would take a full year to complete the redecoration of the house before the family move in.  The preeminent decorating and furniture making firm at the time was Herter Brothers.  Although in 1881 they were already busy decorating the new Fifth Avenue mansions of William Henry Vanderbilt and Darius Ogden Mills, they added the Gould house to their list of projects.

Gould’s wife, the former Helen Miller, was reserved and conservative, unlike her husband.  The decorations of the house were a comfortable mix of their two personalities.  Biographer Maury Klein said “The furnishings reflected Helen’s taste for muted elegance leavened by Jay’s fondness for fine paintings, a well-stocked library and conservatory.”

Murat Halstead called it “everywhere a model of comfort, unostentatious elegance, and good taste.  It is filled with the most exquisite tapestries and finest paintings.”  Gould collected masterworks by Diaz, Rousseau, Daubigny, Bonheur, Bougeureau and other artists.  “Attached to the house is a conservatory,” said Halstead, “which is kept constantly filled with the finest plants from the hot-houses at the country house at Irvington.”

That country house was the magnificent Gothic Revival Lyndhurst--the sprawling estate Gould had spent $250,000 for a year before buying 579 Fifth Avenue.   Gould was never one to over-spend, despite his vast fortune, and Lyndhurst would be his most extravagant purchase.  It was where he found refuge from the pressures of the city.

Life in the brownstone mansion was quiet as compared with the glittering entertainments of other Fifth Avenue millionaires.  Halstead noted that Helen Gould “never took park in social pleasures.  Her trouble was a nervous one, and she could not endure excitement.  Thus the house was never given over to festivities to any extent.”  Instead, it was a place of pampered family life for the Goulds and their six children, George, Edwin, Howard, Frank, Anna and Helen.  Among the staff who maintained the comfortable household was Margaret Terry, the housekeeper hired by Helen Gould in 1876.  Margaret would eventually be considered nearly a member of the family.

Despite Gould’s well-earned reputation as a cut-throat businessman, he sought to teach his children compassion and charity.  Every morning after breakfast the “begging letters” were brought into the dining room and piled onto the table.  Wealthy 19th century businessmen could expect a bag of mail every day asking for handouts.

Each member of the family chose as many letters from the pile as desired until none were left.  If someone felt that his letter reflected real need, it was replaced in the center of the table.  The others were burned in the fireplace.

Gould would then send personal detectives to investigate each case.  If a letter proved true, financial aid was given commensurate with the needs of the particular case.  But Gould demanded that his identity as the donor never be disclosed.

While the trend in Fifth Avenue architecture became more and more palatial, the Gould family remained contentedly in their brownstone.  “Sumptuous as it was,” said Halstead, “it did not compare in size or display with that of other men whose fortunes rivaled Mr. Gould’s, or, in fact, with the homes of many whose wealth was not a tenth of his.  All looked at the place with interest, however, when it was pointed out as the retreat of the remarkable man whose public life was so dramatic, and whose home life was so quiet and so peaceful.”

Gould’s disdain for extravagance and show would be reflected when his wife, Helen, died on Sunday, January 13, 1889.  The funeral was held in the parlor at 9:30 Wednesday morning and The New York Times reported “Friends have been requested not to bring flowers and the services will be quite free from any display.”

Among those named in Helen Gould’s will was her beloved housekeeper, Margaret Terry, who “received a large sum of money,” according to the New-York Tribune.

Gould’s eldest daughter, 21-year-old Helen Miller Gould, was now in charge of the house and her younger sister.   The remarkable Helen followed in her father’s financial footsteps and attended the New York University School of Law, graduating in 1895, and earned a reputation as for her business acumen.  She also inherited her father’s love of an unostentatious existence.

Throughout his life Jay Gould had battled a series of lung ailments and in middle age contracted tuberculosis.  In late February, 1892, he became so ill that he was bedridden in the Fifth Avenue mansion.  As his health declined, he issued instructions from his bed for the management of his extensive estate “so as to avert a potential stock market panic following his death,” according to the Ludington Daily News.

Gould lingered on for months.  Towards the end of November his physician Dr. John Munn was constantly present at his bedside.  On the night of December 1, 1892, the hemorrhaging of his lungs worsened and at 9:15 the following morning, Jay Gould died.

On the morning of December 5 Gould’s unpretentious coffin sat in the parlor between two windows looking onto 5th Avenue.  “the shaded rooms were lit by incandescent globes, which threw a rich and generous glow upon the magnificent furniture, the tapestries, the walls clothed in silk and velvet, and blossoming with paintings from great masters, the somber silver mounted casket  buried in a magnificent mass of flowers from which looked forth a strong and peaceful face,” wrote Henry Davenport Northrop.

As quiet and reverent as the parlor was, Fifth Avenue outside was the opposite.  Northrop complained “But what a drama it was which was being enacted on the stage without the house!  No seemliness here, and no decorum!  No solemnity nor hush.  The worst elements of our poor human nature seemed to have concentrated on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Forty-seventh street, and it required an actual show of force to keep the crowd in bounds.”

Crowds of curious onlookers swarm 5th Avenue on the day of Jay Gould's funeral.  The original stoop and portico can be seen.  -- The Life and Achievements of Jay Gould, 1892 (copyright expired)

The offended writer said “Like bees about a sugar barrel the horde of the unwashed buzzed around this palace of the rich man dead.”  Northrop noted one man whom he thought looked like an anarchist.  “He was unwashed, unshaved and as scurvy a looking fellow as you could find in Fifth street or Avenue A.  He scowled upon the big house [and] broke out into a string of shocking language and retreated up the avenue snarling like a dog of evil temper.”

When the arriving carriage carrying John Jacob Astor and his young wife nearly struck him, “He turned and cursed them, too, but he would have cursed them a thousand times more bitterly if he had known that it was the wheels of the Astors which so narrowly missed him,” presumed Northrop.

Of the approximately 2,000 mourners who sought entrance to the Gould house about 150 were admitted.  Among these were the foremost leaders of industry and finance in the nation—both friends and foes of Gould during his lifetime.

from The Life and Achievements of Jay Gould, 1892 (copyright expired)

The following Tuesday evening, the family assembled in the mansion as Judge Dillon read Jay Gould’s Last Will and Testament.   The $72 million estate was divided among the six children.   Helen received the Fifth Avenue house.  She also received a $6,000 per month income (about $135,000 today) with the expectation that she would continue to provide a home for the minor children, Anna and Frank, as well as Howard.

A peculiar restriction in the will was that none of the Gould heirs was permitted to marry without the unanimous approval of the other siblings.

Now one of the richest women in the world, Helen Miller Gould quietly dispensed charity from her Fifth Avenue home, almost as if trying to eradicate her father’s reputation as a cold-hearted and unscrupulous businessman.    She outfitted an office on the second floor and hired three secretaries.  “The room is plainly furnished,” noted a reporter from The New York Times in 1902.  “There is a telephone and two or three typewriters.  The chairs are straight-backed and upholstered in black leather; nothing inviting for lounging purposes.”

A “Miss Altman” was Helen’s chief secretary and “all the correspondence, including literally hundreds of begging letters, go to her.  Miss Gould never sees them, although she insists on daily memoranda of requests for aid from established charities.  She seldom sees callers.”  Margaret Terry, hired decades earlier as housekeeper, now helped Helen Gould dispense charity and acted as her companion.

And while Helen Miller Gould carried on her charitable works, New York society was gradually moving further and further up Fifth Avenue.  By 1906, the house was surrounded by businesses and The New York Times predicted that Helen would soon sell.  “The immediate neighborhood has been steadily invaded by  business within the last five or six years,” the newspaper said on June 22, 1906, and it hinted that “Miss Helen Gould has decided to abandon her residence.”

As it turned out, the strong-willed Helen Gould would stay put in the house in which she had grown up, changing little.  Her only peer was the equally-stubborn Robert Goelet whose magnificent old mansion still stood at 591 5th Avenue, one block to the north.

As 1907 drew to a close the 88-year-old Margaret Terry contracted what the New-York Tribune called “an attack of grip.”  After 31 years of serving the Gould family, she died in the mansion on January 5, 1908 with Helen Gould and the other servants at her bedside.

Now somewhat isolated in a sea of commerce, Helen had an electric burglar alarm installed in the house.  On the evening of April 12, 1908 the alarm bells went off and, without calling her servants, Helen telephoned Police Headquarters.  She then accompanied the three responding officers around the mansion.  It was discovered that a servant had accidentally disconnected the wires.  The New York Times reported that when they had completed the investigation, Helen had supper prepared for the policemen.

The wealthy woman who lived alone in her brownstone time capsule perhaps shocked New Yorkers when it was announced in August 1910 that she had contracted architects Carrere & Hastings to make “extensive alterations” to the mansion.  “The plans call for removing the area balustrade and stoop, building a new entrance of ornamental grilled ironwork with a small balcony overhead, a new window opening on the street side, vault lights over the present area on Fifth Avenue, and replacing the old-fashioned flagstones with granolithic sidewalk as required by law.”  The changes, which included the removal of George Opdyke’s mayoral lampposts after four decades, would cost Helen $13,000.

A wedding gift of an oil landscape is delivered to No. 579 5th Avenue -- Library of Congress

If Helen’s changes to the appearance of her family home were surprising, her announcement in 1912 would be more so.  In accordance with her father’s will, she had received the approval of all her siblings to marry Finley J. Shepard.    Now middle-aged, Time Magazine said of her “she was plain, plump, not much concerned with ‘Society’—she dedicated herself to good works while her brothers and sister went out in the world.”

Real estate speculators were delighted.  The New York Tribune said “Miss Gould might not really need a New York house, and therefore might be induced to let business get possession of the property.”  Miss Gould had other thoughts, however.

The 44-year old heiress, "plain" and "plump," shocked the world with her marriage -- Library of Congress

A representative told reporters “I am sure Miss Gould will continue to occupy her Fifth avenue house after the wedding.”  The New-York Tribune concluded “It is now thought that Miss Gould consequently will be about the last person to desert the central Fifth avenue section for a home in the northerly regions of the city.”  That was nearly accurate, for Robert Goelet, like Helen Gould, was still contently ensconced in his mansion two blocks away.

Inside Helen’s mansion things remained as they always had been.  Her father’s artwork hung on the walls and the family furniture sat where it had for decades.  But in 1914 she allowed one more change.  She had an Aeolian organ installed in the house.  

The new organ would be the last alteration to the venerable Gould mansion.  On December 21, 1938, Helen Gould Shepard died of an apoplectic stroke at her summer home in Roxbury, New York.  Upon her death The New York Times called her “the best loved woman in the country.”   In her lifetime she had given away nearly half of her extensive fortune.

Helen Gould Shepard's beloved home, by now an anachronism in stone, would not survive long after this photograph -

The final gasp of breath for the two last private mansions would quickly follow.  On May 2, 1941, Robert Walton Goelet died in his brownstone mansion and a year later Finley J. Shepard died after a long illness.  The house at 579 Fifth Avenue, long coveted by commercial developers, now sat dark and lifeless with a fortune of artwork, silver and antique furniture and tapestries inside.

The Gould mansion was briefly used by Gimbel Brothers Art Auction Department as an annex gallery.  And the first auction to be held here was that of the Gould furnishings.   Among Jay Gould’s collection of Barbizon school paintings were Millet’s Washerwomen, Courbet’s Among the Mountains, and two Daubigny landscapes.   The gallery described the furnishings as representing “the luxurious taste of the period.”

The extensive library, the rugs, silverware, English services of china and glassware, and Helen’s pipe organ were all sold.  A 17th century green jade bowl set with rubies brought $2,100 and a white jade bowl of the same period sold for $1,200.

On December 16, 1952 The New York Times reported that “The Gould mansion at the northeast corner of Forty-seventh Street and the Goelet mansion at the southeast corner of Forty-eighth Street will be razed shortly after the first of the year.  Plans have been filed for the new buildings.”

And so in 1953 the last remnants of Fifth Avenue’s gilded midtown past were erased.

A Mid-Century Modern office building replaced Helen Gould's reserved brownstone mansion.  photo by Alice Lum

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The 1901 Beaux Arts Studios -- 80 West 40th Street

photo by Alice Lum
Essentially forgotten today, Abraham Archibald Anderson was more than a portrait painter. His love of nature would result in his being named Special Superintendent of the Yellowstone Forest Reserve.  Letters he received from President Theodore Roosevelt, Buffalo Bill Cody and the first chief of the US Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot, dealt with America’s forests and natural environment, not about art.

But in 1900 it was Anderson’s art for which he was best known. Born in New Jersey in 1847, he moved to Paris in his 20’s to study art. While still living here in 1887 he married the daughter of wealthy banker Jeremiah Milbank who founded the Borden Milk Company. Milbank had died in 1884, leaving his daughter, Elizabeth, a considerable fortune. Around the time that he received the Gold Medal at the Paris in 1899 for his painting “Morning After the Ball” the Andersons moved back to the United States.  

Anderson continued to paint society portraits with such notables as John Wanamaker, Elihu Root and Thomas Edison sitting for him.   The wealthy couple traveled extensively and Elizabeth Milbank was involved in numerous charities.  But New York City presented a problem to the artist:  there was little adequate studio space from which to work.

Anderson briefly moved to Connecticut, then decided to take matters into his own hands.  He would simply build a artist studio building.  He recalled in his 1933 autobiography “Experiences and Impressions,” “Thinking other artists returning to America would be in the same situation, I decided to erect a studio building.  I bought four lots at the corner of Fortieth Street and Sixth Avenue the former site of the Hotel Royal that had a short time since been destroyed by fire, and designed, planned, and erected the Beaux Arts Studio there.”

Abraham Archibold Anderson
Anderson’s assertion that he “designed, planned, and erected” the building was a bit self-serving.  He commissioned architect Charles A. Rich who had already worked with Elizabeth on several of her philanthropic projects, including Milbank Hall at Barnard College in 1896.

The site was well-chosen.  Across 40th Street to the north was Bryant Park where half a century earlier the grand New York Crystal Palace had stood.   The park would serve as the backyard for the white marble New York Public Library by 1911 and the northern light that flooded into the windows of the Beaux Arts Studios was guaranteed.

The apartments in the resulting 12-story structure, completed in 1901, were designed as residential and working space specifically for artists.  Two dozen double-height studios on the 40th Street side were washed in sunlight from two-story walls of windows.   Rich worked with pink brick with terra cotta and stone trim to create a comfortable Beaux Arts-style blend of residential and industrial elements.

Double-height studios had expansive walls of glass for ample northern light -- photo by Alice Lum
The first tenants were the owners.  Abraham and Elizabeth Anderson took the entire top floor.  The apartment and studio would be as much a place of social gatherings as it would be a home and workplace.

Exuberant scrolled Beaux Arts brackets support a balcony like breaking waves -- photo by Alice Lum
In January 1915 with the war raging in Europe, the Anderson home was the scene of a “concert for the benefit of French families made destitute by the war,” as reported in The New York Times, and of a bridge tournament for charity.   The same month Anderson opened the apartment for the annual dinner of the Hunters Fraternity of America, of which he was president.  Mayor John Mitchell, former Senator William H. Reynolds and other members might have been a bit surprised by the live animals running loose.

“Rabbits hopping about the table and doves flitting through the air were features of the annual dinner,” reported The Sun on January 16.

The following year the Fraternity was back and Rear Admiral Robert E. Peary, discoverer of the north pole and Captain Roald Amundsen, who discovered the south pole, were the featured guests.  To highlight the occasion, Anderson decorated with table with snow and an electric-lighted iceberg in the center.

By 1917 Anderson was referred to by naturalists as Colonel Anderson.  On January 16, 1917 the New York State Forestry Association held its annual meeting in the apartment, during which Dr. William T. Hornaday, director of the Zoological Park warned about the over-hunting of wild deer.  “The day is not far off when no deer will be seen except within the State estuaries and parks,” he predicted.

It was not all rabbits, doves and deer in the Anderson household, however.  Mrs. Anderson continued to host charity events and on May 2, 1918 she held a concert for the benefit of Belgians left destitute by the war.  In attendance were the cream of Manhattan society including Mrs. Andrew Carnegie, Mrs. Horace Havemeyer, and the Hewitt sisters.

photo by Alice Lum
In the meantime the street level was home to the Café des Beaux Arts, owned by brothers Andre, Jacques, Pierre and Louis Bustanoby.  The family owned two other restaurants including the Chateau des Beaux Arts in Huntington, Long Island.  One block from fashionable 5th Avenue, the high-end restaurant was known for years for its excellent cuisine.

The building filled with artists, among them Katherine Sophie Dreier.  A member of the Abstraction-Creation movement, her abstract paintings had a spiritual emphasis.  Like the Andersons, she balanced her artistic endeavors with charity and political work.  In 1915 she served as the chairperson of the German-American Committee of the Woman Suffrage Party.

Not every tenant in the building was an artist.  In 1919 Henry Morton, treasurer of the Meyerowitz Brothers diamond importing company, lived here; as did dentist R. Ottolengui.  A year later Dr.. Ottolengui made his opinions known concerning the Du Pont Company’s release of a new type of ether “which eliminates pain without loss of consciousness and virtually eliminates the nausea that usually follows”

The dentist scoffed to The New York Tribune “How can the du Ponts improve on the use of cocaine or its substitutes?”  Ottolengui openly suspected that the ether was simply a cocaine variation.  
“It is quite possible that they have discovered a new way of making synthetic cocaine from the by-products of their plant.  It seems reasonable to suppose that a new combination of chemicals has been found which will perform the same services of cocaine, just as novocaine, now used by dentists, does.”

In April 1920 Anderson leased the entire building to the L. K. Schwartz Company for 42-years at an aggregate rent of $3.5 million.  It was a complicated arrangement whereby Anderson would begin paying rent on his own apartment while receiving rent for his building.  At the time of the lease signing, the Tribune noted ‘The building houses the studios of a number of America’s well known artists.”

Among those were illustrator J. C. Leyendecker, who would be the major influence of Norman Rockwell; Edward Steichen, Edward Suydam, Haskell Coffin, and John La Gotta.

Elizabeth Anderson died in 1921 and the aging artist continued to live on in his quirky top floor studio-apartment.   The bathroom was encrusted with abalone shells, the fireplace was constructed of rock crystal and at least one room was done with Louis XV paneling.  It was described by The New York Times as “one of the most beautiful in the country.”

When the Schwartz Company asked for a re-negotiated lease in 1923, lowering the rent, Anderson agreed.  It seemed like a good idea but it would cause major problems for the artists before long.  The new lease provided Anderson $70,000 per year and half of the rental above $130,000.  In turn he rented his own apartment for $5,000 for five years with the right to renew “upon giving thirty days’ notice before the lease expired.”

Anderson forgot about the “giving thirty days’ notice” part.

In May 1928 the 78-year old artist was slapped with an eviction notice.  He was told to leave the building that he built and still owned.   Anderson stood firm and took his leasees to court, eventually winning the legal battle.

Portrait painter Leon Gordon occupied the 8th floor of the Beaux Arts Studios on April 3, 1938.  Neither Gordon nor his wife were at home when a fire started in the studio that night.  It spread rapidly, quickly reaching the 9th floor apartments of the now 89-year old Anderson where The Times said were “valuable tapestries, paintings and expensive furniture.” 

Artist Thomas Bull, whose studio was on the 7th floor, discovered the fire and alerted other residents,   Fifty tenants crowded the street when the firemen arrived and by now flames were shooting out of the 8th floor windows.  The building suffered damage when the fire broke through the roof.  Chunks of terra cotta fell away from the façade; one piece denting a fire engine.

By 9:45 p.m. when the fire was finally brought under control, thousands of dollars in artwork had been destroyed.

Gordon returned home to survey the devastation of his studio saying that the paintings and other artworks “were worth a quarter of a million dollars to me.”  The studio of Lewis Herzog and its valuable works of art were heavily damaged.  The Times noted that “Many of the thirty-nine other studios in the building were damaged by water seeping down to the fifth floor.”

According to Fire Marshall Brophy the damage was “incalculable.”

By 1939 the Studios (lower left), once the tallest building in the area, was dwarfed by stair-stepping skyscrapers.  But the northern light across the park remained.  -- photo NYPL Collection
Abraham Archibald Anderson died in April 1940 at the age of 93. Although his daughter, Eleanor A. Campbell, quickly sold the building to a corporation, it continued to attract artists.  A year later in May French painter, sculptor and filmmaker Fernand Leger moved in.  At the time other artists like Kurt Seligmann, Florine Stettheimer and photographer Thomas Bouchard had studios here.

Eventually the Beaux Arts Studios became less a home to artists than to other creative forces.  The Don Elliott recording studios were here through the 1970s and when a young, ambitious clothing designer looked for her first studio in 1975, she chose the Beaux Arts Studio.  It would be the beginning of Liz Claiborne’s fashion empire.

In the late 1990s, with the building filled with interior designers, photographers and clothing designers, the owners spent nearly $5 million to restore the lobby ceiling, clean the façade and tone down the gaudy shop fronts.

photo by Alice Lum
With minor alterations, other than the obliteration of the street level along 6th Avenue, the Beaux Arts Studios is remarkable preserved.  It was designated a New York City landmark in 1988.