Thursday, February 28, 2013

The 1899 Francis Stetson House - 4 E. 74th Street

photo by Alice Lum

In the final years of the 19th century, brothers William A. and Thomas M. Hall busied themselves with speculative development in the Fifth Avenue neighborhood along Central Park.   William was Director of the Publishers’ Paper Co., but his income was greatly increased by the construction and sale of luxurious mansions for the city’s wealthiest citizens.

In 1898 they commissioned architect Alexander Welch of Welch, Smith and Provot to design a magnificent residence at 4 East 74th Street.  Welch would be responsible for several mansions built by the Hall brothers, and this one would be among his finest.

Completed a year later, it was imposing.  A rusticated limestone base was dominated by a bowed portico supported by garland-swagged columns.   A carved stone balcony above the entrance introduced the two-story bay with small-paned windows.  Limestone quoins along the side of the structure and the bay contrasted with the warm red brick.  To preserve the proportions, the sixth floor was set back so as to be nearly invisible from the street.
Behind the overhanging cornice hides the sixth floor -- photo by Alice Lum

The newly-completed mansion was purchased by Francis Lynde Stetson and his wife, the former Elizabeth Ruff.  Stetson was a highly-regarded and successful corporate attorney, the head of the firm Stetson, Jennings & Russell, and who had formerly been the law partner of Grover Cleveland.

Francis Lynde Stetson -- photo Library of Congress 

Stetson was involved in important causes of the period.  He was a member of the American Forestry Association, founded in 1875 to promote conservation of existing forests—an amazingly early example of environmental awareness.  He was also a member of the National Association for the Study and Prevention of Tuberculosis at a time when the disease devastated crowded urban areas like New York.

Elizabeth Stetson’s health began to decline around 1914 and she took on 19 year old Margery H. Lee as her secretary.  As her condition worsened, the young woman moved into the Stetson mansion in 1916.  What followed would raise the eyebrows of wealthy socialites throughout the city.

A chubby face is worked into the carved cartouche above the fourth floor windows -- photo by Alice Lum

Elizabeth Ruff Stetson died in the house on April 16, 1917.   Less than five months later, on September 6,  Stetson, now 71 years old, adopted the 22 year old woman as his daughter and heir to his fortune.  He explained to a reporter from The Sun in a telephone interview that “My wife was very fond of Miss Lee.”  He also noted that she “shall continue to bear her own name and to be known thereby.”

If the arrangement was unexpected by New York society, it was also unexpected by her father.  The Sun reported that “Miss Lee’s father, when seen at his Germantown home, expressed surprise at his daughter’s adoption.”

In December 1918 Stetson fell ill.  He was confined to the house on 74th Street until, finally, on March 8 seemed to improve.  The New York Times reported that “He is able to sit up and spends much time every day in his library.”

The newspaper’s assessment of his condition, however, was optimistic.   On February 5, 1920 the New-York Tribune reported that he was “confined to his residence at 4 East Seventy-fourth Street, suffering from thrombosis, involving a partial paralysis.”  The newspaper could not resist mentioning that Miss Margery H. Lee was his heir.

On December 5, 1920 the aged attorney died.  The gossip and speculation that Margery Lee would be the sole heiress to the Stetson estate were proved untrue when the lawyer’s will was probated.   Williams College received over $1 million of his $3 million estate.  The institution received the bequeath on the condition that it would “keep in good order of the Williams College cemetery and the grounds and monument of my beloved wife and myself.”   A long list of charities and organizations received bequests including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Botanical Society, the Bar Association, the Lying-in Hospital and the Young Men’s Christian Association.

As for Margery Lee, she could not complain.  She received a trust fund of $300,000—equal to about $3 million today.

photo by Alice Lum

The house at 4 East 74th Street, assessed at $140,000, also went to Williams College.  The following year the mansion was purchased by Edward L. Ballard, the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Merchants Fire Assurance Corporation of New York.  The Ballards had one daughter, Elizabeth, and in December 1927 she was introduced to society.  Along with the entertainments in the mansion, her mother gave a luncheon in the Florentine Room of the Park Lane for Elizabeth.  The guest list included not only the girls of wealthy New York families, but some from Philadelphia and Boston.

The Ballards maintained a summer estate, Graeloe, in Ridgefield, Connecticut.  There on September 3, 1936 the beautiful Elizabeth G. Ballard married James M. Doubleday, the Vice President of the First National Bank of Ridgefield.  The New York Times noted that “After their wedding trip Mr. Doubleday and his bride will make their home in New York.”

That home would be 4 East 74th Street.

Doubleday obtained a position with the New York Trust Company and a year later, in 1937, a son was born to the couple.  That same year they purchased a 40-acre estate in Ridgefield near the Ballard home.  The joyful events of 1937 came to an end on New Year’s Eve when Edward Ballard died.  He left an estate of about $2 million.

Elizabeth sold the house in April 1940 to Mrs. Theodore Grubb.   Grand mansions in the post-Depression years were often viewed as white elephants and the new buyer would hold onto the property only long enough to convert it into apartments—one per floor.  In July 1942 investor Mary E. Crocker bought the altered home.  Interestingly, in reporting the sale The New York Times reported that it was built “from plans by Andrew McKenzie,” the architect responsible for the 1905 New York Times Building.

photo by Alice Lum

The house saw the arrival and departure of a variety of residents; but none was more celebrated than Russian artist Marc Chagall and his wife who arrived in 1943.   Chagall was not the hot artist in New York that he had been in Paris; although he was given a major retrospective in 1946 by the Museum of Modern Art.

Although the Chagalls lived in the most exclusive part of town, the artist was most comfortable in the Lower East Side, chatting with Jewish immigrants and reading Yiddish-language newspapers like the Forward.

The Stetson mansion was converted once again in 1948 when Dr. H. Bakst installed his office and apartment in the lower floors.  Finally in 1995 it was reconverted to a single-family home as increasingly multimillionaires discovered the prestige and luxury of returning the grand mansions to private homes. has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The James and Abby Gibbons House -- No. 339 W. 29th St.

Sheathed in netting and scaffolding for three years in 2013, one of Manhattan's most important sites in Black History is neglected and deteriorating.
As the 18th century turned into the 19th, the bucolic landscape above 14th Street was still dotted with the country estates of New York’s gentry.  It was a noble lifestyle that would not last much longer. In 1811 the Commissioners’ Plan divided the upper portion of the island into a regimented grid plan of avenues and streets that would end forever the era of Manhattan’s rural mansions.

Cornelius Ray was a latecomer, purchasing land just to the north of Clement Clarke Moore’s family estate, Chelsea, early in the early years of the 1800s.  His property stretched from the Hudson River to what is approximately now Eighth Avenue, from about 27th Street to 30th Street.  By the time he died in 1827, construction had already begun along Eighth Avenue to the south.  Five years later his children began dividing the estate into building lots.

Among the developers who would change the face of the Chelsea neighborhood were Cyrus Mason and William Torrey.   Most notably they constructed the elegant upscale London Terrace on West 23rd Street in 1845—a block-long row of homes set back from the street by green lawns.  A two-story colonnade ran the length of the row which pretended to be a single magnificent building.

A year after the completion of London Terrace, the men turned their attention to the block between 8th and 9th Avenues on 29th Street.  They purchased the northern blockfront from the Ray Estate and obtained the rights to the lots on the opposite side.  To make their tony new residences more marketable, a park was developed on the south side to increase sunlight, ventilation and attractive views.  They renamed the block Lamartine Place (the park was called Lamartine Park) to add to the exclusive tone.

Construction turned out to be a slow process. The final homes were not completed until 1852.  But the finished project was exactly what the developers intended:  a row of distinguished residences set behind small lawns with iron fences.  The three-story Greek Revival style homes drew upper middle-class buyers.

While Mason and Torrey were busy developing Chelsea, a Quaker couple was working with those in need.  James Sloan Gibbons had married Abigail Hopper in 1833 in Philadelphia.  Upon moving to New York two years later, Abby established a school for black children in her home while her husband, a banker, worked for the Bank of the State of New York.  Gibbons would later publish several books on banking.  But it was not banking for which he would be remembered.

The Quaker couple diligently worked for those in need.  In addition to the little school she ran from her home, she organized the German Industrial School to help homeless immigrant children, and the New York Infant Asylum for unwed mothers and orphans.  She made weekly visits to the Tombs prison downtown, concerned with the welfare of the children held here.   Lydia Maria Child in her “Letters from New York,” told of James Gibbons frequently visiting the squalid and dangerous Five Points neighborhood “with a basket containing food, medicine, clothing, etc., which he would distribute to the poor.”

In 1851 the Gibbons purchased No. 19 Lamartine Place.  Abby Gibbons outfitted the house with new purchases and then was concerned that her father, the social reformer Isaac Hopper, would disapprove of her over-spending.  She would later write to a friend that her father overlooked the stairway carpeting, but criticized the plush parlor rug as “extravagant.”

Isaac Hopper caught a cold in December of that year while traveling to visit a discharged prisoner.  A month later his condition had deteriorated and in March 1852 the Gibbons family took him into the Lamartine Place house to tend to him.  Despite the loving care, he died in the house in May of that year.

Abby continued her work with underprivileged children.  She was well-known for her Christmas dolls that were distributed to children in prisons and the Almshouse.   Two days before Christmas in 1856 The New York Times reported that “Once a year about forty ladies of this City, whose benevolence is directed by a correct appreciation of the desires of little folks, meet together and prepare for presentation to the children under the care of the Governors of the Almshouse, a large number of those child’s delights, know as doll-babies.”  The newspaper noted that “such a presentation has been made every Christmas day for a number of years” and the group of women had met the prior evening in the house of Abby Gibbons.

Here, the article said, “they dressed some six or seven hundred dolls, that otherwise would, in all probability, have remained stark naked during the most inclement season of the year.”  Abby and her group convinced local merchants to donate remnants of ribbons, material and “fancy goods” from which they made the doll clothes.

Like Isaac Hopper, the Gibbons were staunchly anti-slavery.   James Gibbons supported the Anti-Slavery Standard, an Abolitionist newspaper.  In a city whose merchants greatly supported the institution of slavery, the family daringly and rather openly made the house on Lamartine Place a stop in the Underground Railroad.  Slaves escaping to Canada were welcomed in the Gibbons home and given meals, shelter and whatever aid they needed.

Even among the Abolitionists, the Quaker family was unusually democratic in its racial views.  A letter written by Joseph Choate mentioned that “The house of Mrs. Gibbons was a great resort of abolitionists and extreme antislavery people from all parts of the land, as it was one of the stations of the Underground Railroad by which fugitive slaves found their way from the South to Canada.  I have dined with that family in company with William Lloyd Garrison, and sitting at the table with us was a jet-black negro who was on his way to freedom.”

When President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863, James Gibbons “illuminated his house in honor of the proclamation,” according to the Friends’ Intelligencer.  The Gibbons daughters hung bunting from the upper windows.   It was a bold, in-your-face pronouncement of the Gibbons stance and it would have severe consequences.

On July 11, 1863 the nation’s first attempt at a military draft played out in New York with a lottery.  When the 1,200 chosen names were published, it was obvious that only the city’s poor and immigrant population was included—the wealthy had obviously bought or used their political power to circumvent the draft.  The result was the Draft Riots—a three-day reign of terror and carnage unlike anything seen in the country before.

Draft offices, newspaper buildings, black homes and neighborhoods were burned and looted.  The Colored Orphan Asylum was burned to the ground.  The black neighborhood on Thompson Street was a target and The New York Times reported on “a band of men and boys who were engaged in gathering straw, old barrels, and other combustible materials, for the purpose of kindling a fire among the tenement houses of the negroes.”

On the second day of the insurrection the mob moved towards the Gibbons house.  At 28th Street and Seventh Avenue they came upon a black man.  The Times reported that “he was attacked in the street, brutally beaten, his throat cut, and when entirely dead, his body was hung on the nearest lamp-post.  It remained suspended there for some hours, until finally a few policemen, who dared to brave the fury of the mob, cut it down and conveyed it to the Station-house.”

The rabble proceeded to No. 19 Lamartine Place.  Only James and two daughters, Julia and Lucy, were at home.   The girls hadalready begun to move belongings from their home across the roofs to their uncle’s nearby house.  They watched from an upstairs window of their relatives’ home as the crowd mobbed onto Lamartine Place, intent on their house.

The door to the Gibbons house was broken down and the rabble flooded in, ransacking the house.  Family friend Joseph Choate took his life into his hands by entering the house as one of the mob in search of the family.  When he found them in the nearby house, he got a carriage and had it wait around the corner.  He returned to take the girls across the rooftops to the house of Henry and Esther Herrman where they silently descended to the street.  The carriage took them to the safety of the Choate house on West 21st Street where they would stay for several days.

At 5:30 the police arrived.  Two months later David M. Barnes would record “A mob was sacking the residence of Mr. J. S. Gibbons, No. 19 Lamartine Place.  The force came upon the rioters, strewing the way with bodies as they went.  A large number of rioters and thieves were inside of the building, and while a portion of the command went in, others remained at the front, to receive with the locusts the villains driven out.”

At this point the military arrived and, confused by the tangle of police and rioters, fired recklessly and without orders into the crowd.  Barnes would report that they injured “more friends than foes.”  He told of one rioter who “came rushing from the house, laden with plunder, was caught by Sergeant Burdick and knocked own; he had not released his hold of the thief ere a score of bullets whistled around his head, two of them lodging in the body of his prisoner, and six of the police fell at the discharge.”

When the melee was over, the Broadway Square policemen returned to headquarters.  But the mob was not done with the Gibbons house yet.  They regrouped and returned, finishing their plunder and setting fire to the house.

Abby and her daughter Sarah rushed back to New York.  The family house was a smoldering ruin and the process of filing claims with the city began.  On July 24 The New York Times listed losses, including “from the dwelling of Mr. Gibbons, No. 19 Lamartine-place, a quantity of valuable household furniture, consisting in part of a marble-top table, a very superior clock, a mahogany dressing-case, a quantity of clothing, bedding &c., valued at over $800.”

The list in The Times would amount to about $12,000 today; but it was only a fraction of the loss which included the house itself.   James claimed $1600 in gas fixtures, alone.  Abby wrote of the cruel losses.  All of her father’s papers were destroyed, over 2,000 books were gone as was her father’s bookcase that had been in the family for over a century, his “pet piece of furniture.”

Although Abby wanted to move away from the blackened scar in the row of homes on Lamartine Place, James was defiantly set on rebuilding.  In addition to the $8,500 the family received in settlement from the city, $2,750 was donated by friends.

The blackened gash in the row of houses was filled with a new residence.  The memories of the terror of July 1863 were too much to bear, however, and one-by-one the Gibbons' neighbors and relatives left Lamartine Place.

In 1865 the house was put up for sale.  By 1868 Mary Compton, a teacher in the Boys’ Department of School No. 49 on East 37th Street was living here.  A year later Professor Adolph Werner of the College of the City of New York took up residence.  The German-born scholar would live here for four decades.

Werner had graduated from the College in 1857.  By now he was Professor of German—a position he would hold for over half a century.  Sometime prior to World War I he left the house—now numbered No. 339 West 29th Street—to live far uptown at No. 401 West End Avenue.

Throughout the 20th century the Gibbons house was used by a variety of tenants and uses.  In 1932 the Domster Realty Corporation had its offices here and in 1960 tenant Victor Santiago sold heroin from his apartment.   The pretty park laid out by Mason and Torrey over a century earlier became the cooperative housing project for members of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union.

The rebuilt No. 339 (third from right) completed the earlier row of Greek Revival homes.  By the turn of the century all of them had risen to four stories -- photo NYPL Collection
In 1968 the house was converted to two apartments per floor; although little had changed outwardly from the 1864 building erected by the Gibbons.  Then came trouble.

In 2010 owners Tony and Nick Mamounas began an unauthorized fifth-floor penthouse addition.  The Department of Buildings issued a stop-work order and ordered the brothers to remove the partially-constructed addition.

Any hint of historic architectural detailing has been lost.
The men appealed and, while legal battles proceeded, Nick died, delaying the process.  Community advocates and historians were incensed.  One tenant called it “a tragedy” and told The Daily News “It’s a moral and historical landmark.  It should be a source of pride for the city and not just be allowed to be desecrated in this way.”

Historians were especially concerned about raising the roofline and interrupting the even flow of the buildings because it was across these roofs that the Gibbons sisters escaped in 1863.  Tony Mamounas and his lawyer maintain that appeals are forthcoming; but in the meantime orders to remove the addition go ignored and the historic building is neglected and in disrepair.  The Daily News called it on January 29, 2012, “a dilapidated eyesore.”

As the only certainly-documented stop in the Underground Railroad in New York City the property with its unequaled and poignant history deserves better treatment.

non-historic photographs taken by the author

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Lost 5th Avenue Market -- 5th Ave and 44th Street

The roof of the immense Temple Emanu-El looms above the mid-19th century structures around 1880 -- photo NYPL Collection
On March 4, 1834, when Henry Hawkins Tyson was born at No. 208 Washington Street, the Murray Hill area around what would become Fifth Avenue and 44th Street was still rural.   Plans for the massive Croton Reservoir that would stretch along the west side of the avenue from 40th to 42nd Street were still in their infancy, and the brownstone mansions that would define Fifth Avenue were more than a generation away.

In 1846 Tyson’s father died and, according to The New York Times years later, he was “when a schoolboy of twelve, thrown on his own resources.”   The boy and his brother, George I. Tyson, started a newspaper route.  But unlike the great majority of Victorian newsboys, the Tyson brothers did not end up as petty criminals; they prospered.

Around 1858 Henry opened a butcher stand in the Jefferson Market.  But by now handsome residences were inching up Fifth Avenue towards the reservoir and Tyson saw opportunity.   He leased the lot at the southeast corner of the avenue and 44th Street from hotel tycoon Paran Stevens and erected a one-story meat market.  The brick-and-stucco building at No. 529 Fifth Avenue sat next door to Ye Olde Willow Cottage (called by the New-York Tribune “a liquor place”)—a converted frame house named after the venerable old tree out front.

Tyson’s small but impressive one-story building featured a gaping arched front of multiple doors.  Incised, brick pilasters upheld an ambitious arched parapet that announced HENRY H. TYSON’S FIFTH AVENUE MARKET.  A deep canvas awning wrapped around the building, sheltering customers and, more importantly, fresh meats from the sun’s heat.

Valentine's Manual published a watercolor of the market--with a cow walking down 44th Street--in 1880 -- from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Henry Tyson’s gamble in moving from the Jefferson Market to the advancing residential neighborhood paid off.  The New York Times later said that here “he amassed a comfortable fortune.”  But everyone was not pleased.

Least pleased of all was, no doubt, Mrs. Paran Stevens.  Although the land directly behind the saloon and the meat market was still vacant, owned by New-York Central Railroad Company; the homes of Manhattan’s wealthiest citizens now crowded around the shop.   In 1861 The Art Journal noted that “Up to this point the Fifth Avenue—the street of magnificent palatial residences—is completed, scarcely a vacant lot remaining upon its borders.”

Mrs. Stevens, the former Marietta Reed, held sway in New York society on a level shared only by socialites with names like Astor, Fish and Vanderbilt.  Henry Tyson’s shop, sitting on land owned by her husband, was an embarrassment.  She referred to him as “that horrid butcher.”

Paran Stevens died on April 26, 1872 in his mansion at No. 244 Fifth Avenue 16 blocks south of the Fifth Avenue Market.  His strong-minded widow would spent much of her time in the next few years arguing points of the will; but her focus would soon enough turn to Henry H. Tyson.

In February 9, 1881 Tyson was distracted with other matters, as well.  He appeared in court to testify in his own defense.  Robert B. Roosevelt, President of the Society for the Protection of Game sued the butcher for “possession of game out of season” after members found “nine quail exposed for sale on Feb. 2, 1880.”

Three experts from the Society testified that the birds were quail.   Henry Tyson soberly swore that the birds were squabs.  Like the dead quails, Tyson’s story did not fly and the jury issued a verdict for $25 against him.

Later that year the butcher would face a more intimidating presence than a judge or jury.  The carriage of Mrs. Paran Stevens pulled up in front of the shop and the formidable woman marched in and “peremptorily ordered Mr. Tyson to ‘get out,’” said the New-York Tribune.

Henry Tyson retained his composure and “Inasmuch as he had an unexpired lease of the property, he respectfully declined to vacate the premises ‘instanter,'” reported the newspaper.  “This refusal, of course, aroused the wrath of Mrs. Stevens…So she departed in a rage, and within forty-eight hours the sign ‘This Property for Sale’ appeared nailed to the big willow tree which stands as the sign of ‘The Old Willow Tree.’”

The Olde Willow Tree, too, sat on Stevens land; but the millionaire had apparently recognized what the New-York Tribune called “Mrs. Paran Steven’s intense nature,” and restricted her control of his real estate even in death.

The Tribune reported that “the butcher hied him to one of the executors of the Paran Stevens estate, and learned from Mr. Melcher that Mr. Stevens, an exceedingly prudent man, had tied up his real estate possessions in so clever a way that his wife could have no word to say about that piece of property, and that he had left her, when she should become a widow to find out.

“Mrs. Stevens, to her great disgust, soon did ‘find out’ that all this property was in the control of two executors, and even her objections did not move Mr. Tyson.  The meat-market still remains, a one-story structure.  And so does ‘The Old Willow Tree.”

5th Avenue, in 1884, was fully developed.  Regimented rows of stoops lead to side-by-side brownstone mansions on the west (left) side.  In the distance is the white marble St. Patrick's Cathedral and in the foreground is Temple Emanu-el.  The lone tree in the etching is the old willow tree, obscuring Henry Tyson's 5th Avenue Market -- New York's Great Industries, 1884 (copyright expired)
As society moved further up Fifth Avenue, so did Marietta Stevens.   She moved into an imposing mansion on the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street.  Here, on the third floor, her funeral was held in April 1895.  She died never having gotten rid of “that horrid butcher.”

A year later, on September 20, 1896, the New-York Tribune commented on the changes around Henry Tyson’s Fifth Avenue Market.  “The erection of the Delmonico building at the northwest corner of the avenue and Forth-fourth st., and of Sherry’s new place at the southwest corner, with the coming opening of the big Manhattan Hotel near by, the new and enlarged Hotel Renaissance at Fifth-ave. and Forty-third-st., the development of Forty-third and Forty-fourth sts. As the habitation of clubs with fine new homes near by the old meat market—all make this Paran Stevens property extremely valuable.”

In the meantime, Henry Tyson’s fortunes grew.  By 1900 the former newsboy owned a summer estate in Riverside, Connecticut, was a Director of the Chelsea Exchange Bank, and member of the Riverside Yacht Club. (Henry’s brother-partner in the former newspaper route, George, was Commodore of the Yacht Club.)

The extent of Tyson’s wealth was evident on November 3 of that year when a fire in the barn and carriage house at the Riverside estate caused a $5,000 loss—about $125,000 today.  The fire started in the coachman’s apartment around 9:00 in the evening and quickly spread.  The New York Times reported that “his daughter Ida braved the flames to save her pet pony.  In so doing she was knocked down and trampled upon by the colt, but escaped serious injuries.  The colt was saved.”

In the carriage house, along with the coachman’s belongings, were “several horses and carriages” and “although the buildings were on the water’s edge, they burned to the ground.”

The land on which Tyson’s butcher shop stood had become dizzyingly valuable at the turn of the century.  On April 28, 1901 the New-York Tribune reported that “H. H. Tyson, the proprietor of the meat market at the southeast corner of Forty-fourth-st. and Fifth-ave., said yesterday that the plot on which his market stands had not been sold.”  The article then added, “According to another person interested in the property, however, the contract for the purchase of the plot has been signed.”

If the contract was not signed on April 28, it would be soon.  Almost a year to the day later, The Evening Post Record reported that Tyson had bought Eleanor Van R. Fairfax’s four-story brownstone house at the southeast corner of Madison Avenue and 49th Street for $75,000.   On April 29, 1902 The New York Times added “Mr. Tyson says that he intends to remodel the dwelling on the Madison Avenue and Forty-ninth Street corner, and transfer his business to that point.”

A charming watercolor captured the meat market on a rainy day at the turn of the century -- from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
In January 1903 Tyson moved his meat market to Madison Avenue.    Seven months later he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and contracted pneumonia.  On September 9 he died at his country estate.

The 44th Street corner, including The Old Willow Tree Inn, was sold for $2 million.  Tyson’s Fifth Avenue Market was razed after having stood—much to the disgruntlement of at least one haughty socialite—for nearly half a century.     In place of the butcher shop and saloon a 12-story office building was completed in 1905.
The 1905 office building did not last.  Today a contemporary structure sits on the site of Henry Tyson's meat market.  photo by Alice Lum

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The 1846 No. 857 Broadway

The Goelet Family traced its roots in New York to 1718.  That year John G. Goelet, a Huguenot who had come to America after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, arrived. The family gained its financial foothold as merchants; but the Goelet’s greatest wealth came from the acquisition of land.

The family amassed its fortune by acquiring, but never selling land.  As the city grew northward, it began encroaching on the “Goelet Farm,” a vast swatch of real estate that covered much of the Broadway and Fifth Avenue areas north of 14th Street.

Peter P. Goelet, the grandson of John, had two sons, Peter and Robert.  Upon his death, the brothers inherited and managed the vast holdings.  In 1836 Peter paid the staggering price of $22,500 for the mansion of recently-deceased Cornelius T. Williams at the corner of Broadway and 19th Street.  Eccentric and reclusive, he never married, but was close to his brother, Robert.

Soon Charles Ruggles, who had developed the exclusive Gramercy Park a decade earlier, was busy working on Union Park, later to be called Union Square.  By 1845 the park had been laid out and fine mansions were being erected along its perimeter.  Peter Goelet started construction on a mansion at the northwest corner of 17th Street and Broadway in 1845.  Completed a year later it became home to his brother in 1854.

The Goelet brothers now lived two blocks apart.  Henry Hall in his “America’s Successful Men of Affairs in 1896," said Robert “resembled his eccentric brother Peter in many respects and was warmly attached to him, the two men making visits to West Point together every year, and being constantly in each other’s society.”

Robert, unlike his brother, was married.  In October 1839 he had married Sarah Ogden, and they had two sons, Robert and Ogden.   But like Peter, Robert and his wife lived a quiet existence with little apparent entertaining or display in the house.

Three years after the family moved in, on Wednesday morning September 16, 1857, the funeral of Robert’s sister-in-law, Charlotte E. Lawrence was held in the parlor.  The New York Times announced that relatives and friends of the family were “respectfully invited to attend…without further invitation.”

Twenty-two years later the same newspaper would report that Robert Goelet died in the house on September 22, 1879.  Peter died exactly two months to the day later.  Robert Goelet’s sons now controlled one of the largest fortunes in the nation—their uncle’s estate topping $12 million alone.

The converted house (far left) before the cast iron facade was added -- Mail & Express (copyright expired)
By now the once-fashionable Union Square had been engulfed by commercial interests.  The mansions that had not been razed and replaced with businesses were converted.  And so it would be for the Robert Goelet mansion.  A contemporary etching shows an added parapet and other modifications for commercial use.

Then in 1884 architect Joseph M. Dunn stripped off the masonry façade and replaced it with an up-to-date cast iron front.  The structure was extended to the rear as retail space was introduced at street level and offices installed above.  Touches of the Aesthetic Movement—like stylized sunflowers—decorated the cast iron.

Jeweler Joseph F. Chatellier was among the first tenants.  One of his competitors, Tiffany & Co., also had its store on Union Square.  Joining the jeweler in the building was the salesroom of Brokaw Mfg. Co.  The firm manufactured men’s shirts in Newburg, New York and in September, 1890, advertised “Over one hundred thousand dollars’ worth of flannel shirts will be placed on sale.”

When Chatellier left, William Marcus took its place.  Marcus & Co., like its predecessor and Tiffany’s, was a high-end dealer in diamonds, pearls and other costly items.  And like those firms, it was a target for thieves.

One of the thieves was 18-year old Lizzie Patterson.  On August 16, 1894 she found herself in court on several counts, one of which was bilking $125 worth of diamonds from Marcus & Co.  It was not her first appearance in that same courtroom.

Earlier, before her marriage to George Patterson, she watched on as he was tried for forgery.  The New York Times reported at the time “he pleaded piteously to be released, saying that it was his first offense, and that he was about to be married.”  Then Lizzie “added her tears to his prayers, and Judge Cowing suspended sentence.  The couple were married in the court room.”

Now she was back, charged with the Marcus theft by forgery and for passing a counterfeit certified check for $100 at Flomerfelt & Co. nearby at No. 644 Broadway.  She tried to get goods from Tiffany & Co. “but the delivery of the goods was stopped on suspicion that all was not right.”

Lizzie’s lawyer pleaded for clemency on account of her tender age.  The jury found her guilty and she was remanded to the Tombs.

Workers clear snow from Union Square.  The renovated No. 857 Broadway shines in the background -- NYPL Collection
Just a week earlier William E. Marcus had been in the Police Court because of another theft.  It was customary for salesmen to obtain merchandise from retailers on “memorandum” when they had a likely customer, and then pay for the items after receiving payment.  Salesman Adolph Roller obtained a $450 pair of diamond earrings from Marcus that way and then, instead of selling them, pawned them for $250.

Marcus was vehement and had the saleman arrested.  The magistrate held Roller on $1,500 bail for trial.  The Times reported that “When he heard the Judge’s decision he fainted.”

Two years later Marcus was taken for a great deal more.  William A. Bellwood came into the store in March 1896.  Marcus gave him a diamond necklace on memoranda worth $4,400—about $105,000 today.  He came back two days later and took a ring worth $500 and another worth $250, and a pair of earrings.   In all William Marcus was out about $5,000 in diamonds.

Finally in February 1898 Marcus was on the stand against Bellwood.  The crook had traveled to France where, under the name of Louis Alfred Balensi, was involved in blackmailing.

The 17th Street side featured separate retail spaces and slightly-protruding bays.
Around 1900 Joseph de Young opened his photography studio in the building.  In 1903 the Drake Business School began operations in the upper floors, advertising “well lighted and cheerful rooms” where students could be trained in shorthand, telegraphy, higher accounting and other business courses.

Joseph De Young’s Photograph Gallery boasted that it was the “largest photographic establishment in New York City” and it would stay here for decades.  In 1907 it was instrumental in the apprehension of a bizarre thief.  The studio displayed samples of its work in a sidewalk case.  A watchman caught Edward M. Burnham, an Englishman, jimmying open the case and removing photographs.  He had taken a photograph of a polo team and another of a basketball team.  It would seem to be a petty crime; but the eyebrows of the police were raised when he gave his address—the Edward Berwind mansion on Fifth Avenue and 64th Street.

Burnham was the millionaire’s butler and, as it turned out, had also been the butler for Howard Gould, Charles T. Barney and Samuel Untermyer.  A search of his room turned up an Aladdin’s cache of personal items stolen from his millionaire employers.

The Sun reported “It is a very rare burglar, in the experience of Headquarters, that will treasure in his rooms such trinkets as a powder puff with jewels about the handle, silken hose with S.U. embroidered in feather stitch just where the garter clasps, several hundred silken neckties and an assortment of shoes from pumps to riding boots, to say nothing of pearls worth $600 and other gauds that should go directly to a conscientious ‘fence.’  So Headquarters believe that in the apprehension of Burnham they have a devote to art purely for art’s sake.”

Years later the photographer himself would be posthumously responsible for shocking the public.  Joseph B. De Young had a partner in the business, a woman named Matilda Wallace.  On December 18, 1919 his will was filed in the Surrogates Court.  The New-York Tribune spilled the details the following day.

The newspaper reported that De Young bequeathed “$5 each to his widow and son.  To Matilda Wallace, his partner in the photographic establishment, he left his one-half interest in the business.”  The photographer explained that Wallace had loaned him $15,000 after he had lost money in the stock market.  “And this is the only means I have to make some payment on that debt.”

At the time that Joseph De Young’s widow and son were trying to figure out how to subsist on their $5 inheritances, the U.S. Government was dealing with anarchists.  Among these were Mollie Steimer, Jacob Abrams, Samuel Lipman and Hyman Lachowsky who were all serving prison sentences for distributing literature opposing American military intervention in Russia.

The group’s attorney was Harry Weinberger who worked with The Political Prisoners’ Defense and Relief Committee with offices in No. 857 Broadway.   As Weinberger negotiated their release on the conditions of deportation, the Committee was raising the funds necessary to pay their traveling expenses.

Mollie Steimer, however, was a bit more stubborn that the rest.  Although “admitting she is an anarchist, [she] has refused to consent to deportation on the ground that individuals have the right to live anywhere,” said The New York Tribune on August 4, 1920.  Assumedly that included prison.

By mid-century the shops and businesses along Union Square were not as exclusive as they had been in the 1890s.  In 1942, during World War II, Northeastern Mdse. Co. ran its mail order business from No. 857.  The firm capitalized on the rampant and  deep-rooted bitterness against Japan and Germany and that year advertised “Hitler and the Jap”—an assortment of puzzle cartoons that cost $4.00 for 1,000 at wholesale.  The firm promised they were “Far funnier than 4 pigs.  Now showing the Jap hung on a noose; also Hitler and the rats.”

In 1998 the cast iron was rusted and graffiti was scrawled along the side wall -- photo Wikis Take Manhattan project
Although the building suffered neglect in the late 20th century, a 2005 renovation brought it back to life.  Now part of the vibrant, rediscovered Union Square neighborhood its late Victorian makeover shines.  No one would suspect that under the cast iron façade hides the mansion of one of New York’s wealthiest citizens of the 19th century.

non-credited photographs taken by the author

Friday, February 22, 2013

The 1836 Joseph Tucker House -- No. 337 West 22nd St.

The 1811 Commissioners’ Plan laid out on paper the regimented grid of streets and avenues that would define Manhattan above 14th Street.  Sprawling country estates of the city’s gentry were now, at least on paper, divided into blocks that would sprout rowhouses and commercial buildings.  Among these was Chelsea, the family estate of Clement Clarke Moore.

Moore accepted the inevitable and seven years later donated a full city block, known as Chelsea Square, for the establishment of the General Theological  Seminary of the Episcopal Church.  In 1831 a chapel of Trinity Church, St. Peter’s, was dedicated half a block away on West 20th Street.  Before long Moore’s once-rural estate would be a hive of development.

Initially he wrote restrictive covenants into the residential deeds to ensure a higher class of homes.  Joseph Tucker was one of the first two homeowners on West 22nd Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues.  In 1835 he purchased six lots from Moore with the agreement that he would complete a residence within the year.  The deed required that the house stretch 37 and a half feet wide--over 12 feet wider than the average building lot. 

Tucker was a mason and builder who, quite possibly, was responsible for the construction of his own mansion at No. 337.  Next door, at No. 333, what was probably an identical house was constructed for Nicholas Ludlam and Tucker was most likely responsible for that home as well.  The wide, elegant homes were designed in the Greek Revival style that had recently nudged Federal-style residential architecture out of fashion.  They were considered mansions at the time and, as Moore intended, set the bar for construction along the block.

As John Tucker and his wife Isabella lived comfortably at No. 337, dry goods merchant and broker Don Alonzo Cushman was buying up property from Clement Clark Moore.  Between 1839 and 1840 he constructed the string of elegant Greek Revival homes a block to the west on 20th Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues known as Cushman Row.

Around the time of the Civil War the Tucker house was modernized with an Italianate doorway, Victorian ironwork and a bracketed cornice.  When the Tuckers left West 22nd Street is unclear; but by the 1890s No. 337 was home to Don Alonzo Cushman’s son, Ephraim Holbrook Cushman. 

A handsome Italianate doorway and ironwork updated the house around the time of the Civil War.
The family traced its American roots to Robert Cushman who landed in Plymouth on the Fortune in 1621.  Ephraim Cushman was born in 1832 and his son, Holbrook, graduated with honors from Columbia College in 1878.  Holbrook then studied physics, mathematics and chemistry abroad at the University at Wurzburg, Bavaria, then at Helmholtz in Berlin.

Upon his return to New York he was appointed assistant in physics at Columbia, where he quickly rose to the rank of instructor.  Although he was an electrical engineer and was connected with several large corporations in the U.S. and England, his heart was in the classroom laboratory.   He spent his summers in Europe not on vacation; but to study the methods used in the leading universities which he would integrate into his teaching.

At the end of the school term in 1895 the 38-year old Cushman requested a leave of absence citing “ill health.”  Within two weeks he was confined to his bedroom in the West 22nd Street house; his doctors diagnosing “heart trouble.”  On the afternoon of October 25, 1895 he died in his bed at No. 337.

Friends and relatives of the family visited the body of Holbrook Cushman in the parlor the following day, before it was removed to St. Peter’s Church.  There the funeral was held at 10:00 on the morning of October 27.

The family stayed on in No. 337 and, like his father, Joseph Wood Cushman graduated with honors from Columbia College.  In 1893 he married Frances J. Rathborrne.  The couple had a son, also named Holbrook, who was born in 1895, the year of his grandfather's death.

Aggressively successful, Joseph Wood Cushman would become president of the real estate company J. W. Cushman & Co.; president of the City Land Improvement Company; president of the Cushman and Denison Manufacturing Company; chairman of the Citizens’ Union of the 9th Assembly District, and a warden of St. Peter’s Church.

By 1904 the Cushmans had moved to No. 240 West 23rd Street and were leasing the family home.  The once-grand homes between Eighth and Ninth Avenues were slowly being converted to rooming houses.  Simultaneously, a movement that some viewed with suspicion was taking hold a few blocks south on 14th Street.

That year Evangeline Booth arrived in New York.  The daughter of William Booth who founded the Salvation Army, she had come to take charge of the U.S. operation.  The Army’s headquarters had recently been established on 14th Street and in 1905 the Salvation Army Training College was opened at Nos. 126-130 West 14th Street.  The building burned to the ground in 1918 and a year later the Training College established itself in the Cushman house.

Directly across the street lived the President of the Borough of Manhattan, Frank L. Dowling.  The superintendent of the school became close friends with the politician.  As The New York Times explained it, “They became acquainted through Mr. Dowling’s 3-year-old daughter, who frequently visited the Salvation Army headquarters, where she was a favorite with the Superintendent and the workers.”

In September that year Frank Dowling died.  His well-regarded status was reflected in the names of his pallbearers:  Mayor John F. Hyland; City Controller, Charles Craig;  President of the Board of Aldermen, Robert L. Moran; all four other Borough Presidents; and leader of Tammany Hall, Charles F. Murphy.  On September 29, 1919 125 students from the Training College crossed the street and assembled “in military formation,” according to The Times, “and sang hymns and offered a prayer for the comfort of the Dowling family.  The ceremony attracted a large crowd, which took part in the singing.”

The Salvation Army Training College would not stay long in the Cushman House.  On December 31 that year it purchased a building in the Bronx and soon moved on. 

The once-proud home, still owned by the Cushman family, was broken into apartments in 1921; however the Department of Buildings restricted its use to “not more than two families cooking independently on premises.”  Among the tenants would be Herschel Jones and his wife, Inis.  Inis was a well-read journalist who wrote under the name of Inis Weed Jones.   She was adept at popularizing less exciting topics such as medicine, sociology and science and wrote extensively for Harper’s, Schibner’s and the Reader’s Digest.  Her husband stayed on in the house after she died in 1938 while researching an article on the cooperative farm movement.

The Chelsea neighborhood underwent some unfortunate times in the second half of the 20th century and many of the old homes were substantially altered.  In 1962 No. 337 underwent a sweeping renovation which reportedly obliterated any surviving interior detailing.

The house next door was, almost unbelievably, a near carbon copy in 1836.
Although no trace of John Tucker’s 1836 Greek Revival façade remains, the Victorian remodeling is mostly intact.   And the mansion has fared far better than its once-identical next door neighbor at No. 333 which is ruined beyond hope.

photographs taken by the author

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The 1900 No. 320 West 105th Street

Subtle differences distinguished No. 320 (to the right) from its neighbor.
Once development got going on the Upper West Side, it steamrolled.  Beginning in the 1880s developers filled entire block fronts in a single sweep with harmonious homes designed by a single architect.

Unlike the East Side with its prim, correct homes, the West Side erupted with Queen Anne, neo-Tudor, Flemish Revival and other expressive styles complete with gargoyles, dog-legged stoops and stained glass windows.  The mansions of the Upper West Side were not your East Side palaces.

Except, perhaps, on West 105th Street.

Developer-builder John C. Umberfield joined in the building boom and purchased the block front of 105th Street between the newly-completed Riverside Drive and West End Avenue.  He commissioned the architectural firm of Janes & Leo to design a striking row of high-end residences that would stretch from No. 302 to 320.   The firm had just completed The Alimar around the corner at No. 925 West End Avenue, an exuberant high class apartment building in the Beaux Arts style.

For Umberfield’s string of homes, the firm would turn to the highly popular style again, creating a row of French-influenced mansions much more akin to their across-the-park cousins than their brick-and-stone West Side neighbors.  Construction began in 1899 and the row was completed a year later.  The homes were all highly similar, but discreetly individual.  The mansions were grouped in twos with each pair being nearly identical.  By arranging the row this way, the architects accomplished an harmonious flow and a sense of balance.

The architects designed the row in pairs, affording continuity and variety at the same time.
The homes were offered for sale in 1900 for between $42,500 and $50,000—just over $1 million today.

The closest to River Side Drive was No. 320.  Five stories tall, it was entered at street level.  A two story slightly-angled bay was flanked by shallow pilasters and decorated with ironwork and carved garlands.  A slate-tiled mansard was punctured by two hooded dormers.

Banker Robert E. Tod purchased the house.  He and his brother John Kennedy Tod ran the firm of J. S. Kennedy & Company founded by their uncle.   When not banking, Tod was yachting.  He was Commodore of the Atlantic Yacht Club and was instrumental in organizing an international yacht race involving the German Emperor in 1903.  He was put in the awkward position of deciding between the cup offered as grand prize by Sir Thomas Lipton and the imperial cup offered by the Emperor.  He chose the latter.

That same year Tod was somewhat of a hero when he was motoring home along Broadway at 65th Street on September 4.  Ellen Walsh, a young mother carrying her baby, stepped off an electric trolley car and started to cross the street.  While Tod watched, she was run down by a hansom cab.  The shaft of the cab knocked her and her baby to the ground.  “The horse’s hoofs also struck her, and one of the wheels of the cab passed over her body,” reported the New York Times.

The cabbie, Frank Woods, whipped his horse and drove quickly away.  Robert Tod went into action. He sped after the cab, calling for him to stop.  “Woods paid no attention to the banker,” said The Times.  “At Sixtieth Street Mr. Tod overtook Woods and upbraided him for running away.”  When the cabbie exhibited his resentment at the interference, Tod told him that if he did not come to the station house with him, “he would arrest him himself.”

The cabbie realized he was caught and went to the police station with Tod, where he was charged with assault and jailed.  Both Mrs. Walsh and the baby were treated for their wounds and a policeman drove them home.

In 1906 Tod moved to No. 323 West 74th Street and No. 320 became home to attorney Walter M. Goldsmith and his wife, Hennie.  Like Tod, Goldsmith had a motor car (his was a Hupp), a reflection of his financial status.   The Goldsmiths would stay on in the house until July 1919 when it was sold to “a builder who plans to alter the premises.”

The builder was Richard A. Henrique and alter it he did.  He converted the mansion to bachelor apartments.  The building filled with a variety of tenants--none, perhaps, so rich but by no means any less colorful than their predecessors.

Charles D. Lowe was one of the first young men to live here.  On January 10, 1922 he parked his automobile at 109th Street and Fort Washington Avenue, only to find it gone when he returned.   A little over a month later, on February 15, police noticed it parked in front of a hotel in Smithtown, Long Island.  When the driver, 22-year old Samuel Schultz, started to drive it away, they arrested him.  Schultz had just completed a term of two and a half years in Sing Sing for an earlier automobile theft.

In 1927 Herman Bloom lived here.  He was a waiter in the swanky nightclub at No. 154 West 54th Street owned by singer Helen Morgan.  On the night before New Year’s Eve Chez Helen Morgan was the scene of “one of the most spectacular night club raids in the history of metropolitan prohibition enforcement,” according to The Times

At around 1:30 in the morning, 25 agents crashed into the club.  They not only arrested Helen Morgan and eight employees, they “completely wrecked the club,” said The Times, causing $75,000 in damages.  Among those behind bars that New Year’s Eve was Herman Bloom.

Actress, singer and cabaret owner Helen Morgan found herself behind bars with her waiter, Herman Bloom -- photo Library of Congress
Another resident to find himself behind bars was Alvin G. Davis, a 45-year old real estate salesman.  Davis supplemented his real estate commissions with forgery and swindling.  In September 1928 he advertised that he wished by buy a three-carat diamond ring.  Jeweler Irving Robinowitz of No. 562 Fifth Avenue responded.

When Davis (who formerly went by the name Albert Davis) wrote out a check for the $1,650 price tag, Robinowitz refused to accept it.  So Davis suggested they go to his bank and have the check certified.   While the jeweler looked on, Davis presented a check to the teller who certified it.  The check, however, was for $25.  Davis then handed Robinowitz a $1650 check with an artificial certification.

Although he protested his innocence, Davis had already served time in Sing Sing Prison for forgery in 1914, returned in 1921 for four years on three charges of forgery; and received a suspended sentence in 1926 for attempted grand larceny.  Alvin Davis had a hard time learning a lesson.

The “bachelors only” rule was no longer observed by 1933 when Doris W. Hopkins lived here with her Pekinese.  She was no doubt highly pleased her pampered pet took home “best dog of the day” at Bloomingdale’s department store’s second annual dog show in January of that year.  The store was compassionate to the mongrels as well; for besides the pure-bred competition The New York Times noted “Friday, January 13, has been set aside for dogs whose ancestry is at best vague.”

In 1937 the house was sold, assessed at $37,000.  It was converted to apartments, two to a floor.  Today the former mansion looks much as it did in 1900; although the entrance door has a rather unfortunate replacement.  It anchors the wonderful string of well-maintained residences that brought a little bit of the East Side across the park in 1900.

photographs taken by the author