Saturday, March 30, 2013

The 1918 Francis Palmer House -- No. 75 E. 93rd St.

photo by Alice Lum
On the northwest corner of 93rd Street and Park Avenue in 1911 stood the elegant wood-and-stone country house of General Winfield Scott.  Its gardens long ago swallowed up by development, it was now use by the Ursuline nuns as an academy for young Catholic girls.

But progress and the upward movement of Manhattan’s millionaires demanded that the historic building sitting on valuable real estate come down.  In February 1912 The New York Times reported that “Robert Shaw Minturn has joined the uptown Park Avenue residential colony by purchasing…from the Ursuline Sisters of St. Theresa a large plot on the northwest corner of Park Avenue and Ninety-third Street, which he intends to improve with two handsome dwellings.”

Minturn did construct his own mansion on the eastern end of the property along 93rd Street; however his mother’s home did not materialize.  Instead Minturn sold the corner lot to wealthy banker Francis F. Palmer in April 1916.  Palmer commissioned architectural firm Delano & Aldrich to design his new mansion. 

On November 12, 1916 The New York Times commented on the many elegant homes being built in the area.  “The number of new buildings or extensive alterations of old dwellings in the choice private house blocks north of Sixtieth Street is exceptionally large,” it said.  The newspaper noted that “Last week contracts were let for a fine residence for Francis F. Palmer on the northwest corner of Park Avenue and Ninety-third Street.”

A tall brick wall hides the garden -- The Architectural Review, January 1919 (copyright expired)
By now the Colonial Revival movement had firmly taken root in America and for the Palmer house, the architects turned to the country’s architectural beginnings.  Completed in 1918 the mansion opened on to 93rd Street, despite its 1180 Park Avenue address.    The red brick home was trimmed in white marble and recalled the lofty Georgian residences of colonial America.  A steep mansard level, covered in slate and punctured by formal dormers, sat behind a marble balustrade.   Dramatic slabs of chimneys more than a story tall thrust through the roof.

The Architectural Review, January 1919 (copyright expired)

Palmer created what even in 1918 was an extravagant luxury—a huge side court that served as a formal garden behind a tall brick wall.  The courtyard entrance was framed in marble extending two stories, creating a Juliette balcony above the doorway.

The Palmers filled the house with period-correct furnishings -- The Architectural Review, January 1919 (copyright expired)
By the time George F. Baker Jr. purchased the house from the Palmer family eight years later, the Park Avenue address had been discarded and No. 75 East 93rd Street was used..   Baker eyed lustfully the house on the old Minturn property, now owned by William A. Alock.  Finally on October 21, 1927 he acquired the five-story Alock house, extending his property to 100 feet along Park Avenue and 139 feet down 93rd Street.

The wealthy banker brought Delano & Aldrich back.   A year later one of the most impressive residential complexes in Manhattan had been created.  In place of the Alock house was a garage with servants quarters above.   Joining the new structure with the mansion was a long extension known as the “ballroom wing.”  The dexterous use of materials and details made the addition, which now fully embraced the formal  garden, nearly seamless.

To the left, on the far side of the garden, the new garage and servants' wing is visible -- photo from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Baker was the son of George F. Baker, for many years the Chairman of the First National Bank.  His wife, the former Edith Kane, was the great great granddaughter of Henry Brevoort.  Their combined fortunes made the Bakers among the wealthiest couples in the city.  The renovations to the mansion were completed just in time for daughter Florence’s coming out.

photo by Alice Lum
The house was the scene of “several dinners” in 1930 according to The Times for Florence’s debut.  It all culminated on the night of December 22 with a dance “to introduce her to society.”

The courtyard entrance with its quaint Juliette balcony -- The Architectural Review, January 1919 (copyright expired)

The following year was not so joyous for Edith Kane Baker.  Her cousin, Mary Emma Calhoun, took offense to remarks Edith made in public about her—that she was a narcotic addict and “a liar and not to be trusted.”

Calhoun sued her cousin for $500,000 for slander.  What ensued was a months-long game of tag with the wealthy socialite staying two steps ahead of the process servers.

Edith Baker was not at the 93rd Street house when the server first came.  It was, after all, August and she was summering in the Baker country estate on Peacock Lane, Locust Valley, Long Island.  When he attempted to find Mrs. Baker there, “admittance had been refused him at Locust Valley,” said the press.

Back at the 93rd Street house, the butler told the process server to serve the papers on Mr. Baker.  Mrs. Calhoun’s lawyers then sent a letter to Edith asking her to “arrange to accept the service.”  She responded by leaving a message for her cousin to call her.  One might assume the subsequent conversation was less than pleasant.

Finally on November 27, 1931 the charges were dismissed by Justice Gavegan on the grounds that they were “indefinite.”

The ballroom wing was the scene of one of New York society’s most important weddings on May 3, 1934 when Edith Brevoort Baker, the Baker’s younger daughter, married John Mortimer Schiff.  “The marriage united two members of families long prominent in the philanthropic and financial worlds,” noted The Times.

The ballroom had been transformed into “a garden of Spring flowers,” including full-grown dogwood trees grouped into the corners of the room.   The newspaper made note of the courtyard.  “Had the weather been more conducive to staying out of doors, many of the guests would have had the privilege of wandering through a garden of dogwood and shrubs between the house and garage adjoining, which had been included in the scheme of floral decoration.”

Following the wedding, a 50-pound wedding cake was brought out; “a product of Mme. Blanche, who also made the wedding cake for the bride’s parents in 1912 as well as that for her sister, Mrs. T. Suffern Tailer Jr., the former Miss Florence Baker.”

George Baker died in 1937 while cruising near the Hawaiian Island.  Edith Baker continued to live on in the house; however around the time of the Second World War, she closed off the main house and ballroom wing.  She had the servants’ and chauffeur’s quarters above the garage renovated as her Manhattan pied-a-terre and spent most of her time at the Long Island estate.

photo by Alice Lum
When the White House was being restored during the Truman administration, Edith donated the two antique chandeliers from the ballroom—each containing about 80 carved crystal prisms.  Otherwise, the grand home was shuttered and dark and unmolested.

In 1958 The Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia approached Edith Baker, offering to buy the mansion as its headquarters.  Russian-banker Sergei Semenenko managed to pull together the funds and acquired the house for the church.  And as is almost always the case, when religious institutions purchase old houses, changes are necessarily in store.

Because the ballroom was to be used as an assembly hall, an outside staircase in the courtyard was installed and French doors replaced the ballroom windows.   A large opening was broken through the garden wall and decorative gates were added. 
The added staircase in the courtyard is seen through the gates, added during the renovation -- photo by Alice Lum
The renovations were done with dexterity and sympathy, making the alterations harmonious with the original design.  The handsome complex remains one of the most impressive and unusual of Manhattan residential structures.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Nos. 704-706 Greenwich Street

photo by Alice Lum
On the first day of July in 1885 Julius Munckwitz resigned his position as Architect of the Department of Public Parks.  Born in Leipzig, Germany, he had spent several years working with Parks Commissioner and co-designer of Central Park Frederick Law Olmsted in designing useful and pleasing public parks buildings.  Perhaps his salary cut in 1881—from $3,000 to $1,500—contributed to his decision; but he now turned his attention to individual commissions, several of them in Greenwich Village.

By the last decade of the century the neighborhood from the Hudson River to Hudson Street was almost entirely industrial.  In 1892 Munckwitz was hired by Simon Adler and Henry S. Herrman to design an expansive stables building at Nos. 704 and 706 Greenwich Street.  The men had been partners in an insurance company, Adler & Herrman, since 1887, but they were familiar with speculative real estate development.  The highly-active Herrman was not only President of the Union Exchange Bank of New York and a Director of the Montefiore Home for Chronic Invalids, he was a vice-president of the Hudson Realty Company.

The resulting four-story building was intended for use by a commercial delivery firm with additional income provided by cheap housing or offices on the upper floors.  Completed in 1893, it was an attractive while undeniably utilitarian structure.  Munckwitz sat the structure on a base of rough-cut stone trimmed in dressed brownstone.  Two massive sets of double carriage doors were separated by long, slender square-headed windows and flanked on either side by arched openings.

The upper three brick stories were neatly separated by brownstone bandcourses, and continuous stone lintels—treated differently at each level—ran the width of the structure.

Shortly after the building’s completion the Real Estate Record and Builders’ Guide reported that, on December 27, 1893, the stables was sold by “Simon Adler and Henry S. Herrman to Mary J. Edwards,” for $60,000.  A wealthy widow, Mary Edwards was a member of the Colonial Dames of America and held real estate throughout the city.

Her first commercial tenant here was the Baker Transfer Co., owned by Jessie F. Baker.  The delivery firm operated here for five years before falling into financial problems.  In 1901 the Crosby Transfer Co. moved its operation into the building.  The rough neighborhood caused the company headaches in the form of horse thieves.

In June 1907 the problem had become epidemic, overwhelming the police force.  The manager of Crosby Transfer told a reporter from The New York Times “In the last six months there has been such an amount of horse stealing that the police records of the last six years cannot measure up to it.”

The latest incident involved a shipment of decorative Asian household goods headed for Vantine & Co. on Broadway.  “In this case horse, truck, and goods were stolen, and our hope is that the goods on the truck—two cases of Japanese umbrellas and bamboo porch shades belonging to Vantine & Co.—were sufficient to appease the thieves, and that they turned the horse and truck adrift,” he said.

The manager expressed his frustration at the ineptitude of the police.  “They hang ‘em out West, but we don’t even catch ‘em here…The old custom was to drive off a truck, dispose of the contents, and then let the horse prowl about until the police picked it up or some one brought it back for a reward.  But of late the thieves have not been content with disposing of the goods in the stolen trucks.  They have repainted the trucks, sold them, and sold the horses also.  They seem to have ‘fences’ in the suburbs, where they can manage to dispose of horse, truck, and contents.”

The bold thefts were taking place in broad daylight at the crowded Hudson River piers.  “The business is so heavy at these points that frequently the drivers have to leave their teams outside and walk up the piers to get their consignments rather than wait in line, tiring out their horse and themselves by long stretches of inactivity,” explained The Times.  When the driver would return, his entire rig was often missing.

The newspaper advised the trucking firms like Crosby Transfer to buy insurance.  “It is not only usual, but safe, to insure your teams against depredators of the wild and wooly Western type.”

The elevated train of the Manhattan Railway Company had been running up Greenwich Street since 1891; and the noisy overhead contraptions and the skittish horses below were not always a happy mix.  On the night of March 22, 1909 little 8-year old Nora Dacey and her 3-year old brother were standing on the sidewalk near the corner of West 10th and Greenwich Streets when a train passed overhead.  The children lived nearby at No. 273 West 10th.

Down the block at Crosby Transfer a horse which was standing harnessed to a truck was spooked by the train.  The frightened steed galloped down the sidewalk towards the children with the heavy truck in tow.  A neighbor, Minnie Kelly of No. 169 Perry Street, saw the impending catastrophe and snatched the little boy just as the runaway horse approached.  Although she tried to grab Nora, the horse knocked the girl to the ground and the heavy truck wheel ran over her ankle, crushing it.

Policeman Gallagher from the Charles Street Station managed to stop the out-of-control horse a block away.  The boy and girl were treated at St. Vincent’s Hospital and sent home; but Nora was taken back later that night suffering from shock.

The following year Crosby Transfer left the Greenwich Street building and on March 12, 1910 The New York Times reported that it had been leased.  David Walsh, Inc., operated by brothers David and James Walsh took the space.   Another trucking company, it ran successfully from the building for years—so successfully that in 1918 Laura Jay Edwards, Mary’s daughter, sold the building to David Walsh.

In 1921 Walsh bought an additional property at No. 271 West 10th Street and moved its operations there.  By now automobiles outnumbered horses but the noble steeds were not entirely gone.

John Ochse was leasing the building in 1926 when Department of Buildings records recorded a conversion to “stable.”  After three decades of commercial trucking use, it was now a boarding stables for private horses.  It was no doubt at this time that the black-lettered “Boarding Stable” signs were painted on the brick façade.

Still legible above street level are the quaint signs of nearly a century ago -- photo by Alice Lum
David Walsh died in the 1960s and his brother died by 1976.  In 1978 the building was sold by the Walsh estate and two years later was converted into apartments.  The wide carriage doors were filled in with glass blocks; the only major alteration to Julius Munckwitz's handsome facade.

And, amazingly, the Boarding Stable signs still survive at the second floor—a reminder of a time when horses (and horse thieves) populated the Greenwich Street neighborhood.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The 1908 Parkview -- No. 45 E. 66th St.

photo by Alice Lum
In the first years of the 20th century apartment living for the wealthy had attained acceptability.  Lavish apartments, as large as private homes in square footage, provided luxury, panache, and  modern amenities.  Upper Broadway welcomed the trend with elaborate apartment buildings and residence hotels like the 1903 Hotel Belleclaire at 77th Street, the hulking Chatsworth Apartments completed the same year at the corner of 72nd Street, and the ebullient 1904 Ansonia Apartments at 73rd.

Charles F. Rogers got into the act with plans for another grand apartment building across Central Park on Madison Avenue.  Rogers was the son of sculptor John S. Rogers who was responsible for filling middle-class Victorian parlors country-wide with affordable and popular plaster groupings—Civil War soldiers returning home, a boy mourning his dead dog, lovers wooing, for instance.  They were the 19th century equivalents of Norman Rockwell prints executed in plaster.

Although plans for his new structure were filed in May 1906, Rogers did not secure the property until nearly a year later.  He organized the Park View Company and on March 2, 1907 The New York Times reported on the purchase of the All Soul’s Church of which Rogers was a member.  The newspaper said that the organization intended “to improve the site with a ten-story house-keeping apartment house.”

A year earlier the architectural firm of Harde & Short had completed an eye-catching apartment house nearly 20 blocks north called the Red House.   The red brick and white terra cotta building dripped with neo-Gothic ornament, causing The Real Estate Record & Guide to deem it “a departure from the usual.”

Rogers apparently approved of the departure, for he commissioned Herbert Spencer Harde and Richard Thomas Short to design the Park View Apartments.  Completed in 1908, the $1 million structure was reminiscent of the Red House in its decoration; taking it to the edge without stepping over.
The Parkview towered over the brownstone rowhouses of the neighborhood.  First floor apartments were protected by a wall and the centered entrance defined the corner -- photo from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
As with the Red House, Harde & Short draped intricate Gothic screens like rows of lace around the building and used multi-paned windows to capture the historic period.   The façade of the Park View was as much glass as it was masonry—a remarkable feat in 1908.

photo by Alice Lum
The prominent rounded corner served as the entrance to the building, which quickly dropped the name Park View in favor of the address—777 Madison Avenue.  There were just two apartments per floor, with either 12 or 14 rooms, and the building quickly filled with important business and society names.

Among the first residents were Henry W. Poor and his wife, the former Constance E. Brandon.  Poor was a publisher and financier; the President of Poor’s Manual of Railroads, Publishers; a Director of the Postal Telegraph-Cable Company of Texas; the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railway Company; and the United States Casualty Company. 

photo by Alice Lum
Herman Behr was an early resident.  He and his wife moved in with their unmarried son, Karl.  Although Karl was an attorney with an office at No. 40 Wall Street, he was best known as one of the foremost tennis players in the country and had been a member of one of the Davis Cup teams.   Both of Herman Behr’s sons had made names for themselves in sports.  Karl’s married brother, Max, who lived in Morristown, New Jersey, was a well-known golfer.

In November 1911, young Karl sailed off to Europe “on a pleasure trip,” according to the Newark Evening News.  Six weeks later the wealthy athlete headed home, boarding the new R. M. S. Titanic in Southampton, England.

On April 16 The New York Times listed Karl Behr as among the missing on the doomed ship.  Then later that same day the Behr family received a telegram notifying them that Karl “was among the passengers saved.”

Among other survivors of the disaster was the pregnant Madeleine Force Astor, wife of John Jacob Astor.  Prior to their marriage she had been unsuccessfully wooed by Nils Florman who claimed to be a descendant of Swedish royalty (although he was making a living as a jewelry salesman at the time).   The New-York Tribune later noted “but investigation of the Florman family tree was said to have revealed that it was not all the young jewelry salesman represented it to be.”

Florman was also “attentive to Miss Katherine Force,” Madeleine’s sister; and became engaged to Helena Stallo, joint heiress with her sister to the millions left by Standard Oil magnate Alexander McDonald.   The engagement, according to the Tribune, “was broken by Miss Stallo.”

In 1914 Florman turned his attention to the 19-year old heiress Olga V. Kohler.  Olga’s father, Charles Kohler, was a wealthy piano manufacturer and owner of racing stables.  He had died leaving his three teen-aged daughters and widow a fortune of more than $4 million.  Olga received a $25,000 per year income (nearly half a million today).   Her father’s will provided another $100,000 to be paid when she reached 25, 35 and 45 years of age.

Olga fell for the smooth-talking Swede and on April 5, 1914 the couple was married in St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  The Washington Herald reported that the marriage “amazed society.”  The pampered and entitled teenaged bride sailed off to Europe for the honeymoon.  Unfortunately, war broke out while they were touring Wiesbaden, Germany, and the newlyweds were trapped for a time.  “When the Flormans did get away it was without baggage valued at $3,000,” said the New-York Tribune.

The teen-aged Olga had trouble budgeting.  Upon their return to New York she took an apartment at No. 777 Madison Avenue, paying $5,000 a year rent.  She then spent $20,000 to furnish the apartment.  And she was pregnant.  Once the baby arrived, Olga was in a financial pinch.

Now, 20 years old, she raised eyebrows of working Americans nationwide when she applied to Surrogates’ Court on June 25, 1915 saying her $25,000 annual stipend was insufficient.  The Tribune reported “It is impossible for her to take care of the baby, maintain her $5,000 a year apartment at 777 Madison Avenue, her summer cottage at Sands Point, Long Island, and employ nurses, maids and chauffeurs on that amount, she asserted.”

Olga pointed out to the court that her son, born on January 18 was a “large item of expense.”  The Tribune report dripped with sarcasm.  “His advent required the engagement of a trained nurse and an ordinary nurse to wheel the perambulator and shake rattles before his scowling features when he was ill tempered.  And to wash and dress the youngster, Mrs. Florman found she could not do without a special maid.

“And then, of course, Mrs. Florman must have her own maids.  The rent must be paid, too, not only on Madison Avenue, but at the summer cottage on Long Island.  Three servants besides the chauffeur are required at the Sands Point home.  For servants alone Mrs. Florman pays $2,000 a month, she asserts.”

Resident Olga Florman found herself in a financial bind in 1915 -- New-York Tribune, June 26, 1915 (copyright expired)
Nils Florman apparently chipped in on the household expenses; but his $50 a week salary selling jewelry was not much help.  Olga finally got her way.  After two years of legal wrangling, The Washington Herald reported on August 18, 1917, “Mrs. Gola V. Florman and her two sisters, Vera Kohler, 16 years old, and Rita Kohler, 17 years old, have proved to the satisfaction of Surrogate Cohalan that they are unable to live on an annual income of $25,000 each, and the Surrogate has ordered they each be paid $120,000 a year.”

When Max Loewenthal purchased No. 777 Madison Avenue on November 12, 1921, the New-York Tribune called it “one of the finest on the East Side” and mentioned among its tenants “Mrs. Jane L. Armour, Goelet Gallapin, Harrison Williams, Leonard M. Thomas and Walcot C. Lane.”  Also in the building was eminent astronomer Joel Browne Post and his family.

That year Constance E. Poor died and her apartment was taken by Stephen H. P. Pell and his family.  The arrival of the Pells would begin a succession of high-profile events.  Mrs. Pell was highly involved in human rights causes and hosted meetings of the National Woman’s Party here.   She was the group’s National Finance Committee and traveled to Washington to “call on President Coolidge on Feb. 15, the birthday of Susan B. Anthony, to ask his support of the equal rights amendment,” according to The New York Times on January 23, 1927.

Stephen Pell had served in both the Spanish American War, receiving the Sampson and Spanish War medals; and in the First World War in which he was severely wounded, earning him the Croix de Guerre from the French Government.   Two weeks before his wife announced her upcoming trip to see the President, the French Government conveyed another tribute on Pell.

Fort Ticonderoga, built by the French military in 1755 and crucial in the French and Indian War, stood on Pell property.  Stephen Pell commissioned architect Alfred C. Bossom to head a restoration of the fort and he established a museum on the property.  The French conferred the Legion of Honor on him for his work on the fort on January 5, 1927.

Residents Mr. and Mrs. Williams took the prize for the social coup, however, when on September 18, 1924 the Prince of Wales arrived for “a light meal.”  The Times noted that the Williams home was in “a large apartment house.”

Following supper, the Williams accompanied the Prince to the Gaiety Theatre.  Purposely entering after the play had begun, they were unseen in the dark “and he went in unnoticed,” said The Times.  No doubt to the frustration of Mrs. Williams, after each act concluded, the Prince left his seat with his companion, General Trotter, “and went to the steps leading into the aisle along the wall.  There they stood until the house was darkened again and the curtain went up once more.  No one in the audience had seen them.”

Only when the newspapers hit the streets the following morning could Mrs. Williams bask in the attention.

Carlisle J. Gleason and his family were living here in 1926.  It was a notable year for the Gleasons for several reasons.  Daughter Louis was married in East Hampton, Long Island in July to the dashing Lieutenant Frederic Stanton Withington, Jr., of the Navy in a small stone church.  The reception was held in the Gleason summer estate, Greyshingles.

Later that year Gleason employed Terence Stuart to clean the many windows of the Madison Avenue apartment.  The 28-year old specialized in high-end residences and also cleaned the windows of Mrs. Mary Crimmins at No. 157 East 63rd Street.  Stuart turned out to be as good at cleaning out jewelry chests as he was cleaning windows.  Unknown to the millionaires, a teen-aged Stuart had been convicted and sentenced to serve from five to ten years for his part in a hold-up in 1919.  “He escaped a year later from Clinton Prison, was recaptured and sent back, but was released on parole” in 1925, reported The Times.

After he left, Mrs. Crimmins found she was missing $25,000 worth of jewelry, including a pearl necklace worth $3,000.  Carlisle Gleason had lost $20,000 in jewelry.   Stuart found himself going back to prison, now, with a new ten-year sentence.

Harde & Short would, no doubt, have disapproved of the window air conditioners--photo by Alice Lum
On February 22, 1928 Jane Livingston Armour died of pneumonia in her apartment here.  The wealthy widow of Herman Ossian Armour of the Chicago packing firm Armour & Co. was 83 years old.  Her passing was symbolic of the end of an era in the Parkview apartments.

By now retail stores along Madison Avenue were commanding high rents.   That year the building owners commissioned Thomas & Churchill to alter the street level, moving the entrance to No. 45 East 66th Street.  The sidewalk level was now converted into store space.

Surprisingly it was not the Great Depression, but World War II that signaled the end to the grand, expansive apartments.  The restrictions of the rent control laws that came into effect during the war could be circumvented only by subdividing the apartments.   From 1948 to 1953 vacated apartments were dissected, becoming two.  The building was modernized by removal of most of the lacy terra cotta screens of the 6th and 10th floors.

Two decades later the building was threatened when owners Bing & Bing sold the venerable apartment house to Sigmund Sommer in 1973.  Sommer’s idea of improvements included the installation of fluorescent tubes in the hallways and firing the elevator operator in favor of automatic controls.

The residents revolted.  Rent strikes and demonstrations resulted in Bing & Bing reacquiring the building in 1977, the same year it was designated a New York City landmark.

A decade later No. 777 Broadway was converted to cooperative apartments.   Vincent Stramandinoli was commissioned to head a restoration of the façade, including replacement of the lost terra cotta elements.

Sunlight pours in through the expansive glass -- photo by Alice Lum
Harde & Short's wonderful turn-of-the-century structure, considered by some their masterpiece, emerged from the restoration a fantastic relic of early 20th century luxury living.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The 1833 Blauvelt House -- No. 232 W. 10th St.

Alterations in the second half of the 19th century resulted in a full third floor and handsome cornice.  The former stable next door has had a face lift of its own, more recently --photo by Alice Lum

By 1833 the population and building boom in Greenwich Village was going strong.  John C. Blauvelt was earning a living as a cartman, but he had greater aspirations.  That year he not only applied to the Board of Aldermen “to be appointed a Wood Inspector” according to board minutes; but he built a brick home at No. 232 West 10th Street.

Blauvelt’s brick house was typical of the Federal-style homes being built at the time.  Two and a half stories tall, it sat above an English basement below street level.  Plain brownstone lintels and sills and an unadorned door frame reflected the owner’s financial status—comfortable enough to build a brick home; but without unnecessary embellishments.  The pitched roof would have been punctured by one or two neat dormers.

It appears that Blauvelt’s application to be Wood Inspector was denied, for a year later he sold the new house to John Kohler along with the empty lot next door at No. 230.  John Blauvelt moved on and his name appears soon after as a resident of Rockland County.

Construction continued along the block and in 1848 Richar Dongan built a Greek Revival style home next door at No. 234.  A narrow horse walk separated the houses, which lead to a one-story wooden stable in the rear.  On the empty lot that Kohler purchased with No. 230 a brick-fronted stable was erected.

A horse walk, now closed by a stylish fence and gate, separated No. 232 from its slightly younger neighbor to the right -- photo by Alice Lum
Around the time that the Civil War drew to a close, a full third story was added to No. 232.  An up-to-date Italianate cornice with handsome scrolled brackets and new iron railings and newels for the stoop completed the makeover.

William G. Warren, whose father was a policeman in the Steamboat Squad, was living here in 1889.  The 21-year old ran into trouble on his way home on May 18 that year as he was walking along Bleecker Street, near West 10th.  Suddenly, apparently without provocation, he was struck on the shoulder by James G. Anderson.

The Evening World reported that “when he resented the blow he was set upon by Anderson’s friends.  He struck Anderson in the face, which caused him to fall to the ground and he died from his injuries.”  Warren was indicted for manslaughter, but he was discharged on his own recognizance by Judge Fitzgerald “on the ground that he acted in self-defense.”

Nine years later, on Saturday night February 27, 1898, Warren and a group of friends went to the Lafayette Place Baths.  “The young men enjoyed themselves playing leapfrog and in otherwise skylarking about the place for a time,” reported The New York Times.  “Then Warren left his friends and went into the room where the plunge is situated.”

The Victorian term “plunge” translates into the modern equivalent of a swimming pool.  Unknown the Warren, the water had been drained to only a foot deep.  He leaped over the railing and dived into the pool head first.  “His head struck the bottom of the plunge with great force and he lay motionless.  Two men who were in the room at the time lifted the man from the tank,” said the newspaper. 

Warren, now 30 years old, suffered a compound fracture of the skull and died in the hospital three hours later without recovering consciousness.

By 1908 both the stable and the house were owned by F. Egler who leased both buildings.  Within four years No. 232 was owned by Mrs. Mary Peddie who lived here with her 11-year old daughter, Kate, and rented the basement to Mrs. Josephine Brooks.  The women had a friendly relationship and when Mrs. Brooks was away, Mrs. Peddie often fed her tenant’s two dogs, Tom and Tony.  On April 1, 1912 things went horribly wrong.

Mary Peddie went into the basement that afternoon around 4:00 and found Tony tied up and Tom “running about the rooms.”  As she stooped down with a pan of meat scraps for the dogs, “Tom leaped at her and bit a big piece out of her upper lip,” according to The Sun.  The newspaper then said “Mrs. Peddie is a strong woman and she grabbed the dog and tried to master it…It sank its teeth in over her right eye, tore a deep wound down her right cheek, bit her on the right side of the nose and also scratched the left temple.  Its first bite took away all of her upper lip, from the corners of the mouth in a triangular piece to the bottom of the nose.”

A small boy heard Mary Peddie’s screams and ran to the corner of Charles and Bleecker Streets where Reverend Philip J. Magrath was talking to Policeman Manning.  Magrath was the director of St. Peter’s Union for Catholic Seamen at No. 422 West Street and was known along the gritty waterfront as the “Fighting Priest.”  The Sun described him as “short and very thick set.  He handles men without gloves.”

The priest who had a reputation for combating drunken sailors now set off to battle mad dogs.

When the pair rushed into the front room of the basement, the saw the Irish terrier leap at Mrs. Peddie again and sink its teeth into her face.  The policeman was poised to shoot the dog, but Father Magrath shoved him aside.  “He seized the dog by the hind legs and lifted.  The dog released its grip and Father Magrath tossed it into the next room.  Manning pulled the door shut.”

Mrs. Peddie, hysterical, ran upstairs and screamed from  a window for Kate.  Father Magrath instructed the girl to run for a doctor.  When the ambulance came a surgeon cauterized the woman’s wounds; however The Sun opined that “She will be disfigured for life.”

It was apparently the last straw for Mary Peddie.  The following year the house had become the Home of the Sons and Daughters of Israel.  Organized four years earlier, its purpose was to “maintain a home for aged male and female Hebrews.”  The home limited the number of elderly residents at 70.

The Home of the Sons and Daughters of Israel would remain here for decades.  By 1931 it was using part of the old stable building next door and its capacity had greatly increased.  150 of the residents enjoyed a day at Edgemere, Long Island on July 28, 1931 in the home’s annual outing.  For those who cared to dance, an orchestra was organized among residents.

A young boy loiters at the Machine Works next door to the Home of the Sons and Daughters of Israel in 1932 -- photo from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
“At the head of the musicians is Hyman Brucker, 85, who plays the violin,” reported The Times.  “The youngest of the players in the group he will lead is Josel Schulman, 80-year-old drummer.  The oldest are Tobia Wildstein and Moses Moskowitz, both 92.  Of these, the first is a violinist, the second a singer.  The soloist include Jacob Abramowitz, 85, whose specialty is the ukulele, and Mary Wolf, also 85, who will sing.”

Flower boxes made the Home a bit cozier -- photo from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
By the middle of the century the Home moved to updated, modern facilities uptown.  In 1951 the house was converted to two apartments, one on the first floor and a duplex above.   Today the house looks much as it did in the late 19th century.   Despite minor alterations like replacement windows it is a charming and intact survivor.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The 1827 No. 510 Hudson Street

The sleepy character of the little Village of Greenwich woke up when throngs of New Yorkers fled the cholera and yellow fever epidemics in the 1820s.   Once away from the congested conditions of the city to the south and enjoying the open air of the surrounding countryside, many of the newcomers stayed on.

Realizing the opportunity afforded by the burst in population, the brothers, Isaac A., Jonathan and Charles C. Hatfield, purchased land from Richard Amos in 1825.  The plots stretched along Hudson Street, between Christopher and Amos (later renamed 10th Street) Streets, and around the corner along Amos. 

Two years later Isaac, a builder-carpenter, completed construction of a row of five brick-faced homes along Hudson Street.   Three and a half stories tall, they were typical of the Federal-style homes that were cropping up in the neighborhood.  Prim pedimented dormers punctured the peaked roofs and simple lintels and cornices decorated the facades.

Among them was No. 510.  Like its neighbors, it was intended for a working-class family financially secure enough to afford the few extra touches like the Flemish bond brickwork.  That security slipped away from H. Meyers, apparently.  He was living here in 1854 when he suffered the embarrassment of having his name published by New York County for failing to pay $52.88 in back taxes (a little over $1,000 today).

Later, in the early 1860s, Amelia A. Blakely lived here.  She was a teacher in the Primary Department of School No. 16 on West 13th Street and would stay on for several years.  Her very existence here reflected the still-respectable nature of the neighborhood, while the area nearer the river just a few blocks to the west filled with grittier elements--a brewery, soap plant, and iron works for example.

The house was owned by the Groosjean (sometimes spelled Grosejean) Family following the Civil War.  It would appear that the ground floor had already been converted to commercial use by 1876, for the Board of Aldermen paid E. Groosjean paid rent on the premises “for general election November 7” that year.

The family leased apartments upstairs and the commercial space on street level.  At the turn of the 19th century it was home to the headquarters of International Teamsters’ Union Local 449.  Cornelius T. Shea was Treasurer of the union and shocked the neighborhood when he was arrested in May 1909 for having stabbed Annie Walsh at No. 222 West 13th Street eleven times.  The New York Times reported on May 23 that “The woman is in St. Vincent’s Hospital, where the physicians say she will probably die.”

The Teamsters gathered at the Hudson Street headquarters on May 22 and began raising funds for the defense of their treasurer.  “Considerable sympathy was expressed for Shea,” remarked The Times, which added “They sought to excuse Shea by saying that he was a man of quick temper.”

In 1932 No. 510 (second from right) had barely escaped demolition -- photo NYPL Collection
Twenty years later the space was being leased by the Salvation Army.  In 1928 brothers Harris and Maurice Mandelbaum, real estate operators, began eyeing the row of century-old buildings for potential development.   By the spring of 1929 they had bought up Nos. 502 through 508 Hudson Street and Nos. 125 and127 Christopher Street.  The New York Times noted that “the parcel at 510 Hudson Street” was “the ‘key’ to the adjoining holdings.”

On June 6, 1929 negotiations were complete.  The Mandelbaums purchased the old house from Elvina and Muriel Groosjean, seemingly sealing the doom of all the old structures.   The brothers now controlled 112 feet along Hudson Street and 118 feet on Christopher Street.  The New York Times reported that “a resale of the entire plottage to builders for improvement with an apartment house is pending.”

Perhaps only the effects of the Great Depression saved the venerable building.  But for whatever reason, No. 510 and its nearly identical neighbor at No. 512 survived.  But they were in sad condition.

Four years later No. 510 was vacant and neglected.  In 1933 architects Scacchetti & Siegel whose offices were at No. 1775 Broadway, were commissioned to convert the decaying building into a “store with apartments above.”  The firm was faced with a daunting task.

The architects described No. 510 as “old, decrepit, obsolete and unoccupied, this old building was a liability.  Nevertheless, in spite of its hundred years of use it was still sound structurally.”

The 1930s was a period not particularly known for its sensitivity in restoration, especially of structures with no connection to historical events.  Yet No. 510 Hudson Street was essentially unaltered above street level.

Another sympathetic conversion came in 1970 when the building was altered for an art supply store and commercial art gallery at sidewalk level with one apartment on the second floor and a duplex above.  Then, for years in the late 20th century it was home to Café Sha Sha, a popular stop for pastries and coffee.N
No. 510 and its nearly-identical neighbor to the left, No. 512, managed to retain their 19th century charm above street level.

Today Employees Only, an “American Nouveau” restaurant serves dishes like duck confit salad , a Serbian charcuterie plate and “serious cocktails” according to New York Magazine.  The venerable house has seen much change in its nearly 200 year existence; but has stubbornly resisted that change above street level.

non-historic photos taken by the author

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Lost Franklin Savings Bank -- 42nd St and 8th Avenue

The Inland Architect and News Record published a photograph of the newly-completed building in 1901.  A bronze bust of Franklin would soon grace the square granite block above the doors.  (copyright expired)
The Franklin Savings Bank was doing well as 1897 drew to a close.  The institution boasted a surplus of $912,000 and the devastating depression, known later as the Panic of 1893, had finally abated.

On January 19, 1898 The New York Times reported that “The building occupied by the Franklin Savings Bank, at Eighth Avenue and Forty-second Street, will soon be replaced by one of much more modern construction.”  Bank directors estimated the cost of the new building at $200,000—over $4.5 million by today’s standards.  The Times remarked that “although it will be only one story in height, it will be devoted entirely to the bank, and will, it is promised, be an ornament to the neighborhood.”

To design this new ornament the trustees called upon architects York & Sawyer.   With the depression fresh in the minds of depositors, the firm was charged with producing a bank that would instill a sense of permanency and confidence.  And they did.

The first of many bank buildings York & Sawyer would design, it was nothing if not solid-looking.  Constructed of granite it drew its inspiration from the Roman temple.  The heavy, rusticated façade was broken by three enormous arched openings on the 42nd Street side.  A matching arched window above the massive bronze doors continued the design to the recessed entrance.  Two monumental columns upheld the entablature below the cornice that was surmounted by a classical triangular pediment.
The oversized bronze bust of Benjamin Franklin (left) would find a place above the entrance doors -- American Architect and Building News, July 13, 1901 (copyright expired)
The new bank, completed in 1901, sat on the southeast corner.   Above the magnificent bronze entrance doors which weighed several tons sat a bronze bust of Benjamin Franklin.  Inside the architects carried on the classical theme.  Roman-inspired railings (quite similar to those that would be found in McKim, Mead and White’s monumental Roman-style Pennsylvania Station a few years later); soaring arched ceilings; and a host of materials—Caen stone, colored marbles, bronze and brass—created one of the city’s grand internal spaces.

Materials like marble wainscoting, bronze doors and brass railings were used -- American Architect and Building News, July 13, 1901 (copyright expired)
The somber bank building brought little attention to itself, other than merely by its own colossal appearance, over the decades.  Rare publicity did come in the form of a corrupt police officer in 1912, however.  Lieutenant Charles Becker was the head of the NYPD’s Vice Squad.  He augmented his salary by accepting hefty bribes from illegal gambling clubs.  When the owner of a Broadway gambling house, gangster Herman Rosenthal, known as “the Black Ace,” got in his way, Becker had him murdered.

The sensational trial made front-page headlines for months and introduced readers to colorful witnesses like Lillian Rosenberg, called by The Evening World “the ‘baby-doll’ wife of Lefty Louie,” and Jack Rose who personally collected Becker’s graft.
The corrupt Lt. Becker deposited his ill-gotten gains in the Franklin Savings Bank.  He was later sentenced to death for murder.  photo UPI (copyright expired)
The corrupt cop chose the Franklin Savings Bank to stash his gains, so the prosecution called bank employee Daniel A. Bentien to the stand to testify about Becker’s unusually large deposits.  According to The World on August 14 of that year, he had banked "$38,115 in the last nine months.”   That figure would translate to over half a million dollars today—an unusually high income for a civil servant.

By 1903 Benjamin Franklin had found his perch.
In 1926 the architects were called back to enlarge the bank, continuing the rusticated façade and copying the arched openings southward on 8th Avenue.  At the same time illustrator N. C. Wyeth was hired to execute a mural of Benjamin Franklin standing before Independence Hall.

N. C. Wyeth executed "The Apotheosis of Franklin" for the building's extension. --

The extension nears completion in 1926 -- photo from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Half a century later the bank commissioned architects Poor and Swanke and Partners to design a new, up-to-date headquarters across the street.    In stark contrast with its classical predecessor it was a modern linear building that accentuated clean lines and angles.

The city was shocked on August 5, 1974 when, with its new headquarters completed, the bank’s executive vice president, Edward Rollins, announced the decision to demolish the old building.  The New York Times reported “The bank plans to replace the old building with either a parking lot or a one-story retail building, believing that the cleared site would be more attractive to potential developers.”
photo NYPL Collection
Rollins called the granite landmark a “dump the city would be better off without,” and another executive vice president, Adam J. Zaun chimed in saying, “A building like that is an eyesore if it isn’t being used for its legitimate purpose.  We don’t want to contribute to the Times Square neighborhood going downhill any further.”

The New York Times lashed out at the bank’s directors in an editorial nine days later.  “The ‘dump’ has sculptured bronze doors valued at $35,000 and fixtures that will go to the Brooklyn Museum, arched windows, vaulted ceilings and solid cut-stone facades.  It also has something increasingly rare in this and other cities: quality of structure and validity of style.

“’More attractive,’ in Franklin’s curiously inverted reasoning, means a parking lot…Bulldozing the good old building immediately will be the bank’s contribution to upgrading the neighborhood.”

Unmoved by the outrage of newspapers, preservationists and city officials (Richard Lam, director of the city’s Office of Midtown Planning said “I don’t believe the building is an eyesore—I have more serious questions about the advisability of using that site for a parking lot.”), the bank forged ahead with the destruction of its granite Roman temple to finance.

The Wyeth mural was saved at the last minute and eventually was donated to the University of Pennsylvania.  The bronze bust of Benjamin Franklin was donated to the Brooklyn Museum.  Sadly, despite The Times' hopes, the museum could not accept the mammoth bronze doors because of their size and weight.  It appears they were sold for scrap metal.

On January 12, 1976 New York Magazine had the last word.  It editorially awarded the management of the Frankling Savings Bank “one massive withdrawal slip…for demolishing its elegant, neoclassical monument…and then constructing a Laundromat-type branch diagonally across the way, and topping it off with a trompe l’oeil mural of a Uris-type façade.”
Ironically, the 1976 building did not last long, replaced by the above structure -- photo by Alice Lum