Friday, January 31, 2014

The 1929 I. Miller & Sons Bldg -- No. 1552-4 Broadway

photo by Alice Lum

In 1892 at the age of 19, a Polish cobbler, Israel Miller, arrived in New York City.  The inventive shoemaker began fashioning shoes for theatrical productions and his designs caught the eye of producers and performers alike.  Thespians and vaudevillians came to him for their personal footwear.  Three years later the I. Miller shoe business was founded.  His success grew and in 1911 he opened a small shop in the burgeoning theater district of Times Square.

Before long the shop at No. 1552 Broadway expanded into the adjacent 1554 Broadway.  Upstairs showrooms were set up to display the unique products.  As time passed, Miller’s shoes were noticed not only by the theater folks, but by fashionable ladies in general.  Operating under the name I. Miller & Sons, the shoe store pampered its high-toned customers by offering chocolates to the potential customers.

Her maid helps a lady of leisure choose her shoes in a 1921 ad -- The Evening World, October 25, 1921 (copyright expired)

By 1921 I. Miller had four stores in Manhattan and another in Brooklyn.  There would be another dozen by the end of the decade.  By 1926 Israel Miller was reportedly not only the most popular designer of women’s shoes in the country, but a major importer.  The dizzying growth and success of the firm resulted in Israel Miller’s purchase of the old building on Broadway and 46th Street in 1926 where his shop had been for 15 years.

Miller hired Louis H. Freeland to transform the old brownstones into a modern, elegant headquarters and shoe store for his empire.  The architect melded the two structures into a single, elegant European-inspired structure.  Double-height arched openings at ground level supported a second series of two-story openings above.  Expensive materials—marble, granite and bronze—reflected the high-end effect Miller sought.

But Israel Miller did not forget who was responsible for his immense success and equally large fortune.  Beneath the cornice on the 46th Street side was carved “THE SHOW FOLKS SHOE SHOP DEDICATED TO BEAUTY IN FOOTWEAR” and four shallow niches separated the upper openings.  Israel Miller had big plans for those recesses.

photo by Alice Lum
As construction continued, the I. Miller & Sons stores initiated a contest “to determine the most popular actresses in various branches of the stage.”  Customers voted on their favorite actresses in Musical Comedy, Opera, Motion Pictures and Drama.  As a nod to Times Square and the people who had made him a success, Miller would fill the 46th Street niches with marble statues of the winning actresses.

On September 6, 1927, The New York Times announced the results.  “A voting contest conducted by the I. Miller shoe stores to determine the most popular actresses…has resulted in the election of Ethel Barrymore to represent drama, Marilyn Miller to represent musical comedy, Rosa Ponselle to represent opera and Mary Pickford to represent motion pictures, it was announced yesterday.

“Full-length marble statues of these actresses will be made by A. Stirling Calder and placed in four golden niches in the new I. Miller Building, Broadway and Forty-sixth Street.”  Calder had already decided on the roles the statues would depict.  Barrymore would be sculpted as Ophelia, Pickford as Little Lord Fauntleroy, Miller as Sunny and Rosa Ponselle as Leonora.  The Times promised “The statues will be unveiled early next year.”

Alexander Stirling Calder had busied himself with garden and fountain sculptures; however he had recently designed monumental groups for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition.  His son, Alexander Calder, would go on to greater fame as the originator of the mobile.

Calder’s Art Deco-influenced statues would not be unveiled in 1928 as The New York Times hoped.  It would be a full two years before they were unveiled and the delay, unfortunately, meant that Israel Miller would never see them installed.  On August 12, 1929 he suffered a heart attack in the Paris hotel where he was staying and died instantly.  By now the I. Miller & Sons shoe stores numbered 288 across the United States.

Two months later, on the afternoon of October 20, a crowd of 3,000 pushed into Times Square for the unveiling of the four marble statues which The New York Times said Miller had commissioned “in appreciation of the theatrical world, which gave him his start.”  Mayor Jimmy Walker paid tribute to Miller in his address.

Gold mosaics highlight the dramatic pose of Ethel Barrymore's statue -- photo by Alice Lum
Two of the entertainers depicted in marble were on hand to unveil their own statues—Marilyn Miller and Mary Pickford.  Producer Daniel Frohman unveiled the statue of Ethel Barrymore; and stage and film actress Elsie Louise Ferguson did the honors for Rosa Ponselle.  Other theatrical celebrities present were Gertrude Lawrence, Richard Herndon, Evelyn Herbert and R. H. Burnside.

photo by Alice Lum
Although the shoe store would remain in the building for decades, the scope of its operation here quickly diminished.  By 1937 Schupps Stores, Inc. operated a women’s apparel store from part of the building.  Three years later the elegant façade felt its first brush with an electric billboard—what was becoming the icon of Times Square.

On September 19, 1940 The New York Times reported that “A new Times Square sign to advertise a whisky product of Browne Vintners, Inc., will shortly be erected at 1552 Broadway on the northwest corner of Forty-sixth Street…The installation, which is to be built in three parts, will utilize 100 miles of wire and 100,000 electrical contracts.”

In 1959 the space where women had shopped for leather pumps was a Howard Johnson Restaurant.  Shortly before 7 p.m. on January 31 a cook tossed a steak on the griddle and flames raced up the grease duct to the roof.  The fire quickly raged throughout the building intensifying to a five-alarm blaze.  The billboards that made Times Square a tourist wonder now threatened the I. Miller Building’s existence.

“Huge billboards that cover the Broadway side of the burning building and those adjoining it made it almost impossible for firemen to carry on a frontal attack against the fire,” reported The New York Times the following day. 

Fire Commissioner Edward F. Cavanagh, Jr., said “What would have been an ordinary one-alarm fire developed into a five-alarmer because of these impediments which hampered the firemen in fighting the fire.”

The sidewalks quickly became ice-covered in the freezing temperatures and theatergoers crushed into Times Square to see the conflagration.  “It was estimated that more than 25,000 persons had watched the blaze,” reported The Times.

When it was all over “A fire official said the building was a total loss,” said the newspaper.

But the exterior walls of the burned building were intact and, astoundingly, the four marble statues still stood gracefully in their niches.  In 1978 the Riese family—owners of chain restaurants like Nathans, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell—purchased the building and installed a Fridays restaurant.  Times Square had become gritty and litter-strewn and the I. Miller building was slathered in red-and-white striped advertising boards and awnings.  On the 46th Street side the old marble statues sat neglected and deteriorating.

Although as the 20th century drew to a close the Riese corporation gave lip service to “cleaning up” the façade; the elegant I. Miller building continued to decline and the irreplaceable statues were allowed to degrade.

The four marble actresses found their knight on a white charger in the form of the clothing retailer Express.  SL Green purchased the building in 2012 for $136.5 million with the Express stores taking three stories of the building.

Bronzework, hidden for decades, reemerged -- photo by Alice Lum

A magnificent and careful restoration of the façade took months.  The eroded statues were refurbished, the decimated marble and limestone were repaired and the bronze window frames—still intact but long buried under tacky advertisements and shopfronts were resurrected and reburnished.

Israel Miller’s shoe store, intended as a tribute to the theater people who had made him a success, once again shines.  The improbable survival and even more improbably restoration of a Times Square landmark is, in the words of The New York Post “radiant.”

photo by Alice Lum

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The 1846 House at No. 44 Ninth Avenue

No. 44, on the corner, anchored the row of houses and stores -- photo Nicolas Lemery Nantel /

In the 1840s elegant brick or brownstone-faced townhouses would begin lining 14th Street as the city inched ever northward.  But the homes erected on the blocks closer to the North River (later renamed the Hudson) would be less refined; built instead for working-class or merchant families.

In 1845 Henry Josephus Sanford began construction on a string of six Greek Revival homes.  Stretching northward from the northeast corner of 14th Street and Ninth Avenue, they would rise three stories with dormered attics.  Completed a year later, they featured handsome pedimented brownstone lintels and interesting box cornices.  Most likely each of the homes had a storefront at street level.

The tall windows were slightly recessed below pedimented brownstone lintels - photo Nicolas Lemery Nantel /

The corner house, No. 44 Ninth Avenue, was occupied by Dr. Richard S. Seaman in the 1850s.  With him in the house were his wife and son; along with three boarders.  Two of these were attorneys, William H. Wiland and William I. Jones, and the other was a druggist, Ephraim Folsom.  It is possible the Folsom ran his pharmacy from the ground floor.

The commercial entrance was around the corner at No. 357 14th Street.  It would be the beginning of a long medical and pharmaceutical tradition for the building.   In 1865 Dr. Levi Jewett was living down the block at No. 233 West 14th Street.  He returned to New York following service as assistant surgeon with the Union Army’s 14th Regiment.  In 1866 he would move into No. 44 Ninth Avenue.

Jewett established his medical practice and drugstore in the building.  Sharing the upstairs with the Jewetts was the family of William H. Stiles, a Deputy Sheriff.  The well-respected doctor was a favorite when he campaigned for the position of Coroner in 1879.  The New-York Tribune noted “Dr. Levi Jewett, one of the Republic candidates for Coroner, is earnestly supported for that office by his political associates.”

A group of eminent physicians signed a petition of support that read in part “His medical education, his services as Surgeon in the Union Army and in the Government hospitals, and his experience as a practitioner in this city, qualify him for the position.”

Jewett’s brother, Charles, was also a physician and drugstore owner, operating his business a block away at No. 91 Eighth Avenue. 

It appears that Levi Jewett lost the election and perhaps that was what prompted him to leave the medical field.  He moved in 1882 to Middle Haddam, Connecticut where he became “engaged in agricultural pursuits.”

Marcus F. Bender had arrived in New York City while still a boy and became a junior clerk for Charles H. Bell, whose drugstore was at the corner of Charles and Bleecker Streets.  While working under Bell he learned the pharmacy business and eventually was licensed by the New York State Board of Pharmacy.  When Levi Jewett’s drugstore became available, Bender purchased it.  Before long he also purchased Charles Levi’s drugstore; but, as recorded in the American Druggist and Pharmaceutical Record “Five years later Mr. Bender sold this store to its present owner, George N. Syms, and devoted all his time to the Fourteenth street store.”  

Bender’s drugstore would be a familiar landmark on the corner for a quarter of a century.  Well-like and respected, he was a member of several clubs and societies and was one of the founders of the Interstate Retail Druggists’ League.

Marcus Bender owned the business, but still leased the property from the Henry Josephus Sanford Estate.  In 1887 the estate remodeled the drugstore storefront, replacing the granite corner post with a cast iron column.  Updated show windows were installed at the same time.
Bender became marginally involved in a questionable suicide in the summer of 1893.  Mrs. George Davis lived on West 17th Street and took a stateroom on the steamer Saratoga that left New York City for Troy, New York on June 20.  That night her cape and hat were found on the aft deck and the woman was nowhere to be found.

The New York Times reported that she “is supposed to have committed suicide by jumping overboard” however questions were raised by a bottle found in her stateroom.  “Investigation of the stateroom showed a bottle partly full of chloroform, but labeled alcohol and bearing the stamp of M. F. Benders, 357 West Fourteenth Street, New-York.”  Why a gentlewoman would be traveling with chloroform—mislabeled—was puzzling.

In 1894 The Pharmaceutical Era praised Bender’s above-board reputation, saying “he is a bad man for smugglers to run up against.  He believes in buying goods legitimately.”  One such crook found that out on September 6, 1894 when the well-dressed young man walked into the store and offered to sell Bender a pound of phenacetine and suphonal for $10 each.

Because the prices were substantially below market value Bender immediately suspected the chemicals were smuggled.  Thinking quickly, he told the man that he was interested in both articles, but he did not have the ready cash.  If he would just return at 2:00 he would have the funds to buy the goods.

As soon as the man left the store, Bender telephoned W. H. Schieffelin & Co., the American agents for the manufacturers of the chemicals.  The firm sent a representative along with two detectives.  Promptly at 2:00 the man reentered the store and was arrested.

Around this time Marcus Bender inherited “a modest fortune” from relatives in Syracuse prompting the American Druggist and Pharmaceutical Record deemed him “comparatively wealthy.” 

Bender’s unblemished reputation was put to the test in 1896 through the actions of his clerk, William Chamberlain.  The man became bitter when a routine customer, 75-year old James Anderson, complained to Bender that Chamberlain was “inattentive to business.” 

The clerk attempted to exact revenge on the elderly man when he came to the drugstore in October 1896.  Anderson asked for 10 cents worth of quinine powder.  Chamberlain filled his order and took his dime.  The aged Anderson returned to his home at No. 690 Hudson Street and on the night of October 24 took the full dose.  What he did not realize was that Chamberlain had given him more than ten times the amount he had asked for.

The Druggists Circular and Chemical Gazette reported that Anderson “took 120 grains of quinine in one dose and came near dying.”  Having recovered, the old man sued Marcus Bender for $250 for “the pain he suffered and the time he lost by what he says was Mr. Bender’s clerk’s fault,” said the Gazette.

The entrance to the Ninth Avenue Elevated Train was on the corner.  photo from the collection of the New York Public Library

On Monday January 28, 1907 Marcus F. Bender died suddenly at his home at No. 123 West 95th Street at the age of 58.  Bender’s son, Leach H. Bender, was a doctor; but the drugstore was left to his widow and daughter.  The American Druggist and Pharmaceutical Record noted that it would “be conducted by his executors in the interest of his widow and daughter, for whom he has otherwise provided comfortably.”

On May 5, 1941 none of the original dormers had been altered yet.  Interestingly, there is only one on the 14th Street side.  photographer unknown.  From the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Throughout the 20th century the corner building would be home to a variety of businesses as the neighborhood became known as the Meat Packing District.  For three decades from 1945 to 1975 it was the Blue Star Food Shop and Luncheonette; the Old Country Kitchen Restaurant from 1980 to 1993; then Nick’s City Kitchen Restaurant until 2003.

Today the ground floor where Marcus Bender dispensed quinine and elixirs is home to The Diner, another restaurant in what is now a trendy upscale district of designer clothing stores, Google headquarters and a sleek Apple store.  But the picturesque row of 1846 houses survives as a reminder of a much different era along West 14th Street.

Two of the original dormers along Ninth Avenue survive unaltered -- photo Nicolas Lemery Nantel /

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The 1894 Keuffel & Esser Co. Bldg -- No. 127 Fulton Street

photo by Alice Lum
In 1867 German-American businessmen Wilhelm J. D. Keuffel and Herman Esser recognized a need.  As American engineering and construction advanced, the need for drafting instruments and supplies increased.  Decades later, in 1909, The Engineering Digest would remember that the men, “as partners in the firm of Keuffer & Esser opened a small office in New York City for the sale of drawing materials and instruments.  Their faith in the development of engineering and manufacturing in America, and their consistent effort to supply only the best goods, were rewarded by the rapid growth of the business.”

The company moved into the old building at 127 Fulton Street in 1878 -- Catalogue and Price List of Keuffel & Esser Co. 1890 (copyright expired)
Indeed the little store on Nassau Street was soon inadequate.  Three years after starting business the men began manufacturing their own instruments and in 1872 opened a retail store.  “The increasing volume of trade necessitated several moves to larger quarters,” said The Engineering Digest; and in 1878 the firm moved into the old store and loft building at No. 127 Fulton Street.  Years earlier the building had housed the offices of the New-York Herald newspaper.

From the street level retail store Keuffel & Esser sold everything from drafting paper to print frames and bath trays; precision instruments imported from Switzerland and Germany; drafting pens; and handsome sets of instruments in fitted cases.  In 1881 manufacturing was moved to the company’s new Hoboken, New Jersey factory.

The drafting instruments in their fitted case retailed for $22.70 in 1890 -- a little over $500 today -- Catalogue and Price List of Keuffel & Esser Co. 1890 (copyright expired)
Among the employees in the Fulton Street headquarters in November 1890 was 32-year old William Borchers.  Things seemed to be going well for the clerk—he was engaged to be married to Mary Wennell in December.  Late in October Borchers took a furnished room at No. 70 Schermerhorn Street in Brooklyn “in order to be near his fiancee” who lived at No. 87 Schermerhorn.

On November 5 he had breakfast with Mary, then left for work at Keuffel & Esser “in his usual good spirits,” according to The New York Times.  Something happened to Borchers’ good spirits and later in the day he entered Fritz Scheel’s saloon nearby at No. 154 William Street and shot a bullet into his right temple.

“He was taken to Chambers Street Hospital, where it was found that the bullet was lodged in his brain,” reported The Times.  “He was conscious enough just after the shooting to give his name and address, but afterward he lapsed into unconsciousness, from which he was restored with great difficulty.  At midnight he was resting comfortably, and to-day Prof. Stimson will probe for the bullet,” said the newspaper on November 6.

In the meantime the success of the firm was once again taxing the capacity of its Fulton Street headquarters.  The same year that William Borschers attempted suicide, Keuffel & Esser Co. told its customers “The assortment of goods which we carry has increased so much, that it was no longer possible to describe all our goods within the frame of the former Catalogue.”

The solution this time was not to move; but to erect a new building.  The land on which the old structure sat was owned by the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church which had acquired the plot in 1791; so even though Keuffel & Esser would erect the new building they would still be tenants of the church.  And the firm’s landlord was strict concerning its leases.

On December 19, 1891 The Real Estate Record and Builders' Guide noted that “De Lemos and Cordes filed plans about a year ago for the Keufel and Esser building to be built at No. 127 Fulton street.  Owing to the fact that the leases of the present building did not expire until May next, all operations were suspended and held in abeyance.  The work will go forward, however, at the earliest moment, and all preliminary work is well under way as per original plans filed for the eight-story office building.”

In the meantime Keuffel & Esser Co. began publication of The Compass:  A Monthly Journal for Engineers, Surveyors, Architects, Draughtsmen, and Students.   One trade journal complained that The Compass seemed to be merely a vehicle for disguised advertising.  “In the first issue which is now before us, the name of Keuffel & Esser Co. and mention of their instruments occur with perhaps too great frequency,” it wrote.

Keuffel & Esser struck back saying “As the name of the above firm is very widely known as being synonymous with excellence and merit, such mention is in a great measure unavoidable.”

Finally, as the Record and Guide had predicted, work on the new building commenced in May 1892.  The stunning office and retail store building took a year to complete and The Engineering Digest noted “The quarters afforded by the new building, upon its completion in 1893, appeared almost too large.”  As a matter of fact, there was dissension among the firm’s executives, many of whom felt, according to company documents “There was ample space for several times the number of employees the company had that year.”

Drafting implements are incorporated in the spandrels of the arched openings -- photograph by Alice Lum

The architectural firm of De Lemos & Cordes produced a striking structure that went beyond merely the popular Renaissance Revival style.  It was a Victorian celebration of details.  Drafting instruments filled the spandrels of the cast iron arches of the storefront, whimsical iron cages protected two of the upper openings, and overall the façade was embellished with handsome yet fanciful ornamentation.

Clad in buff colored brick, cast iron and terra cotta, the building boasted a large deep-relief Keuffel & Esser logo of a winged orb surmounting a knight’s helmet and shield above a monumental recessed opening.  The uppermost section featured a two-story angled bay that nestled below a decorative cornice and balustrade, topped with ornamental urns.

The winged orb above the knight's helmet was an adaptation of the company's logo.  Terra cotta panels over the side openings announce the firm's founding and the date of construction -- photograph by Alice Lum
In 1902 Herman Esser retired and moved back to Germany, selling out to William Keuffel who retained sole ownership of the firm.

Just 14 years after the new building was completed, Keuffel & Esser moved its headquarters to New Jersey on Saturday, July 20, 1907.  “The former general offices of the company at 127 Fulton street, New York, have become too small, and it was deemed advisable to remove them to the more commodious quarters provided in the new buildings in Hoboken,” reported Geyer’s Stationer.  “The building at 127 Fulton street, New York, is retained as the New York sales department and show rooms.”

The following year 70-year old William J. D. Keuffel died in his home.  Geyer’s Stationer said “the end came as a result of a general breakdown, due to old age.  It was a peaceful close to a long career, honorably lived and marked by success and the respect of every one with whom Mr. Keuffel had ever come in contact.”

The firm continued under the leadership of the Keuffel family.  At the time of his death, William’s son, W. G. Keuffel, was Vice President and his son-in-law was Treasurer.  A Canadian branch was opened in 1908, supplementing offices in Chicago, St. Louis, and San Francisco.  In 1909 The Engineering Digest noted “this firm has risen from the occupancy of a tiny office to the ownership of factories, warerooms and offices that employ over 900 men and women.  From a business turning out but a few thousands yearly, it has become a great industrial power, justifying the foresight and rewarding the labors of its founders.”
Around 1915 the two-story showrooms displayed drafting items in the windows.  The streetcar tracks are imbedded in the brick pavement and next door trousers are selling for $8.50--photograph by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Because of the company’s world-wide reputation for producing and selling the most reliable and highest quality instruments, its customer list included the most esteemed inventors, architects and engineers.  Among these was Nicola Tesla.

The Serbian-born inventor was an electrical engineer, physicist, and mechanical engineer; but is best remembered today for his contributions to developing alternating current, his x-ray experiments and radio communication.  Tesla’s international fame and respect did not impress Keuffel & Esser when it came to paying bills, however.

On May 18, 1910 The New York Times reported “The Sheriff returned unsatisfied yesterday an execution against Nicola Tesla, the inventor.  The Keuffel & Esser Company, instrument makers, obtained a Municipal Court judgment against Tesla for an over-due bill on March 26, 1908.  Tesla failed to pay and the judgment was docketed.”

When the United States entered World War I the precision instruments developed and manufactured by Keuffel & Esser Co. were invaluable to the war effort.  The highly-prized instruments made in Germany and Switzerland were no longer available and the U.S. military turned to Keuffel & Esser for scientific and military devices.  The firm would perform the same function during the Second World War.

In 1961, 68 years after moving in, Keuffel & Esser Co. left No. 127 Fulton Street.  Still a force in the industry, the firm’s products had nevertheless changed drastically.  It no longer manufactured the its once-iconic slide-rules; and digital calculators, computers and laser technology had completely revamped the industry.  Still owned by the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church, the building became home to a variety of small businesses for the next four decades. 

Falling snow creates a romantic setting for the Victorian beauty -- photo by Alice Lum
In 2004 the Church sold the property to the Fulton K&E LLC. which sold it the following year for $8.5 million.  The new owners, 127 Fulton LLC announced plans to convert the 27,000 square foot building to high-end condominiums.  With a nod to Keuffel & Esser’s monthly journal, the residential transformation was named Compass Lofts Condominium.

The owners focused much attention to the restoration of De Lemos & Cordes’ wondrous façade—replacing the lost iron second story balcony, preserving the internal cast iron columns and replicating the original mahogany window frames.

The five-year project resulted in just seven residential lofts with opening price points in 2009 of between $2 and $3 million.  The meticulous refurbishment brought back to life a wonderful architectural gem in Lower Manhattan.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The 1836 Grainger House -- No. 30 East 3rd Street

photo by Alice Lum
In 1835 hardware merchants Hubbard & Casey diversified.  The owners ran their business at No. 48-1/2 Exchange Place, selling items like “grass sithes, corn sithes and augurs” at a time when New Yorkers had a use for such things.  But now they turned their attention, as well, to real estate development.

The men began construction on five speculative houses on East 3rd Street—Nos. 30 to 38—between Second Avenue and the Bowery.   Three stories high over English basements, the matching brick residences were completed a year later.   The homes featured Flemish bond brickwork, handsome iron fences and railings, and brownstone trim.  Three bays wide, the dignified Greek Revival style residences would have been marketed to merchant-class families.

The other four houses in the row, like No. 30, have been altered.  photo by Alice Lum

While financially-comfortable families lived quiet lives in the houses on East 3rd Street Charles M. Grainger was seeing action in the Crimean War.  The son of Major William Grainger of the famous King’s Own Regiment, Charles had enlisted in his father’s regiment at an early age.  When the war broke out, he was sent to Crimea and served throughout the war, from 1853 through 1856.

Grainger then immigrated to New York—just in time for the outbreak of the Civil War.  He enlisted in the 88th Regiment, New York Volunteers.  His military record during the war was a remarkable one—he served as a scout under General McClellan, was wounded in the battles of Fredericksburg and Gettysburg, and was later captured and held prisoner in the infamous Libby Prison at Richmond.  Immediately upon returning to New York he joined the New York Police Department.

Grainger and his wife moved into No. 30 East 3rd Street.   The New York Times later described him as “a man of fine military appearance and he is fully as attractive as Capt. Williams.”  In November 1884 Grainger, now a police sergeant, was assigned to the Tombs Police Court.   He quickly discovered that political corruption and favors were rampant in the jail and he was expected to play along.

Grainger made a highly-favorable impression on the Police Justices for his efficiency and professionalism.   “They say that he is a competent man and one of the few who have filled the office satisfactorily,” reported The Times.  But the sergeant made enemies in high places.

Politicians haunted the hallways and courtrooms of the prison, using their influence to affect the outcome of cases.  “He has failed to aid them in their work, and for this reason he gained their enmity,” said The New York Times on February 15, 1885.

“One politician came to him a month ago and asked him to send a letter to the Commissioners asking to be transferred.  Grainger, of course, refused,” said the newspaper.  “’All right, me fine buck,’ said the heeler, ‘I’ll have you fixed.’”

Sure enough, just four months after being assigned to The Tombs, Grainer was transferred to the 8th Precinct.  The Police Justices were outraged and stormed into the Police Headquarters on Mulberry Street “with a view to the prevention of the transfer.”

For days the newspapers followed the battle between Police Headquarters and the judges of the Tombs, while Sergeant Grainger quietly reported to the 8th Precinct.  “The Police Justices feel much put out by the transfer of this officer,” said The Times two days later.  “They say it is unjust and that they will leave nothing undone to have him back in his old position.”

In 1885, however, corruption and graft were stronger than the opinions of prison judges.  Grainger remained in the 8th Precinct and a political favorite was given his former position.  Four years later the 25-year veteran of the force retired.  He and his wife moved to Coney Island where he became Captain of the Coney Island police department and proprietor of the Atlantic Hotel.

A late-Victorian update of No. 30 (right) resulted in a new cornice and cast lintels and sills on the upper windows.  The house originally matched its next-door neighbor. -- photo by Alice Lum

The house changed hands twice before 1901.  At some point it received a late-Victorian facelift that included an up-to-date bracketed cast cornice and ornamental lintels and sills on the upper story windows.   After Ella H. Browne sold the house in 1901 it, like most of the houses on the block, became a boarding house.   One of the first tenants was Dr. George W. Kirschoffer, who moved in soon after the death of his wife.

The elderly Kirschoffer, who had been both a physician and a druggist, ran a small pharmacy near the East 3rd Street house.    After Mrs. Kirschoffer’s death his children moved to Wisconsin and he sold the drugstore and rented a furnished room in the 3rd Street house.  The Sun said “One of his pleasures was the collection of statuary, and his room was filled with it.”  For company he kept a pet canary named Dick in “an elaborate cage” in the room.

The old man—he turned 70 in 1903—also enjoyed wood carving and presented little figures to the neighborhood children.  “Most of the youngsters in the neighborhood who did not believe in the Santa Claus that comes down narrow chimneys were quite certain that the old man was a better saint, because he gave them presents all the year round.  He would carve them the most ingenious little men and women, horses, and cattle from pine wood and find his reward in their delight.”

The old druggist loved the children and on sunny Sunday afternoons they flocked around him.   On rainy Sundays he reportedly visited any children who might be ill, bringing them a small carving he had done.  “Every door in the neighborhood was open to him,” said The Times.  “His coming was an occasion of gladness and his going was followed with the hope that he would come again.”

But Dr. Kirschoffer was now 70 years old.  He firmly believed that no man should lived beyond that age.   As December 21, 1904 loomed—his 71st birthday—he told his friends that a man ought not “to live over the Biblical period of threescore years and ten.”

The first time he mentioned it was in June of that year when he was ill and assumed he would die.  When he recovered, he decided to take the matter into his own hands.   “He repeated his assertion that it was time to do away with himself three months later, and was revived that evening after he had swallowed laudanum,” said The Times.

Despite the failed suicide attempt, boarders did not take him seriously on December 18 with his birthday just days away.  “He again expressed his notion of life’s limit Sunday afternoon, but in the jolliest sort of way,” reported The New York Times.

That same day a local saloon keeper had offered to buy the old man’s canary.  Kirschoffer refused the impressive offer of $100, saying that he and the bird would die together.

The following day the postman rang the bell at No. 30 East 3rd Street.  In his bag was a number of Christmas cards from the old man’s grandchildren in Wisconsin.  Dr. Kirschoffer would never see them. 

Just moments before a maid had noticed the odor of gas coming from the doctor’s room.  The urgently summoned the help of other boarders who broke open the door and summoned an ambulance.  The Sun reported that the landlady, Mrs. Green, “discovered the old man fully dressed lying dead on his bed.  Gas was pouring from three jets.”

As Kirschoffer had intended, his canary Dick was dead in his ornate cage.  They died together.

The old man, who believe no one should live past 70 years old, had a back-up plan as well. “Poisons enough to kill a regiment of men were neatly piled on the mantelpiece, each one property labeled,” said The New York Times.

When the old house was sold on December 14, 1938, it was unceremoniously deemed a “tenement.”  At the time of the sale it was assessed at $9,500—about $118,000 today.

An elephantine entranceway replaced the dignified Greek Revival doorway.  photo by Alice Lum
In 1971 the house received a make-over.  A professional office was installed in the basement, the parlor floor became a single apartment, and a duplex apartment filling the upper floors.  It was perhaps at this time that the handsome Greek Revival doorway was replaced by a severe Soviet-looking enframement.

A mystery to passersby, however, is the little metal sign affixed to the brickwork.   Dating the house fully half a century too late, it pronounces it the “Show Me” State House.    The little sign is responsible for the scratching of the heads of more than a few perplexed pedestrians.
The plaque with the wildly-incorrect date is a mystery.  photo by Alice Lum