Saturday, May 31, 2014

CCNY's President's Mansion -- No. 280 Convent Avenue

No. 280 anchored the impressive row of limestone rowhouses.
As the 19th century drew to a close Harlem had developed from a rural area of small farms to a suburb of New York City whose streets and avenues were lined with homes, churches and businesses.  The extension of the elevated railroad in 1880 made the area accessible and developers responded to its potential with blocks of brick and stone speculative rowhouses.

In 1899 architect Henri Fouchaux designed ten harmonious limestone houses on Convent Avenue in the Morningside Heights section for speculators Hyman and Henry Sonn.  The pair originally had approached F. C. Zobel to design the row.  Zobel’s plans called for wider homes (resulting in eight rather than ten).  The projected cost of construction was $15,000 each—about $407,000 today.  That price was perhaps a bit too rich for the Sonns’ taste and they called in Fouchaux.
His proposed row, filling the block from 141st to 142nd Street, would be high-end residences as well; yet would cost nearly half as much at $8,000 apiece.  Fouchaux designed them as a mirror-image set.  The five homes from the 141st Street corner to the middle were each different but complimentary.  Then the pattern reversed itself—the sixth residence matched the fifth next door, the seventh matched the fourth, and so on until the two corner homes served as the show-stopping bookends.

The row was officially completed on January 31, 1902.  The two end homes turned their backs to the row, opening on to the streets while retaining the Convent Avenue addresses.  No. 280, at the southern end of the string, pretended to be nothing less than a mansion.  It sat imperiously back from the sidewalk, surrounded by an areaway protected by a stone and metal fence.  The façade featured the scrolls and carvings expected in a Beaux Arts structure; yet Fouchaux handled the ornamentation with reserved dignity.

It appears that No. 280 was first owned by James J. Phelan.  In 1901 he applied for a reduced assessment because of the “paving with asphalt pavement” of Convent Avenue that ended at 141st Street. 

In 1906 the City College of New York had completed its striking Collegiate Gothic campus directly to the south of No. 280 Convent Avenue.  A year later, on August 25, 1907 the Phelans were apparently packing up and considering selling the mansion.  An advertisement in the New-York Tribune that day sought a caretaker “by married couple, one child; care of private house for sale or during family’s absence; experience; with first class city reference from present employer.”  Applicants were instructed to contact Mrs. Phelan at the service address, No. 451 West 141st st.

The house was purchased by the City for $39,000 “For the use of the College of the City of New York as an addition thereto.”  By 1911 it was home to Herbert R. Moody and his wife, the former Edna Wadsworth.  Moody was Professor of Chemistry at the college and had been director of chemistry laboratories since 1905.  Dr. Moody would later serve as chief of the technical branch of the chemical division of the War Industries Board during World War I.

But before that came to pass, the College spent $4,500 to renovate the house in 1915 as the official residence of President Sidney Edward Mezes, appointed the year before.  Three years later the Board of Estimate and Apportionment approved a budget of $2,600 for painting buildings at the college, including the President’s house.

Sidney Edward Mezes -- photogrpah Library of Congress

Like Dr. Moody, Sidney Mezes would be called upon with the United States’ entry into the war.  In 1917 he was appointed a member of “the Inquiry,” a committee set up by President Woodrow Wilson to prepare peace negations following the expected victory.  (It was probably no coincidence that the group’s director was Presidential adviser Edward House, the brother-in-law of Mezes’s wife, Annie Olive Hunter.)

In June 1921 Mezes reached the top of his salary, $12,500 per year, as allowed by the City Charter.  City Comptroller Craig decided that the President’s rent-free status equated to a higher salary than he was permitted.  His solution was that Mezes should pay $6,000 a year rent going forward and reimburse the city $9,000.  “The Comptroller described the house, which is a four-story and basement dwelling, as a mansion,” reported The Evening World on December 29, 1922, “and says he is advised that $6,000 a year is fair rental.”

“In a description of the residence, the Comptroller calls attention to two wine cellars…The house contains a large billiard room trimmed with quartered oak, a large parlor trimmed with white mahogany, a foyer and dining room trimmed with quartered oak, a smoking room fitted with red mahogany paneling.  A floor above the parlor is finished in white and birdseye maple.  The third floor contains five rooms, three of which are for servants.”

Whether Mezes ever, indeed, was forced to pay rent is unclear.  Following his departure in 1927 No. 280 Convent Avenue became home to Frederick Robinson, the last of the City College Presidents to live here.  Robinson’s presidency lasted from 1927 through 1938, after which the mansion’s glory days came to an end.

For a while the house was used as a “student boarding house,” then became the headquarters of the Alumni Association around 1945.  Named The Alumni House, it suffered use as offices and sleeping rooms for more than a decade.  As the Alumni Association prepared to move to the fifth floor of the Finley Student Center in 1957, an historic treasure was uncovered in the attic.

Townsend Harris had founded City College in 1847 and is credited as the diplomat who opened the Japanese Empire to foreign trade and culture.  In December 1857 he marched 100 miles from the port village of Shimoda to Yedo (now Tokyo) to negotiate the first trade and amity treaty between the United States and the Japanese Empire.  A flag bearer headed the procession carrying a 31-star American flag made of Japanese crepe.

Following the signing of the treaty Harris wrote “The American flag was carried before me for more than 100 miles through this country.  I displayed it in the streets of this great city, and it daily waves before my residence, so that we can say that the first foreign flag ever hoisted in this city was the Stars and Stripes.”

Townsend Harris brought the flag back with him to the United States in 1862 when he retired as consul general.  It was eventually framed and hung in the Townsend Harris Hall High School, the preparatory school of City College.  When the school was closed in 1942 the flag disappeared and was assumed lost.

Then, on September 21, 1958, The New York Times reported “The first foreign flag raised in the city of Tokyo after the opening of Japan has been found in the attic of an old brownstone building at 280 Convent Avenue, just north of the City College campus.”  As the Alumni Association emptied the attic, the framed flag was found hidden behind some dusty cabinets.

The once-grand mansion now became something of a white elephant for City College.  For a period it was used by the Hamilton Grange Conservation Office, and in 1968 became an incidental part of the anti-Vietnam protests.

When potential employers arrived on campus in November that year, students whom The New York Times deemed “radical” were offended by the presence of representatives of General Dynamics, Hughes Aircraft, and other firms manufacturing war-related products.  The protesters disrupted the scheduled interviews at the School of Engineering, resulting in about 600 engineering students pushing back.

The engineering students marched to the Administration Building carrying signs reading “We Want Action.”  The Times revealed its own political stance in reporting that they “denounced the radical students and threatened to march on the South Campus, several blocks away, which is the setting of most of the college’s hippie, yippie and antiwar activities.”

Although the engineering students were unhappy with compromise (“Why the hell should we give them this concession,” shouted one student), the administration moved the interviews to No. 280 Convent Avenue, off campus, “until the situation cools.”

The mansion sat empty and neglected for the next four decades, suffering from fire and water damage.  Then in 2013 City College announced plans to build a sleek three story addition as part of a conversion to the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership.  Neighbors and preservationists were enraged.  The Historic Districts Council called the proposed addition “out of character” with the district.  Much to the community’s dismay, the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved the ultra modern glass and metal addition.

City College provided a rendering of the proposed glass-and-steel addition 
The battered mansion sits waiting.  In the meantime, preservationist Yuien Chin of the Hamilton Heights-West Harlem Community Preservation Organization complained to journalist Jeff Mays of DNAinfo New York “The process was circumvented.  The project was approved.”

photographs by the author

Friday, May 30, 2014

The 1882 No. 109 Prince Street

photo by Alice Lum
On March 11, 1881 the transformation of the neighborhood south of Houston Street from residential to commercial had been underway for years.  Where brick-faced Federal style homes had stood, towering loft structures clad in cast iron were being erected at a dizzying pace.  On that day Freeman P. Woodbury and his partners purchased No. 109 Prince Street, a “three-story frame (brick front) store and dwelling,” as described by The Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide; the two story brick house and store next door at No. 119 Greene Street; and the abutting No. 119-1/2 Greene Street, a three-story brick dwelling.  The men paid $36,000 for the combined properties—nearly $800,000 today.

Woodbury and the other investors, C. H. Woodbury among them, commissioned Jarvis Morgan Slade to design a store and loft building.  As was the case with the majority of buildings in the area, Slade decided on cast iron for the new structure.  No. 109 Prince Street, however, would be somewhat different.  There was no need for elaborate ornamentation to lure upscale shoppers, as was the case with the nearby Broadway buildings.  Instead, Slade designed a five-story French Renaissance structure of quiet dignity and nearly severe lines.

The cast iron allowed the architect to incorporate large windows that flooded sunlight into the factory spaces of the upper floors.  Each was separated by flat pilasters fluted from the waist down.  Banded piers separated each grouping of three openings on the Greene Street side.  Visual interest (and added interior light) was achieved by a chamfered corner.  A shallow pediment graced central Greene Street section.

photo by Alice Lum
The handsome structure was completed in 1882 and before long apparel firms and fabric dealers filled its spaces.  In 1891 Charles Miller, shirt maker, was here and by the turn of the century No. 109 Prince Street was squarely in the midst of the silk district.

By 1908 silk dealer Singuro Arakawa ran his operation from the building.  The Japanese businessman lived at the Nippon Club at No. 44 West 85th Street.  The club held its own among men’s clubs in the city, offering lodging for single men, dining rooms and social areas like the billiard room.

On the night of October 30, 1908, Cecilia Ohnishi, the 15-year old daughter of the club’s manager, heard a noise in Arakawa’s room.  Knowing he was not at home, she peeked in the doorway and saw a man rifling through the drawers.  The girl’s screams aroused about 35 club members and, according to The New York Times the following day, “the burglar ran to the roof with all the Japanese in pursuit.”

Policeman Weckerson heard the commotion on the rooftop and joined the chase.  Once on the roof he saw the thief running from roof to roof.  “The policeman started after him, but ran into a clothesline, which he did not see in the dark, and, falling backward, was stunned by striking his head on the roof.”

The accident was a severe misfortune for Shinguro Arakawa.  The burglar got away with a $150 watch, three stickpins worth $100, and a “quantity of expensive Japanese silk.”

By 1913 L. & I. Gleichenhaus would share space in the building, manufacturing cloaks.  But the Silk and Garment Districts were slowly inching northward and as mid-century approached, No. 109 Prince Street saw a different type of tenant.  In 1942 the Main-Chem Corporation, manufacturers of chemical supplies, was here.

It was the foreboding of drastic changes in the neighborhood that would be dubbed Soho.  As the years passed many of the great loft spaces sat empty as the cast iron facades rusted and windows wore a gritty layer of dirt.  Although No. 109 did not suffer the humiliation of street level modernization; its façade was grime-streaked by the 1970s and Slade’s striking design was essentially lost in what had become an overlooked warehouse district.

Although, by the mid-1970s, the neglected building was grime covered; the ground level was totally intact.  photograph by Edmund V. Gillon from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Then, as is often the case with Manhattan neighborhoods, a renaissance occurred.  Lured by low rents and large, sunwashed spaces, artists moved in.  Factory lofts were converted to residential art studios and stores were transformed to trendy art galleries.  One by one Soho’s cast iron gems were revived.

In 1992 the architectural firm of Kapell & Kostow was set to work on renovating the 32,000 square foot building to residential and retail space.  Included was a complete restoration of the cast iron façade.  Where details were missing or irreparably damaged, new castings were fabricated.  Each wood-framed window was custom-crafted. 

photo by Alice Lum

The $4 million restoration earned the firm an award from the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission for “excellence of design, execution and craftsmanship” and “commitment to preserving the city’s architectural heritage and contribution to the urban environment.”

The sale of one of the new apartments in 1999 reflected the massive change in the neighborhood.  Where only two decades earlier trucks still banged along the stone-paved streets, a one-bedroom, one-bath condo was put on the market for $1.375 million.  It boasted a private elevator, 4,000-square feet of living space and 13-foot ceilings.  Today a Ralph Lauren store engulfs the entire ground floor of the glistening-white structure.  And Jarvis Morgan Slade’s distinguished French Renaissance building is once again receiving the attention it deserves.
photo by Alice Lum

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The 1908 St. Mary's Episcopal Church -- 521 West 126th Street

The Commissioners’ Plan of Manhattan’s that resulted in streets and avenues was published in 1811.  Within the next two decades the country estates closest to the city would be criss-crossed with thoroughfares and, in most cases, their elegant villas demolished.  But farther north the rural summer estates of the city’s wealthiest citizens would survive significantly longer.

The Bloomingdale Road, later renamed Broadway, was the major artery for travelers.  Dotted along it, roadhouses provided travelers rest and refreshment; while lanes and unpaved roads branched off toward the summer estates.  Around the convergence of the Bloomingdale Road and Manhattan Street (approximately 125th Street today), a tiny village was laid out in 1806 by city surveyor Adolphus Loss. 

Called Manhattanville, it soon had a school and “house of entertainment," a market and a wharf.  The rural village attracted tenant farmers and blue collar workers.  A stage and a boat provided transportation for the eight mile trip to New York and before long a ferry to New Jersey was established.

By 1823 there were about 15 homes in the village for its mostly poor residents.  Although small, the population, augmented by the wealthy summertime residents, was large enough to warrant a house of worship.  On Thanksgiving Day, December 18, 1823 Rev. William Richmond, the rector of St. Michael’s Church in the village of Bloomingdale held a worship service in the school house.  He took the opportunity to invite residents to organize a proper church.

Although nearly all of the churches established in Manhattan's the rural north at the time were chapels of convenience—branches of established churches downtown—Richmond proposed an independent church and parish.  Wealthy merchant Jacob Schieffelin donated a plot of land 60 by 100 feet on Lawrence Street for the new St. Mary’s Protestant Episcopal Church.  The cornerstone was laid on June 15, 1824 and the little wooden structure was dedicated on October 23, 1826.

Included in the original membership rolls were prestigious names like Schieffelin, Lorrillard, Jay, de Peyster, Stuyvesant, and Lawrence.  Another was Elizabeth Hamilton, the widow of Alexander Hamilton, and her two sons.  The Hamilton mansion, The Grange, sat nearby.  Other Manhattanville residents had a harder time gaining membership.  The Minutes of the Vestry dated December 27, 1823 limited membership to “white male persons of full age, who shall for one year last, preceding the election, have worshipped according to the rites of the Protestant Episcopal Church and shall have contributed the sum of not less than fifty cents.”

Five years after its doors were opened St. Mary’s Church eliminated pew rent.  What sounds like a forward-thinking and generous move was probably simply pragmatic.  Although there were wealthy members; the majority of parishioners were poor and the pew rents were meager.  Trustees finally decided to simply forgo the rents altogether.

As the city crept northward the villages in what would eventually be clumped together as Harlem thrived.  St. Mary’s Church focused on the betterment of the Manhattanville residents.  Trustees established the Free School of St. Mary’s Church which was “open equally to all denominations;” and in 1864 opened “The Sheltering Arms.”  The New York Times described The Sheltering Arms as “a charitable institution…to give a home to children, not orphans, but who from one reason or another have been deprived of the comforts of a home.” 

By the beginning of the 20th century Manhattanville was fully developed.  The little wooden church on Lawrence Street was no longer adequate for the growing congregation.  Although rector, the Rev. Hiram R. Hulse, pushed for a new building in the late 1890s, the project was delayed by a lack of funds. 

Then on February 2, 1908 the New-York Tribune announced that the old building would be razed and a new church erected on the site.  The newspaper said it “will be of brick, with trimmings of limestone, of Gothic design, with a large decorative tracery window and a peaked roof, with an ornamental gablet.” 

One month later, on March 8, The New York Times remarked “To-day marks the passing of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, in Lawrence Street, near 129th Street, east of Broadway, which will, however live again in a handsome new brick and stone edifice to be erected on the old site.”

The Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide was a bit wistful to see the venerable structure go.  Below the headline “Another Landmark to Disappear,” it reported on March 21, 1908 “The awarding of the contract to the Amsterdam Building Co, 43 West 27th st., to erect the new edifice in Lawrence st…means the disappearance of an old landmark in Harlem.  The present frame structure was built in 1823 and is one of the oldest in the city.”

The periodical credited the design to “Architects Carrere & Hastings” and predicted it would be “an attractive structure of stone and brick.”  The writer failed to name firm member Theodore E. Blake who was mainly responsible for the design.

The charming structure was completed before the end of the year.  Blake and his associates had produced a picturesque country church for what was now a bustling community.  The New-York Tribune reflected on the change in the neighborhood saying “The new St. Mary’s replaced a wooden structure constructed in 1828, when Manhattanville was a scattered village of country homes and villas on Bloomingdale Road, far to the north of the city of New York.  To-day the city has not only grown up to it, but miles beyond.”

Built of red brick with stone detailing, its English Gothic design bore some striking similarities to Renwick & Sands’ 1868 Church of the Holy Sepulcher on East 74th Street.  Blake’s structure, however, was dominated by the enormous Gothic arched window with its graceful tracery.  Atop the gable sat a quaint open bell tower crowned by a Celtic cross.  The bell from the original St. Mary’s hung in the tower.  The side porch of the church was carefully erected over the burial vault of the Jacob Schieffelin family.

Inside the architects carried out the rural ambiance with exposed beams and fretwork and unplastered brick walls.  And yet the proportions of the space resulted in a melding of the charm with grandeur.  The $35,000 cost would translate to about $856,000 today.

Blake forwent frescoes and lavish decoration for quiet charm.  photograph taken around 1910 by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York,

The consecration of the new St. Mary’s was held on New Year’s Day 1909.  A long list of clergymen assisted in the service which was celebrated by Bishop David H. Greer.  The New-York Tribune reported that the congregation “crowded the structure.”

St. Mary’s Protestant Episcopal Church drew its choir partly from The Sheltering Arms.  In 1912 the voices of twelve men and eight women were augmented by those of a dozen boys from that organization.  Choirmaster T. B. Arden was secure in his choir’s supply of young voices—it was the grown-ups that were making him nervous.  They were rampantly pairing off and getting married, threatening the continued existence of his group.

On September 16, 1912 The Sun reported that Arden “is afraid that if Cupid doesn’t leave his choir alone his church will be without music…He lost two men and two young women through marriages last week, and it is known that very soon three more engagements will be announced.”

The newspaper told readers that choir members Helen Belle and Frank Roe had been married in the church on the past Monday; and two days later soproano Mabel Quigley gave a party at her home to the choir members.  “Under the ice cream plates were found cards announcing that she had been married to William C. Blockwood.”  It was almost too much for the choirmaster to handle.

“The impending engagements, Mr. Arden thinks, will break up the choir if those concerned leave it when they marry.”
The 1908 side windows hint at the Art Nouveau movement.
Six years after Prohibition was enacted, a strong push for repeal swept the nation.  Many of those who believed that the outlawing of alcohol would reduce taxes and better the quality of life now recognized that there was a downside.  Organized crime was rampant; hundreds of millions of federal tax revenue was lost; while millions were being spent on Prohibition enforcement.

Charles Breck Ackley, pastor of St. Mary’s, however, was unmoved.  On November 1, 1926 he stood before his congregation and addressed the growing pressure for repeal.  He argued that six years was not long enough for Prohibition to prove itself.

“A great moral and ethical question is before the American people, and especially the people of this State.  My contention is not that prohibition has as yet been proved to be the final answer, but we are in the midst of a great experiment in human betterment.  We have not had time to really try it out, even if we had whole-hearted enforcement and cooperation by our citizens.  We should be good sportsmen enough to really try the experiment, to carry it through.”
The once-rural neighborhood was much changed by 1932.  Behind the garden sits the 1851 parish house, another reminder of gentler times.  photograph from the collection of the New York Public Library
Ackley was not the first and certainly not the last rector of St. Mary’s unafraid to voice his opinion.  One of the most outspoken would be the Rev. Robert W. Castle, Jr. who took the pulpit in 1987.  By now Lawrence Street had become West 126th Street and the congregation was largely black and Hispanic.

Father Castle’s ministry was as much about social outreach as spiritual preaching.  He had marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and picketed businesses that refused to hire minorities.  Among his first actions as rector was to bring in a Spanish-speaking priest so neighbors could hear mass in their language.  When the nearby Cathedral of St. John the Divine held a service honoring General Colin L. Powell and other Operation Desert Storm participants, Castle was out front with the protesters.

The fiery and determined actions of the priest resulted in the 1992 documentary film “Cousin Bobby,” in which Castle played himself.  His convincing performance led to other roles, including the father of Tom Hanks’ character, Andrew Beckett, dying from AIDS in the 1993 film “Philadelphia.”
A 2014 occasion prompted streamers in the timbered sanctuary.
Father Robert Castle retired in 2000 but his legacy continues on West 126th Street.  Under his direction the St. Mary’s Episcopal Center was established across the street from the church; a residence and day treatment center for people living with HIV/AIDS.  The church continues to reach out to the homeless and needy and runs a “supermarket style” Food Pantry and a mobile soup kitchen.

Theodore Blake’s 1908 brick and stone jewel is virtually unchanged and meticulously maintained.

non-credited photographs taken by the author

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The 1893 Makeover of No. 44 West 22nd Street

In 1851 as the expanding upscale residential neighborhood of Fifth Avenue spilled onto the side streets, attorney John Latson moved into his new home at No. 44 West 22nd Street.  The substantial 3-story, 23-foot wide home reflected Latson’s social and financial status.  Politically active, he ran for Trustee of Schools that same year and his name regularly appeared in newspaper articles on court cases or political issues.

A decade later, as the Civil War boiled up in the South, Latson affiliated himself with the elite Seventh Regiment.  On April 29, 1861 The New York Times noted “This Regiment is fast filling up, and Col. John W. Latson is doing all in his power to secure the comfort of all these volunteers who have enrolled their names.”

Included in his efforts “to secure the comfort” of the soldiers was the procurement of uniforms.  Before long, however, both Latson’s title of “colonel” and his good reputation would come into question.  On August 27 that year The Times followed up with a disturbing article.  “John W. Latson, a lawyer in this City, who has recently received newspaper notices as Colonel of the ‘New-York Horse Artiller,’ was yesterday brought before Justice Osborn, at the Tombs, on the complaint of Messrs. Bonnel Wilson, clothiers in Cortlandt-street, charged with having defrauded them of property valued at over $200, by means of false statements.”

It seems that Latson approached the men’s furnishings shop, asking for uniforms to be made and promising “he had full authority to draw upon the Government for all the goods he wanted, and no other Colonel had been similarly favored.”  When the clothiers asked for proof, he sadly admitted he had left his documents at home.

Although Bonnell had the uniforms delivered to Camp Low, Staten Island; his repeated efforts to get proof of Latson’s connection with the Government landed forced him to take the attorney to court.  The once-respected lawyer was exposed as a sham.

In the 1870s, as Sixth Avenue just around the corner began filling with the retail establishments that would form The Ladies’ Mile, Cambridge Livingston lived in the house.  For years the respected gentleman served as Treasurer of the Joint Committee on Ecclesiastical Relations and Religious Reform.

The change in the neighborhood was evident in 1889 when Elizabeth T. Belt was living here and applied for a $27,500 mortgage.  She then received a second mortgage of $4,500 and then a third of $2,150.  In 1891 she transferred the debt-ridden house to her daughter, Elizabeth M. Delabarre.  The end of the road for the once-elegant home was nearing.

Elizabeth Belt had married Walter E. Delabarre on December 23, 1889 and the couple lived at Asbury Park, New Jersey.  Perhaps her mother was prompted to give her the 22nd Street house by Elizabeth’s desertion of her husband, as alleged by Walter Delabarre’s divorce complaint.  Or perhaps she simply wanted out from under its financial burden.  At any rate, Elizabeth Delabarre was living on West 22nd Street by May 1890—less than six months after her wedding.  And she was as cash-strapped as her mother.

In May 1890 Elizabeth borrowed $500 (about $12,500 today) from Louis Silverman, a professional lender.  As guarantee, she gave him a “chattel mortgage” on her furniture and promised to pay four monthly installments of $175 each.  The following month she borrowed another $5,000, agreeing to pay a hefty $1,750 commission.

When Elizabeth stopped paying the notes as they came due; Silverman allowed her two months’ flexibility before starting foreclosing proceedings against her furniture.  On December 27, 1891 “the house at 44 West Twenty-second Street was entered by Silverman,” according to The New York Times, “and stripped of furniture alleged to be worth $15,000.”

Having lost her furniture, Elizabeth Delebarre somewhat surprisingly sued Silverman for usurious conduct. 

Simultaneously, the crafty woman deeded the house to Hamilton H. Salmon “for the consideration of $3,100,” according to The New York State Reporter.  The agreement was that when she repaid that amount, Salmon would reconvey the premises to Elizabeth.

She then duplicated the deal, deeding the house to James W. Purdy, Jr. for $1,100.  A distinct problem arose when Elizabeth Delebarre was unable to pay either of the loans--just as she was unable to pay Louis Silverman.  When Hamilton Salmon and James Purdy discovered that they both held deeds to the same property, the tangled web landed Elizabeth Delebarre back in court in November 1892.

By now Elizabeth was no longer in her furniture-bare residence.  It was briefly home to Mrs. Margaret M. Barnard, the widow of the former President of Columbia College.  The sumptuous rooms once again were filled with fine paintings and costly furniture.  But Mrs. Barnard died within a few months of moving in and March 17, 1892 an auction of the Barnard furnishings was held in the house.

The Sun listed some of the items sold, including Mrs. Barnard’s collection of luster ware, which was purchased by Columbia College.  “Several antique desks, chairs, and settees were sold at good prices,” said the newspaper.  “A claw-foot mahogany and plush sofa fetched $84, and another of carved oak, dated 1667, was sold for $75.  An old hall clock that had stood in President Barnard’s parlor was sold to C. L. Pendleton of Providence for $100.  Ex-Judge Arnoux bought another old clock for $62.  A painting by George Inness, ‘Meadow Brook,’ went for $125.”  The Sun commented “it was worth more than that.”

Also included in the auctioned items were a chair dating to 1686 and a 1649 desk.

A block away, West 23rd Street had become the artistic center of New York City outside of Greenwich Village.  Four years earlier the Artist-Artisan Institute Building had been completed at Nos. 136-140 West 23rd.  The School for Applied Design for Women opened at the corner of 23rd Street and Seventh Avenue; the Associated Artists was at No. 115 East 23rd Street the School for Industrial Art and Technical Design for Women shared space with the Artist-Artisan Institute. 

No. 44 West 22nd Street was now owned by Mrs. E. J. Robinson, and she recognized that the upscale residential days of the block were over.  She commissioned the esteemed architectural firm of DeLemos & Cordes to transform her old brownstone into a modern structure for artists’ studios.

Completed in 1893, the makeover was remarkable.  The architects removed the brownstone front and installed a cast iron Beaux Arts façade pulled forward nearly to the property line; and the structure was raised to five stories.  The pre-Civil War interiors—carved newel posts, marble mantels and intricate plasterwork on the ceilings—were gutted for light-flooded, modern spaces.  An eye-catching balcony embellished the fourth floor.

A picturesque cast iron balcony, engaged Corinthian columns, and full-relief sunflowers between the cornice brackets enhanced the visual appeal.

While the completed building filled with artists; at least one apparel company moved in—a hint at the coming incursion of the Garment District.  In 1894 Julius S. Stern was here, importing and manufacturing dress trimmings.

Among the first artists in residence was Roswell M. Shurtleff.  A member of the American Water Color Society, he was also a member of the New York Zoological Society.  Shurtleff kept a small house on the edge of the Adirondacks in the Keene Valley where he spend much time painting mountain and forest scenes. 

In 1902, Methodist Magazine and Review called him “our best painter of forest interiors.”  The periodical mentioned that he spent the warm months painting in his mountain home where “he lingers fondly till the winter snows drive him back to his city studio.”

The last trace of the block's residential days survives next door at No. 46.  The brownstone facade is intact above a commercial remake of the lower floors.
By 1906 Shurtleff was represented in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Springfield Art Museum and in the Smith College collection.  He earned a bronze medal at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, and another at the Universal Exposition in 1904 in St. Louis.  He would stay on in the 22nd Street studio at least through 1907.

Other artists in the building at the time were Grace E. McKinstry, who had studied with Raphael Collin and Benjamin Constant; and Anne Dudley Butler.  In November 1900 The New York Times remarked that “Miss Anne Dudley Butler of 44 West Twenty-second Street has the happy invention of drawing portraits in red and white crayons, instead of black and white. The effect, especially in portraits of women and children, is charming.”

But the years as an artists’ studio building would not last long. In January 1909 owner John L. Tonnelle leased “the first loft” to Frederick W. Patten.  Already Fanny Young’s Baby Shop had opened in the street level retail shop and before long the upper floors were home to embroiderers, dressmakers and corset manufacturers.

In 1920 the entrance stairs of No. 44 (right), still seen in this photograph, were removed and the the first two floors remodeled by architect Charles Straub -- photograph by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York,
Fifty-year old William I. Gottlieb’s dressing making company, Gottlieb & Rabinowitz, was in the building in 1923 when tragedy struck.  In July Mrs. Gottlieb had gone off to the country, leaving William at home.  At around 8:00 in the morning on July 29 he drove his Cadillac sedan to the home of 20-year old Gladys Miller, an actress.  It was Gladys’ birthday.  Gladys and her sister, 18-year old Thelma (also an actress), climbed into the Cadillac with the intentions of celebrating Gladys’ birthday.

By mid afternoon Gottlieb and the Miller sisters had invited Verna Tolley and Mae Lewis to join the party.  The four young girls and the middle-aged married man headed off to Long Island, supposedly to Long Beach.  At 2:19 a.m. the five were still strong, speeding along through a pelting rainstorm.

A witness saw the Gottlieb car speeding past the dropping railroad barricades with their glowing red lanterns.  Within seconds a locomotive crashed into the Cadillac, “and for 1,200 feet the train went on, gradually grinding down to a stop,” reported The Times.  All five passengers were killed.
The early modernization of the lower two floors did not negatively effect the DeLemos & Cordes design.
As the Garment District moved northward into the 30s, the lofts in the West 22nd Street building were taken by a variety of small businesses, including the Cameo Novelty Company in 1946.  Then, with the rediscovery of The Ladies’ Mile at the turn of the 21st century, No. 44 received a major renovation.

In 2007 it was converted to commodious apartments—two per floor on the lower floors and a luxurious duplex on the top two floors.  The handsome cast iron façade still garners attention on the quiet side street; offering little hint at the widely-varied history that played out inside during its more than 160 years of existence.

photographs by the author

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Old St. Patrick's Rectory -- No. 263 Mulberry Street

photo by Alice Lum
The Catholic Church in Manhattan got off to a rocky start.  During British rule Catholic worship was prohibited by law.  Then, in 1785, almost immediately after the British left, St. Peter’s Church was founded and a Georgian-style church was built on Barclay Street—three years before the Washington took office.

The Roman Catholic population continued to grow and on April 8, 1808 the diocese of New York was created (covering all of New York State, New Jersey, and several Long Island counties).  Within the year French-born architect Joseph-Francois Mangin was commissioned to design the first Catholic cathedral in American—St. Patrick’s.  The architect had recently completed the design of City Hall in conjunction with John McComb, Jr.  The completed church on Mulberry Street near the corner of Prince Street was dedicated six years later on May 14, 1815.

But the presence of a cathedral and a bishop did not mean that Catholics were warmly accepted.  In 1834 the Board of Trustees resolved “that a wall shall be built around the Cathedral and churchyard" to protect both the graveyard and the church from rioters bent on destruction.  The decision proved to be wise move.  Ten years later the church was besieged by a violent mob of anti-Catholic and anti-Irish rabble intent on torching the cathedral.  The bishop at the time was the dynamic 47-year old John Joseph Hughes. 

He assembled parishioners and members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians behind the wall.  The defenders punched holes in the wall for their muskets and fought back the mob which was chanting “paddies of the Pope.”  Although the Catholics held off the rabble; several of the fine windows of the church were smashed in the melee.  Bishop Hughes fired off a letter to Mayor James Harper threatening “Should one Catholic come to harm, or should one Catholic business be molested, we shall turn this city into a second Moscow," referring to Napoleon's somewhat recent siege of that city.

The Irish-born Hughes had been made bishop in 1842, succeeding John Dubois.  It was apparently during his term that the imposing Rectory was constructed directly across from the Cathedral.  Five bays wide, the handsome Greek Revival structure encompassed two wide building lots.  Constructed of red brick with brownstone trim, it was home not only to the bishop; but to the parish priests—as many of seven at some times. 

John J. Hughes was elevated to Archbishop when New York was made an Archdiocese by Pope Pius IX in 1850.  At the time St. Patrick’s Cathedral was the largest church in Manhattan.  But Hughes had bigger plans.  In 1852 the Archdiocese purchased the block of land far north on Fifth Avenue at 50th Street.  The plot was so far removed from the established city that critics called the project “Hughes’ Folly.”  The cornerstone was laid on August 15, 1858 and the immense white marble cathedral began rising.

Then, in 1861, Civil War broke out.  One by one construction workers marched off to war until eventually work on the Cathedral stopped completely.  Three years later Archbishop John Hughes died, never to see his magnificent church completed.

John Cardinal McCloskey moved into the Rectory as the new Archbishop.  Although the new St. Patrick’s Cathedral would not be officially dedicated until 1879; Archbishop McCloskey left the old Mulberry Street rectory by 1875 and took up residence in the Archbishop’s mansion at No. 218 Madison Avenue.  It was there, on March 16, 1875, that he received the telegram informing him that he had been elevated to cardinal—the first in America.

A month later, John McCloskey received his cardinal’s hat in the parlor of the old Rectory.  Later he would repeat the ceremony across the street in the old Cathedral. 

The Rectory in 1914 looked exactly as it does today -- The Catholic church in the United States of America, 1914 (copyright expired)

After the doors to the new Cathedral opened in 1879, the old Mulberry Street Cathedral became a parish church on May 25.  By now Father John F. Kearney had lived in the Rectory for 13 years.  Kearney was born on Broome Street in 1839.  As work had ground to a stop on the new Cathedral during the war, Kearney was studying for the priesthood in Emmittsburg, Maryland.   He became an assistant priest in the Old Cathedral in 1864—two years before the church burned nearly to the ground.  (It was possibly during the reconstruction of the old cathedral that the handsome mansard roof was added to the old Greek Revival Rectory.)

Now, the Very Rev. William Quinn who had been vicar-general at the old Cathedral moved to the new St. Patrick’s; leaving Father Kearney as rector of the Mulberry Street church.  The priest took over the parish at a time of noticeable change in the neighborhood.  While the original parishioners in the cathedral had been almost exclusively Irish; now waves of Italian immigrants filled the streets. 

Later Father Kearney would remember “The changes in population came on gradually, but I should say that in 1873 the first large Italian immigration began.  There had been hard times in Italy and thousands came over here in search of work.  Again in 1882 there was an especially large number of them.”  Because he spoke Italian, Father Kearney was able to reach out to the Italian Catholic population. 

The Victorian mansard was possibly added during the reconstruction of the damaged Cathedral.  photo by Alice Lum
In the first years of the 20th century New York City was plagued with anarchist terrorists, including the Black Hand.  The Italian group was responsible for assassinations, extortion and bombings.  Police Lieutenant Joseph Petrosino was working in Italy in 1909 when he was gunned down by the Black Hand.  His body was returned to New York and his funeral took place in Old St. Patrick’s.

As the day of the ceremony neared, Father Kearney received a letter at the Rectory.  It was from the Black Hand and threatened to blow up the church.  According to The New York Times, “He read the letter and then calmly said, “If the church goes—I go with it.”

By 1916, as he celebrated 50 years of living in the Rectory and serving old St. Patrick’s, Kearney held the title of Monsignor.  For another seven years he would crisscross Mulberry Street, going back and forth from the Rectory to the old cathedral.  Then on the evening of April 11, 1923 the Right Rev. Mgr. John F. Kearney called into his room the four parish priests who shared the Rectory.  The following day The New York Times reported “To them he gave his blessing, and a few minutes later he died.”

An estimated 10,000 mourners were present at Mgr. Kearney’s funeral.

The former Bishop’s residence and Rectory drew little attention to itself over the years.  In May 1939 when Old St. Patrick’s celebrated its 130th Anniversary, a “colorful procession” started at the Rectory and wound around the streets before returning to the old church.  And in 1950 Cardinal Francis Joseph Spellman chose the Rectory to despair over the failure of continued peace after the end of World War II.

“Entrusted with this peace and the future of our youth we have once again failed ourselves and them—beguiled, deceived, betrayed, defeated by Communists, fellow travelers, apathetic and guileful people and public servants.”

photo by Alice Lum

Today the dignified old structure, still used as the Old St. Patrick’s Rectory, is lovingly maintained and beautifully intact.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Lost Progress Club -- 5th Avenue and 63rd Street

The over-the-top clubhouse sat among the mansions of Manhattan's wealthiest citizens -- photo by Byron Co. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

As the sons of Manhattan millionaires grew to manhood, membership in at least one—but preferably several—of the exclusive men’s clubs was expected.  Passing the rigid selection process proved one's good breeding and social status; but most of all money.  None of those qualifications mattered much, however, if the man were Jewish.

Manhattan society was, for the most part, made up of Episcopalians with some ultra-wealthy Roman Catholics tolerated (although not in the ballroom of Caroline Schermerhorn Astor).  Despite the staggering wealth of some Jewish families, only a handful of Jews would manage to wrest memberships in the highly-exclusive Union or Metropolitan Club, for instance.  And so they established their own private club.

The Progress Club was founded in 1864 and quickly developed a high-class standing.  The New York Times later said, “In Hebrew society the Progress Club has the same standing as the Metropolitan in other circles.”  By the 1880s it had established itself in a clubhouse at No. 110-112 East 59th Street at the corner of Park Avenue.  But that would quickly change. On July 28, 1887 the members sold its building for $105,000 and spent double that amount--$235,000 to be exact—on the 100-square foot corner lot on Fifth Avenue at 63rd Street.  Newspapers reported that plans were being prepared for “a $250,000 clubhouse” directly in the center of the developing mansion district.  The total proposed outlay of $485,000 would amount to a jaw-dropping $11.5 million today.

Alfred Zucker was born in Freiburg, Silesia in 1852 and had settled in New York in 1883.  He busied himself designing cast iron loft buildings in the area now known as Soho.  Now the Progress Club chose the Jewish architect to design their new home. 

By the time the cornerstone was laid on November 28, 1888 work was well underway.  The New York Times promised that, when completed, it would be “one of the handsomest and most convenient clubhouses in the country.”

“The architecture of the exterior will be pure Italian Renaissance as adopted in Rome and Florence in the fifteenth century,” said the newspaper.  “The material used in the facades will be fawn-colored brick, terra cotta of a deeper shade, and Bellville gray rock..  For the balcony railings, basement window-guards, &c., ornamental wrought-iron will be used.”

By now the cost of the structure, excluding the plot, had doubled to $500,000.  The members of what newspapers routinely called the “Hebrew club” seemed determined to match or outdo the most lavish of Manhattan’s clubhouses.

Five months later the Progress Club hosted its last function in the old clubhouse.  Among the entertainments were a children’s production of A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, and “as an interlude Miss Nellie Williams sang ‘Dere ain’t no Flies on Me,’ for which she was rewarded with loud applause,” reported The Times the following day.  It was announced that the club would be in its new Fifth Avenue clubhouse by the opening of the social season. 

Terra cotta drapes like a garland along the parapet -- photo King's Views of New York 1903 (copyright expired)
By the time the building opened on March 7, 1890 the cost had risen to a staggering $600,000.  Combined with the cost of the land, the clubhouse cost $21 million in today’s dollars.  The price was understandable once guests and reporters were shown inside.  The New York Times called the clubhouse “palatial.”

Well-heeled members in evening clothes ascend the grand staircase before the enormous stained glass window on opening night -- Harper's Weekly 1891 (copyright expired)

The following day the Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide called it “regal” and “without doubt the most ambitious addition that has been made to the club-houses of this city since the Union League was opened.”   The periodical said “The design of the exterior is scholarly, straightforward and expressive, and with the accentuation given by the beautiful carving and terra cotta work the building is architecturally one of the most successful and interesting that has been completed in recent years.”

It pointed out the costly finishes: “the wealth of highly carved wood; wrought iron and brass; the great stained glass windows, one of which is 22x30 feet; the lavish use of onyx, serpentine and other semi-precious stones, the large picture ceilings, the ivory enameled walls, the superb hangings in coral plush and Etruscan gold.”  Everything—without exception—in the new building was custom built to the designs of Zucker.  The furniture, the draperies, carpets, chandeliers, even the candelabra, were manufactured according to the architect's drawings.

Silver chandeliers hung from the elaborate ceiling of the Banqueting Hall -- Real Estate Record & Builder's News, March 8, 1890 (copyright expired) 

Members entered through a great arch on 63rd Street into a marble-walled vestibule.  At the end of the vestibule was the grand staircase, dominated by a 22-foot high stained glass window at the landing.  Downstairs were the oak-furnished reading room with leather-covered walls and wrought iron chandeliers;  and two drawing rooms.  One of these was “First Empire” in style.  It dazzled with onyx columns with gold capitals.  On this floor, too, were the reception room, steward’s office and coat room, and an oaken dining room.
The First Empire Room was decorated in gold and white -- Real Estate Record & Builder's News, March 8, 1890 (copyright expired) 
At the second landing was an even larger stained glass window—30 feet high by 22 feet wide—depicting Progress ascending amid clouds. The magnificent banqueting hall fully engulfed half of the second floor.  At 90 feet long, 55 feet wide and 25 feet high, the Record deemed it “one of the noblest apartments in the city.”  The onyx columns with gold capitals upholding the ceiling sat on pedestals of malachite.  The ceiling was divided into nine large panels, from each of which were suspended silver chandeliers.  They were matched by silver sconces on the walls.  In this room was a musicians’ gallery of ormolu gilt.

The ballroom was one floor above and The Record & Builders’ Guide called its proportions “imperial.”  Here Zucker used the new electric light to full advantage.  “The ceiling, which is supported by the walls only, so that the area of the room is unbroken and the full effect of its size obtained, is coved several feet in depth and divided by means of heavy ornamental groins into six recessed panels, the centre of each panel being formed into a dome, in each of which is a cluster of electric lamps representing the descending stars of a rocket.  This idea is ingenious and the result excellent—with electric light, illumination is at last becoming a part of decorations.”

Zucker pulled out all the stops for the dazzling Ballroom -- Real Estate Record & Builder's News, March 8, 1890 (copyright expired) 

Zucker’s over-the-top décor in the ballroom included female figures crafted of onyx and ormolu holding the golden candelabra, and nymphs supporting chains that held back the draperies.  In the cove of the ceiling huge winged female figures wore tiaras of electric lights.  More than 1,000 persons could comfortably fit into the ballroom.

Also on this floor were the “dainty ladies’ drawing-room” in white and gold Rococo.  The ceiling was painted with a reproduction of Thuman’s “Amor and Psyche.”  On the opposite side of a foyer was the gentleman’s room.  These spaces were designed so that on grand occasions the entire floor could be opened into one large entertainment area.

Below ground were six bowling alleys, wine cellars, billiard room and café; as well as the expected kitchens, larders and mechanical rooms.

The Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide summed it all up saying, “In conclusion, it may be said that from top to bottom the building is most carefully and artistically planned, the construction is everywhere of the most substantial and excellent kind, and reflects great credit upon the members of the club and the architect.”

The critics from The Times and the Record & Builders’ Guide were just two of 1,500 persons at the housewarming.  Among the guests who mingled among the potted ferns and palms that night were names like Rothschild, Bloomingdale, Blumenthal, and Stein; some of the wealthiest merchants and bankers of the city.  Mayor Hugh J. Grant, Governor David B. Hill and Board of Alderman President Arnold were all invited; but their names did not show up on the list of attendees. 

In his address after receiving the solid gold key to the building, club President Simon Goldenberg deemed the new building “the finest club quarters in America.”  The following day The Evening World called the architecture “perfection” and noted “The decorations are elegant, costly and in the best possible taste.”

Like every other high-end men’s club in the city, the Progress Club was not without its internal politics and dissension.  During the last week of January 1894 the club staged “a vaudeville entertainment which was being given by the club to its feminine guests,” as reported in The New York Times a week later.  There was a long-standing rule that whenever women were invited into the clubhouse, smoking in certain rooms was prohibited. 

That evening when J. Murray Danenbaum entered a supper room as the entertainment was going on, he noticed a member “enjoying a prohibited cigar.”  Indignant on the part of the women in the room, Danenbaum approached the member and rather sternly reminded him of the rule.  The New York Times said “The offending member, unmindful of the soft answer that turneth away wrath, answered in kind and smoked on.”  It was the beginning of a problem far worse than the offending cigar.

Danenbaum plucked the cigar from the man’s mouth and flung it to the floor.  If female guests were put off by the stench of cigar smoke in the supper room; they were no doubt terrorized by the pugilistic threats that were now exchanged by the two men.  Only the intervention of cooler minds prevented a full-out fist fight, according to reports.

Exactly ten years after the housewarming celebration the Progress Club announced it had “decided to dispose of its present house at the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and Sixty-third Street, and will erect a new home on a site yet to be selected.”  A club member told reporters on January 8, 1900 that “the reason for the club moving was simply that its present house is regarded by a majority of the members as inadequate.”

It took the club over a year to find a suitable property; but on November 3, 1901 it announced the purchase of three lots at the northwest corner of Central Park West and 88th Street.  Simultaneously it was revealed that millionaire James B. Haggin had signed a contract for the purchase of the 63rd Street building.  “The reported price in the sale to Mr. Haggin was $735,000, and he will put up a mansion on the site costing about $1,000,000,” reported The New York Times.

The Progress Club moved to the West Side and, oddly enough, James B. Haggin did not build his new mansion; but let the hulking clubhouse sit empty and dark.  Instead, he moved into the lavish Crocker mansion one block north at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 64th Street in 1912. 

When James Haggin died in Newport on August 16, 1914, the Progress Club still sat eerily quiet and unused.  The following year, on December 11, 1915, the Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide reported that his estate had sold the property “to a syndicate formed for the purpose of erecting an apartment house suitable in every way to the location where it is to be constructed.”

The firm of Starrett & Van Vleck was commissioned to design the 12-story Renaissance-inspired building.  With one apartment per floor, the new building was marketing what could be termed horizontal mansions.  The rents were expected to be about $18,000 to $25,000 per year—about $47,000 a month in today’s dollars for the more expensive apartments.

Starrett & Van Vleck released this sketch of the coming building in December 1915.  It survives today. Real Estate Record & Builder's News, December 11, 1915 (copyright expired)  

Before the massive apartment building could rise, the Progress Club had to come down.  The lavish interiors of onyx columns and ormolu galleries were gone within weeks.  That it ever stood is largely forgotten.