On January 31, 1839 Rebecca Jones purchased a handsome home at 732 Broadway from John Jacob Astor, who had acquired the property in 1804. It sat just half a block south of Astor Place, one of the most exclusive residential districts in the city. The 25-foot wide house was, according to The New York Times decades later, a “four-story brownstone structure.” If the description was accurate, the house would have been unusual. Most residences in the area were faced in brick at the time.
If Rebecca Jones’ family ever lived in the house, the advance of the commercial district up Broadway would put an end to that. By 1855 at least one business was operating from the address. On July 17 that year the New-York Daily Tribune ran an advertisement for “Drs. Blain & La Mour, Oculists and Aurists.”
Six years later, in 1861, Soupil’s art gallery was operating from the parlor floor. That year, as civil war broke out in the South, Soupil’s exhibited Frederic Edwin Church’s monumental painting The North for the benefit of the Patriotic Fund. (Church later renamed the painting The Icebergs.) At the same time, boarders rented rooms on the upper floors.
|Church's 64.5" x 112.5" painting was exhibited here as part of the war effort. Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Tx.|
Living here was Demetrius Bischbach, described by The New York Times as “an Arabian.” In December that same year, Bischbach complained that David Freeman had burglarized his apartment, stealing a trunk. The immigrant had a hard time communicating with authorities because he “cannot speak a word of English.” According to The Times, “His name was subscribed to his affidavits in Arabic hieroglyphics.”
Nevertheless, the police took him seriously. In the trunk was a large quantity of clothing, including “a complete Turkish costume” which Bischbach valued at $125—a not-inconsiderable $3,500 by today’s standards. Freeman was arrested on December 21 and held for trial by Justice Kelly.
The converted house was appraised in 1862 at $28,000, about $700,000 today. Seven years later the Jones family took out a $50,000 loan on the property from the Bowery Savings Bank. But by now the once-elegant stretch of Broadway was tainted with crime and vice. The same issue of The Times that reported on Freeman’s arrest told of raids on a gambling house nearby at 551 Broadway. Police seized card tables, dice boxes, “cue-boxes,” dealing boards and other gambling paraphernalia. Before long they would be visiting 732 Broadway.
By 1867 the space that once housed an upscale art dealer had become a saloon. The rear portion of the first floor was now a “public gambling house,” according to the Anti-Gambling Society, run by a man named McCaffrey. The Society set out to close down McCaffrey’s operation; but it had an uphill battle.
The police force in the neighborhood was notoriously corrupt, and bribes and graft seem to have extended even to the judges. When the Society’s complaint came to trial on August 17, 1867, Justice Connolly was persuaded by the defense’s arguments. McCaffery’s attorney argued that, technically, the place could not be termed “public;” and since the law defined gambling as involving money, McCaffery’s operation was clean. “In this instance, ‘chips,’ not money, were used at the table,” explained The New York Times.
Two years later, on December 12, 1869 the saloon, owned by Ralph Reamer, was burglarized. The Times reported that the thieves had “used false keys, and after ransacking the establishment made their escape with a coat, cap, fur collar and cigars all worth $218.” One of the burglars was arrested after he pawned the coat.
Reamer’s saloon was suffered a fire five months later, on May 31. It had started in a trash can behind the counter and damaged a reported $500 in stock. In reporting on the fire, The New York Times noted that the building, which was only slightly injured, was still “owned by the Jones’ estate.”
By 1871 reformers and newspapers were attempting to clean up the unsavory neighborhood and, at the same time, expose the corrupt police. On July 10 The New York Times listed openly-operated gambling dens, including Nos. 616, 681, 685, 702 and 711 Broadway. The newspaper noted "Christopher [sic] Schaeffer, a well-known gambler, keeps a faro bank at No. 732 Broadway, and is on the most friendly terms with the policemen in the neighborhood."
The article complained "It is well known that for every game closed by the Police, another has been opened, and that though the interiors of the establishments are not exposed to the indiscriminate gaze of every passer-by, there is but little secrecy maintained as to their whereabouts, either to the Police or the general public."
(Years later Christian W. Schaffer would testify that “while ex-Chief Byrnes was in command of the Mercer Street Police Station, he paid him one-quarter of the profits of a ‘keno’ game he conducted at 732 Broadway.”)
On July 1, 1872 the same newspaper reported “The most notorious of the houses of infamy where keno is carried on is No. 732 Broadway, next door to the New-York Theatre. The house runs back for a considerable way, so that its rear windows are in close proximity with those of the Oriental Hotel, on Lafayette-place, which has a large rear extension. The unhappy beings who occupy rooms in this building are compelled nightly to listen to the rattling of the keno-boxes and to stentorian voices shouting 14, 7, 64, 18, 34, for hours and hours.”
Shocked readers were advised that “a gentleman” had gone to the precinct station house the previous Saturday night and demanded that the game be stopped. “A policeman was sent to stop it, but the proprietors in some fashion squared it with him and the game was continued until 2-1/2 o’clock of the Sabbath morning. It is desirable to know whether law is a dead letter in New-York.”
John Miles was living upstairs here in 1874. Instead of having a drink in the saloon downstairs on the night of August 5, he stopped into Spencer’s saloon, at Broadway and Fulton Street. The night did not end well.
Miles got into a confrontation with James Gordon, visiting from Maryland. Miles struck Gordon with his cane “on the pistol pocket.” Newspapers reported the following morning that “The pistol, which was in the latter’s pocket, was discharged, the ball taking effect in Miles’ thigh, inflicting a severe wound. He was attended at the Park Hospital.”
In 1884 the saloon at 732 Broadway was described as “a lager beer saloon by Mundorff & Moench.” But the days of lager beer and gambling were drawing quickly to an end.
Catherine M. Jones commissioned Henry Janeway Hardenbergh to renovate the old house in 1885. At the time the plans were filed, records described the saloon as “a restaurant” and the upper floors as light manufacturing. E. A. Mac, booksellers, had been in the building as early as 1883, and it appears that it took over the former saloon space in the remodeled structure. The firm dealt primarily in “choice, rare, standard, and valuable books” and conducted book auctions here as well. E. A. Mac would remain in the space until, at least, 1885.
The tenants upstairs were related to the garment industry, which by now was moving northward up Broadway. Dittmar’s Cutting Academy was already in the building the year before renovation, and on Saturday, May 3, 1884 had advertised for “Several first-class ready-made clothing cutters.”
In addition to running the Academy, Luther T. Barwise edited and published the International Record of Correct Styles from here. Not only did he operate the Cutters’ and Tailors’ Academy from the second floor, he and his wife made their home there was well.
The Tailors’ and Cutters’ Exchange was here as well; an employment agency of sorts for out-of-work apparel workers. On April 14, 1886 it advertised “Wanted: Coat maker and pants maker to go in the country. The boss is to be seen at the Tailors’ and Cutters’ Exchange.”
In mid-August 1887, Luther T. Barwise met “an interesting boy” who said he was from Philadelphia and homeless. Barwise kindly gave the boy money for a place to stay and told him that if he would come by the Cutters’ and Tailors’ Exchange the following day, he would give him a job.
Young Leopold Greenfield did come by and Barwise employed him a job as an errand boy. He slept on a sofa in the office. On Friday night, August 19, he “went to his couch at 10 o’clock, and at 4 o’clock Saturday morning he disappeared simultaneously with $90, a gold watch and chain, and four rings belonging to Mrs. Barwise,” said The New York Times a few days later.
Barwise had already been ailing and reportedly “overworked.” He was frantic when he reported the theft at the Mercer Street Station House. He became so overwrought that Mrs. Barwise sent for a physician who gave him “a soothing medicine.”
He seemed fine to his wife on Sunday night and she left him alone, returning around 11:00. She found him barricaded in his office, refusing to come out. Police arrived and found him wielding a “huge pair of shears” and threatening “to stab any one who would molest him.”
His wife, a friend, and the building’s janitor all tried for an hour and a half to reason with Barwise; but “at last his insanity being too evident, Mrs. Barwise consented to his being put under restraint.” The fact that Greenfield, to whom he had offered such kindness, would abuse his trust and steal from him was too much for Barwise to bear. The New York Times said it all had made him “crazy.”
When a horse-drawn ambulance arrived from St. Vincent’s Hospital, it took three policemen to wrestle Barwise into submission. “He appeared a match for them,” reported The Times, “and the shears were not taken from him until strategy was resorted to, and a sudden wrench, when his attention was directed to one of the men who held him, drew them from his grasp of iron. Then he was led to the ambulance and taken to the pavilion for the insane at Bellevue Hospital.”
As the turn of the century approached, a different type of tenant filled 732. R. Heinrich sold “store fixtures;” and Warren F. H. Tupper dealt in “saloon and restaurant fixtures” under the name “J. C. H. Tupper Restaurant Company.” In 1897 Tupper was one of several businessmen in the neighborhood who were scammed by 29-year old James B. Watson, a passer of bad checks. The check Tupper cashed for him was for $12.
At the time 732 had passed from the Jones estate to Francis de Ruyter Wissman and his wife Helen. In July 1899 wealthy rice merchant W. H. M. Sanger surrendered the $300 a year lease of the building to Warren Tupper. Five months later Tupper assigned the lease to Richard L. Treffurth, a restaurant owner.
Apparently as part of the lease conditions the Wissmans agreed to alter the building. In 1900 the Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide announced alterations for “Richard L. Treffurth, restaurant and café.” But building records show that it was Helen A. Wissman who hired architect Bruno W. Berger to renovate the structure.
The resulting make-over was a handsome Renaissance Revival restaurant and loft building that obscured any hint that there was a house hidden away someplace. Brick side piers with cast metal capitals embraced two floors of cast iron show windows. Pretty arched openings at the top floor were trimmed in cast iron and a bracketed cornice finished the design.
It was all nearly for naught when in 1901 the city laid plans for extending Waverly Place, which ran east only as far as Broadway, through to Lafayette Place. No. 732 sat squarely in the path of the proposed extension.
Francis de Ruyter Wissman showed up at City Hall at 2:00 on the afternoon of March 27 to make sure his opposition was heard. “It would be a great loss to me. The place is rented at a net rental for twenty-one years, and the property in this neighborhood has been steadily increasing in value of late. Any one who will examine the locality of my building will see that I am certainly the one who will lose most by the extension of Waverley Place. Let no one say hereafter that I did not oppose the plan.”
The plan eventually died and Wissman’s building survived. Above the Treffurth Restaurant & Café headwear firms like Samuel Cashman, “cloth caps;” and Lehman Bros, “millinery,” and Spear & Co., “manufacturers of cloth headwear,” operated.
In 1906 Treffurth spent $550 to have a sign designed by architect C. F. Melville and attached to the building. That costly advertisement is most likely the name Treffurth’s in projecting script still seen below the cornice.
It was mostly apparel and millinery firms that would continue to fill the upper floors. Wolff Brothers, “dealers in millinery, corsets, and gloves,” was here in 1907. But there were other tenants as well. On February 8, 1908 Julius Friend moved his real estate office into the building.
It appears that around 1914 things became tense between Richard L. Treffurth and his landlords. In April the lease on the first floor and basement was given to Samuel Shapiro “for a lunchroom” and on October 15, 1915 Helen A. Wissman filed suit against Treffurth. The suit ended in “no opinion” and the appeal was withdrawn.
Coinciding with Shapiro’s signing of the lease, Helen Wissman hired architect Louis A. Sheinart to “reset” the store front, according to the Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide on April 25, 1914. The renovations for the new lunchroom cost her $200.
Shapiro’s restaurant would not be in the space for long, however. For 15 years the Schwab Brothers café and restaurant had operated from 747 Broadway, almost directly across the street, where they paid a yearly rental of $6,000 to the Sailors’ Snug Harbor. Now, in 1915, the landlord decided “there would be no liquor selling on property of the society.” Schwab Brothers needed to move quickly.
On September 14, 1915 the New-York Tribune reported that Schwab had rented the café and basement of 732 Broadway from Francis de Ruyter Wissman. “Their new place is to be extensively altered to meet their requirements,” said the article.
Over the subsequent years a variety of tenants came and went upstairs. Shampan and Shampan, architects, were here in 1916; the Grill Feather Boa Co. in 1921; and the F. F. Manufacturing Company, “knit goods,” in 1922. That same year William F. Crerand published textile trade journals here.
In the meantime, the restaurant changed hands. By 1921 it was the T. L. P. Restaurant; and in 1937 it was home to the Ace Restaurant. Samuel Plassner ran the restaurant in 1946 when he suffered into a bit of unpleasant press on October 2, 1946. The New York Times reported that he “paid a $250 fine to avoid a seventy-five-day jail term for having worm-infested flour, beans, barley and lentils in the cafeteria at 732 Broadway, of which he is the operator.”
The end of the line of the long string of restaurants came in March 1952 when the Wissman Estate leased the entire building (now assessed at $46,000) to the Universal Musical Instruments Company. In the mid-1960s space was rented to modern artist Adolf “Ad” Reinhardt. He was a pioneer in the “minimal art” of painting, creating “black” paintings with color reduced to a bare minimum. He died in his studio here at the age of 53 in August 1967.
In 2004 the upper floors were converted to residential space, just one apartment per floor. The street level, heavily altered, now houses a cell phone store. And upstairs Universal Musical Instruments Company still holds onto space after more than half a century. And pedestrians who happen to look up while passing by the beautifully-restored façade may momentarily wonder about the Treffurth’s signature pressed in metal below the cornice.
photographs by the author
photographs by the author