|A white-uniformed dustman heads to his two-wheels cart outside the Dakota Stables -- http://www.nyc-architecture.com/GON/GON055.htm
When the economy recovered following the Financial Panic of 1873, the Upper West Side exploded with frenzied development. The extension of the 9th Avenue elevated train and the laying of sewer lines enhanced the desirability of the recently-rural area.
While the streets filled with handsome rowhouses and magnificent mansions appeared on the avenues, a desperate need for boarding stables arose. As the handsome Dakota Flats was completed on Central Park West in 1885, Alfred Corning Clark laid plans for a stable building that would be as massive as it was architecturally impressive.
He commissioned the architectural firm of Charles Romeyn & Co. to design the structure that would stretch from Amsterdam Avenue to Broadway (called at the time “the Boulevard") along 75th Street. Clark’s father, Edward Clark, who died in 1882, was responsible for the Dakota apartments.
The stable was completed in 1885 at a cost of $70,000—about $1.75 million today. On June 6th that year The American Architect and Building News reported that the stables were for the use of the Dakota tenants, as well as the general public. “This structure forms part of a scheme started some years ago by the late Edward Clark…The building is intended to afford stable accommodations for the many tenants of the estate and for the general public of the neighborhood who, until its completion, have been without such a convenience.”
|American Architect and Building News, June 6, 1885 (copyright expired)
Romeyn’s regimented take on Romanesque Revival was executed in “Croton brick” and trimmed in “bluestone” and terra cotta. The cornice and dormers were clad in pressed copper. A square centered pavilion which contained the entrance broke through the long mansard and relieved the disciplined rows of arched openings.
The yawning arched entrance opened onto a 30 by 30 foot court lined in enameled brick. Ramps led to the horse stalls on the second floor, and to the carriage storage area on the third where feed was also stored.
Three years after its opening, the stable, operated by brothers Thomas P. and John A. Kelly, was the center of a messy work stoppage. On November 30, 1888 the New-York Tribune reported that a strike had occurred the previous day by the Liberty Dawn Association, Knights of Labor. The newspaper noted “The stables do a large business with coaches and employ between thirty and forty men. The men say that they are sure to win.”
The strikers were horse shoers and grooms who claimed that the Kelly Brothers owed them about $400 in past due wages. The Kellys admitted that the men were owed wages; but it was not pay day yet. They hinted that the strike was based in racial bias. “The story of the Kelly brothers as to the cause of the strike differs materially from that of the men,” said the Tribune two days later.
Levi Woodly was hired by the Kellys as “a sort of deputy veterinary or horse nurse.” The Tribune noted “Woodly, who is a negro, has worked in the stables about two years.” About a week before the walk-out, a union delegate called on Thomas Kelly “and demanded the discharge of Woodly,” as reported in the New-York Tribune on December 1. “Mr. Kelly refused to discharge the man and a strike was the consequence.”
The union denied the charge. Walking Delegate Fisher told the newspaper “they did not object to working with Woodly, although he is a non-union man but that he ordered a strike to force Kelly Brothers to pay their men certain arrearages of wages.”
Not intimidated, the proprietors hired replacement workers. On November 31 two of the strikers were arrested “for assaulting the new drivers and attempting to intimidate patrons of the Kelly Brothers’ stable.”
On December 2 the union men told reporters “that Kelly Brothers are unable to get their horse[s] shot or manure hauled.” In actuality that was not the case. The 35 strikers who were “sure to win” found themselves looking for other employment. On December 4 the Evening World reported that they were “out of a job, non-union men having been engaged in their places.”
Each year, as summer approached, Manhattan’s wealthy citizens prepared to leave for country estates and resorts. Not only did trunks of clothing need to be packed, but horses and vehicles had to be shipped. On June 22, 1894 The New York Times reported “At the Dakota Stables, on Seventy-fifth Street and the Western Boulevard, one of the finest establishments in town, all kinds of vehicles and harness are being burnished and covered with dusters, preparatory for shipment, and by Saturday night there will be comparatively few horses remaining…Among the recent departures for the watering places and the country are Col. Rennard, who has gone to Normandie-by-the-Sea. Col. Rennard took with him his handsome dog-cart horse and vehicle.”
Also at Normandie-by-the-Sea was lawyer John Townsend, who had taken along “a pair of handsome coachers and a Victoria.” The Times enumerated many other wealthy patrons of the Dakota Stables, including James Otis Hoyt who sent his horses to Bellport, Long Island; John Osborne, whose four horses and “several traps” were already at his summer estate at Port Chester, New York; and George W. Swain who was at Seabright, New Jersey. “His roadsters and runabout preceded him thither,” said the newspaper.
“Disengaged” grooms, coachmen and such were permitted to use the stables as their address when looking for employment. On May 23, 1902 “J.C.” put an advertisement in the New-York Tribune: “Coachman—Aged 30; height 5 feet 6 inches; weight 160 pounds; first class city driver; no objection to country or seashore.” And on October 5, 1904 “H. B.” advertised “Coachman—Married, 30; height 5 feet 8 inches; private family; good written and personal references.”
The Clark family sold the Dakota Stables in February 1902 to the Atlantic Realty Company. The New-York Tribune suggested that the 17-year old structure might be torn down. “It could not be learned yesterday if the property was to be improved,” it reported on February 24.
As automobiles replaced horses, rumors about the impending demolition of the Dakota Stables continued. On June 22, 1906 The New York Times reported that the Century Realty Company and United States Realty and Improvement Company had sold the building to William Crawford for $325,000. Two days later the New-York Tribune opined “It is likely that this large site will be used for a high class apartment house.”
The newspaper was about five years premature in its assessment. The Dakota Stables, while holding on to its name, was converted to an automobile and taxi-cab garage. Edison Monthly advised that electric vehicle mechanical and battery parts could be obtained there.
But while electric automobiles were commonplace, the Dakota Stables was embarking on an untested venture—the gasoline-powered cab. On April 10, 1907 The Horseless Age reported that the Dakota Stables was testing a new-fangled concept by Frayer-Miller Automobile Company—a “four cylinder air cooled gasoline cab which follows very closely the general arrangements of the ordinary hansom.”
|The Dakota Stables tested the new "gasolene hansom" -- The Motor World, April 11, 1907 (copyright expired)
The magazine noted that the Dakota Stables had been using the vehicle “on trial for some two months” and added “as far as we know, this is the first gasoline cab to be used in this country.” The following day The Motor World said that the new gasoline cabs “radiating from the Dakota stables” had proved so satisfactory that “the makers are preparing to put out the vehicle in large quantities within a short time.”
It was most likely an electric cab, not the Frayer-Miller model, that caused calamity on the night of January 16 that year. Cabbie Harry Green was heading to the theater district to pick up a Broadway actress. “Inside of the machine was the actress’s maid,” reported the New-York Tribune the following day.
As Green entered the intersection of Broadway and 53rd street shortly before midnight, James Cody attempted to cross the street. He walked directly into the path of Green’s taxi. According to the Tribune, “Green swerved his car to one side, but the wheels skidded and the machine struck the man with great force. He was hurled about fifteen feet, and then the machine ran over him.”
Green stopped the car and a crowd immediately gathered around the wounded man. “The maid ordered them to lift him into the automobile.” The take-charge maid helped carry the man into the hospital, where he died on the operating table. “Upon learning of the death, the maid left the hospital, refusing to give her name of the name of her employer.”
Green telephoned the Dakota Stables to report the accident to his employers; then called the police. He waited there until the police arrived and arrested him for homicide.
In September 1910 plans were filed by architects Radcliffe & Kelly to professionally convert the old stable to an automobile garage. The $12,000 project included changing the façade at the first floor “by installing show windows and the interior remodeled.”
But only a year later reports of demolition arose again. On May 13, 1911 The Sun said “The old Dakota Stable property…is to be reimproved, according to a story heard yesterday on the West Side.” The newspaper said the property “would make an ideal site for an apartment house. This is an apartment house district, and although the nature of the improvement was not announced, it will very likely be a high class apartment house in keeping with nearby structures.”
This time the newspapers got it right. By February 1912 the site of the Dakota Stables was a vacant lot. Adjacent lots were acquired to accommodate the massive apartment building that replaced it; now renovated as the Hotel Beacon.