Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Altered 1746 Ye Olde Coffee House -- No. 105 Broad Street

In 1746 a three-story brick building was erected at No. 105 Broad Street, on a plot owned by Philip Van Cortlandt.  An inn and meeting place called Ye Olde Coffee House, it replaced the Exchange Coffee House, or New Coffee House, that had stood on the northeast corner of Water Street since at least 1709.

On the opposite end of the narrow block, at the corner of Pearl Street, was the elegant home of James DeLancy which would be purchased by Samuel Fraunces in 1762 and converted to the Queens Head Tavern.  It was renamed Frances Tavern during the Revolution.

Both structures would be important in the conflict with the British.  According to the New-York Tribune a century and a half later, “The Sons of Liberty, who later became bolder and changed their name to the Liberty Boys, organized and held meetings at ‘Ye Olde Coffee House’ in 1765.” 

A large iron bell hung outside a neighboring building, according to the New York Herald on September 2, 1920, “in the early days of New Amsterdam, when the clangor of its iron tongue rang out joyful news on special occasions or announced the safe arrival of merchant vessels from the Fatherland.  Later, when Ye Olde Coffee House had become the meeting place of the Sons of Liberty, so tradition hath it, this time-pocked old relic summoned them to assembly, and in 1776 it rang for them the call to arms against the mother country.”

Following the Revolution, the building became home to businesses related to the shipping industry.  By 1856 L. B. Crocker & Co., had its office here.  The firm, consisting of L. B. Crocker and George Jennison, operated a line of Erie Canal barges.  The extent of its business was reflected in the $2,000 note the Lake Erie, Wabash and St. Louis Railway Company sent to it in July that year.  The payment would amount to nearly $58,000 in 2016 dollars.

Ship chandler George W. Hadden had problems with theft that same month.  On Saturday, July 12 he appeared before Justice Davidson, charging that “William Thomson and John Johnson had stolen from him 350 lbs. of boat lines, hawsers and two hatch cloths, worth $40,” as reported by The New York Times.  “The accused were committed for trial.”

Also in the building was the lighterage firm of John S. Conklin.  His job, the moving of cargo from large ships to smaller vessels so they could be off-loaded in port, became dangerous in 1858 when New York City was terrorized by an outbreak of yellow fever.  The panic was so great that rumors spread that Castle Garden, the “Emigrant Depot,” would be burned.

The 43-year old Conklin joined with eight other “lightermen” and presented a list of increased charges for “lightering infected cargoes from Quarantine.” Among the group were well-known businessmen like John McCreery and Cornelius Vanderbilt.

Following the Civil War M. F. James & Co. operated from No. 105.  The agent handled a variety of merchandise and overstock cargo.   In June 1873 the firm offered “a valuable steam canal boat for sale—has powerful machinery and suitable for freight or towing; also several coarse and coal freight Canal Boats.”  A year later it offered “A Canal cargo of about 200 tons of American (sterling) cannel coal will be sold at a great sacrifice in quantities of 20 tons and upwards, or entire cargo.”

In 1882 little historic importance was placed on the 136-year old building.  Architect George F. Pelham was hired to modernize the outmoded structure by adding two stories and a Victorian barroom at the ground level.  The handsome cornice proudly announced the date of the renovations.  Marble quoins and lintels contrasted with the dark red brick.  The New-York Tribune noted that despite the changes, it “retained considerable of the older structure, built in 1746.”

The date 1882 was inscribed in a marble quoin block.  Close inspection shows the original date of construction, 1746, in the block two below.

The renovated structure became home to the New York offices of the Philadelphia-based A. E. Massman Bros.   Founded in 1868, Philadelphia’s Leading Industries described it in 1886 as “importers of wines, gins, brandies, etc., and dealer in fine whiskeys, sole proprietors of the Standard Silver Rum Copper Distilled Whiskey.”

In October 1885 A. E. Massman Bros. hired James H. Graham to run the New York office.  A nearly one-man show, he was “in charge of the New-York agency of the firm as salesman, collector, and bookkeeper.”  With no one from the home office to look over his shoulder, Graham helped himself to the receipts.

He was fired the following year, on August 1, 1886.  During this time his employers charged “he had collected $2,222.14 from customers of the firm for goods sold and had failed to account for the money.”  The amount Graham embezzled would amount to about $58,000 today.

Later that year, on November 9, 1886, Robert H. Noble dealt with a near riot at his office in the building.  Noble headed up the New York office of Fowler Brothers, the third largest meat packing concern in Chicago.   The firm employed about 1,800 butchers at its seven-acre facility there, and slaughtered more than 160,000 hogs every year.   But that year the company was shut down by a labor walk-out.

Unwilling to be controlled by the butchers’ union, Fowler Brothers placed an advertisement in New York newspapers promising “steady work and free transportation to Chicago” to as many as 1,000 “able-bodied workmen.”  They failed to advise Robert H. Noble of the action, however.

The New York Times reported that when he arrived at work, “He could not understand why the office door, the long iron stairway leading up to it, all the sidewalk, and part of the street, should be crowded with all sorts and conditions of men.”

About every ten minutes, with the help of a hulking butcher whom he quickly hired, the exasperated Noble cleared his office and the stairwell.  A New York Times reporter managed to thread his way through the mob “to secure a brief hearing from Mr. Noble.”  He was told:

“I don’t know how many hundred or thousand men we’ve had here to-day, but I do know that they are the sorriest lot of men that I have seen gathered together in my life.  Out of all the applicants I have been able to secure 25 who call themselves butchers…We have accepted about 200 men, and I expect that, with the afternoon rush, we shall be able to get the greater part of the required thousand and ship them to Chicago by the night train.”

In 1885 John S. Conklin was still running his lighterage business here.  He left work on September 13 that year and took the ferry to Passaic, New Jersey where he lived.  Oddly enough, when his carriage met him at the station, he sent his driver home on foot and he continued on with his housekeeper at the reins.

The following day The Sun reported “At Franklin’s crossing they were warned of the approach of a train, but the housekeeper drove on.  Soon the headlight of the Shohola special train flashed upon them, and the horse stopped directly on the track, either because he was frightened or because he was pulled up.”

The carriage was “dashed to pieces” and the 70-year old Conklin died on site within a few minutes of the impact.

In 1895 Lamson Co., “registers” leased space in No. 105 Broad Street; and five years later the National Cash Register Company signed a lease.

In the meantime Bernheimer & Son had been running the corner saloon since the building was remodeled.  Around 1905 Fritz Lindlinger took over the saloon.  The former President of the Liquor Dealers’ Association, he gave a nod to the location’s history by naming it “Ye Olde Lindinger’s Tavern.”

The New York Herald later recalled “Fritz…had made it a downtown shrine for those who liked to mingle with their daily dram and luncheon just a dash of the musty flavor of things historically antique.”  He decorated the bar with German steins, old crockery ale bottles, Revolutionary era firearms, and Dutch relics like clay pipes.  Perhaps most interesting was the ancient iron bell, reportedly the same that summoned the Sons of the Revolution, which Lindinger hung over the corner entrance.

Fritz Lindinger would remain in the tavern for years; but his stay would be frequently bumpy.  On the afternoon of June 16, 1909 three undercover detectives entered the barroom, suspicious that Lindinger was running a poolroom—the term for an illegal horse betting den.  It resulted not only in the arrest of the tavern owner, but of the detectives.

The following week, on June 24, the officers appeared before a grand jury facing charges of assault in the third degree filed by Lindinger.  He complained they “started a disturbance, declaring that the café was a poolroom, and threatened to arrest the men in there at the time.”

The Times reported “One of the men, he said, tried to grab a $1 bill, with which a customer was paying for drinks, to use as evidence.  A fight started, in which the detectives were ejected from the place.  They returned later, however, with other men and arrested Lindinger on a charge of keeping a poolroom.”

After Lindinger’s case was dismissed for lack of evidence, he filed suit against the officers.

Interestingly enough, it was lack of evidence--not the facts--which got Lindinger off the hook.  Such would not be the case nine years later.  As he sat at a table in the tavern on May 4, 1918, three detectives rushed in and seized him.

The Times reported the following day “There was considerable of a wrestling match, and when it was over the detectives said Lindinger had shred various pieces of paper that were found on the floor.  Some of these, they added had such cryptic messages inscribed as ‘Blue Laddy,’ ‘Hourless,’ and other stars of the racetrack, followed by figures showing, the detectives said, the odds against each horse.”

There were also charts of the horses running and the races scheduled that day at the Lexington and Have de Grace race tracks.   Fritz Lindinger was in more hot water than he had been in 1909.  The Times sub-headline read “Restaurateur Must Explain His Knowledge of Betting Horses.”

As the United States was drawn into World War I, one of the upper floor spaces became the office of the U.S. Army’s Air Service Officer, Major J. McClintock.  On April 6, 1919 he encouraged Army veterans to re-enlist in a statement from No. 105 Broad Street.

In part it said “if flying is to continue in the American Army men now experienced in that branch of the service must re-enlist.”  He used the shaky labor market as an argument.  “For men who have had service in the army, it is believed that there is a decided advantage for the period of one year enlistment or until labor conditions have become more stable, at which time they can expect more positive market for their service in civilian life.”

It was not the war that bothered Fritz Lindinger so much as Prohibition.  On December 7, 1919 the New-York Tribune wrote “Fritz Lindinger, who now holds the title to what was the first coffee house in New York, ‘Ye Olde Coffee House,’ which was established under that name at 105 Broad Street, in New York, says it does not matter any longer whether people know where his tavern is or whether they ignore it.”

His cynical viewpoint was a result of Prohibition.  “Mr. Lindinger has used the old coffee house for many years as a tavern.  Since prohibition he declares that he cannot sell anything worth while.  Coffee does not interest him.  The house, as it stands on the northeast corner of Broad and Water streets, is the same building which was built in 1746, except that one story has been added and the outside wooden stairway, which was the only approach to the upper floors in Washington’s day, has been removed.”

On February 5, 1920 The Sun reported that the Hegeman family had sold the venerable building which it had owned “for 125 years.”    The Hegeman family traced its American roots to Joseph Hegeman, who arrived from Amsterdam in the 17th century; and his wife Femmetji Remsen, who was born in New York in 1672.  A string of marriages linked their family to Thomas Gardner's (Gardner to Aycrigg to Hegeman).

Later that year, in June, Fritz Lindinger and his partner, William Hemme, were arrested “charged with maintaining a nuisance.”  The nuisance was the whisky their bartender served to two undercover revenue agents.  (They were charged 70 cents a glass.)  The bartender was hauled away with his employers.

It was the end of the line for Fritz Lindinger’s “Ye Olde Lindinger’s Tavern.”  On September 1, 1920 a public auction was held.  Fritz kept the bar open until 2:00 and “dispensed generously such innocuous beverages as the historic bar had to offer in these degenerate times,” said the New York Herald.  “But at 2 o’clock sharp the bar was closed forever.”

Lindinger did not stay to watch the auction.  “So help me God, I was crying like a baby,” he later told a reporter, “and I had to go upstairs to my rooms.  I couldn’t stay here and see all the old things auctioned off.”

The Sun reported “The mahogany bar, plate glass mirrors and like fixtures were being removed by the National Salvage Company, whose representative said: ‘For the last year we have been saloon undertakers; that has become one of our most extensive specialties.”

An antique clock, purchased for $16, was sawed out of the woodwork, leaving a jagged hole.  A reminder of the Revolution, two letters signed by George Washington were among the relics sold.  One brought $150.  The antique flintlocks, sabres and firearms brought from $1.50 to $8 for the best specimens.

The Herald listed among the auctioned items a Tammany cane, said to have been owned by Richard Crocker, “a collection of old German steins, a lot of copper fireplace kettles, wooden shoes from Holland, pipes and other curios [including] a pulley block reputed to have come from the rigging of the original Mayflower.”

The sole item Lidinger refused to sell was the ancient iron bell.  He told a reporter “But we didn’t sell the old liberty bell; that was reserved from the sale and I don’t know what we will do with it yet.”

The New York Herald announced that the barroom “is to be remodeled and opened by a firm to which it has been rented for use as a buffet lunch establishment.”  However, soon after its opening William Siebert’s “buffet lunch establishment” proved itself to be what Federal agents termed a “blind pig.”

On May 5, 1921 it was raided.  Seiberg and eight customers were arrested, charged “with having liquor before them in tea cups.”  They were held in $500 bond.   Three of the patrons arrested were described as sea captains.

Agents kept an eye on No. 105 Broad Street.  When the Annex Grill Restaurant was raided again on May 28, 1928 Federal Judge Thatcher had had enough.  He ordered the space padlocked for one year under the prohibition law.

After the Annex Grill was padlocked, the space became a less-controversial drugstore.  photo from the collection of the New York Public Library

Meanwhile, the upper floors continued to house nautical-related concerns.  In 1930 the Neptune Association had its headquarters here.  Composed of merchant mariners, the group distributed more than 3,000 ballots to members “scattered among the ports of the world and at sea” in 1930.  The vote of “masters and officers of the American merchant marine” showed they were strongly in favor of the repeal of Prohibition.

The Neptune Association was quick to issue a statement which explained that the vote “does not indicate that American masters and officers are drinkers, but that their means of employment has been threatened by prohibition and their safety at sea jeopardized by the removal of medicinal liquor.”

That same year the Association staged its fourth annual Labor Day “International Lifeboat Crew Race.”  The races were for steamship lines crewmen who rowed lifeboats up the Hudson River.  The winner received the William H. Todd Cup.

In the 1930s and 1940s the building would be home to the Scandinavian Seamen’s Club, the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 333, and the Nordin Seamen’s Club, founded in 1937 by Danish seamen.

The historic importance of No. 105 Broad Street finally came to the notice of the Sons of the Revolution, owners of Fraunces Tavern, in 1956.  Their bid to take over the property was denied by the Slum Clearance Committee after owners Edward Kronish and A. L. Cohen promised “that it [would] be remodeled to conform to the architecture of the neighboring tavern.”

A project completed in 1962 resulted in a cleaned-up façade, offices and “light manufacturing” on the lower floors, and one apartment each on the fourth and fifth floors.  Other than its grossly inappropriate ground floor where Fritz Lidinger ran his tavern, the building is handsomely intact.

At the other end of the block (left) sits Fraunces Tavern.
And passersby, looking up at the 1883 inscribed in the cast metal cornice, are given no hint that it dates to 150 years earlier; nor that it played an important part in the birth of the Unites States.

 many thanks to Matt Kess for suggesting this post
photographs by the author


  1. Why doesn't the LPC mention the history of this building in their report of the Fraunces block?

    1. It does; however it dates the building to 1882, as a replacement structure. Contemporary accounts clearly describe alterations rather than replacement.