Friday, September 30, 2016

Public School 67 - No. 120 West 46th Street

Prior to 1890 the Grand Central Stables occupied the large lot at Nos. 114 through 120 West 46th Street.  The nearby Longacre Square was the center of the carriage-making industry; but the northern expansion of the city coupled with an exploding immigrant population was changing the neighborhood as commercial and apartment buildings were constructed.  The new inhabitants of the district required a public school.

On November 28, 1890 Arthur McMullin, a clerk in the Comptroller's office, informed the Board of Education that the site of the stables had been rented until May 1, 1891, "at a rental of ninety dollars per month, payable in advance."  The city had agreed to pay nearly $2,500 a month in 2016 terms.  Only a month later, however, the Committee on Sites and New Schools noted that the land had been purchased instead.

On July 1, 1891 30-year old Charles B. J. Snyder took the position as Superintendent of School Buildings of the Board of Education.  Most likely the architect's first project was the design of Public School 67.  Snyder's ensuring 30 years of designing public schools would be remembered for his focus on ventilation and light and improved safety; as well as his ability to create architecturally handsome structures.

For Public School 67 he turned to the popular Romanesque Revival style.  Construction was begun in 1893 and completed a year later.  A base of rough-cut brownstone supported three stories of sandy-colored Roman brick.  An attic floor rose to full height with a row of five openings in the central pavilion; while ornate copper-clad dormers perched on either side.

Snyder incorporated the customary elements of the Romanesque Revival style--swirling medieval style carvings, heavy arches and fanciful beasts.  But his inclusion of two exquisite Pre-Raphaelite style portrait medallions on either side of the great entrance arch was a marked departure.

Many of the tenement children could not afford the luxury of days spent in school.  Daytime jobs in shops and factories were necessary to keep their families afloat.  In response, on July 1, 1896 the Board of Education announced that the New-York Evening High School would begin operations in Public School 67.   Most of the free classes were aimed at instructing students in the manual arts, thereby assuring them a vocation.

The courses included instruction in architectural, mechanical and free-hand drawing.  The New York Times noted in 1898 "The classes give opportunities to students of architecture, machinists, stonecutters, masons, carpenters, cabinetmakers, decorators and those working at the trades in general to learn the principals of drawing relating to their respective vocation."

Other portrait medallions appear with swirling spandrel panel decorations.

On the morning of December 9, 1902 fire broke out in the building.  The Times reported "about 300 children were marched out of the school, and the fire was subdued."  Shortly afterward a teacher was shocked to find that her watch and chain, valued at $60, were missing.

The following afternoon two more fires, on the second and third floors, erupted  Both were started in piles of paper shoved under teachers' desks on the second and third floors.  The New-York Tribune noted "The firemen have no hesitancy in asserting that both fires were set."  This time $700 worth of Latin and Greek grammar books had disappeared.

The mysterious crimes were solved three days later when 74-year old second-hand book dealer Andrew M. Copeland was arrested, along with four accomplices.  Copeland had bribed assistant janitors and a schoolboy to pack the books up.  During the confusion of the fires, the boxes were removed from the school and carted away.

A fearsome winged creature serves as a decorative bracket.  Bullnosed brick softens the outlines of the openings and arches.

By the time of Copeland's nefarious arson plots, the night school was adding business to its curriculum.  On January 20, 1903 The Times reported "Two classes in typewriting were opened recently in the New York Evening High School for Men...and were filled to the limit on the very first night.  Several applicants have been placed on the waiting list for this subject."

Clerical office help at the time was still a mostly male occupation.  Potential employers were looking for well-rounded secretaries.  For that reason the school announced "Hereafter, typewriting will be offered only to those who have acquired some skill in phonography."  "Phonography" would later become known as stenography, or shorthand.

The variety of classes available was indicated by The Times advising "There are still some vacancies in phonography, chemistry, applied electricity, mechanical and architectural drawing, mathematics, and languages."

The practicality of the trade-oriented night school in the tenement neighborhood resulted in Public School 67 joining with the High School of Commerce in 1906 with similar daytime classes.  At the time it had an enrollment of 1,700 pupils.

Three years later the school underwent another innovation when it introduced classes for the disabled.  The Board of Education announced that the Association of Teachers of CrippledChildren had been "quietly formed" in December 1908 "to arouse a greater interest in the welfare of the crippled child in the public schools of New York."

At Public School 67, explained an article in The New York Times on March 21, 1909, "the regular public school curriculum is followed, and the little cripples share in all the education advantages that are given to the strong and healthy."

Students at Public School 67 received an impromptu lesson in civil disobedience on February 2, 1912.  In an early example of busing, 50 male students of Public School 51 on West 54th Street near Eleventh Avenue were transferred to P.S. 67 because of overcrowding.   The boys were disgruntled not only because the new school was significantly farther from their homes; but because they were soon to graduate.  They also complained that there was no room for them at P.S. 67.  One boy told reporters "They made us sit in the assembly room, and we aren't going to stand it."

And so 16-year old John Colton, "a stocky boy" who had been captain of the basketball team at Public School 51, organized a walk-out.  A newspaper reported "they didn't enter their classrooms at all, but spent the day in a demonstration before their new school.  They marched through the streets with banners: 'We are on strike, Public School 51,' and sang and shouted in defiance to the teachers who tried to conquer them."

The police arrived, but rather than arrest the demonstrators, moved them away from the school building.  The Times noted "Principal McNally of School 67 got into communication with some of the boys' parents in the afternoon as the first step in restoring order."  The parents swayed more authority of the teens than did the police.  "A number of the youths were brought around to a different view of the situation."

A few of the parents, however, sided with the boys.  One, Mrs. Haff, told reporters "We are hard-working people and we have made sacrifices to keep the boys in school.  We have been thinking all along how fine it would be to have them graduate, but now they are really turned into the street."

The determined boys learned an important lesson in political science on a small scale that day when their demands were eventually met.

A much different lesson in civics was learned by 13-year old Mike Botto and his schoolmates Herman Wenzel, 10, and Edgar Sweeney, 11 in 1921.  During the first week of March Botto, whom The New-York Herald deemed "more or less of a student," was disciplined by Assistant Principal Amy Blenenfeld.  He did not take the episode lightly, the newspaper saying "he considered it a serious affront to his manly dignity."

To get revenge, the three boys climbed into a window of the school on Saturday March 12.  Using a penknife, Botto jimmied the door to Miss Blenenfeld's room.  With the aid of his penknife again, he broke into the teacher's desk.  The boys tore up report cards and other paperwork, spreading the remnants over the classroom.  They used bottles of red, blue and black ink to draw "futuristic and cubist and dadaistic pictures upon the walls and the floors, creating some starling designs.  But," said the newspaper, "three bottles of ink will not last forever, even in the hands of three small boys.  They cast about for something else."

The vandalism continued with the boys shredding students' drawings from the cork board, and carving "charming designs" on the wooden desks, particularly Miss Blenenfeld's.  Then, just as they prepared to leave, Mike Botto noticed the two goldfish bowls containing seven fish.  The Herald reported "They emptied the bowls, stabbed the goldfish to death with the pocket knife, and put the bodies in Miss Blenenfeld's desk and carefully closed it.  Then they went home satisfied and not really knowing that they had done wrong."

They discovered that, indeed, they had done something wrong when Detective Cooney appeared at each of their homes on the night of March 18.  In an article headlined "3 Kids Caged for Gold Fish Murder" The New York Herald explained that the vandals were learning about the justice system.

"Advices from the [Children's Society's] rooms last night stated that Mike and Herman and Edgar are gripped by Remorse with a capital R, and have sniffed themselves to the point where they are quite receptive to moral teachings."  When Mike Botto was informed by attendants that he would appear in court the next morning, he gulped "I hope the Judge don't forget about puttin' coals of fire on somebody's head."

Public School 67 and the High School of Commerce continued here for a few more years.  The building became an annex of the Haaren High School by 1928.  Then on October 25 1947 the Board of Education announced that the building would receive a $57,569 conversion to the system's first School of Performing Arts as an annex to the Metropolitan Vocational High School.

The Board explained "300 boys and girls will be selected from among city-wide applicants for the new school on the basis of talents and abilities in their respective fields.  The institution will have a regular four-year curriculum, but will emphasize courses of study that will be of value in the performing arts."

Four years later, when the school's first class prepared for graduation, The New York Times updated its readers on its success.  The only school of its kind in the country, its students had already appeared in summer stock and 'in such Broadway shows as The King and I, Flahooley, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Seventeen.  They had received lectures by celebrated artists like Jose Ferrer, Clifford Odets, Leo G. Carroll and Jean Dalrymple.

Over the years graduates would include Dom De Luise, Rita Moreno, Liza Minelli, Al Pacino, Suzanne Pleshette, Ben Vereen, Richard Benjamin, Priscilla Lopez, Vinette Caroll and dancers Louis Falco, Arthur Mitchell and Edward Vellela.

On January 30, 1960 the School for Performing Arts announced plans to merge with the High School of Music and Art, saying "the building it occupies--an antiquated former elementary school--is sorely inadequate."

During renovations of the vacant building in the winter of 1988 fire broke out.  The inferno completely gutted the vintage structure, leaving only a burned-out shell.  Rather surprisingly the ruins were not demolished, but the interiors were rebuilt.  The old building became home to a girls-only annex to the Murray Bergtraum High school.  Here young women studied business courses, an relatively unusual opportunity for females at the time.

A year following the death of the former First Lady, the school was renamed the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis High School for International Careers in 1995.  Now co-educational, the school offers courses in international business studies, hospitality, virtual enterprise, tourism and accounting.  And, following the previous half-century tradition, drama and dance.

C. B. J. Snyder's first public school project survives in the much changed, bustling Times Square neighborhood with little noticeable outward change--a reminder of a time when tenement children poured into its halls and young men, optimistic of their futures, learned to use a typewriter.

photographs by the author

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Marilyn Monroe's Manhattan "Hideaway" -- No. 127 E 78th St

Both architect John G. Prague and developer Anthony Mowbray would be known for their extensive residential projects in the 1880s and '90s.  But in 1873 they worked together on a much smaller scale.  Mowbray hired Prague to design three abutting rowhouses at Nos. 127 through 131 East 78th Street.

The neo-Grec style homes were completed by the fall of 1874.  At just 17-feet and two-bays wide, the "high stoop" houses, as described by the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide, were intended for upper middle class buyers.  On November 15 Mowbray listed No. 127 in The New York Herald, advising "persons wanting a house will do well to call and examine; price $18,000."  The sale price would translate to about $386,000 in 2016.

The house, three stories high over an English basement, became home to wine broker George F. Wellman and his wife, the former Caroline M. Prescott.  Caroline died in the house on Monday morning, May 2, 1881.  Her funeral was held there two days later at 4:00.

George sold the house to contractor John McLaughlin, an executive with George W. Powe & Co.  The firm received a gratifying contract with the City on June 13, 1884 to "furnishing the Department of Public Works with 7,000 cubic yards of clean, sharp sand."

As with all financially-comfortable families, the McLaughlins maintained a small staff.  On October 16, 1891 Mrs. McLaughlin advertised for "a respectable girl for general housework in a private family," and four months later for "a neat young girl for upstairs work in a small family."

In March 1893 John McLaughlin sold No. 127 to Bernhard Leibstadter and his wife Henrietta.  The couple's son, who went professionally only by his first initial "A," embarked on a career as a druggist and enrolled in the New York College of Pharmacy.   Upon his graduation in 1899 he returned home, but was apparently looking for his own space.  The Druggists' Circular and Chemical Gazette noted in July that year that he "is now temporarily at 127 East Seventy-eighth street."

A. Leibstadter succeeded and in 1902 was able to purchase the Grand Opera House Pharmacy at the corner of Eighth Avenue and 23rd Street.

Henrietta Leibstadter died in August 1902.  Bernhardt sold the house five months later, in February.  Coincidentally or not, A. Leibstadter sold his new pharmacy in April that year.

The new owner, Louis F. Georger, resold No. 127 in March 1905 to "an investor," Sophie Lawrence Duer.  She leased the house, and in May 1907 hired architect S. Edson Gage to modernize the aging residence.  Gage removed the outdated stoop, replaced the former entrance with a window and moved the doorway to the sidewalk level, opposite the existing service entrance.  The interiors were updated to create a modern four-story "American basement" home.  Sophie Duer's renovations cost her $4,500.
Before its remodeling, No. 127 (right) had a high brownstone stoop like its next door neighbor at No. 125.  photo from the collection of the New York Public Library.

Sophie leased the house through 1921.  On December 11 that year she placed an advertisement in the New-York Tribune, offering it for sale or lease.  The ad described the house as a "small modern American basement" in "splendid condition."  It boasted "modern plumbing, electric lights and hardwood floors."  Sophie was asking a $50,000 purchase price or $4,500 a year to lease (equivalent  to $5,000 per month rent in 2016).

Before the end of the year it was sold to George B. Phelps.  The 67-year old retired physician was the son of the late Oliver S. Phelps, President of the First National Bank.  His first wife had died suddenly in 1907 and he remarried the widowed Alice Ballard.  Alice came to the marriage with a small fortune of her own.  Her father, Oliver S. Carter, had left a $2.7 million estate upon his death in 1903.

With the couple in the house was Alice's unmarried daughter Frances Halsted Ballard.  Frances was well-known among the "younger set" and her name regularly appeared in the society pages.

Only a year after moving in, Dr. George B. Phelps died in the 78th Street house on February 15, 1923.  Alice stayed on and on April 7, 1925 announced the engagement of Frances to John H. Vincent, son of Dr. George E. Vincent, President of the Rockefeller Foundation.  The social status of the couple was evidenced by the guest list at Mrs. Robert Livingston Clarkson's luncheon, where the announcement was made.  Socially-important names like Warburton, Harriman, Remsen and Blake were present.
Following Alice's death Alexander Davidson, Jr. purchased No. 127 from the estate in 1948.  He and his wife remained here until February 1961 when they sold it to the Continental Property Corp. who leased it to magazine and celebrity photographer Milton Greene and his wife, Amy, beauty editor of Glamour Magazine.  A sporadic house guest would make the unremarkable townhouse memorable forever.
The notoriously-stuffy neo-Grec style received light-hearted incised carvings and rosettes later--possibly during the 1907 renovations.  Original interior shutters survive.

Nearly a decade earlier Greene had become friends with Marilyn Monroe.  The former Hollywood starlet had become what today would be termed a super-star.  Her success was such that by January 11, 1955, when she reported to the Twentieth-Century-Fox studio accompanied by Milton Greene, she was telling reporters of her plans to open her own production company, Marilyn Monroe Productions.

The New York Times reported "The star has designated herself president of the company" and that Milton Greene would be vice president.

The close friendship between Greene and Monroe went beyond business.  When she married Arthur Miller in the White Plains, New York, courthouse on June 29, 1956, Greene was there to take the photographs.

But storm clouds soon darkened the congenial partnership.  In April 1957 she accused Greene of mismanagement and claimed he "had misinformed her of the contents of certain contracts and had entered secretly into others," according to The Times.  Although Greene denied the charges, he acknowledged that "differences" had arisen between him and Monroe.

The feud was settled in February the following year when Marilyn Monroe bought out Greene's share of the company (she had owned 50.4 percent, and Greene had held 49.6).

With hatchets buried, Marilyn stayed with the Greenes when she was on the East Coast.  Her visits however, would be short-lived.  A year and a half after Milton and Amy Greene moved into the 78th Street house, Monroe died on August 5, 1962.  However brief her connection with No. 127 was; the house is now mainly remembered as the place where the glamorous star occasionally slept.

More than a decade later Greene revived his association with the star when he resurrected a carbon copy of a manuscript she had given him years earlier.  The Monroe "autobiography," later attributed as the work of author Ben Hecht, had been written in the mid 1950's.  On June 26, 1974 The New York Times reported "When there was a revival of interest in the Monroe story last year, Mr. Greene brought his copy to [publishers] Stein and Day."

Some rooms retain much of their original detailing.  photo via Douglas Elliman Real Estate

No. 127 East 78th Street remains a single-family home.  While the interiors have been heavily modernized, the exterior survives much as it looked when Sophie Lawrence Duer remodeled it in 1907.  And despite the star's brief brush with the residence, it is remembered by most as the Marilyn Monroe house.

photographs by the author
many thanks to motion picture pundit John Chalupa for suggesting this post

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Franklin Inn -- No. 176 Franklin St

In 1892 the area around Franklin Street had seen the rise of loft and warehouse buildings for two decades.  That year candy manufacturer Henry Lillie Pierce constructed a lavish headquarters building at the corner of Hudson and Franklin Streets.  Following Pierce's death, another confectioner, Alexander Powell purchased the seven-story office building in 1903 and named it the Powell Building.

Three years later the Powell family extended its Franklin Street holdings.  Ida May Powell commissioned architect Henri Fouchaux to replace the three-story brick house (lately used as the Franklin Street Methodist Episcopal Church) directly behind the Powell Building with a three-story store and loft building.  Fouchaux's plans, completed in January 1907, called for a $25,000 structure faced in limestone.  The cost of the dignified Beaux Arts building would equal about $650,000 in 2016.

Somewhat squashed in between taller structures, No. 176 Franklin Street held its own by means of its impressive facade.  Fouchaux gave the little building an imperious presence with a high, paneled parapet, carved lions' heads, and a swagged shield.

At the time of the building's completion it sat squarely within the Produce District.  Hundreds of wholesale grocery merchants worked in the area; but unlike the Financial District, there were few places for the wealthy businessmen to lunch.  George A. Powell rectified the problem when, in 1916, he hired architect George Hof, Jr. to renovated the ground floor as a restaurant.

The cast iron base was infilled with wood, and diamond-paned leaded windows were installed.  The colonial motif was carried on inside where, taking its name from the street's namesake, the Franklin Inn opened.

In the meantime, one of the upper floors was headquarters of the Boosters' Club.  "Boosting" had become popular in large cities around 1906.  Clubs, specific to various industries, were formed to protect its members and to keep business from being wooed away by other metropolises.  On March 30, 1913 The Sun noted "The campaign is now being carried on every more earnestly than before."

The Booster Club at No. 176 Franklin Street was composed of produce merchants.  The city was thrown into near-panic in June 1919 when the teamsters went on strike and refused to pick up fresh vegetables and fruits to be delivered to retail grocers and restaurants.   The 3,700 drivers "employed in the fruit and vegetable trade," as described by the New-York Tribune, demanded shorter hours and higher wages.
On June 24 carloads of berries, watermelons and vegetables had to be "dumped" because of spoilage.  That same day the wholesale commissioner merchants met at the Boosters' Club to discuss a solution. The following day The Evening World reported "They voted to open their stores at 6 o'clock to-morrow morning and keep them open until 5 in the afternoon.  Police protection will be asked."

The individual retailers would have to bring their own trucks and wagons, and risk the threats of the strikers.  But the newspapers opined "Many of them are expected to make special efforts to do this because the situation in the outlying districts is described to-day as more serious than at any other moment since the strike."

In the last decades of the 20th century the Franklin Inn's leaded glass openings and the parapet still survived.  photo by Edmund Vincent Gillon, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

As members of the Boosters' Club worked out deals and problems upstairs, the quaint Franklin Inn was not only a favorite spot for lunch, but for group dinners.  On November 6, 1920 the Marine Transportation Association, composed of officials of large steamship companies, held its annual "beefsteak dinner" here.  The Association described it as a time when "officials and employees of the various competing steamship lines get together and forget differences for the time being."

A month later the Rice Journal noted that New York's "rice row" had become split up--"half the operators being found in the Lower Wall street section and the other over on Hudson street."  But, the Journal said, "the Franklin Inn on Franklin street just off Hudson is nearly always certain to have two or three tables of gentlemen who could tell you the differences between blue rose and Jap, talking and incidentally eating every noon hour."

Four "rice men" posed in front of the Franklin Inn in 1920 -- Rice Journal January 1920 (copyright expired)
The popularity and necessity of booster clubs had dwindled by 1922.  After years at No. 176 Franklin Street, the Booster Club shut its doors in March that year.  The Fruit Trade Journal and Produce Record announced that "The furniture and fixtures of the local Booster's Club will be sold at auction the Club rooms, 176 Franklin Street, to meet a deficit of about $1,100."  The article noted "The Club rooms have been closed owing to lack of support."

The Franklin Inn forged on; but on May 6, 1926 it suffered a blow when Prohibition agents put a six-month padlock on the door when liquor was discovered here.  In December 1930 the restaurant expanded into the second floor when a "cabaret" opened.  The third floor was listed as factory space at the time.

But when the Franklin Inn was raided again on February 11, 1932, Prohibition agents had had enough.  They arrested manager John Duffy, bartender Carl Krauss, and waiters Adolphe Forhne, Lorenz Horn and Gallus Dallinger, and seized 157 bottles of liquor.  But more importantly they removed $75,000 worth of fixtures, making it nearly impossible to reopen the illegal tavern.

In 1939 Joseph B. Powell, acting as executor of the estate of Ida May Powell, sold the building to the 176 Franklin St. Realty Corp.  Over the subsequent four decades the former Franklin Inn and the upstairs offices were operated as storage and factory spaces.  Rather surprisingly, the Franklin Inn's cast iron, leaded glass and wooden front survived, as did the parapet, into the last decades of the 20th century.

The Tribeca renaissance brought a different type of tenant.  In the late 1970s the Julian Pretto Gallery was here; in 1982 the former Franklin Inn space became Riverrun, described by The Times as "typical of many restaurant bars springing up in TriBeCa," and in October 2006 Adelle Kelley opened Moulin Bleu, a French-inspired home furnishings shop.  By 2012 Gary Graham's apparel shop had opened here.
Traces of the 1916 Franklin Street facade survive.

Sadly, in remodeling the retail space the original Franklin Inn entrance was lost, as were the lower leaded windows.  At some point the crowning parapet was removed, making No. 176 Franklin Street just a little less regal.  In 2014 the upper floors, where fruit and vegetable wholesalers once wrangled over problems of produce prices and labor strikes, were converted to two loft residences.   

photographs by the author

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Moorish Fantasy at No. 132 West 78th Street

The Upper West Side was rapidly developing in 1881 when Rafael Guastavino arrived in New York City from Spain.  An accomplished architect trained in Barcelona, he was fascinated with the Catalan vault—a gently curved structure veneered with brick or tile.

His improved Guastavino Arch, widely touted for its fireproof qualities and noteworthy strength, would make him famous.  But while he perfected the process, he accepted architectural commissions.  In 1885, the same year he patented his “Tile Arch System,” he started work on a row of six townhouses on the north side of West 78th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues for developer Bernard S. Levy.

Levy apparently was pleased with the architect’s Moorish Revival confections.  In January 1886 Guastavino filed plans for nine more homes on the opposite side of the street—Nos. 118 through 134.  Levy’s creative toying with the dimensions of the lots must have provided his architect with a challenge.

The Record & Guide reported on January 30 that six of the houses would be 16 feet wide and the remaining three would be 19, 18 and 17 feet in width.  Five would be four stories tall and four would be three floors high.   Levy obviously was not interested in the cookie-cutter type rowhouses seen on the opposite side of the Park.  The costs of the 78th Street buildings ranged from $16,000 (for four), $20,000 (for another four), to $25,000 for the most expensive.  (The priciest of the row would cost about $650,000 to build in 2016.)

As he had done the year before, Rafael Guastavino turned to a blend of Moorish Revival Renaissance Revival for the row (although the Real Estate Record & Guide preferred to call the style “Spanish Renaissance).  The mirror-image row was designed in a complicated A-B-C-A-D-A-C-B-A configuration.

Guastavino tested his trademark arch in the structure of one of the homes.  As construction continued in May 1886 The Record & Guide noted “The most novel and interesting feature which appears in these houses is a fire-proof construction which has been adopted in one of them…Its prominent feature is a system of low arches of fire-proof tiling supporting the floors, taking up no more space than ordinary beams and leaving the cellar entirely unobstructed, instead of blockading it with iron pillars and brick work.”

The Guide urged other developers to investigate Guastavino’s innovative technique.  “All who wish to see a novel fire-proof, water-proof, and vermin-proof house, showing great economy of space and cost, should visit this building at once, before the very ingenious and effective construction is concealed by the completion of the structure.”

Among the 16-foot wide homes was No. 132.  Like its neighbors it was faced in brownstone.   The romantic fantasy of the architecture included Moorish arabesques, crenellated arches and an ornate second floor balcony.

The Real Estate Record & Guide was impressed with the glass entrance doors.  photo from the collection of the New York Public Library

Bernard S. Levy did not sell No. 132 immediately.  Instead he put the title in his wife’s name.  Pauline Levy held the property until October 1894.   Pauline provided the mortgage to the new owner; but only two years later, on September 22, 1898 she foreclosed.  She repurchased the house at the foreclosure auction for $21,680 before selling it to real estate operator William Call.

Guastavino's intricate detail included two lions staring down from the corners of the handsome balcony.

Call rented the house to sisters Kate M. and Mary Louise Henne.   The young women convinced their landlord to sell them the residence in October 1902.  To help pay their $18,000 mortgage they leased a room.  Their first tenant apparently was I. C. Woodruff, a chemical manufacturer.  But events surrounding a subsequent roomer, Frank F. Thebaud, would raise social eyebrows.

That Frank Thebaud would be renting rooms in someone else’s home was surprising at best.  He came from an old New York family and had a reputed fortune.  His earliest American ancestor was Joseph Thebaud who arrived in 1792.  His maternal grandfather had been a bodyguard of Louis XVI.  Following the fall of the King, he fled to America in 1793.

Frank Thebaud was the principal of the shipping and commission firm Thebaud Brothers which had operated for well over a century.  The New-York Tribune noted “The firm does business with France, Mexico and South America and owns many vessels.”  The now-widowed entrepreneur had lost the lower part of one leg in a tragic carriage accident with his wife in 1898. 

In 1906 Thebaud was 58 years old; significantly older than his landladies.  Mary Louise was 36 and Kate was 34 years old.  Whispering gossips would have reason to hint that the two decades in age difference did not preclude hanky-panky at No. 132 West 78th Street.

On Friday, September 28, 1906 Frank F. Thebaud died in the house.  His will surprisingly left $200,000 in trust to Kate and Mary Henne—twice the sum he left to his sister, Marie N. Thebaud and equivalent to about $5.5 million today.

If busybodies were suspicious about the suspect bequest; they had more to talk about six months later.  Mary Louise started drinking immediately after Thebaud’s death and by January Kate said her “excessive use of intoxicants” had made her “quite incompetent.”

Kate’s efforts to help her sister were unsuccessful.  The Sun reported in March that Mary Louise “has been in various sanitariums without cure.”  Exasperated, Kate applied to have her sister’s mental competency examined.  A commission and a Sheriffs’ jury ruled in March that Mary Louise was sane.

She may have been technically sane, but she was nonetheless addicted.  Back home on 78th Street she was taking “from twelve to fifteen drinks of whiskey within a few hours,” according to the New-York Tribune.

Jurors at a second trial on May 3, 1907 learned of Mary Louise’s “delusions” and the necessity of sometimes physically restraining her.  The following day the New-York Tribune ran a headline saying “Miss Mary Henne Declared Insane” and the New York Times called her a “victim of liquors and drugs.”  She was deemed “incompetent to manager her affairs.”

Somewhat surprisingly the verdict did not change the sisters’ living arrangements.  They remained in the house and continued to take in a boarder.  In 1908 Charles Diggs, Secretary of the Fundy Park Amusement Company, was living here while his company laid plans for an amusement park near St. John, New Brunswick.

On October 14, 1911 Kate M. Henne, as agent for herself and Mary, placed the house on the market.  It was a full year, however, before it sold.  On October 26, 1912 the Record & Guide pointed out that “the buyer will occupy.”

Despite that, No. 132 was rented out as unofficial apartments.  Among the early tenants were silent film director and screenwriter Paul Bern and his common law wife Dorothy Millette.  Bern, who was born Paul Levy, would eventually marry screen star Jean Harlow in July 1932.  Two months later he was found shot in the head at their Beverly Hills home.  Dorothy Millette was suspected by some to have murdered Bern.  She committed suicide two days later.

In the meantime, No. 132 West 78th Street saw a succession of owners.  Then, in 1978 it was converted to apartments, a duplex in the basement and parlor levels; two apartments on the second floor, and one each on the upper stories.  In 2007 a penthouse level, unseen from the street, was added.

Other than the expected replacement windows, Rafael Guastavino’s enchanting, narrow rowhouse is little changed outwardly; while inside many of the original elements survive.

photographs by the author

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Lost Chelsea Methodist Episcopal Church -- 333 W 30th St

In 1910 the church building was being renovated for a publishing firm.  Otherwise, the West 30th Street block remains steadfastly residential.  from the collection of the New York Public Library
In the 1820s the area north of 23rd Street on the West Side was sparsely sprinkled with small houses and commercial buildings.  But within two decades development was rapidly transforming the Chelsea neighborhood into a northern suburb.

In 1841 a "small mission," as described by The New York Times, was organized in a basement at 10th Avenue and 29th Street.  The group quickly grew, moving into the second story of a factory building at Ninth Avenue and 27th Street.  Then, when the mission was incorporated as the Chelsea Methodist Episcopal Church in 1843, it leased vacant lots on West 24th Street, east of Ninth Avenue, and erected a small wooden church.

Within only three years it was obvious that the frame building would not be sufficient for much longer.  Two lots, Nos. 331 and 333 West 30th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, were purchased and in 1848 the cornerstone of "a substantial building" was laid.  Construction was completed a year later.

The brick and brownstone Greek Revival edifice was dignified and austere.  Unlike some of the wealthier, showier Greek Revival churches to the south with stone facades and columned porticoes, Chelsea Methodist Episcopal Church was ornamented with only shallow pilasters and a classical pediment.  Above the two-and-a-half story entrance a marble plaque embedded in the facade announced the construction date.

The first pastor in the new church was 28-year old Erastus O. Haven.  Decades later the Minutes of the Annual Conferences of the Methodist Episcopal Church would remember him at the time as "a brilliant young man" and described Chelsea Methodist as "a young but promising enterprise, in the suburbs of the city of New York."

Three blocks to the north, on Ninth Avenue between 33rd and 34th Street, the New York Asylum for the Blind had stood since 1831.  In 1839 it had taken in a 19-year old student, Franny J. Crosby, who quickly was recognized for her talent in writing poetry and hymns.  Fanny had been blinded by an incompetent physician at the age of six months.  But never having remembered seeing, she was pragmatic about her condition, saying "she could climb a tree or ride a horse as well as anyone."
By the time the Chelsea Methodist Episcopal Church was completed, Fanny was an instructor in the Asylum, teaching rhetoric, Greek, Roman, and American History.  She had written her first poem at the age of eight.

Fanny J. Crosby joined the Chelsea Methodist Episcopal Church in 1850 and became its most celebrated member.  By the time she died at the age of 95 on February 12, 1915 she had written over 8,000 hymns, including the popular "Blessed Assurance."

As the Chelsea neighborhood developed, the membership grew.  The New York Times later explained "The large debt accumulated during the society's rapid growth was increased in 1861, extensive alterations and improvement were made, but it was paid off in 1865.  In 1878 $6,000 were expended in more improvements, and ten years later a five-thousand-dollar debt was cleared."

The financial stability of the congregation was further evidenced when, around 1890, it spent $2,200 on a new organ--a $65,000 outlay in 2016 dollars.

The Chelsea Methodist Episcopal Church was, of course, the scene of many weddings and funerals.  Not all of those marriages drew the most favorable press coverage, however.

One of these involved 19-year old Saira Collins.  Saira was the daughter of a sea captain and in the fall of 1896 she met Andrew J. Collins, whom she described as "neatly dressed and courteous."  Collins told the girl that he was a traveling salesman "with a large salary and bright prospects."

Swept away by the attentions of the salesman, Saira soon agreed to marry him.  The wedding took place in Chelsea Methodist Episcopal Church on January 18, 1897, just three months after the two met.  They moved into No. 329 West 35th Street.  Because of his profession, Andrew was gone much of the time, but, according to The Sun a few months later, "she understood he was attending to the selling of goods."

Actually, he was not.

What Saira did not know was that only a day or two before she met Andrew he had been released from the Trenton Prison and that he "was a noted highway man."  His time away from home was actually spent in robbery and burglary.  Within only a few months of their wedding his picture had reappeared in the Rogues' Gallery at Police Headquarters.

When Andrew was arrested one morning on a 34th Street streetcar on a charge "of highway robbery," Saira came to his defense; even after he was convicted and sentenced to 18 months in Sing Sing.  But when police gave her a detailed history of his criminal past and showed her his photograph on the headquarters wall, she awoke to reality.

Saira moved back into her father's house and applied to have the marriage annulled.  Her plea to Justice Traux of the Supreme Court was true-life Victorian melodrama.  She said she "was the victim of a most unholy fraud and deceit, and was deceived and led into marriage with the defendant by reason of the villainous and base acts of the most unscrupulous of ex-convicts and prison birds."

A much more bizarre wedding took place in November the following year.  The pastor, Rev. Dr. W. N. Searles was asked by Derby, Connecticut resident Fred Piper to perform the marriage.  The bride-to-be was, seemingly coincidentally, also named Piper and had been visiting the Omaha Exposition.  Fred met her in New York in hopes to head back home to Connecticut as man and wife.

Rev. Searles performed the marriage on Wednesday, November 16, only to be asked rather awkward questions a few days later.  The Sun reported "Piper's relatives were greatly surprised at the announcement of his marriage."  That surprise came from the fact that the new Mrs. Piper was also Fred's grandmother.

Truman Piper, Fred's grandfather, had died two years earlier.  Mrs. Piper was his second wife, so there was no blood relationship between her and her step-grandson.  Nevertheless, the unconventional romance was broadly reported, causing the Rev. Searles public embarrassment. 

Rev. Searles explained that he assumed they couple had the same surname because "he thought the woman might be the widow of the man's brother."  And he said Fred "appeared to be prematurely gray, and at first sight looked fully the age of his wife."  He also claimed that "he also walked with a crutch, which made him seem older."

By the turn of the century Chelsea Methodist Episcopal had a new pastor, the Rev. Dr. Philip Germond.  The minister's greatest battle against sin and vice was not on the sometimes-gritty Chelsea streets, but within his own family.  By the spring of 1903 his 25-year old son, also named Philip, was wanted "in nearly every large city east of Chicago for forgery and passing worthless checks," according to New York Police Inspector McClusky.  The inspector told reporters "there were thirty complaints against him so far."

Germond's life of crime began in 1900 and he was sentenced to the Elmira Reformatory on September 24 that year for passing a worthless check.  He and "a woman who was known as his wife" continued passing bad checks and committing forgery from state to state over the ensuing years.

On May 14, 1903 the New-York Tribune reported "Dr. Germond said his son from an early age showed evidence of being utterly irresponsible, and finally went entirely wrong."  The preacher tried his best to track his son's movements, warning Methodist bishops and preachers in each city.  Young Germond would use his father's name to borrow money from the clerics.  Dr. Germond paid the men back from his own pocket.  "By these methods my son impoverished me," he told reporters.

The young Germond's callous criminality extended to his own family.  When his parents were away one summer he came to New York, broke into the parsonage, stole valuables and pawned them.

During his trial Professor John D. Quackenbros of Columbia University testified about Philip's mental abnormality.  "I have never seen another like it.  He has no moral sense.  He never had any, so far as distinguishing between that which belongs to him and to others is concerned."

The new Pennsylvania Station brought with it traffic congestion and on October 24, 1907 the City announced its solution--a new street parallel to Eighth Avenue to be cut through the block between 30th and 31st Streets.  The New-York Tribune pointed out "the proposed street will result in tearing down the building in 30th street in which the congregation of the Chelsea Methodist Episcopal Church worships."

In response the congregation purchased land far north in Washington Heights, at the corner of Fort Washington Avenue and 179th Street, as a site for a new church.  Ground for the imposing structure, designed by Bannister & Schell, was broken on June 3, 1908.

Ironically, the proposed cut-through street was never realized.  So as the new edifice was nearing completion on November 27, 1909 the Record & Guide said of the 30th Street church "This valuable property is now for sale."

Somewhat surprisingly, the old building became home to The Rural New-Yorker, publishers of the journal of the same name and sellers of farm-related books.  Advertisements throughout the coming years offered "If you want books on farming of any kind write us and we will quote you prices" and announced "Books on all subjects of farming by leading authorities are for sale by The Rural New-Yorker."
This January 12, 1918 cover, like all issues, was dominated by a charming farm scene. (copyright expired)

The publisher converted the sanctuary and interior rooms for its offices and print shop; but left the facade essentially untouched other than removing the stained glass windows and adding other openings.  The casual passerby would most likely assume the building was simply a vintage church.

Three men who did not mistake the building for a church entered the building through a 30th Street window late on the night of June 12, 1926.  When the nightwatchman, Henry McCormick happened upon them around 3:00 a.m., "one of the bandits pointed a pistol at him and ordered him to 'stick 'em up and hold 'em high," according to The New York Times the following day.

As if from a scene in a crime movie, McCormick's hands and feet were bound with rope and he was tied to a chair.  And the similarity to silver screen thrills did not end there.  While one man watched over his captive, the other others made their way to the offices.

"Using the most modern of drills and nitro-glycerine, they blew open the door of the larger of the two safes.  The force of the explosion scattered its contents about the floor for more than fifteen feet.  From this safe the men took the payroll."

They repeated the procedure on the other two safes, gathering up the weekly payroll of $4,500 cash and $8,000 in Liberty bonds.  They left their burglary tools behind, took their loot and, with their cohort, calmly exited through the main door.

After some struggling McCormick managed to work the gag from his mouth and thrashed around in the chair until he managed to knock the telephone receiver off the hook.  He kept shouting "notify Police Headquarters!" until the operator heard his cries. After police arrived and freed him, McCormick was later able to identify two of the thieves from the Police Headquarter's Rogues' Gallery.
Construction of the French Hospital, begun in 1927, required the clearing of much of the block facing the old church.  The Rural New-Yorker's renovations, including the punching through of office windows, is apparent in this September 27, 1927 shot by P. L. Sperr.  from the collection of the New York Public Library
While the Manhattan location for the farm journal may have seemed peculiar to some; Meyer Berger of the New York Times pointed out that the city had its share of gentleman farmers--and actual farmers--at mid-century.  On February 17, 1954 he profiled taxi driver Raphael Gomez who everyday "pours over The Rural New-Yorker" between fares.

"Mr. Gomez dresses like a husbandman, and that's what he is," wrote Meyer.  The cabbie had a 30-acre farm outside of Wickstown, near Egg Harbor City, New Jersey.  "He puts a fortnight behind the wheel in Manhattan, then three or four days on his farm."

Mrs. Gomez and the six children worked the acreage while he was in the city.  Meyer's article explained "He reads The Rural New-Yorker to keep up on the best buys in chicks or fertilizer and drops a letter every day or two advising his spouse what to pick up at Egg Harbor."

After surviving 120 years, the Greek Revival church building came to the end of its road in May 1960 when it was sold to the 33 West Thirtieth Street Corporation.  They group announced its plans "to clear the site and improve it with apartments for nurses and doctors in the French Hospital, which is across the street."

Without a whimper of protest the Chelsea Methodist Episcopal Church building was demolished.  It was replaced by an eight-story white brick apartment building, completed in 1963.

photo via cityrealty