Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Heatherton Building-- Nos. 239-241 West 30th Street

The name of the newly completed building is announced in bronze lettering above the first floor.  photo by Wurts Bros, from the collection of the New York Public Library

By the mid 1850s indoor plumbing began appearing in New York.  Three decades later plumbers were integral to the construction industry; and all the while inventors worked tirelessly to make improvements in fixtures, piping, flushing and venting.

To keep plumbing professionals up to date on the latest innovations, and to provide them with space to advertise their services and goods the semi-monthly The Plumbers' Trade Journal was founded in 1881.
By the end of World War I The Plumbers' Trade Journal was the most-read journal among the plumbing profession.  Its success was such that in February 1922 the publisher laid plans for its own building.   Two five-story apartment buildings were purchased on West 30th Street, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, just south of Pennsylvania Station.

The Typographical Journal announced "The latest publication to announce the erection of a new building is the Plumbers' Trade Journal, of which J. M. Heatherton is president.  The new building, the great portion of which will be used by the publication, will be six stories and will be at 239 and 241 West Thirtieth Street."

Architect Joseph C. Schaeffler, principal in the J. C. Scheffler & Co. firm, was commissioned to design the building.  His plans estimated the cost at $100,000; nearly $1.5 million in 2016 terms.

Schaeffler produced a 20th century commercial take on 18th century Georgian architecture in gray brick.  The stone base with Adamsesque carved panels over the entrances was dominated by an expansive show window graced by a lacy oversized fanlight.  Above, splayed stone lintels added to the Georgian motif.  The grouped openings of the central section were separated by columns with varying capitals; each supporting a differently-ornamented entablature.  A classic triangular pediment above the fifth story windows provided a temple-like effect.
The terra cotta eyebrows of the arched openings terminate in rams' heads.

The architect carried on the Georgian motif inside, with fluted pilasters, paneled doors and elegant fanlights.  J. M. Heatherton congratulated himself on the new building by naming it The Heatherton Building.

The lobby was more domestic than commercial in its atmosphere.  Leaded and stained glass windows, paneling and carved woodwork contributed to the 18th century feel.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The neighborhood was still part of the fur district and as the publishing firm set up operations in its new home, it leased extra space to furriers, like the Silberman Fur Corporation and the American Fur Merchants' Association.

Despite its phenomenal success (in 1924 Crain's Market Data Book called it the "most popular" of the plumbing journals with a paid circulation of 21,000, "about twice as much as any other trade journal reaching the plumbing and heating industries") the periodical was not without controversy.  In 1922 it received "praise and criticism" for its article entitled "Why Lead Pipe is Better."

Double foyer doors with delicate grills led to the dignified lobby.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The fur district was besieged with a flurry of burglaries not long after the Heatherton Building opened.  In February 1925 the thieves targeted West 30th Street.   Days earlier Chaitin & Bobrow furriers had moved into the first floor from No. 132 West 25th Street.  The flowers they received wishing them well in their new space were still displayed in show window.  The owners no doubt regretted the move after store manager James Taylor arrived on the morning of February 10.

Burglars had pried open the bronze street-level doors and made off with about 1,000 furs, including 350 white fox skins.  Chaitin & Bobrow valued the loss at around $50,000.

The furrier robberies continued until the fall of 1926, when five detectives put an end to the spree.  Their determined efforts included overnight rooftop surveillance without shelter during a violent storm (resulting in one detective catching pneumonia), and two detectives being shot in one incident.

In appreciation, the American Fur Merchants' Association sent a $3,000 check to Police Commissioner Warren from its offices in the Heatherton Building on August 2, 1927.  An accompanying letter listed the names of the five detectives and hoped the money would be divided among them.

The fanlights of the second floor arched windows are gone today.  What appears to be foliage at the top and bottom of the print is the result of a deteriorating plate or negative.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The Silberman Fur Corporation would remain in the building for decades.  In November 1941 it hosted a "buffet luncheon for the trade" celebrating its 75th Anniversary.  The firm's wealthy owner, J. D. Silberman, had been the target of a somewhat surprising law suit two years earlier.

Silberman, who lived on an expansive estate in Scarsdale, New York, invited Albert C. Moss for the weekend in February 1939.  The two went horseback riding and Moss, who was a paper company executive, was thrown.  According to Moss he "received fractured ribs and injuries to his teeth, head and limbs."  He sued Silberman alleging "he had been invited by his host at a Scarsdale estate to ride on a horse known to be unmanageable."

Silberman's "general denial" implied it was Moss's lack of skill rather than the horse's temperament which resulted in the accident.  One assumes it was the last weekend invitation Moss received, as well.

Although the fur district joined the garment center north of 34th Street in the second half of the 20th century, at least one related concern remained at Nos. 239-241 West 30th Street.  The Lou Nierenberg Corporation, makers of fake furs, filled the entire building in the mid-1960s.  The New York Times called the firm "probably the largest producer of such garments."

In 1967 owner Lou Nierenberg signed an agreement with Stanley Blacker to produce the apparel firm's line of artificial fur coats.  The partnership was exceptionally successful.  Herbert Koshetz, writing in The New York Times on January 25, 1970 noted "The following year, he made a total of 25,000 coats for men.  In 1969, he produced 60,000, and [Nierenberg] said this year the figure would go to 120,000."

Lou Nierenberg Corporation was gone from West 30th Street by the early 1990s, when the Chelsea Clinic was providing free shots for children here.  Other medical offices moved into the building, and in 2003 the ground floor was renovated for a dental office.  A less traditional treatment center, the Edgar Cayce Center, took space in 2016.

While damaged, the intricate fanlight over the show window survives.
 Today dental posters fill the show windows where expensive fur coats were once displayed; and the 18th century-inspired entrance doors on one side have been replaced, the intricate grills on the other lost. But overall Joseph C. Schaeffler's Jazz Age take on Georgian survives.

photographs by the author

No comments:

Post a Comment