Friday, August 18, 2017

Debutantes and Nazis - 152-156 East 82nd Street



In 1859 Joseph D. Stantial completed construction of three 16-foot wide, brick-faced homes on East 82nd Street between Lexington and Third Avenues.  The highly unusual homes were accessed nearly at sidewalk level--foregoing the tall stone stoops seen on the majority of Manhattan's townhouses at the time.  The first floor openings sat within stone architrave frames.  A brownstone bandcourse ran unbroken through the three homes, separating the ground floors from the second.

The upper floors were trimmed in brownstone as well.  Molded lintels graced the floor-to-ceiling windows of the second floor and the notably smaller openings of the third.  Individual cast metal cornices completed the design.

Stantial retained ownership of all three homes, leasing them to financially comfortable families.  Finally, in April 1872, he sold No. 152 to Dr. Tobias S. Ring and his wife, Mary.  The couple paid $8,500 for the house, about $172,000 today.  He, perhaps, had trouble selling the other two homes; for when he sold them the following year in May the price had dropped to $8,000.

Shipper George Blauvelt had been leasing No. 152.  The new owners had been residents of the Yorkville neighborhood for years.  Dr. Ring studied medicine under the physician Dr. M. Freligh in the 1840s, when homeopathy was just appearing in America.    The alternative medical treatment system was controversial.  In response to a Dutchess County Medical Society investigation in 1865, Dr. Freligh mentioned "Dr. Ring is in full practice in Yorkville and continues an unswerving homoeopath."

Both Ring and his wife, the former Mary Kimball, were 44 years old when they moved into No. 152.  She died on June 26, 1896 and the doctor the following year on July 30.

In the meantime, Martin McIntosh had purchased No. 154 from Statial.  Previously it had been rented to Montgomery Kellogg, the Chief Engineer in the New York Department of Public Parks.  It was Kellogg who for decades worked closely with Calvert Vaux on the plans for Central Park.

Statial's tenant in No. 156 had been Dr. Hugh Williamson.  His leaving coincided with a dark period in his two-pronged career.   He both practiced medicine and was an educator.  In 1872 not only was he the principal of Grammar School No 53; but he was appointed Professor of Latin for the night classes at Ewing High School, for which he earned $6 a night.

But Williamson's respectability was tarnished after he went on a medical call in January 1873.  When his patient's husband came home, trouble ensued.  The New York Times explained "He got into an unfortunate difficulty with a jealous piano-maker whose wife he had been attending.  The affair resulted in the shooting of the Doctor by the irate husband."  Not only did Williamson resign his position in the school system, he left the 82nd Street house around the same time.

Statial sold No. 156 to Samuel T. Lappin.  His wife, Harriet, had died two years earlier in their home on West 20th Street.   Born in Montreal in 1831, he had six children.

Nothing truly out of the ordinary would take place for the occupants of the three houses until 1933.

That year both 156 and 154 were home to upscale families.  Charles A. Lindley had purchased No. 156 in 1920.  He was a partner in the brokerage firm of Harris, Upham & Co.  His wife was the former Marion Du Bois Floyd and their social standing was evidenced in the guest list at their 1885 wedding.  Among those in St. George's Church that afternoon were Mr. and Mrs. J. P. Morgan, Mr. and Mrs. Cyrus Field, and the Clarence G. Mitchells.

The Lindleys summered at the fashionable Lakewood, New Jersey resort and their names routinely appeared in the society columns as Marion served as patroness for various benefit balls and other events.  As had been the case with his parents, when the engagement of  F. Vinton Lindley and Grace Bigelow Cook was announced in November 1932, it received wide-spread press attention.

Robert E. Goggin had purchased the house next door, at No. 154, in 1908.  Son Francis X. Goggin drove a Hupmobile in 1914.

Francis's automobile may have been similar to this 1914 model Hupmobile (copyright expired)

When Francis married, he and his bride moved into the 82nd Street house.  Like her next door neighbor, she was actively involved in social events.  In 1931, for instance, she was a patroness of the bridge and tea for the American Women's Association, hosted by the alumnae of St. Lawrence Academy.

Political and social upheaval in Europe was about to bring the Lindleys and the Goggins a starkly different--and perhaps unwelcome--new neighbor.

In May 1933 Rudolf Hess, the Nazi Deputy Fuhrer, gave German immigrant Heinz Spanknobel authority to form an American Nazi organization.  The Friends of New Germany was formed in July 1933 with help of the German consul and the group established its headquarters at No. 152 East 82nd Street.

From here the Nazi group espoused ideologies chillingly similar to ideas being promoted by right wing groups today: disparagement and rejection of the free press, and attacks on the left, for instance.  When press accounts were unflattering, the group denounced them as false.  Uniformed members stormed the offices of the German-language newspaper the New Yorker Staats-Zeitung and demanded that pro-Nazi articles be published.

(Those uniforms included white shirts and black trousers for the men; and white blouses and black skirts for the women.  Their hats were emblazoned with a red Nazi symbol.)

Propaganda flowed from No. 152 East 82nd Street.  It did not go unnoticed by the Federal and local governments.

In October 1933 Spanknobel was deported to Germany for having failed to register as a foreign agent.  On October 28 the State Attorney General announced he was launching an investigation into the activities of the League of the Friends of New Germany.  And Mayor John P. O'Brien incurred the wrath of the group when he banned the German Day celebrations scheduled for that month.

Fritz Gissibi, head of the Nazi organization in Chicago told the Chicago Tribune "the action of Mayor O'Brien constituted an act of war on the Nazis in America."  O'Brien responded in kind, issuing a press release on October 28 that said in part "I accept the challenge.  No man or set or men seeking to set up a state of terrorism can frighten or coerce the Mayor of New York.  There will be no gang rule while I am Mayor."

The Lindley and the Goggin families no doubt heaved collective sighs of relief when, in December 1935, Rudolph Hess recalled the leaders of the the Friends of New Germany to Germany and effectively disbanded the organization.

The East 82nd Street block returned to normalcy.   No. 152 received another socially visible family.   Somewhat ironically given the home's former occupants, Dr. Alexander Victor Lyman was a World War I hero.  He had served as a lieutenant in the Army Air Force having left Princeton in 1916 before the United States entered the war in order to serve his country.  He was now an instructor in children's diseases at Columbia University.

The Lyman family included the doctor's second wife, Elizabeth; her daughter from a previous marriage, Patricia; and Sally, Alexander, Victor and John Maynard Lyman.  Like the other two houses in the group, No. 152 returned to upscale social entertaining.

Sally was educated at Miss Hewitt's School and went on to Sarah Lawrence College and then Vassar.  She was a freshman at Sarah Lawrence in 1947 when her coming out was celebrated.  On December 26 the Lymans hosted a supper dance in the Pierre Hotel to introduce her to society.

On October 2 1950 the engagement of Sally to John Morgan Allen was announced.  Eight months after their March 11, 1951 wedding Patricia's engagement to Robert G. Owen was announced.

Dr. Lyman died on February 27, 1959.  In July 1964 Elizabeth sold No. 152 to Dr. and Mrs. Alan Kark.  Three years earlier Mary C. Goggin sold No. 154 to an investor, Henry Lambert.  It was purchased by Soap Opera actress Robin Strasser around 1976.  She remained in the house until she put it on the market in 2016 for $7.5 million, having decided to move to California.


The three venerable brick houses all survive as single-family homes.  Their weather-abused brownstone lintels have been shaved flat at No. 156; but otherwise the homes are little changed on the outside.  And no one passing by could imagine that one of them was a center of hate and bigotry during one of the world's darkest periods.

photographs by the author

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Henry Siegel Mansion - 26 East 82nd Street



With a little imagination, one can envision the mansion in 1901 without stores sprouting from its ground level.

In 1867 Henry Siegel found work in a Chicago clothing store earning $3.50 a week (about $58.50 in today's money).   The hard-working young man saved his money and learned the trade.  In 1887, a year after his wife, Julia Rosenbaum, died, he established his own department store with partners Frank Cooper and Isaac Keim.

Siegel's grand plans did not stop there.  In 1895 he and Cooper embarked on a plan to open the largest department store in the world in New York City.  Two years later the colossal Siegel-Cooper Department Store was completed on Sixth Avenue.  The New York Times compared it to "the grandeur of ancient Rome."

The Siegel-Cooper store engulfed nearly an entire city block.

The following year Marie Vaughn Wilde arrived in New York with her two children.  Born in Virginia, she was the widow of George N. Wilde.  She found a job with the New York Press as a fashion reporter and shortly after was sent to the Siegel-Cooper store to cover an innovative display.   She met Henry Siegel, who was already being described by newspapers nationwide as "the merchant prince."

Later the Monroe, North Carolina newspaper The Monroe Journal explained "Shortly after a position was offered her in the store, and she accepted it at considerable more pay than she received as a newspaper writer."  Marie Wilde was nothing if not socially ambitious.  On April 24, 1898 Henry and Marie were married.  Siegel's 11-year old daughter, Julia, attended her new stepmother.

The Sun, June 22, 1915 (copyright expired)

The Superior Wisconsin's The Superior Times noted that the newlyweds and their daughters would live "for present at the Savoy.  They will go to Europe in June for an extended tour."

At the time developer Robert McCafferty and architect Richard W. Buckley were producing upscale speculative residences in the blocks near Central Park.  They had formalized their partnership in 1880 as McCafferty & Buckley.  The New York Times later remarked "McCafferty & Buckley produced many of the handsomest private dwellings in the east side of the city."

In 1900 they began construction on five adjoining mansions at Nos. 18 through 26 East 82nd Street.   While four of the homes were designed in the popular, frothy Beaux Arts style, No. 26 at the southwest corner of Madison Avenue was more subdued.  Its gray brick facade was trimmed in pinkish-hued stone.  Like its neighbors, it was designed in the American Basement plan--foregoing the high stone stoops of a generation earlier.  The mansion was a generous 35 feet wide on 82nd Street and more than 100 feet long on Madison Avenue.

The houses were completed in 1901 and the third to be sold was No. 26--purchased in November by Henry Siegel for just under $250,000--in the neighborhood of $7.25 million today.  It was just the first of a string of residences.

Marie was deemed by the Chicago periodical The Day Book to be "perhaps America's most lavish social climber."  The following year Siegel commissioned James L. Burley to design a summer estate, Driftwood, in Mamaroneck on Long Island.  Marie convinced her husband to buy yet another residence, a town house in Park Lane, London; followed by a Paris apartment.

The Siegels filled their homes with costly antiques and artwork.  In 1902 The Onlooker wrote "At 'Driftwood,' the Mamaroneck home of Mr. Henry Siegel, are two Sevres vases presented by the Emperor Napoleon to his brother Jerome...Mr. Siegel, who owns to a craze for Napoleon, is a tireless collector of all things historic, in which fancy he is so aided and abetted by his clever spouse that, in their course of their travelings, they have picked up enough attractive odds and ends of lamps and cabinets, pictures and bric-a-brac to stock a museum; and all of the genuine stamp."

Julia Siegel was little seen at any of the residences.  She was sent to a convent school in upstate New York before heading to Dresden, Germany to attend a finishing school.

In the meantime, Marie spent much of her time abroad, without Henry.  In 1903 she made what The Day Book called "her first big social coup when she was a guest of Sir Thomas Lipton on his yacht, the Erin."  That same year she entertained Lady Swettenham, wife of the British governor of Jamaica at Driftwood.  The Day Book commented.  "Thus she 'arrived.'"

Manhattan millionaires had grand townhouses and summer estates equal to the palaces of European nobility.  But they did not have titles.  The greatest success of an American socialite was to marry her daughter to a noble.  British aristocracy disparagingly called those brides "penny princesses."

In 1906 Marie saw her daughter, Georgine, married to Count Carlo Dentice de Frazzo.  Now she went to work on matching Julia.  It was through her stepmother's British social contacts that Julia met Tyrell William Cavendish "of Craigmarsh Hall, Straffordshire, England," as described by The New York Times.    Five days later they were engaged and on December 26, 1906 they were married in the 82nd Street mansion.  Considering that Cavendish was marginally noble (he was a relative of the Duke of Devonshire), the ceremony was shockingly understated.  There were only about 20 people present, mostly relatives and there was no reception.

By now Marie rarely was seen in New York; but she returned in 1908 for the debutante entertainments for her younger daughter, Dorothy.  The Chicago Day Book described Dorothy's debut as "one of the most costly functions New York ever saw."  Immediately afterward, Marie returned to her London townhouse and Paris apartment and would not be back for two years.

In the meantime, Julia and Tyrell lived in Battlies House in Suffolk initially, eventually moving to Little Onn Hall in Staffordshire.  Julia returned to New York every year to visit her father, however in 1912 Tyrell accompanied her.  Leaving their two-year old toddler at home with his nurse, they booked passage on the new luxury liner the RMS Titanic.

On the night of April 14 Cavendish woke his wife.  She told investigators later "I hurriedly put on a wrapper and one of my husband's overcoats and we both rushed to the upper deck...I was in the second boat.  My husband kissed me and bade me to remain in the boat, declaring he was all right."

Julia arrived in New York on the Carpathia.  She never saw her husband again.

Marie was, not unexpectedly, in Paris when Julia arrived.  Other than the tragic loss of her stepson-in-law, The Monroe Journal pointed out "The year 1912 was a banner year for Mrs. Siegel in a social way.  First she entertained the Infanta Eulalia of Spain at her elaborate apartment in the Avenue Malakoff, Paris.  Then came as her guest the Countess Esterhazy of Austria and Princess Hohenlohe of Germany."

Henry scrambled to keep up with his wife's lavish spending.  In 1904 he organized a private bank, Henry Siegel & Co., and in 1905 he expanded the department store with a Boston branch.  But now Marie's spending "alarmed" Henry.  The Day Book said "1912 was the year of Mrs. Siegel's crowning triumphs in a social way and money flowed like water."  In addition to the grand parties which she hosted in the Paris apartment, "she gave entertainments at a club in the Bois de Boulogne whose gorgeousness and display stunned even Paris."

The Monroe Journal, May 1, 1914 (copyright expired)

Henry separated from Marie, agreeing to provide her with a $25,000 yearly allowance.  The stipend, approximately $638,000 today, put a significant crimp in her lifestyle.  A newspaper reported in March 1914 "Last year she did not entertain lavishly in Paris and since her return to New York she was been in practical retirement."

But Henry's reining in of his wife's spending came too late.  A few months before the separation, in September 1911, he commissioned architect George Keister to renovate the 82nd Street mansion.  The plans called for $10,000 of interior alterations including bathrooms, new walls and staircases.  The result was a sprawling 11-room duplex apartment within his mansion from which Siegel could garner extra income.


Charles S. Kuh, who signed a lease the duplex apartment in Siegel's mansion in October 1913, had problems of his own.   The following year, on October 29, his limousine was heading along Park Avenue between 46th and 47th Street.  A group of boys was playing handball on the sidewalk and suddenly 10-year old Eugene McCarthy dashed into the street in front of Kuh's car.

The New-York Tribune reported "He was thrown fifteen feet.  His head struck a curb and his skull was crushed."  In the automobile behind the Kuh limo was Dr. E. W. Roberts, who rushed to the injured boy.  "A glance told him that the accident had been instantly fatal."

The newspaper noted "The automobile concerned last night was travelling slowly, and the chauffeur was freed of all blame."

Henry Siegel's financial deck of cards was about to collapse.  On March 12, 1914 The Evening World ran the headline "Big Siegel Stores to Be Closed Out to Pay Creditors"  Two months earlier the private Siegel bank had failed.

Siegel's lawyers blamed Marie in part for the bankruptcy.  In distancing herself from the humiliation of financial problems, she had published statements saying Siegel had "pursued a criminal course after she had warned her husband that he was on his way to state prison."

And if Henry Siegel had any thoughts that his wife might stand by his side, they were dashed when she sued him for divorce and, separately, for possession of the real estate and the art and antiques in the 82nd Street and Driftwood homes.  She was specific in her list of wants, going so far as to include "letters from a former husband, a bed once occupied by royalty and a vacuum cleaner."

In court, according to The Day Book on April 1, 1914, "Mrs. Siegel denied flatly that her husband was ruined by her extravagance."  Instead, she insisted that Henry had spent "large sums of money on various women of his acquaintance."  She described herself as "entirely destitute and without means."

She claimed the emotionally-draining affair had made her an invalid.  Newspapers nationwide were not quick to take pity.   They repeatedly recalled her social climbing and ambition.  On April 12, 1914 the New-York Tribune noted "Mrs. Siegel, who at Laurel-in-the-Pines, Lakewood [New Jersey], was said to be seriously ill, was well enough yesterday afternoon to attend the polo game with a maid.  She looked the picture of health, but was said to be in an extremely nervous condition and under the constant care of Dr. Charles P. Lindley and a trained nurse."  And despite being "entirely destitute," she lived in "elaborate apartments" at the St. Regis Hotel in Manhattan.

On June 22 1915 The Sun reported "Humiliated by the fact that he is now a convict, but optimistic regarding his future, Henry Siegel entered the Monroe county penitentiary here this afternoon to begin serving a term of ten months."  The sentence was the result of fraud charges regarding his failed bank.  Despite his optimism for the future, Siegel died in a boarding house in Hackensack, New Jersey in 1930.

Six months prior to his imprisonment No. 26 East 82nd Street was sold in foreclosure.  It was purchased by the United States Trust Company for $115,000, less than half of what Siegel had paid for it originally.  The Times, in reporting on the sale, noted that house had been "recently altered for business."

When the United States Trust Company sold the property in 1919, in was described as an "apartment house."  Nevertheless, the 11-room duplex was still intact.  When it became available in 1922 the listing described "exceptionally large light rooms; 3 baths; magnificently furnished."

In 1924 the former mansion was combined internally with No. 24, resulting in four apartments each on the second to fifth floors.  A new penthouse of two rooms was part of a fifth floor duplex.

Among the moneyed residents in the newly-converted building was the family of Justus Ruperti.  A banker and a partner in the import-export firm of G. Amsinck & Co., he was married to the former Sallie Nicoll, who came from the old New York Corlandt and Nicoll families.

Not only did the couple move into a new home in 1924, they were planning the weddings of three of their five daughters that year.   On November 7 the apartment was the scene of the wedding reception of their eldest daughter, Lilly.  The New York Times noted "Last August, while at their country place, Marigolds in Cedarhurst, L. I., Mr. and Mrs. Ruperti announced the engagement of their second daughter, Miss Ida Ruperti, to Charles Marshall, Jr."  And on October 18, just weeks before Lilly's wedding, they announced the engagement of Sallie to Charles K. Clisby.

The Rupertis and the other residents would have to find new homes in 1930.  Architect Julius Eckmann converted the combined former mansions into an interior decorator store.   By 1984 the Barry Friedman antiques gallery was located in the building.  

From outside there is no hint that the two houses are internally combined.

In 1979 the two structures had been purchased by Kreisel Company, a real estate management firm.  Then in 1984 it announced it would convert them to "condops," described as "a combination of co-op and condominium characteristics, and are usually formed when a landlord divides a mixed-use commercial and residential building into several large condominiums, then subdivides one condominium into a residential cooperative."

Although somewhat confusing in concept, the result was commercial space on the first floor, apartments and an art gallery on the second, and two apartments each on the upper floors.  Although the ground floor of No. 26 was heavily altered in the 1915 makeover, the upper floors are little changed since Henry Siegel and his socially-ambitious bride took possession in 1901.

photographs by the author
many thanks to reader Andrew Porter for suggesting this post

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The New York Mercantile Exchange - 628-630 Broadway




Henry Newman, the principal in Henry Newman & Co., was an importer of tailors' trimmings and clothiers' supplies.   It may have been the news that the New York Mercantile Exchange was looking for larger headquarters that prompted him to embark on a construction project in 1882.

In January of the previous year J. H. Mahoney had purchased at an executor's sale the two old buildings at Nos. 628 and 630 Broadway, between Houston and Bleecker Streets.  The price he paid, $111,200 (around $2.7 million today) reflected the influx of commercial buildings along this section of Broadway.

Newman leased the properties and hired H. J. Schwarzmann & Co. to design a six-story commercial building.  According to the Engineering Record on February 23, 1882, the projected construction costs were $125,000; more than $3 million in today's dollars.  (Interestingly, while plans were filed under H. J. Schwarzmann & Co., the 1898 A History of Real Estate, Building and Architecture in New York City gave full credit to another firm, Buchman & Deisler.)

The building, completed in 1883, would have been little different than scores of other cast iron fronted buildings were it not for its eye-catching, unique ornamentation  The Aesthetic Movement was taking hold in America, appearing mostly in furniture and artwork.  The movement stressed natural motifs--birds, flowers, and leaves, for instance--and Far Eastern influences.  H. J. Schwarzmann & Co. took it from the drawing room to the facade of Newman's building.

The engaged columns of the ground floor storefront, along with those on each of the succeeding floors, took the form of bamboo poles.  Recessed panels on the side piers at this level were incised with stylized leaf designs.  Applied cast iron flowers to the side were slightly offset from the panels.

The remarkable decoration continued at the second and third floors with thin palm trees and clumps of calla lilies.  The trees terminated in just two fronds.  Like the cast iron plants on the third and fifth floor piers, the palms and lilies no doubt once sprouted from a now-lost cornice.

A decorative cornice once upheld the now-floating palm trees and lilies at the second floor.

The filigree panels forming Moorish-type arches that framed the top story openings were almost assuredly repeated throughout the lower floors.  One can easily imagine the overall delicate and lacy Asian appearance they created.

Newman had the architects incorporate the name "The New York Mercantile Exchange" into the cast iron facade.   And, indeed, that group did temporarily lease space on the second floor for offices and showrooms.  Newman moved his own business into the building, sharing the third, fifth and sixth floors with Cohn, Ball & Co., makers of boys' and men's clothing.  On the fourth floor in 1884 was clothing merchant L. Clark, and the two street level stores were home to Joseph W. Lester & Co., a hat shop, at No. 628 and I. Oberndorfer & Co.'s "gentlemen's furnishing goods" at No. 630.

Just after 4:00 on the morning of August 19, 1884 fire was discovered on the fifth floor.   Firefighters had the blaze out within an hour, but the damage was significant.  Both Cohn, Ball & Co. and Henry Newman & Co. had their new fall and winter inventory stored there.

The New York Times reported "When the firemen entered the building the upper floors were so filled with smoke that it was impossible to move about until the skylight on the roof had been smashed and the front windows on Broadway had been broken out."

Although the fire was confined to the fifth floor, as was often the case with 19th and early 20th century fires water damage was severe.   Joseph W. Lester & Co., for instance, lost $4,000 in ruined hats, and I. Oberndorfer & Co. suffered $5,000 in losses.

The pressed frieze of leaves below the cornice reflects an Aesthetic Movement motif.  The filigree frames of the upper floor windows, almost assuredly, continued throughout the facade.

The building was repaired and the former Cohn, Ball & Co. (by now renamed Ball & Co.) celebrated is grand reopening in March 1886.  The fire may have ruined Newman's plans for a long-term tenant in the New York Mercantile Exchange, however.  It completed its own building on Harrison Street that same year.

Ball & Co. had expanded, now taking several floors.  The New York Times called it "an immense store," and noted "down stairs is their retail department and up stairs the manufacturing is done."  The firm touted its "new and spacious stores" as having "the largest stock of fine clothing for men, youths and boys ever exhibited in this city."  Men's spring overcoats, "made of meltons, cassimeres and corkscrews" were priced at between $6 and $12 (a reasonable $316 today for the most expensive model).

Later that year Ball & Co. launched a clever marketing scheme.  For every purchase of $15 or over the customer would receive a Limoges clock.  On November 24, 1886 The Times commented "These clocks are really good time-keepers."

Other tenants in the refurbished building were clothing firms of Leo Schlesinger, Vanderhoef & Co., Rindskopf & Barbier, W. Hillman & Co., J. Klee & Co., Joseph Rosenthal, and Charles Simon & Co.

Tragedy repeated itself on July 2, 1887 when fire broke out again.  This time total damages to the various tenants amounted to $130,000 and it was apparently the last straw for Ball & Co.  The firm did not return to Nos. 628-630 Broadway.

Henry Newman's tenant list slowly reflected the migration of the millinery district from south of Houston Street.  In 1888 William McElhinney & Co., milliners, was in the building, as was Henry Zeimer & Co., "importers of artificial flowers." 

The Evening World, March 8, 1893 (copyright expired)

The apparel industry was stunned when Henry Newman & Co. declared bankruptcy in May 1894.  The Clothier and Furnisher reported that the announcement "produced an immense sensation throughout the trade, and expressions of sympathy with the defunct firm could be heard in every quarter of the market."

J. H. Mahoney still owned the building.  He died in 1901 but his estate continued its management.  In April 1901 I. Isaac & Co., "neckwear manufacturers" moved in.  Then in 1902 the entire building was leased to The New York Millinery & Supply Company.  Negotiations for that lease were most likely the cause of the $3,000 in alterations the Mahoney estate made on the building that year.


The firm advertised one of its Pattern Hats in July 1904.  The Millinery Trade Review (copyright expired)

The New York Millinery & Supply Company offered the latest in women's head wear.   Its new line of 1904 fall and winter hats was unveiled on August 9,  The firm tempted buyers saying "We are showing a most superb line of Ladies' and Misses' correct, artistic, snappy Millinery Merchandise."  The announcement added "Our famous $3.50 each Pattern Hats are wonders in value--each one embodying the swellest, latest and most popular New York and Parisian ideas."

The firm sub-leased space to non-competing tenants.  Among them in 1907 were Millen, Aikenhead & Co. makers of men's pajamas and shirts, Eisenberg & Settel, men's overcoats and clothing makers, (which moved in on February 1), and Proser Bros. whose hand-made worsted suits ranged from $7 to $9 that year.
Fairchild's Men's Wear Directory, 1907
The Steinfeld Brothers toy store was in the ground floor retail space.  They were doing a brisk business in Rudolph Fleischer's popular teddy bears.  Following a well-publicized story of President Theodore Roosevelt's 1902 bear hunting trip in Mississippi during which he refused to shoot a cornered bear cub, toy manufacturers like Fleischer cranked out thousands of the cuddly plush animals.

Just before the Republican convention in 1907 Steinfeld Brothers ordered another 525 dozen teddy bears from Fleischer.  The store, according to the New-York Tribune later, "figured that President Roosevelt would accept a third term.  Teddy bears would still be a valuable investment with Mr. Roosevelt in the White House four years more"

But to the management's amazement and dismay, it was William Howard Taft who received the nomination.  Despite their standing purchase order, Steinfeld Brothers told the manufacturer they would accept 20 dozen bears, but no more.

Rudolph Fleischer went to court.  He told reporters the bears were not bears any longer, but "white elephants."  The New-York Tribune reported on July 4, 1908 "Fleischer says they broke their contract, and now he wants damages."

The New York Millinery & Supply Co. remained in the building for years.  Its large staff of hat makers and shop girls was entirely female.  In 1913 it employed 31 women and two office workers.

In 1915 women's hat fashions--like New York Millinery & Supply Co.'s "Knickerbocker hat"--were decidedly less exuberant.  The American Angler, January 1915 (copyright expired)

In the years following the end of World War I the millinery and apparel districts moved northward.  The Broadway section just above Houston Street saw drastic change during the Depression years.   The store space became home to the Bleecker Trading Corporation, a check-cashing operation.

On the evening of September 4, 1941 Oliver Scherman was alone there when a gunman, around 45 years old, walked in around 6:15.  He pushed a revolver through the grill of the cashier's cage and ordered "Give me all the money you have."

The New York Times opined "He had apparently been watching the place for some time and knew when Scherman would be lone."  The cashier handed him everything in the till.  The thief left the checks behind, but took about $2,000 in cash.

Among the upper floor tenants was the Capitol Folding Box Company, Inc.  In 1945 that firm broke through the basement wall to connect to the building next door at Nos. 632-634 Broadway.

Fire once again struck the building in 1951, this one on the lower floors.  The architectural firm of Emery Roth & Sons was commissioned to repair the damages, including the construction of a new lobby.

Another brazen robbery took place in the building just over a decade later.  A holdover from the apparel manufacturing days, Rettinger Raincoat Manufacturing Company operated from an upper floor.  Until the second half of the 20th century payroll was customarily distributed in the form of cash.  It was a tempting arrangement for robbers.

On June 24, 1953 Bertha Rosen, the company's bookkeeper, returned from the bank with the payroll.  As she entered the elevator, two men pushed their way in.  One brandished a pistol.  They snatched the $2,569 in cash, wrapped it in a newspaper, and fled the building.

Beginning in 1940 the city had been plagued by a mad bomb maker who planted 28 devices, 23 of which exploded.   On December 1, 1956 six patrons were injured when a homemade bomb exploded in the Brooklyn Paramount Theater.  Three days later a surge of bomb threats sent police scurrying throughout the city.  The following day The New York Times reported "Thirteen new threats yesterday to bomb public places, including theatres, schools, an airlines terminal, a ship and an Army base, intensified the police hunt for a deranged perpetrator."

Among the calls was that received at 1:30 p.m. warning that a bomb was set to explode at No. 630 Broadway.  That call was a hoax and no device was found.

By the last quarter of the century this section of Broadway was dingy and neglected.  In 1981 Nos 620-630 Broadway was home to the Commercial Plastics and Supply Corporation, described by The New York Times as "the largest of a half-dozen plastics merchants clustered together."


But the neighborhood, soon to be known as Noho, was on the brink of rediscovery.  As former loft buildings were restored and rehabilitated, No. 628-630 received a make-over in 1990.  Today the strikingly exotic cast iron building is as remarkable as it was in 1883.

photographs by the author

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The 1933 Midtown Theatre -- 2626 Broadway



The seven-story Glenham Apartments opened at No. 2626 Broadway, between 99th and 100th Streets, in 1902.  The sprawling apartments--seven and eight rooms each-- were by no means inexpensive.  They rented for between $800 to $1000 per year, equal to as much as $2,400 per month today.

The Great Depression may have dealt a significant blow to the building's owners; or it may have simply been the changing neighborhood that brought about the end to the Glenham.   It was demolished in November 1931.  Brothers Arlington and Harvey Hall, partners in the A. C. & H. M. Realty Co. envisioned a motion picture theater on the site.

Both Russel M. Boak and Hyman F. Paris had worked in the drafting rooms of architect Emery Roth.  They struck out as partners in 1927, forming the firm Boak & Paris.  By now they were giving their own spin to the Art Deco style, most often in the form of apartment buildings.  The firm was awarded the commission to design the theater (with the inexplicably misleading name Midtown) in 1932 and they filed plans that December. 

With the arrival of the Great Depression the lavish motion picture palaces of the 1920s, with their pipe organs and cavernous lobbies, became a thing of the past.  Boak & Paris produced a relatively intimate theater.  What it lacked in the earlier grandeur it made up for in its sleek, streamlined design.

Completed on June 2, 1933, the theater was on the cutting edge of architectural trends.   The black-and-silver stripes of the glazed terra cotta street level facade was echoed in the four chrome bands that girded the overhanging marquee.  Boak & Paris used illumination as an element of the theater's architecture, dramatically lighting the underside of the marquee, its lettering and decorations, and casting flood lights on the upper facade.

Shortly after its opening Wurts Bros. photographed the theater at night in 1933.  Double Harness starring William Powell and Ann Harding was playing, along with a "Musical Revue" with Alex Gray and Bernice Claire.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

It was that upper facade that set the Midtown Theatre apart.  The stair-stepping lines of the gray terra cotta on either side of the central section drew the eye to the large colorful medallion.  Here two figures, one weeping and holding the Greek mask of Tragedy and the other dancing with the mask of Comedy, represented theater.  The black terra cotta wall on which it appeared was trimmed in thin red lines and culminated in a wavy parapet and Empire State Building-like ziggurats.

The clean, Art Deco lines were carried on in the auditorium in the carpeting, lighting fixtures and stylish ceiling decoration.  photo by Wurts Bros. 1933.

Depression Era Americans escaped the reality of everyday life at the movies.  Here, for at least a while, they could forget the gloom outside the darkened theater while they watched upbeat Busby Berkeley musicals and Marx Brothers comedies.  Upper West Side residents saw first-run motion pictures at the Midtown Theatre, no longer having to ride the subway to Times Square.

Even during the Depression many New Yorkers got away from the city in the summer.  With a diminished clientele some motion picture theaters, like the Midtown, closed for the month of July.  On August 9, 1938 The New York Times reported that the theater would be reopening that week, showing the comedy The Rage of Paris starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Danielle Darrieux, and the mystery There's Always a Woman with Joan Blondell, Melvyn Douglas and Mary Astor.



Fred J. Dollinger was the manager of the Midtown Theatre in the early 1940s and he took his job very seriously.  Among his duties was ensuring that motorists obeyed the no-parking rules directly in front of the theater so movie-goers could easily be dropped off or picked up.

And so when Alexander J. Mayer pulled up at the curbside around 6:20 on the night of September 10, 1942, the theater's doorman pointed out that he could not park there.  Mayer ignored the warning and went to a nearby restaurant.  Dollinger decided to teach him a lesson on obeying the rules.

Mayer had been in the restaurant only a few minutes before a passerby, Louis Smith, came in and told him his left rear tire had been slashed.   He pointed out Dollinger as the culprit.

In night court Dollinger insisted he had not committed the deed; but Mayer had brought along his witness. The following day The New York Times reported "The price of an automobile tire was $50 for Fred J. Dollinger, 60 years old, a motion picture theatre manager, last night, and he didn't even get the tire."

The terra cotta medallion of Tragedy and Comedy can only be called spectacular.

Motion picture theaters in general suffered a tremendous blow following the advent of television.  Families that routinely went to the movies once or twice a week now stayed home.  In the 1970s the Midtown Theatre, which for four decades had presented only first-class entertainment, became an adult film theater.   It was rescued in 1982 when Daniel Talbot, owner of New Yorker Films, purchased it and spent $300,000 to renovated as a specialized theater that screened vintage and foreign films.  He renamed the 535-seat theater the Metro.

The Metro became known for its film festivals.  In the summer of 1983 it offered a George Cukor festival that included the 1933 Dinner at Eight and the 1938 Holiday with Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn and Lew Ayres.

The following spring the Metro was the site of the 10th "Perspectives on French Cinema" series.  Five directors personally introduced their works and 11 new French films were screened.   Among the films being premiered in America was 24-year old Caroline Roboh's Clementine Tango.  The program notes described the plot as being about "an aristocratic young man who discovers traces of his father's past love affairs in a freakish Pigalle nightclub" and "a seductive but innocent adolescent girl enamored of tango dancing."

Soon, however, the theater was renovated by Clearview Cinemas.  By 1986 the auditorium had been sliced in half with one 325-seat "twin" theater on the lower section and 200 seats on the upper.  Boak & Paris's striking Art Deco interiors were still intact; although severed at the waist.

A 1999 advertisement carried out the Art Deco theme.  The double-bill featured a horror and an action film.

A terrifying incident occurred on May 9, 1999 when two armed men entered the theater around 10:30 at night.  They ordered the concession stand employee to take them to the manager's office.  There they tied up both men and two other employees with duct tape before making off with around $2,000 in the day's receipts.

The Metro closed in 2002.  After two failed attempts to reopen, rumors spread that it would be replaced by a Gristede's grocery store.  Then, happily, in November 2004 it reopened as an independent theater called the Embassy's New Metro Twin.  Similar to the first Metro incarnation, it screened foreign and independent films.

But that venture, too, did not survive.  In November 2005 the owner, Albert Bialek, gave up and padlocked the doors.  He explained to reporter Alex Mindlin of The New York Times  "As a neighborhood theater, the building is obsolete.  It can't compete with the bigger multiscreen houses."

The Landmarks Preservation Commission gave Bialek permission to demolish Boak & Paris's stunning interiors.  He told Mindlin he considered "leasing the space to a dinner theater, a restaurant or a store."


In the summer of 2008 a large FOR SALE sign covered the marquee.  One option after another came and went, including proposals to renovate the space as an Urban Outfitters store and a home for an arts-education nonprofit.  Then, in 2012 The Alamo Drafthouse seemed to have come to the rescue.

The Texas-based motion picture theater chain announced its intentions to open a New York branch.  In a press release the company said "The Alamo Drafthouse at the Metro will provide food and drink service to your seat and will uphold its famously strict no-talking policy."  (That policy included a prohibition against cell phones.)

But the high hopes of preservationists and Upper West Siders were dashed in October the following year when Alamo Drafthouse Cinema's website announced "too much has changed since we initially began work on the location."  After having spent almost $1 million on the project, CEO Tim League sighed "We were shovel-ready, but we didn't lift the shovel...We've invested a lot of time and money into it."  The firm had made the decision that the spot was simply not "financially viable."

When a lease was signed in 2015 with Planet Fitness, it was seen by many as, at least, a way of preserving the building.  Councilman Mark D. Levine said "I think any tenant is better than abandonment.  And while it is a chain, at least it isn't a Duane Reade."  And Planet Fitness promised that it would respect the structure's historic details in creating its gym.


But in the summer of 2017 the marquee still proclaims SPACE AVAILABLE and the Art Deco treasure sits vacant and unused 12 years after its doors were last closed.

photographs by the author

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Lost John Taylor Johnston Mansion - 8 Fifth Avenue



The blinds were pulled down when this photograph was shot around 1912, possibly because the family was gone for the summer.  photographer unknown, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
In 1856 John Taylor Johnston had an immense personal fortune.  His parents were John Johnston, a Scottish-born shipping baron and banker, and Margaret Taylor.   The son of privilege, he traveled to Europe at the age of 13, seeing the museums of Rome, Venice and Florence and visiting galleries where his father purchased old masters.

Johnston graduated from the University of the City of New York in 1839 and Yale College law school in 1841. Two years later he accompanied his parents to Europe again, browsing through the Louvre with his mother while his father added to his art collection.

It was on that trip that Johnston met Frances Colles, the daughter of James Colles, an art broker for wealthy Louisiana plantation owners.  Romance bloomed and back in the United States the couple eventually married in 1851.

In 1848 Johnston "was induced" (as The New York Times worded it) to become president of the 25-mile long Somerville and Eason Railroad.  He quickly transformed it to the 400-mile Central Railroad of New-Jersey, a freight line carrying coal.

Johnston's parents lived on Washington Square.  In 1855 he began construction of his own lavish mansion a block north of the park, at the southwest corner of West 8th Street.  The plot was leased from William C. Rhinelander, whose 1839 mansion was one of the first on Washington Square.

Johnston chose for his architect Frederick Diaper who, according to the Architectural Record decades later, in 1917, "was assisted by Mr. A. J. Bloor."  Diaper was responsible for the sprawling William Patterson Van Rensselaer manor house upstate, and the New York Library Society Building.

Completed in 1856, the Taylor home left no doubt as to the wealth of its owner.  Three bays wide, the Italianate mansion rose four floors above an English basement and stretched far back along West 8th Street.  But Diaper had placed his client's house a notch above the elegant brick homes of Washington Square and the brownstone mansions of Fifth Avenue--it was faced in gleaming white Vermont marble.

Photographed by Berenice Abbott in 1936, the marble mansion stands out beside its brownstone neighbors.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

Taylor followed, then surpassed, his father's passion for art collecting.  Despite the size of his mansion, before long he renovated the private stable, directly behind the house on West 8th Street, into a private gallery.   (Taylor's brother, John Boorman Taylor, was no less passionate and in 1857 built the famous Tenth Street Studio building nearby on West 10th Street, exclusively for artists.)

Johnston renovated his private stable, directly behind the mansion, for his art gallery.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

The first real step in establishing the Metropolitan Museum of Art was taken in Johnston's marble mansion on December 26, 1870.  The New York Times reported that "A large number of gentlemen, interested in the subject of the progress of art in the City, were invited by Mr. John Taylor Johnston to meet the officers of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Monday evening at his residence, No 8 Fifth Avenue."

The article noted "After an hour spent in the examination of Mr. Johnston's magnificent gallery of pictures, the subject of the meeting, the raising of funds to establish the Museum, was opened by the host."  Among the dozens of millionaires in attendance that evening were James W. Beekman, J. Pierpont Morgan, Levi P. Morton, Henry G. Marquand, Alexander Stuart, Rutherford Stuyvesant and Alexander Van Rensselaer.

There were esteemed American artists in the gathering as well, including John Quincy Adams Ward, John LaFarge, Albert Bierstadt, and Frederick E. Church; and leading architects such as James Renwick, Calvert Vaux, and Richard Morris Hunt.

When the men filed out that cold evening they had pledged $45,000 (or about $854,000 today) towards the goal of $250,000 to establish the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Johnston would be its first president.

In the meantime, Johnston's gallery held what was considered "one of the most important art collections in America," according to The New York Times years later.   He opened it to the public once a year and "was in the habit of assembling in it all the artists of New-York."  In it hung both European and American masterworks.  Works by Daubigny, Breton, Corot, Thomas Cole, Gilbert Stuart and Durand hung near Frederick Church's "Niagara" and one of Johnston's favorite acquisitions, J. M. W. Turner's "The Slave Ship."

Turner's "The Slave Ship" was considered one of Johnston's greatest acquisitions.  Museum of Fine Arts Boston
John and Frances raised five children in the house--Colles, John Herbert, Frances, Eva and Emily.  (An infant boy, died in 1886.)  The family summered in their 100-acre country estate near Plainfield, New Jersey.

In 1877 Johnston showed symptoms of what was called "creeping paralysis."  He retired from the railroad that year and, perhaps shocking to many, sold his beloved art collection.  The Times reported "In his collection, which was the result of many years' purchasing, were example of the American, German, and English schools.  This sale was one of the first great art sales in this city and it is said that the pictures realized a handsome profit."

John Taylor Johnston  from The History of the St. Andrew's Society of the State of New York, 1906 (copyright expired)

Despite his disability, Johnston remained the president Metropolitan Museum of Art and was the president of the Governing Board of the University of the City of New-York.  He sat on the boards of the Presbyterian Hospital, the Woman's Hospital, and the St. Andrews Society.

Frances busied herself with charitable causes, as was expected of wealthy wives.  In the winter of 1886, for instance, she met with a group of socialites to discuss establishing "at an early date an asylum for destitute orphan Italian girls at some point on the Harlem Railroad, near New-York."  The asylum would train the girls as "house servants of a high grade."

Eva was introduced to society in February 1886.  Frances hosted a cotillion in the house, which The Times deemed "an exceedingly pretty one."  The newspaper added "It has been some time since this once most hospitable of New-York houses has been opened to society."

The lull in entertaining in the mansion was most likely due to family health problems.   Eva's brother, Colles, was 33 years old at the time of her coming-out.  Never married, he still lived in the Fifth Avenue mansion.  Educated as a lawyer, he was vice-president of Central New Jersey Land Improvement Company.  But because of his father's limited mobility he devoted much of his time to handling his business affairs.  Colle's health, however, was a problem, too.  He suffered from a lingering case of "consumption," better known today as tuberculosis.  Seven months after Eva's debut dance he died in the Plainfield house.

Two years later, Frances Colles Johnston died in the Fifth Avenue mansion.

One by one the aging John Taylor Johnson saw his children marry.  Emily married Robert W. De Forest, Eva married Henry E. Coe, and on April 30, 1892 Frances was wed to Pierre Mali in the family home.

The New York Times reported "The marriage was performed before an altar erected in the northern end of the art gallery, covered with white altar cloth and decorated with a brass cross and bunches of lilies."  The groom was the Vice Consul of Belgium and so among the guests were the Belgian Minister, Count and Countess Gaston d'Arschot of the Belgian Legation, and the Consuls General of China, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Japan, Russia, and Turkey.

Just over three weeks later, on May 23, John Henry became the last of the children to marry.  His wedding to Celestine (known as Teenie) Noel was performed in her parent's residence on Waverley Place.

The marriages did not leave their father alone in his marble mansion.  Following their two-week honeymoon Frances returned to the house with her new husband.  And none of the others were far away--John Herbert lived at 20 Washington Square, Eva and Henry Coe lived at No. 5 East 10th Street, and Emily and Robert De Forest were at No. 7 Washington Square.

Long an invalid, on the morning of March 24, 1893 John Taylor Johnston died at No. 8 Fifth Avenue.  His $1.5 million estate--worth about 40 times that much today--was divided equally among the four children after specific bequests, such as the $10,000 to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and an equal amount to the University of the City of New York.  Each of his five grandchildren received $1,000.

Frances and Pierre inherited both No. 8 Fifth Avenue and the Plainfield estate.   Four days after Johnston's death, the latest grandson, John Taylor Johnston Mali, was born in the house.  Amazingly, on the same day Eva had a baby boy, Colles J. Coe.

Five years after Johnston's death Pierre became the Consul General to Belgium.  While the Fifth Avenue mansion had been quiet during her father's final years, Frances revived it as a center of Manhattan social activity.

She was a member of the exclusive Thursday Evening Club, initiated by Mrs. John Jay in her Washington Square mansion in February 1878.  Mrs. Jay intended the social club to "maintain its standard, and to make it increasingly a centre of intellectual intercourse and recreation, by resisting every tendency to ostentation or extravagance in its entertainments."  Members were expected to host occasional meetings which included literary or artistic program.

On the night of December 10, 1903 the group assembled in the Mali house.  "The programme consisted of reading from 'Pippa Passes' by Arthur Howard Pickering and songs by Miss Katherine Lee Jones, with Arthur Rosenstein as accompanist, and a large supper was served," reported The Times.   The millionaire couples attending that evening had names like Dodge, Rhinelander, Bowdoin, Schieffelin, and Lydig.  The socially visible Bishop Henry C. Potter was there as well.

Frances routinely hosted dances and dinners, such as the "small and early dance for young people not yet out" in February 1912.   Later that year the entertainments would focus on daughter Gertrude's debut.  The first of these was the dinner dance given on Friday, December 13.  Frances's siblings aided in making it a sumptuous affair.  The New York Times noted on November 10, "Mrs. Robert W. de Forest and Mrs. J. Herbert Johnston, also Mrs. Henry E. Coe, will give dinners for the debutantes of the last two seasons, taking their guests afterward to Mrs. Mali's."

The guests at J. T. Johnston Mali's 21st birthday party on March 28, 1914 included several of the eligible debutantes of that season.  Simultaneously, his cousin Colles was celebrating his 21st birthday in the Coe mansion on East 10th Street.  When the Mali dinner was over, the entire group joined the Coe party for a dance.

That winter No. 8 Fifth Avenue would be the scene of Eva Mali's debutante entertainments.  The following November her parents announced her engagement to David W. Noyes of Boston.  But something seems to have gone awry.  On February 27, 1916 The Times reported that Frances had given a "small dance last evening" for Eva.  "There were about 125 guests in all, and all were of the young set."  Gertrude and Eva helped her mother receive.  There was no mention of Noyes made.

By now the blocks of Fifth Avenue closer to 14th Street had become heavily commercialized.  Those millionaires had several years earlier moved northward.  But, perhaps because of its proximity to the still fashionable Washington Square, the blocks around the Mali residence remained upscale and residential.  In 1918 Arthur Barlett Maurice's book Fifth Avenue noted some of the Mali's wealthy and important neighbors.

Lispenard Stewart lived next door in No. 6 and Spender Witherbee at No. 4.  Other mansions in the immediate neighborhood housed Dr. Robert J. Kahn, Charles De Rham, Mrs. Peter F. Collier and Edwin W. Coggeshall.

Frances Mali continued her routine of lavish entertaining.  She held a dance on April 22, 1920 for Elizabeth H. Frank, daughter of Mrs. Abbot A. Low, to celebrant her engagement to Seth Low.  And later that year, on December 18, 1920 she hosted a dinner for her debutante cousin, Harriet Camac.

On October 4, 1923 Pierre Mali died at the age of 67 in the Plainfield, New Jersey estate.  Frances inherited his personal property, while the four children received his "money and securities."  He explained in his will that Frances "has independent means of her own."

Only Henry was still living in at No. 8 Fifth Avenue with his mother.  The other children were married by now.

Following her period of mourning Frances offered the mansion as the scene of a benefit bridge party for the Judson Health Centre on January 15, 1925.  She was washing her hands in an upstairs washroom when the first of her 80 guests rang the bell.  In her haste to greet her guests, she neglected to put her rings back on her fingers.

It was several hours after the party was over that she realized she was missing her rings.  She set her servants on a complete search of the house, but they were nowhere to be found.  On February 4 The New York Times reported "Although Mrs. Mali hesitated to question the honesty of any of her guests, she decided a few days ago to put the matter into the hands of the police."

Although the intrinsic value of the jewelry was several thousand dollars, Frances explained they had even more sentimental value.  "One, an octagonal ruby surrounded by diamonds, was her engagement ring," said The Times.  "The other, a large sapphire, with two diamonds on either side of it, was given to her by her father when she was 18 years old."  It is unclear if the rings were ever recovered.

Frances Mali left the venerable Fifth Avenue house in 1928, giving up the leasehold her family had held with the Rhinelander estate since 1855.  She died later that year, in December, at No. 944 Fifth Avenue.

In the meantime, the Rhinelander family had sold the entire block from Washington Square North to 8th Street.  It was announced in September that the new owner, A. E. Lefcourt, intended to replace the three houses with "a large housing improvement."

The developer's plans were thwarted, most likely, by the Stock Market Crash and the advent of the Great Depression.  Instead of being demolished, No. 8 was converted to apartments, called Marble House.

photo by Berenice Abbott from the collection of the New York Public Library

New owners attempted to demolished the block again in 1945.  On May 9 architect Sylvan Bien filed plans for a 28-story apartment house on the side for Chalfonte Syndicate, Inc.  The $2.8 million building was projected to house 399 families.

But that plan, too, fell through.  By January 1950 the property was owned by a new syndicate headed by Samuel Rudin.  He announced his intentions to immediately develop the site with a 300-family apartment building.

At the time No. 8 was home home of New York University's Center for Safety Education.  The upper floor still contained apartments.  The house's stables, once home to John Taylor Johnston's famous art gallery, was now the Clay Club, which provided studio space to artists.

Local residents and historians rallied against the demolition of the vintage homes.  Their protests went as far as Washington DC where legislation was introduced to save the houses as a "precious historical heritage for "all the people throughout the land."

The movement gained momentum, pulling powerful names like architect Harvy Wiley Corbett and the president of the National Council for Historic Sites and Buildings, Major General Ulysses S. Grant III into the battle.  The American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society weighed in on the side of the Rhinelander properties.

But decades before historic preservation had gained true power, it was all to no avail.  The houses were demolished to be replaced by Emery Roth & Sons' 1951 apartment building, 2 Fifth Avenue.

The Johnston mansion sat at the far right corner of this photo.  via twofifth.com


Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Sarah D. Gardiner Mansion - 3 East 82nd Street




Terrence Farley was a prominent builder in the 1880s, highly involved in the flurry of construction on the Upper West Side.  His three sons, Joseph, John and James followed in his footsteps; but while John and James carried on as T. Farley's Sons, Joseph struck out on his own.

Joseph started his business in 1895.  He focused on high-end speculative residences, sparing no expense on the opulence he knew his customers would demand.  In 1900 he began work on two abutting homes at Nos. 3 and 5 East 82nd Street.  Although the pair shared the same building permit; the architects, Janes & Leo, treated the design of each separately.  The lavish five-story Beaux Arts style homes were completed a year later. 

The newly-completed No. 3 was sold to millionaire Solomon Loeb, a founder of the banking firm Kuhn, Loeb & Co. for $160,000--about $4.7 million today.  On May 18, 1901 The New York Times reported on rumors that he had bought the house as a gift "for one of his daughters, who as recently married."

When asked, Loeb replied that "he had not yet decided what he would do with the property."  But before long he made up his mind.

He transferred title to his daughter, Nina, and her husband Paul Warburg.  The couple were in no way "recently married," having wed in 1895. 

When the Warburgs, with their five-year old son James and infant daughter Bettina, moved in, Paul was still dividing his time between Hamburg and New York.  A member of his own family's German banking firm M. M. Warburg & Co.; he was now also a member of Kuhn, Loeb & Co.  It was not until 1902 that Warburg made his permanent home New York and he would not become a U.S. citizen until 1911.

Manhattan society was, for the most part, made up of Episcopalians with some ultra-wealthy Roman Catholics tolerated (although not in the ballroom of Caroline Schermerhorn Astor).  Despite the staggering wealth of some Jewish families, they were generally excluded from social events and exclusive clubs.

No. 3 East 82nd Street, therefore, was rarely the scene of grand entertainments; and then the guest list was for the most part limited to the wealthy Jewish community.


Nos. 3 and 5 (right) East 82nd just after completion in 1901.  The undeveloped plot next door is protected by a rather primitive, in comparison, picket fence.  photograph from the collection of the New York Public Library
When the Betty Loeb Musical Foundation of New-York City, for instance, was incorporated on January 15, 1903 "to promote musical interests and the advancement of musical education in New-York," the directors were all from the Loeb family:  Theresa Schiff, Morris Loeb, Grita Seligman, James Loeb, and Nina Warburg. 

For some reason, Solomon Loeb's lavish gift seems to have fallen short.  Following his death in December 1903, Warburg purchased the two old homes at Nos. 15 and 17 East 80th Street and commissioned mansion architect C. P. H. Gilbert to design a magnificent 45-foot wide replacement.

In the fall of 1906 the Warburgs closed the 82nd Street house and left for Germany.  They would not return until their new mansion was completed.

Paul Warburg in 1908, just months after leaving the 82nd Street mansion.  from the collection of the Library of Congress.

During the family's absence, the chauffeur checked on the Warburg automobiles in July 1907.  They were kept at a garage at No. 36 West 43rd Street.  To his surprise and panic, one was missing.

Police were notified and a search begun.  Then, a week later, a mechanic, John Chandler, unexpectedly drove the car into the garage.  He was as surprised as the garage owners and the police.  He explained that before Warburg left for Europe he instructed Chandler "to repair and test the car."

Why the chauffeur was unaware of the instructions, and why Chandler had not informed the garage operators that he was taking the car made the excuse suspicious.  Nevertheless, The New York Times reported "The matter will be laid aside until Mr. Warburg returns from abroad."

When the Warburgs returned in the summer of 1908 they moved into the new 80th Street mansion.  On September 23 the New-York Tribune reported that Warburg had sold the 82nd Street house to Robert Hager, Jr.

The 24-year old Hager had been educated at the prestigious Phillips Academy Andover and Yale University.  He had left Yale in April 1906 to marry Dorothy Quincy Trowbridge.  A baby daughter soon followed.

Hager's incomplete college education made little difference to the family's lifestyle.  He was born into wealth, his father being a retired banker.  At the time of his purchase of the Warburg residence the family was living in a vintage mansion along the former Millionaires Row at No. 537 Fifth Avenue.  He paid Warburg $130,000 for the 82nd Street house--around $3.5 million today.

Like the Warburgs, the Hagers did not remain in the 25-foot wide mansion long.  Hager sold it for $150,000 in January 1913 to David M. Gardiner.

Gardiner came from one of the oldest and wealthiest New York families.  It traced its American origins to Sir Lionel Gardiner, who purchased the 3,300-acre Gardiner's Island from the Native American Mohawk tribe in 1639 for, reportedly, "a barrel of rum, blankets, a gun and a large black dog."  King Charles I made it official by granting him the island.  Gardiner's Island was "an independent manor ruled only by the owner" until shortly after the Revolution, when it became part of the United States.


Gardiner was 41 years old and a bachelor when he purchased No. 3.  Moving in with him was his unmarried sister, Sarah Diodati Gardener.  They had one brother, Robert, who was married.

The brother and sister lived quietly, spending their summers in their country estates in West Islip and East Hampton, Long Island.  Their names rarely appeared in the newspapers until a rather ugly legal battle was initiated by their sister-in-law, Nora Gardiner, in 1921.

On December 8, 1919 the Gardiner's uncle, Charles G. Thompson died, leaving an estate of over $7 million.  Robert Gardiner had died only months earlier and so was left out of the will.  Sarah and David each received $150,000 each; a comfortable $2 million today.  Feeling that Robert's two children should have benefited from the inheritance, they offered to give Alexandra and Robert $100,000.

But when Nora challenged the the Thompson will in 1920, and the estate of her mother-in-law (who had died in 1916) the following year, Sarah and David were incensed.   They asked the Surrogates' Court to annul the assignment of the $100,000, saying it was "executed by mistake."

Nora fought back, initiating yet another court case against the brother and sister.  It ended on September 1, 1921 when the courts directed David and Sarah to "make good their gift of $100,000."

A few months later, in February, David once again was in court, this time as the plaintiff.   He had been duped by con artist Samuel T. Greenfield in a phony stock scam.  Greenfield knew that Gardiner owned $70,000  of a certain oil stock.  He told Gardiner that he had an interested buyer.  It was revealed in court on February 14, 1922 that "Greenfield persuaded him to swap his $70,000 worth of good stock for shares of other stocks which are, according to Assistant District Attorney Unger, who has looked them up, practically worthless."

Although Greenfield was indicted, Gardiner was out a massive amount of money.

In the meantime, Sarah busied herself with charitable works, among her favorites the Seamen's Church Institute.  She regularly hosted sewing classes and teas in the mansion for its benefit.

Much of David's philanthropic focus was on Long Island, and on Friday night, November 19, 1927 he was at the center of the dedication ceremonies of the newly-completed parish hall of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Bay Shore.  Just as he moved to hand the keys to the Rev. William R. Watson, he fell to the floor of the platform.   Within minutes he was dead from a heart attack.

Sarah Gardiner's East Hampton estate as it appeared in 1942.  from the collection of the Library of Congress

Sarah, who was 64 years old at the time, continued to live on in 82nd Street mansion and the Long Island summer estates.  She added dramatically to her real estate holdings in 1937 when she rescued Gardiner's Island from foreclosure.

Lion Gardiner, "thirteenth proprietor of the island," according to The Times, had died on February 27, 1936.  The will of his childless uncle Jonathan T. Gardiner, who had died only three years earlier, directed that the island "should be sold to a person bearing the surname of Gardiner." 

Lion took a mortgage of $345,000 to buy the property.  Now the Bank of New York and Trust Company foreclosed on his widow, Ida L. Gardiner and an auction sale was scheduled for June 10.

Sarah stepped in, saving the 300-year Gardiner family ownership.  Interestingly she never stayed on the property, telling friends it was "too isolated."  Instead she leased the island and the manor house with its colonial antiques to wealthy families like Clarance Mackey (until 1938) and polo player and sportsman Winston Guest and his wife.

As Sarah grew older and more feeble, she took a companion to live with her in the 82nd Street house--one with another old New York family name.  Florence Van Rensselaer counted among her ancestors not only the old Dutch Van Renselaer family, but the Schuylers and Livingstons.  She would go on to publish The Van Rensselaers in Holland and In America in 1956.

Sarah died in No. 3 East 82nd Street on January 5, 1953 at the age of 90.  Florence Van Rensselaer received $150,000 and a life estate in a $200,000 trust.  Alexandra Diodati Gardiner Creel, her niece named in the 1921 lawsuit, inherited the house and $100,000.  She and her brother, Robert, became the new owners of Gardiner's Island.

Alexandra almost immediately sold No. 3 and it was converted to three apartments per floor in 1954.  In 1980 it was purchased by the Wenjil Realty Company.  As the tenants gradually moved out, their apartments were not re-rented.    From about 1994 until the fall of 1997 the grand brick and stone mansion sat unoccupied while the owner, Dr. Carlo Civelli, worked on renovations in disorganized stages.  He gutted the interiors and filed plans to alter the house into a mix of apartments.


At some point Civelli abandoned his project and in 2006 a new renovation returned the mansion to a single family home.  Despite its sad treatment in the last decade of the 20th century, the exterior appears little difference than when Paul and Nina Warburg moved in in 1901.

photographs by the author