Monday, July 31, 2017

The Lost Church of the Ascension - Canal near Broadway


Published in 1831, two years after the church's completion, signs of encroaching commerce can be seen in the smokestacks in the background, east of Broadway.  drawn by C. Burton, engraved by H. Fofsette, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

In 1805 construction was begun on a 40-foot wide canal running essentially east-west to drain the Collect Pond, where Foley Square now stands.  At the time the area directly around the canal was essentially undeveloped.  But simultaneously the new St. John's Park, just a few blocks to the south, was becoming one of New York City's most exclusive neighborhoods.  And brick-faced residents of wealthy citizens were inching up Broadway, to the east.

The canal was completed in 1811, but it quickly proved problematic.  The slow-moving water smelled and was a breeding ground for mosquitoes.  Within a few years it was obvious that encroaching development was making the real estate valuable.  In 1819 the canal was covered over, creating an especially broad 100-foot wide roadway known as Canal Street.

Early in 1827 a new Episcopalian congregation was formed by a group of about 100 "like-minded people."   All were personal friends of the 26-year old assistant minister of Christ Church on Anthony Street near Worth Street.  According to The Churchman several decades later, "Yielding to their persuasions he resigned his charge and on Easter Day the first service of Ascension parish was held in the French church, 'du St. Esprit,' situated on the corner of Pine street, east of Nassau street."

The Church of the Ascension was incorporated on October 1 that year, making it the 11th Episcopal church in New York City.   Its members were overall well-to-do and they liberally donated toward the construction of a permanent church building.  The site, on the north side of Canal Street east of Broadway, was chosen because, as explained in The Churchman, it was "sufficiently removed from business, and within convenient reach of the majority of the congregation."

The cornerstone was laid on April 15, 1828.  The congregation's wealth was evidenced in their choice of architects.  Ithiel Town and Martin E. Thompson worked together on the design.  Town, who would partner with Alexander Jackson Davis in 1829, is remembered for his work in revival styles.  It was most likely his influence responsible for the Greek Revival temple design of the Church of the Ascension, reportedly the first example of the style in New York.

The church was consecrated on Saturday, May 23, 1829.  Six massive Doric columns upheld the entablature and classic pediment.   The building so impressed architect Minard Lafever that he included an illustration in his 1830 Young Builder's General Instructor.   And six years later architects Thomas Thomas and John R. Hagarty produced a near-match in St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church on Barclay Street.

The design of newly completed structure was on the cutting-edge of architectural style.  Young Builder's General Instructor, 1830 (copyright expired)
Years later The New York Times noted "The parish became numerically strong and soon stood among the foremost in the city."  

Despite his young age (or possibly because of it), Rev. Eastman was apparently a firebrand in the pulpit.  The New York Times described him as "in the prime of youth, of more than ordinary zeal and activity."  Rev. C. Colden Hoffman recalled in January 1886 "The Ascension Church of that day formed the centre and rallying point of the distinctive evangelism of the Episcopal Church in New York, and might be termed a model of what a church ought to be.  From the pulpit there sounded forth the clear distinct notes of the message of the Gospel, which proved edifying to many souls."

One can imagine Eastman's stern, loud voice in what Hoffman called his "unflinching testimony, uplifting the standard of the Cross, opposing all unhallowed compromises with the world, and sounding forth the invitation to all who were willing to follow the Lamb."

A primitive drawing of the church and neighborhood in the collection of the Museum of the City of New York erroneously attributes the design to Alexander Jackson Davis.

The congregants would not enjoy their ground-breaking edifice for especially long.  On Sunday afternoon, June 30, 1839, while services were taking place in the sanctuary, a fire broke out in a carpenter's shop in the rear of the church.  The Churchman reported "before the congregation could be dismissed the church was in flames.  All that was movable was saved; everything else was destroyed."

The disaster almost became even worse shortly afterward.  The Church of the Ascension hired a contractor named Buckhart to demolish the ruins.  But he did not work fast enough to prevent a near calamity.  Rev. Eastman was the co-plaintiff with the congregation at large in a law suit against Buckhart after a wall collapsed on him.

Their suit alleged negligence "in not taking down the walls of a church...after the rest of the building had been consumed by fire.  The walls were much damaged and left in too weak and unsafe a condition to be allowed to remain standing."

Why Rev. Eastman had gone back to the charred pile is unclear; but the suit went on the explain "A portion [of a wall] was afterwards blown down, burying the plaintiff, while passing along upon the side-walk, in the ruins."

The site of the Church of the Ascension was purchased by the newly-formed French language Church of St. Vincent De Paul.  That congregation's new church structure was completed in 1843; to be demolished in 1855 for a modern loft building, which survives.

photograph by the author

Saturday, July 29, 2017

A Gift from France - the Layfayette Statue in Union Square


The relationship between the United States and France was close since America's infancy.  French statesman and military commander Marquis de Lafayette traveled to the colonies to help train the revolutionary army, prompting General George Washington to appoint him Major General in 1777.

Lafayette was back in 1780, joining in battle to help defeat Lord Charles Cornwallis in 1781.  His relationship with Washington went beyond military comrades and they became close friends who shared mutual respect.

When Lafayette returned to the United States as a member of the French Chamber of Deputies in 1824, Congress showed its esteem and appreciation by presenting him with a large estate and $200,000.

France became embroiled in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870-71.  The United States was still recovering from the Civil War and was unable to provide military aid to its ally.  New York City did respond with aid for Paris, however, at the time of that city's greatest need.

In response, the Cercle Francais de I'Harmonie, or French Fellowship Society, offered a gift to New York City in 1873: a bronze statue of Marquis de Lafayette.  Sculptor Fredric-Auguste Bartholdi was selected to execute the figure.  His name would become much more an American household word a decade later when he created a second French gift, the Statue of Liberty.

The statue arrived in New York on July 14, 1875, Bastille Day.  Dedication would not take place for another year--partly because (like the Statue of Liberty) the gift came without a base.  French-born New Yorkers poured in their donations to fund the granite pedestal, designed by H. W. DeStuckle.
In reporting on the Lafayette statue, Schribner's Monthly provided the likeness of Bartholdi in June 1877 (copyright expired)

The statue was originally intended for Central Park; but the location was changed to Union Square.  Reportedly French-born citizens complained that the Park Commissioners were taking too long to pick a location.   The dedication took place on Lafayette's 119th birthday, September 6, 1876.  And it was no small affair,

A massive parade of military units, fire department engines, French societies, bands and dignitaries marched from Fifth Avenue and 25th Street to 4th Street, then to Broadway and back up to Union Square.   The platform near the American flag-draped statue was decorated with the French tricolor and the stars and stripes.  Thousands of New Yorkers crammed the Square and the streets.

A French magazine published an etching of the ceremonies in 1876.  To the right, in the intersection of what is now Park Avenue South and 14th Street, is the statue of George Washington.  (copyright expired)

The following day The New York Times reported "Yesterday saw something of the amenities of two great republics.  In the presence of an applauding multitude, the Lafayette statue in Union square was unveiled and presented, on behalf of the French Republic, to the commercial capital of a land bound to its old friend by the close kinship of sympathy and principle."

After several speeches the statue was formally presented to the city by French consul-general Edmond Breuil, and unveiled by Bartholdi himself.  The symbolism of the monument's location, facing the equestrian statue of George Washington, did not go unrecognized.  Speaker Frederic R. Coudert said in part:

If we could say to Lafayette, "Where do you wish your image to rest for ages, in order that our descendants may look upon it and love you?" would he not have chosen just the spot we have, and have said: "I wish to be near the man who called me son, and whom I loved as a father"?

The granite base was inscribed "In Remembrance Of Sympathy In Time Of Trial."  The editor of The New York Times pointed out that those shared trials reached further back than the recent war.  "The legend refers to 1870-1, but...the tale is something like a century old, and trials have grown into triumphs since then, but the past has kindly, prompting ghosts that will not let the present become forgotten to its obligations."

Bartholdi modeled his larger-than-life bronze figure in the act of taking a step forward.  Scribner's Monthly described it as if the sculptor had known that it would be facing the Washington statue.  "Hence he has made him in the act of taking a step in the direction of the great general and sweeping toward him with his left hand a mute offer of his service.  His right presses a sword to his breast with a gesture of devotion and as if making a vow."

Lafayette stood on the bow of a ship, with waves breaking on either side.  The critic of Scribner's Monthly explained that it "commemorates his adventurous trip over the Atlantic."

An early cabinet card photograph, sold to tourists, depicts men resting on benches near the statue.  A sign warns pet owners to keep them on leashes: "No Dogs Allowed At Large."

The statue was the focal point of annual celebrations of Memorial Day and what was known as Lafayette Day, September 6, Lafayette's birthday.   On those occasions the monument would be decorated with bunting and flowers.  On May 30, 1900, for instance, the New-York Tribune reported on the Memorial Day ceremonies:

"A laurel wreath tied with violet ribbon, which will hold in place a huge bunch of violets, will be placed to-day by the Daughters of Lafayette Post on the Union Square statue of the hero whose name the organization bears.  The post makes the decoration of the statue its especial care."

September 6 took on even more meaning when the Battle of the Marne was fought on that day in 1914.  The four-day skirmish resulted in the Allies turning back the German advance on Paris.   Afterward, the Lafayette statue was the center of what was now called Lafayette-Marne Day.

The War Commission decorated the area around the statue in preparation for Memorial Day ceremonies in 1917.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

The ceremonies were especially upbeat in 1918, with victory achieved.  The Sun reported on September 6 that year "New York will celebrate Lafayette-Marne day to-day.  The fraternal bonds joining the United States and France which have been strengthened by the war will be more finely tempered by the exercises arranged for this, the 161st anniversary of the birth of Lafayette and the fourth anniversary of the battle of the Marne."

The article noted "French and American bluejackets and a detachment of soldiers from Governors Island will give the meeting a military touch.  The Sons of the Revolution will accompany the color guard of that organization, carrying the flags of the days and battles in which the great French patriot participated when this country was fighting for her freedom."

Assembled military units and civilians at the Lafayette-Marne Day ceremonies in September, 1918.  The Sun (copyright expired)

A year earlier Robert Shackelton had published his The Book of New York, which guided tourists through the metropolis.   His description of the Lafayette statue foreshadowed what was to come.  He wrote that Lafayette bent forward towards Washington "as if to hasten to the great leader whom he so worshiped; as if, indeed, actually in the act of motion toward his chief."

But then, with amazing prescience, he added "At least it is so as I write, though in this city of change, Lafayette may be made to face in some other direction, or Washington may be moved away, if it happens to be some commissioners' whim or if it should be demanded by some matter of subway construction, in this burrow of Manhattan."

The celebration of Lafayette-Marne Day continued at least through the 1920s.  But in 1928, just as Schackelton had predicted, the entire park was excavated to create the subway concourse below ground.  The statues in and around the park were removed and stored to await the reborn square.

On May 4, 1930 landscape architect J. V. Burgevin, working with the Parks Commission, unveiled the new layout.  The Lincoln and Washington statues, which had sat on traffic islands on either side of the south end, would now be aligned in a straight line--Washington anchoring the center south end of the park, and Lincoln at the far north.  On the western perimeter the James Fountain would be juxtaposed with the Lafayette statue, which would now face east.

Burgevin's 1930 Plan placed Lafayette facing Park Avenue South, with Washington far to the south.
The result was that Lafayette's outstretched hand, once appearing to offer aid and friendship to General Washington, now appeared to be asking for a loan from the Union Square Savings Bank.

By the 1970s Union Square and its immediate neighborhood had greatly deteriorated.  The Square was the haunt of drug dealers and addicts, the lawns and shrubbery were overgrown, and its monuments were neglected.


Finally an $8 million restoration and revamping of the park was initiated in the early 1980s.  In 1991 the Lafayette monument was conserved by the Adopt-A-Monument Program, a joint effort of the New York City Art Commission and the Municipal Art Society.

photographs by the author

Friday, July 28, 2017

The 1819 John Y Smith House - 480 Greenwich / 502 Canal Streets


Greenwich Street was laid out in 1761 as First Street, but the name soon changed based on its being the main route from New York City to Greenwich Village.  It was intersected in 1809 by east-west running Canal Street, so named for the eight-foot wide drainage canal that was to run down its center.

The canal was completed in 1811, and covered over in 1819--creating an especially broad, 100-foot wide roadway.  John Y. Smith may have been anticipating the improvement of Canal Street when he  began construction on his dual-purpose structure at the southeast corner of Greenwich Street in 1818.

Smith was a manufacturer of hair powder and starch.  He leased the oddly-shaped plot from Alexander L. Stewart and his wife, Sarah (who was the daughter of Leonard Lispenard, whose name still survived in the area's common name, Lispenard Meadows).  The name of Smith's architect is unknown, but he produced a striking Federal-style double building on the site.

Three stories tall, the structure almost doubtlessly had a peaked roof with dormers.  Paneled brownstone lintels and Flemish bond red brick were elements expected in the style.  But the architect handled the plot's off-kilter corner by rounding the facade.  The result was a highly unusual and elegant design.

Smith and his family lived in the upper floors, while he operated his business at street level.  He moved on in 1829 and title to the property was transferred that year to Alonzo Alwyn Alvord.  Alvord was the owner of a highly-successful hat store on the Bowery.  The same year he purchased Smith's house and store he completed construction of a row of speculative houses on MacDougal Street, just south of Washington Square.

By now the former Smith house had been given an address, No. 478 Greenwich Street.  It would not be until around 1852 that a second address, No. 502 Canal Street, would be added.  The division may have had to do with the two storefronts--one on both streets.  In 1827, while Smith was still operating here, Edward Pew had opened his hat shop in the building.

Alexander Stewart reacquired the property in 1836 and sold the building the following year to Florence Riley, a "tailor," who most likely was a dressmaker as well.  Florence seems to have run her shop here.

Ralph Marsh owned the building in the 1850s, at which time J. Murphy's saloon had taken over the corner storefront.  Although Murphy still had three years left on his lease in 1859, he was looking to get out of the business.  His advertisement in The New York Herald on April 6 offered "For Sale--A first class corner liquor store...with cheap rent."

Peter Roach took over the saloon.  He was slapped with a $100 fine on February 26, 1867 for violating excise laws--most likely for selling liquor on a Sunday.

By 1871 the Greenwich Street store was home to a wholesale grocery business.  The owner seems to have been overwhelmed that year, when he sought a partner.  He advertised in The New York Herald on March 1:  "Wanted--A reliable person to take one-half interest in a wholesale and retail Provision and Produce Business; an unusual opportunity is offered."

Whether Peter Roach still owned the saloon next door is unclear; but in 1873 the owner's health was seriously failing.  An advertisement on June 10, 1873 offered "For Sale--The lease, fixtures, and stock of the Liquor Store, 502 Canal street, corner of Greenwich; reason for selling, bad health of the proprietor."

There were apparently no takers and on Christmas Eve the following year an auction was held at noon.  The announcement of the "mortgage sale" listed "fixtures and stock of the well known Liquor Store, 502 Canal street...consisting of English Pump, Glassware, Bars, Silverware, &c.  Also a fine stock of imported Liquors."

In the meantime, the upper floors had not been a private residence for years.  Low income renters occupied rooms, like the widow G. Hild, in the 1880s.  She lived on the pension of her patrolman husband's yearly pension of $30, less than $750 today.  In the early 1890s, barber Frederick Pheiffer lived here with his wife, three children, and three other boarders.

For years Dr. George A. Hayunga, whose office and home was on Broome Street, had been highly active in local affairs.  Born in Canada, he had served as a surgeon in the Union navy during the Civil War.  He was the the chairman of the West Side Protective Association in 1882, leading the attacks against the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad's blocking streets and running cars on Sundays, for instance.  As early as 1872 he had transformed the former saloon into a pharmacy.

By 1897 his son, Dr. George E. Hayunga, was running the drugstore.   Tragedy came to his family in May 1899.  The Pharmaceutical Era reported "Druggist Dr. George E. Hayunga, of No. 502 Canal street, Manhattan Borough, was afflicted last week by the death of his little daughter."

Hayunga and his wife, Margaret, had three surviving children.  By 1902 the family had moved into No. 504 Canal Street, next door, along with a brother, cousin and one servant.  Margaret was involved in her husband's business and in 1906 held a retail druggist license.

The building was still owned by the Ralph Marsh family.  They received a notice of violation from the Department of Health on August 1 that year for "defective plumbing and defective draining."   The situation was much more serious than it first appeared.

The upstairs rooms were still being rented to blue collar tenants, like Peter Murphy who earned $75 a month from the city as a deckhand.  But residents were becoming ill at a rate that prompted a Health Department investigation.  The August 1 report deemed No. 502 Canal Street "dangerous to life and is unfit for human habitation."   A "nuisance" on the property, said the investigator, "is likely to cause sickness among its occupants."  An Order to Vacate gave the residents six days to get out of the building.

The problems were repaired by October and the building filled again, including Peter Murphy who lived here at least another two years.

In December 1908 Samuel Weil purchased the building from the Marsh estate.  The New York Times pointed out that "Mr. Weil owns adjoining property, and his holdings now include 502 to 506 Canal Street, 472 to 480 Greenwich Street, and 459 and 461 Washington Street."  Real estate operators most likely anticipated Weil's replacing the large block of nearly century-old structures with a modern loft.  But that never happened.

The following month George Hayunga promoted an ambitious cause.  He addressed the annual meeting of the Lutheran Inner Mission Society on January 18, 1909.  The Times reported he "urged the need of a Lutheran hospital to cost from $50,000 to $60,000, a Lutheran dispensary to maintain which $5,000 yearly would be necessary, and a district medical board."

By March 1911 the Society of the Lutheran Hospital had been formed, and its constitution adopted.  But as the time-consuming process of acquiring land, planning the facility, and other intricate details were ironed out, Hayunga seems to have taken matters into his own hands.  The 1914 New York Charities Directory listed the Lutheran Hospital of Manhattan at No. 502 Canal Street.

The directory described the facility as being "for care and relief of ill and indigent poor of the Borough of Manhattan, without regard to race, creed or color.  Accommodates about 100 daily." 

In 1915 the Lutheran Hospital purchased land uptown, and on October 21 the following year the facility opened. 

In 1919 the end of the line for the old buildings seemed unavoidable.  On September 12 Samuel Weil purchased No. 508 Canal Street from the Matthew Thompson estate.  He now owned the entire blockfront on Greenwich Street and 80 feet along Canal.  The New-York Tribune announced that he intended to improve the combined site "with a fire-proof structure."

Instead, however, Hayunga negotiated with his landlord.  On October 29, 1920 the New-York Tribune reported that Weil had sold him "the southwest corner of Canal and Greenwich streets."  Included with 408 Greenwich and 502 Canal Street were Nos. 504 and 506 Canal Street.  The newspaper noted "The buildings are among the oldest in Greenwich Village" and said "it is understood" that Hayunga "will alter the buildings for a private hospital."

Like most drugstores in 1931 the Hayunga Pharmacy (left) had a lunchroom.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

George E. Hayunga continued to run his drugstore and clinic--and live in No. 504--for decades.   His free clinic administered to the poor in the neighborhood.  One local, in 1954, said he had delivered "at least 70 percent of all the babies in this section."

On March 8, 1941 the city was hit with a violent blizzard that dumped 11.6 inches of snow, paralyzed traffic and threatened lives.  George Hayunga was out in the storm and fell at the corner of Canal and Watts Streets.   The 75-year old was taken to Downtown Hospital with an injured hip, but recovered.

At the age of 90, Haunga retired from practice, although The New York Times remarked that "some former patients continued to consult him."  He died in his Canal Street home the following year on March 20, 1956.

By now the peaked roof had been removed from the corner building and large billboards erected.  George E. Hayunga III, also a doctor, sold the property in 1966, triggering a series of owners over the next few decades.

By the time the last Hayunga sold the building, the old pharmacy was once again a bar.  When the Landmarks Preservation Commissioned designated No. 480 Greenwich / 502 Canal Street a landmark in 1988, the building was in serious decline.  The store on the Greenwich Street side was vacant, and the Canal Street tavern was now a liquor store.  The brownstone lintels and sills were eroded and the 1819 brickwork was in desperate need of repointing.

The building as it appeared when the last Hayunga sold it in 1966.  photo by John Barrington Bayley, via LPC designation report.
In 1988 the structure showed serious signs of decline.  photo by Carl Forster, via LPC designation report

In 2003 it was purchased for $3 million as the reborn Tribeca neighborhood promised residential potential.  But if the new owners were interested in rehabilitating the property, they moved very slowly.

On October 29, 2012 scaffolding girded the decrepit structure.  That night Hurricane Sandy arrived in New York City.  The massive blow the storm dealt to the building seemed to be irreversible.  The Department of Buildings marked it with a giant red X which declared it unsafe.  A red sign on the door warned "Do Not Enter or Occupy."

While the owners, Ponte Equities, promised to make repairs, nothing happened.  Two months later, in January 2013, a wall collapsed.  Preservationists and historians were outraged.  Among them was George Calderaro of the of the Historic Districts Council who called the inaction "demolition by neglect."

The owners insisted, however, that they intended to "remove the Canal Street facade by hand" and restore it with the original bricks.  And after an ignominious start, they came through.


Under the direction of SRA Architecture, the nearly two-century old facade was restored and the interiors renovated to a single-family house.  The survival of the Federal-style building with its remarkable curved corner and equally remarkable history is just short of miraculous.

photographs by the author

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Much Abused Lorrain Freeman House - 198 Prince St


A strong imagination is required to envision the original two-story structure that housed a well-to-do family.

In the 18th century the Bayard family's country estate abutted that of Major Abraham Mortimer, just south of Greenwich Village.   In the early years after the Revolution, the inevitability of development was clear and the Bayard family prepared by hiring Theodore Goerck in 1788 to map out prospective streets and building plots on their land.

Rather surprisingly, given that the British had been ousted from New York only five years earlier, among the streets Goerck laid out was one named Prince Street.   Actual development on the Bayard estate did not begin until the 1820s.  Around 1831 wealthy iron merchant Lorrain Freeman began construction of his brick-faced home at No. 198 Prince Street.

The completed 20-foot wide house straddled the Federal and the newer Greek Revival styles.  Described by The New York Herald as a "two story attic and basement brick house," it would have sprouted one or two dormers from the peaked attic level, expected in the Federal style.  The doorway featured Federal style Ionic columns, sidelights and a transom.  The iron stoop railings, however, were more in line with Greek Revival.  The upscale tone of the house was reflected in the marble stoop and trim.

Freeman had married Elizabeth Barron Mundy in 1829.  The bride was 21 and the groom just 19. Their first child, Sarah Elizabeth, was born on February 8, 1831, around the time construction began on the Prince Street house.  She would be the first of eight children.

In 1842 Freeman suffered a financial "embarrassment."  On November 25 the New-York Daily Tribune reported on his bankruptcy.  He managed to recover, however, and by 1858 was a director of the Metropolitan Insurance Company and at the time of his death in September 1875 his estate was valued at $320,000--more than $7 million today.

The family had left Prince Street long before Freeman's death.  Transferred first to Charles Whitmore Smith in 1836, No. 198 became home in 1863 to Jeremiah Duane.  A deputy sheriff, Duane and his wife had lived on the second floor of an apartment building at the corner of 46th Street and Third Avenue.  An office was in the building's storefront.  They lost their home in the riots earlier that year.

For three violent days in July New York City was terrorized by what became known as the Draft Riots.   To augment troops fighting the Civil War, a new law had been enacted to draft men into the army.  But corrupt practitioners focused on the working class—primarily Irish immigrants—while the wealthy bought their way out of service.  What started as a protest against the draft quickly disintegrated into a bloody riot with mobs ransacking homes and businesses, murdering innocent blacks, and beating random civilians caught on the streets.

The day before the draft a man stopped Mrs. Duane and asked her "as to the modes of ingress and egress to and from the [apartment] house," according to The New York Times a week later.  He told her he "intended to throw a keg of powder into the office and blow the whole affair up."

The newspaper reported "She remonstrated with him, and told him that her family and a number of families resided there, which drew from him the advice that she 'had better move out as it would soon be too hot to hold any of them.'"  The unnamed man warned her that, because the first floor held the office of Provost-Marshal Jenkins, the building was certain to be attacked.

True to the his word, the building, filled with innocent families, was set on fire on Monday, June 15.  While the mob gleefully shouted on the streets, the residents scrambled to escape.  The Times wrote "Mr. Duane was enabled to save an armful of his wife's clothing, besides which he rescued not a thing from the flames.  His family fortunately escaped in the early part of the fray, but he saved his life only after great peril."

Duane filed a claim with the City on August 6, 1863 for $4,703.46 in lost personal property.  He earned $134 per month at the time, equal to about $31,000 a year today.

It appears that the Duane family, which included Thomas Duane, augmented its income by renting a room in the Prince Street house.  In 1865 John R. Russell, a "school officer," listed his address here.   Nevertheless, they were financially comfortable enough to afford a servant.  On January 2, 1866 an advertisement appeared in The New York Herald seeking "A girl to do general housework in a very small family; she must be a good plain cook and washer and ironer."

The Duane family remained in the Prince Street house until April 1868, when it was purchased by police captain John Jourdan and his wife for $13,000--just under a quarter of a million in today's dollars.

Jourdan was well known throughout the city as a crack detective.  His reputation would later earn him comparison to the fictional Sherlock Holmes.  Born to poor immigrant Irish parents on January 6, 1831, he started his education in the public schools.  But, as explained by The New York Times later, "his parents' circumstances compelled him to begin life early on his own account."

Still in his teens, he got "irregular employment" with the various newspaper offices as a folder.  Then, on May 11, 1853 at the age of 22, he joined the Police Department as a patrolman.  He almost immediately displayed his detective skills.

Having been on the force for just over a year, the foot patrolman recovered $20,000 worth of jewelry stolen from Ball & Black, then tracked down $15,000 in silks stolen from another firm.  He was quickly promoted to detective.  The Times wrote "So well had he become known as a sharp detective and courageous officer, that the Board of Commissioners made him a Sergeant on the 24th of April, 1860."  His next promotion, to Captain, came on January 31, 1863.

Jourdan's reputation spread among both the criminal and law-abiding elements.  "Merchants and others found him always ready and eager to take up a case, no matter how hopeless, and his detective acumen was of such a high order that he rarely failed to clear the most mysterious or puzzling case.  He became so well acquainted with the criminal classes of this and other cities of the Union that it seemed easy for him to pick out the man who had committed the offense given him to investigate.  Burglars and other desperate thieves came to fear him."


In 1870 the Board of Police said of Jourdan "His capacity as a detective officer was not surpassed, and probably not equaled, by that of any other member of the force"  illustration from Our Police Protectors, by Augustine E. Costello, 1885 (copyright expired)

Two years after purchasing No. 198, on April 11, 1870, Jourdan was promoted to Superintendent.  Three months later the gruesome murder of millionaire Benjamin Nathan was committed in his West 23rd Street mansion.  The mystery would be the one that Jourdan could not solve, and it was widely blamed as causing his death.


On October 10, 1870 The Times reported "We regret to say that Mr. John Jourdan, the Superintendent of the Police Department of this City, is in a dying condition at his residence, No. 198 Prince-street, and he is not expected to live many hours."  It added "his ambition to repress existing evils in the Department led him to overtask his strength, and the occurrence of the Nathan murder greatly added to his anxiety and work.  For nearly an entire month after that terribly-mysterious crime Mr. Jourdan scarcely slept or rested, in his extraordinary efforts to secure an elucidation of the mystery that yet surrounds that assassination."

The journalist concluded "This, added to the great strain on his mental faculties, brought on a severe prostration, and he was compelled to desist and place himself under the care of physicians.  Even then he persisted in keeping cognizance of the business of the Department, and it was only within a week that he failed to leave his house for his office-chair."

The night before The Times article the Prince Street house was besieged with concerned friends and relatives.  Police Commissioners Bosworth, Brennan, Manierre and Smith; Captains Kelso, Walsh and Kennedy, Judge Dowling and Warden Stacom were among those visiting the dying man.

He died at 11:45 on October 10.  The following day the newspapers reported on his death with flowery prose.  The New York Times wrote "The last scene in the life of John Jourdan, late Superintendent of Police, occurred...when quietly, without a struggle, and as if sinking into a gentle slumber, he breathed his last."

The New York Herald said "He fell a victim to his energetic and faithful devotion to his duty, his demise being, no doubt, accelerated by the anxiety which a nature of great sensibility experienced in discharging the many functions attaching to the office."

Jourdan's impressive funeral in St. Patrick's Cathedral was in keeping with his reputation.  A solemn high mass was celebrated and the police force formed what The Times called "an imposing display."

The newspaper noted "The deceased leaves a widow, but no children, and also leaves a large fortune, a portion of which he acquired by inheritance and the remained by honest industry in his profession."

Jourdan's widow was joined in the house by a few close relatives; but she would not stay on for long.  Less than two months after the funeral, at around 2:00 on the morning of Friday December 2, burglars broke into the house while the occupants slept.

The Times reported "Although the house was apparently thoroughly ransacked none of the inmates were awakened by the operations of the marauders, who escaped with a quantity of silver-ware valued at $60.  The burglars are supposed to be professionals, but as yet the Police have obtained no clue to them or the stolen property."

It was most likely not the lost silver, worth about $1,120 today, but the terrifying break-in that most unnerved Mrs. Jourdan.   Four months later, on April 27, 1871, she sold the house at auction.

The house was purchased by Herman F. Bleck who owned a nearby saloon.   He and his wife, Augusta, were married on April 27, 1873.  A week later he attempted to sell the business, offering "a corner wine and lager beer saloon at a bargain, in the Fifteenth ward, near Broadway; good location; three years leased; a rare chance; must be sold; satisfactory reasons for selling.  Inquire at 198 Prince street."

The "satisfactory reasons" Bleck had for needing to sell the business may have been his domestic problems.  According to Augusta, just four days after the wedding he "committed adultery with a woman" in the Prince Street house. 

The couple seem to have patched things up and Herman continued to run the saloon until January 1875 when he leased it to Charles Rivinius.   His wandering ways, however, did not stop and in 1879 Augusta had had enough.  She filed for divorce, charging that at least twice in 1874 he had entertained "a woman or women" in the Prince Street house, and had committed adultery with a woman named Clara Davis at Paige's Hotel on the corner of Spring and West Streets and "at other places in the city of New York" in 1878 and 1879.

Bleck was unapologetic.  His answer to her complaint said she was "fully informed" of his dalliances and "afterwards freely cohabited with him, and condoned any act of adultery which he may have committed, and forgave him therefor, and that ever since such condonation he has been a faithful husband to the plaintiff, and has constantly treated her with conjugal kindness."

By the time of the puzzling divorce hearing Bleck had sold the Prince Street house to Henry Pull.  He commissioned architects Frederick Graul & Co. to renovate the structure in January 1876.  The plans described the work as "raised two stories, interior alterations."  The $3,500 worth of changes made the 1831 house nearly unrecognizable.

Now four stories high, it boasted updated metal lintels and a bracketed cast metal cornice.  A storefront with a metal cornice and hood was installed in the basement level.

The storefront is remarkably little changed.

In February 1880 John Leibold purchased what was now described as a "four-story brick store and dwelling" for $11,500; or around $275,000 today.   The title was put in the name of his wife, Margaretha.  The couple, who owned several properties in the neighborhood, did not occupy the building.  Instead they lived nearby at No. 123 Prince Street.

Three years after purchasing the building, in September 1883, the Leibolds hired architect A. Grauf to do substantial improvements.  The $3,000 in "front and interior alterations" nearly equaled the cost of the additional two stories.  The interior alterations would have either increased the number of roomers that could be housed, or possibly improved their accommodations.

At the time the basement store was occupied by a tailor shop.  In October that year it was leased by the City as an election polling site.

The store soon became the wine shop of George Ferina.  He ran his store here for years, until tragedy struck on April 1, 1899.  He was crossing the railroad tracks at Aldene, New Jersey that night when he was truck and killed by a fast moving east-bound freight train.

The Prince Street neighborhood was part of Little Italy by now.  In April 1907 Antonio Calandrelo purchased No. 198 for $16,250.    The following year he hired architect Charles M. Straub to, once again, update the building, described as a store and tenement.  The improvements included new walls, fire escapes, toilets, and skylights. 

Calendrelo and his wife, Maria, retained possession until 1925 when it became property of Anthony Epifania.  The Epifania family lived in the building.  John A. Epifania served as a election inspector in 1927.

Tax photographs from the 1940s show that some of the original detailing, like the entrance with its columns and transom, survived.  But the subsequent decades of the 20th century would not be kind to the old structure.

Today a coat of cream-colored paint applied in the second half of the century is flaking off.  Hints of the Federal style entrance remain; however the columns have been lost and a gruesome box-like structure covers what had been the transom.  Quite amazingly, the metal-hooded storefront survives.

Most of the marble stoop treads survive.  The railings, decorated with Greek anthemions, originally terminated at their rolled down ends.  The newels, salvaged from an 1890s fence or railing, were added in the 20th century.

Passersby glancing at the top step today see a rubber garbage can where New York's most famous detective once entered his home.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Country Charm Amid Bridge Traffic -- No. 313 East 58th Street




In the 18th century the area near the East River around what would become 58th Street was lonely.  Travelers using the Eastern Post Road could stop at the inn called The Union Flag (the name of which referred, of course, to the British colors, not the later American union).  The tavern sat approximately where the approach to the Queensboro Bridge is today.

But the decade prior to the Civil War saw the beginnings of development as streets were laid out and building plots sold.  In 1856 builder and mason Hiram G. Disbrow began construction on his own modest home at what would later be numbered 313 East 58th Street.  Simultaneously Charles Shute Pell erected a similar house on the lot next door.

Disbrow's home was completed in 1857.   He had no doubt acted as his own architect and the two-story tall structure made no attempts at ostentation.  Described as "vernacular" in style today, it exhibited some elements of the Greek Revival style in the doorway and bracketed cornice, for instance.  The parlor openings were, in fact, French doors.  They were less practical as access to the wooden porch than for adding ventilation into the house during hot summer months.

Disbrow was a partner with George Whitefield in the building firm of Disbrow & Whitefield.  A daughter, Emma, was born to him and his wife, Catherine on February 20, 1860.  By the time the toddler tragically died on March 30, 1862, the family had moved to No. 165 East 50th Street.

An interesting side note is that in 1899 the aging Hiram G. Disbrow patented an invention far afield from the building business.  His "reversible tie" was described as having "sides of different color or material."  For the price of one tie, the customer would get two.

In the mid-1890s James Jordan, "dealer in window-shades, and carpets, &c." lived in No. 313.  His next door neighbor, at No. 311, was the Prussian-born merchant Mathias Down.  Down had owned that house since 1877 and now his grandson, Herman Weiden, lived there as well.

Down died before 1920 and at some point Weiden purchased No. 311 as well.   By now not only had apartment buildings closed in around the houses; but the massive Queensboro Bridge had wiped out much of the old neighborhood.  Its approach was mere yards from the properties.

The end of the line for the quaint anachronisms seemed near in April 1928.  On April 28 real estate operator and builder Milton Barkin, of Samuel Barkin & Sons, purchased Nos. 311 and 313 "from the Weiden estate," as reported in the newspapers (Herman Weiden was, incidentally, very much alive).  The New York Times reported on September 13 the firm's intention to build "a nine-story apartment house at 311-313 East Fifty-eighth Street."

The two 1857 houses as they appeared in March 1928.  from the collection of the New York Public Library.

But something happened with the ambitious project.  The Weidens never relinquished title to No. 311 and No. 313 was purchased as the headquarters for the Humane Society of New York.   Mae Colbert Liotta, executive secretary and assistant to the president of the Society, lived in the upper portion of the house with her widowed mother, Margaret Colbert. 

Large fund raising events for the Humane Society of New York rarely took place from the house (the benefit dinner and dance at the Waldorf-Astoria in 1935, for instance, lured patrons with names like Morgan, Dodge, Armour, and Roosevelt).  But it was the scene of one especially anticipated annual event--the Christmas party for children and their pets.

The event was no small affair, especially for pets and children.  On December 25, 1935 The New York Times reported "The party, which lasted an hour and a half, got underway with the playing of marches by members of the Kips Bay Boy Scouts, Troop 472, whose bugles and drums attracted a crowd to the Christmas tree erected at the front door of the society's building.

"Pets were brought in their best regalia, some with yellow ribbons and furbished leather harness.  One woman carried her cat in a crate usually used to ship oranges."

One man that year even brought his two white mice.  The Santa Claus was ready for more expected pets like dogs and cats, and his sack was filled with gifts of collars, blankets, leashes and food.  The mice sent workers scurrying.  "They received pieces of cheese and crackers," said the article.

A second Santa suit, right down to the long white beard, was worn by Paddy Reilly who made a special appearance.  He was the mascot terrier of the Society and lived in the house.  He received two loving cups during that event.  One was for saving the life of a woman in Jamaica Bay.  He barked until a passing boater heard him and plucked her from the water.  The other was from "an admirer" who was impressed with Paddy's help in raising $3,600 that year.   He routinely strolled the city streets with a money cup on his back "seeking aid for dumb animals," as described by The Times.

Two years later Paddy Reilly would add a special honor to his growing collection of medals "for his bravery and devotion."   Artist Helen Stotesbury visited the 58th Street headquarters where the terrier sat for his oil portrait.  Stotesbury was the daughter of Brigadier General Louis W. Stotesbury, president of the Humane Society.  She proclaimed Paddy "the best subject she ever had."  The portrait was sold to benefit the organization at the dog's 17th birthday party the following week.

A woman approaches the porch with her dog.  Those who could not afford to pay a veterinarian were welcome at the Society's free clinic.  photo via http://www.humanesocietyny.org

Margaret Colbert died on October 22, 1938.  As had been the practice in the house in the 19th century, her funeral was held here several days later.


Mae Colbert Liotta continued to live on the second floor.  She threw herself into the Society's work, organizing and heading its street displays, free clinic, courses in animal care and other activities.  On December 13, 1943, for instance, she announced through the newspapers that anyone who called at the 58th Street house that day with a horse and wagon would be given a free horse blanket.

Exactly one week later Mae was working on the upcoming Christmas Party at her desk when she was seized with a heart attack.  She died later that afternoon at Flower Fifth Avenue Hospital at the age of 53.

The Humane Society of New York continued to operate from the house for three more decades.  In 1952 when the State passed the Metcalf-Hatch Animal Research Bill, authorizing the "turning over of stray dogs and cats to laboratories and institutions for experiments," it was the scene of dissent.  The New York Times reported on February 13 "The 100-year old green-and-white clapboard cottage at 313 East Fifty-eighth Street, housing the Humane Society of New York was the scene of a protest meeting yesterday."


The Humane Society of New York moved to its new headquarters in 1974.  The East 58th Street building was purchased by Paul Steindler and his wife, Aja.  Steindler had fled his native Czechoslovakia during the 1945 Communist takeover.  He was at that time an Olympic wrestler and Aja was the world ice skating champion.  By now the couple had given up athletics to become restaurateurs.

Thankfully, No. 313 had been named a New York City landmark in 1970.  While designation did not protect the interior details, it safeguarded the exterior. 

The New York Times food critic Craig Claiborne explained on September 8, 1976 "[Steindler] has gutted the building and excavated a basement.  When it is transformed into a restaurant, tentatively named Paul's Landmark, it will have an inner dining room with a seating capacity of 85, plus a patio."

Considering using the word "landmark" in the name was ironic since Steindler wiped out the interior architectural history of the structure.  Instead, the restaurant was named The Czech Pavillion.  A 1979 advertisement touted "Classic Czech cooking...Charming...Townhouse Atmosphere" and offered "Enjoy piano music of the Old World nightly in the Skylight Room."

Although the building was still owned by the Steindlers, in 1981 The Czech Pavillion became Le Club, described by a newspaper as "the disco for New York's power elite."  In 1989 the club's director, Patrick Shield reminded a New York Magazine reporter that "party animals like F. Ross Johnson, Donald Trump, Ronald O. Perelman, Henry Kravis, and Saul Steinberg" haunted Le Club "three and four nights a week, with the most magnificent girls.  They were swinging."

When Le Club moved out late in 1996, Aja Steindler (Paul had died in 1983) leased the house to Rocco Ancarola, owner of Cafe Boom in Soho.  He announced plans to open a new restaurant, Two Rooms, with a formal dining room on the ground floor and cafe and lounge on the second.  That project lasted only until spring of 1999.

Now it became The Landmark Club, "a restaurant, not a club."  The owner, Shamsher Wadud who also operated the restaurant Nirvana, was quick to point out to food critic Florence Fabricant "Only the exterior of the building, built in the 1850s as a residence, is a city landmark."

Finally, in 2010 artist John Ransom Phillips purchased the 154-year old house as his residence and studio for around $4.7 million.  Ironically it was the absence of the 19th century interior elements that attracted him.   Joyce Cohen, writing in The New York Times on November 19, 2010 explained "When Mr. Phillips saw the former dance floor, with two skylights--one of them with 16 glass panels in a vaulted ceiling--he began to see possibilities."



In 1970 Adolf K. Placzek of the Columbia University's Avery Arrchitectural Library perfectly described Hiram G. Disbrow's charming residence as "a little gem of human proportion."  Against all odds it, along with the Pell house next door, survives on the busy street, mostly ignored by the motorists intent on accessing the Queensboro Bridge. 

photographs by the author

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Edwin R. A. Seligman House - No. 324 West 86th St.



In 1890, in one sweeping deal, millionaire William E. D. Stokes teamed with contractors Squire & Whipple to build 32 upscale homes--21 of them on West 86th Street and 11 on West 72nd.  The project was additionally unusual in that the residences were not in long, continuous rows; but splattered about in groups of four, two or even one.

Among these seems to have been No. 324 West 86th Street, between Riverside Drive and West End Avenue.  The prim four-story neo-Renaissance design of beige brick and stone was a restrained exception to the often more fanciful architecture of Upper West Side rowhouses.  But its proper demeanor was the perfect setting for its decidedly academic owner, Edwin Robert Anderson Seligman.

One of nine children born to millionaire bank and businessman Joseph Seligman, he had graduated from Columbia University in 1879, then studied throughout Europe--at the universities of Berlin, Geneva, Paris and Heidelberg.  He married Caroline Beer in 1888 and the couple would have three daughters and one son.

Seligman was appointed Professor of Political Economy and Finance at Columbia in 1891.  Among America's foremost minds in matters of economics, he was editor of the Political Science Quarterly, and wrote authoritative books including Essays in Taxation, The Shifting and Incidence of Taxation, Progressive Taxation, and Railway Tariffs.

The Seligman house was rarely the scene of glittering entertainments.  It was more often the scene of serious discussion.  Seligman was the president of the Tenement House Building Co. and chairman of the committee on education of the Educational Alliance.  His interests were not totally dry and academic, however.  He was also a member of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American School of Classical Studies at Rome, and the American Historical Society.

The Seligman children were raised in an atmosphere of privilege and sophistication.   Violet, who was born in 1900, went off to the exclusive Bryn Mawr women's college in the fall of 1917--the same year that a measles epidemic broke out nationwide.   Considered more of an annoyance today, measles was a dangerous disease, often worsening to broncho- or lobar-pneumonia.   That year the United State Army alone reported 47,573 cases among its troops; and 947 patients across the U.S. died.

In March 1918 Violet contracted the measles, which then complicated into pneumonia.  The 18-year old freshman died at the college in April.    

Afterward, life in the Seligman home was happily without incident until January 27, 1926.  Edwin had been ill for a few days, so he was resting in his bedroom that evening while Caroline and their youngest daughter had dinner.  Afterward, at around 7:30, Caroline went up to her bedroom "to prepare a table with gifts for her daughter's birthday celebration" which was the next day.

Among the gifts she went to gather up was a pricey pearl necklace.  When she opened her bureau drawer, she was panicked to see the necklace was gone.  She told investigators "Then I noticed that the bathroom widow was open, and I realized what had happened."

What had happened was that a gutsy burglar had climbed onto the roof of Edwin's study, which projected out in the rear, then pushed the bathroom window open and slipped in.  With Edwin in the bedroom next door, he rifled through Caroline's drawers, taking away her jewelry box with approximately $8,000 of jewelry (about $107,000 today), Edwin's watch, cash, and bank notes.

The Seligmans sold their home of nearly four decades to The New York Psychoanalytic Institute in the early 1930s.  For the academic year of 1933-34, the facility offered courses such as Psychoanalysis and Social Work, Psychoanalysis and the Law, and Psychoanalysis in Medicine.

The former Seligman house would never again be a residence.  In the mid-1940s it became home to the Young Men's Philanthropic League, headed by Jack Wasserman.  The group would remain here until moving to 18th Street in 1955.

Its continued use by various institutions had saved the structure from being replaced by the looming modern apartment buildings that now lined the block.  In the fall of 1976 a radically different group took over the house, the Siddha Yoga Dham of New York.

New York Magazine explained on March 28, 1977, "Siddha Yoga attempts to awaken the dormant kundalini (divine energy) in disciples through the grade of the Siddha guru."   The guru on West 86th Street was Baba Muktanda, described in the article as "the most charismatic, compelling guru to grace the West with his prescience."

Today the Siddha Ashram continues to operated here, part of the Syda Foundation.  In their 2000 book Spiritual Places In and Around New York City, authors Len Belzer and Emily Squires said "Over the years, we have visited the Siddha Ashram on West 86th Street where enthusiastic followers sang out chants, spoke of their beliefs, and meditated together, all in heavenly rooms with carpeted floors, flickering candles, and worshipful pictures of the Siddha lineage."

Very little has outwardly changed to No. 324 West 86th Street.  Only a discreet metal plaque near the stoop announces the presence of the Siddha Ashram.  The Seligman house is one of the two surviving mansions among the row of apartments.

photograph by the author

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Lost Pacific Hotel - 170-176 Greenwich Street

The opening announcement, on July 1, 1836, pictured the new building.  The side lot would soon be landscaped as a garden.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

By the first years of the 1830s New York City was attracting visitors from England and Europe.  John Jacob Astor realized that the sophisticated travelers would pay for first class accommodations, not easily found in the fledgling city.  On June 1, 1836 he opened his lavish Astor House, deemed by a London newspaper as a "model of architectural beauty and of massive grandeur, luxurious and elegant in its appointments."

The Astor House opened with great fanfare.  A much quieter inauguration occurred exactly one month later, on July 1,  when the Pacific Hotel opened its doors.   Equally, elegant, it was much more intimate than the massive Astor House.  Today it might be termed a boutique hotel.

The Pacific Hotel sat on the west side Greenwich Street, between Cortlandt and Dey Streets, on land previously owned by Eli Hart.   Hart was a prosperous flour merchant whose main building sat on Dey Street.  He sold the Greenwich Street property to a wealthy retired seafarer, Captain William J. Bunker.   Like Astor, Bunker was convinced there was a market for a "public house" in that section of the city.

He erected a Greek Revival style structure five stories tall that looked as much like a private mansion as a hotel.  Veteran hoteliers Benjamin Jessups and R. C. Nichols were brought on as the proprietors.  The location was well chosen, being a short walk to what was then New York's business center.  According to The New York Herald later, "The busy docks, a few steps from the hotel, marked the arrival and departure of the Hudson river fleet of steam and sailing craft."

The announcement of the hotel's opening promised:

The Parlors, Drawing Rooms, and Bed chambers are large, airy and well lighted and each one is furnished with a fire place.  Separate Parlors & a Dressing salon are fitting up for the convenience of Ladies...The Furniture is new and in the most modern style, the Beds and Bedding are also new and of the best description.

Hotels were traditionally favorite targets for thieves and con artists.   A theft that took place in the Pacific Hotel in February 1838 prompted a reporter from the Morning Herald to comment "It was as cool a robbery as we have heard of for some time."

William MacAlroy checked in, but, according to the newspaper "had hardly a dollar to bless himself with."   The next day he arose and went to the bar-room to have his boots shined.

When the bootblack was done, MacAlroy asked asked him to hand him his cloak so he could pay the 50 cents for his boot shine.

"Which is it?" asked the boy.

"That new blue cloth one with velvet collar."

When the boy handed MacAlroy the cloak he ran from the hotel, later selling it for $5.  The actual owner told police he had just purchased it for $50, more than $1,300 in today's dollars.  The thief was arrested, "made no defense," and was found guilty.

Hiram Cranston had worked as a clerk in the hotel since its opening.  In 1839 Captain Bunker promoted the 25-year old to proprietor.  Cranson placed ads in the New York papers for months promising potential clients he would "at all times endeavor to merit a liberal share of public patronage."

In 1842 the Pacific Hotel was visited by Dr. Griffin, described by the New-York Herald as an "agent of the Lyceum of Natural History in London, recently from Pernambuco."  In fact, his name was Lyman and he was an employee of the master promoter Phineas Taylor Barnum.

New York reporters had gotten wind of Dr. Griffin's arrival following articles published a few days earlier in the Philadelphia papers.  Griffin had stopped for a few days in a hotel there, and after paying his bill said to the landlord "If you will step to my room, I will permit you to see something that will surprise you."


The proprietor was shown the Feejee Mermaid, called by Barnum later "the most extraordinary curiosity in the world."  Barnum wrote in his autobiography, "He was so highly gratified and interested that he earnestly begged permission to introduce certain friends of his, including several editors, to view the wonderful specimen."

The scheme was well thought out.  Barnum wrote "Suffice it to say, that the plan worked admirably, and the Philadelphia press aided the press of New-York in awakening a wide-reaching and increasing curiosity to see the mermaid."



The Feejee Mermaid, reproduced from the Sunday Herald in the 1855 The Life of P. T. Barnum, Written by Himself (copyright expired)

No sooner had Lyman, still assuming the name of Dr. Griffin, checked into the Pacific Hotel than it was besieged with reporters.   The creature was a meticulous melding of monkey and fish and Barnum was not surprised that the journalists were all completely fooled.  "It was a work of art, the monkey and fish were so nicely conjoined that no human eye could detect the point where the junction was formed."

The articles written after the viewing at the Pacific Hotel fostered rabid public curiosity.   On August 11, 1842 the New-York Daily Tribune reported "The Mermaid caught near the Feejee Islands, and now exhibiting, for three days only, at Concert Hall, 406 Broadway, is creating a wonderful excitement, thousands daily visiting it.  A committee of scientific gentlemen yesterday examined it, and not only pronounced it genuine, but decidedly the greatest wonder of the world."

By 1846 the Abolitionist Movement was causing heated discussions throughout the North.  It may have been the social and political climate that caused Hiram Cranston to leave his post at the Pacific Hotel and move to Baltimore that year.  The New York Times later remembered "Mr. Cranston was well-known as an outspoken sympathizer with the extreme Southern people, and his known position made him an object of great offense to many of the Union men in this City."

In the summer of 1843 the Pacific Hotel became the monthly meeting place of a new organization, hard to conceptualize by Manhattan residents today--The Farmers' Club.  The New-York Daily Tribune was thrilled.  On May 30 it announced "We have long wanted such an associated in our City, the resort of such vast numbers of Farmers and others who appreciate improvements in Agriculture."


In reporting that the first meeting would be held on June 22, the newspaper opined "Many of our farmers, gardeners, &c. would gladly avail themselves of the opportunity of showing some of their choice productions," and suggested "a table adorned with a few forest flowers would have a fine effect."

The members apparently took the Tribune's suggestion, but forgot to bring any produce.  It did not escape the notice of the reporter from the American Agriculturist.  Following the first meeting the journal complained "Large bouquets of flowers were brought in by different members to adorn the room, but we saw neither fruits nor vegetables.  We hope each member will feel himself bound to supply this omission at the next monthly meeting."

Businesses in mid 19th century often paid to have endorsements, disguised as editorials or news articles, published in local papers. On February 15, 1845 one such blurb appeared in the New-York Daily Tribune.  It marked the intimate size of the hotel as a distinct asset with a tongue-in-cheek comment:

The great houses have their advantages, and it is but fair to consider those also of hotels in which the distance from the parlor to your private room is not over three blocks.


By the time Captain Bunker sold the hotel to another retired captain, Aaron Flowers, in 1859, he had enlarged the building with an extension to the north.    Flowers immediately leased the business to John Patten, who updated the interiors and furnishings.  An auction was held on December 12 that year to sell the entire contents of the hotel--not only the Brussels carpeting, lace curtains and furnishings; but the glassware, china, silverware, decanters and kitchen ware.  Patten was determined to make the hotel completely modern, even selling "one locomotive Steam Boiler, about eight horse power, with hot water tank for laundry purposes."


William J. Bunker's annex is included in Patten's advertisement, around 1865.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Under Patten's management the hotel continued to thrive.  In 1864 he bought the property from Flowers and announced "The Proprietor...feels truly thankful for the liberal patronage received, and will continue his rates at $1.75 per day."  Considering the upscale accommodations, the rates were extremely affordable, about $27.60 a night today.

During the Civil War the Pacific Hotel was, according to Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly, "patronized largely by officers of the army and navy, and famous for the dinners which the officers gave to their fellow officers and friends."  One such dinner got dangerously out of hand.

The magazine reported that the guests had been drinking and "an altercation arose between a popular actor...and one of the officers, in the course of which a blow was received and returned by the actor."  Other guests tried to intercede, but the actor's dignity had been bruised.  He insisted "on further satisfaction, and an adjournment in the lower end of the garden was proposed."

Pistols were obtained and a duel was held in the side garden of the hotel.  In retrospect, the hot-tempered actor might have rethought the wisdom of challenging a military man to a gunfight.  "The actor was wounded in the arm.  This ended the duel.  The wound was not a dangerous one; surgical skill was brought into requisition, and the actor went through his part that night with his arm in a sling."

Patten's son, John Patten, Jr. helped manage the hotel.  But when gold was discovered in the Black Hills in the Dakota Territory in 1874, the young man ached to find his fortune.  Apparently his father was against the idea; and John Jr. made an audacious proposal to a hotel guest.  He told Mrs. Joseph Kampe that if she would loan him $50--about $1,000 today--he would repay her $1,000 for every dollar when he returned.  Surprisingly, she agreed and young John Patten left New York on his questionable adventure.

John Patten, Sr. forged ahead without his son.  Intent on not letting his hotel become outdated, Patten again redecorated ten years after he purchased it.  In the fall of 1875 he advertised "Repainted and recarpeted complete; a most convenient family hotel for gentlemen whose business pursuits confine them to the lower part of the city."

A few months later a scourge of yellow fever swept through the streets of Savannah, Georgia.  On September 10, 1876 The New York Herald reported "The inhabitants of Savannah have been fleeing from it as fast as possible, the majority leaving it by railroad."  One of those fugitives was a long-time friend of Patten and a repeated guest of the hotel.  C. M. Symons arrived on September 4.

His description of conditions in Savannah touched on a tragic truth about epidemics: only those with money could escape.  The poor were left to suffer and, often, die.  He told Patten "There are not 1,000 white men left in the place.  Every one is running away that can afford to do so."

The next morning when Symons complained of "terrible chills," Patten told him to take a hot bath with mustard.  When he did not improve later that day, Patten sent for Dr. Farrington of the Astor House.  He brought in a second physician and they concurred it was nothing serious.

It was, however, quite serious.   When Symons's symptoms only worsened, the doctors returned.  Now they diagnosed yellow fever.   He was taken away to the Quarantine Hospital on Swinburne Island, just off Staten Island.  One of the men carrying the stretcher remarked to Patten, "I don't think he'll do more than live till we reach the hospital."  Symons died four days after he had checked in to the Pacific Hotel.

Yellow fever was not taken lightly by anyone.  The quarantine official removed everything from Symons's room--not only his baggage, but all the bedding and linens.  Patten had all the furniture re-varnished and the room was locked until considered safe.

John Patten was already embroiled in a long, heated battle with the Elevated Railroad Company.  The firm was erecting an elevated train up Greenwich Street.  Patten was not opposed to the project if it ran along the opposite side of the street; but the Elevated Railroad wanted to install a double track.   The western track would not only obstruct light and air to the Pacific Hotel, but the piers for the railroad would necessarily break into the hotel's vaults which extended halfway under Greenwich Street.

While he battled the firm in court, construction of the railroad continued.  Things became physical on March 30, 1876.  The hand-to-hand combat between Patten and the construction workers made news as far away as California.  San Francisco's Daily Alta California reported "Workmen engaged in sinking the pillars for the elevated railroad to-day were forcibly restrained by John Patten, proprietor of the Pacific Hotel, Greenwich-street, and several of his employes.  The workmen were removing flag stones from in front of the hotel when the attack was made.  A square of officers was called out and Patten and his employes were arrested."

Patten seemed to have achieved victory in May when Chief Justice Daily decided that "the ownership of real estate in this city extends to the middle of the adjoining street" and that the railroad company could not "take private property for a public use."  But the battle was not over.

Appeals and hearings continued, taxing Patten's physical and mental limitations.  The
Elevated Railroad Company had the last word, winning its case and proceeding with the second track. 

On Sunday evening, May 26, 1878 John Patten died in the Pacific Hotel.  The New York Times noted "The section of [elevated railroad] just in front of his house was completed on Sunday, the last rail being bolted just about the time of his death."

The irony was not lost on The New York Herald, either.  It reported "Mr. Patten said he would not live to see a train run over the new track, and he did not.  He died a few hours before it was opened for business."

Patten's executors placed the hotel and its contents on the market in November.  Advertising it as "fully and completely furnished; now is and has been for many years in successful operation," they touted "for sale at bargain."

There were no takers for the old hotel.  The Greenwich Street neighborhood had greatly changed since 1836 when Jessups and Nichols promoted the location as "undisturbed."  On February 18, 1879 The New York Herald announced the property would be sold at auction the following day.  "For more than forty years this house has been a favorite resort of the west side merchants, steamboat and steamship men and residents of New Jersey visiting the metropolis," noted the article.

The day after the auction the newspaper noted that few hotel men bothered to attend.  The Pacific Hotel was sold for $39,600, nearly $985,000 today, to James H. Harger, of Pontiac, Michigan.   But like the hoteliers who had stayed away, Harger was not interested in continuing the hotel.

In April the following year he sold the property to the newly-formed Steam Heating & Power Co. for $42,500.  The firm demolished the old hotel to built its Station B Steam Works.

But there was still one loose end in the story of the Pacific Hotel to be tied up, and that would not come until June 4, 1914.  That was when the now-widowed Mrs. Joseph Kampe who was living in Newburgh, New York, received word from John Patten, Jr. that he had returned to New York with his gold mining fortune.  He had the $50,000 he had promised her 40 years earlier.

The Los Angeles Herald remarked "She had forgotten the matter until she received the message today that told of the fortune that awaited her."

The site of the Pacific Hotel became part of the plaza surrounding the World Trade Towers in 1973.  Today it is part of the memorial park of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.