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

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