Saturday, September 30, 2017

St. Bernard's Church - 330-334 West 14th Street

A lithograph by The Graphic Co. depicted the newly-completed church in a bucolic setting.  The Catholic Churches of New York City, 1892 (copyright expired)
By the 1850s residential development reached the district just north of Greenwich Village.  West 14th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenue saw the rise of handsome brick or brownstone faced mansions, including several for members of the wealthy Havemeyer family.

In 1867, just three years after his ordination, Rev. Gabriel A. Healy was tasked by Archbishop John McCloskey to form the parish of St. Bernard in the rapidly-developing area.  Early in 1868 the 27-year old priest secured improvised quarters for the fledgling congregation.  The New York Times later described the accommodations:

There was an old wagon factory in West Thirteenth Street which belonged to the Knickerbocker Ice Company.  It was a picture of dilapidation and ruin.  Father Healy looked it over and determined that he must make it answer his purpose for a time.  He accordingly purchased it and fitted up the second story as a chapel.

The first mass was celebrated there on Whitsunday, May 31, 1868.  Within a year the congregation of St. Bernard's had significantly grown and on May 1, 1869 three building lots were purchased on West 14th Street.  Bazaars and other fund-raising events soon brought in sufficient funds to begin construction.  On October 13, 1872, for instance, Rev. Henry A. Brann delivered a lecture on "The Catholic Church on the Island of Manhattan--Past, Present, and Future."  The announcement noted "Proceeds to aid in the erection of the new St. Bernard's church, West Fourteenth st."

The Irish-born architect Patrick Charles Keely received the commission.   St. Bernard's Church would be one of the nearly 600 Roman Catholic churches he would eventually design.  The architect splashed his traditional Gothic Revival design with touches of Ruskinian Gothic, then topped the towers with unexpected French-style conical spires.  Sitting on a granite base, Keely announced it would be "built of Belleville stone, trimmed with Nova Scotia stone."

Ground was broken on May 8, 1872 and a year later construction had reached two stories.  On May 11, 1873 a massive cornerstone-laying ceremony was held.   A rope was attached to the facade and stretched across 14th Street to a private house from which was hung a gigantic flag.  The New York Herald remarked "from the line depended an immense American ensign, displaying the beauteous stars and stripes."  A second rope was hung with red, white and blue pennants, the flags of Germany, France and Ireland, as well as the Papal flag.

The New York Herald estimated the crowd on 14th Street at 10,000 and The New York Times noted "even the tops of the houses in the vicinity were thronged with crowds of spectators."   Almost directly across the street, at No. 323 West 14th Street, was the home of the mayor, Frederick Havemeyer.  The Herald reported "The family of Mayor Havemeyer, as well as the residents of the other aristocratic mansions in the block, witnessed the ceremony."

The Herald was especially energetic in its description.  "The fair sex was more than usually represented, and the crowds of people who filled streets, sidewalks, stoops and windows, together with the waving flags and banners, made the scene a most picturesque one, seldom seen on this side of the Atlantic, and only occasionally to be witnessed on the banks of the Tiber, the Danube or the Mauzanozes."

A procession of hundreds of children, religious groups and clerics left the 13th Street church.  It was headed by the Society of the Holy Angels, described by the Herald as "Thirty young ladies, in the glory of maidenhood, attired in white."   Group after group proceeded into the building, followed by the procession of clergy, headed by two bishops and John McCloskey, who was now an archbishop.

Following the service, the zinc box was placed within the cornerstone.  In it were copper and gold coins and paper currency, copies of the local newspapers, and a copper plate engraved with the date, the names of President Grant, Governor Dix, Mayor Havemeyer, the archbishop and Rev. Healy.  St. Bernard's Church became the first in the United States consecrated by an American Cardinal.

The Herald mentioned that "it is expected that [the church] will be fully completed and ready for the celebration of mass by the opening week of October."  As it turned out, the dedication was not celebrated until May 30, 1875.  The New York Times later explained, the "delay having been caused by the panic of 1873."

St. Bernard's Church was 67-feet wide and stretched more than 126 feet deep.  The building cost $185,320.50, bringing the total cost including the land to over $200,000--more than $4 million today.  The Catholic Churches of New York City called it "a conspicuous monument of the piety and zeal of priest and people.  Of a true ecclesiastical style, good and inspiring, it attracts the eye of thousands passing up and down the adjacent avenue."

The church was not only the scene of worship and the fashionable weddings and funerals of notable New Yorkers; but its social hall was a center of Irish activism.  Home to Branch No. 10 of the Parnell Land League, it was where animated discussions were held, such as those following the May 1882 assassinations of Lord Frederick Cavendish and Thomas Henry Burke.

There was no blame put on the Irish revolutionaries.  Instead, reported The New York Times, "The different  speakers argued that the assassination was the result of a conspiracy plotted outside of Ireland, and executed by emissaries sent thither to throw the people 'off the scene.'"

As violence, including bombings, continued in England,  James H. Casserly pushed for a diplomatic solution within St. Bernard's Church a year later.  He told members on April 22, 1883 that he "was opposed to the use of dynamite, which had done more than anything else to injure the cause of Ireland."  Nevertheless, both he and John Egan admitted that physical force should be used "when the proper time came."

But by September 6, 1885, Casserly had apparently decided the proper time had come.  The Times reported that he told supporters that night that "He excused dynamiters, Invincibles, and Fenians, on account of the nobility of their common aim, and urged it on the people as a bounden duty to subscribe their sympathy and their aid."

In the meantime, the sanctuary upstairs continued to be a vibrant (and more peaceful) element in neighborhood life.  The affluence of the congregation was evident when the assistant rector, Rev. John J. Riordan, was transferred after 10 years at St. Bernard's.   The New York Times reported on October 28, 1883 that he "has received from the people of the parish $2,000 as a slight testimonial of their devotion and respect."  That going-away gift was worth nearly $50,000 in today's dollars.

In December 1874--the first Christmas in the new church--life-sized wax figures of the nativity were put on display in the church hall.  It was no small affair, with painted backdrops and at least nine full-sized figures.  The following year Rev. Healy decided to "dispense with some of the wax figures and introduce living characters."  For this he wrote the Nativity Play or Christmas Cantata.

Modern attendees of church nativity plays fully expect amateur productions with cardboard mangers and children in homemade costumes.  This was nothing of the kind.  The two-hour production included an adult cast, complex scene changes and a original musical scores.  The play included scenes no longer included in the Christmas story representations today--like the gruesome Massacre of the Innocents.

Two of the several scenes in the Christmas play presented annually at St. Bernard's Church.  The Nativity Play or Christmas Cantata, by Rev. Gabriel A. Healy, 1885 (copyright expired)

After much prodding, in 1885 Rev. Gabriel Healy published a detailed book so other parishes could stage the popular play.

Just four days before Christmas 1890 tragedy struck.  Father McLaughlin smelled smoke at around 5:30 in the morning on December 21.  Investigating, he saw flames through the stained glass windows.  The Evening World reported "He aroused Father Healy, who ran to the corner of Ninth avenue, where he met Policeman Mooney, who turned in an alarm."

By now, said the newspaper, the church "was a mass of fire."  Before long the roof collapsed.   "The occupants of the fashionable dwelling-houses in the neighborhood had been awakened," said The Evening World, and they massed on the Ninth Avenue elevated railroad to watch the spectacle.

The spires had already collapsed when this sketch was drawn.  The Evening World, December 22, 1890 (copyright expired)

The fire raged for more than two hours.  Afterwards, reported The Times, "The altar, the organ, the galleries, and practically the entire interior of the church, with its costly paintings, stained-glass windows, and statuary are ruined."  Because they were enclosed in a fire-proof safe, the "sacred vessels, the chalices, ciboriums, ostensoriums, and the holy Eucharist were saved."

Neighbors and congregants quickly passed on the rumor of a miracle.  The Evening World reported "Of all the sacred images only a crucifix, in the centre of the church, was left standing.  It could be plainly seen from the street.  Many said that it was unscorched."

Christmas and subsequent services were held in the salesroom of the New-York Consolidated Card Company at No. 226 West 14th Street.   Already Rev. Healy was planning to rebuild.

The Sun later reported that Monsignor James H. McGean, one of Father Healy's closest friends,"heard of the fire [and] went to Fourteenth street and found Father Healy, instead of weeping over the ruins, out hunting up architects and contractors for a new church."

Less than a year after the fire, on November 8, 1891, the rebuilt church was dedicated.  The services were officiated by Archbishop Michael Corrigan.  The Times called the church "a monument of credit to the Rev. Gabriel A. Healy" and noted it "now has a congregation of 10,000 souls."  While the interiors were handsomely restored, notably absent were the tower spires.

On June 28, 1911 Rev. Healy underwent an appendicitis operation.  He was recovering well when, a week later, a heat wave took its toll on the 72-year old.  On Sunday, July 2, he began to complain of the heat.  Two days later he died in the rectory.   His doctor attributed "exhaustion caused by the heat" to his death.  He had been St. Bernard's pastor for 41 years.

St. Bernard's continued to be a visible influence in the neighborhood.  In 1916 a new parochial school was opened on West 13th Street.  The size of the congregation was evidenced in 1918 when a service flag was dedicated in honor of the 312 parish members who had served in World War I.

In the meantime, a new parish one block to the east hinted at the changing demographics of the once upscale residential neighborhood.   In 1902 the Augustinians of the Assumption founded Our Lady of Guadalupe.  It was the first Spanish-language Catholic parish in New York City and its congregants were working class immigrants.

As the 20th century progressed and the 14th Street neighborhood changed, the congregation of St. Bernard's Church diminished, while that of Our Lady of Guadalupe increased.

photo by Elis Shin via
Perhaps the first hint at the interaction of the two parishes was on January 27, 1996.  Every year in Mexico hundreds of runners form a torch relay between Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Mexico City to the church of Padre Jesus in Chinantla, more than 300 miles away.  That year a miniature version began in Brooklyn at St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church.  Two torchbearers ran six miles, ending up not at Our Lady of Guadalupe, as might have been expected, but at St. Bernard's Church.

The New York Times reported that Mexican immigrants then gathered "for Mass and a feast with mariachi music."  For one day a year, said the article, "Flower sellers, clerks, mechanics and janitors can forget their long hours of work."

Seven years later, on April 14 2003, the newspaper reported that "Hundreds of worshipers carrying palm fronds swaying in the breeze left Our Lady of Guadalupe church in a Palm Sunday procession yesterday.  They walked one block west along 14th Street to St. Bernard's church, where they deposited a life-size portrait of the Blessed Virgin near the altar to symbolize the marriage of the two Roman Catholic parishes."

The article explained "The parishes are merging, according to the Archdiocese of New York, for a simple reason: St. Bernard's has the space, and Our Lady has the bodies.  They both have a lot of debt."

photograph by the author

Within the next few months the merged parishes became Our Lady of Guadalupe at St. Bernard's.  The interior was remodeled and the altars of the two historic churches were "literally combined."  Many of the artworks not part of the old structure were transferred to the St. Bernard building and new paintings of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Blessed Juan Diego, and the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe were installed.  The bright new color scheme and heavy use of gold was a stark contrast to the former somber interior.

The parish continues to be a vibrant part of the neighborhood, especially for the Spanish-speaking population.  And the building, where fiery Irishmen once debated methods to free their homeland and a massive fire threatened to erase it, remains an imposing presence on the block.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Stained Glass and Top Hats - 435-439 West Broadway

Added in 1892, the chic mansard roof gave the factory building a civic appearance, much like a school building.
Henry Martyn Congdon is remembered most for specializing in ecclesiastic architecture.  Before his death in 1922 he designed numerous Episcopal churches across the country.  But the project he took on for developers Edward & A. Abbott in 1879 was purely utilitarian.

In November 1878 the brothers had purchased the five old buildings at the northeast corner of South Fifth Avenue and Prince Street. The structures were two- and three-story frame houses with stores on the ground floor, except for the corner building which was brick.  The Abbotts spent $46,400 for the combined properties--in the neighborhood of $1.15 million today.

Construction got underway on May 15, 1879 and continued at lightning speed.  The sprawling factory building was completed in just over three months, on August 27.  Congdon's red-brick design was a no-nonsense take on Romanesque Revival.  There were none of the medieval inspired carvings or heavy granite blocks found in some loft buildings in the style; instead the restrained design relied on the rhythm of arches and incised lines (hints of the emerging Queen Anne trend) on the brick piers.

In 1892, the year before South Fifth Avenue was renamed West Broadway, a fifth floor was added in the form of a stylish mansard roof.

There were two main tenants in the sprawling structure.  One was John Dougherty, who ran his stained and leaded glass factory here by 1895.  By the last decade of the 19th century stained glass was wildly popular not merely for churches but for residential and civic buildings.  Saloons, restaurants and oyster bars had stained glass panels and heavy leaded glass doors; colored light filtered into residences through stained glass transoms, and grand courthouses and municipal buildings boasted stained glass domes.

Advertisement from the Catalogue of the Annual Exhibition of the Architectural League of New York, 1896 (copyright expired)

The other tenant was the hat factory and salesrooms of M. S. Cornell & Co.   The firm produced "many thousands" of men's hats for Young Bros., which provided the designs.  It specialized in "stiff and silk hats" worn by America's upper crust.   On December 15, 1898 M. S. Cornell & Co. placed an advertisement in The Sun:  "Stiff Hat Trimmers wanted; full work."

The properly-dressed gentleman had a full wardrobe of headwear, each hat dictated by the season and the event.  The hats produced for Young Bros. by M. S. Cornell & Co. included top hats, coach hats--a style of top hat with a curved brim--derbies, and other stiff hats.  ("Stiff hats" distinguished the Cornell-made hats from summer hats like boaters made of straw made by a different manufacturer.)

In August 1902 The American Hatter reported on Young Bros. new "low, square crown derby with wide brim and round curl, which will be known as their 'Special Horse Show Hat.'"  The journal added "the correction of the style is guaranteed, while the fact of its being a product of the factory of M. S. Cornell & Co. vouches for its quality."  A separate article mentioned "The manufacturers, M. S. Cornell & Co., are using the same care in turning out perfect goods that has helped to make Youngs hats popular."

An advertisement in 1902 pictured three different Coach Hats and a derby.  The American Hatter, August 1902 (copyright expired)

In 1906 esteemed architect George B. Post was working on the designs for the new campus of the College of the City of New York in northern Manhattan.   The cathedral-like Gothic Revival main building, today known as Shepard Hall, included 65-foot stained glass windows.

The popularity of stained glass was apparent in the number of makers who bid on the job.  James Dougherty was one of 11 leaded glass manufacturers to submit bids.   Dougherty's initial $6,300 estimate would be equivalent to $173,000 today.

By now apparel firms had taken space in the building.  In 1900 Gustave Erzig's "cloaks and suits" factory was here, as was S. Nassberg's "art embroidery" shop.   James Dougherty was in the building as late as 1911; but by the end of World War I it was home to apparel manufacturers, like the Sittenfield Leather Company, and small business like the Promotion Sales Company.

The onset of Prohibition on January 17, 1920 was devastating for hundreds of businesses--notably restaurants, hotels, distilleries and breweries--and untold thousands of Americas suddenly were out of work.  But others saw it as an opportunity.

Herba Products Company manufactured flavoring extracts in the West Broadway building and Gramatan Company, made hair tonic in its factory here.  Both products used alcohol as a component.  And the executives of both firms quickly realized there was a greater profit in the ingredient than in the end product.

On July 2, 1920 The Sun reported "Indictments, arrests and sentences all having to do with dealings in liquor came thick and fast yesterday."  The article went on to say "Prison sentences as well as fines were prescribed by Judge Grubb for three officials of the Gramatan Company and the Herba Products Company.  They were convicted last week of selling 25,000 gallons of 190 proof alcohol."

The president of Herba, Henry F. Maresca, received a two-year sentence.  Giavanni Rubino, president of the Gramatan Company, was given a 20-month jail sentence, and his treasurer, Charles d'Angelis, got 15 months.  All three were fined $17,000--more than $200,000 today.

Before mid-century the building continued to house several apparel-related firms like Feingold & Liss, "millinery supplies," here in the early 1920s and the Lincoln Footwear Company.   The latter firm suffered a terrifying robbery in the summer of 1943.

Lillian Greenstein, the company's bookkeeper, was headed back to work from lunch on July 23.  She ran into her boss, Sidney Wasserman in the lobby.  He was returning from the bank with the company's $804 payroll.  When the pair entered the elevator, two men followed them.

Before they reached their fourth-floor offices, the thugs displayed guns and robbed Wasserman of the payroll and took $60 from Greenstein.  It was a significant personal loss for the young woman, more than $800 in today's dollars.

There appear to have been no garment firms in the building by the early 1950s.  Joe End & Co., Inc. was here by 1947 making novelties.  Its plush animals were the type used as prizes in carnivals.  Its 1947 "delicately proportioned" deer were made of "fine delustered plush with sprayed patches and dots." and were available for $45 a dozen.

In 1950 the firm advertised a "Hot Item Sensationally Priced!"  The Rock-A-Bye-Baby was a "giant 21" life size" doll that cried, sucked its thumb, and moved its arms and legs, according to the ad.  It was "costumed in baby's dress with diapers and under-shirt.  Like a new-born infant, she's wrapped in a baby blanket tied with a big bow!"

In 1969 the change in the Soho neighborhood from industry to art was evidenced when the West Broadway building was renovated to accommodate stores on the first floor, a fine art studio on the second, and offices above.  The Hollander-Soho Gallery was operated by photographer Am Hollander.

Subsequent galleries and stores here included the Circle Gallery, here in 1981.  In the mid-1980s the boutique Connections-Nichole Farhi sold "clothes you can't wait to get into."

A 2010 renovation resulted in "living-working quarters for artists" on the upper floors.  Henry Congdon's handsome 1879 factory building is a striking reminder of the industrial period along this stretch of West Broadway; when horse-drawn drays rumbled down the dusty streets.

photographs by the author

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The 1886 "French Hotel" -- 235 Sullivan Street

In 1886 the neighborhood of Bleecker and Minetta Streets, just south of Washington Square, had a seedy reputation.  Minetta Street and Minetta Lane were known as "Little Africa," the center of Manhattan's black population.  Reformer Jacob Riis described it as the social "bottom" of the West Side, and rebuked the squalid housing he called "vile rookeries." 

Once a street of elegance and wealth, Bleecker Street was described by James D. McCabe in his 1883 New York by Sunlight and Gaslight.  "Until the march of trade drove the fashionable world into Washington Square and Fifth avenue, to be the owner of a Bleecker street mansion was to be at the height of fashionable felicity."   Now, he explained "all sorts of people who live by their wits find homes here, and it is a queer looking crowd one meets on the sidewalks."  McCabe warned "it is at the best a sort of doubtful neighborhood, which people with reputations to lose avoid."

Dr. John H. Dorn was employed by the New York City Police Department as a "police surgeon."  He was described by Police Inspector John A. Blair on October 1, 1886 as "of very high reputation and respectability."   And so it was surprising that he chose No. 235 Sullivan Street, between Bleecker and West 3rd Streets, as the site of a real estate investment.  The property sat squarely within the district Riis and McCabe decried. 

Dorn selected Richard S Rosenstock of R. Rosenstock & Co. as his architect.  He filed plans on March 12, 1886 for a "five-story brick, stone and terra cotta front tenement and store" to cost $10,000--in the neighborhood of $263,000 today.   The little-remembered architect had just completed the Queen Anne-style Fink house at No. 8 St. Nicholas Place and would turn to the same style for Dorn's project.

The completed 20-foot wide structure was embellished with popular Queen Anne elements like the deeply molded terra cotta fans with their brick eyebrows above the fourth floor openings, the delightful fish-scale bases to the two central piers, and the squashed-looking stone lintels of the second floor.  Rosenstock stepped away from the style when he added an elaborate, Baroque cast metal parapet that announced the construction date.

The building was acquired by August Guidon who operated the upper floors as the French Hotel and installed a saloon in the ground floor shop.   The barroom was called The Black and Tan because it served both white and black patrons.   This was no innocent hotel and no ordinary saloon.

Guidon took full advantage of the neighborhood's lax police enforcement.  McCabe had noted that "life here is free from most of the restraints imposed elsewhere."  The Black and Tan was the haunt of prostitutes and the French Hotel above was a four-story brothel and flop-house.

Although Guidon's operation was notorious, police turned a blind eye for years.  It was not until 1892 that increasing pressure from reformers and newspapers forced a change.  On January 12 police conducted a raid following a publicized report that "the place was a resort for the lowest class of men and women, at all hours of the day and night."

The New York Times reported that Guindon, "the proprietor of the infamous resort known as the 'French Hotel,' at 235 Sullivan Street" had been arrested along with 32 men and 13 women.   One of the prisoners, Leon Able, was caught "jumping out of a window at the time of the raid [with] a pair of brass knuckles in his pocket."

The judge was not lenient.  Guidon was held on $1,000 bail.  The others were fined $10--around $275 today.  In lieu of the fine, which few would have been able to afford, they were send to Blackwell's Island for six months.

New Yorkers were accustomed to owners of "disreputable resorts" receiving a slap on the hand and reopening their dives before long.  But the new reform movement changed that.  It was the end of the line for The Black and Tan and the French Hotel.  Three days after the raid The Evening World exclaimed "Last night saw no signs of returning life in the more than half-dead monster, Outlawry" and noted "five of New York's worst dives" were permanently closed down, including Guidon's operation.

While its proprietor sat in jail, the former patrons of The Black and Tan loitered inside.  On January 19 The Evening World reported on the five operations that had been shut down.  "All these dives which were formerly the most notorious and malodorous of all New York's dens of vice, were still tightly closed last night.  There were no signs of life in any of them with the exception of Guidon's, where the shades were drawn and several men were sitting about the stove in the brightly lighted barroom.  One man was lounging on an old sofa, the head of which was up against the front doors, but so far as could be learned, no liquor was being sold nor was admittance granted to any of the former patrons of the place.  The loungers it was said, were Guidon's boarders, who now use the abandoned saloon as a lounging-room."

The Evening World depicted bowler-wearing men reading the accounts of the closing of the Black and Tan.  January 19, 1892 (copyright expired)

The following month the newspaper updated its readers, saying that the "den-keeper" Guidon was in the penitentiary, his license revoked, and the "dive closed for good."

The former Black and Tan continued life as a saloon, but its days of lawlessness were over.   The French Hotel was gone and the upper floors were operated as a tenement house, as originally intended.  By now the Sullivan Street block was on the upper edge of New York's Little Italy and the building filled with low-income Italian immigrant families.  The Pruzzo family lived here in 1898 when their their one-year old son, Joseph, died in their rooms on September 18.

The heavily-Italian population was evidenced in the names of owners and proprietors of No. 235.  In the first decades of the 20th century the saloon was run by Azzaretti & Michelino.   In 1925 Joseph D'Elio purchased the building, but quickly resold it to Mrs. Vincenza De Rosa who announced intentions to "hold it for investment."

In the 1930s, according to Eric Ferrara in his Manhattan Mafia Guide, No 235 was home to the young Carmine Galante.  Listed as a sorter at the Fulton Fish Market, he had already been arrested in connection with murder of Police Officer Walter De Castilla.  Galante, known as "The Cigar" and "Lilo," would become the boss of the Bonanno crime family.

In the last quarter of the 20th century the Italian population became diluted as younger generations moved on.  The change in the neighborhood was vividly evident when Second Coming moved into the former barroom space around 1981.  The second-hand vinyl record store was a destination for collectors for decades.

Today the block once avoided by "people with reputations to lose" is lined with sports bars, clothing shops and trendy restaurants.  The former Black and Tan saloon space, where "degraded women" worked their trade, is now a Thai restaurant behind a modern shop front.   And Richard Rosenstock's 1886 Queen Anne facade quietly hides its scandalous and colorful history.

non-credited photographs by the author
many thanks to reader Ted Leather for suggesting this post

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The 1848 George Clark House - 180 Ninth Avenue

The Chelsea neighborhood saw rapid developing in the 1830s  and '40s.  George Clark joined the trend when he erected a substantial four-story brick house and store on the northeast corner of Ninth Avenue and West 21st Street in 1848.   The Greek Revival-style building was an ample 24 feet wide and stretched back 60 feet along the side street.

It is doubtful that Clark ever lived in the house, erecting it instead as an investment property.  It was home to the Oliver Woodruff family not long after construction was completed.  Woodruff and his wife, Sarah, had three daughters.  Only Olivia was still living at home, her sisters had married brothers Edward and John B. Franks.

Christmas was no doubt a subdued holiday in the Woodruff house in 1854.  Oliver had been suffering a "lingering illness," according to The New York Herald, for some time.  The 65-year old died on December 28 and his funeral was held in the house on the afternoon of New Year's Eve.

Rather surprisingly, mourning did not interfere with plans for Olivia's wedding.  She was married to Joseph H. Greene, Jr. in the Church of the Holy Apostles just four months later on April 13, 1855.

In September 1859 the couple welcomed their third son, Arthur St. Clair Greene.   Tragically, 10 months later the boy died of "congestion of the brain."  It is unclear whether the Joseph and Olivia were living in the Ninth Avenue house with Sarah; but the baby's funeral was held in the house on July 3, 1860.

If the Greenes were, indeed, living in the house they soon left.  The 1861 directories listed only Sarah as living here.  Annually the New York City Directory published a list of addresses of businesses it refused to name--the implication being that they were less than respectable.  The store at 180 Ninth Avenue was included that year.

Sarah had either died in the winter of 1864-65 or the aging widow moved in with one of her daughters.  An auction was held in the house on February 24, 1865 of all the furniture and household items--from the sofas, bedsteads and tables to the glassware and kitchen utensils

By now many of the expansive Chelsea homes--especially those on the avenues--were being operated as boarding houses.   The new owner of 180 Ninth Avenue apparently did not want to go into business as a boarding house proprietress; but she was willing to augment her income.  Her advertisement on July 23, 1865 read "A lady, having a large house, with all the modern improvements, would take a few single gentlemen or gentlemen and their wives to Board."  She tempered her cook's questionable abilities with the breezy site near the river.  "Location for warm weather fine; table unexceptionable."   One of her boarders was young Welden Pell Anderson who was attending Columbia College in 1867 and 1868.

The reason the New York City Directory had refused to list the business here in 1861 may have been explained by an advertisement in The New York Herald on March 23, 1866:

For Sale--The Lease and Fixtures of an old established Bar and Billiard Room, in a good location and doing a fine business.

That the Woodruffs had leased the space to a saloon and poolroom is surprising--especially considering its location diagonally across the avenue from the General Theological Seminary.   But before long a much more respectable business would operate from the store.

Directly across the street was the house of Levi L. Livingston at 183 Ninth Avenue.  A remarkable mix of businessman and artist, he was an accomplished "decorative painter" who executed murals in public buildings and upscale homes.  His other business was much less artistic.

Born in Newburg, New York in 1819, he had come to New York City in 1862 and formed a partnership with John Jones as Livingston & Jones.  They leased the space in 180 Ninth Avenue, selling paints, varnishes, commercial grade oils, and similar merchandise.

In 1878 Livingston and Jones dissolved their partnership; but Livingston remained in the building.  Although he ran the business alone, he gave it the impressive name of Livingston, Ward & Co.  That year he was subpoenaed to appear in court to give what must have been an uncomfortable testimony.

For years Livingston & Jones had supplied oil to the Meter Company of Samuel Down nearby on Tenth Avenue at 22nd Street.  The factory manufactured gas meters.   Down died in October 1876, but now his will was being questioned.  Those looking to overturn the will insisted he was a drunk and, therefore, incapable of composing a reasonable legal document.

When the defense attorney presented Livingston "to show Down a temperate man," as described in court documents, the opposing lawyer dismissed his credibility, called him "bias, as he is now supplying the factory."

Isaac L. Livingston died on February 27, 1882.   The store became home to Moses D. Mericle's "hangings" shop (the 19th century term for wallpapers).  In 1895 Thomas J. Keefe received city permission to put a newsstand on the sidewalk here.

At the turn of the century the store had become the butcher shop of brothers Alphonse and Herman Kirschbaum.   They tested expanding their product offering in 1901 by installing a fruit stand outside.  That apparently did not go well, for there is no evidence that they ever renewed the license.

The Kirschbaums were, quite literally, close brothers.  They lived next door to one another--Alphonse at 355 West 118th Street and Herman at 357.  The H. & A. Kirschbaum butcher store became a neighborhood fixture and they did business here at least into the 1920s.

The second half of the 20th century would see tremendous change come to the Chelsea neighborhood.  In 1969 Joyce Ostrin and her actor brother Art opened a quirky vintage clothing and novelty shop called Circa Early Halloween at 174 Ninth Avenue.  In 1977 they moved the store to 180 Ninth Avenue--renaming it Early Halloween.  By then the upper floors had been converted to apartments, two per floor.

Early Halloween was ahead of the Chelsea renaissance.  In 1980 Angela Taylor, writing in her "Discoveries" column in The New York Times noted the changing area.  "Chelsea is a neighborhood of contrasts: lovely old town houses sharing blocks with rundown tenements, Spanish bodegas and brick-walled bistros, cosy neighborhood stores and emporiums as large as Barney's.  It is not the tourist attraction SoHo has become, but it has some interesting and unexpected shops."

Among those was Early Halloween where Taylor found 1920'
s linen golf knickers and "jazzy socks from the 1940's."   Around Valentine's Day 1984, New York Magazine noted that the store was offering not only eccentric vintage clothing but pricey items like an Edwardian sterling-framed evening purse and a brass mirror, both priced at $150.  

The Swedish coffee store, FIKA, leased the store space in 2014 and began renovations.  Amazingly, in March 2015 as the old shop facade was peeled off, Livingston & Jones's signage reemerged after more than 130 years.  Passersby could see it for only a few days before it was, again, covered over with a new storefront.

Livingston & Jones's signage was uncovered in March 2015.  photos by Simone Weissman

Despite the painted brick and modern shopfront, George Clark's house and store is essentially little changed after nearly 175 years.  And the amazing sign offering Isaac L. Livingston's paints and varnishes silently awaits rediscovery sometime in the future.

non-credited photographs by the author
many thanks to reader Steven Otero for suggesting this post

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Hermon Batterson House - 156 West 73rd Street

Surprisingly, the interior shutters of the parlor window survive.

In 1870 Henry Janeway Hardenbergh opened his architectural practice.  Among his first clients was Edward Clark, who had made a fortune in the Singer Sewing Machine company and was now fervently involved in the development of the Upper West Side.  In 1880 he designed what would be his best-known structure for Clark, the Dakota Apartments on Central Park West.

That same year Hardenbergh was at work on a project two blocks away for D. & E. Herbert--a row of eight upscale rowhouses on West 73rd Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues.  Daniel and Elias Herbert were, in fact, mason-builders.  For this project they doubled as the real estate developers; thereby substantially increasing potential profits.

Hardenbergh filed the plans in August 1880, noting the four-story,18-foot homes would be clad in "Connecticut brown stone."  Completed in 1881 the residences stood apart from the run-of-the-mill rowhouse design.

The easternmost was No. 156.   At the parlor level, the edge of the slightly-projecting full-height bay scrolled elegantly inward towards a carved cornice.  The arched, double-door entrance was matched in proportions by the parlor opening.

The carved crest above the keystone of the doorway would have demanded attention were it not for the exquisite stone and iron balconette over the parlor window.  Hardenbergh deftly morphed the projecting sides of the bay into Doric pilasters at the top floor.  A single incised line suggested fluting.  Above it all, a cast iron cornice was decorated with pyramidal bosses.

The house became home to Rev. Hermon Griswold Batterson and his wife, the former Sarah Eliza Farnum.  Born in Connecticut in 1827, he had married Sarah in 1866.  Batterson had come to New York from Philadelphia, where he was rector of the Church of the Annunciation.  Before taking the position as rector of the Church of the Redeemer in 1891, he served with the Rev. E. C. Houghton in the Church of the Transfiguration--commonly known as The Little Church Around the Corner.

The wealthy churches of New York City shut down during the summer months as their parishioners abandoned the city for Newport, Tuxedo Park and other resorts.  Their well-paid clergymen followed suit and the Battersons spent their summer months away from West 73rd Street.  On October 13, 1890, for instance, The New York Times reported that the couple had returned home on the Guion liner the Alaska.  Among the passenger list were no fewer than eight other clergymen and their wives.

Batterson wrote several scholarly books, including the exhaustive 1892 A Sketch-Book of the American Episcopate.  It provided biographies of the fist 156 bishops of the American Episcopal Church.

The ironwork of the stoop railings echoes the balcony.

Around the turn of the century Hermon, now retired, and Sarah were joined in the house by a nurse and companion, Florence M. Moberly.  Hermon died in the house on March 9, 1903 at the age of 75.  In his memory Sarah paid for the construction of Christ Church Cathedral in Salina, Kansas, where Batterson had served earlier in his career.

Sarah was 74 years old when Herman died.  Florence remained with her until Sarah's death on June 27, 1915 at the age of 85.

Sarah's estate was valued at "more than $500,000," according to the Philadelphia's Evening Public Ledger on July 19--in excess of $12 million today.   While a few individuals received bequests (Florence inherited $60,000 "in return for services and kindness") the vast estate was mostly distributed among churches and charitable institutions.

Brothers Thomas and James Gaunt, who routinely bought and sold real estate, leased a portion of the house to Drs. Daniel S. Dougherty and Frederick C. Keller for their medical office.   Both were specialists and professors at the New York Polyclinic Medical School.  Doughtery's fields were rhinology and laryngology; while Keller was a professor of surgery.   They leased their offices here until the Gaunts sold the building in 1919.

Once the home of a wealthy couple, Caroline S. Wilkinson now offered furnished rooms to working class men.  An advertisement in June 1920 offered "Attractively furnished rooms; gentlemen."  The ad boasted "electricity; subway."

Caroline owned No. 156 West 73rd Street for three decades; selling it in 1950 to Dimitri Iliescu.  At least one tenant operated what might have been a shady business in the mid-1950s.  Men's magazines like Popular Science ran advertisements for correspondence courses that promised "college diplomas."

Suspiciously, however, the name of the "school" differed with each advertisement.  An ad for an "Inexpensive Engineering correspondence course" in 1955 used the name Aureaw.  Another, the same year, for "Doctor Degrees, correspondence.  Optometry, divinity, psychotherapy," went by the name Auree.   And one for "Detective Correspondence course--Lieutenant's certificate" used the title Auread.   Whichever advertisement was answered, it is doubtful that any great careers were launched here.

In 1973 a conversion resulted in two apartments per floor.  At some point the brownstone received an unnecessary coat of gray-brown paint.  But otherwise the sole surviving house of Hardenbergh's 1883 row is greatly intact.

photographs by the author

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Lost Cohnfeld Building - Bleecker and Greene Streets

By the time this photo was taken the mansard had lost its architecturally important ironwork.  from the collection of The Alexander Architectural Archive, the University of Texas as Austin

In the last quarter of the 19th century women's hat styles included artificial flowers, berries and, often, a profusion of feathers.  The fashion for feathers became so intense that whole species of birds became endangered for their plumage.  Taking center stage in the New York feature industry was Isidor Cohnfeld, called by The Sun "the king of the feather trade."

Most of these women's millinery fashions in 1880 included feathers--one, in the center, has an entire stuffed bird. The Queen, The Lady's Newspaper, December 11, 1880 (copyright expired)

Cohnfeld was born in Germany in 1845, but grew up in England.  He arrived in New York around 1865.  The St. Paul Daily Globe said of him 20 year later, "He is essentially a self-made man, and by superior business talents has accumulated a large fortune."  The New York Times attributed his vast wealth to his business "as an importer on an immense scale of feathers and other articles with which women are wont to deck themselves."

Indeed, by the time of the article Cohnfeld was the largest feather dealer in New York and operated branches in London and Paris.  He lived in a lavish mansion at No. 56 West 57th Street and, like several other millionaires, was known for his thoroughbred horses.  His payments of $25,000 for the stallion Maxey Cobb and $15,000 for Helene, gained him "much prominence in horse circles," according to The New York Times in 1887.  The St. Paul Daily Globe described his private stable on the corner of 58th Street and Park Avenue as "palatial" and said it was fitted up "with smoking apartments and rooms for his master of the horse."

On February 16, 1884 The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that architect Alfred Zucker had filed plans for a seven-story "brick, iron and stone front warehouse" for Cohnfeld, to cost $225,000--around $5.68 million today.  But what was more surprising than the enormous price was the location, on the southeast corner of Bleecker and Greene Streets.  The neighborhood had, for several years, been a center of brothels, lawless dives and gambling dens.

Zucker's original renderings show a profusion of lacy ironwork, stone urns and other decorations on the uppermost floors.  Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide (copyright expired)

Looking back in 1898 the Record & Guide's A History of Real Estate, Building and Architecture explained that the new "Mercantile District" (today known as Noho) was kick-started by the Cohnfeld Building and prompted by its architect.

"The creation of the new locality may be said to have commenced in February 1884, when the Cohnfeld Building was erected at the southeast corner of Bleecker and Greene streets.  This was the pioneer structure, for which Mr. Alfred Zucker was responsible not only for the plans, but for the selection of site.  The friends of the owner and many experienced real estate men regarded the placing of such a building in such a position as a foolish and ill-considered step--the reputation of the place was so bad and its advantages for commercial purposes were so far from being appreciated."

The completed building opened onto Greene Street.   The Sun (which claimed the construction costs had risen to $400,000) said "It was [Cohnfeld's] boast that he would have the finest and lightest lofts that there were in this city for his 500 girls to work in, and he spared no cost to get them."  The New York Times described the building as "The finest feather factory in the world," and the St. Paul Daily Globe said "It is a model of architectural beauty inside and outside, and one of the highest in New York, as it towers seven feet higher than the Equitable building on Broadway."

Here young women were employed in sewing, trimming, bleaching and dying feathers.  While The Sun placed the number of  workers at 500, another newspaper said "He employs over 1000 persons at his works in this city."  Given the scale of the structure, the number most likely fell somewhere between those estimates.

Unbeknownst to Cohnfeld, at the time of the triumphant opening of his impressive factory his days of hobnobbing with Vanderbilts and Shepards at the race track were coming to an end.   His millions began drying up; many in financial circles blaming the high cost of the Cohnfeld Building for his money troubles.  The newspapers which had recently praised the structure now universally called it "Cohnfeld's Folly."

A panicked Cohnfeld began selling off property in the spring of 1886.  He sold a loft building one block south of the Cohnfeld Building at the corner of Greene and Houston Streets in May that year for $70,000, for instance.

Then, on November 4, 1887 The Sun ran the headline: Where Is Isidor Cohnfeld?  The article began, "Isidor Cohnfeld, the well-known dealer in ostrich feathers, has had the reputation of being a very rich man.  He was supposed to be the biggest dealer in the country in ostrich plumes.  It is reported that he has left town, and under mysterious circumstances."  The article noted "It is alleged that Mr. Cohnfeld has disposed of his horses and that his business has been conducted for some days by his bookkeeper and by Mr. Periam, formerly his manager."

Servants who came to the door at the West 57th Street mansion "refused to give any information regarding Mr. Cohnfeld's whereabouts."  An employee provided an excuse, saying Cohnfeld's "health had been failing of late, and that he was seeking a rest by advice of his physician."

But the press was not buying the story.  The following day The New York Times said "He was last seen down town about a week ago, and then seemed to be perfectly well."  The newspaper added, "He is said to be in the vicinity of Niagara Falls, a resort that is close, as most people are aware, to the Canadian boarder."  The implication that Cohnfeld was on the run from his creditors was clear.

It was discovered that Cohnfeld had sold his nearly-new building to Leon Mendel, a partner in the Chicago-based real estate firm of Mendel Brothers, for $350,000.  Shortly before his disappearance, he had essentially liquidated his stock of feathers "at ruinous prices," according to The Sun.   And true to The Times' insinuation, before long Isidor Cohnfeld crossed the Canadian border, reportedly with a satchel containing over $250,000 in cash.

The Mendel Brothers leased the entire Cohnfeld Building to Alfred Benjamin & Co.  The firm was described by the South Carolina newspaper The Abbeville Press and Hammer as "probably the largest manufacturer of fine ready made men's clothing in this country."  Like Isidor Cohnfeld, the firm employed hundreds of mostly immigrant laborers.

With the introduction of labor unions in the last years of the 19th century, businessmen like Alfred Benjamin were compelled to make difficult decisions.  He tried, initially, to keep arm's length from the problem.

On July 11, 1890 The Times reported that the cutters' union had boycotted the goods of Alfred Benjamin & Co. "because the firm had refused to interfere between its men and the union.  Mr. Benjamin had been requested to compel some of his men to pay dues that they were said to owe to the union, and he replied that that was none of his business, and that as long as these men did their work properly he would give them work."

Begrudgingly, Benjamin came to a costly compromise with the union.  In December "after a long fight," he paid the union $2,500 "for expenses incurred in fighting the firm."

Alfred Benjamin's problems would become far worse than labor friction four months later.  Smoke was seen wafting from a sidewalk grate just after 5:00 on  March 17, 1891.  The hundreds of workers inside were preparing to leave for the day.  The first alarm was turned in at 5:20, a second five minutes later, and then three others in rapid succession.

The New York Times reported that from its opening there were those who considered the building a fire hazard.  "The building known as 'Cohnfeld's Folly'...appeared to be one of the most solidly-constructed buildings in the city, and the general impression among those who saw it after it was put up was that it was fireproof.  But those who saw it erected were of the opinion that a fire once started below would, unless mastered at the first floor, sweep through the whole building and destroy it."  Fire Chief Charles O. Shay said "It's a timber stack with enough wood in it to build a small town."

The conflagration rose throughout the building.  The St. Paul Daily Globe reported "Suddenly, with hardly a moment's notice, the flames shot their way up through the building, and burst through the roof in a blaze that could be seen for miles about.  Then every floor was attacked by the devouring element, until from sub-basement to roof the magnificent building was a fiery furnace.  The firemen in the street below were like pigmies [sic] battling with a giant."

The fire spread, eventually engulfing nearly the entire block.   The following morning The Sun's headline read "Two Millions Burned Up.  The Dance of the Flames Begins in Cohnfeld's Folly."  And the sub-headline continued "Building After Building in Bleecker Street Goes Up with a Beautiful Display."  With unexpected callousness, the headline added "Benjamin's Gone--Where will the Men Get their Summer Clothes This Year?"

On the morning of March 18 nearly the entire block--ten buildings in all--was a charred ruins.  The Cohnfeld Building was completely destroyed only seven years after its completion.

An unexpected twist soon occurred.  Although there were no reports of any fatalities in the Cohnfeld Building fire, a specter was reportedly seen among the ruins soon after.  Within days long crowds of curious ghost-hunters lined the street hoping for a sighting.

On April 10, 1891 The New York Sun reported "The Bleecker street ghost drew as large a 'house' last night as Barnum's Circus or any of the theaters.  There was a bigger crowd about 'Cohnfeld's Folly' than there was three weeks ago when the flames gutted the buildings from Mercer to Green streets...The wraith was not due till midnight, but the street was packed with watchers as early as 9 o'clock."

The newspaper reported that the throng was so dense that pedestrians could not make their way along Bleecker Street and that twice policemen "descended on the mob and routed it."  Five minutes after the police left, the crowd reassembled.  The spirit was illusive, however.  On April 14 The Evening World reported "The people who have been watching a week for a sight of the Bleecker street ghost are getting discouraged.  Ghosts, by the way, are never around when wanted."

Interestingly enough, Mendel Brothers commissioned Alfred Zucker to design the replacement building.  Construction of the six-story structure began in September 1892.  That building was demolished in 1957 as part of the massive Washington Square Village apartment complex.

photo by Tayler MacMillan via

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The 1914 Church of St. Jean Baptiste - Lexington Avenue and 76th Street

An early postcard of the magnificent new building could have been set in Italy.

The parish of Saint Jean Baptiste was founded in 1882 to serve the Yorkville ndistrict's growing French-speaking population.  The congregation soon built what The New York Times later called "the little red brick French Church of St. Jean Baptiste" on 76th Street.   In 1900 the church was chosen to house a relic of Saint Anne, formerly located in Canada.   But the modest structure was hardly proper, prompting Archbishop Michael Corrigan to comment at the inauguration of the Solemn Exposition in December that year "Evidently this church is too small and not imposing enough for the requirements of perpetual adoration."

Despite its elaborate interiors the 76th Street church (seen here in 1908) was deemed "not imposing enough."  photo by Byron Company, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Thomas Fortune Ryan was among New York's wealthiest and most philanthropic citizens.   According to church legend, he often attended mass at St. Jean Baptiste, preferring it to the more pretentious society churches.   The story goes that he arrived late for mass and was disgruntled to find standing room only.  During the announcements a plea for donations for a new structure was made.

Afterwards, unaccustomed to standing and having no intentions to do so again, he approached Father Letellier, asking how much a new church would cost.   The priest threw out a figure from the top of his head.  "$300,000.00," he said.  Ryan told him to proceed with the plans.

Land was acquired at the southeast corner of Lexington Avenue and 76th Street.   Construction began in 1911 and about a year later, on April 28, 1912, the cornerstone was laid  An orchestra played as the choir sang before a crowd of 8,000 onlookers.  Cardinal John Murphy Farley smoothed the mortar with a silver trowel and the stone was set in place.  Inside was a copper box containing a medal from Pope Pius, a copy of that morning's newspaper, and a parchment bearing the names of the Fathers of the Blessed Sacrament connected with the church. 

While some might have expected such an important architectural commission to go to one of Manhattan's more famous architectural firms, it had been awarded to Nicholas Seirracino.  Primarily a designer of ecclesiastical structures, he had just completed the Roman Catholic St. Clare's Church on West 36th Street a year earlier.

His monumental design drew inspiration from several Italian Renaissance churches.  A classical portico upheld by free-standing Corinthian columns sat above a wide staircase.  Just below and on either side of the twin bell towers stood trumpeting angels.  Completing the Renaissance design was the 172-foot tall dome.
Serracino's rendering won the Gold Medal at the International Exposition at Turin.  Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide, February 18, 1911 (copyright expired)

As construction continued, The New York Times reported on November 3, 1912, that Ryan's gift had significantly increased from the original $300,000 estimate.  "It will be one of the largest and most imposing Roman Catholic churches in America," it said, "accommodating 7,500 persons.  The cost will be about $1,000,000."  The newspaper noted that Ryan had "determined to build for the fathers a church of cathedral-like proportions and of the highest artistic beauty."  The completed Church of St. Jean Baptiste was dedicated on January 6, 1914.

The quiet devotions of worshipers were dramatically upset on the evening of November 30, 1918.   There were a few women in the church that night when two blocks away a gun-wielding man named Charles Georges ordered Dr. Richard Kovacs out of his automobile and then drove off with it.  The doctor hailed police who joined him in chasing the car.

When Georges ditched the car near the subway entrance at Lexington Avenue and 76th Street, the police began firing.  The thief shot back then rushed up the stone steps of the Church of St. Jean Baptiste.  The New York Times reported "The chase continued up the central isle and shooting went on as Georges climbed the stairs leading to the choir."  When Georges ran out of ammunition, he was subdued and arrested.

The newspaper added "After he had left with the police some of the women who had not become hysterical continued their prayers.  No one was injured."

Almost a year to the day later another disturbing incident took plate.  French-born Cecilia Simon was 33 years and worked as a maid in the home of William Geenough on East 56th Street.   She was said to be devout and attended mass every morning.

On Sunday November 23, 1919 Cecilia dropped her envelope into the collection plate.  Later when the envelopes were opened, hers did not contain cash, but a note saying she objected to certain items being placed on the altar.   She apparently kept watch, but none of her perceived offenses were corrected.

The following Saturday she left the Greenough house, telling another maid that she was "going out to do some good work; to smash some statuary."   A funeral service had just completed when Cecilia walked into the church and approached the altar.  Before anyone could stop her she "swept several costly pieces of statuary and candelabra from the altar to the floor," according to newspaper reports.  The damage amounted to about $3,000 (nearly $42,000 today).  She was arrested and taken to Bellevue Hospital for observation.

On May 29, 1921 the New-York Tribune reported stunning news.   Archbishop Patrick J. Hayes had returned from Rome, where he had petitioned the Holy See with an unlikely request--one which was granted.  At 4:00 that afternoon, said the article, St. Jean Baptiste would become a Major Basilica--the first in the United States.  As a matter of fact, it went on, only "three other churches, all of them in Rome, have been raised to the dignity of Major Basilica."

When the annual Novena to St. Ann opened on July 17, 1921 more than 5,000 persons were in attendance.  The New York Times reported that they "had the supposed relic, a bone of St. Ann, applied to their afflicted parts.  Some had only a headache, but others suffered from cancer, lameness, blindness and epilepsy."

The faithful related their miraculous stories of a year earlier.  "A boy of 8 appeared walking naturally before Father Pauzet and told him that he had been lame in one knee and had come to the shrine on crutches.  He had been instantly cured, he said.  A woman said that last year she had been cured of a growth; that all signs of this had since disappeared and now she had com again to give thanks.  Another woman said she had been instantly relieve a year ago of a bad sore throat."

With the new honor came a new altar--the costliest and second largest in the United States.  On October 30, 1921 the New-York Tribune reported that the $100,000 altar ($1.34 million in today's dollars) was set to be installed.

"The altar will be forty-seven feet high, twenty-eight feet wide, and twenty-six feet deep.  It is of Italian Renaissance design, the altar proper being approached by a flight of five steps of marble."   It was constructed in the United States by Gorham & Co., although the carvings were executed in Italy.   The central panel depicted a marble depiction of Di Vinci's "The Lord's Supper."  On either side were panels of St. Matthew and St. John. 

The massive altar was the most expensive in the U.S.  photo by James Primosh, via

"Another base course is of Botticino marble, ornamented with mosaic panels containing ecclesiastic symbols, and the door of the Tabernacle is of bronze studded with precious and semi-precious stones.  The throne for the Monstrance is of bronze and is surmounted by adoring angels."  Above the altar rose the baldachino, supported by 12 red marble columns.  Mosaics of saints decorated the interior, and the canopy over the altar was made of velvet and ermine.

Over the years the magnificent church was the scene of elaborate funerals and fashionable weddings, but one of the most memorable and subdued was that of Thomas Fortune Ryan on November 26, 1928.  The tycoon had left an estate estimated at around $300 million, but he requested the simplest service that the church could perform.  The Times reported "A single priest officiated.  There was no eulogy, no honorary pallbearers, no flowers, except for a handful of red roses on the candlelit altar."

Millionaires and commoners crowded the church for Thomas Ryan's funeral.  photo from the collection of the Library of Congress

The church was packed--from titans of industry to servants from the Ryan household.  Among the mourners were J. P. Morgan, Otto H. Kahn, Charles M. Schwab, Elihu Root, Bernard Baruch, and Clarence H. Mackay.  There were politicians, like Senator Royal S. Copeland and James W. Gerard, former Ambassador to Germany.  Yet the entire service lasted only 25 minutes.

The congregation that had been formed to serve French speaking immigrants, most from Canada, had changed.   By the time of Ryan's funeral the membership included society leaders like Helena Woolworth McCann, the wife of millionaire attorney Charles E. F. McCann and daughter of Frank W. Woolworth.  Her funeral on March 18, 1938, was much less muted than Ryan's had been.  A solemn high mass of requiem was celebrated and floral tributes included two 8-foot crosses composed of lilies.

Cardinal Francis Joseph Spellman presided at the pontifical mass to celebrate the Church of St. Jean Baptiste's 75th anniversary on October 27, 1957.  The service included several monsignors and two auxiliary bishops.   The New York Times reminded its readers of the stark differences that had occurred since the church's beginnings.  "The parish's first mass was said above a still-existing stable at 202 East Seventy-seventh Street on Washington's Birthday in 1882."

It was not only the parish, but the neighborhood which had changed.  Following Vatican II masses in French were discontinued.  By now the rowhouses of Lexington Avenue had been replaced by the sprawling Lenox Hill Hospital complex or converted to shops and apartments.  It remained, nonetheless, an upscale neighborhood.  So it was surprising when a worshiper was attacked within the church on October 28, 1970.

Anna King, a 63-year old widow, attended mass every morning.   That day she visited the St. Anne Shrine in the lower chapel just after 8:30.  As she made her way back up the spiral staircase to the church proper, she was attacked by three teens who tried to wrest her purse from her.   She steadfastly refused to let go of the purse and the youths fled, but not before stabbing her four times in the back.

In 1989, after limestone chunks fell to the Lexington Avenue sidewalk, a $6 million restoration was initiated headed by the architectural firm of Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates.  The magnificent building was designated a landmark in 1969 by the recently-formed Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Friday, September 22, 2017

An Elegant Fragment - 380 Broadway

In 1859 financiers Samuel D. Babcock and Matthew Morgan began construction on a handsome commercial structure at the northeast corner of Broadway and White Street.  Completed in 1860, the Italianate style building was elegantly faced in white marble and stretched approximately 71 feet along Broadway and 175 down White Street.

The structure was, in fact, two buildings.  No. 380-382 was separated from 384-386 by a brick firewall--one that would prove its importance later.   Like all Americans, before long the buildings' initial tenants were focused on Civil War.

In 1864 Hall, Southwick & Co. and Allen Brothers both advertised on the double-building (right)  Print by Thomas Bonar, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Dry goods dealers William Seligman & Co. was among "some patriotic merchants," as described by The New York Times on August 17, 1862, that provided "bounties" for soldiers.  The firm offered reward money intended to motivate recruiters to enlist immigrant into The Irish Brigade.

Arms maker Richard P. Bruff was also doing business from the northern building when he received a Government contract to produce Union Army firearms in 1862.   The massive order necessitated his increasing his staff and in January 1863 he hired several new workers, including James McLoughlin.

Almost immediately Bruff noticed shortages.  The New York Times reported on January 28, 1863 that he "has daily missed a quantity of the manufactured arms, and in many instances he missed them after the revolvers had been carefully packed in boxes ready for shipping."  A police officer was assigned "to ferret out the facts" and before long he caught McLoughlin red-handed pawning revolvers.

The unpatriotic thief had avoided suspicion by telling the pawnbrokers that he was a discharged cavalry officer.  More than 30 "costly revolvers" were recovered.

Another tenant filling a Government contract was Hall, Southwick & Co., which was busy making military boots and shoes throughout the war.    It was a lucrative contract and the firm produced more than one million pairs of military footwear a year.  

Hall, Southwick & Co. expressed its appreciation two months after the end of the war.  The firm joining other New York merchants in presenting President Andrew Johnson "a coach, span of horses, harness, blankets, &c.," as a "token of their high appreciation of his fidelity to the country," as reported by The Times on May 25, 1865.

Far less bellicose in its business interests was Allen Brothers, who made apparel for the fairer sex.  On February 14, 1864 it advertised "Cloak and Mantilla makers wanted--none but the very best, experienced hands, accustomed to fine work, need apply."  The firm promised "the highest pay and steady work through the season."   It would remain in the northern building for several years.

Dry goods merchant Richard C. Gardner was doing business from the Nos. 380-382 in 1866.  He was bamboozled by a slick-talking Texan in October that year.  Charles Clark entered the shop and informed Gardner that he was the owner of the schooner Dart which was headed to New York from Galveston with 300 bags of wool, 1,700 hides, and 120 bales of cotton worth a total of $45,000.

He explained that he wanted to purchase finished goods to send back to the South on the ship.  He offered to pay one-half cash on the spot and would then pay the balance within four months.  The deal sounded reasonable and Gardner sold him $8,000 worth of goods.  Unbeknownst to him Clark had been telling the same story to several other merchants.  Luckily for Gardner, he had only delivered $175 worth of goods to the Dart before Clark was arrested.

John M. Davies & Co. was in 384-386 by the spring of 1869.  The firm imported and manufactured men's shirts and ties.  Like Richard P. Bruff it had a problem with a sticky-handed employee.  On December 12, 1871 Lewis Cole was arrested for stealing $60 worth of goods.

The firm suffered some unflattering publicity in 1875 when it received a shipment of imported silk ties.  The Customs Collector checked the goods and accused John M. Davies & Co. with fraud--saying they were, instead, more expensive silk scarves.

About this time the entire southern building was leased by the dry goods firm Evans, Peake & Co.   Miles E. Jenkins had been employed for 11 years in 1877 when officers of the company "became greatly alarmed, and kept a vigilant watch over their clerks," according to The New York Times.

Interestingly, large companies like Evans, Peake & Co. accepted the fact that employees would steal.  A member of the firm explained to a reporter, 'There was always more or less leakage, and it was always difficult to watch and catch a thief among so many employees."  But now it was excessive.  Within the past few months more than $1,000 worth of goods were missing--nearly $24,000 today.

An undercover detective nabbed Miles E. Jenkins, a man highly active in school and church affairs.  The Times headline read "ANOTHER DOWNFALLEN CLERK...His Exemplary Life in Public Said to have Been a Sham."

Evans, Peake & Co. left 380-382 Broadway on January 1, 1880.  The matching building next door was occupied by three dry goods firms at the time.  On the same day that Evans, Peake & Co. moved out, Hazen, Todds & Co. moved into the first floor and basement of 384-386.  The firm dealt in silks, dress and "fancy dry goods."  Dieckerhoff, Raffloer & Co., dealers in braids and buttons, occupied the second, third and fifth floors; while the fourth was occupied by James Wilde, Jr. & Co. "manufacturing tailors," who, like Hazen Todds & Co., had just moved in.

At around 6:00 on the evening of February 20 fire smoke was seen wafting from the upper windows.  There were 22 men and boys working in Dieckerhoff, Raffloer & Co., one of which told reporters there was just enough time to get the papers locked in the safe.  "All got out safely, even the watch-dog being rescued," reported the Tribune.

Fire fighters quickly arrived but the fire was well under way.  The New-York Tribune noted "The burning building was next to the one at the corner of White-st. and Broadway, and in construction similar to it."  Everyone working in the building managed to get out, J. A. Knapp of Hazen, Todd & Co. saying "It was at the peril of our lives that we did get out."

Several firemen attempted to fight the inferno from the roof.   When the immense safe on the fifth floor plummeted all the way to the basement, it weakened the structure.  The New-York Tribune reported that two companies of fire fighters were on the roof, "but feeling the roof giving way they had been obliged to retreat."  Two members of Hook and Ladder Company No. 1, Thomas J. Dougherty and John F. Cassidy, hesitated.

The St. Paul, Minnesota newspaper the Daily Globe, reported on the horrific results in dramatic Victorian prose.  "The roof gave way suddenly near the center, near where they were standing, and with blanched faces and cries of horror the two doomed firemen fell into the blazing abyss to be consumed."

At around 7:30 the rear wall collapsed.  After than "All hope of saving any part of the burning building was at an end," reported the New-York Tribune.  Thanks to the heavy party wall, the vacant No. 380-382 Broadway was little damaged.  

The year of the devastating fire Butler Brothers, "dealers in hosiery and notions," was located at No. 370 Broadway.  Formed by brothers Edward, George and Charles Butler, the firm supplied wholesale merchandise to retailers and was one of the first mail-order companies in the U.S.   After No. 370 Broadway was devastated by fire on January 7, 1882, Butler Brothers moved to No. 380 Broadway.

The employees were given a rare treat on February 7, 1886, the 18th anniversary of Charles H. Butler's wedding.  He invited the staff, about 200 in number, to the celebration at his estate, The Evergreens, at Rahway, New Jersey.  Butler hired a special train to transport the workers from New York to New Jersey, where they found "a caravan of large sleighs" waiting to take them to the mansion.  The New York Times reported "The clerks feel greatly delighted because their employer treated them with as much cordiality as he did his other guests, and made the trip a red-letter day in their lives."

Charles H. Butler's wealth was evidenced three years later then he purchased the famous country estate, Boscobel, upstate, paying $75,000 for the 23-acre property, just under $2 million today.

In 1898 Butler Brothers moved into the newly-completed New Era Building at No. 495 Broadway.   Other firms in No. 380-382 now included engravers John Scoles; toys and novelties dealers Spelman Brothers; and the Gilbert Manufacturing Company, wholesale dealers in cotton goods.

Gilbert Manufacturing Company, whose mills in Bainbridge, New York employed about 100 workers, had created a sensation in 1887 as efforts to erect a memorial to General Ulysses S, Grant were under way.  The firm introduced its Grant Memorial Twills--yard goods offered to clothing manufacturers.  Most of the proceeds from the sales went to the Grant Monument Association.

On September 25, 1887 The New York Times reported "Since the offer was made by the corporation it has increased its looms over 200 per cent.  Another mill has just been put into operation, and still it is difficult to supply the demand for the twills."

The turn of the century would see a marked difference in the tenant list.  Manufacturing was essentially gone from the building as offices moved in.  In 1900 there were at least four insurance companies in the building, and in 1902 three express companies--The Pacific Express Co., the U.S. Express Co., and the Western Express Co.--had branches here.   By 1903 insurance firms made up the bulk of the renters, while other offices like that of the Purchasing Paymaster of the Brooklyn Navy Yard took space by 1905.

Globe-Wernicke Co. offered both office and residential bookcases. McClure's Magazine, August 1907 (copyright expired
It was about that time that the Cincinnati-based office furniture makers Globe-Wernicke Co. opened a store in the ground floor and basement.   The company did a brisk business in its domestic bookcases, as well, with its stackable and expandable models that allowed the purchaser to customize the furniture.

A portion of the Globe-Wernicke selling floor as it looked round 1912. photo by Byron Company, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The store windows slightly protruded beyond the facade around 1912.  Globe-Wernicke had not only plastered signage on the building, but (difficult to see in this photo) erected a large sign on the roof.  photo by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

In 1916 Globe-Wernicke erected its own building about three blocks to the north at No. 451 Broadway.   No. 380 would continue to be home to, mainly, insurance other professional offices--like the Library Bureau which published reference guides for libraries nationwide in 1928.

During the Depression years Ninto Building Corporation, a real estate development firm, leased space in the building, as did Golding Brothers & Co., cotton converters.  At mid-century Kremer Co., dealers in stationery supplies like typewriter paper, had a full floor; and in the 1960s Defender Industries, Inc. was here, selling marine equipment such as fiberglass tarps, matting and nylon rope.

The Tribeca renaissance changed the personality of No. 380 Broadway in 1992 when the Access Theater leased the fourth floor.  It was joined in 2002 by the Manhattan Children's Theater and in 2014 by the Battery Dance Company, which took the fifth floor.

Few passersby would suspect that the handsome marble building is a sliver of its original self.

photographs by the author