Thursday, November 30, 2017

Brick As Design -- No. 927 Broadway

The building was originally the height of the former house at the right.

Sarah Mills erected her brick-faced home at No. 927 Broadway around 1852.  That year a servant girl, who worked just two days a week,  was looking for a more permanent position.  She placed an advertisement in the New-York Daily Tribune seeking work “As Nurse and plain Sewer, or as Chambermaid and plain Sewer, by a respectable Protestant Girl.  Can be seen for two days at 927 Broadway.”  But Sarah's neighborhood was quickly changing as commerce crept up Broadway.

Only three years later another servant placed a similar ad, with a noticeable difference.  She ended it saying "Can be seen for two days, Monday and Tuesday.  Call at No. 927 Broadway, between 21st and 22nd-st., 2nd floor.”   The designation of "2nd floor" suggests that already the street level had been converted to a shop.

By 1858 the ground floor was home to piano manufacturer Patrick Lynch's showroom.  He would be one of several piano merchants to establish themselves along Broadway in the middle of the century.  Lynch’s showroom exhibited pianos at a period when no respectable middle or upper-class parlor would be without one.

In 1866 Lynch partnered with another piano dealer named Gomien and they continued business as Lynch & Gomien in the building through 1873.

Lynch offered a "very liberal discount" to religious organizations -- Brownson's Quarterly Advertiser, July 1860 (copyright expired)
Interestingly, another piano seller was simultaneously doing business in the building.  Robert Harper had been a piano tuner in 1849 and 1850; but in 1861 he placed an advertisement that read “Robert Harper, Pianoforte Maker.  For the past 20 years in the employ of the first establishments in the city, in the Manufacture, and also Tuning…Orders left at 927 Broadway.”

Above the piano showrooms were the headquarters of the Union Democratic Association.  On October 27, 1862 James T. Brady addressed a large group of men here, ais the election neared, ridiculing the Republican candidate.  The New York Times reported on his speech, tellng his audience "that the only choice left for them was that which the man gave his wife on the occasion of a severe domestic feud, when he said to her, after a great deal of altercation: ‘My darling, you can stay in this house or not, exactly as you please, but I am determined you shan’t stay.’”

As the 1870s drew to a close one of the upstairs rooms was leased by a tailor and men’s clothing maker.  On October 2, 1879 he advertised for “A good coatmaker and tailoress wanted.”  Business was either very good or the employees not so much; for a year later—nearly to the day—another advertisement appeared in The Sun.  “Wanted, good coat maker in store; also tailoress; Singer machine.  927 Broadway up stairs.”

By 1882 the E. A. Clark Custom Corsets firm occupied an upper floor, and J. B. Shepherd sold "fancy work and decorative work" from the former piano showroom.  On November 29, 1884 the Record & Guide noted Shepherd was selling the newly-popular "bamboo cloth" which it deemed "very pretty and serviceable" and "embroidered with Algerian silk in Kensington and finished with lace."  The article promised that "many attractive and novel designs in Renaissance embroidery, kid and plush applique work is offered."

In 1887 millionaire dry goods merchant James McCreery purchased the building for $120,000.  An investment property, it was given a significant makeover.  The squat building was enlarged to five floors and any traces of its residential origins were gone.  While other builders for cast iron or stone for their commercial facades, McCreery's architect was content with brick above the cast iron storefront.  Using only touches of stone trim, the architect manifested his Romanesque Revival design almost entirely in brick.  Even the brackets of the pressed metal cornice were brick.

Beneath the purple and white paint the original brick is quite possibly several colors, creating a polychromatic contrast.
The renovated building attracted tenants of the millinery and clothing trade that were quickly engulfing the area.  In 1887 the retail space at ground level was home to the Cleanfast Hosiery Co.  The company would stay on into the 1890s. 

The company promised that its black dye would not rub off -- Lippincott's Monthly Magazine Advertiser, 1887 (copyright expired)
Upstairs was Professor Livingston’s dress cutting school, touted by the Professor himself as “The largest dress cutting school in the world, and the only place in New York where ladies can learn the entire art of French dress cutting, making, finishing, tacking, draping, designing.”   Women already adept in sewing could buy imported dress patterns here.  An advertisement in The Sun on April 20, 1890 called the selection “The largest and finest assortment of imported patterns ever brought to this country.”

Professor Livingston's pupils would learn to create French fashions similar to these.  (copyright expired)

The Professor lured out-of-town shoppers to send for a pamphlet by promising “Elegant fashion plate will be given to any lady for circular.”

A year later Professor Livingston remarked on his success in The Sun; noting the high demand for seamstresses who had finished his classes.  “We cannot supply the demand for dressmakers using my new French combination of squares, the only system that is not a chart.”  Professor Livingston stressed his one-on-one technique.  “We do not teach in lessons or in classes, but each lady separate until thoroughly learned.”

James McCreery sold the building in 1891 for $165,000.  His improvements and frugality in design would seem to have paid off.  The difference from his original purchase price four years earlier would translate to approximately $1 million today.  

While Professor Livingston taught young ladies the art of French dressmaking, the Jenness Miller Co. was publishing the Jenness Miller Illustrated Monthly magazine from the building.  Good Health magazine was impressed with the Illustrated Monthly’s April 1893 issue, calling it “a fine feast of good reading.  There are some good stories poems, fashion news and gossip, finely illustrated, and also the story of a wonderful Hindu woman.”

The millinery and apparel tenants would be ousted in favor of confections when Ignazio Allegretti signed a $12,000 per year lease on the entire building on January 16, 1897.  The Chicago-based businessman ran the Allegretti Chocolate Cream Company.  Now the company looked to open a New York Branch.  The New York Times reported that it would use the building “as its New York manufactory and salesrooms.”

Allegretti Chocolate Cream Company's ambitious plans did not last especially long.  By 1902 Miss K. McCrane ran her jewelry store from street level.  And it was a particularly bad year for her. 

Early in August she discovered that thieves had broken in and made off with about $600 in jewelry.  The New York Times was surprised at the burglary, considering that “the store is at a point where there are people passing at all times and where the light is bright throughout the night.  Besides, there is a light in the rear of the store, which is kept burning all night.”

Miss McCrane notified police; but was less-than-satisfied with their effectiveness.  She was even more upset with law enforcement when she arrived at the store on August 30, less than a month later, to discover a broken window and more jewelry missing.  The Sun reported that “When Miss K. McCrane, the proprietor of the store, arrived and discovered her loss she sent at once to the police station and told the police she wanted them to get out and hustle for the thief.”

After waiting all morning for police to arrive, she took matters in her own hands and sent for newspaper reporters.  By the time they arrived, Police Captain Sheehan had been there; managing only to enrage the businesswoman more.

“Capt. Sheehan came around about 11 o’clock,” she told reporters, “and said, after looking over the place: ‘Well, you must expect such things if you leave valuables in the window.’  Now, if I can’t get police protection I’ll find out why.  The idea of a store in this neighborhood being broken into and the robbers escaping!”

The feisty store keeper offered a vague threat.  “Now, I’m just going to give them time to do something, and if they don’t catch the man I’ll take up the case myself and see whether the police are going to do their duty or not.”

Captain Sheehan responded with a surprising solution.  He arrested his beat cop for not catching the thief.  “When Capt. Sheehan heard of Miss McCrane’s talk to the reporters he said that Policeman Schoemaker was the person who was responsible for the robbery.  To emphasize this, he preferred charges against Shoemaker ‘for failing to catch a burglar on his post,’” reported The Sun on August 31.

Meanwhile, upstairs the Alaska Fur Co., was doing business refurbishing used furs.  “We buy, trade, repair, remodel and sell Furs at wholesale prices,” it promised in an advertisement later that year.  “We take old Furs in exchange for new.”

As Christmas approached Alaska Fur Company published a list of its persuasively-priced items:  Bear boas at $20 and $25; Mink long double stoles, $20 and $25; Squirrel sets, trimmed with ermine, $40 and $45; Sealskin coats, $150 and $175; and Persian Lamb coats plain and trimmed at $75, $100, and $125.  (The price of the most expensive of the Persian lamb coats would equal about $3,600 today.)

In 1912 the city widened Broadway and buildings along the thoroughfare were required to comply.  Architect Alfred Freeman was commissioned to remove the protruding store window where Miss McCrane’s jewelry had been displayed—and stolen—and install a new display window flush with the property line.

As World War I took young men away from the work force, the United States Employment Service opened special offices in the building to fill Government jobs.   The office was sparked to action following a the devastating explosion in a munitions packing plant in South Amboy, New Jersey on October 4, 1918.

The initial blast was felt in Manhattan and a series of fires and explosions continued for three days, killing some 70 people.  The loss of the factory was potentially disastrous for the military.   In order to continue supplying munitions, the focus of work was switched to another plant in May’s Landing, New Jersey.  Nine hundred soldiers were temporarily sent to the factory to supplement the work force; but civilian workers were desperately needed to replace them.

The Broadway office of the Employment Service appealed to patriotic citizens to step up.  According to its announcement in The Sun four days later, the soldiers were “needed to fight in France.”  It urged “Wake Up, American Workingmen!  Your Country asks you to work at May’s Landing and release the soldiers to fight in France.”

In 1920 the fourth floor of the building was leased to Drummer Press; but within weeks the parent firm of Drummer & Cohen purchased the entire structure.  The company manufactured stationery and The New York Times announced that it would “alter the store and basement for occupancy.”

Throughout the rest of the century the brick-faced building housed a variety of small manufacturers and offices.  In 1946 Alex S. Gordon Son, “jobbers of elastics and rubber goods” occupied part of the building after it purchased the property that year.  In 1970 the store front was altered again; and today the first two floors wear an unhappy attempt at a modern façade.

Above, other than replacement windows and a questionable paint job; the 1880s façade is intact—an ingenious (and cost-saving) example of architectural brickwork.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Frederick Becker House and Stable - 249 and 251 East 82nd St

The window sills with their diminutive brackets were shaved off the house sometime in the 20th century.

By the mid-1880s Frederick Becker and his family lived in the brick-faced house at No. 249 East 82nd Street.  The Yorkville district by now was filling with German immigrant families, most of them working class.  Becker was slightly different.  A successful real estate operator, his home reflected his comfortable lifestyle.

But despite its stylish French Second Empire mansard, the house provided hints that the area was far removed from the fashionable neighborhood on the western side of Park Avenue.   The stone treatments of the parlor level openings, as well as the doorway, were somewhat clumsy, for instance.  But most surprising was the location of the family's stable--directly next door.

The very fact that the Beckers could afford their own stable (and in turn at least one horse and vehicle) spoke of their affluence.  But most wealthy families built their carriage houses a block or more away from their homes--eliminating the noise and odors that were necessarily associated with them.

Frederick Becker sold the house, apparently in the 1890s, to another real estate operator, Zachariah Zacharias.  He owned and managed several investment properties in the immediate neighborhood and slightly altered the stable building as a store by the turn of the century.   In 1907 it was described in the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide as a "two-story brick store."

There was living space on the second story of the little former stable in the spring of 1910 when Gustav G. Gaertner and his wife, Flora, purchased the it and the house.  The combined properties were assessed at the time at $14,500--about $378,000 today.

The Gaertners wasted no time in making changes to the stable building.  They hired architect Fred Ebling to do $5,000 in renovations, including new stairs and walls, a new front, and "cornices."  The New-York Tribune reported on May 28 that Ebling's plans "for making over the two story stable" would result in "offices, shops for light manufacturing."

While shops operated from the little brick building, the Gaertner's leased rooms in the house to working-class Germans, like Gustave Wolff.   He had worked for the City in the Department of Public Charities, but was fired.  So when he applied for a job as an Inspector of Milk in 1914, his application came under extra scrutiny.  A report by Leonard Felix Fuld on February 21 instructed that Wolff be marked "Not Qualified" pending review of "a copy of the charges upon which the said Wolff was dismissed."  It is unclear (but doubtful) if Wolff got his new job.

The residents of the house had a shock during the double-punch storm that hit on the night of Valentine's Day, 1922.  Following the blizzard that ended early the following morning, a northeast gale from the coast of Maine battered the city.  At some point 60-year old George Remig had collapsed in the snowstorm in front of No. 251.  The Evening World reported "He was dead when Dr. Kaye of Flower Hospital arrived."

The following year, on June 3, tenant Patrick Fox was riding in a taxicab along with a friend, Bernard J. Sherry, who lived about a block away on 81st Street.  As the cab turned from Fifth Avenue onto 86th Street, it was involved in a horrific three-car crash.  Both Fox and Sherry "were buried in the wreckage," according to The New York Times.   Patrolman Charles O'Connor called on pedestrians to help extricate the men.  Luckily, other than a broken collarbone, Fox's injuries were not serious and Sherry suffered cuts and bruises.   Their cabbie, John Kelly, was arrested on charges of felonious assault and held on $3,000 bail (a significant $43,000 in today's dollars).

Flora Gaertner sold the two buildings on May 28, 1929 for $50,000.  Her decision to liquidate was timely, with the Stock Market Crash only a few months on the horizon.

During the Depression years tenants like Mary Hechtl lived in the main house.  She was a hair dresser in Boris Silbert's "Orchid Beauty Salon" at No. 167 East 86th Street starting in September 1933.  Mary made $8 a week when hired.  She got a substantial raise in May 1935 which nearly doubled her pay to $15, or nearly $265 a week today.   Mary's welcomed windfall resulted in her having to do some explaining on the witness stand later that year when Boris's wife made it a point of contention in an ugly divorce suit.

Sharing the Yorkville neighborhood was Manhattan's Hungarian population.  In 1970 Sandor Puski arrived in New York from Budapest where he had been a publisher and book dealer.  With his son, Istvan, he established Puski-Corvin Magyar Konyveshaz in the little stable building.  The first floor included a bookstore in the front, and offices and a typesetting machine in the back.  From the back his Puski Publishing produced Hungarian language books; while the bookstore stocked some 12,000 titles.

The second floor was a small art gallery where signed lithographs by Hungarian artists could be purchased.  It also served as the home Pulski and his wife, Ilona, and where visiting Hungarian artists held regular meetings, lectures and poetry readings.

In 1987 a patron told a reporter from New York Magazine "There's no bookstore like this for Hungarians outside Budapest."  And, as a matter of fact, there was not one like it there, either.  Western books were outlawed in Hungary at the time.  "The books here are books of ideological openness and also books by classical Hungarian writers, and there's a small collection of rare books as well," the customer explained.

Eva Feitelson worked as a salesperson at the time.  She said Puski-Corvin was "really about staying Hungarian" and that the upstairs meetings "help us all stay in touch with our culture, and let others learn what it means to be Hungarian."

In the meantime, the main house had a small store and an apartment in the basement level, "furnished apartments" on the parlor floor, and 11 furnished rooms in the upper two floors.

But times were changing, as they always do in Manhattan.  On July 23, 1989 The New York Times remarked on the "rejuvenation" of the Yorkville neighborhood and of "what little is left of the German and Autro-Hungarian empire."  The article pointed out the few surviving businesses catering to the dwindling Hungarian population, including Puski-Corvin.

The changed eventually came to 249 and 251 East 82nd Street, as well.   Today there are just four apartments in the main house and the bookstore was converted to King's Carriage House, a restaurant, in 1996, which remains.  The two remarkably-surviving structures form a charming vignette--a sort of time capsule glimpse into the Yorkville that was in the 1880s.

photographs by the author

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The 1886 Simon Carmichael House - 51 West 105th Street

While the doorway opens onto 105th Street, it is technically the side of the building.

On June 12, 1885 architect Joseph M. Dunn filed plans for six "three-story stone and brick dwellings" on New Avenue at the corner of 105th Street.  Dunn was just a little out of touch with changes in the neighborhood, as New Avenue had been renamed Manhattan Avenue the year before.

The row of 17-foot wide speculative homes was the project of Frank A. Seitz, owner of the Frank A. Seitz Realty & Construction company.  The construction cost of each was estimated at $10,000, about a quarter of a million in today's dollars.   And that construction proceeded rapidly.  On January 30, 1886 the Record & Guide reported that one of the nearly-completed "Queen Anne houses" had sold; and within two months the row was finished.

The corner house opened onto the side street, disguising the narrow Manhattan Avenue dimensions, and providing it the address of 51 West 105th Street.  Clad in red brick and trimmed in limestone with terra cotta ornaments, it managed to out-charm its neighbors with details like the picturesque Juliet balcony above the entrance.

Dunn used optical tricks to provide architectural interest while retaining function.  He drew peaked, stepped gables in limestone to give the impression of an irregular roofline, while at the same time preserving a full-height third floor.  Even while knowing that the structure is rectangular with three pointy parapets, it is difficult for the observer to not see gables.  And he added stone wing walls on the 105th Street side with an offset opening, suggesting a doglegged stoop.

A carved shell fills the transom area above the delightful faux balcony.  There were, no doubt, originally French windows that opened outward.  Why the other openings on this level are bricked over is unclear; however their transoms (and all the others) were once filled with stained glass.

The house was purchased on April 19, 1886 by Simon P. Carmichael.  He paid Seitz $14,750, nearly $390,000 in today's money.  A dealer in "men's furnishings," he had run his haberdashery, S. P. Carmichael's, on Sixth Avenue for many years.  Like all upscale men's stores, he not only sold imported accessories but custom-made fine shirts and suits for his customers.

Carmichael and his wife, the former Annie Green, had three daughters: Jennet Irene was 24, Anna Belle (who went by her middle name) was 22, and Margaret Louise was just six years old.  He was not only well-respected as a merchant and businessman (he was also a trustee in the West Side Savings Bank); but was active in political and social issues--an active member of the Presbyterian Club and the West Side Republican Club, for instance.

Simon Carmichael's fervor for social and political reform was evident in November 1893 when he helped found the "Good Government Club," the object of which was "to secure honesty and efficiency in the administration of city affair, procure the election of capable persons and to sever municipal from National politics."   Its clubhouse was established nearby the Carmichael house on 104th Street and by 1896 he was its president.

Terra cotta details include this panel below a first floor window on the Manhattan Avenue side, composed of 13 tiles.

He was also a member of the West Side Reform Association.  On January 30, 1895 The New York Times noted that its membership was "drawn from the best social and religious circles of the west side."  The objects of the temperance-minded group were:

1.  To oppose the granting of new liquor licenses and to restrict the sale of spirituous liquors.
2.  To promote the passage of more stringent excise laws, imposing just and adequate restraints and regulations upon the sale of liquors, wines, ale, and beer, and to secure the due enforcement of existing excise laws and regulations.

In 1890 Carmichael got a jump on other Sixth Avenue shop owners when he relocated to No. 1190 Broadway, in the Sturtevant House hotel.  The Clothier and Furnisher mentioned the new store was "fitted up very handsomely."

The Carmichael family spent their summers away as did all well-to-do New Yorkers.  But like most businessmen, while his wife and children whiled away the warm months, Simon took only a few weeks at a time.  On Friday, August 13, 1897, for instance the Clothiers' and Haberdashers' Weekly noted he "will spend three weeks in the Western part of New York State."  He apparently made an exception two years later when the same journal advised "S. P. Carmichael...will sale for Europe the latter part of July."

1899 had already been a busy year for Carmichael and he may have needed the diversion.  In March he had traveled to Albany to protest the proposed laying of four electric trolley car tracks along Amsterdam Avenue.  Among the group were the former mayor, William L. Strong, prominent businessmen, and the rectors of three important Upper West Side churches.

Then, just three weeks later, 19-year old Margaret Louise married William Alexander Wiley in the West End Presbyterian Church on April 5.  Belle, still unmarried, was her only bridesmaid.

The end of the house is a near match to the front of No. 127 Manhattan Avenue in the middle of the row.

The Carmichaels purchased a summer home in Ocean Grove, New Jersey around the turn of the century.  Simon remained a highly-visible (and audible) figure in Upper West Side causes.  He was in attendance at the West Side Republican Club's memorial dinner for William McKinley at Delmonico's on January 28, 1905, for instance.

The following year, on March 11, Annie died at the age of 59.  Her funeral was held in the house two days later.  Simon lived on in No. 51 until his death in the Ocean Grove cottage on August 3, 1911.

Just four months later, on December 16, the New-York Tribune reported that his daughters had sold the house to Mrs. Frances Hoertel.   Known as Fanny, she was the widow of Emile E. Hoertel the principal in William Hoertel's Sons.  Hoertel had been well-known in the latter part of the 19th century as a breeder and racer of thoroughbred horses.

Fanny had four children, Amelia, Emile Jr., Elsie and George.  At some point she transferred title to the 105th Street house to Emile, whose family lived with her there.   Successful and wealthy in his own right, he was the secretary and treasurer of Alexander McDonald, Inc., shipbuilders in Port Richmond, Staten Island. 

When Fannie Hoertel died in the house on September 8, 1923 at the age of 85, Emile and Amelia were her only surviving children.  It is unclear how long Emile and his family stayed on in the house; but it has survived as single family house up to today.
The wonderful built-in Eastlake-style sideboard never held a wine decanter during the residency of the abstinent Carmichaels. 
A beautifully-carved newel introduces the gently sweeping staircase, below which is tucked the stairs to the basement level.  photos via William Raveis
While certain of the period details--like the stained glass panels, for instance--were lost, most of the interior Queen Anne elements survive.

photographs by the author

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Lost Samuel L. M. Barlow House - 1 Madison Avenue

The substantial Barlow mansion dwarfed its high-end neighbors.  To the left is the brownstone Madison Square Presbyterian Church.  original source of photograph unknown
Samuel Latham Mitchill Barlow was just 35 years old when the Civil War broke out; but he had already made a remarkable mark on American law, industry and politics.

Born in 1826 in Granville, Massachusetts, he was the son of physician Samuel Bancroft Barlow.  His mother's aristocratic family had fled the French Revolution.  When Barlow was just 16 years old he came to New York City, working for a legal office for $1 a week.  Aggressive and ambitious, he was admitted to the bar at the age of 23 and quickly earned a reputation as a successful corporation lawyer.  Astonishingly, that very year he was paid the staggering fee of $250,000 (more than $8 million today) to settle claims following the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildago with Mexico.

In 1852 Barlow married Alice Cornell Townsend, the daughter of Peter Townsend.   In 1914 historian Cuyler Reynolds, in his Geneological and Family History of Southern New York, said "and thus [Barlow] allied his family with one of the oldest and most respected in this country."  Alice was just 19 at the time of her marriage.  The couple would have two children, Alice Wadsworth (fondly called Elsie), born within the year, and Peter Townsend, born in 1857.

During the 1850s Barlow's clients included railroad tycoons and princes of industry, like Cornelius Vanderbilt. In 1852 he co-founded the legal firm of Bowdoin, Laroque & Barlow.  That year he traveled to Europe representing an Illinois railway.  The case earned him $50,000.  It was just one example of the astonishing sums the young lawyer demanded.

It was through his prompting that George B. McClellan, a West Point graduate who had distinguished himself during the Mexican-American War, accepted the position of superintendent of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad in 1860.  There was a difference of only three months in their ages and the two would be life-long friends.

McClellan left the railroad the following year when the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter.  Throughout the war he confided in Barlow, asking for his opinions regarding strategies and his help in influencing politicians and powerful men in authority.

Neither Barlow nor McClellan believed that eliminating slavery was a primary issue in the cause.  An intact Union and an end to conflict were the major objectives.  The New York Times diplomatically called Barlow "an apologist for slavery."

In the meantime, a millionaire with quite different goals lived in a lavish mansion at the northeast corner of Madison Avenue and 23rd Street on Madison Square.  William Lane was one of the leading wholesale drygoods dealers in the country and was vocally pro-South.  He did extensive business in the Southern states, and just prior to the outbreak of war, Lane entertained Jefferson Davis in his home.

The mansion outdid its neighbors both in size and magnificence.  Four stories tall above an English basement, its broad stoop befitted the oversized proportions of the residence.  Noticeably grand were the first floor openings--each a set of French doors that opened onto balustraded stone balconies.

While  Barlow's massive wealth continued to grow, the Civil War ruined William Lane, who sold Barlow his Madison Square mansion.  It would be months before the Barlow family moved in as renovations were initiated.

Meanwhile Barlow had been busy amassing a large library; much of it focused on American history.   It already included irreplaceable books and documents like the the first printed letters of explorers Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci and Hernan Cortez, and what a later cataloger described as "the rich series of colonial pamphlets, English, French and Dutch," and one of the largest sets of Jesuit Revelations ever compiled.

As the residence was being renovated, Barlow had the opportunity to purchased the library of Thomas Aspinwall--one that had taken thirty years to accumulate.  About 200 of the most precious volumes were packed in a trunk and delivered to Barlow's office.  The rest, around 3,700 volumes, were sent to the warehouse of Bangs Brothers to await the completion of the library in the Madison Avenue house.  On the night of September 18, 1864 the Bangs Brothers warehouse burned to the ground.

Although Barlow attempted to find scorched survivors, the books were lost.  Luckily, the rarest, including the 17th century records of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, were safe in the trunk.

Almost unbelievably, once in the invaluable library was in place in the Madison Avenue house Barlow made it accessible to the public.  Years later librarian James Osborne Wright wrote "You had only to come to the house, ring the bell, express your intention, and you were at once ushered into that hospitable 'Black Library,' where every bookcase was constantly kept unlocked.  If unable to come in person, or residing in a distant city, books, maps and manuscripts were forwarded to the student who stood in need of them to continue or complete historical labors."

Barlow continued his high-level legal work while Alice involved herself in charitable causes.  In 1867 she was assistant treasurer of The New-York Ladies' Southern Relief Association.  The goal of the group was to provide aid to "the suffering women and children of the South."  A plea for donations that year noted "Tens of thousands of families have lost all they possessed.  Many are houseless, and have only their land left, without even a plow or hoe, a horse or mule to cultivate it."

Three years later, with the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, Alice was involved in staging "the grand national bazaar" which opened on October 31, 1870 for the benefit of France.  The proceeds of the event went to "procuring and forwarding material aid to the widows and orphans of that sad land, many of whom are in a state of starvation."

Barlow, too, would be involved in the Franco-Prussian conflict; but in a much different way.  Upon the declaration of peace he settled a dispute concerning a $1.6 million contract between an American arms manufacturer and France, which no longer needed the weapons.  (They were shipped three months later.)

Madison Square, originally surrounded by an iron fence and seen from the parlor windows of the Barlow mansion, was described by James D. McCabe Jr., in his New York By Gaslight as "the prettiest of all the smaller parks of New York" and lined with "superb private mansions."   The author wrote "A fine fountain in the centre is one of its chief attractions, and around it gather, on fair mornings, crowds of children and nurses from the neighboring fashionable streets."

But all that was threatened in March 1871 when the Tammany administration proposed extending Madison Avenue (which ran northward from 23rd Street) to the south.  The project would not only destroy about 90 houses and other structures, it would change Madison Avenue from a quiet residential street to a thoroughfare.  Although his name does not appear in the reports, it is almost doubtless that Samuel Barlow played a major role in defeating the proposal.

The vast wealth of the Barlow family was evidenced in August 1872 when a servant, Charles Augustus Stevens, helped himself to some of Alice's jewelry.  He was committed for trial on August 30 for the larceny theft of $6,000 in jewelry and diamonds--about a quarter of a million dollars today.

Earlier that year the Madison Avenue mansion was the scene of an event that sent vibrations across the nation.  On March 12, 1872 The New York Herald ran the headline "ERIE OVERTHROWN--Downfall of the Corrupt and Infamous Erie Ring--JAY GOULD MEETS HIS FATE."

The article explained "Yesterday a party of about twenty gentlemen assembled at the house of Mr. Samuel L. M. Barlow, the well known lawyer, who was foremost, from the beginning, in preparing the results of yesterday's hard and successful work...There were in the party some of the best known and most respected citizens--men of probity and standing in the community--whose characters were of that kind that made them fit to deal with the Erie conspirators."

Included in the group was Barlow's good friend Major General George B. McClellan, and other Civil War luminaries like Major General John A. Dix,Colonel H. G. Stebbins and General H. L. Lansing.  The men went to Jay Gould's offices where he was removed from the presidency of the Erie Railway Company.

While the editors of The New York Herald were ecstatic, saying "The blow has fallen at least on the Erie thieves and banditti, and not a fragment of their once great conspiracy remains to tell of its arrogance, dishonesty and unblushing effrontery;" The New York Times accused Barlow of being the rogue.

Months later the newspaper was still attacking him, suggesting on October 19 that his $30,000 fee he charged was "a very improper one" and instead of working for the benefit of the Erie corporation, "he used the opportunities which his position gave him to make money for himself."

Barlow finally had had enough and on March 12, 1873 his letter to the editor was published.  It said in part, "If The Times published an extraordinary, malignant lie, I shall go before the Grand Jury and have the parties doing it indicted; if it prints a medium-sized half-and-half lie, I shall reply to it by a card in the public prints; if it gives out an immaterial, slipshod lie to the world, I shall not notice it at all, but go on tending to my own business."

Although The Times continued to wage war against Barlow, things returned to normal.  He and Alice were guests at the wedding and reception of Caroline Schermerhorn Astor to Marshall Orme Wilson in November 1884--the most important social event of the year.

Before long Samuel and Alice would be alone in their cavernous house with their staff of servants.  Elsie had married Stephen Henry Olin in 1879; and Peter, how a lawyer himself, was married to Virginia Louise Matthews in Paris on May 6, 1886.  His sister would not live to see him married.  She died in the Barlow family's Glen Cove summer residence in 1882.

In addition to his renowned library, Barlow was an amateur art collector and a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Despite its long-standing feud with the millionaire lawyer, The Times admitted on March 13, 1888 that he "owns some fine old works."  Later the newspaper pointed out "In the matter of paintings he had a liking for the Dutch and Flemish old masters, and in at least one case he is said to have secured a specimen of the first quality, a Van Dyck."

The Barlow family's summer estate, Elsinore, in Glen Cove, Long Island, was named for daughter Elsie.  original source unknown
In July 1889 Alice, now a partial invalid, was at Elsinore along with Elsie's two daughters.  As was the case with many wealthy businessmen, Samuel spent several days in the city conducting business, commuting on weekends and periodically staying at Elsinore for a week or more.    He had not been in his usual good health for several days, but he and his friends thought little of it.  The Times said they "attributed his slight indisposition to the weather."

Then, on Tuesday morning, July 9, a partner in his firm felt Barlow was looking especially ill.  He advised him to go home to Long Island.  When he arrived there, Alice sent for a doctor who "at once determined that his patient was in danger."

A telegram was sent to Peter in Europe, telling him to rush home; but it was too late.  At 8:00 the following morning Barlow died of heart failure at the age of  63.  In reporting his death, The New York Times added "His fortune is estimated at nearly $2,000,000."  That figure would equal close to $540 million today.

Barlow's funeral was held in St. Paul's Church in Glen Cove.  On July 13 The Times reported "Rarely is such a representative body of men of national as well as local reputation seen together in these days when an hour from business is counted an hour lost, as that which assembled in the picturesque little church of St. Paul's in Glen Cove, L. I., yesterday morning to take part in the last sad rites over the body of Samuel Latham Mitchell [sic] Barlow."

Among the mourners were the well-known politicians like former Secretary of State, Thomas F. Bayard, and former Mayor William Russell Grace, Congressman John J. Quinn, military figures and titans of business. 

Just three months later Alice died in the Glen Cove residence.  Newspapers noted that her death "cannot be said to have been wholly unexpected.  She had been an invalid for several years, suffering from a disease from which there was scarcely hope of recovery."  Although she had occasionally rallied to the point of taking daily drives through the Long Island countryside, most felt that Samuel's death had hastened her own.

Her funeral was held in the same little church, and The New York Times, on October 22, advised that the "burial will take place at Glen Cove, where her husband and daughter lie in the Episcopal graveyard."

Peter Barlow was now tasked with the liquidation of his parents' sizable art collection and library.  On August 14, 1889 The New York Times wrote "Mr. Barlow was a collector with a wide range of tastes, and his home on Long Island and his house in the city are said to be crowded with handsome and valuable objects of art...But he is best known as an ardent and indefatigable collector of rare and beautiful works relating to America...His library of Americana is understood to be among the few great collections in the country; it will be a matter for regret that he did not leave it to the New-York Historical Society in its entirety."

Nevertheless, Peter decided to auction off the "paintings, bronzes, books and bric-a-brac" through the American Art Association.   The first to go was the furnishings and artwork beginning on February 3 1890.  The announcement lured buyers with the promise of "valuable oil paintings, principally by Old Masters; rare Oriental and European ceramics," including "The Famous Sang de Boeuf Vase."  Also included were "old silver, enamels, ivory carvings, cabinet specimens, bronzes, curios, tapestries, clocks" and carved and inlaid furniture.
Five days later the auction of Barlow's prized library began.  Its catalog listed books and manuscripts dating back to the 15th century, including letters from Queen Isabella of Spain, and a 1789 volume by Thomas Anbury entitled Travels through the Interior Parts of America, including plates and maps. 

Everything seems to have been sold.  A three-day auction at Elsinor sold "choice plants, live stock, &c."  Included were the plants from the Barlow greenhouses and conservatory: "the finest collection of Orchids, Palms, Cereas, and Aquatic Plants, Camelias, Shrubs, &c. in this country."

The neighborhood around his childhood home had drastically changed by now.  With No. 1 Madison Avenue cleared out, Peter sold the old mansion to the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company.   The firm wasted no time in demolishing it.  The Bridgemen's Magazine reported "The building operations of the company on the block commenced in May, 1890, when the fine old brown stone mansions at the corner of Madison avenue and Twenty-third street were demolished and excavations were started.

The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company's new headquarters.  King's Photographic Views of New York.
The Renaissance Revival style facade of what became known as the South Building (the famous Metropolitan Life Tower came in 1909 and North Building in the 1920s) survived until 1962.  A modernization stripped off its architectural details and replaced them with a modern facade.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

A "Cornerstone of Contemporary Art" - Nos. 465-469 West Broadway

In March 1889 real estate operator Amos R. Eno completed a brick-faced factory building at Nos. 95 through 99 South Fifth Avenue.  Apparently pleased with his architect's design, he set John A. Whitenack to work on a near copy just steps away, at Nos. 87 through 91.

In 1887 and '88 Eno purchased the three vintage structures, described in papers of the New York Supreme Court as "two story and attic, old-fashioned brick dwellings."  (The ground floor of No. 91 had been Paul Chichuzola's "liquor saloon.")  Eno paid a total of $33,000 for Nos. 89 and 91 and $17,500 for No. 87.  The $50,500 total cost would equal a little over $1.3 million today.

In June 1889 Whitenack filed the plans for a "six-story brick store" with estimated construction costs of $50,000; effectively doubling Eno's original outlay.  Completed the following year, it was a utilitarian blend of Romanesque Revival and neo-Grec styles.   The cast iron base was divided into three sections.  Two retail shops flanked the entrances to the upper floors. 

The top five floors were clad in red brick.  Stone lintels were carved with elaborate incised decorations, typical of the neo-Grec style.  Whitenack introduced Romanesque Revival at the top floor in the form of an arcade of arched openings.  Above the central section a triangular pediment sat on a graceful arched corbels.

The building filled with a wide variety of tenants.  Among the first was Abram S. Townsend's hat band factory.  His products could not have been more different from that of another early tenant, the DeLamater Iron Works.

Cornelius H. DeLamater was born in Rhinebeck, New York. The New York Times said in 1889, "in 1821, circumstances compelled Mr. Delamater [sic] to begin earning his own living when 14 years old."  He came to New York City and got a job as an office boy in a hardware store.

The boy's Horatio Alger-worthy story landed him as the head of the iron works and during the Civil War he created the Union's ironclad ships, including the famous USS Monitor.   It prompted H. F. J. Porter to deem the DeLamater Iron Works "The cradle of the modern Navy" in 1919.

An advertisement advised customers of the move from West 13th Street to South Fifth Avenue. (copyright expired)
On April 25, 1888, the year before construction began on the South Fifth Avenue factory building, the DeLamater Iron Works main foundry on West 13th Street was almost entirely destroyed by fire.  The offices and factory of the DeLamater Iron Works moved into the new South Fifth Avenue building.

While Townsend made hat bands and DeLamater constructed engines and pumps, French-born George Rosseau operated his embroidery factory in the building.  Trouble between him and an employee, Marie Banglin, landed both of them in the newspapers and in jail.

In 1893 Marie arrived in New York from France and answered a want-ad placed by Rousseau.  The Evening World reported a year later that she claimed "It was not long before he began to show her marked attentions."  According to Marie, when she did not respond to his advances, he drugged and "abused her."

Rousseau was arrested and appeared in court on September 10.  His wife met him in the courtroom and kissed him.  The Evening World said "She believes him innocent of the serious charge."  While Rousseau denied the charges and said Marie was acting out of spite because she had been fired, the prosecutor presented seemingly damning accusations.

The Evening World reported that Marie was "in a Jersey City hospital and in a critical condition."  Dr. Fernand D'Orbessam told Justice Potts that she was likely to die.  A priest, Rev. Father Cunniff, testified that Marie had "told him the story of her alleged wrong at the hands of the defendant."

Rousseau's trial began the next morning.  Mrs. Rousseau brought their three children to court and Marie, deemed the day before at death's door, was present as well.  Her case crumbled without hard evidence.

On the stand Marie "admitted she could not prove that Mr. Rousseau assaulted her," said The Evening World.  And when Dr. D'Orbessam was cross-examined, he said there was evidence she had been "roughly handled," but he could not swear she had been assaulted.  Judge Lockwood discharged the prisoner for lack of evidence.  The newspaper wrote "Rousseau cried like a child when he was released."

But the story was not over.  The scorned former employee wanted justice.  Four months later, on February 27, 1895, she laid in wait in the darkness outside of 87-91 South Fifth Avenue.  When Rousseau left the building, she attacked, throwing "a package of pepper in his face."

The stinging seasoning was not enough to keep Rousseau from grabbing and holding Marie until a policeman arrived and arrested her.  She was held on $500 bail--$4,700 in today's dollars.  Once again their stories clashed.  The Evening World reported that she "swore George deserted her for another woman.  George denied it and said she had bothered him with her attentions."

The late Victorian ornament relied greatly on the incised designs seen in the cast iron piers and the stone lintels.

In the meantime another major tenant in the building was J. J. Lattermann Shoe Mfg. Co.   The shoe and boot factory employed more than 200 workers on the upper three floors in 1894 when labor troubles ensued.  Four of those employees were non-union and the others demanded that they be fired.  John J. Lattemann refused, saying that at least one of them had worked for him for three years.  On Tuesday, February 20 about 200 of the workers walked out on strike.

Five days later The New York Times reported that the strikers "are confident that they will win the battle, and have not shown any inclination to surrender.  They have stationed pickets around the doors to watch for non-union workers."  Lattemann, however dug in.  He announced that "the strikers will be taken back only as individuals, and not as union men" and he then commenced hiring new workers.

Three weeks later things were getting heated.  The Evening World reported on March 14 that the strike "has developed very bitter feeling between the firm and the former employees."   Picketing strikers did their best to dissuade the new workers.

Like most factories in the 1890s, teenagers made up a portion of the J. J. Lattermann Shoe Mfg. Co. workforce.  The union attempted to take advantage of that.  The Evening World explained "Among the pickets this morning were a dozen girls, who are said to be more successful than the men at embarrassing the Lattemann Company."

When nothing else worked, the strikers became more aggressive.   As the new employees arrived for work, they were greeted with shouts of "scab" and worse.  Marantha Locke fought back and had striker Frederick Hasten arrested on the morning of March 22.  She charged he "repeatedly insulted the women who were filling places in Latteman's" and made himself "obnoxious."   That morning she had had enough she he called her "indecent names."  He was fined $3 and warned to keep away.

With neither side blinking for six weeks, fire broke out on the fifth floor of the J. J. Lattemann factory around 2:00 on the morning of April 2, 1894.   Suspicions, understandably, pointed to arson, but it could not be proved.  The fire did $1,000 in damages to the building and an equal amount to the Lattemann stock.  The "fancy metal" factory and showroom of Alfred Koehn below were slightly damaged by water.

The strikers who had been so confident in February finally conceded defeat.  The shoe and boot factory continued on without union labor, at least until around 1897.

The enterprising J. G. Timolat operated his two seemingly disparate businesses in the building at the time.  The J. G. Timolat Mfg. Co, made drills under the Moffet brand, and the Oakland Chemical Co. manufactured just one item, the Oakland Hydrogen Dioxide.   An advertisement in December 1895 described it as "A specific in all cases where a non-irritating antiseptic is indicated; in Diphtheria, Ulcerative processes, Nose and Throat affections, Burns, Leucorrhoea, &c., &c., &c."

The American Engineer, June 1895 (copyright expired)

In 1897, acting on the strong suggestions of businessmen, South Fifth Avenue was renamed West Broadway.  Before then the thoroughfare changed names three times along its route, causing confusion to clients.  The building now became Nos. 465-469 West Broadway.

Alfred Koehn was still in the building at the turn of the century, casting architectural ironwork.  In  March 1900 the New-York Tribune said he "manufactures gas and electric light fixtures of iron, as well as fireplace goods, railings, iron and glass vestibule doors and any and all sorts of special iron work calling for particular skill and exactness in their workmanship and fittings."

The New York Tribune offered this lantern as an example of Alfred Koehn's work on March 11, 1900 (copyright expired)
Nearly three decades earlier, in 1876, Dr. Augustin Thompson had created an elixir in Lowell, Massachusetts.  He called his mixture of gentian (a flowering plant from the Pyrenees mountains), sugar, sassafras, caramel and other flavorings Moxie Nerve Food.  Like the Oakland Chemical Co.'s hydrogen dioxide, it claimed to be a near panacea.  According to Thompson, it would cure nervous exhaustion, paralysis, impotence, imbecility, "softening of the brain," insanity and other afflictions, as well as build strength, stimulate the appetite and boost energy.

A turn of the century advertisement extolled the powers of Moxie Nerve Food. (copyright expired)

By 1904 he had moved his plant into the West Broadway Building.  Thompson's brilliant marketing strategy put the name Moxie constantly in front of the public.  It was emblazoned on glassware, trays, delivery wagons and even leaded glass lamp shades.  The word "moxie" entered the American lexicon as a synonym for spunk or bravery and lasted through most of the 20th century.

The broad mix of tenants continued in the post World War I years.  In 1919 the Colonial Art Works was in the building.  Its name belied its actual product.  In April that year the firm advertised for "Girls to pack and examine hair nets."

Also in the building was Joseph Petrocelli & Co. Inc.  Operated by Joseph, Louis and Mary Petrocelli, they sold macaroni and olive oil and leased one of the stores as well as space upstairs.

The Petrocelli & Co. store is in the southern storefront in this 1920s photograph.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

As mid-century approached, the changing neighborhood was reflected in the occupants at Nos. 465-469.  In 1947 Silverton Record Co. was here, selling and manufacturing vinyl records.  And by 1950 the Silver Record Pressing Co. shared the building.

But true change came in October 1969 when Ivan C. Karp opened the OK Harris Gallery in what New York Magazine called "two huge ground-floor galleries."  The article said he "added considerable prestige to downtown," in his opening, and added "The art world has long considered that Karp has one of the best eyes in the business, and he now has the space to show some of the young artists he discovered."

The OK Harris gallery would help launch the careers of artists like Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, John Chamberlain and Robert Rauchsenberg.   It not only exhibited paintings, but photography, site-specific installations and other art mediums.

The building drew other art galleries.  The Star Gallery opened in 1974 and the Ergane Gallery in 1992.  By now the once-industrial block was reborn as the artsy Soho era took over.  In 1996 the northern store became home to The L-S Collection, a trendy shop offering items like the art glass Tom Collins glasses made in Murano, Italy that sold for $30 each.

Calling Karp's OK Harris a "cornerstone for the contemporary art world," the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art acquired the gallery's complete archives, dating from 1960 to 2014, in 2015.   They were transferred to Washington D.C. and made available to researchers.

According to Alanna Martinez, writing in the Observer on June 15, 2015, the collection included "personal correspondences, artist and exhibition files, printed materials such as announcements, posters, and photographs, prints by gallery artists, slides and negatives, and 39 journals by Karp that he completed over 62 years."

Through its long history the storefronts and even the original doors miraculously escaped modernization.  The peeling paint of the upper facade gives the handsome building a deservedly venerable feeling.

photographs by the author