Monday, July 23, 2018

The Lost Samuel Leggett House - 7 Cherry Street


etching from Booth's History of New York, from the collection of the New York Public Library
Cherry Street got its name from Cherry Hill, an area near the East River which reportedly once blushed with cherry blossoms every spring.  By the late 19th century it was, according to Gas Logic later, "the home center of New York aristocracy."  George Washington lived at No. 1, and John Hancock's house was No. 5.  (Washington's residence was purchased by Dewitt Clinton after the Capitol was moved to Philadelphia.)

At No. 8 Cherry Street was the house of Thomas Leggett.  The dignified 25-foot wide Georgian-style home was three and a half stories tall above a basement level.  It featured handsome arched windows in the attic dormers.  The American Gas Light Journal recalled in 1907, "It was a handsome house for those days, and might challenge admiration even now, with its solid timbers and mellow red brick and substantial air of prosperity."

A Quaker, Leggett traced his American roots to Gabriel Leggett who arrived in 1661.  Thomas had been a large landholder in Westchester County; but according to historian Martha Joanna Lamb in her 1877 History of the City of New York, he was "driven from his estate by the 'Cow Boys' in the Revolution."  Following the war he moved his family to the city, purchased the Cherry Street house and established a lucrative business, Leggett, Pearsall & Co.

Following Thomas Leggett's death, his sons took over the business and were, according to Lamb, "among the notable New York merchants of the early portion of the present century."  Samuel Leggett and his family  remained in the Cherry Street house.  According to the 1847 book Hereditary Descent, he inherited a staggering $500,000 from his father's estate--about $10.8 million today.

The Leggetts had 13 children--six sons and seven daughters.  While Leggett headed the household financially, his wife seems to have ruled it in every other way.  Robert E. Livingston wrote in 1919 "Always genial, Samuel Leggett was the antithesis of his severely stern wife.  Mrs. Leggett needed no suffrage privilege to make her master of the household and she was as fastidious about personal appearance as her husband at times was indifferent.

"Often the neighbors would see the little woman follow her husband to the door, scan him carefully and then hear her say in an unmistakably critical voice, 'Samuel, is thy cravat straight?' and the guilty Samuel would hasten to shift the back of his cravat to where the front had no business to be."

Martha Lamb summed up Samuel Leggett as "a man of enlarged ideas and great practical benevolence."  Much of that benevolence was centered around the village of Whitestone where the family's country estate was located.  Engulfed today by the borough of Queens, it was a bucolic setting at the time.  He erected the White Stone Chapel and a free school there.  (In 1840 he hired an itinerant teacher for the school--Walt Whitman.)  Although Leggett was a staunch Quaker, the chapel was built with the understanding that it was open to all faiths.

Leggett's "enlarged ideas" included recognizing the potential of lighting gas.  In 1822 he and a small group of men discussed the possibility of replacing oil lamps and wax candles with gas lighting.  They formed a company, the New York Gas Light Company, and presented the concept to the city council.  It would be a year before the city conceded, and the company was chartered in March 1823.  It was given the exclusive rights to lay gas pipes in the district south of Grand Street.

A gas works was constructed at Centre and Hester Streets and the company, with 41-year old Samuel Leggett as its president, prepared for the rush of clients from among Manhattan's 125,000 citizens.  But no one came.  The dangers of what was called "burning air" had been widely publicized.   Popular belief was that the gas would result in explosions, deaths and destruction.

So to prove that illuminating gas (made at the time from whale oil, resin, and imported coal) was both practical, clean and safe, Leggett had his Cherry Street house plumbed for gas.  In September 1823 he held a reception in the house, now brilliantly lit by gaslight.  A newspaper said the event caused "a commotion" and "representatives of wealth and fashion from Battery Park, State and Greenwich streets sauntered up to Cherry street after nightfall to see the Leggett house 'lighted up.'"

The crowd watched "from a respectfully safe distance at an illuminated mansion from which came no flames," according to Robert E. Livingston.  They waited for the house to burn down, finally going home astonished.

The demonstration was the topic of conversation the following day.  "By lighting his own home with gas, Samuel Leggett had set New York's tongues wagging," said Livingston, and the New York Gas Lighting Company was already making plans "for the business which he knew would not be long in coming."

Five years later it was not merely houses which were being lit by gas.  The wooden lamp posts began being replaced with cast iron street lamps, the first of them being lit in June 1827.  (They were not required to be lit on moon-lit nights until 1858--a problem when a cloud would obscure the moon and throw the streets into darkness.)

Around 1830 Cherry Street was renumbered, the odd and even addresses flipped to the other side of the street.  The Leggett house became No. 7.

Leggett had added to his resume in 1826 when he accepted the position of president of the faltering Franklin Bank.  It was unfortunate decision.  He was widely denounced when the bank failed in May 1828.  So severe was the outcry against him that he was forced to publish The Explanation and Vindication of Samuel Leggett in 1831.  In it he told of his "great reluctance" to accept the position, of his "alarm" at seeing the books, and of the "hard and laborious task I undertook."

The booklet no doubt had much to do with the restoration of Leggett's reputation.  He expanded his business interests and improved the economy of Whitestone by opening a pin factory there.  Sadly it was destroyed by fire on February 9, 1846.

The following week further misfortune came in the form of a burglar.  The "Police Intelligence" column of The New York Herald noted that on February 21, "A double backed silver lever watch, hard dial, with second hands capped and jewelled" was stolen from No. 7 Cherry Street.  It was valued at nearly $1,500 by today's standards.

Samuel Leggett died on January 5, 1847 at the age of 65.  He had lived to see hundreds of New York homes and businesses illuminated by gas.

In 1854 the Cherry Street house was occupied by Samuel Leggett, Jr. and his family.  He was chairman of the board of the Empire City Bank and a member of the Empire Works.  In April that year the family was seeking "A middle-aged American woman to do plain sewing and take care of children; also a small girl, for waiter."  But the family's comfortable life style was about to come crashing down.

Later that year the Empire City Bank failed.  The New York Times said on January 3, that Leggett was "reported to  possess wealth."  But upon the bank's failure, it was discovered that he owed the institution $100,000--nearly $3 million today.

That same day The New York Herald reported "We are requested to state that Samuel Leggett...left his office at 4 o'clock P.M. on the 28th [of December] since which time his friends have not seen him.  Any information relative to him since that time will be gratefully received and liberally rewarded by his brother, Wm. F. Leggett."   More than a month later, on February 13, The Times reported that he was still on the City's list of missing citizens.

On February 28 the house was advertised for sale.  It was described as "The large and commodious three story, attic and basement brick house No. 7 Cherry Street, now occupied as a residence by the owner."  The sale advertisement listed "marble mantels throughout, Croton water, with baths for hot or cold water, and large sized cooking range in kitchen; a tea room and wash house attached in the rear."

The Leggett family moved to the summer home where tragedy followed.  Samuel eventually reappeared, but never recovered from the trauma of his financial failure.   His wife, Ann Eliza, found him in the barn with a self-inflicted bullet wound in his head in 1873.  Ironically, in August 1877 Ann inherited about $1 million from the estate of her father.   Then on March 14, 1878 Ann was murdered by a relative in the house in front of two daughters.

In the meantime the family home on Cherry Street was operated as a boarding house, now called the Beekman House.  It too, was the scene of misfortune on the night of June 28, 1855.  Maxwell Munce sought relief from the stifling night heat by climbing onto the roof.  The New York Herald reported it appeared that he "went asleep in close proximity to the edge of the roof.  Some time afterwards, as it is supposed, he rolled over the side of the gutter, and without a moment's warning was precipitated to the sidewalk, a distance of forty feet."

By the time other boarders found the 22-year old, "life was fast ebbing, and he expired in a few moments after being raised from the spot."  He died from a fractured skull.

In December 1862 an advertisement in The New York Herald offered "For Sale--The furniture and a lease given, of the old established boarding house known as the Beekman House, No. 7 Cherry street."  The ad noted "now over thirty boarders."

Rather surprisingly, the new owners, Henry Stanbrough and his wife, occupied it as a private home.  The couple left town on "an excursion" on July 3, 1867 and returned three days later.  In their absence a burglar had gained entrance through a rear window.  The fruits of his crime surprised even the press.

On July 8 The New York Herald explained "Not fearing a surprise, the thief deliberately opened the wardrobe of Mr. Stanbrough, and, finding there a complete suit of new clothes, took them in place of his own seedy garments, which he left in the bedroom and made his escape with his new outfit."

When they came home and discovered the burglary, the Stanbroughs notified Police Officer Finn, who, armed with a description of the missing clothes, went in search of the thief.  That night Finn arrested 19-year old Daniel Lane, "who at the time had on the coat, pants, vest and shoes which had been stolen from Mr. Stanbrough."  The teen, who was a caulker by trade, was held on $1,000 bail.

By now the Cherry Hill neighborhood was vastly changed since the likes of Washington and Hancock lived here.  Engulfed by commerce, the Stanbrough residence was advertised for sale on October 6, 1868.  "For Sale Cheap--The large four story brick house on full lot, No. 7 Cherry street, Franklin square; price $16,000."  The sale price would equal about $285,000 today.

It was purchased by William Stevens, who took out an $8,000 mortgage on the property.  The march of progress finally caught up with No. 7 when plans for the Brooklyn Bridge placed one of the massive stone piers directly on its site.  The City paid Stevens $16,000 for the targeted property on January 27, 1875.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

The Slevin Hotel - 201 W 14th Street


The upper portion of the former house to the left provides a hint of the corner building's original appearance.
When completed around 1850 the mansions at the northwest corner of 14th Street and Seventh Avenue were especially spacious at 25-feet wide and five stories tall above English basements.   The corner house, No. 201, seems to have always been operated as a high-end boarding house.

On February 29, 1856 an advertisement in The New York Herald offered "For Sale--The furniture and good will of a select boarding house, pleasantly located in West Fourteenth street."  The ad noted that there was "a full complement of boarders at present in the home."

Those boarders were well-do-to families who enjoyed commodious suites.  Among them at the time of the sale were Isaac Seymour, his wife,  and their daughter, Mary.  When the Bank of North American was organized in February 1851, Seymour was appointed its "cashier," a position similar to a vice-president today.  By now he was the bank's president.

Seymour was a well-respected citizen.  He was a member of the American Geographical and Statistical Society and a vestryman at Trinity Church.

Because of its "select" nature, the house had few boarders and, like the Seymours, most remained for years.  A vacancy in October 1859 was advertised to "A gentleman and wife, or two single gentlemen, can be accommodated with full or partial board; the house has all the modern improvements.  Those wishing to make permanent arrangements for the winter will find it a desirable opportunity."

No. 201 was the scene of a series of tragedies beginning with the death of 7-year old Orade Elena Caruana on April 17, 1860.  The daughter of Stephen B. and Almira w. Caruana, her funeral was held in their suite the following day.   On October 8, 1861 the infant daughter of Francis A. and Emma F. Husted died, and her funeral was held in the house two days later.  What must have seemed like a curse continued on December 5, 1862 when five-year old Jennie Brower died of "membranous croup."  Her funeral, too, was held in the house.

The next resident to die was not a child.  On Sunday, September 13, 1863 the Seymour family went downtown as usual for services at Trinity Church.  The New York Times reported "During service [Seymour] was observed suddenly to fall back in his seat as if exhausted."  Several men of the congregation, including Major General [John Adams] Dix, assisted him into the vestry, but it was too late.

News spread around the country and a month later, on October 16, the California newspaper The Marysville Appeal reported "Mr. Isaac Seymour, president of the Bank of North America, in New York, dropped dead in Trinity church on  Sunday, Sept. 13th."  Local newspapers were understandably less blunt.  The 70-year old's death was attributed to heart disease.

Perhaps more surprising that Seymour's sudden death was his daughter's marriage to Eghert H. Fairchild the same week.

It may have been the Seymour apartment which was advertised the following May.  The rooms were described by owner Giles W. Dart as "A handsome suit of rooms on the parlor floor of an English basement house."  The proprietor noted "there are but few boarders of first respectability."

In July 1868 John N. Genin took a bold step.  For years he had operated a retail hat store on Broadway.  Now he sold the business, leased No. 201 from Giles Dart, and began a conversion from boarding house to hotel.

Genin and his wife, Mary, did an impressive job as was evidenced in February 1871, when he attempted to sub-lease what was now the Hotel Brentwood.  His ad read "Hotel to Let--201 West Fourteenth Street, northwest corner of Seventh avenue, lately altered and adapted for a first class family hotel, with all the modern improvements, containing sixty rooms, with three bathrooms, laundry, four vaults under sidewalk; heated by Baker & Smith's improved steam heating apparatus; Newman & Capron's bell annunciator; elevator from cellar to roof."

While the elevator and steam heat were no doubt cutting edge conveniences; modern hotel guests might bristle at having to share the three bathrooms with 60 rooms.

Genin appears not to have found a leaser and he continued to struggle.  In January 1876 he mortgaged his furniture to Giles W. Dart (who continued to live in the building); and in June 1878 he took out a second mortgage on the building with Dart.

In the meantime, as was the case when it had been a boarding house, many of the residents remained for years.  Anthony Allaire, a warden at the Workhouse on Blackwell's Island was living here with his wife, Sarah, and two sons Frank and Joseph at least by 1878 when Joseph entered New York City College.

Allaire and Genin came to an agreement around 1880.  Allaire took over the proprietorship of the hotel and Frank O. B. Genin stayed on as clerk.

In August 1881 a guest checked in, identifying himself to Frank Genin as Captain James Egan of the U.S. Army.  He was in town, he said, "being detailed to sit in a court-martial on Governor's Island."  As such the military would be responsible for his stay and he was not directly charged.

After Egan had racked up $208.30 in "board, wine, &c." according to court documents, Anthony Allaire discovered he was not in town to sit in on a court-martial, but "was here to be tried by court-martial."  Allaire had him arrested for the bill--equal to more than $5,000 today.  Captain Egan claimed "he never boarded at the Hotel Brentwood, but merely went there occasionally to play billiards, &c."

Sarah C. Allaire died suddenly in the hotel on May 2, 1882.  Her funeral was held in the Allaire apartment two days later.  Anthony Allaire went back to law enforcement.  On August 10, 1883 he was touted as a hero policeman when he rescued Police Captain Thomas Killilea who was drowning in Patchogue Bay.  The two cops had gone there together on vacation.

Despite what seems to have been a rocky financial start, by 1888 John N. and Mary J. Genin owned No. 201 (the title was in Mary's name).  It was around that time that a store was installed on ground level.  The hotel's name was changed to the Hartford Family Hotel.

The Genins sold the building to police Superintendent Thomas F. Byrnes and his wife Ophelia in March 1890 for $54,500; more than $1.5 million in today's dollars.  The "family" hotel was about to get a significant change.

As had been the case with the Genins, the title of No. 201 was put Ophelia's name; but this time it was possibly to obscure Thomas's ownership.  They leased the store in October 1891 to Hugh Slevin for a term of 20 years at $6,000 each year for the first five, and $7,000 a year afterward.  A Civil War veteran with the 83rd New York Volunteers, Slevin converted the space to "The Slevin," a saloon.

A somewhat slippery operator, Slevin put the liquor license in the name of an employee, James Thompson.  So when the Excise Commissioners offered "additional licenses allowing saloons to be kept open between the hours of 1 and 5 o'clock in the morning" in December 1892, it was Thompson's name which appeared on the $500 application.

The Rev. Dr. Charles Henry Parkhurst of the Madison Square Presbyterian Church and head of the New York Society for the Prevention of Crime (better known as the Parkhurst Society), was not fooled.  In October 1893 he attacked Slevin for selling alcohol on Sundays.  When Slevin told reporters that his name did not appear on the license; The New York Times announced simply "The fourteenth Street place is known as 'The Slevin."  When Thomas Byrne was dragged into the affair, he rather foolishly denied that his wife owned the property.  Real estate records quickly disproved that.

It appears that Slevin managed to wriggle out of the situation through bribery and graft.  But the publicity drew unwanted focus and eventually drew the attention of Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt.  In July 1895 Roosevelt had Captain Lynch demoted to sergeant "because he had failed to close the saloon of Hugh Slevin at Seventh Avenue and Fourteenth Street," as reported in The New York Times on July 26.

Roosevelt declared "The neglect to close that place, and its bold persistence in breaking the law, were very suspicious.  Slevin's saloon will not be open after this on Sunday.  He will have to close up and stay closed up, as well as any other saloon keeper on Sunday."

The business relationship between Hugh Slevin and the Byrnes changed from landlord-tenant to partners around 1896.  The trio acquired the two adjoining rowhouses at Nos. 46 and 48 Seventh Avenue (later renumbered 64 and 66) and joined the three buildings internally to become The Slevin Hotel which catered to male guests only.

The daily charge for a room would be about $30.00 today.  The Sun, August 28, 1898 (copyright expired)
Much of the country was hit with a crippling heat wave in the summer of 1900.  New York newspapers reported on deaths of the heat as far away as Chicago.  On June 27 45-year old lawyer Edward Chrystie, who lived nearby on Seventh Avenue, walked into Slevin's saloon.  The New-York Tribune noted that he "was well known in the saloon" and that when he entered "his face was flushed and his appearance indicated that he was suffering from the heat."

Chrystie went into the back room, but never came back out.  "After a considerable time Slevin went back to see what had happened.  He found Chrystie dead."

In May 1917 architect William S. Boyd, whose offices were next door at No. 203 West 14th Street, made further alterations to the old brownstone.  The stoop was removed and windows changed at a cost of $300.

Prohibition, enacted in 1920, put a crimp in Hugh Slevin's bar business.  The backroom where Edward Chrystie had met his death was leased in March that year to the New England Lunch Company as a luncheonette.  Or so it seemed.

On May 6, 1922 agents arrived with a search warrant and found "two cases of real beer."  Once again Hugh Slevin skirted arrest by not having his name on the paperwork.  The New York Times reported "Thomas Rohan and Lawrence Flynn, alleged owners of the Slevin Hotel, their bartender, John Nobel...and John Mulligan, manager, were served with summonses."

Four months later, on September 4, 1922 agents raided a number of "resorts" posing as restaurants.  Among them was the restaurant in Slevin's Hotel.

When The Times published Hugh Slevin's obituary on June 21, 1927, there was no mention of saloons or liquor raids or illegal operations.  Describing him only as a "hotel proprietor," it noted "He was born in Ireland and came here as a boy.  He left a widow, a son and five daughters, one of whom is Mrs. George T. Ryan, President of the Ursuline Alumnae of New Rochelle."

In 1931 much of the architectural detail above the ground floor was intact.  from the collection of the new York Public Library
Slevin's death did not immediately put an end to the undercover liquor sales at No. 201.  On December 7, 1930 The Times ran the headline "25 Dry Agents Raid Greenwich Village" and noted that Thomas Cox was arrested for having 40 bottles of "so-called liquor" and nine barrels of beer.

The following year, in November, K. Kranick's candy store moved into the former saloon space, ending that colorful chapter of the building's history.

A renovation in 1950 resulted in a warren of furnished rooms in the upper floors and stores along street level.  The precise number of furnished rooms per floor exists today.


Attempts at modernizing the facade in the latter part of the 20th century--a slathering of stucco, the shingling of the mansard, and repellent storefronts--leave little hint of a sumptuous pre-Civil War mansion or its subsequent, fascinating history.

photographs by the author

Friday, July 20, 2018

Samuel A. Warner's 1891 160-162 Duane Street



Margaret C. Wallace was a minor real estate operator in Tribeca in the 1880's; one whose name would be largely lost were it not for a diaster.   In the spring of 1889 she purchased the brick building at No. 162 Duane Street from the Joshua Jones estate for $45,000.  She already owned the similar adjoining building, No. 160.  The properties stretched back along Hudson Street nearly 100 feet.

Wallace leased No. 160 to Thurber, Whyland & Co., "importers and grocers."  The firm used it as an annex for warehousing goods.   On the night of November 2, 1890 fire broke out.  Thurber, Whyland & Co.'s flammable stock provided fuel for the blaze.

The following day The Sun reported "Two floors full of butter and cheese, and a miscellaneous assortment of goods (including many boxes of candles) on another floor, furnished illumination for the neighborhood of West Broadway and Duane street for several hours last night."  The article noted "The building is of brick and runs through the triangular block to 22 Hudson street."

"The fire extended to the third and fifth floors," said the newspaper.  "To the danger of smoke and flame was added the fear that the fire would reach the second floor, filled with grocers' drugs, explode them and blow out the front of the building."  It took three hours to extinguish the fierce blaze, which resulted in one fire fighter being taken to a hospital.

Margaret Wallace commissioned the well-known architect Samuel A. Warner to replace both structures with a modern loft and store building.  Two months after the disastrous fire, on January 23, 1891, he filed plans for a six-story "brick and stone warehouse" at a cost of $75,000, just over $2 million today.

The dusty, noisy construction seems to have caused a problem for thirsty horses.  On March 24, 1891 the Board of Alderman approved Herman Wunderlich's request "to remove the watering-trough from its present location, No. 28 Hudson street, to No. 27 Hudson street, directly opposite."

Completed before the end of the year, Warner's handsome Romanesque Revival structure featured expansive cast iron storefronts within banded brick piers.  Brawny stone bandcourses of the second floor contrasted with the red brick.  Triple arcades graced the top floor above a corbeled cornice; the central opening on the Duane Street front taking the form of a single large arch.


Interestingly, while the immediate neighborhood was the center of the butter-and-egg district--home to wholesale produce and dairy merchants--the new building filled with a much different type of tenant.

Foote, Pierson & Company was among the initial tenants.  The firm was a pioneer in the manufacture of fire alarm and telegraph equipment.   It was joined by the Carleton Chase Electrical Co. and the Bechton, Dickinson & Co., both manufacturers of "physicians' specialties."

In the early years of the 20th century elevators provided increased efficiency and convenience.  But they were dangerous, often designed without doors or gates to prevent limbs being caught or unwary persons being plummeted down the shaft.  William Luther became a statistic in the "Certified List of Elevator Killings in the Borough of Manhattan" when he was killed in a fall down the shaft here in 1911.

In 1914 Foote, Pierson & Company introduced the Sharpe-Millar photometer.  On July 11 the Real Estate Record & Guide praised the invention, which measured the intensity of electric lighting.  "It is easy enough to point to a meter and say that the lighting bill is in strict accordance with the reading of the instrument, but it is not so easy to prove that the tenant's complaint that the quality of light he got was below normal is without grounds."  The 10-inch long instrument measured the amount of light indoors or out, and "serves as a check on errors under all circumstances."

Foote, Pierson & Co. offered a broad array of equipment.  (copyright expired)
With war already raging in Europe, radio engineer Emil J. Simon received the contract to outfit two new U.S. Navy battleships, the New York and the California, with telegraph apparatus.   But things ground to a halt when the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America sued, alleging patent infringement.

Judge Charles M. Hough of the United States District Court dismissed the case on November 18, 1915, citing national defense needs.  "In times of trouble, at periods when the arm of the Government is in need of strengthening, the Executive may be left in the exercise of powers perhaps doubtful in law but temporarily necessary for national safety."

It was a temporary victory for Emil J. Simon, however.  Hough gave Marconi Wireless Telegraph 20 days to refile a complaint for infringements "not arising from Government contracts."

Foote, Pierson & Co. received a notable contract as well when the New York Fire Department purchased 300 fire alarm boxes on April 12, 1916 for $19,500 (about half a million in today's dollars).  The red-painted cast iron boxes would become a common fixture on New York City streets.

The firm unexpectedly moved from radio and electronics products to furniture in 1930 when it applied for a patent furniture "shoe."  The invention allowed a work table leg to pivot to a slanted position.

Foote, Pierson & Co.'s "Furniture Shoe" was a departure from its expected product line. United States Patent Office 

Another radio firm leased space by the mid-1930's.  Gillette Radio Corp. hawked its "high fidelity advanced design" electric amplifier in Radio-Craft magazine in June 1936.  The advertisement boasted that the $15.75 amplifier had a "built-in multi-tap output transformer" and "built-in acoustic compensator."  In small print it added "less tubes and speakers."

Major change in the Duane Street neighborhood was evidenced on October 18, 1981 when The New York Times food editor Craig Claiborne reported on "movable feasts" available at 162 Duane Street.  "A brand new food store in Tribeca which serves appealing homemade salads and pates made with good fresh ingredients.  Each picnic has a title."

Six years later Ann Nickinson and her partner Carrie Levin opened another gourmet boutique, Good Enough to Eat.  Their original store debuted on Amsterdam Avenue in 1982.   Now, in 1987, they spent $200,000 to renovate space at No. 162 Duane for a larger 65-seat shop.  The Times said it "specializes in homey fare such as soups, stews, muffins and meat loafs."

On April 1997, famed restaurateur David Bouley and his partner Warner LeRoy announced their intentions of opening a Viennese restaurant, Danube, in the space.


The Tribeca renaissance  had taken over the entire building in 1991 when the upper floors were converted to apartments.

photographs by the author

Thursday, July 19, 2018

The 1904 Samuel F. Barger Mansion - 135 East 65th Street


The opening at the far left was the latest convenience for wealthy 1904 homeowners--an attached garage.
In May 1903 brothers Moses and Berman Ehrenreich resold the two 1872 brownstones at 868 and 886 Lexington Avenue, at the northwest corner of 65th Street, to another pair of real estate-dealing brothers, Michael V. B. and John W. A. Davis.   The Ehrenreichs had owned the properties for just over a year.

The transaction was the first step in a process that would remarkably transform the corner.  The Davises demolished the old rowhouses and commissioned architect Edwin Outwater to replace them with a massive neo-Federal style mansion.  Completed the following year it was an impressive 70-feet wide and ran 40 feet back along Lexington Avenue.  At a glance it could as easily have been a school or civic building as a private home.

Above the rusticated stone base four stories of warm red brick rose.  Federal elements included splayed stone lintels, a handsome Palladian-esque arrangement of French doors and flanking windows above the projecting stone bay, and arched floor-to-ceiling openings on the second floor, or piano nobile.

Interestingly, the Davises apparently always intended the mansion as a rental property.  The original occupants were the Samuel F. Barger family.   A descendant of one of the early Dutch families in New York, he had became a director of Cornelius Vanderbilt's New York Central Railway in 1869.  Despite his age--he was 72 when he moved into the house--he remained in that position, as well as holding directorships in several other railroads.

Samuel F. Barger in his younger years. collection of the Preservation Society of Newport County 
No. 135 East 65th Street was not officially Barger's permanent address.  He had purchased the striking Shingle-style Isaac Bell house in Newport more than a decade earlier and transferred his residency there in October 1898.  The New York Times explained at the time, "Mr. Barger is taxed for $30,000 in real estate in this city."

Barger's wife, the former Edna Jenie LaFavor, had died there on June 22, 1901.  Moving into the 65th Street mansion with him now was his son, Milton and daughter, Edna.  Another daughter, Maud, was already married.  (Like her brother, Maud Barger-Wallach was known on the Newport tennis courts.  In 1908 she became U.S. Open champion.)

Milton had graduated from college in 1898 and now he, too, was involved with the New York and Harlem Railroad Company, serving as its treasurer.  It was likely through no small influence of his father that he held the same office with some half-dozen other railroads.

On February 23, 1906 Milton married Camilla Leonard Morgan in Grace Church, adding one more to the population of No. 135 East 65th Street.  Camilla's first husband, architect Earl Henry Morgan, had died in 1901.

That same year Samuel F. Barger retired due to failing health.

A disturbing incident occurred in the Barger cottage in Newport in September 1910.  Money was found missing, including cash that belonged to a servant.  Further investigation revealed that funds raised by Maud for the Italian Children's Mission in New York was also gone.  Police were called in and two servants were fired under suspicion.

On September 15 a local newspaper reported "On Tuesday one of the discharged servants attempted suicide by drinking chloroform liniment on the lawn of Mrs. Paran Stevens's estate late at night, and was saved by a policeman."

Carmilla Barger contracted ptomaine poisoning in the spring of 1911.  She died in the house on May 17, after only five years of marriage.

Samuel F. Barger renewed his lease on the mansion in July 1913.  Less than a year later, on April 7, 1914, he died in the house at the age of 82.  Railway Age Gazette pointed out "Mr. Barger had been in failing health since his retirement from active business eight years ago."

Milton and his sister remained in the mansion until May 1916, when John W. A. Davis leased it to Copley Amory.  Like Barger, No. 135 was not his official address.  Newspapers routinely added "of Boston" to his name.  Born on June 3, 1866, he had graduated from Harvard in 1888.  He and his wife, the former Mary Forbes Russell, had six children: John, Copley, Jr., Henry, Walter, Thomas, and Katherine.

With the outbreak of war in Europe, four of the Amory boys left home to do their parts.  Copley went to France to work for the Government; John joined the Army, first attending the Plattsburg Training Camp and then going to Camp Wadsworth in Spartanburg, South Carolina for training; while Walter joined the Royal Flying Corps of the British Army.

Before heading overseas Walter took care of one last piece of business.  On April 7, 1918 The Sun announced his engagement to Helen Elizabeth Outerbridge.

The Copley summer estate was in Walpole, Massachusetts.  When the family closed the East 65th Street mansion in June 1918 for the season, the New-York Tribune noted "Conspicuous in a window on the first floor is a service flag bearing four stars."   A month later, on July 26, The Evening World reported distressing news.

"Private John G. [sic] Amory, whose address is given as No. 135 East Sixty-fifth Street, is the only New York City man listed as missing in action to-day."  Nothing more was heard of him until February 21, 1919 when he appeared on the Army's list of "wounded severely."

That year the Amorys stopped using the 65th Street mansion during the winter seasons, leasing it first to Cornelius N. Bliss, Jr. and his wife.  The following year Major James Imbrie rented it for the season, spending $12,000, or around $170,000 today.  In reporting the deal The Sun noted "This is one of the finest houses in this section, with a beautiful colonial exterior."   The following season it was rented by Hunter Marston.  The New York Herald mentioned that the house was "beautifully furnished."

By now nearly all the houses along Lexington Avenue had all been converted for business.  Their stoops had long been removed and show windows exhibited gowns, jewelry or artwork.  In 1923 the Amory family was gone for good and architect Samuel Cohen was commissioned to carve stores into the ground floor and "bachelor apartments" in the upper floors.

Interestingly, the men renting apartments in the building were nearly all doctors, many of whom practiced from their spaces.  In 1926 Dr. Henry T. Chickering, known for developing a tuberculosis serum, opened his office here, Dr. Russell H. Patteson was in the building by 1928 when his engagement to debutante Virginia Ann Fox was announced, and well-known physician Stuart L. Craig was here by the early 1930's.  Once they established their offices here, few of the doctors seemed to leave.

In June 1937 Dr. Craig operated on John D. Rockefeller III for the removal of his tonsils and adenoids.  The surgery was pronounced "successful."

On April 4, 1955 Governor W. Averell Harriman was scheduled to receive a model of the Berlin Freeman Bell in his home at No. 16 East 81st Street.  That did not work out because Harriman wanted to visit Dr. Craig about a sore throat.  So the ceremonies were moved.

The New York Times reported "Dr. Hans Hirschfeld, public affairs director of West Berlin's governing body, the Senate, made the presentation in the lobby of a building at 135 East Sixty-fifth Street, where the Governor's physician has an office."

On July 26, 1956 the Swedish liner Stockholm collided with the Italian ship Andrea Doria, resulting in the Andrea Doria's sinking.  The Federal trial of Captain Gunnar Nodenson of the Stockholm in downtown Manhattan was to began in November.  But during pre-trial proceedings, Nodenson fell ill.

After a week's absence, the Italian Line's attorney demanded on November 1 that the captain be brought to the courthouse.  The international incident now suddenly hinged on the opinion of a cardiologist whose offices were in the former Barger mansion.

The New York Times reported "Dr. Joseph Hajek of 135 East Sixty-fifth Street, submitted an affidavit Monday that the captain could not return to the stand for another ten days.  Dr. Hajek reported that a cerebral spasm the captain had suffered had not subsided and there was possibility of cerebral thrombosis (blood clot)."

Dr. Hajek was born in Prague and had come to New York shortly after graduating from the Imperial Military Academy of Vienna in 1912.  He had been associated with St. Luke's Hospital since 1918.  He was still practicing from No. 135 East 65th Street when he died at the age of 72 in 1962.

Over the years the ground floor shops were home to a variety of upscale businesses, including the exclusive Pini di San Miniato, Ltd. in the early 1960's; the Putumayo boutique in the 1980's; and the restaurant Barbal├╣c, which was opened by former Le Cirque chef, Christian Fantoni in March 2003.


Around 2007 Smallbone moved its kitchen furniture showroom into the ground floor.  The remodeled storefront features polished marble surrounding the expansive show windows.  Passing by today it is easy to overlook the fact that the building was one of Manhattan's most impressive mansions in the first half of the last century.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

From Vinegar Bitters to Domestic Charm - 32-34 Commerce Street


The exquisite charm of the building belies its industrial beginnings.
When the owners of the three-story house at No. 34 Commerce Street rented the parlor and basement levels in March 1854, their advertisement mentioned the "marble mantels and folding doors on the first floor."  The following year they suggested that "gas can be put in, if desired"--evidence of their comfortable financial situation.  By the first years of the 1860's it was home to the William Kingsland family.   The funeral of Kingsland's wife, Eliza G. Kingsland was held in the house on August 7, 1867.

At the time of Mrs. Kingsland's death, R. H. McDonald was embarking on a new business venture.  Around 1862 Joseph Walker, who styled himself as "Dr. J. Walker," began producing a patent medicine which he called Dr. J. Walker's California Vinegar Bitters.  He purchased some of the ingredients from a New York City dealer, R. H. McDonald & Co.

Then, in 1868, McDonald and his partner, J. C. Spencer, proposed a deal whereby they would manufacture the tonic and act as its the sole agents.  Walker moved his production and distribution to New York City in 1869.  He later explained to a reporter from The American Journal of Digestive Diseases, "we first commenced business in Platt Street, and continued there for a month or two; from there we went to Commerce Street."

On November 13, 1869 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that R. H. McDonald & Co. would erect a "one story open front wagon shed" at Nos. 32 and 34 Commerce Street, on the site of the former Kingsland house.  Whether McDonald purposely misrepresented the building--perhaps to avoid property taxes--is unknown.  But the resultant structure was by no means a one-story open-front wagon shed.

Instead, a two-story brick factory was completed within months.  On February 8, 1870 an advertisement in The New York Herald read "Wanted--At the California Vinegar Bitters office, a smart boy, from 14 to 16 years of age, who writes a good hand and resides with his parents."  The stipulation that the boy live with his parents eliminated what were commonly referred to as "street arabs;" the homeless boys who would be likely to pilfer goods or money.

Someone trusted with cash--possibly McDonald himself--was careless a few months later.  On May 18 an announcement in The New York Herald read "Lost--On Monday afternoon, shortly after six o'clock, in going from the California Vinegar Bitters Manufactory, 32 and 34 Commerce street to corner of Morton and Hudson streets, an envelope containing $178 in currency and greenbacks.  The person finding it will be very liberally rewarded by returning it to the above number."

The lost cash would equal about $3,450 today and one wonders what reward could inspire the finder to return it.

McDonald had by now changed the name of his firm to the R. H. McDonald Drug Co.  He marketed the California Vinegar Bitters through an aggressive advertising program.  The tonic was called "The great blood purifier and life-giving principle" and was guaranteed to cure scores of disorders, including "heart and chest, liver and kidney complaints, stomach ache, jaundice, gout and fits, dizziness...biliousness, dysentary, piles, etc."

The box promised that "pin, tape and other worms lurking in the system of so many thousands are effectually destroyed and removed;" and that for "female complaints, in young or old, married or single, at the dawn of womanhood or the turn of life, this tonic betters has no equal."

from the collection of the Smithsonian Institutions' National Museum of American History.
The wily McDonald marketed the product not only as a tonic, but as a temperance drink.  An 1871 ad mentioned in part "The liquor traffic annually sends to prison 100,000 persons, reduces 200,000 children to a state worse than orphanage, sends 60,000 annually to drunkard's graves, and makes 600,000 drunkards."

McDonald's sanctimonious claims, however, were shot down by Professor William R. Nichols of the Boston Board of Health.  Suspicious, he analyzed the contents and announced to the East Saginaw Sanitary Convention in December 1884 that Dr. J. Walker's California Vinegar Bitters contained six percent alcohol.

Years before that, however, things had become strained between McDonald and Joseph Walker.  Walker was in the factory only one or two months in the fall and again in the spring.  "The balance of the year I consumed in selling," he explained in The American Journal of Digestive Diseases.  When he was in town, he had heated discussions with McDonald about the advertising campaign.  "I don't remember particularly what I said; only that he was spending money that I wanted." 

Indeed, McDonald had stopped paying his partner his share of the income.  Things grew uglier when McDonald refused to show the books to Walker or his son, Josiah; and eventually locked them out of the factory.  In 1872 McDonald moved the operation to Washington Street.  After years of receiving no money from the sale of his tonic, Joseph Walker finally sued in 1877 for $5,000--a little over $120,000 today.

In the meantime, the Commerce Street factory had been converted to a storage facility by Jas. Michaeles & Son.  A July 1872 advertisement promised "Furniture &c. taken on storage at the lowest rates, packed and shipped to all parts of the city and country; ample room for storage of all kinds of merchandise."  The firm's successful business led it to expand into the building steps away at No. 38 Commerce Street the following year.

Second-hand furniture dealer and carpenter James Hodge moved his operation into Nos. 32-34.  A typical ad, on May 2, 1874, offered "Large lot [of] fine counters, showcases, drug drawers, office railings; will be sold cheap.  Carpenter and cabinet work at short notice."

Around 1884 J. Soria & Co.'s dye shop leased the building.   Founded before 1859 and now run by Andrew Soria, it described itself as a "French dyeing establishment."   When son David Soria renewed the lease in 1891, the yearly rent was $500, or about $14,000 today.

The dyeing operation remained in the building at least until 1898 when it was sold to Michael H. Cardozo.  In 1896 A. F. Soria employed six men and eight women who worked 54 hours per week.  One can only imagine the miserable conditions inside the brick building with large vats of boiling water creating a constant hot and humid work environment.

Schoolboys, still in their knickers and ties, roller skate near the corner of Commerce and Bedford Street in 1922.  In the background Nos. 32-34 Commerce Street is boarded up and neglected.  from the collection of the New-York Historical Society
In the first decades of the 20th century the old factory building was in serious disrepair.  In 1912 a demolition permit was issued for the property.  For whatever reason, the owners never went ahead with the project.

By now Greenwich Village was the epicenter of New York City's artistic community.  In October 1923 a group of artists, writers and performers--including poet Edna St. Vincent Millay--purchased a cluster of the old houses around the Commerce and Bedford Street intersection in an effort to save them from apartment building developers.  The houses were renovated and restored as private homes.

No. 32-34 was converted to apartments shortly afterward.  But its renovation was not so glamorous as the private homes.  Painted beige, there was nothing especially pleasing about the building; and by the last half of the century it was a sort of eyesore along the picturesque block.

Then, on October 17, 1993 New York Times journalist Tracie Razhon wrote "change is coming for one of Greenwich Village's most tranquil and historic enclaves...four buildings, which border a private garden mews, have offers from young architects and other professionals that have been accepted by a family that has owned them for decades."

Included in the group was the nearly vacant converted factory.  Razhon said "There is one rent-controlled tenant, who lives in half of the downstairs.  The prospective buyer is a young architect."

Scott Newman created an entry stoop and period-appropriate iron railings, removed the paint and redesigned the interiors.  The renovations resulted in a two-family residence.


Long the ugly duckling of the block, it is now an appealing piece of what Razhon called "one of Greenwich Village's most tranquil and historic enclaves."

photographs by the author

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Evelyn - 101 West 78th Street




James O'Friel had not been in New York very long before he announced his intentions of building an upscale flat house on the Upper West Side.  On April 22, 1882 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported "In our issue of April 8th, we gave a description of a very elegant apartment house that was soon to be erected on the West Side.  We can now supplement that by stating that the site selected for this improvement is the northwest corner of Ninth avenue and Seventy-eighth street...which has been purchased by Mr. O'Friel, formerly of St. Louis, and that the plans have been drawn by Mr. Emil Gruwe."

The article noted "It is expected that a Russian bath and a safe-deposit company will be established in connection with the apartment house."  Both amenities suggested the high-end nature of the building.  Russian baths were just becoming popular additions to upscale apartment buildings; and a safe deposit firm would be convenient for storing cash and valuables.

The developer's timing seemed perfect.  Apartment living was becoming generally accepted by the upper classes--especially on the Upper West Side.  In the same issue The Record & Guide wrote "That there have been more apartment houses erected in New York during the past twelve months is a fact that is conceded by every one."

O'Friel had paid John D. Crimmins $32,000 for the 100- by 102-foot plot.  The projected cost of the building was placed at $250,000, making the overall investment just under $7 million today.  O'Friel seems to have stretched himself financially thin in the project.  His mechanics' lien was foreclosed more than once, resulting in work stoppage.  In May 1883, for instance, The Manufacturer and Builder announced "Work is to be resumed upon the nine-story apartment house on the northwest corner of Ninth avenue and Seventy-eighth street, which was commenced about a year ago."

Why O'Friel named his building The Evelyn is unclear.  Urban legend holds that it was named in honor of actress and model Evelyn Nesbit.  That, of course, is impossible since she was born the same year The Evelyn was completed.

Emil Gruwe had produced a symmetrical red brick Renaissance Revival structure with corner pavilions capped with stone balustrades.  But the architect's overall design was overshadowed by his details--the magnificent terra cotta embellishments in the form of angels, satyrs, putti and floral forms.

A frieze of muscular griffins and flaming urns runs above a bare-breasted angel, flanked by male and female figures in outstanding detail.
Newspapers followed the movements of the wealthy residents like Mr. and Mrs. Walter Henry Judson.  The couple was among the first tenants and Mrs. Judson entertained often.  On May 2, 1894, for instance, The New York Times reported "A pleasant social incident of Monday afternoon was the pink breakfast given by Mrs. Walter Henry Judson of 101 West Seventy-eighth Street, at 1 o'clock."

On March 4, 1896 the newspaper announced that the Judsons "will start on Saturday for a southern tour."  The pair hardly had time to unpack a month later when, on April 7, The Times wrote "Mrs. Walter Henry Judson...gave an informal Easter breakfast yesterday."


As was the case with most upscale apartment buildings, the ground floor included a restaurant.  It was not only a convenience for the residents, but a necessity for some.  An advertisement on January 21, 1900 offered "One 7-room Housekeeping and a few Non-housekeeping Apartments left.  Restaurant under management of John B. Schmitt, Late of Delmonico's."  The term "non-housekeeping" referred to the fact that those apartments did not have kitchens.

At the time of that advertisement The Evelyn was jointly owned by millionaire Henry B. Auchincloss and his wife, the former Mary Cabell.  The couple lived in the building and it was there that Mary suffered a bad accident around 1900.   The injury developed into paralysis and, eventually, her death on November 13, 1903.  The New York Times mentioned "She had suffered of late years from a knee injury due to a fall on a hardwood floor in the family home at the Evelyn apartment house."

Henry Auchincloss hired architect William Allen Balch in May 1905 to do $10,000 in "extensive improvements."  Included was a complete overhaul of the plumbing system and the installation of a new entrance in the northern pavilion on Columbus Avenue and a ground floor doctor's office.

Canvas awnings helped protect apartments from heat and damaging sunlight.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
An advertisement in The Sun on October 28, 1906 warned "Only Two Apartments Left."  Available were a three-room and bath apartment for $720; and a two-room and bath suite for $600.  The more expensive rent of the two would be equal to more than $1,680 per month today.  The ad noted "Open plumbing, tiled bath, steam heat, electric light, hot and cold water, chambermaid service."

The physician's office, which included two rooms and a bath, rented at $750 per year and was taken by Dr. Daniel E. Coleman, who would remain here for years.  

The Gunton family had lived in The Evelyn at least since 1900.  The Biographical Director of the State of New York that year listed both George and his son William B. as "publishers" with offices at No. 41 Union Square.  They published Gunton's Magazine, a journal that focused "on practical economics and political science."  George Gunton was also a professor of economics and the author of scholarly books like Wealth and Progress and Principals of Social Economics.

Gunton's wife, Amelia, was visible on women's society.  But domestic storm clouds developed when Amelia discovered George's philandering with Rebecca Douglas Lowe, an Atlanta socialite and the president of the General Federation of Women's Clubs.  The New-York Tribune said of her "Since her girlhood she has occupied a prominent position in Georgia social life.  She is said to be very wealthy."

Amelia left him and obtained a divorce in January 1904.  George married Rebecca in Atlanta within the year, moving her into The Evelyn apartments.  But there was another problem.  Amelia was informed that her South Dakota divorce "was not a legal one."  Therefore, said the New-York Tribune on January 12, 1906, "she is still the legal wife of Professor Gunton."

Amelia filed suit for separation, but her legal team had problems serving the summons.  The New-York Tribune noted that George and Rebecca had left The Evelyn and "are now at Aiken, S. C."   A frustrated process server caught up with the couple in their automobile and flung the paperwork into the moving car.  It was a surprising move that ended up in court "to decide whether throwing a summons at his client, while riding in an automobile, was an effectual and legal way of serving it."

The Albert E. Merrill family had problems of a much different nature at about the same time.  On May 21, 1906 The Times reported "Warm weather and open windows have been responsible for the loss" of Mrs. Merrill's pet bird.  "Mrs. Merrill's bird is a parroquet.  While her son was holding it on his hand last Thursday it flew out the window."  The family offered a reward "to any small boy who can capture [it.]"

In 1907 the social register The Alcolm Blue Book, listed the residents of The Evelyn's 40 apartments.  Included in the roll of socially-recognizable surnames like Tillinghast, Seligman, and Tobin was "Madame Pappenheim."   The 55-year old diva had long been retired from the opera, but was well remembered.  In 1893 A Woman of the Century had said of her "the United States is especially indebted to her for advancing the ideas of Wagner."

On January 23, 1907 The Musical Courier announced "Eugenie Pappenheim will give her first musical afternoon of this season on Sunday, January 27, at The Evelyn...A very interesting musical program will be offered."

Other hostesses that year included Mrs. Anna B. Wood, who gave a "Japanese euchre" in March.  The Times reported "The prizes were won by Miss Bradley, Mrs. John A. Manson, William Douglas Sloane, and Charles Tallman."  The article added "The favors and decorations were all Oriental in effect" and said "Mrs. Wood is at home on the first Monday of each month in the Evelyn."

The family of banker Edward V. Gambier drew unwanted press attention through the years.  In 1910 he married Edith Russell of Atlanta but trouble unsued.  In 1911 he filed a suit for annulment; and Edith responded with a suit for separation, claiming "he had kissed her only a few times since their marriage."  The public admission earned her the sobriquet of "the unkissed bride."  Both parties eventually withdrew their suits.

Now, on January 6, 1914 Gambier arrived home to The Evelyn to a scene of chaos.  The Sun reported "members of his family told him that the valet was butting his head into walls."  Gambier sent for a patrolman who "found a young man acting strangely" and had 21-year old Frederick Wendt removed to Bellevue Hospital where he was deemed insane.

In a vain attempt to avoid more embarrassing publicity, the Gambiers asked the police to "record the incident as happening in the house of 'Mr. Patton,'" according to The Sun.  That did not happen and the following morning a humiliating headline read "Gambier's Valet Insane / Husband of 'Unkissed Bride' Calls Police to Take Away Madman."

Author Gertrude Hall lived in The Evelyn at the time.  Born in Boston in 1863 and educationed in Florence, Italy, her long list of works included the novels The Unknown Quantity and April's Sowing.  Her volumes of poetry included Age of Fairygold, Far from To-Day and Foam of the Sea.

Like the Guntons and the Gambiers, the marital relationship of Henry N. Dunning Henry N. Myrtle G. Dunning was not good.  Dunning's job required long stays in Shanghai.  Tensions resulted in his moving to the Hotel Marie Antoinette in 1922 and Myrtle's filing for separation and financial support on the grounds of cruelty.  The New York Times said she alleged "that her husband used abusive language and beat her."

But when the couple, both of whom were 24 years old, appeared before Supreme Court Justice March on June 13, Henry destroyed not only her claim, but her reputation.  He replied that she "was too friendly with Walter Woodlin on a train to San Francisco in 1919 and with 'one Thomas' on a steamer bound for China."  He produced a letter from Myrtle to Woodlin that said in part:

Henry has been lovely to me.  He has been just as fair and square with me as any one could be...I do not love him, but he had done everything in the world to make me happy...Please come as soon as you can.  When I am free I will tell you about my true love, and I have made up my mind you will be the only one.

The Evening World reported that Judge Marsh said the evidence "threw a light on the conduct of Mrs. Dunning which made it doubtful in the minds of the court that she would succeed in her action."

A horrific tragedy occurred at The Evelyn in the summer of 1923.  Sixty-year old Anna Stern and her 35-year old daughter, Florence, shared an apartment on the 6th floor.   Years earlier Florence had been engaged to an airman, who was killed in World War I.

Anna's behavior had been growing increasingly strange and the building's superintendent Arthur Chase said "for a long time [she] entertained fancied grievances against other tenants and was extremely nervous."  Her eccentricities apparently wore on Florence and Louis Fuhr who ran the newsstand on Columbus Avenue, reported that she said "her mother's nervousness was driving her crazy."

Then, on the morning of August 17 the two women flung themselves from their window, smashing onto the roof of the single-story cigar store next door.  Around 7:00 Oscar Lendian opened the store and, according to The Times, "discovered that boxes of cigars and other articles had been jarred from the shelves and plaster knocked from the ceiling by the impact of the falling bodies.  The clock on the wall had stopped at 6:40 A. M."

Lendian led police to the roof where the bodies were found.  In Anna's hand was a scrap of paper that read:  "Please take our bodies to apartment 62.  The key is on me.  Notify Harry M. Hirsch, 30 Landscape Avenue, Yonkers."  (Hirsch was a nephew who identified and claimed the bodies.)

Margaret E. McCann was notable for being the first woman to enter the brokerage business on Wall Street.  Unfortunately that distinction took a backseat to scandal when she was arrested for running what today would be known as a pyramid scheme.  The $450,000 she owed clients when she appeared before a jury in March 1930 would equal more than $6.6 million today.

During her two-day trial the 49-year old showed no emotion.  Not, at least, until the prosecutor summed up his case to the jury, saying "on her own testimony, Miss McCann is a thief."  Margaret jumped to her feet and demanded "How dare you?"

Margaret was found guilty and sentenced to between five and ten years in prison.  On her way out of the courtroom she said "I think the jury misunderstood the whole thing...What I did was to take money from some to pay others."  She insisted she was "a victim of circumstances."

In 1937 35-year old German immigrant Franz Hanawald was employed in The Evelyn.  He had a varied career since arriving in New York--he had worked in Julius Redlich's Dutchess County resort hotel in 1932 and later on a Honesdale, Pennsylvania farm.

A terrifying incident occurred at Redlich's hotel, far from The Evelyn, in September 1937.  Redlich was awakened at 2 a.m. to find a masked gunman in his room.  He was kidnapped and taken to a "tomb" in the woods 22 miles away.  The underground concrete bunker, about 7 feet long and 4 feet wide was only 22 inches high.  Redlich later said "It was like being buried alive.  It felt like a grave."

The "thug," as described by newspapers, demanded a $20,000 ransom.  He covered the entrance and left.  But his scheme was poorly thought out and he came back four hours later and released his captive.  A team of bloodhounds later found the bunker and the handcuffs the kidnapper left behind.  They provided the clue that solved the case.

On September 17 state police arrived at The Evelyn and arrested Franz Hanawald.  After seven hours of questioning he admitted having planned the kidnapping for over a year, making several trips upstate to study the scene.

Certainly less controversial were residents Boris Saslawsky, the Russian-born baritone and voice teacher who lived here until his death in 1955; and the Rosen family, who were here by the mid-1930's.

Living with Irwin and Anita Rosen were their sons Donald, known as Donn, and Charles.  The boys were 11 and 13, respectively, in 1940.  The location of The Evelyn most likely had a great deal to do with the direction of young Donn's life and career.  From the age of 8 he volunteered at the American Museum of Natural History, directly across Columbus Avenue.  He would become one of America's leading authorities on zoology and ichthyology.  Charles went on to be a noted "pianist, polymath and author."


On November 11, 1959 two painters were working in an apartment on the top floor of The Evelyn when a "flash fire" erupted.  The two men were trapped by the flames, with no escape other than the high windows.  When firefighters arrived Jose Rijes was hanging from a window sill by just one hand "and dangling over the sidewalk ninety feet below," as described by The Times.  His partner, 35-year old John Diaz, clung to the windowsill next to it.

Hook & Ladder Company 25 raised its aerial ladder and Fireman William Russo reached Rijes first.  After he was lowered to safety, the ladder was then swung to the other window where Russo repeated the dangerous climb.  Deputy Fire Chief Eugene Dukes called it "one of the best rescues I ever saw."

A rescue of a far different sort came about in 1987.  The new owners' plans to convert a ground floor space into a store included replacing one of the arched windows with a doorway.  A group of Upper West Siders lobbied against the alterations because of the threat to the terra cotta decorations.

Architectural journalist David W. Dunlap, writing in The New York Times on October 26, expressed "In palmy days and scary ones, a small host of exuberant angels gazed down on the creation, devastation and rebirth of Columbus Avenue from the Evelyn, one of the oldest apartment houses in New York City."  It was possibly Dunlap's article that earned the ornaments the nickname "Evelyn's Angels."

All of the terra cotta decorations survived the fray.  In 2015 a two-year renovation was begun which resulted in 23 "boutique condominiums."  The penthouse apartment engulfs the entire top floor.

The exterior of The Evelyn emerged handsomely restored.  And "Evelyn's Angels" continue to draw the attention of passersby after more than 135 years.

photographs by the author

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Lost Diocesan House - 416 Lafayette Street


Rampant griffins holding shields perch along the stone stoop railing, and stained glass fill the upper portions of the first floor windows.  The openings along the side retain their Greek Revival appearance.  from the collection of the New-York Historic Society
In the early 1840s Lafayette Place remained one of Manhattan's most exclusive residential areas.  The elegant, marble-faced LaGrange Terrace, completed in 1833, set the tone and was soon followed by wide, Greek Revival mansions.

Benjamin Lincoln Swan's 45-foot wide home at No. 29 Lafayette Place edged up against the southern edge of LaGrange Terrace.  Faced in red brick and trimmed in brownstone, it was four stories tall above the basement level and featured a cast iron balcony along the parlor level and a columned portico.

An early stereopticon slide of LaGrange Terrace caught a sliver of the Swan mansion.
Born in Charlestown, Massachusetts in 1787, Swan had come to New York City in 1810, forming the firm of Benjamin L. Swan & Co. in 1811.  He married Mary C. Saidler in 1816, and had six children: Benjamin, Jr., Edward, Mary, Robert, Otis and Frederick. 

Eminently successful and wealthy, he retired from active business in 1822 to devote his time "to the service of his fellow-citizens," according to historian William Van Rensselaer Miller in his 1896 Select Organizations in the United States.  While technically retired, he remained an active member of the Chamber of Commerce and a director in the Bank of America and the New York Life & Trust Co.  He was a force within the American Bible Society for decades.

In 1842 sons Robert, Benjamin and Otis were still living in the house.  Benjamin was a respected shipchandler at 30 South Street, and Otis was a lawyer with offices on Wall Street.  Mary had married Charles N. Fearing, of Fearing & Hall dry goods, in 1839 and the couple,too, lived in the Lafayette Place house.

In 1855 four of the Swan sons formed the dry goods firm of Frederick G. Swan.  Benjamin and Edward married sisters, Caroline and Julia Post. (Benjamin and his wife moved to their own home at No. 5 West 20th Street around 1861.)  Almost all the Swan children maintained summer estates in Oyster Bay, Long island.

Disaster came on February 7, 1855 when an overheated flue sparked a fire on the third floor around 3:20 in the afternoon.  The New York Herald reported "The inmates of the house soon found it was beyond their control, and an alarm was given."  The fire fighters found "that the fire had spread between the lathe and plaster and run from floor to floor."

The intense smoke make it nearly impossible for the men to grope their way through the house.  "Great exertions were made to save the furniture, and most of it was taken out from the parlors; but on the upper stories very little was removed, in consequence of the dense smoke."  The article noted that police moved in to protect the neighboring houses "from depredations of thieves, of which there were a large number very ready to enter the houses, under the pretense of assisting to save property."

The frigid February temperatures hampered the fight, The New York Times noting that the water froze in the hose.  When the fire was finally extinguished at 7:30 that evening, the top floors were gutted and the lower floors flooded with freezing water.  Damages to the house were estimated at $15,000 and to the furnishings $10,000 (a total of about $731,000 today).

Following Mary Swan's death in 1857 her daughter, Mary Fearing, most likely took over the task of running the household.  She seems to have had her hands full in keeping the positions necessary to run a house of adults and, now children, filled.

Her regular advertisements, always in The New York Herald, were similarly worded.  On April 22, 1858 she looked for "A steady woman, as cook in a private family; one who understands her business thoroughly" and six months later she sought "Wanted--In a private family, a respectable woman as laundress; one that understands her business and is willing to make herself generally useful."  (Being "generally useful" was necessary on non-laundry days.)

On a single day in October 1860 two advertisement ran, one for "An experienced woman, as waitress, in a private family" and another for a "steady, quiet woman, as laundress."  As always they should "understand her business thoroughly."  A "waitress" was a maid whose duties were to serve in the dining room, bring tea or other refreshments to the family, and handle similar responsibilities above those of a chamber maid.

Following Benjamin Swan's death in 1866, Mary and Charles Fearing remained in No. 29 Lafayette Street.   By now Charles was retired from his position as senior partner in the Auburn Wool Works.  Their two sons, Edward and Charles, soon left.  Charles married Mary Putnam on July 9, 1866 and in 1868 opened his stock-brokerage office.  The couple summered in Newport.  Edward initially entered his father's firm, before marrying and later going into the commission business.

Mary and Charles received devastating news in the early morning hours of June 20, 1881.  Edward took his life in his summer home in the Finger Lakes district.  A dispatch received at The New York Times from Auburn, New York read "Edward Fearing, the son of a wealthy resident of New-York, committed suicide here by taking poison last night."  The Times added "Mr. Charles N. Fearing, on receiving a dispatch announcing his son's death, yesterday morning, immediately started for Auburn, leaving his wife prostrated by grief."

Around New Years Eve 1885 Charles N. Fearing fell ill with pneumonia.  He died on January 6, 1886 in the Lafayette Place house at the age of 75.  The Swan children soon put the family mansion on the market.  It was purchased by Catharine Lorillard Wolfe on June 28 for $70,000--about $1.9 million today.

Catharine, who lived in her own lavish home on Union Square, had no intentions of moving into the mansion.  One of New York's most munificent philanthropists, she laid plans to renovate it and present it to the Episcopal Church as the residence for Bishop Henry Codman Potter.  Catharine commissioned the renowned firm of Renwick, Aspinwall & Russell to transformed the outdated house to a modern residence.

On September 10 The New York Times reported "Catharine L. Wolfe is going to spend $40,000 in alterations and improvements on No. 29 Lafayette-place.  The front will be taken down and replaced by one of marble, terra-cotta and brick, and a two-story extension, 40 by 70 feet, will be built."

The architects produced a striking Venetian Gothic structure with a white marble base, ornate carved balcony, and terra cotta decorations by the New York Architectural Terra-Cotta Company.

Formally named the See House, The Architectural Record deemed it "a kind of business 'Bishop's Palace.'"  New York historian Martha Lamb later remarked "The old dwelling converted to its present uses now wears an appearance befitting its dignified function."

Before its striking renovation, the Swan house looked much like the mansion to the right.  from the collection of the New-York Historic Society
Catharine L. Wolfe died in 1887 and would not suffer the disappointment that Potter never moved into the house.  Instead, he and his wife, Eliza, remained in their mansion at No. 10 Washington Square.  The See House, while officially the bishop's residence, was mainly used instead for high-level church meetings.  And none could be more important than those surrounding Potter's pet project, the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine.

Among the first meetings was on November 8, 1887 during which the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Committee ratified the purchase of the land and discussed raising $10 million "or more" for a building fund.  Among those present with Potter were William W. Astor, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and J. Pierpont Morgan.

The opulence of the interiors was evidenced that year when the See House loaned artworks to The Architectural League's third annual exhibition.  Among the 14 paintings were works by Fra Fillippo Lippi, Chirlandago, Grotto, Raphael, among masters.

Around 1892 the building's name was changed to the Diocesan House.  It was not only the scene of meetings, but of church hearings.  One of the most publicized was the infamous Jenks Divorce Case in 1891.  Maud E Littlejohn and Almet F. Jenks were married on December 5, 1878.  The New York Times said "It was a social event and gifts valued at $50,000 were received."

But things soured and Maud obtained a divorce in Newport in March 1891 "on the ground of abandonment and non-support."  The problem was that the divorce was not valid in New York State, since abandonment and non-support were not grounds for divorce.  And the Episcopal Church did not recognize abandonment as sufficient reason to void a marriage contract.

Maud was not only wealthy and socially prominent, she was the daughter of Bishop Abram Newkirk Littlejohn of Long Island.  He called a meeting of bishops in the Diocesan House on April 13, 1891 to settle the problem.  When the meeting adjoined, Maud had never been married in the eyes of the church.  The annulment decree said in part "in our opinion the said marriage was null and void ab initio" and according to the law and discipline of the Church it "was the same as though such marriage had not taken place."  Not surprisingly, "the annulment provoked wide discussion," as reported by The New York Times.

The Architectural Record, July 1909 (copyright expired)
The Diocesan House contained offices for the Bishop, the Arch Deacon of New York, the Presiding Bishop of the Church, the Standing Committee of the Diocese and the Secretary of the House of Bishop, a reading room, a private chapel for Potter, and sleeping quarters for visiting clergy.  In 1897, when Lafayette Place was extended southward, the building received the new address of 416 Lafayette Street.

In her will Catharine Wolfe had left a generous endowment fund to maintain the property.  In 1907 church's annual report noted that the fund still had $50,000, "the income of which is to be expended for its support and maintenance."

As the years passed, the Diocesan House continued to host the meetings of the Cathedral Committee, hold trials on issues of wayward clergy and church law, and confront social problems like temperance.  But in 1915 a completely different activity took place here.  A majority of the toys children received as Christmas presents had always been produced in Europe, notably in Germany.  Now with war raging across the continent, there was no way of importing them.

On December 12 The New York Times reported "Things were really looking serious, people said.  That was about the fifteenth of last May, and at that very moment the New York Santa Claus business came into being."  Christine S. Foster, described by the newspaper as "a young society woman," recognized the deficiency of Christmas toys and the need of unemployed older men for work.  With her own funds she developed The Old Men's Toy Shop in rooms provided by the diocese.

Workers, the oldest of whom was 84, received fifty cents a day and 10 cents for lunch.  By the time of the article there were 100 of them, making wooden canal boats, horses, cars and other toys.

As the years passed, the Diocesan House served changing purposes.  While it continued to be the center of the fundraising efforts for the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, the Church Association for Advancing Interest of Labor Library was here by 1915, and within the decade the Church Army of the United States established its offices in the building.

Seen here in 1929, the stoop and parlor bay had been lost in the widening of Lafayette Street.  from the collection of the New York Public Library
By mid-century the Lafayette Street block was one of factories and commerce.  The Diocese sold the property in July 1958,  In reporting the sale The New York Times got the history of the building slightly wrong, naming Catharine Lorillard Wolfe's family as the original owners.  "It was the private mansion of the Lorillard family generations ago when Lafayette and Bond Street formed the hub of an area that contained some of the city's most fashionable residences."

The new owners were realty investors operating as the 416 Properties, Inc.  They announced plans "to alter the structure into forty-one, air-conditioned apartments."  The Times said "The proposed improvements include an automatic elevator, an incinerator and modern bathrooms and kitchens."

The "improvements" did not include overwhelming architectural beauty.   And while technically the Diocesan House was remodeled, not demolished, most would agree that it has been lost.