Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The 1833 Day, Newell & Day Bldg - 589 Broadway

In 1832 Judah Hammond began construction on brick faced house and store at No. 589 Broadway.    At three-and-a-half stories tall and a 26-feet wide, it provided ample residential space above the large street level shop.  Completed in 1833 it most likely had two dormers and a peaked roof.

The building was an investment project for Hammond, who was well-known in New York political circles as a Locofoco member.   (The Locofoco party was a radical faction of the Democratic party.)  Early 19th century newspapers had no problem peppering the news with their own opinions, and the New York Herald was no exception.  Hammond was included in its summary of a Locofocos meeting in Tammany Hall on September 26, 1837 which the newspaper described as "riots, rows and other humbug."   The Herald reported in part:

At this moment the complexion of the meeting was tame and insipid.  Judah Hammond was appointed President, and half a dozen others, Vice-presidents, and secretaries.  A little news boy, who sells the Herald for specie [coins], stuck himself up in the window behind, resting his chin on his hands, looking as if he spoke thus: 'What a hell of a fuss about nothing!'"

In the meantime, Robert Newell and his family lived above the store on Broadway.  Downstairs he and his partners, brothers Samuel and Jacob Godfrey Day, operated the locksmith shop of Day, Newell & Day.  By 1836 another Day brother, William, was working in the shop.

Newell and Jacob Day invented the high-quality locks which were manufactured in the shop.   Their innovative locks were marketed as being burglar proof.   Day, Newell & Day exhibited several locks in the Exhibition and Fair of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association in Faneuil and Quincy Halls in Boston on September 18, 1837, with amazing success.

The firm received a Gold Medal for a group of 18 locks, invented especially for bank use.  The judges were impressed not only with the heavy security they offered, but with their superb workmanship.  They noted the locks had "a contrivance, which at the same moment, shoots a bolt at the bottom and top of the door, which cannot be moved unless the door be first unlocked--thus affording additional security and strengthening their claim to superiority."  As for workmanship, the committee noted some locks were "also very valuable, and of beautiful finish, fitted up with plated, ivory, ebony, mahogany and brass knobs--a part of them with night keys."

Day, Newell & Day manufactured a wide array of locking mechanisms.  The Exhibition's catalogue listed "Door locks of various kinds; bolts; door knobs, of wood, brass and plated; Door plates, ventilator; wardrobe lock; bank locks."  It deemed the company's Combination Bank Lock "impenetrable."

Things seems to have run smoothly until April 2, 1841.  On that morning Jacob instructed the shop foreman to begin work on an order.  William stepped in and "countermanded," as described by the New-York Tribune.  Each of the brothers flexed his authority while, apparently, the bewildered foreman was unsure which job to do.

"Some words passed between them; [Jacob Day] lifted his loaded cane perpendicularly from the floor, but did not attempt to strike when William Day seized him by the coat, put his fist against his breasts, and pushed him back against the wall, and then threw some water at him."  Jacob had his brother arrested for assault and battery, saying it was not the first time he had been threatened.

A jury found William not guilty on June 9; but tensions between the brothers had apparently become untenable.  Within the year Jacob started his own business at No. 315 Bowery.  In his place Samuel and John Day appeared in the directories that year with Day, Newell & Day.  The fraternal animosity must not have been too serious, however, for John was Jacob's son.

Among Newell's clever inventions was his patented Permutation Bank Lock.  Should a key be misplaced or stolen, the lock could be quickly reset, making the original key useless.  An advertisement in The New York Herald on April 24, 1842 promised "Any person may have the key for a whole day to make a fac simile [sic] by, without the slightest chance of opening it, after a change has been made in setting it."

By 1845 the firm name was changed to Day & Newell, although there were still two Days--John and William--in partnership with Robert Newell.   That year they came up with a brilliant marketing scheme that grabbed international attention.  Touting Newell's Parautoptic Bank Lock in Sheldon & Co.'s Business or Advertising Directory as "invulnerable," they offered a $500 challenge to any other lockmaker.  They guaranteed that a Day & Newell employee could pick that firm's lock, while an agent from the other firm would be "totally foiled in all attempts upon our own."

Another Day, Thomas, had joined the firm by 1850.  That year he was awarded a $5 prize for his "French window bolt" that he exhibited in the American Institute of the City of New York.

In the meantime, the $500 challenge stood, accepted by the Bramah & Chubb lock company of London in 1851.  Day & Newell sent W. Fisher Hobbs to England.   The London Builder reported "Thirty days were given Mr. Hobbs for his attack on the Bramah lock, and to make his instruments he was allowed to take impressions of the key and the tops of the wards.  Day after day he was shut up alone with the lock, none being permitted to enter the room while he was at work; and, with the aid of 'thieves' wax,' a hinged mirror in the key-hold, a strong light, all sorts of odd instruments, and his own great cleverness, he has succeeded in the task."

Now it was England's turn.  Bramah & Chubb sent "Garbute, the most skillful lock-pick in Great Britain" on the task, according to Charles Edwards Lester, writing in Glances at the Metropolis later in 1859.   After 30 days Garbute was confounded.  "When asked by Hobbs if he wanted further time, he said: 'Thirty days or years are alike--the lock is invulnerable.'"

The well-publicized challenge and its results did not escape the notice of the Bank of England.  They sent for Hobbs and commissioned him to install Day &  Newell locks to protect the Crown Jewels and Day & Newell became "special patrons and her Majesty Victoria Regina I."

In the meantime, Jacob G. Day was inventing his own locks in his shop and was no mean lock picker himself.  Decades later, in 1913, grandson, Charles H. Day, related an amazing story to The Numismatist.  He said Jacob began to lose his mind obsessing over a lock he was trying to perfect until "finally he got so bad they had to take him to an insane asylum."

"His son, John Day, took him to the sanitarium, and saw him well placed in a room and the door securely locked as supposed, but when he got home he found the old gentleman sitting contentedly in his accustomed chair."

While Day & Newell remained in the building, the upper floors were enlarged for commerce around 1852.  The Flemish-bond brickwork turned to running bond in the new full-height fourth floor, topped by a simple dentiled cornice.

A coat of paint disguises the change in brickwork between the third and fourth floors.

Business directories show that the locksmiths were sharing the address in 1853 with Rufus Anson, listed as "daguerreotype likenesses."  His advertisement in The New York Herald in September that year offered "Anson's Daguerreotypes, large size, for 50 cent.  These are colored, and in a nice morocco case, lined with velvet, and twice the size of any in the city of 50 cents, and warranted equal in quality to those that are sold for $2 and $3."

Anson hand-colored certain images, like this one of "Two actors from the melodrama 'Robert Macaire'" taken in his 589 Broadway studio in the 1850s
Anson produced this hinged case holding four portraits of "a soldier's family."  above via
Anson remained in the Broadway building into the Civil War period.  His popular studio required a staff of 15 camera operators in 1860.

After about 1857 Day & Newell was no longer listed at the address.  The millinery and dry goods district had begun invading the neighborhood, and in 1856 shirtmaker Julius Neuville was operating in the building.

By now improvements on the domestic sewing machine meant women increasingly made clothing at home.  In 1863 Ebenezer Butterick created the first graded sewing patterns, and in 1866 his company was manufacturing women's dress patterns.  They were an enormous success; and the following year he published the first issue of Ladies Quarterly of Broadway Fashions.  By 1869 he was operating from No. 589 Broadway.

E. Butterick & Co. placed this 1869-70 fashion plate in Central Park, published from 589 Broadway.  from the collection of the Library of Congress.

 E. Butterick & Co. experienced phenomenal success an by 1876 had 100 branch offices in the United States and Canada.  They expanded into menswear and, surprisingly, uniforms.

Butterick offered patterns for New York City's Metropolitan Police uniforms in 1871.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

In 1871 the ground floor store was taken by haberdasher Dunlap & Co., which operated another store at No. 174 Fifth Avenue.   An advertisement in The New York Herald on may 26 that year touted "Imported English hats, umbrellas, boys' and youths' straws and felts, by the best makers."

Hill & Curtis, here by 1876, were among the first of the millinery-related factories in the building.  Importers and manufacturers of artificial flowers and feathers, its products were intended solely for hat makers.

Millinery Trade Review May 1876 (copyright expired)

The Financial Panic of 1873, known as the Great Depression until the 1929 Stock Market crash, lasted for about six years and devastated the economy.  It may have been the general economic conditions that prompted Dunlap & Co. to reduce prices in March 1877.  in a "Special Notice" in The New York Times the firm announced the had lowered prices on "their Celebrated Silk Hats to $8, and Stiff Felt Hats to $5."   The products were nonetheless not cheap--the price of the silk hat equivalent to about $190 today.

In dropping the prices, the store insisted nothing had changed.  "Being manufacturers of the same as well as importers of the materials used, they are enable to keep the standard of quality an styles the same as here before."

In 1872 a shoe business was formed in Troy, New York by Franklin Converse.  When his son, Henry, joined the firm it was named F. Converse & Son.   In the middle of the 20th century the company would change the personality of athletic footwear world wide with its "gym shoes," or "sneakers."

By 1882 it had opened its showrooms at No. 589 Broadway.  Writing in the State of New York that year, Henry Kollock noted that the firm was "largely engaged at 589 Broadway in dealing at wholesale in boots and shoes for ladies, gentlemen, and children.  The store property is a large four-story brick building 30 by 60 feet in extent, which is filled to repletion with the above staples."  At the time Converse was doing $100,000 a year in business; nearly $2.5 million in shoe sales today.

In 1886 when William V. Leary sold No. 589 Broadway to Mary H. Ward, it was filled with millinery shops and furriers.  On September 1, 1888 The Fur Trade Review announced "Mr. S. Littenberg, 589 Broadway, invites attention to his new styles of sealskin hats, caps and gloves, which have been produced to meet the needs of first-class dealers."

The same issue featured fashion plates depicting the fur garments and accessories available from Maerlender Bros., also operating from the building.  The company marketed itself as "manufacturers of seal-skin goods of every description."

Maerlender Bros. offered fur accessories and trimmings like these in 1888.  Fur Trade Review, September 1, 1888 (copyright expired)
Another furrier in the building was S. F. Helstein & Co.   Its foreman, Henry Gebhart, had struggled in the fur business on his own before being hired by Helstein.  His expertise was such that, as explained by The New York Times, the firm "gave him complete control of their workshops and made him a sort of working partner."  Gebhardt brought his son, Henry Jr., in as a fur garment cutter.

In 1892 August Wanner was working as a "fur nailer."  He was described by The Evening World as being "considered a good workman at his trade.  He was somewhat peculiar and occasionally gave way to fits of temper, but there was no friction between him and the foreman."  He left the firm that year, but returned in May and was given his old job back.

But on May 11 Henry Gebhardt, Jr. did not like the way Wanner had handled a garment, and asked him to nail it differently.  "Wanner refused, saying that he knew his business, and when Gebhardt insisted he became violent and called the boy names," reported The World.

Then Gebhardt told his father about the incident, he and Wanner "had words."  Nevertheless, things seemed to have returned to normal until two days later, on a Saturday, when Wanner asked the senior Gebhardt for increased wages and a better position.  "He was told that there was nothing better for him to do and that his wages were high enough," said The World.

That precipitated another argument and Gebhardt reached the end of his patience.  When pay envelopes were passe out that afternoon, Wanner was let go.  Henry Gebhardt hired a new worker and forgot about the incident.  But August Wanner was not so quick to forget.

On the morning of May 14 Gebhardt had nearly reached the factory when Wanner stepped out from the doorway of Edward Simon & Bros. trunk store at No. 667 Broadway.  He tried to thrust a sheet of paper into Gebardt's hand, but Gebhardt pushed him away and kept walking.  Wanner pulled out a revolver, pressed it to the back of Gebhardt's neck and fired.

The New York Times reported on the deadly assault in florid prose.  "Gebhardt fell without a groan, and the horror-stricken pedestrians stopped and stared.  But the tragedy was not complete.  While Hebhardt's life blood was welling out, Wanner sent a bullet through his own brain.  He toppled over on the sidewalk, falling almost across the feet of his victim.

"Then women screamed and men shouted.  Hundreds gathered around the prostrate bodies and cars and trucks pulled up."

Policeman Murphy was on the scene in seconds.  He propped Gebhardt up against some trunks in front of the store.  "Gebhardt's lips moved, but no sound came," reported The Evening World.  "Then his head fell forward and he was dead."  Like The Times, The Evening World could not restrain itself from melodramatic reporting.  "A great red pool had formed on the sidewalk where Gebhardt lay, and Wanner's life-blood oozed from the wound in his head and trickled in a little rivulet down the stone steps and across the sidewalk."

The Evening World, May 15, 1893, (copyright expired)
Wanner was taken to a hospital, but died within the hour.  The sheet of paper he had tried to force on his victim read:

As I have been in the business thirty years, and no man was coward enough to discharge me; but you villain tried to get some one to turn on me, you shall pay for it with your life.
The Executioner

Henry Jr. was "prostrated when he heard of his father's terrible death," said The World, but "He rallied enough to go to the police station and identify his father's body, and then went to bring his mother, who had not yet learned the awful news."  Why he felt his mother should view the bloody corpse in a public setting is unclear, but the newspaper noted "The scene in the station when the wife was shown her husband's body was heartrending" and The Times said "Her grief was pitiful."

Interestingly, the following year saw a complete turnover in tenants.  The ground floor where Dunlap & Co. had sold hats and umbrellas was now Julius Kemsler's cafe; the second floor was home to William Ullner's flowers and feathers business, and S. Strouse & Co., coat manufacturers, was on the third.  The fourth floor was unoccupied.

When Mary Ward's estate sold the building November 1908 to Louis Ettinger, the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide got the history of ownership inexcusably wrong.  "The property has been in the Ward family for nearly a century," it reported, overstating the length by more than 80 years.

Somehow the 1833 house escaped demolition while all around it modern commercial structures rose.  It continued to house millinery and apparel firms, including Fox Manufacturing Co., makers of men's and children's clothing; Blasbalg & Grunfeld, "suits and cloaks;" Feldesman Bros., suspender makers; and Maurice Seckendorff's millinery factory, all here before World War I.

Small manufacturers would come and go throughout the century, like Champion Belt, H. Wolff & Co., and the Metropolitan Thread Co. which remained for many years.  The ground floor would continued to house a restaurant for decades.

A far different manufacturer moved into No. 589 Broadway in 1975.  Gunmakers Griffin & Howe, founded in 1927, had been taken over by Ambercrombie & Fitch; but was now independent again.  It not only manufactured, but sold guns from its fourth floor space.  But it arrived at the wrong time, when Soho was experiencing its resurgence and rents were increasingly rising.  In 1986, "when Manhattan rents were sky high," as explained by Claudia H. Deutsch in The New York Times on September 17, 1995, the company was forced to move to New Jersey.

In 1997 the Mary Anthony Galleries was in the building; and the following year the ground floor restaurant was converted for bank use.   Unlike many Soho lofts, it was never converted to residential space.  Today small factories still operate from the upper floors.

589 Broadway is dwarfed by the 1897 Astor Building next door.

The last holdout from the residential era along the block, it takes a little imagination to envision the building as it was when Day, Newell & Day sold their locks, and Rufus Anson shot daguerreotypes of Union soldiers.

photographs by the author


  1. This is a very interesting history. Indeed, the building is a holdover from an industrial time for SoHo. My Grandfather purchased the building for his electrical contracting business, which at that time also included a lighting store on the ground floor I believe. He probably bought from Louis Ettinger, and did so just before WW2. Our family businesses, as well as those of other nice Tenants (some of whom you mentioned) ever since.

  2. Before the building on either side of this structure were torn down, one of them was the home of a famous New Yorker. I cannot recall the name. Any idea.