In the 1840s the block of Crosby Street between Prince and Spring Street was still upscale. Commodious brick houses built in the 1820's and '30's were still occupied by well-to-do families.
George Loder and his wife lived in the 25-foot wide, three story home at No. 97 Crosby Street in 1845. A choir and concert master, he introduced America to Mendelssohn's symphonic cantata Lobgesang, or Hymn of Praise on February 22 that year. Among the three soloists that night was Loder's wife.
Tickets to the concert were not cheap. Single admission cost $1 (about $30 today); although family tickets, which admitted five, were a discounted $3. An advertisement in The New York Herald advised that they could be purchased at the Broadway store of Scharfenberg & Luis; "or at the residence of Mr. Loder, 97 Crosby street."
But the respectability of the neighborhood would erode by the time of the Civil War. No. 97 was owned by Andrew Campbell and his wife in 1864; and living with them was nine-year old Jane Ivers. When the girl's father, Joseph Ivers, attempted to regain custody that September, court papers revealed a disturbing situation. The Campbells insisted that "the child had been given them by its parents, and they had reared it and provided for it." Ivers, in turn, charged them with being "keepers of a house of assignation" (a brothel) where Jane was "exposed to improper and evil associations and companions."
Things did not improve as the years passed. On November 25, 1883 newspapers nationwide reported on the raid on the opium den which operated from the first floor here. The New York Times described the "opium joint" as being run by "an old Chinaman named 'Jim' Doo." It was a considerable operation. The California newspaper the Sacramento Daily Union reported that "twenty-six inmates" were arrested. Included were were actresses and a 15-year old bootblack, James Sullivan, who "admitted to the police that he was a frequent visitor to the place."
The residents on the upper floors were often no less susceptible to arrest. On December 1, 1886 Rosa Rosea was arraigned "for sending children out ragpicking." When she appeared before the judge, she carried a six-month old baby in her arms. Following the hearing (during which Rosa was committed to six months in jail) a court doctor inspected the baby. He found it was "dying of diphtheria," according to The Sun. The newspaper lamented "About a dozen women with infants in their arms had been sitting near Mrs. Rosea in the court room."
But the days of opium dens and brothels were drawing to a close as commerce engulfed the neighborhood. In the 1890s Edward Judson was highly involved in replacing vintage structures with modern loft buildings. He not only owned his own construction company, he acted as his own architect.
In 1894 he turned his attention to Crosby Street--purchasing the old house at No. 97 and filing plans for a seven-story "brick warehouse" to cost $22,000--about $890,000 today. Within a few months he could replace Nos. 45 and 47 Crosby Street with another seven-story loft building.
Completed early in 1895, Judson's brick-faced factory sat atop a cast iron storefront. He toned down the often beefy elements of the Romanesque Revival style with delicate stone eyebrows above the arched openings. Regimented stone quoins ran up the sides. An attractive cast metal cornice crowned the structure.
Judson was a builder and developer, not a landlord, and he immediately sold the new building in March 1895. It quickly filled with apparel and trimmings firms. In 1896 Alexander Spitzer's embroidery factory was here, employing 25 women; Trube & Isaacs produced "embroidered novelties; Hirschberg & Co. was also engaged in producing embroideries; while The Deutsch Bros. Mfg. Co. made dress trimmings and Joel I Hart & Co. manufactured men's trousers.
|Cloaks and Furs, May 1897 (copyright expired)|
Although the building remained filled, the tenants appear to have come and gone rather quickly. Just a year later The Columbia Cloak Co., was here, M. Oppenheim & Co. moved into the top floor with a new two-year lease, and in 1899 men's and boys' clothing retailers Chorosh & Rogers had its factory in the building.
|Clothiers' and Haberdashers' Weekly, July 7, 1899 (copyright expired)|
An interesting tenant at the turn of the century was the Strasburger Wax Figure Co. Department stores had begun using wax mannequins in their window displays only a few years earlier. The figures gave window-shoppers a realistic idea of how gowns and hats would look on the wearer. Strasburger Wax Figure Co. employed just two men and three teen-aged girls in 1901.
Within the next few years other non-apparel firms moved in, including the Art Novelty Co., makers of teddy bears; toy makers Holmac Mfg. Co.,. and in 1914 the newly formed Jeffs & Co., "makers of hand bags and leather novelties."
John McDonald had purchased No. 97 in November 1902 for $60,000. In 1917 he put in on the market; but no one was interested. The Sun noted "Nearly every broker in town has had the property for sale and no doubt offered it to many." But no one was interested until finally operator Daniel H. Jackson bought it in December for the cut-rate price of $15,500--essentially one fourth of what McDonald had paid 15 years earlier. And to seal the deal Jackson put down just $3,500.
Immediately McDonald was slapped with a fire code violation requiring him to install additional exits. Fatal tragedies in factory fires were not uncommon and the new requirements were not unreasonable. But McDonald had his architect, Louis A. Sheinart, petition the City to accept an exterior fire escape instead. Somewhat surprisingly, the City agreed to the much less expensive alternative.
McDonald's reticence to put more money into his investment soon became clear. Within the month he flipped the property, making a profit of more than $30,000--nearly half a million today. Later that year, on October 27, The Sun reported "Mr. Jackson...said that no property he ever purchased returned him greater profit than this neglected Crosby street building."
The post World War I years saw an even broader range of tenants. In 1922 The Combusto Chemical Co. moved into the ground floor store and Harry Walitsky, makers of leather goods, took the third floor. In 1929 the Novelty Case Company and the Elgin Silversmith Co. leased floors.
Change in the industrial neighborhood would come as the 20th century drew to a close and Soho's personality became one of artist studios and galleries. In 1987 the Roger Jazilex art gallery was in the building, and two years later the upper floors were converted to joint living and working quarters for artists--one spacious loft per floor.
The retail shop became home to Tess Giberson on May 5, 2011, where the designer's collection was sold. Giberson renamed the shop "No. 97" in 2016. Although the buildings on either side were razed in the late 20th century; No. 97 somehow survived--a conspicuous, suddenly free-standing relic of the 1890s when Crosby Street was changing from a neighborhood of drug dens and brothels to factories.
photographs by the author