Saturday, April 21, 2018

The 1898 Cushman Building - 1 Maiden Lane

A blank space and now-pointless brackets are all that remain of the stone balconies above the 8th floor on the Broadway side.  Those on Maiden Lane have been reduced to a flat slab.
As the 19th century waned Maiden Lane had become the epicenter of Manhattan's Jewelry District.  Among the tenants at No. 174 Broadway, at the northeast corner of Maiden Lane, was Frederick William Barthman, who went by his middle name.

Barthman's was a fascinating story.  Born in Hamburg in 1840, his father fled with him to Brazil during the 1848 German revolution.  Three years later, at the age of 11, William found himself orphaned and made his way to New York working as a cabin boy in a sailing ship.  Once here the boy found work as a jeweler's apprentice.

When civil war broke out he volunteered, attaining the rank of lieutenant under Ulysses S. Grant.  He married Eleanor M. Straat in 1864 and in 1873 formed the jewelry firm of Barthman & Straat, with his in-laws.  When he struck out on his own in 1883, he moved into No. 174 Broadway.

Now, in February 1896, it appeared he would have to find a new place of business.  The building was owned by the Cushman family, which had been in the real estate field for many decades.  The Cushman Estate offered the property at auction on February 21.  But bidding was tepid at best and the family withdrew the parcel when the bids stalled at $265,000--just under $8 million today.

William Barthman could not relax yet, though.  The Cushmans hired architect C. P. H. Gilbert to replace the old building.  His plans, filed in July the following year, called for a "brick and stone office building," which now took the side street address, No. 1 Maiden Lane.

On July 21 The Jewelers' Circular announced that "The tearing down of the old seven story brick building at the N.E. corner of Maiden Lane and Broadway, New York, will commence next week.  This building will be replaced by a magnificent 13 story structure, to be known as the Cushman building...It will be built of marble, brick and terra-cotta in the style of French Renaissance."

The Jewelers Review, April 12, 1899 (copyright expired)
Gilbert faced the building in mouse-gray brick trimmed in stone.  Expansive show windows faced Broadway.  The arched entrance on Maiden Lane, with its Beaux Arts carvings of vines and scrolls surrounding a realistic portrait face smacked more of a hotel than a business building (as, it could be argued, did the overall design).  Stone balconies clung to the ninth floor.  The top floor took the form of a copper clad hip roof with hefty dormers.

Apparently the Cushman Estate and its long-term tenant came to an amicable agreement, for when No. 1 Maiden Lane was completed in the spring of 1898, William Barthman was again a visible presence.  The ground floor jewelry store drew especial attention with the clock Barthman installed in the sidewalk.

Working with employee Frank Homm, it took Barthman two years to design the $700 timepiece.  It was installed in the pavement in the fall of 1899.  Several years later, in September 1906, The Technical World Magazine remarked "Perhaps the most novel device in time-recording instruments, its the sidewalk clock displayed in front of the store of William Barthman."  The article noted that "The works are under the pavement, and, instead of the time being indicated by a dial and hands, as in the ordinary clock, the hour and minute numbers revolve as in a panorama before an opening in the sidewalk."  The writer added "Thousands pass this clock every day, step on it, walk over it, many in their busy rush unconscious that they are tramping on time."

The Technical World Magazine, September 1905 (copyright expired)
Advertisements for the new building carried the headline "JEWELERS" and called it the "finest location in New York."  And, indeed, jewelry firms quickly signed leases.  Among the first to were J. P. Bowden & Co., F. W. Lewis & Co., and Emil P. Angot.

.J. B. Bowden & Co. was founded in 1843 by Joseph Bowden,  His son, Joseph B. Bowden, joined the firm in 1874 and son M. L. Bowden was admitted in 1878.  Following their father's death in 1890, the younger Bowdens continued the firm, with Joseph being the senior member.  Interestingly, the firm focused on just one main item--finger rings.

The Jewelers' Circular, November 1, 1893 (copyright expired)

F. W. Lewis & Co., headed by Fred W. Lewis, cut and sold "diamonds, pearls, rubies and emeralds," according to the Jewelers Review.  The magazine described the company's offices on April 12, 1899.  "This firm occupies offices on the third floor of the Cushman Building, 1 Maiden lane.  In appointments and fittings these offices are equal to any in New York, being of quartered oak, finished in fret work and antique Japanese iron work, allowing the free entrance of light as well as being very ornamental."

The offices of F. W. Lewis & Co. were described as "large and commodious."  The Jewelers Review, April 12, 1899 (copyright expired)

The article explained that the reception room was furnished with settees and the salesroom was "fitted with elegant counters and chairs."  Fred Lewis's own office was "decorated very tastefully with ancient statuary and works of art."
After The New York Times issued an editorial on November 1, 1899 entitled "Policemen at Crossings" which lambasted the traffic cop at the Cushman Building corner, Joseph B. Bowden came to his immediate defense.  In a letter to the editor that very day he said in part "It seems to me particularly unjust that a man who tried as hard as this one to do his full duty should be accused of negligence.  He is particularly active and renders excellent service at this point.  Such criticism is calculated to discourage the best men on the force."

Diamond dealer Emil P. Angot was a partner with Hubert Lontjens.  When Angot left the office on Friday night, April 26, 1901 he headed to the notorious Tenderloin District to relax.  It was a decision he would later regret.

According to Angot the following day, he went to Casan's bowling alley in the basement of 57 West 26th Street.  The term "bowling alley" was, perhaps, a stretch--newspapers preferred to call it a "saloon."  He met James M. Elliott there, the men had a few drinks together, then Elliott left.  But he later returned.  According to Angot, "In an hour and a half he came back and asked me to do a favor for him.  We went outside where he wanted me to buy him ten grains of morphine."

And for some reason, Angot agreed.  He went to a nearby druggist, but was told they would not sell less than a dram.  He told Elliott, who replied, "It's not for me, buy the whole dram."   So Angot returned, spending the 45 cents for the dram of morphine which he handed over to Elliott.

Angot told police ""After that we went into several saloons, drinking more.  I was trying to get his address all the time, as my sole object was to get him home.  Finally, we went into the Cairo Cafe on 29th Street, where we drank with some women.  One of them accompanied us to Martin Dowling's 29th Street and Sixth Avenue, where we had a drink."

While Angot was "busy talking to the woman," Elliott poured the morphine into his glass and drank it.  Angot knew what had happened by the white residue in the glass.  Things quickly went downhill for the jeweler's night out.

He and Elliott left the saloon and Elliott told him, "I feel queer."  Angot took him to Stein's drugstore on Sixth avenue and 27th Street, where Elliott lost consciousness.  According to Angot, he nervously waited for the ambulance, then went back to the saloon after Elliott was taken away.    The following morning he read of Elliott's death.

Respectable businessmen did not need their names publicized in connection with Tenderloin District saloons, loose women, drugs and suspicious deaths.  But Emil Angot immediately went to his lawyer.  Hours after Elliott's death Angot and attorney Bartow S. Weeks walked into Police Headquarters and reported the details.  He was arraigned for having purchased the "poison" which killed Elliott, and Edgar J. Howarth, the drugstore clerk, was arrested for selling it.

In an amazing turn of events, both men were released.  When the two men appeared before Magistrate Crane, Howarth insisted that the drugstore was not open that night.  Angot insisted it was.  Each, said The New York Times on April 29, 1901, was "equally emphatic."  The judge solved the standoff by discharging them both.

The Jewelers' Circular, November 22, 1899 (copyright expired)
P. L. Munford, a wholesale gem dealer, had space in the building by 1912.   Max Edwards walked into the shop in January that year, identifying himself as "a jewelry dealer and a member of a prominent Southern family," according to The New York Times later.  He walked out with $2,750 worth of gems on account and then promptly disappeared.

When he realized he had been duped, Munford put detectives on the case and an exhausting chase began.  On August 20 The Times reported "A general alarm was sent out for him, and detectives trailed him to Vancouver, B. C.; from there to Florida, and then to his home town, Edentown [N.C.]."  It was discovered that Edwards had "swindled many merchants out of large sums" in New York before skipping town.  He was extradited to Manhattan where he faced grand larceny and forgery charges.

On January 17, 1914 William Barthman died in his Brooklyn home.  His sons, Frederick William, Jr. and Henry, continued the business with William as senior partner.

Two months later the Barthmans and the other tenants in the Cushman Building nearly lost everything.  A fire broke out in the boiler room early on the morning of March 30.  Policeman Harris noticed flames shooting up the elevator shaft next to Barthman's ground floor store.  Newspaper reports the following day said Harris broke in the door and "found that the fire had cracked the panels of glass in the doorway of the elevator shaft up as far as five stories."  The Times added that the fire had " destroy the entire building, which is occupied for the most part by jewelers and is filled with valuable gems."

In the fall of 1920 the D. A. Cushman Realty Co. sold the Cushman Building.  The transaction prompted the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide to note "The sale has an historic phase, as the direct ancestors of the present owners bought the parcel for 1,000 pounds sterling in the latter part of the 17th century."  The article added, "The present building was erected of particularly heavy construction for the jewelry trade."

The purchaser was long-time tenant William Barthman.  The firm placed bronze letters spelling out its name above the entrance, resulting in many New Yorkers today referring to the building as "the Barthman Building."

Jewelers continued to lease space in the Cushman Building.  At the time of the sale Jung & Klitz had its office here.  The firm proudly recalled that among its illustrious patrons had been "Diamond Jim" Brady, who routinely acquired his namesake gems from its store.  By now the firm was headed by Charles R. Jung.

Somewhat unexpectedly it was not the store of Jung & Klitz that was the target of burglers on April 23, 1921, but Jung's apartment.  While the family was at their country place in Lake Mahopac, New York, burglars entered the West 86th Street apartment and made off with "furs, silverware, and jewelry, valued at $9,000," according to police reports.   The heist would be equivalent to about $110,000 in today's dollars.

On November 22, 1930 three separate armed robberies resulted in the loss of $35,500 in gems and $2,500 in cash.  Two of the hold-ups took place in uptown jewelry stores and the third at No. 1 Maiden Lane.  But if the bandits had originally intended to hit a Cushman Building jeweler, they changed their minds to the more unlikely target of Ben Green's clothing store, instead.

Just before 6:00 three gunmen wearing handkerchiefs over their faces stormed in and held up the manager, three salesmen and four customers.  One of the thugs went to the tailoring room upstairs and brought down the eight tailors, adding them to the line-up.

One crook aimed his gun at the cashier, Lillian Larson and ordered her to open the cash register.  The Times reported that she "fainted after she had handed the money over to the men."  There was $2,500 in bills in the drawer.

The manager, Louis Liebow, made a brave move by bolting away and down the stairs.  The gunmen rushed after him, but when they heard him crying for police, they turned and ran in the opposite direction.

On September 17, 1935 F. William Barthman died in his Forest Hills, New York residence at the age of 70.  Six years later his brother, Henry (who, incidentally, had achieved the rank of Brigadier General and served in the Spanish-American War), died of a stroke in Miami, Florida.  He was 73.

On April 5, 1944 The New York Times reported that the title to the Cushman Building "pass from the hands of William Barthman to the One Maiden Lane Corporation."   Around the same time a long-standing issue with the sidewalk clock was addressed.  Frank Homm had originally maintained the clock, regulating it nearly every day.  With his death in 1917 his intimate knowledge of its workings were lost.  William C. Barthman replaced the unusual and temperamental mechanism with a standard dial-faced clock under heavy glass.

At the time of the title transfer, jewelers were migrating north, to what would become known as the Diamond District.  While some remained downtown, the Cushman building saw an increasingly diverse type of tenant, including rare stamp dealers C. I. Crowell, Inc.

Among those jewelers that did stay on with William Barthman was DeNatale Brothers, headed by Blase DeNatale.  It occupied the third floor.  That firm received an extraordinary honor in January 1952.  It had manufactured the jeweled crowns that would adorn the painting of Mary Queen of Peace in the Regina Pacis Votive Shrine in Brooklyn.  Now Blase DeNatale and his wife took the diamond-studded gold crowns to Rome where, accompanied by Monsignor Angelo R. Cioffi of the Regina Pacis Votive Shrine, they were received by Pope Pius XII.

The Pope blessed the items, which had significance beyond their religious and monetary value (they were insured for $100,000).  The Times reported on January 13, 1952 "The gold, diamonds and other jewels, were provided during the war by 12,000 parishioners of the Regina Pacis Votive Shrine."

William C. Barthman died on July 1, 1968, at the age of 73.   The William Barthman jewelry store, however, kept going in the corner space it had occupied for more than seven decades.

Blase DeNatale received notice from the Homes Protective Company on May 10, 1970 that a burglar alarm had been tripped.  A Holmes guard had gone to the location and found the street door to the building locked and no evidence of a break-in.    DeNatale went to the office and was no doubt initially relieved to find all four safes secured.  But when the safes were unlocked, he found about $200,000 in jewelry and precious stones missing.  "Investigators were unable to explain how the theft was accomplished," reported The New York Times.

The address had an unexpected and somewhat shocking tenant in the 1980's.    The Wall Street Sauna was one of several homosexual bathhouses throughout the city.  Because of its location, it catered mostly to a daytime business clientele, unlike its late-night counterparts further north.  When the AIDS epidemic began slaughtering Manhattan's gay population, City officials closed many of the bathhouses because of "unsafe sexual practices."  Two years after the first baths were closed, the City still had the Wall Street Sauna within its sights; but it and three others remained open.

On May 2, 1987 health officials announced, perhaps begrudgingly, that they "have found no violations to warrant their closing."  It did not stop them from, nevertheless, from publicizing the names and addresses.

When the World Trade Center Towers collapsed on the morning of September 11, 2001, the impact blew out the show windows and door of William Barthman.  Sadly, over the following three days--while most New Yorkers joined together in solidarity and mourning--thieves looted the store.  A full restoration was completed before Christmas and the store was in operation again.

In 2004 what The New York Daily News called a "gay sex club" here was shut down by the City.  Bad news coverage came again in October 2012 when undercover detectives uncovered a brothel operating from an upper floor.

Despite its few bouts with unflattering publicity, C. P. H. Gilbert's French Renaissance-style  Cushman Building still commands attention on the highly visible corner; and the Barthman sidewalk clock still ticks out the time under the feet of unnoticing tourists and brokers.

photographs by the author


  1. I'm curious, does anyone known when or why the balconies were removed?

    1. My guess is they got old and were removed as safety hazard instead of putting the money in to repair then, or it could have simply been changing tastes. As to when this happened i can't say but in the 1940s tax photos they are still there, and in the 80s tax photos it's hard to tell.