Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The 1883 Clark Building - 332 Canal Street

There was, no doubt, originally an eye-catching Queen Anne pediment above the cornice.
In 1883 John J. Clark was on the top of the world.  He was a partner with his brother, Joseph, in Clark Bros., which ran several restaurants throughout the city, including a well-known oyster bar on Fulton Street.   John personally owned and operated the popular Bijou Restaurant at No. 504 Sixth Avenue, as well.  His tremendous success allowed Clark to invest heavily on Wall Street.  The Evening World said he was "known as a successful and daring operator."

Clark commissioned architect Jobst Hoffman to design a six-story loft and store building at No. 332 Canal Street, running through the block to 39-41 Lispenard Street.   Drawing mostly from the popular Queen Anne style, Hoffman embellished the brick and stone piers with Renaissance Revival panels and included neo-Classical swags in the decorations.   Cast iron elements allowed for vast openings which poured natural light into the factory spaces.

Hoffman's attention to detail included faces--one male and one female--within the second story capitals.  The sunbursts directly above were common Queen Anne motifs.
Clark used the ground floor for his Oyster & Chop House.  Like all his restaurants, it catered to middle-class diners and businessmen.  It offered "a quick business lunch" from 11 to 2:00, and dinner from 5:00 to 8:00.

The upper floors were leased to Plock & Hoffstadt, "manufacturers of lace, muslin and embroidery caps, infants' cloaks, etc." according to New York's Great Industries in 1884.   The firm, which employed between 100 and 150 workers, had been located nearby at No. 359 Canal.  New York's Great Industries called the new location "very eligible and central premises."

The principal of Plock & Hoffstadt was, somewhat surprisingly for the period, a woman.  Charlotte Plock was termed "an amiable and talented business lady, possessed of vast practical experience in her line, and recognized as producing the finest quality of goods in the market."  Her partner, William Hoffstadt, focused on the books and was described as being "noted in financial circles for his honorable methods and sterling integrity."

The rear of the structure, on Lispendard Street, is double the wide of the Canal Street side.  
Only four years after moving in Plock & Hoffstadt was gone.  On November 1, 1888 Fur Trade Review reported "Messrs. Freedman Brothers, the well-known cloak manufacturers, now occupy the entire building at 332 Canal street."   The Lispenard Street storefront was renovated as its showroom.  The magazine said "The firm has fitted up the store floor, their increased room, in grand style, and are showing an enlarged stock of goods to meet the requirements of their many customers."

A clerk was surprised to see a man preparing to load a truck in front of the store in January 1893.  When he shouted to the John Lover to stop, the culprit drove off, leaving the goods on the sidewalk.  But Lispenard street was crowded with other horse-drawn drays, so Lover abandoned his truck and ran.  He was caught and arrested by a policeman.

The case he had abandoned contained $460 worth of worsted fabrics.  Lover's trial was held on January 9, and its outcome enraged the judge.  After deliberating four hours, the jury arrived at a verdict of not guilty.  Judge Martine told them "I want to say, gentlemen, that your verdict of not guilty in this case is of the kind that does much to encourage crime.  The verdict is not in accordance with the evidence."

At the time, Freedman Bros. was battling the labor movement, which sought to improve working conditions and salaries through unionizing.  The Consolidated Board of Cloak-Cutters and Operators alleged in August 1891 that the firm underpaid its approximate 150 workers.

Union delegate Dion W. Burke, told an Evening World reporter on August 13 that year "The firm of Friedman [sic] Brothers have been paying lower wages than any other firm, and they have consequently been able to undersell other houses.  We have been trying to make terms with the Friedmans [sic] for some time, but failed."

The New York Times added that not only did the firm pay "much lower wages than did other firms...the Superintendents deducted a percentage from their wages.  The tailors were made to pay $2 a week to the pressers, which was not done i any other shop."

When representatives tried to meet with Freedman on August 13, he tossed them out.  His entire workforce followed.  Almost unbelievably, it would not be until May 27, 1897 that the garment firm and the union came to a final agreement.

In the meantime, Clark Brothers had sold No. 332 to Herman Wronkow in December 1893 for "about $100,000," according to The New York Times (about $2.8 million today).   John J. Clark would soon need the cash, as it turned out.

Less than two months later, on Friday night, February 2, 1894, he was arrested in the Bijou Restaurant with his manager and two waiters.  The New-York Tribune reported the shocking news.  He was "charged with keeping a disorderly house."  It was a polite term for a brothel.

Clark's trouble continued when his only daughter, Annie, committed suicide by throwing herself under a Sixth Avenue elevated train after a failed romance.  In January 1895 Clark lost his liquor license and by the turn of the century the man who erected No. 332 Canal Street was earning $15 a week as a waiter in a small Broadway restaurant.

Wronkow leased the Oyster & Chop House space to Hugo E. Hertel in 1894.  Hertel, it seems, focused more on alcohol than food here.  He had gone into business with F. G. Roebling on January 6, 1892, opening a sumptuous saloon on Third Avenue.  A Souvenir of New York's Liquor Interests had described that location a year earlier saying "The decorations are elegant and costly, comprising a highly ornamental ceiling--which alone cost $1000--cherry and mahogany fittings, fine plate mirrors, tiled floors, sporting ticker, and every modern improvement incidental to a high-class establishment."

A few months before Freedman Brothers signed the contract with the union in 1897, it had left No. 332 Canal Street (the firm would dissolve in 1901).  For the first time since its completion, the building had more than one tenant in the upper floors.

L. Kerster & Son's clothing factory shared the building with a somewhat surprising tenant, "Bornstein," who dealt in scrap.  How long Bornstein remained at the address is unclear.

The sun, June 6, 1897 (copyright expired)

On January 17, 1897 14-year old Max Cohen left No. 25 Allen Street where he lived with his mother to look for a job.  On Canal Street a man approached him and said "I saw you were in a store around the corner looking for a job.  I'll give you work if you come with me."

The gullible teen followed him to L. Kerster & Son's factory.  According to The Sun "The boy was ordered to tie some clothing up in bundles and the man who employed him went away saying he was going after an express wagon."  Because it was the end of the day, most of the workers had already left.

While Max worked diligently at his task, Bernard Kerster closed the shop.  To his great surprise, he came across the boy, still working hard.  "He caused the boy's arrest, charging him with burglary," reported The Sun.

Five days later Max was sentenced to the Elmira Reformatory.  The fate of most boys convicted of such a crime in the 1890's would have been sealed.  Surprisingly, though, District Attorney Olcott looked closer into the facts and was convinced that Max had been hoodwinked by a clever professional criminal.

He sent his private secretary, Colonel Swords, to "lay the matter before the Governor" and request the boy's release.   Ten months after he was sent away, on November 12, he was pardoned by Governor Frank S. Black.

At the turn of the century No. 332 was filled mostly with garment manufacturers.  The Net Spot Cash Pants Co. employed 26 men and 5 women in 1901.  Stuetz & Mink, clothing makers, were in the building, as were the Bargain Knee Pants Co., and Cooper & Lambert, skirt makers.  Employees in each of the factories worked 54 hours per week.

One tenant not involved in the apparel trade was P. H. Gross & Sons, manufacturers' representatives.  Among its clients was the American Safe Co.  The firm would remain in the building from 1900 through 1902.

New-York Tribune, December 27, 1900 (copyright expired)
The first years of the 20th century brought problems to several of the tenants of No. 332.  Maisel Brothers & Drusin, cloak manufacturers, had moved in by 1902 when Charles Maisel was arrested and held in $100 bail.  The New-York Tribune reported he "was charged with employing a fourteen-year-old girl, Sarah Lipkind, without a permit."

Charles Maisel did not learn his lesson from the arrest.  In 1904 he and his partners were fined again for "employing children under 16 without board of health certificates."

And in March that year Maisel Brothers & Druisin was hit with a violation from the Board of Health because of the filthy conditions of the bathrooms.  They were not the only tenant who failed the inspection.  Inspectors found Sam and Max Hirsch guilty of three violations--"Failure to provide suitable and separate water-closets," "failure to lime wash walls and ceilings," and "failure to clean and keep clean water-closets."

While the two firms scrubbed their toilets and painted their walls, another was facing a financial crisis.  The owners solved the problem by sneaking out and disappearing.  On August 11, 1904 The New York Times reported "The place of business of Brody & Eisenberg, manufacturers of cloaks and suits at 332 Canal Street, has been closed up since Saturday last, and it is said that everything has been removed from the place."

Herman Wronkow lost No. 332 to foreclosure in 1908.  It was purchased at auction by Anna Woerishoffer on January 6 for the $75,000--about $2 million in today's dollars.   She still owned the building on May 18, 1920 when disaster struck.

At around 2:00 in the morning fire broke out in No. 326 Canal Street.  Before a second alarm could be sent in, the building was "a furnace," as described by a witness; and the blaze had spread to No. 332.   The New York Times reported "The building at 332 Canal Street was occupied by three dry goods firms, and within twenty minutes after the fire spread to the premises it was a mass of flames."

Anna Woerishoffer sold the burned out structure to Charles Laue four months later.  But rather than renovate, he resold it in March the following year to Cross Siclare Special Paper Cutting Company.  The New-York Tribune reported "extensive alterations are to be made to the premises by the purchaser for occupancy."

Cross Siclare leased space to Malis Powers Supply Co. in 1922  The Evening World, February 10, 1922 (copyright expired)

Cross Siclare and his brother, Nathan Siclare, used all of the building for their extensive paper cutting operation except the top floor, which was leased to Malis-Powers Supply Co.  In 1923, however, they took over that floor for a side business which quite possibly made even more money for the pair.

On Tuesday afternoon, December 4, 1923 John Kerrigan met with Cross Siclare regarding the prospective purchase of paper stock.  Saying he was in a hurry to finish things up, Kerrigan confided to Siclare that he had an appointment to meet a man who could sell him alcohol.  Siclare's attention was sparked and he pressed Kerrigan for more information.  It turned out that Kerrigan was not interested in buying a bottle of scotch or gin for his own consumption, but wanted 500 gallons.

Siclare dropped a bombshell.  He could provide that amount of good alcohol, he said.  Kerrigan wavered, then "he agreed to consider the offer if Siclare would furnish a 5-gallon sample," according to The New York Times two days later.

Cross Siclare provided the sample and Kerrigan left.  But when he returned the following day he was not alone.  John Kerrigan was an undercover Prohibition Agent who had originally come to No. 332 Canal Street on a tip.  What the raid uncovered was staggering.  The Times reported on the "seizure of fifteen stills and $50,000 worth of alcohol."  Both of the Siclare brothers and their shipping clerk, Edward A. Dorney, were arrested.  The article revealed that the entire top floor was set aside "for distilling the denatured alcohol."

Canal Street was a bit seedier by mid-century as hardware and plastics companies filled the street level shops.  In the mid 1950's No. 322 was home to Hercules Chemical Co., dealers in supplies like pipe threading cutting oil and liquid solder.

Popular Mechanics magazine, October 1955
But change came to the Tribeca and Soho neighborhoods in the last quarter of the century.  In 1978 The City Dump opened in the space where John J. Clark's Oyster & Chop House had been nearly a century earlier.   The store sold new goods at bargain prices ranging from tools to hair dryers, and from wok sets to camping gear.  It was a destination for shoppers for more than a decade.

The capitals of all but one of the engaged columns on the three upper floors have sadly been lost.
Then in 2000 a renovation by architect Jung Wor Chin resulted in two apartments per floor above the second floor.  The project restored the facade, but fell short of replacing lost elements like cast iron capitals or of simulating the decorative parapet.  Nevertheless, the integrity of Jobst Hoffman's handsome Queen Anne design mostly survives.

photographs by the author

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