Monday, August 13, 2018

The Lost H. Gregory House - No. 821 Broadway

When this photo was taken around 1897, Duque gave 10-day photography instruction in the attic.  Tailors Abeles & Farian would soon be gone from the second floor.  from the collection of the New-York Historical Society.
By 1832 New York City had expanded northward to the former farm of Henry Spingler, a portion of which was being transformed into Union Square Park.  The blocks of Broadway just to the south were quickly being lined with handsome brick residences, including No. 821 at the northwest corner of East 12th Street.

Three and a half stories tall, it featured the substantial proportions and impressive elements of an upscale home.  Below the high, joined chimneys on the side, an arched opening was flanked by handsome quarter-round windows.  Above the Broadway roof line were two especially tall dormers which held arched windows.   It appears that the house most likely always had two shops at street level.

By 1837 one was home to H. Gregory's confectionery store.  The candy maker had another shop on William Street.  He touted his best-selling product that year, Gregory's Vanilla Cream Candy:

The above very justly celebrated Candy can now be had genuine, together with a general assortment of Lozenges, and other Confectionary [sic], all made of refined Sugar, and warranted pure, at No. 131 William street, and at 821 Broadway, by H. Gregory, the original inventor of the Vanilla Cream Candy.

By 1841 at least one boarder, shipmaster John A. Pierce, was living in the upper portion.  That year John McElwain ran his "morocco dresser" shop next to the candy store.  Morocco was a type of goat leather and morocco dressers tanned or softened it.

The candy store was being operated by John Demarest in 1843 while Dr. Jeremiah Van Rensselaer, who now lived upstairs, ran his pharmacy in the other half.  It was the beginning of a long tradition of drug stores in the space.

Nineteenth century doctors commonly operated their own drug stores where they mixed and formulated medicines and remedies.  On November 21, 1850 an advertisement in the New-York Daily Tribune read, "Drug Clerk Wanted--A young man thoroughly acquainted with the business, and who can give city reference, may obtain a situation by applying at 821 Broadway.  A graduate of the College of Pharmacy preferred."

In the meantime, extra rooms continued to be leased upstairs.  An advertisement in April 1849 offered "Furnished Rooms to Let--Parlor and Bedrooms, suitable for single gentlemen, or a small genteel family, in the immediate neighborhood of Union Park and Grace Church."

By 1853 Dr. Van Renselaer had moved on and No. 821 was home to dentist George McNeil and Charles McNeil, probably his son or brother, who ran the drugstore.

Born in Norway, Gunerius Gabrielson opened his florist store at No. 374 Broadway around 1857.  The successful and talented florist was awarded a gold medal at the exhibition of the American Institute for "the best floral basket" that year.  Within the decade he moved his flower shop next to the pharmacy and his family into the upper portion of the house.

Gabrielson was still here in 1878 when his 21-year old son went missing.  Gunerius, Jr. left the house on Saturday morning, January 19 to spend the weekend with Henry Metcalf on Staten Island.  The following Monday he boarded a boat back to New York City.    The New York Times reported four days later, "He had with him, when seen on the boat, a basket of flowers and a traveling-bag, and in conversation with some gentlemen friends remarked that he would go to the lower cabin and deliver the reticule to its owner (a lady)."

Gabrielson did, indeed, deliver the handbag to the woman, but she later said that after he left the cabin she never saw him again.  When the boat docked, Gabrielson did not get off.  The flowers he had brought on board were found in the upper cabin.  The Times remarked "At his home, his effects, including his bank-book, were found intact."  It is unclear whether the missing man was ever found.

Gabrielson advertised his shop in the December 18, 1881 issue of The Stage (copyright expired)

Gabrielson's florist shop was gone by 1888 and that space was now home to the Donigan sisters' corset store.  The drugstore was operated by George E. Shiel that year, and the residential floors were rapidly being taken over by businesses.   Shield's pharmacy was the scene of a frightening incident on February 20.

While he was taking care of a customer, a large bottle of alcohol fell from a shelf and smashed on the cast iron radiator.  The alcohol poured down the hot pipes and a significant explosion followed.  The New York Times reported that the blast "blew out the front and side windows of the store.  The shelving and partition blazed up, and Shiel in endeavoring to extinguish the flames was severely burned about the hands and face."

The blast terrified the women in the corset shop, which was separated from the drugstore by what the newspaper called "a wooden partition."  The Donigan sisters and their half-dozen female workers rushed from the store onto Broadway.  After a messenger boy ran to the fire house on 13th Street the fire was soon extinguished.

As the turn of the century approached, the corset store of E. & E. Donigan was still here (the shop to the right).  I. C. Istel's cigar store is in the former pharmacy space, and tailors Abeles & Farian occupied part of the upper floors.   from the collection of the New-York Historical Society

In 1890 the intriguingly named Wilsonia Magnetic Clothing Co. was in the building.   Around that time I. C. Istel installed his cigar store in former pharmacy.  Before long he purchased the building and in 1899 made $7,500 in improvements to "the lofts" upstairs, and installed a new entrance to his corner cigar store.  Behind it on 12th Street was a small lunchroom.   The second floor was by now occupied by merchant tailor S. Tillis, and the third by furrier I. Kaufmann.  Despite the extensive alterations (costing more than $200,000 today), the building maintained its patrician, domestic appearance.

During the summer of 1902 Istel took his family to Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey.  Shortly after breakfast on August 27 the family could not find nine-year old Charles.   A panicked search ensued, but it was not until that night that the boy's body was found floating in the lake.

Whether the tragedy had anything to do with Istel's selling No. 821 is conjecture; but seven months later developers R. C. Smith & Co. announced plans for a "10-story fireproof building" to be erected on the site.  The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported on February 28, 1903 "The new building is estimated to cost between $150,000 and $175,000."

The problem for R. C. Smith & Co. in erecting its new headquarters building may have been that Mary Hopepin Smith still owned the land under the old buildings on the proposed site.  But for whatever reason the project never went forward and the vintage structures survived another three years.

Another developer, The Richmond Realty Co., announced on March 10, 1906 it had commissioned architect Samuel Sass to design a 12-story loft building.  But that plan, too, would run into a snag.

On December 29 the Record & Guide explained "Work on the new 12-story loft building at Broadway and 12th st...stopped seven weeks ago pending an adjustment of ownership."   The renegotiation may have had to do with Mary Hopepin Smith's name change following her marriage (she was now legally Mary H. S. Register).   Construction resumed in 1907 and was completed in 1908.  That building survives.


  1. I remember shopping at Forbidden Planet at 821 Broadway when I worked across the street at the Strand. It was their original NYC location before they moved up toward 14th street.

    Once, during a snowstorm, I was standing in the cash-wrap area of the Strand and looked over my shoulder at 821 through the front window. The snowfall was so heavy, there was no modern traffic (human or vehicular) out in the street and I was able to do a little mental time-traveling while gazing at the (then) 80-year old building, imagining I was back in Edwardian-era NYC when it first went up. I realize that sounds weird, but guess you had to be there.

  2. I spent a lot of time at the Forbidden Planet here when I was in high school. Store was much larger then they had the first floor and the basement at 821.

    This blog is astonighingly good to begin with, but it adds a little something special when you come across an entry that mentions a location you remember personally.