Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Walther Luttgen House - 51 West 75th Street





In 1891 prolific developer James T. Hall began construction of four brownstone-fronted homes on the north side of West 75th Street, between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue.  Designed by George H. Budlong, they were a creative blend of Renaissance Revival and Romanesque Revival architecture.


No. 51 stands out among the row because of its intact condition and later-added mansard.
The homes were completed in 1891.  Four stories tall above English basements, their 23-foot width and proximity to the park reflected the comfortable financial status of their intended owners.  No. 51, overall, featured the elements of the Renaissance Revival style, but it owed its rough-cut brownstone face to Romanesque Revival.  A robust box stoop led the the double-doored entrance, framed in Renaissance-inspired pilasters.  The handsome three-sided oriel at the second floor was supported by a swagged bracket, and provided a balcony to the third floor.  Above it all, originally, a modest modillioned pressed metal cornice matched those of its neighbors.


A delicate carved ribbon goes nearly unnoticed within the rough brownstone blocks.
When the original owner of the house lost it in forclosure in 1894, it was purchased by Walther (sometimes anglicized as Walter) Luttgen for $34,500--just over $1 million today.   Born in Germany in 1839, he was a partner with August Belmont in the banking firm August Belmont & Company.  Luttgen and his wife, the former Amelia Victoria Bremeyer, had two daughters, Florence Amelia, born in 1868, and Gertrude Marion, born in 1880.


Walther Luttgen - Columbia Yacht Club, 1917

Walter was active in the yachting community and was a member of the Seawanhaka Corinthian Yacht Club and the Columbia Yacht Club.  When his yacht, the Linta, was launched in July 1892, The Evening World mentioned "The Linta is 85 feet long, handsomely fitted up and one of the largest steam yachts ever built here."

Fashionable New Yorkers filed into the 75th Street house on January 39, 1901 for Gertrude's wedding reception after she was married to  Oliver Hildreth Keep, Jr. in All Angels' Church.  (Sadly, Gertrude died seven years later at the age of 28.)

Luttgen's business interests went beyond banking.  In January 1900 he and August Belmont had purchased an entire block of Harlem real estate; and he was a director of the Illinois Central Railroad Company, the Rapid Transit Construction Company, the Consolidated Railway Electric Lighting and Equipment Company, and the Transatlantic Trust Company.  

In March 1902 the Luttgens sold No. 51 to Rev. John Henry Watson and his wife, the former Susan Matilda Hoffman.  The couple had two sons, Henry and Eugene, and a daughter, Mary Elmendorf, all of whom were grown by now.  Mary and Eugene, both unmarried, moved into the house with their parents.

Born in 1845 to the Boston minister Rev. John Lee Watson, Watson had an impressive background.  His ancestors had arrived on the Mayflower.  Upon graduating from the Berkeley Divinity School in Middleton, Connecticut, he had immediately become assistant rector at the fashionable Trinity Chapel in Manhattan.  He then moved on to churches in Stamford, Philadelphia, Hartford and New Rochelle.  Returning to New York City, he gave up parish work and devoted himself to the missions in the impoverished areas.



Watson had also provided his services as the chaplain of the Army and Navy Aid Association.  The group provided help to veterans, many of whom had served in the recent Spanish-American War.  In the minutes of a meeting opened by Watson on May 18, 1900, it was noted “Many pathetic letters have been received, the most of them containing requests for work.”

Susan also came from a religious family.  Her father was Rev. Eugene Augustus Hoffman, Dean of the General Theological Seminary.  Newspapers called him "the richest clergyman in the world."  Upon his death on June 17, 1902, three months after the Watsons purchased No. 51, he died leaving an estate of just under $10 million.  It was divided mainly between his widow and four children.  

In March 1904 the Watsons made extension renovations to the 75th Street house.  They hired the well-known architectural firm of John B. Snook & Son to do the equivalent of $87,000 today in work that included adding a mansard level, rearranging the interior walls and closets, and install new windows.  A hefty cornice visually capable of upholding the new level was installed at the time.

The Watson summer estate was Ondawa on Little Moose Lake in Old Forge, New York.  Susan involved herself in social circles there and was a member of the Adirondack League Club.

Essentially retired, Watson filled his time with writing.  In 1911 he published The History of Fra Paolo Sarpi, a biography of the 18th century priest who was openly critical of the Catholic Church.

Watson suffered a fatal heart attack in the 75th Street house on October 31, 1913 at the age of 68.  His funeral was held in Trinity Chapel.  Susan continued to live in the house with Mary and Eugene and to summer at Ondawa.  She busied herself with charities such as the Fifth Avenue Hospital and the Hospital Musical Association.

Susan's mother, Mary C. Hoffman, died in 1914.  Given her massive estate and the individual wealth of her children, it is perhaps a bit surprising that a court battle broke out over jewelry.  Susan's siblings protested when the executors omitted two items from the estate inventory--a pearl necklace and a ruby ring valued at $12,500 (just under $325,000 today).  The Sun reported on July 19 "Mrs. Watson insisted that her mother, who had other jewelry worth $38,605, gave to her the necklace and ruby ring long before death."

The suit against Susan was not the only contention.  Mary's grandchildren separately sued because she had bequeathed her "large retinue of servants" four months salary.  Commenting on that suit, the judge said "It certainly is not the custom among affluent families to turn servants of dead people summarily out of doors."

Susan and Mary traveled together.  On October 23, 1921, for instance, The New York Herald reported that they were pausing at the Maplewood Hotel in Pittsfield, near Lenox, Massachusetts.

Perhaps assuming that Mary would stay forever single, society may have been surprised when Susan announced her engagement to the Rev. Jackson H. Randolph Ray of Dallas, Texas on April 17, 1922.   The wedding took place on July 18 in fashionable St. Thomas's Church on Fifth Avenue.   Ray was Dean of St. Matthew's Cathedral in Dallas.  Two days prior to the ceremony The New York Herald predicted "Late in the season as it is, there will be many notable members of old New York society present."

Two years later, on August 28, 1926, The Sun reported that Susan had sold No. 51 to the Hephzibah House Bible Training School and Home of Rest.  The institution paid $32,000 for the property, or about $469,000 in today's money.

The organization was founded in 1893 as the Hephzibah House and Training School for Christian Workers, a Bible training school for young women.  Its name was changed in 1897 when it began operating a lodging house for missionary workers passing through New York, as well.  

A 1939 renovation resulted in a kitchen and laundry in the basement, a reception room and library on the first floor, and furnished rooms on the floors above.


The Hephzabah House Bible Training School and Home of Rest remains in the Luttgen house, its website noting "It continues to  serve as a guest house for those serving in ministry to be able to visit New York City for meetings, vacation or rest to stay in Manhattan at affordable rates."

photographs by the author

Monday, December 30, 2019

The Lost Importers & Traders Nat'l Bank - 247 Broadway


The narrow building sat on a residence-sized plot.  from the collection of the New-York Historical Society

Since its founding in 1855 the Importers & Traders National Bank had operated from the southwest corner of Broadway and Murray Street.  By the first years of the new century its four-story structure, while admittedly handsome, was both outdated and confining.


The old building was accessed above a stoop on Broadway.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

On May 12, 1906 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that the bank had made a somewhat startling decision.  At the time financial institutions flaunted their stability and the size of their holdings with large structures that included vast ground floor banking rooms.  Upper floors were then leased as offices.  But rather than purchase additional properties, president Edward Townsend announced the bank would rebuild on its 25-foot wide plot--using the entire structure for its own use.

The directors were in no apparent hurry.  Demolition of the original building did not commence until June 1907.  The directors had chosen architect J. H. Feedlander to design their building, estimated to cost $500,000 to construct--around $13.8 million in today's dollars.


Freelander's renderings emphasized the narrow dimensions of the Broadway elevation as compared with the Murray Street side.  Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide May 25, 1907 (copyright expired)
Freelander designed a classically-inspired, six-story structure faced in white Dover marble above the ground floor.  The Broadway front featured four-story engaged Corinthian columns, echoed on Murray Street by pilasters.  The sole entrance within the rusticated granite base was on Broadway.  The door and the window frames were of bronze.  

Completed late in 1908, the elegance of the exterior was carried on inside.  "The decorations of the interior will form a special feature of the bank," predicted the Record & Guide in May 1907.  "The first floor will be of marble, with marble and bronze counter screens, and elevator enclosures."  The Guide remarked "The inherent refinement and purity of detail of the classics have been drawn upon to give to the building a simply dignity in consonance with the purposes for which it is intended."
The narrow proportions of the building are evidenced in this view of the banking room. Both Sides of Broadway, 1910 (copyright expired) 
But it was the innovative configuration of the structure that drew attention.  On December 26, 1908 the Record & Guide remarked that it "marks an era in the construction of buildings of this type.  In fact, it may be said that its scheme, both in arrangement and in the disposition of the various departments, is almost revolutionary, inasmuch as it departs from the traditional system of a main banking room covering an extended floor area, and is contained in a single lot twenty-five foot wide and a hundred feet deep."


King's Views of New York 1909 (copyright expired)
The public business of the bank was conducted on the first through third floors.  Administrative offices were on the fourth, the "directors' suite" engulfed the fifth floor, and the sixth was left vacant "to the future growth of the bank."

Throughout most of the 20th century workers were paid in cash, receiving their pay envelopes at the end of the workday either on Friday or Saturday.  The practice necessitated an office worker, usually a bookkeeper or paymaster, to withdraw large amounts of cash once a week.  Not surprisingly, their weekly movements were often closely scrutinized by robbers.


Interestingly, the president's office (above) was shared by several other officers.  The paneled Board Room featured a striking mantel and ornate plaster ceiling.  photos by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The Manhattan Brass Works Company on East 28th Street took extra precautions by sending a bodyguard with Carl Gunther each week.  But on the morning of January 15, 1921 even that was insufficient protection.  Gunther left the Importers & Traders National Bank with a bag containing $6,000--just under $85,000 today.  He and Richard Schmimke rode the Third Avenue elevated railroad to 28th Street and were just passing the public school there at around 10:00 when they were ambushed by four or five thugs.

Several witnesses saw Schmimke knocked unconscious with a monkey wrench from behind.  The Evening World reported "As the guard fell, Gunther turned and faced the second bandit, who instantly shot him and caught at the bag.  All who saw the scene declare that Gunther even after he had been shot put up a desperate battle and clung to the money bag until he sank to the pavement, apparently dying."


An advertisement included a handy map.  New-York Tribune, June 13 1922 (copyright expired)

In the spring of 1923 plans were finalized for the absorption of the Importers and Traders National Bank by the Equitable Trust Company.  The two institutions had operated just three blocks apart for decades and continuing the combined business in both locations made no sense.  On March 6, 1923 The New York Times said "It is understood that tentative plans provide for the physical combination of these two places of business in 1924 or 1925.


The entrance doors were solid bronze.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
As it turned out, neither building would survive the merger.  On July 31, 1925 The New York Times reported that "Plans were recently completed for the Equitable Trust Company's new thirty-four story bank building on the site of the Mills Building, Wall Street's first skyscraper."

The former Importers & Traders National Bank building survived until 1930 when Equitable Trust merged with the Chase National Bank.  According to The New York Times "the building was pulled down about that time to save taxes, leaving the steelwork as an eerie plaque."  Eerie, indeed, the twisted framework sat within the weed-filled plot for a quarter of a century.

Finally, in April 1955 builder and investor Arthur H. Bienenstock purchased the corner property, announcing plans to erect a 20-story office building on the site.  "But," said The New York Times, "before Mr. Bienenstock can start construction in the fall as he expects, some two to three stories of rusty steelwork which has been on the site for the past twenty-five years will have to be torn down."


photo via emporis.com
Today the site is occupied by the 1964 glass-and-steel office building, 250 Broadway. 

Saturday, December 28, 2019

The Cortlandt Field Bishop House - 15 East 67th Street


The limestone face of the ground floor has been inexplicably, and regrettably, painted.

The 30-foot wide brownstone-faced house at No. 15 East 67th Street, built in 1879, was home to prominent banker Robert W. Donnell, the senior partner in Donnell, Lawson & Simpson.  On the morning of January 4, 1894 he felt unwell and, according to The Press, rose early with "the intention of testing the benefits of an early morning dip."  His wife and the cook heard a loud thump.  Running to the bathroom they found Donnell on the floor in his bathrobe, gasping for breath.  "Mrs. Donnell fainted away at the sight."  He died soon afterward.

The following year the Lawson family moved into the house.   William T. Lawson was a member the E. S. Higgins Carpet Company.  The family summered in Essex County, New York where J. M. Lawson was the president of the Adirondack Preserve Association.

In the meantime, Cortlandt Field Bishop and his wife, the former Amy Bend, lived at No. 11 Madison Avenue.  November 5, 1905 was an election day and New Yorkers took their excitement over the election of William R. Hearst to Congress to the streets.  The following day The New York Times reported "The multitude, delirious with election-night excitement, was carrying on a riotous carnival of pleasure in Madison avenue."  But "a very disastrous premature explosion of fireworks took place" which resulted in 12 deaths and at least 100 injured.  The blast was significant enough to prompt the Bishops to move.

On March 25, 1903 the New-York Tribune reported "Cortlandt F. Bishop, whose house, No. 11 Madison-ave., was slightly damaged by the explosion of bombs on election night in Madison Square, has bought...No. 15 East Sixty-seventh-st., a four-story and basement brownstone front house."  Decidedly out of style by now, the article noted "The house will be torn down and a new one erected on the site."

The Bishops commissioned architect Ernest Flagg to design the mansion.  Completed four years later, Flagg had created a Parisian-inspired Beaux Arts townhouse that reflected the owners' wealth and social position.  The offset entrance sat above a short stoop.  Hefty brackets upheld the full-width balcony at the second floor fronting three sets of French doors.  The rusticated limestone of the second through fourth floors was decorated with panels of swags and intricate carved garlands drooped from below the fourth floor openings.  The fifth floor took the form of a full-height mansard protected by a tall iron railing.



The American Architect, June 2, 1906 (copyright expired)
Both Cortlandt and his wife had impressive social pedigrees.  He was the son of David Wolfe Bishop (who had inherited the bulk of the estate of the massively wealthy Catharine Lorillard Wolfe) and the former Florence Van Cordlandt Field.  His mother's parents were Benjamin Hazard Field and Catharine Van Cordtlandt de Peyster.

Amy Bend Bishop was the daughter of stock broker George H. Bend.  Before finally deciding on Cortlandt, she had reportedly been engaged 25 times.  The Bishops were married in 1899 and in 1902 their only child, Beatrice was born.


Amy and Beatrice Bishop.  from the collection of the Lenox Library Association
A month before purchasing the former Lawson house Bishop was embroiled in a heated battle over his father's estate.  On February 18, 1903 The Evening World reported "An order for the arrest of Cortlandt F. Bishop will be issued unless he consents to appear before Robert Mazet, the official appraiser, appointed to investigate the personal estate of his father, David Wolfe Bishop.  The elder Bishop died two years ago, leaving several millions of dollars, upon which the State Comptroller seeks to collect taxes."  But Bishop and his brother, David, insisted that their father was a legal resident of Lenox, Massachusetts, where the family's estate, Interlaken, was located.

Cortlandt's and Amy's summer estate, The Maples, was also in Lenox.  His mother's shockingly quick marriage to lawyer John Edward Parsons within a year of David Wolfe Bishop's death did not seem to affect their relationship and the families remained close. 

Cortlandt caused extreme upheaval within the cultured, tradition steeped community of Lenox.  He was fascinated with the recent advances in transportation--airplanes, balloons and automobiles--and was the first to obtain permission to operate a motor car within Central Park.   Years later The New York Times would remember "In 1897 he brought to Lenox a gasoline-propelled tricycle, which the natives quickly christened 'the holy terror.'  It was the first automobile to be seen in the Berkshires, and it aroused the local public to such an extent that the Town Council decreed that any vehicle 'drawn otherwise than by a horse, man, dog, ox or goat must be kept one wheel in the gutter,' and could not exceed six miles an hour.  The ordinance was aimed solely at Mr. Bishop."

In response Bishop tactfully set out to educate humans and horses.  In 1902 the Horseless Era reported that he had started a "school for horses," to accustom them to sharing the roadways with machines; and that same year he began giving driving lessons to Lenox cottagers.

The Bishops's frequent international travels were quite often connected with his automobile or aeronautical interests.  As the president of the Aero Club of America, he traveled to Europe in October 1907 for the international balloon race for the Gordon Bennett Cup, which started in St. Louis on October 23 and ended in Europe.  In reporting on his trip The New York Times mentioned "Mr. Bishop saw the Wright Brothers, but he had no information to impart as to their success in selling their aeroplane invention to any of the European Governments."


Cortland F. Bishop stands at the upper left, while the Wright Brothers are seated in this 1906 photo.  Orville is at the far left and Wilbur at the far right.  from Navigating the Air, 1907 (copyright expired)
Cortlandt's automobile-related troubles were not confined to Lenox.  On July 11, 1912 The New York Times reported that he had been arrested in the Balkans.  "Mr. Bishop was arrested on the complaint of the villagers of Pola, and taken before a Magistrate.  Villager after villager claimed damages for alleged injuries caused by Mr. Bishop's car."  In reality there was little evidence that Bishop was responsible for any damage to the roads and property in the little village; "but in order to dispose of the matter, Mr. Bishop paid $100 in settlement of all 'claims.'"  Nevertheless, the anti-Bishop sentiment was such that "Police provided him with an escort of gendarmes to see him safely out of the village."

With the outbreak of war in Europe, Amy joined the trend of wealthy socialites in providing support to victims.  On October 26, 1914, for instance, the New-York Tribune reported "Mr. and Mrs. Cortlandt F. Bishop went by automobile to-day over the Green Mountain trail [outside of Lenox].  Mrs. Bishop has organized a sewing class for the Belgian sufferers, which will hold its first meeting this week at The Maples."

The social prominence of the Bishops was evidenced in the guest list of the dinner party in the 67th Street house on February 2, 1914.  The New-York Tribune reported that among the guests were Count and Countess Stanislas de Castellane, the Ernesto Fabbris, the Theodore Havemeyers, Mr. and Mrs. William Starr Miller, Mr. and Mrs. M. Orme Wilson, Moncure Robinson, and Baron Buissierre; in short members of the highest echelon of society.


13-year old Beatrice posed with her pet monkey, Prince Chin Chin, at Lenox in 1915.  The Sun, August 15, 1915 (copyright expired)
Following the declaration of peace the Bishops planned their first European trip in several years.  On November 16, 1919 The Sun reported "They will join Mrs. John E. Parsons in Paris...they will make a visit to the Belgian and French battle fronts and after some time in Paris will return to the Maples for Christmas."  By now Beatrice was a young woman.  "Their daughter, Miss Beatrice Bishop, who is at Vassar, will have a party of her college friends there and the Maples will be gay during the holiday week."

Keeping track of the movements of Cordlandt and Amy kept society journalists busy.  Following their six weeks in Europe they arrived at the Maples on Christmas Eve.  Three days later The Sun advised they would be there for two weeks and then, "They will be in New York for the opera for a month and then will go to Palm Beach, where they have taken an apartment at the Breakers for March."

The winter break became a routine and on February 28, 1920 The Sun reported they "will begin their annual winter tour of Florida by automobile."  Cordlandt's motoring passion was reflected in his yuletide gifts that season.  "Mr. Bishop gave as Christmas gifts to friends his new automobile map between Lenox and New York," said the article.

A man of broad interests, in 1923 Bishop purchased the American Art Association, perhaps the most esteemed auction house in America.  He hired Hiram Haney Parke and Otto Bernet as his vice-presidents.  

The following year Bishop dipped his toe into the field of journalism, purchasing The Paris Times, an afternoon English language newspaper.  Given the number of English and American businessmen and tourists in Paris, it was a potentially lucrative endeavor.  But two years later he confided to a friend, according to The New York Times, that "he was losing $50,000 a year on his journal, but optimistically expressed belief that it would at least break even in another year or two."  It did not.  On November 16, 1929 The New York Times reported that he had suspended publication.

In the meantime, Beatrice had received a remarkable education.  After graduating from the private Brearly School she received a degree from the Sorbonne in Paris, a bachelor's degree from Vassar College and a master's from Columbia University.  When her parents announced her engagement to Adolf A. Berle, Jr. on September 8, 1927 she was an editor of the Vassar Quarterly Review and was completing a course in social work.  The wedding took place in Grace Church on December 17 that year.

Cortlandt and Amy returned from Paris on November 6, 1934.  They went immediately to Lenox where, according to The New York Times, heart disease "kept him in the house."  The 64-year-old died there on March 30, 1935.  His estate was estimated at $20 million--more in the neighborhood of $366 million today.

The following year, on October 5, 1936, the New York Post wrote "Around this time every year comes the announcement of the formation of some organization sponsored by a group of fashionables...The newest of these organizations, to be known as the Regency Club, draws its membership from among bridge enthusiasts and amateur exponents of other popular games, and has chosen for its headquarters the mansion at 15 East Sixty-seventh Street, one time the town resident of the late Cordlandt Field Bishop."  The article noted that the club intended "to preserve as far as possible the atmosphere and feeling of the original interior, in keeping with the building's architectural style.  The beautiful marble staircase, which was always one of the principal features of the mansion, has been retained, as well as the paneling, lighting fixtures, etc."

The club hired architect Nathan Ginsburg to do the renovations.  They resulted in club rooms and a dining room on the first floor, club rooms on the upper floors and six servants' bedrooms on the top floor.

In 1964 the Regency Club merged with the Whist Club, becoming the Regency Whist Club which remains in the building.  Other than a misguided coat of paint over the limestone base, the Bishop mansion is nearly unchanged.

photograph by the author

Friday, December 27, 2019

William T. Bure's 1870 297 Church Street




Until November 1869 the 23-wide property at No. 203 Church Street (later renumbered 297), between White and Walker Streets, held a simple one-story wooden building.  But the neighborhood was seeing rampant change in the post-Civil War years as former houses and small shops were replaced by modern loft buildings.  And merchant Claus Puckhafer had grander plans for the plot.

On October 29, 1869 architect William T. Bure filed plans for a "5-story brick first-class store."  Relatively prolific in the area, Bure may have been miffed that the Real Estate Record & Builder's Guide listed his name as "W. T. Biers."

Completed the following year, like most of its contemporaries the building had a cast iron storefront; this one from the catalog of G. R. Jackson Burnet & Co.  The four upper stories were faced in marble.  Bure had designed a commercial take on the popular French Second Empire style.  The curved corners of the openings rested on decoratively-carved Doric pilasters and the side piers were handsomely paneled.  Below each floor were especially handsome stringcourses and carved corbels below each pilaster.  The energetic cornice, with its arched pediment received the identical treatment.

The structure was an investment for Claus Puckhafer, whose business was never listed here.  Among his first tenants was the garment manufacturer J. Newberger.  His was either a start-up business or he was experiencing growth, for he placed several help-wanted ads that year.  And Newberger was exacting in his demands.  An ad on April 5, 1870 read "Boy Wanted--In a wholesale house, to make himself generally useful. One not afraid to work" and two weeks later another announced "Pressers Wanted--Accustomed to Press linen; highest prices paid.  None but first class presses need apply."

Another advertisement in The New York Herald on August 21 that year reflected the owner-worker relationship in many Victorian shops.  "Operators Wanted--Those accustomed to bind and having their own machine."  The idea that a seamstress would have to supply her own sewing machine today is preposterous.

Another apparel maker in the building at the time was Abraham Levy.  Burglary was a major problem for shops like his--the costly fabrics and finished goods easily fenced.  In August 1871 Levy was victimized, the thief making off with "ready made clothing, cloth, sewing silk, and other goods valued at $280," according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.  The heist was worth about $6,000 in today's money.

A tailor, Marx Goldstein, was arrested when the goods were found in his shop six weeks later.  He claimed to have purchased the stock from a man named Solomon Abrahams "confessedly at a really nominally price," according to the Daily Eagle.  Levy insisted in his complaint that Goldstein knew the goods were stolen.

On October 22, 1880 Owen Jones bought the "five-story marble front warehouse" at public auction, paying the equivalent of $811,000 today.  Jones was an American success story.  Born in Wales in 1815, he came to America at the age of 16 and lived on a farm near Utica.  In 1833, at 18-years-old, he traveled to New York City and obtained a job as a dry goods clerk.  Within six years he had saved enough money to start his own small store, eventually growing the business to a substantial operation on Eighth Avenue in Chelsea and garnering a fortune.   When he died in 1884, just four years after buying the Church Street building, his estate was estimated at $2 million--more than 25 times that much today.

The tenant list throughout the 1880's continued to be involved in the apparel industry.  Among them were Simon A. Swan, "importer of linen goods;" McCoun & Lee, makers of "cardigan jackets, jerseys, etc.;" and the New York Ladies' and Boys' Waist Manufacturing Company.

The latter operation was run by Russian-born Jacob Zion.  A speculative real estate project in 1892 earned him the reputation of a Simon Legree.  Zion purchased a large amount of land near Camden, New Jersey, and dubbed it Ziontown.   On August 26, 1892 The New York Herald reported "Thirty families, comprising 130 persons, were induced to come from New York to Ziontown last February by Mr. Zion, who sold them lots at an average of $75 each, and promised to all who bought the lots steady employment in his shirt factory."  The families were for the most part Russian Jews and the factory where they were promised work was to be built about six miles from Zionville.

The suburban factory was indeed built; and Zion sent a man named Epstein to manage it.  "Epstein was an overbearing man," said The New York Herald.  "He had a large family, and he began to discharge operators to make room for his sons."  One of the first to be fired was a boy named Lutzki.  When he complained, saying he had been hired unconditionally upon buying his plot of land, he was thrown out of the factory.  "Mr. Lutski came to take his son's part and Epstein, who is a powerful man of big frame, struck him."

The workers' salaries were reduced by crippling fees--25 cents a week for steam power, 50 cents for the use of the sewing machines, and $5 per month installments on the cost of their lots.  The Herald reported "Thirty Hebrew families, comprising almost the entire population of the hamlet of Ziontown, are on the verge of starvation."  The article described a weeping mother holding a half-starved baby, men "with tears in their eyes" who declared their families had had no bread nor meat for days, and "emaciated children fighting for green apples." 

The newspaper said "They attribute their pitiable condition to Jacob Zion, of the New York Ladies' and Boy's Waists Manufacturing Company, No. 297 Church street, New York.  They denounce Zion as a swindler and Epstein, his manager, as a tyrant and brute."

At the turn of the century Maurice Roth, cotton goods dealer; L. W. Samuels, hosiery; lace and ribbon merchants Goldwater Bros.; and the International Suspender Company were in the building.  Their operations were threatened early on the morning of  January 24, 1905 when a fire broke out around the corner in the Cosmopolitan Restaurant in the basement of No. 35 Walker Street. 

Although a passing police officer smelled smoke, he could not determine where it was coming from.  After ten minutes he turned in a fire alarm, but because of the location below street level the responding firefighters could not find it for another ten minutes.  When they finally gained access to the restaurant it was engulfed.

The blaze spread upward into the Walker Street building, then to No. 297 Church Street.  "The flames entered the first and second floor of this building," said the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.  All four of the tenants suffered damages, but the building was saved.

Nacht & Co., cotton goods converters, were in the building by 1916 and in 1918 Delphi Mills moved into the store and basement level.   At the end of World War I the Government found it had a surplus of materials no longer needed.  In 1919 Delphi Mills and another tenant, B. Flaumenbaum, purchased a massive amount of denim material.   Delphi Mills spent $11,500 on the cloth, nearly $170,000 today.


In the 1940's the storefront was still unaltered.  via NYC Department of Records & Information Services

By the last decade of the 20th century the Tribeca renaissance had caught up to No. 297.  Barocco Alimentari occupied the storefront where Delphi Mills had once sold military surplus denim.  On January 31, 1990 The New York Times' food critic Florence Fabricant reported "Restaurants are opening retail food stores right and left.  the latest to sell prepared food is Barocco in TriBeCa."  She called the shop's hearth-baked breads "stupendous."

The food shop moved out just before a renovation, completed in 1999, resulted in one apartment per floor above the store.  Although the cast iron storefront has been altered and has lost some of its decorative elements; the upper marble-faced floors, while dirty, are remarkably intact after a century and a half.

photograph by the author

Thursday, December 26, 2019

The Much Altered 5 Carmine Street





The Commissioners Plan of 1811 laid out Sixth Avenue beginning at the already-existing Carman Street in Greenwich Village, extending northward.  Carman Street was named for Trinity Church vestryman Thomas Carman, but, as happened with several other Greenwich Village street names, it became Carmine Street through consistent mispronunciation.  

Around 1829 Henry K. Campbell erected a handsome brick house at No. 3 Sixth Avenue.   Its paneled lintels suggested the added expense Campbell lavished on the home.  Three years later John Parr built two wooden dwellings at No. 1 Sixth Avenue and next door at No. 5 Carmine Street.   The rapid growth of the formerly rural hamlet resulted in the homes along the wide avenue to be converted to business by the 1850's.


As the 19th century drew to a close, Henry Campbell's 1829 house still reflected its upscale past.  No. 301 to the left has been given a brick veneer by now.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

Thomas Turner ran his bakery in the ground floor of No. 5 Carmine Street.  In the rear yard, as was often the case, was a small brick house which was rented out to one or more families.  A tenant placed an ad in The New York Herald on December 23, 1852:  "Wanted--A situation by an American woman, as competent cook; no objection to assist in washing in a small family."

It may have been the same woman who placed another ad a year later, almost to the day, on December 22, 1853.  "A respectable young woman wants a situation in a small respectable private family; she can cook, wash, and iron, and can do general housework."

For several years daring families had struck off for California in hopes of a better life.  One of the rear tenants of No. 5 Carmine hoped to get free passage there in 1854.  Her advertisement read:  "Wanted--by a highly respectable young Protestant lady, a situation as lady's maid of childrens' nurse with a family going to California."


A 1857 advertisement promised the best ingredients.  The Jewish Messenger, (copyright expired)
Turner's bakery and the building next door were threatened by fire in the spring of 1860.  On April 25 the New York Morning Courier reported "a fire broke out at 10 o'clock yesterday morning on the roof of the frame building No. 5 Carmine street, owned and occupied by Thos. Turner as a baker and dwelling.  Damage around $50, insured.  The adjoining building, No. 1 Sixth avenue ...a big store and dwelling, was damaged about $100 by water; fully insured.  The fire originated from a spark falling from the bakery chimney."  

Archibald Davis and his wife, Catherine, lived with their children either on an upper floor of the main building or in the back house in the latter years of the decade.  On May 20, 1868 their youngest son, Archibald, Jr. died just before his third birthday.  The toddler's funeral was held in the house two days later.

Two of the tenants of No. 5 in 1871 were Joanna Walmer and August Sturteman.  For whatever reason both of them boarded the ferryboat Westfield at the Whitehall Street terminal on the afternoon of July 30 that year.  At around 1:30, just as the boat was about to pull away from the dock, its immense boiler exploded.  The horrific incident which would be remembered as the Westfield Disaster left, according to The World, 91 dead and 208 wounded.

Newspapers ran updated lists of the victims for days as bodies were recovered from the river or badly burned corpses were identified.  On August 2 The New York Herald listed Joanna Walmer among the dead, and the following day added August Sturteman to the list.

Later that year, on November 26, a position wanted ad appeared in The New York Herald that read "5 Carmine St., in the Bakery--a middle-aged woman as a child's nurse."  Her decision to change careers came at a time when the bakery owner was contemplating a similar same move.

On September 24, 1872 an advertisement announced:

For Sale Cheap--Five years' lease of Whole or Part of House and Fixtures for bakery and confectionery; old established place; on one of the best thoroughfares in the city. 

The new proprietor did not last long.  Nine months later, on June 25, 1873, The New York Herald ran an advertisement "Bakery For Sale--Doing a good business.  Reason for selling, sickness in the family."

By now the immediate neighborhood around the three buildings had declined.  Following the end of the Civil War Minetta Lane and Minetta Street, directly across the avenue, house the city's densest population of Blacks, earning it the nickname Little Africa.  The residents lived in squalor, prompting reformer Jacob Riis to rank Little Africa as the social “bottom” of the West Side of Manhattan.  He described the homes where the impoverished Blacks lived as "vile rookeries."

On January 4, 1878 Mina Morrell was arrested "on a charge of passing a number of forged checks or false tokens," reported The New York Herald.  The young woman was held on $1,000 for trial--a substantial $26,000 in today's money.

Mina's story, however, was not simply one of a woman gone bad.  No doubt shocking to the readers of the newspaper, she had lived at No. 5 Carmine Street with Philip Hoffmeister for about a year without the formalities of marriage.  When she met him she was a widow with a three-year old child and living in a boarding house on Eldridge Street.

"I was working hard in a restaurant nearby," she told a reporter.  "Hoffmeister was from the same place in Germany as myself, and he told me that he loved me and would take care of me.  Since I have been with him I have suffered nothing but abuse at his hands and my child has suffered also."

Mina explained to the judge that Hoffmeister would occasionally gave her a check to cash.  Having done so she brought all the money back to him.  The New York Herald explained "So far as she herself was concerned, she did not know whether the checks were good or bad.  She did know, however, that Hoffmeister always had a large quantity of blank checks in the house, and whenever he was short of money he filled out one for some small amount and sent her out with it."

With Mina's arrest, Philip Hoffmeister disappeared.  She told a reporter "I hope they will find him."

Henry Simmons was renting a room in No. 5 Carmine Street in 1884.  According to the New York World the old man wore a full set of false teeth--the same set that his grandfather had work for 30 years.  "He is naturally proud of them," said the newspaper.  But on the night of December 17 "they did not rest easy on his gums and Mr. Simmons did not sleep peacefully."  The following morning he had head and stomach pains, and then realized his teeth were missing.

"I have swallowed my teeth!" he exclaimed.  The World reported that he "ran as fast as he could to St. Vincent's Hospital for assistance.  The doctor procured his grasping irons, and was about to search for the molars when Mr. Simmons cried out again.  "This time he exclaimed: 'why, here they are in my vest pocket.'  And so they were.  Then the old gentleman trotted home again relieved of all pain and anxiety."

By the turn of the century Nos. 5 Carmine Street and No. 1 Sixth Avenue had been combined.  On February 27, 1902 Angelo Ortolano purchased the properties from Virginia Coyne.  In reporting on the sale the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide described the matching structures as "3-story frame tenement with store with three 3-story brick tenements on rear."  In June the following year he commissioned architect Henry Regelman to install new windows and rearrange the interior walls.  The renovations cost him the equivalent of about $24,000 today.

Ortolano added No. 3 Sixth Avenue to the group in 1914.  He renovated that building in September 1918.  Architect Anthony V. Bourke make extensive changes.  The plans called for the roof to be removed, an extension added to the rear, new windows, stairs and fire escapes.


The 1902 renovations of No. 3 Sixth Avenue erased any hint of the Federal style original.    from the collection of the New York Public Library

Beginning in 1926 as construction on the Holland Tunnel commenced, Sixth Avenue was extended to the south.  As had been the case with Seventh Avenue twelve years earlier, the city seized by eminent domain the properties in its path.  The extension necessitated the renumbering of the avenue.  Nos. 1 and 3 Sixth Avenue now became Nos. 301 and 303.  

The three properties continued to house ground floor shops while tenants of moderate means lived upstairs.   At the time of the address change S. F. Valentes ran his shop from No. 5 Carmine, selling imported egg timers.  Next door the seafood market of L. Ortolano had operated since before the turn of the century, while at No. 3 was H. Tesio's variety store.

By 1942 Abraham Tankleff's poultry store operated from No. 5 Carmine Street.  It was still here in 1946 he formed Glen Acre Farms Poultry & Eggs, Inc.

In 1965 owners Vito and Gilbert DeLucia hired architect Fedinand Innocenti to remodel the three buildings.  The project, completed the following year, resulted in a new facade, reconfigured windows and the replacement of the cornices and roof line of No. 303 Sixth Avenue.  Two years later an interior renovation resulted in one apartment per floor above the store at No 5. Carmine-301 Sixth Avenue, and one per floor at No. 303 Sixth Avenue.



The venerable complex, approaching 200 years old, is understandably overlooked today.  The 1965 make-over, while clean and attractive, successfully hides the remarkable history of the three connected properties.

photographs by the author