Thursday, March 7, 2019

Cloakings, Tar and Controversial Art - 223 West Broadway

In November 1868 Isaac F. Duckworth, one of the most significant architects of the day, filed plans for an L-shaped "dry goods store" for William D. Mann.   It would replace two structures on West Broadway, Nos. 109 and 110 (renumbered 221-223 in 1897) and three on White Street--Nos. 3 through 7.   The up-to-date six-story design drew from the Italianate and French Second Empire styles--the latter most evident in a slate-shingled mansard roof.

Duckworth's plans called for a cast iron base and "the rest Dorchester and Ohio stone."  The cream-colored sandstone facades on both streets were essentially identical; although the White Street plot was one-third wider.  Paneled piers ran up the sides and stone sill courses defined each floor.  The segmentally-arched windows were separated by stoic pilasters.  The plans projected the construction cost at $100,000, around $1.78 million today.  

Although William D. Mann was a wealthy dealer in military goods it does not appear he ever moved his operation into the new building.   Bauendahl & Co. was an initial tenant, listed here in 1869.  The commission merchants represented New England fabric manufacturers.  Among their clients were the Wanskuck Company of Providence, Rhode Island, makers of "ladies' fancy cloakings; Merrimack Mills of Lowell, Massachusetts, makers of "fancy cassimeres;" Pittsfield Woolen Company, based in Pittsfield Massachusetts; and the Barrows Woolen Company of Dedham, Massachusetts.

Herman August operated his menswear store in Nos. 5 and 7 White Street.  While his back was turned on August 30, 1870 a supposed customer John Dolan snatched six coats and ran out of the store.  A clerk, Isaac Strauss, was close behind and all three men were in the Tombs court later that afternoon.  August testified that the goods were valued at $65 (about $1,260 today).  "Justice Dowling held John Dolan to answer, reported The New York Herald.

Horace Galpin was employed by one of the firms here in 1874.  He was in the wrong place at the wrong time in August that year.   And so too, possibly, was Thomas Lanihan.

On August 24 Lanihan stood before Judge Donohue in Supreme Court, charged with assaulting Galpin with a lead pipe on near Fifth Avenue.  According to Lanihan, he had been waiting for his fiancée at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 54th Street that evening.  Suddenly he heard a man cry out and he began running towards the sounds.

Lanihan passed a policeman who asked what the matter was.  "Don't you hear the cries?" he replied, no stopping.  When he got to 48th Street he was arrested and "to his surprise," according to The New York Herald, was charged with the brutal assault.

The would-be good Samaritan provided two eye witnesses, "one of whom gave chase after the real assailant" and "stood ready to prove that Lanihan had nothing to do with the assault."  

But the arresting policeman testified that Lanihan was fleeing the scene of the beating, not heading toward it.   He was held at an astounding $5,000 bail.  

Herman August had vacated the White Street store by the summer of 1875.  With businesses reeling from the Financial Panic of 1873, the store and basement were offered at "half price" according to an August 22 advertisement.

The matching White Street facade matched the West Broadway elevation, other than its wider proportions.

The 1880's continued to see apparel and textile firms occupy the building.  By 1880 B. Goldman, makers of "silk webbing," was here and Goldsmith & Plaut, cloak manufacturer operated here by 1885.

But the first years of the 1890's saw a far different type of tenant.  The Improved Pine Product Co. made a protective tar product used on street railroad cables.  In 1891 the Third Avenue Railway Co. switched to the product.  The satisfactory results prompted The Street Railway Journal to say in January 1892, "Cable railway managers who find it difficult to procure a satisfactory dressing for wire ropes will do well to follow the practice of the Third Avenue Railway Co."  

"This is distilled tar, free from moisture and acid and can be used pure," said the article.  While the price per barrel was the same as ordinary tar, the Third Avenue Railway's mechanical engineer, F. L. Hart, confirmed the firm was using less than half as many barrels as before.

The buildings continued to house mostly dry goods firms through most of the 20th century.  In 1925 the building was renovated by architect Harold F. Smith.  He removed the handsome mansard roof and replaced it with a spartan brick-faced sixth floor crowned with a decorative parapet.  The scrolled consoles which once upheld the galvanized iron cornice were left clinging to the facade with nothing left to do.

The Tribeca Renaissance arrived in the 1980's when Artists Space opened an auxiliary gallery to its main Hudson Street space here.    Founded in 1972, it provided space for "emerging artists and emerging ideas alike," according to its website.  The often edgy art which brought contemporary and sometimes uncomfortable issues to the forefront often caused controversy.

Such was the case in November 1989 when Artists Space prepared to launch an exhibition about AIDS entitled "Witnesses:  Against Our Vanishing."  At a time when tens of thousands of men were dying, the artists and the organization itself were unafraid to speak out.   The exhibition catalog made "remarks" about John Cardinal O'Connor, conservative Senator Jesse Helms and Representative William E. Dannemeyer which prompted the National Endowment for the Arts to rescind a $10,000 grant.  The New York Times commented on November 10, saying that the decision "has thrust Artists Space into the middle of a storm over Government support of the arts."

When the exhibition opened on November 15 The New York Times art critic was moved.  He described several of the artworks, some of them by artists suffering from the malignant disease.  And then he turned frank:

These are not people who go quietly and obediently.  When they die, they die in rage.  Foul in mouth and sometimes foul in body, they speak in hatred, and chocking.  Who are we to reproach them for "questionable taste"?  The traditional rules of mourning nowhere apply.  To have watched them die is, as one witness says, "like surgery without anesthetic."  Notions of "taste" can play no part in it.

Artists Space remained in the building at least through 1992.  In 1997 renovations to the ground floor resulted in a restaurant, Paggio, which opened in 1998.    The name was an amalgamation of the names of owners Pasquale Cervera and Georgio Meriggi.   The name did not last long, however.

The Times columnist William Grimes explained on March 8, 2000 that Paggio had "with touching naivete, unveiled a menu that made it absolutely indistinguishable from, oh, about 398 other Italian restaurants in New York."  So the owners reorganized, renamed it Gubbio and revamped the menu.  Grimes was pleased.  "A much better restaurant, with something resembling an actual personality, has emerged from the reshuffling."

But despite the critic's warm review, only four years later Florence Fabricant reported "Churrascaria Plataforma, the Brazilian barbecue restaurant in the theater district, now has a downtown branch, Churrascaria Plataforma Tribeca, at 221 West Broadway."

Surprisingly, the vintage building was not converted to residential use as so many of the Tribeca lofts were.  A 2011 renovation simply updated what the Department of Buildings still defined as "factory space."  In 2014 White Street restaurant moved into the ground floor.

Through it all, other than the gruesome 1925 replacement of the mansard level, Isaac Duckworth's 1869 beauty remains mostly intact.

photographs by the author

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