Saturday, March 16, 2019

The Double 1906 Stable at 157-159 West 18th Street

Looking like a late 19th century factory building today; the structure was actually a high-rise livery stables.

West 18th Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, was mostly lined with two-story stables by the late 1860's.  Bradley's livery stable at No. 157 was the scene of devastation and horror in October 1877.

Two of James F. Bradley's drivers, Thomas Stapleton and Owen Healey, both single, lived on the second floor.   On the night of October 16 they awoke to discover the building was on fire.  They scrambled to save the horses; but the intense heat prevented them from getting to those in the rear stable.  Thinking they still had time, both men rushed back to the loft, Healey to retrieve his military uniform and Stapleton to grab some personal items.  The burning building collapsed. 

The following day Bradley told police that the men were missing but, according to The New York Times, "they refused to give it any credence, and denounced it as a 'ghost story.'"  But when the men did not appear "their usual haunts" within a day, a search was made in the ruins.  On October 19 the newspaper gruesomely reported "Yesterday the mangled and burned bodies of the missing men were dug out."

Bradley rebuilt the two-story structure, putting the title in the name of his wife, Alice.  They retained ownership of the replacement stable until 1896 when it was sold to Albert Baer.  In 1906 William F. Donelley purchased the property and seems to have become a silent partner with Linda Stachelberg, who owned the similar stable next door at No. 159.

The neighborhood had significantly changed by now; Sixth Avenue was lined with massive retail emporiums and Seventh Avenue was seeing the rise of commercial buildings.  On May 6, 1906 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that architect George M. McCabe had filed plans for Linda Stachelberg to replace Nos. 157 and 159 with a four-story stable building.

But before long Linda Stachelberg increased her vision.  Revised plans called for two additional stories.  The brick and stone stable would cost just under $1.7 million today.

McCabe designed the 40-foot wide structure in mirror image.  His melding of Renaissance Revival and Romanesque Revival created a handsome front to a decidedly utilitarian building.  Rough-cut stone arches spanned the twin carriage bays and undressed stone bands created interest to the ground floor.  The five stories of red brick above were trimmed in undressed stone and decorated with panels of protruding brick.  Brick quoins ran up the sides.

If male businessmen at the turn of the century dismissed the ability of women to handle themselves professionally, they had never met Linda Stachelberg.   She included a deadline in the contractors' contracts--November 15, 1906.  When she was informed by Caspar Buellesbach, who was to install the iron columns, that he would not make the deadline, she declared the contract forfeited and refused to pay.  It all ended in a court battle the following year.

The completed building was leased to the James M. O'Dea.  He operated it not only as a "first class boarding and livery stable," but as home base for this delivery service.

The National Provisioner, January 13, 1912 (copyright expired)

Another female operator at the time was Linda S. Rau.  She owned several properties in the city, including another stable down the block at No. 128 West 18th Street.  In 1912 she purchased Nos. 157-159 from Stachelberg and Donnelley.

Horse-drawn drays and private carriages passed through the wide bay--then with double wooden doors--in 1906. 
By the following year O'Dea's customers were not only housing their horses and carriages here, but their automobiles.  Albert Pavis worked for O'Dea in 1913.  The upstanding 19-year-old prevented a robbery on the night of June 17 that year.

A chauffeur picked up his employer's limousine that evening, but when he pulled onto 18th Street, he was surrounded by a gang of hoodlums.  Pavis called for help.  According to The New York Times the gang "had halted the car in the street and was about to rob its occupants when several policemen from the West Seventeenth Street station came in response to Pavis's calls.  The robbery was frustrated but the gang escaped."

That thugs, unfortunately for Pavis, realized who was responsible for the failed heist.  Three nights later as Pavis was about to enter the building, "he was held up near its door by a gang of several toughs, one of whom held a revolver to his face, while another blackjacked him," according to The Times.  The beating resulted in a broken nose and wrist.

In March 1914 Linda Rau leased Nos. 157-159 to John P. Quirk "to be used as a garage," according to the Record & Guide.  By the time she sold the property to yet another female operator, Anna R. King, in November 1921, it was home to the Chelsea Garage, run by Isidore Miller and Abraham Solter.

The building continued to operate as a garage for decades.  Owned by the Mablin Holding Corporation in the early Depression years, it was home to the Fismar Garage until the spring of 1932.  

By the early 1970's Midtown Electrical Supply Company took over the building.  It was the scene of a frightening incident on November 8, 1973 when a freight elevator cable snapped with six workers inside.  Luckily the elevator fell only one story--from the second to the ground floor.  Although all six men were injured, their injuries were described as "not serious."

In 1991 a seventh floor was added.  While it cannot be described as an architectural masterpiece, care was taken to match the brick.  Decades after moving in, Midtown Electrical Supply Company remains in the building.  Although somewhat abused, the 1906 stable is a reminder of a century of changes to the neighborhood and of three women who held their own within an industry run by men.

photographs by the author

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