Friday, May 17, 2019

The Schumacher & Ettlinger Building - 32-36 Bleecker Street

In 1796 the plot of land at what would become Bleecker Street between Mott and Mulberry Streets was part of Anthony Smith's farm.   But by the decade following the Civil War the blockfront sat within a vibrant commercial area.  At No. 36 Bleecker Street was the shop of Bauch & Gougelmann, who advertised "Artificial human eyes made to order on reasonable terms."

As early as 1880 Louis Ettlinger owned the properties at Nos. 32 through 36.  A partner in Schumacher & Ettlinger, lithographers, in 1882 he commissioned architect Edward E. Raht to erect a modern printing house on the site.   Completed three years later, the massive red brick structure was an industrial take on Romanesque Revival (although oddly enough the marble upper story lintels were holdovers of a generation or two earlier).  It wore a Second Empire mansard roof, and a beefy cast iron storefront faced Bleecker Street.

The heavy machinery and stock had barely been moved into the new building when disaster struck in the form of a devastating fire.  The Report of the Fire Department of the City of New York documented: "The fire was caused by spontaneous combustion of oily rubbish carelessly thrown into the waste-paper room in the basement."

Fighting the inferno required twenty fire engines.  The Philadelphia Inquirer reported "The colony of Italians and other inmates of the tenement houses adjoining the building on Mott street were hurried from their homes, and were no sooner out of the way than two five-ton water tanks fell from the roof of No. 34, carrying with them portions of the roof and front and side walls...When the roof fell in the sparks flew up, and fell again half a mile away."

The article said "The large building was entirely gutted and the valuable machinery was pretty well destroyed.  The total loss is about $350,000 of which $100,000 is on the building."  The financial loss was staggering, nearly $9.5 million today.

Edward E. Raht was called back to design the extensive repairs, which included completely rebuilding the topmost floors.  This time he forewent the marble lintels on the Bleecker Street elevation, opting for segmental-arched openings.  The projecting central portion of the front was given Queen Anne touches in the form of dog-toothed brick panels.  Romantic medieval corbel courses decorated the fifth and sixth floors.  

The extent of the rebuilding can be seen in the change in fenestration beginning at the fifth floor.

There would be one more remodeling to come.  In 1892 Louis Ettlinger hired the architectural firm of Schickel & Co. to add a top floor, as reported in the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide.  Although mostly unseen from the street, the addition showed off with a Queen Anne style multi-level parapet.

The enlargement of the building may have been prompted by Schumacher & Ettlinger's merger with other printers.  In its January 1892 issue, The American Art Printer reported that "a lithographers' trust has been formed consisting of the firms of George S. Harris & Sons...Schumacher & Ettlinger, the Knapp Company, F. Heppenheimer's Sons, Geo. H. Buek, and the Giles Company...The trust will be known as the American Lithographic Company."

Scientific American Building Edition, April 1897 (copyright expired)
In 1897 Louis Ettlinger sold the Bleecker Street building.  Schumacher & Ettlinger, as part of the American Lithographic Company, moved to East 19th Street.  In its place now was the wholesale paper firm, Henry Lindemeyr & Sons.

The company sold printing papers to publishers, lithographers, and other large printing establishments.  It would remain in the building for decades, advertising in March 1924 that its papers were "tested for printing, folding and binding qualities."

In 1930 the building was leased by another wholesale paper firm, Aaronson Brothers.  Their move was reported in the Paper Trade Journal, which noted "they are occupying the entire building, a six-story structure with basement having a total floor area of 70,000 square feet."  Like Henry Lindenmeyr & Sons, Aaronson Brothers would operate from the building for decades.

Before the dawn of the 21st century the personality of the neighborhood changed.  Now known as Noho, factories were nudged out as galleries, restaurants and residential spaces engulfed the district.

Stillman Development International purchased the Schumacher & Ettlinger building and embarked on a $70 million conversion to a total of 20 condominiums, led by Morris Adjmi Architects.  The project was named the Schumacher, an unintentional snub to Louis Ettlinger who, in fact, was the owner of the building when Schumacher & Ettlinger was here.

On July 26, 2013 Robin Finn wrote an article in The New York Times entitled "Call Me Mansion."  It explored the recent trend among developers to term large multilevel condominiums as "mansions."  Included in the article was the Schumacher, still under construction, which would include four such spaces.

Finn questioned the feasibility of these houses-within-apartment buildings.  "Few are functional yet, but that didn't stop the modern art fancier Alberto Mugrabi, whose family owns the largest private collection of Warhols in the world, from contracting to buy not just one but two of the four mansions offered by prospectus at the Schumacher...Once combined they will provide him with a 9,000-square-foot playpen/gallery and his very own front door.  Maybe two."

Even Mugrabi struggled with the term.  "When I think of mansions I think of the Frick, or a humongous house on the Upper East Side.  I guess I'm going to have one of my own downtown, but I probably won't call it my mansion.  I'll call it home.  Or my pied-à-terre."

Developer Roy Stillman defended the term at the Schumacher, where the four triplex mansions ranged in price from $6.75 million to just under $11 million.  "These homes convey Old World grandeur.  From a subjective perspective, I can say that they are bona fide mansions and pass the straight-face test."  (Mugrabi's two-mansion purchase cost him $18.6 million and came as a "white box," without interior walls or finishes.)

The Schumacher's lush interiors make it difficult to envision printing presses and bales of paper. images via

The Schumacher got a highly visible resident in actor Jonah Hill in May 2016.  The actor, producer and director paid $9.16 million for his 3,280-square-foot apartment with four bedrooms and as many baths.

The careful restoration of the more than 130-year-old structure brought it back to its handsome Victorian appearance.

photographs by the author

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