Saturday, June 29, 2019

Leicht & Havell's 1891 355-359 Greenwich Street





The neighborhood surrounding the corner of Harrison and Greenwich Streets in 1822 was one of refined brick homes.  An advertisement that year offered No. 355 Greenwich Street for sale, describing it as a "three story modern built brick house complete with every convenience for a genteel family."  But by the decade before the Civil War things had changed drastically.  In 1855 Mrs. Caroline Ingersoll was arrested, charged with running "a house of assignation," or brothel in the house.

The reputation of the district was restored as warehouses and stores took over.  By 1890 Harrison and Greenwich Streets were in the path of the expanding produce district.  Edwin M. Harrison was not only a butter and egg merchant, he saw the potential in real estate in the immediate area.  Before the end of the century he would buy up several abutting properties and erect commercial structures.

The most prominent of them would replace the vintage buildings at at Nos. 355 to 359 Greenwich Street and Nos. 28 and 30 Harrison Street.  In 1890 Harrison (whose name, incidentally, had nothing to do with that of the street), commissioned the architectural firm of Leicht & Havell to design the structure.  With elements of the Romanesque Revival, Renaissance Revival and Queen Anne styles, at least one architectural historian lumped it under the tag "Utilitarian."

Above the cast iron storefront level, the brick-faced Greenwich and Harrison Street facades are identical.  Verticality to the nearly square structure was achieved by slightly-projecting three-story piers.  A fringe of brick corbelling hung below the frieze of the the substantial cast iron cornice adorned with neo-Classical swags.  At both elevations, a prominent pediment announced the date 1891.




Harrison erected the building as an investment property, not for the use of his own business.  The "workshops" were leased to firms like Louis F. Bernholtz's fruit and produce operation.   Bernholtz had hardly settled in before he encountered problems with a corrupt police supervisor.

Police Captain John Thomas Stephenson was described by The Evening World as "tall and handsome."  But his good looks did not disguise his greed and strong-arm criminality. Louis Bernholtz erected an awning over his storefront in February 1891, shortly after moving in.  Stephenson dropped by in May, called the awning illegal, and ordered him to remove it.  Or, on the other hand, the captain could look the other way for a $25 payment--about $753 today.  According to Bernholtz later, Stephenson remarked "It's really worth $100, or worth $150, but the price to you will be $25."

Eventually the neighboring businessmen had had enough of the expensive bullying and went to the police commissioners.  Stephenson was placed on trial on August 30, 1894, charged with blackmail and bribery.  The Evening World said that evidence was provided by six "business men of the produce district, and is in effect that he extorted blood money from them."  Among those testifying against Stephenson was Louis F. Bernholtz.

Another tenant at the time was rather unusual for the district.  The Salt Brick Feeder Company manufactured salt licks, the large blocks of salt used by livestock farmers.  In 1894 it advertised for a traveling agent "to handle our goods among owners of horses."

Robert McMullin and Robert L. Gillespie were also unexpected tenants in the produce district.  In 1902 McMullin dealt in cast iron furnaces; and the following year Gillespie was listed in directories as marketing "ovens."

On March 19, 1903 the Harrison estate sold the building to Elbridge T. Gerry for $159,000--a substantial $4.68 million today.  The millionaire lawyer was, perhaps, best known for founding of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and his impassioned work with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

A main tenant of Gerry was Reynolds & Company, dealers in butter, cheese and eggs.  The landlord-tenant relationship seems to have gone beyond business.  John Jay Reynolds, founder of the firm, was a member of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.  The well-to-do proprietor was a member of several exclusive clubs, as well, and the Society of Colonial Wars and the Sons of the Revolution.

Reynolds & Company was listed in the building by 1905 and would remain at least through 1921.  Its advertisement in the New York Produce Review and American Creamery in 1909 noted "Our specialty [is] Cheese of all kinds and Unsalted Butter."  The esteem in which its president was held was evidenced in the 1919 edition of Herringshaw's American Blue-Book, which said John J. Reynolds "is prominently identified with the business and public affairs of New York City."

Sharing the building with Reynolds & Company was the Zenith Butter & Egg Co.  The firm made national news in the summer of 1909 after startled workers opened crates of eggs from the Midwest to discover some had hatched.

On September 1 the New York Produce Review and American Creamery published a photograph of one crate, saying "This was one of a shipment of eggs that was full of partially hatched eggs."  The article blamed the "long spells of very hot weather" for a rash of such incidents.  "The chicks shown in the photograph were in the middle of the case when it was opened and were all dead, having doubtless been smothered."


The wooden crate of eggs, some of which had hatched, received by Zenith Butter & Eggs in August 1909. New York Product Review, September 1, 1909 (copyright expired) 
The journal warned all butter and egg merchants that the problem was widespread.  "The picture gives pretty good evidence of the wretched quality of a large part of the eggs lately arriving from western points."


Butter, Cheese & Egg Journal, April 30, 1912 (copyright expired)

Butter, cheese, eggs and poultry dealer R. H. Peck & Co. was leasing space by 1914.  One tenant, possibly Zenith Butter & Egg Company, moved out in 1919, prompting an advertisement offering "To Let by June 1st, two floors at 357-359 Greenwich St., tiled floor, refrigerating facilities and elevator service.  Suitable for butter packing or egg-breaking plant."

In the meantime, John J. Reynolds had been supporting the troops fighting World War I by generously donating to The Sun's "Tobacco Fund."  The newspaper used the funds provided by private citizens and businesses to send pouches of tobacco and cigarettes to the doughboys in Europe.  On February 16, 1919 The Sun called Reynolds "a liberal fund donor," and said "he receives great satisfaction from the cards he gets back from the soldiers."

The address continued to attract butter and eggs businesses.   On May 4, 1921 the New York Produce Review and American Creamery reported that "Wm. G. Hollrock is locating at 359 Greenwich St., on the corner of Harrison St.  He is planning to materially increase his facilities to accommodate a growing commission business in eggs and butter."



The firm had been established a block away at No. 9 Harrison Street in 1894 by William G. Hollrock's father, George.   William had been in the banking business for two years when his father died in 1906.  He abruptly changed careers, taking over the firm and continually increasing its business.

Little changed to the building, either in its appearance or its use, through most of the 20th century.  In 1961 Department of Buildings documents listed the first floor being used for "dairy products sale and warehouse," the second floor for "packaging of eggs and storage," and the upper floors "to remain vacant."

That all changed, however, in 1982 when it was joined internally with No. 361 Greenwich Street and converted to ten sprawling loft apartments.   The following year, in May, the two unsold units were both terraced penthouses, one 1,412 square feet and the other 1,305.   By today's standpoint they were a bargain.  The larger and more expensive was listed at $195,000--just over $490,000 today.

But the Tribeca renaissance had just begun.  Dylan Landis writing in The New York Times on May 15, 1983 commented "There is something desolate in the streets of Tribeca...Five years ago, cars were so rare that sea birds wheeled inland from the river, unafraid.  The automobiles have come and the birds have gone, but a stroller can still pause on a fine spring Sunday and find himself utterly alone."


In 2000 the loading area had been transformed to a trendy restaurant.  photograph by Edmund Vincent Gillon, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Those days, too, would pass.  In 1993 How's Bayou Restaurant operated from the ground floor where crates of hatched chicks were once unloaded.  It was followed by Spartina Restaurant in 1994, The Harrison restaurant in 2002, and Eric Kayser in 2018.



Other than a coat of paint and the ground floor renovations, Leicht & Havell's handsome 1891 design survives remarkably intact.

photographs by the author

Friday, June 28, 2019

The Matthew P. Bogert House - 224 West 10th Street





Although city directories listed Levi Onderdonk as "carpenter," he was in fact an established builder, or contractor, and well-respected citizen.  By 1843 he was a manager of the New-York City Tract Society, a position he would hold for at least a decade; and was repeatedly re-elected as Assessor of the 9th Ward.  In 1847, the same year he began construction on his own residence on Charles Street, he joined with two other carpenter builders, Abraham Demarest and Stephen C. Stephens, in a speculative project.

The men purchased property on Amos Street, between Bleecker and Hudson Streets from former New York City Mayor William Paulding Jr. and began construction on three brick-faced homes.  Three stories tall above deep brownstone-clad basements and 20-feet  wide, they were intended for financially-comfortable families.   No. 126, like its two identical neighbors at 128 and 130, had a handsome Greek Revival doorway with sidelights, stylized Corinthian pilasters and an especially ample transom.  There was nothing especially out of the ordinary about the architecture until one's eyes rose to the cornices. where each of the unique brackets took the form of a stylized flowers.




By the early 1850's the house was home to the family of Matthew P. Bogert.  He and his wife, Matilda, had been married in in 1843.  The couple would eventually have seven children.   In 1854 one, a 3-year-old named Warren, came down with "consumption," a dreaded condition which today would most often be diagnosed as pulmonary tuberculosis.  The toddler died at 9:00 on the night of May 2.  His funeral was held in the house at 8:00 in the morning two days later.

In 1857 Amos Street was renamed, resulting in the house receiving the new address of No 224 West 10th Street.

Bogert served on the jury of a highly-publicized court case in 1861.  The Union Navy had captured a commercial ship, the Savannah, working on behalf of the Confederate government.  The crew of the private vessel, which was attempting to run blockades and supply aid to the Confederates, were charged with privateering.  On October 23, 1861 the trial began.  The New York Times headline read "The Savannah Privateer / Trial for Piracy / Great Throng in Court."

The same year that Matthew Bogert sat on that jury, 35-year old John R. Hill was appointed to the New York Police force.  Although the fighting was far to the south, like Bogert, the Civil War would personally affect him.  On July 11, 1863 the nation’s first attempt at a military draft played out in New York with a lottery.  When the 1,200 chosen names were published, it was obvious that only the city’s poor and immigrant population was included—the wealthy had bought exemptions or used their political power to circumvent the draft.  The result was the Draft Riots—a three-day reign of terror and carnage unlike anything seen in the country before.  Innocent people were murdered; and draft offices, newspaper buildings, and the homes and neighborhoods of the city’s black population were burned. 

Among the policemen wounded in the conflicts was John R. Hill.  In August a city committee distributed a fund "for the relief of Police and others suffering from the riots."  Hill received $100, or just over $2,000 today.

Abuse to police officers routinely came from far less dramatic circumstances.  On September 6, 1867 Officer Hill was on West Street when a man asked him what was "the proper charge for a hack to go up town," according to The New York Herald.  After Hill informed him of the correct fare, the driver, Patrick Kelly, who had tried to overcharge the man, "commenced abusing the officer and called him by several vile names."  Hill arrested Kelly, who received a "scathing reprimand" from Justice Dowling at the Tombs Police Court and fined $10.

It is unclear when Hill and his wife, Sinia, moved into No. 224, but they were here certainly by the early 1870's.  The couple had four children.

In 1875 Hill was moved from patrol duty to the First District Police Court. His salary increased to $1,200 with the promotion, in the neighborhood of $28,300 per year today.  Well respected within the law enforcement community, he became Treasurer of the Police Mutual Aid Fund of the "Tombs squad."

Hill fell ill in June 1881 with what most likely did not initially seem serious.  But on Wednesday, June 29 the condition developed into pneumonia.  It worsened and on July 4 he lost consciousness.   The following day he died at the age of 56.  The New York Herald reported "He was a member of Atlas Lodge and a regular attendant of the Jane Street Methodist Church.  He leaves a wife and children, two of whom are grown to manhood."

Newspapers across the city lauded his service.  The New York Times reminded readers of his injuries during the Draft Riots, and the New York Evening Express remarked that he "leaves behind him an enviable record."

Now without an income Sinia Hill applied to the city for a police widow's death pension.  She began receiving an annual stipend of $300 within the month.

Sinia remained in the 10th Street house until the 1890's.  But with much reduced finances (her annual pension would equal about $7,600 today) she took in boarders.  One of them, Alexander Senter, brought scandal to her home.

On August 30, 1890 The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported "Mabel Palmer, 13 years of age, made a charge of criminal assault against Alexander Senter, 38 years old, of 224 West 10th street, New York, at his house while she was there on a visit."  Senter was held without bail.  The newspaper entitled its article "Assaulted His Little Guest."

Around the mid-1890's the house was purchased by the Richardson family.  Elizabeth C. Richardson was just 24 years old when she died here on January 20, 1899.  Like Sinia Hill had done, the family took in a boarder.  On January 4, 1905 an advertisement in The Evening Telegram offered "a handsomely furnished three, four room apartment, modern improvements, hot water."

Sarah S. Richardson died in the house on July 23, 1907.  Her funeral, like Elizabeth's, was held in St. Luke's Chapel.

The Richardson family maintained possession of the house for several more years.  Their boarder in 1910 was Charles C. Polk, a tailor, who found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time on November 10.  

Labor disputes between unions and management were often violent and, at times, deadly.  A city-wide teamster strike resulted in armed guards riding on the horse-drawn wagons driven by non-union men.  That did not always stop union men, armed with iron bars or worse, from attacking them.   The situation boiled over on November 10, when The Evening Post reported "Shooting of the non-combatant passerby, apparently inevitable in all long-continued strikes in which there is rioting marked to-day's violence of the union drivers and the non-union strike-breakers."

Charles C. Polk was the unfortunate non-combatant passerby.  James Black had pulled a wagon owned by grocers Park & Tilford out of the company's West 15th Street stables.  With no guards to protect him, Black was armed.  As the wagon emerged, he was stoned by a mob, but, according to The Evening Post, "he dodged and used his whip so effectively that the horse got into a gallop quickly and the outpost of the mob was distanced as it ran after the wagon, cursing the driver."

But at Sixth Avenue a massive gang of union men swarmed over the wagon.  When Black pulled out his revolver, the men backed down; but his luck ran out at 49th Street where, in an unlucky turn of fate, Charles C. Polk was walking down the sidewalk.  A new mob surrounded the wagon, one of the men grabbing the horses reins and attempting to unhitch it.

The article went on, "Black fired his pistol this time, aiming at the man at the horse's head, but the one that hit the pavement rebounded and struck Charles C. Polk of No. 224 Wet Tenth Street in the side."  At the sight of the innocent man lying bleeding on the pavement, the strikers dispersed.  Polk was taken to Flower Hospital where he later recovered.

George H. Richardson was appointed a Commissioner of Deeds in June 1915.  It was a civil service job similar to that of a Notary Public; but it was secure city position and a foot in the door.  The following year he was promoted to Deputy of Elections with a salary of $1,000 per year, or about $23,600 today.  In 1918 he received a substantial raise to $1,200.

In 1926 No. 224 was sold to a real estate firm which, according to The New York Sun on August 25, "will remodel the property."  The renovations were not significant enough to warrant documentation with the Department of Buildings as apartments; however the property was clearly being operated as a rooming house.

Lena Moody lived here in 1931 when she and a friend were involved in a fatal automobile accident on a road trip to Philadelphia.  Journalists of the period felt an obligation to designate the race of Blacks and that was the case on August 26 when The Philadelphia Inquirer reported "Mrs. Sarah Clark, 39, negro, of Seventh avenue, New York, and Mrs. Lena Moody, 42, negro, of 224 West 10th street, New York, were killed when an automobile in which they were riding collided at C street and Roosevelt boulevard, early yesterday morning, with the car of John Sokel."  Sokel was apparently white, since the article did not bother to say so.

In 1967 the house was converted to a duplex in the basement and first floor, and two apartments on each floor above.   Among the residents in the 1990's was female playwright, author, screenwriter and educator Michael Angel Johnson.



Major change came in 2013 when a one-year renovation was initiated.  In 2014 a listing boasted that the house was "newly gut renovated."  The single-family structure now held six bedrooms, four-and-a-half baths and a 1,000 bottle wine cellars among the other upscale amenities.
photo via scottparksrealty.com
Marketed at $13.5 million, it was purchased by actor Bradley Cooper in May 2018.

photographs by the author

Thursday, June 27, 2019

An Elegant "Taxpayer"--142 East 74th Street



The paired central windows on the upper Lexington Avenue side were altered in 1935.

The Italianate-style house at the southwest corner of 74th Street and Lexington Avenue had stood since 1875 when the Berstrum Realty Corporation purchased it in 1923.  The firm no doubt hoped to acquire additional, abutting properties and erect a substantial structure.  So in the meantime architect Charles B. Meyers was commissioned to design a "taxpayer" on the site.

Taxpayers, as they still are today, were small structures erected simply to provide enough income to cover the annual real property taxes.  Often, because they were deemed temporary, they were built cheaply.  But that would not be the case with No. 142 East 74th Street.

Meyers designed a pretty, two-story Colonial Revival structure with three stores at street level and offices above.  Faced in white iron-flecked brick, it was handsomely decorated with terra cotta elements that hearkened to the country's architectural roots.  The entrance to the second floor, capped with an arched transom, was placed at the southern end of the Lexington Avenue side.

The large openings of the second floor were framed by terra cotta pilasters.  They upheld entablatures crowned by swan-necked pediments which enbraced engaged urns.  The simple cornice was interrupted by a parapet decorated with a blind balustrade, swags and cartouches.   Classical urns stood sentry along the roof line.

Not long after the building was completed, the owners apparently abandoned any plans for a larger structure.  On July 9, 1925 the New York Evening Post reported "The Schulte Cigar Stores Company has purchased from the Berstrum Realty Company 142 East Seventy-fourth street, southwest corner of Lexington avenue, a two-story taxpayer."

While a cigar store apparently moved into one of the storefronts, the upstairs became home to the Medico Distribution Co., drug and chemical wholesalers.  

In 1934 a renovation altered the center windows of the second floor on Lexington, and it was probably at this time that the original three stores were converted to four.

By 1944 Farber-Wittman, Inc. operated its construction firm here.   Not only did the firm erect apartment complexes, but often acted as the managing agent as well.  The firm was on the second floor at least through 1947.

At street level shops came and went.  Although the location never officially had a Lexington Avenue address, tenants routinely used the address of 1043-A Lexington.

One particularly interesting retail tenant was Edythe Meserand who had begun her radio career in the press department of the National Broadcasting Company in 1926.   By 1952 when she retired she had become a major force in radio and one of the first female news executives.

Retirement did not slow her down and Meserand founded an advertising agency and opened a unique shop in No. 142 East 74th Street.  In 1956 The New Yorker wrote "If you have a message that you'd like to get off your chest but are too shy to come right out with it, the Little Shop of Edythe Meserand, 1034-A Lexington Avenue, will bake it into a round enamel-on copper ashtray--and in your own handwriting."

While the Little Shop produced novelty ashtrays, Marion Williams ran her upscale dress shop in one of the stores, and by January 1959 New Products was advertising "25 different salt and pepper sets."

It is unclear exactly when barber Paul Molé moved his operation, first opened in 1913, into the second floor, but he was here in 1964 when he received national attention.

On November 27 that year The New York Times reported "Parents who are wondering whether their youngsters should be wearing Beatle haircuts, crew-cuts or 'Oliver' bangs will receive advice this morning on the 'Today' show.  Paul Molé, a barber, raconteur and physician during World War II, will discuss these haircuts and the psychology for getting youngsters quietly into the barber's chair and out."

Fifty-five years later the Paul Molé barbershop still engulfs the second floor.  In the meantime, the ground floor shops continued to see a variety of tenants.  In 1972 two print shops, Hartwell Magicolor Printing and The Printers V Inc. had spaces and by 1974 A Touch of Whimsy offered original copper wire sculptures by Aryeh Stollman here.

The 1980's saw Pillowry renting space, a shop devoted to "pillows made of pure wool, kilims from Persia, Afghanistan, Turkey [and] textiles--needlepoint, old silk, damask and lace."  Another of the shops was home to Asena, an apparel boutique which carried items like Paris-based Japanese designer Kenzo's silk broadcloth jacket in 1989, priced at $335 (about double that amount today).

Harry Schule opened his antiques shop, Cedric & Company, here in 1991.  The Times wrote "Mr. Schule plans to change the contents of the shop periodically.  'Each change will be according to a theme,' he said.  'One time the shop will be Regency, another time Art Deco.  I am currently designing a line of mirrored Venetian furniture with an 18-century look that will also go here, too.'"

Che Che operated its handbag shop here by 2003.  Where to Wear New York Shopping Guide described it as a "brightly lit little glass box of a shop" and said "Che Che represents one Hong Kong family's full-on fascination with handbags.  From elegant evening clutches to fanciful sacs with hand-painted mermaids or zebras, every item is a beguiling mix of whimsy and function."




Today the four storefronts continue to house boutique-sized shops.  The Charles B. Meyers's little Colonial-style building, intended to be temporary, survives as a delightful presence on the busy avenue.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The 1905 Street & Smith Building - 79-89 Seventh Avenue




In 1855 journalists Francis Scott Street and Francis Shubael Smith took out a $40,000 loan (a princely $1.2 million today) in order to purchase the newspaper they worked for, The New York Weekly Dispatch.  Four years later, when the loan was paid off, they changed the name of the publication to Street & Smith's New York Weekly.  A feature was serials--stories published in weekly chapters--which all but guaranteed repeat readers.  Many of those stories were written by Francis S. Smith himself.

In 1880 the firm made its previously-published serials available as popular  paperback "dime novels."  Their success prompted Street & Smith to introduce series of novels the following year, each based on a single hero--Buffalo Bill, Deadeye Dick, Nick Carter and Diamond Dick among them.

By 1904 the firm had diversified further, now publishing pulp magazines like The Popular, Tip Top Weekly, Top-Notch Magazine and the New Nick Carter Weekly.  That year, on February 20, the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide noted "Street & Smith, publishers, 238 William st., may erect a new printing plant...at the northeast corner of 7th av and 15th st."  The article noted that architect Henry F. Kilburn was working on the plans.

The journal's caution in noting the firm "may erect" a building was well founded.  In June the previous year Street & Smith had purchased a large lot on East 33rd Street and hired Kilburn to design an 11-story plant; but the project fizzled.  The Record & Guide, however, felt this location was better suited.  "This new site of Street & Smith on 7th av is directly in line with the Pennsylvania terminal, having easy and short transportation to that assured improvement."

Construction was well underway by September and Engineering News placed the cost at $225,000; more than $6.5 million in today's dollars.  The hulking seven-story red brick structure was completed early in 1905.  Critic Russell Sturgis was tepidly pleased with the design.  Writing in the September issue of the Architectural Record he said although it was not "exceptionally happy in design," it "has great merit."


Critic Russell Sturgis pointed out the fire-escape, "so properly called for by our laws," as being "treated as an architectural feature."  Architectural Record, September 1905 (copyright expired)

Sturgis was especially critical of the white stone entrance porch at the northern end of the Seventh Avenue elevation which, without a counterpart, left the design out of balance.  There was, he said, "a great need of something to echo or repeat the note of that porch at the other end of the front."  But the critic was placed that Kilburn had broken up the mass of the wide surfaces with protruding piers.  "The presence of the piers is a most fortunate thing."  Nevertheless he pointed out that "the corner pier is a little too much broken up" by the windows.
Architectural Record, September 1905 (copyright expired)

From the Seventh Avenue plant Street & Smith published an array of weekly magazines and inexpensive novels.  Its Smith's Magazine targeted the female reader with "beautiful art studies" in full-color pages; and The Popular Magazine for Boys and 'Old Boys,' published sports stories.  And then in 1916, the first of its sensational crime and adventure magazines, Detective Story appeared.  (It was, incidentally, the first detective fiction magazine in the world.)  The printing presses on the second floor were in operation 24-hours a day.


Two employees tackle a mountain of paper in the background of this 1906 photo of one office space.  photo by Byron Company, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York.
The rationing of paper by the War Industries Board severely affected the firm's output during World War I.  Once its stock was used up production was greatly diminished.   And so in 1918 Street & Smith scrambled to fill back orders by increased production made possible by new, modern presses.


A Trip to Mars was published in 1915.

The firm assured its readers "We have just about caught up now, thanks to some new machinery we have installed which turns out paper-covered books very fast.  Therefore, you can get a very good assortment of the S. & S. novels from your news dealer, including the famous Horatio Alger books."  It added "That boy you know will be mighty glad to have you make him a present of one or two of the Alger books."

In addition to Alger, Street & Smith published works by authors who would go on to fame, like Isaac Asimov, Theodore Dreiser, Paul Ernst, Jack London and Upton Sinclair.  Recognized illustrators like N. C. Wyeth, J. C. Leyendecker and Harold Winfield Scott, just to name three, worked on the various publications.


Workers in the shipping department wore ties and vests.  photo by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New-York

A more academic work was the 1919 History of the World War.  Street & Smith advertised "The most portentous crisis in the history of the human family has just passed.  The World War was conceived in greed and will be consummated in justice.  It will prove a blessing to mankind, because it spells emancipation to countless unborn generation from enslaving political and social evils...Therefore, we ask you to consider History of the World War by Thomas R. Best which has been written from the American standpoint.  It is purely history--not vituperation."  The volume was priced at 25 cents.


Typesetters worked in much neater and seemingly more organized surroundings.  photo by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The post-war years were profitable for Street & Smith, and in 1922 it expanded to the east with an abutting building on 15th Street.  

In 1928 the firm took made an innovative marketing move by hiring the Ruthrauff & Ryan Advertising Agency to produce a radio program to promote Detective Story Magazine.  Called "The Detective Story Hour," it was introduced and narrated by a sinister voice known as "The Shadow."  His tag line became familiar to radio listeners across the country:  "The Shadow knows...and you too shall know if you listen as Street & Smith's Detective Story Magazine relates for you the story of..." whatever story was featured that week.

As it turned out, The Shadow's character was so successful that it detracted from the Detective Story sales.  Street & Smith decided the best way to handle the problem was to introduce a new magazine featuring The Shadow.


Top-Notch targeted young male readers.  August 1931

The 1930's were the apex of Street & Smith's success.  It published 35 different magazines in 1934 and had an editorial staff of a dozen.  But as the decade drew to a close, interest in pulp magazines was on the decline.  Starting in 1940 the firm began replacing the discontinued pulp publications with comic books, like The Shadow, Super-Magician Comics, Bill Barnes/Ace Ace, and Doc Savage Comics.

But the heydays were over.  In January 1941 The New York Sun reported that Street & Smith had sold the West 15th Street property.  And then, on December 22, 1943 the same newspaper reported that the firm had "disposed of the last of their holdings."  Because it no longer needing the entire hulking printing plant, the article said "The publishers will continue occupancy in their present location, taking a lease of four floors."

The executive offices moved out of the building, prompting renowned syndicated columnist Walter Winchell to explain (while getting the facts slightly wrong), "Street and Smith, the famed publisher (who have been at 79 Seventh Avenue since 1880) are moving back to civilization at 500 Fifth."


The panel above the entablature of the portico no doubt originally announced the name of Street & Smith.

In 1961 the former printing plant was taken over by Hudson Vitamins.  The first floor was used mostly for the packing and shipping departments; the second for offices and the research laboratories, manufacturing was done on the third through fifth floors.  Along with additional manufacturing space on the sixth floor were the bottling and inspection departments. A seventh floor addition, completed in 1968, was for office and storage space.


Hudson Vitamin Products ran this advertisement for its allergy pills in numerous magazines in 1972.
Hudson Vitamin Products left at the end of the 1970's when plans were laid to convert the upper section to apartments, just three per floor, and a sprawling retail space at ground level.  The alterations were completed in 1980.  

Home furnishings retailer Jensen & Lewis moved into the store space and would be a familiar presence for decades.  It lasted at the address through 2014.

In the meantime, despite its several incarnations, almost nothing has changed to the exterior appearance of the Street & Smith building and its off-balance entrance.

photographs by the author

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Apthorp Apartments - 2201-2219 Broadway






Following the death of his father in 1890 William "Willy" Waldorf Astor became America's wealthiest man.  Family problems (he was embroiled in a vicious feud with his aunt and next-door neighbor Caroline Schermerhorn Astor) and other circumstances prompted him to abandon New York for England the following year.  When he gave up his American citizenship in 1899 to become a British subject, he became generally unpopular across the country.

Living abroad did not bring Astor's vast real estate operations to a halt.  They went on, run by the "Astor Estate" which sometimes used the architectural firm of Clinton & Russell.  Such was the case, for instance, in 1900 when the firm designed upscale The Astor Apartments at Broadway and 75th Street.  The partners, Charles W. Clinton and William Hamilton Russell, were hired again by the Astor Estate to erect the massive Apthorp Apartments in 1906.  The project would engulf the entire block between Broadway and West End Avenue, from 78th Street to 79th Street--property which Astor had purchased in 1879.

Astor named the building as a nod to the 18th century estate of Charles Ward Apthorp on which land the site stood.  The Apthorp mansion had been demolished by the city relatively recently, in 1891.   The project cost Astor a reported $6 million--in the neighborhood of $170 million today.

The structure, completed in 1908, was an architectural stunner.  Clinton & Russell had designed a regal 12-story Italian Renaissance Revival building faced in limestone.  As construction drew to a close newspapers across the country described the building.  On March 11, 1907 Duluth, Minnesota's Evening Herald entitled its article "Hundred Homes Under One Roof / Apthorp Apartments in New York Cover Whole City Block."  It went on to say "One hundred commodious homes under one roof--this will be the unique feature of a massive structure almost completed by William Waldorf Astor, on the upper west side of this city."

The article spoke in superlatives.  "Its total floor area will be eleven and a half acres...In size and ground area the Apthorp apartments will not only rival the big skyscrapers in the financial district, but they will be of the same type of construction which makes these big structures the safest and most enduring to be found in any city in the world."

Readers were told of the 1,500,000 square feet of fireproof tiles, the terra cotta partitions which "if placed in line would reach nine miles," the "thousands of tons of steel, valued at $500,000 dollars" used in the framing," and the 25-miles of steel columns and beams for the floors.  "When finished, this mammoth apartment house will be the most striking structure on the upper west side," the article portended, noting "The location is right in the heart of one of the finest residential districts of the city."


The massive building was given the feel of an overblown Italian palazzo. The World's New York Apartment House Album, 1910 (copyright expired)

The Broadway and West End Avenue elevations were nearly identical, each having a grand, three-story arch protected by immense iron gates.  Pairs of tall engaged Corinthian columns flanked the arches and carved female figures in deep relief reclined in the spandrels.  Above the third floor cornice four sculpted figures topped each column.


The West End Avenue facade is nearly identical to the Broadway elevation.
The issue of light and ventilation to interior rooms of the block-engulfing structure was solved by designing it around a large courtyard.  The World's New York Apartment House Album described it as "containing flowers, shrubbery and fountains."


As well as solving the light and ventilation problem, the landscaped courtyard was a tranquil retreat.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

There were commercial spaces on the Broadway ground floor, as well as five two-story apartments, "the living rooms of which are on the ground floor and the bedrooms above," according to The World's New York Apartment House Album.  On the third floor were twelve apartments, varying from six rooms with a bath to nine rooms and three baths.  Each of the upper floors held ten apartments.


The Broadway side of the first floor held commercial space.  The duplex apartments faced West End Avenue and the side streets.  
Many of the upper floor apartments had windows on the courtyard as well as the street. The World's New York Apartment House Album, 1910 (copyright expired)

The Apthorp residents were, of course, well-heeled and highly visible professionally and socially.  Among the initial tenants was broker Lloyd W. Seaman, a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Abel I. Smith a former New Jersey Assemblyman who lived here with and adult son, Abel I. Smith, Jr.; and civil engineer James Daniel Mortimer and his wife.

It Mrs. Mortimer who regularly appeared in the newspapers, most often for her role as president of the Beethoven Society.  The group, composed of wealthy members, provided "beneficent activities," as described by The New York Times.  As the as the name suggests, those events focused on the music of Ludwig von Beethoven.  But she also appeared in society columns for her entertainments, as on March 7, 1913 when the New York Tribune remarked "A card party will be given on Monday afternoon at 2 o'clock, at the residence of Mrs. Mortimer."  The Mortimer apartment was large enough for a tea dance and reception for the Beethoven Society's "choral" on March 12, 1917.

Readers of the New York Herald on January 10 that year may have concluded that resident Elbridge Gerry Snow, Jr. had more money than common sense.  The newspaper reported that he had purchased a rowhouse on West 78th Street for his Pekingese show dogs and provided them with five servants.

To ensure that the pedigree canines were comfortable in their surroundings, Snow had the house decorated to "gladden the heart of a mandarin...Interior decorations on all three floors of the kennel mansion are Chinese.  There is a hospital for the dogs.  Also there is a playroom, a reception room, a bedroom, a puppy room, a show ring and many other things that go to make up a happy dogdom," said the article.  Interviewed in his Apthorp apartment, Snow explained "It is a new hobby with me, and I mean to have some real show dogs.  Mrs. Snow is heartily in accord with me in the diversion...The kennel in West Seventy-eighth Street may seem a little bit elaborate, but it adds to the comfort of the dogs."

Other well-known residents at the time were Jean Baptiste Martin, proprietor of the society restaurant the Cafe Martin; and engineer John Findley Wallace, who was the first chief engineer of the Panama Canal.  The New-York Tribune called him "one of the best known civil engineers in the world."  He was as well the chairman of the Chicago Railway Terminal Company and engineering consultant to several large corporations.

The early 1920's saw Theodore B. De Vinne, head of the large De Vinne Press, in the building with his wife, Lillian; as well as architect Harry P. Knowles, his wife the former Esther McDonald, and their daughter Esther.  Knowles was perhaps best known for his 1908 Masonic Temple on West 23rd Street.  The 52-year old was taken to the French Hospital on New Year's Day 1923 with an attack of appendicitis.  He died there following the operation.

After living in the Apthop for two decades, Lloyd W. Seaman died in his apartment on October 20, 1929.  The New York Times reported that his estate topped $10 million (more in the neighborhood of $147 million today), $6.25 million of which went to charity.  

Millionaire candy maker Alexander McDonald Powell and his wife lived in the Apthorp at the time.  He had been a leading confectioner, with a handsome building on Hudson Street, for 57 years.  After his death from a heart attack while on vacation in Canada, his funeral was held in his Apthorp apartment on July 13, 1931.

After having been in Astor hands for seven decades, the property was sold in July 1950 to the newly-formed Apthorp Estates, Inc.  The new owners improved the property with a three-story underground garage opening onto 79th Street in 1956, then sold it the building the following year.  In reporting the sale on August 26, 1957, The New York Times noted "The property contains 158 apartments and thirteen stores."

The second half of the 20th century saw residents who continued to be in the spotlight--although a brighter and broader spotlight.  On February 16, 1972, for instance, syndicated columnist Jack O'Brian wrote "Lena Horne's return to work in Vegas has a simple practical purpose: to decorate the sumptuous new flat she just acquired in the Apthorp apartments."  Other celebrities in the building would include Rosie O'Donnell, Conan O'Brien, George Ballanchine and Al Pacino.



Entertainers living in the Apthorp in 2000 included Cyndi Lauper, actress Kate Nelligan, and filmmaker Nora Ephron and her writer husband Nick Pileggi.  But not everything was tranquil within the fabled building at the time.  In her article in The New York Times on May 12 that year entitled "Palace Revolt," Katherine Marsh wrote "With its 3,000-square foot apartments and airy interior courtyard, the Apthorp embodies the dream of New York living.  These days, for some, it also represents the nightmare.

"In the last few years, tenants have heard bizarre stories involving jewel thefts and a mysterious dead body."  The upheaval prompted Ephron (who filmed part of her 1986 movie Heartburn in the Apthorp) and Pileggi to leave in 2002 after nearly two decades in their eight-room apartment.  She told Marsh, "We left because they doubled our rent and then doubled it again."

Other New Yorkers may not have been sympathetic.  Cyndi Lauper, said the article, was "suing to get her rent rolled back from $3,250 to $507."  And the owners asserted that rent increases ($25 per room per month) were necessary to maintain the nearly century-old structure.  They had just spent $1.8 million to replace the eleven elevators.

As tenants moved out, their apartments were being upgraded and modernized.  At the time of Marsh's article a four-bedroom, four-and-a-half bathroom apartment had just been revamped with a granite kitchen floor, new plumbing and wiring and a marble Jacuzzi in the master bath.  It went on the market for $25,000 per month.

The Apthorp was purchased by Maurice Mann in November 2006 for about $425 million.  He described it saying "This is the equivalent of buying a great Picasso."  Three years later he and his partners, Ralph Braha and Joe Nakash (founder of Jordache jeans) began a condo conversion; but it did not go well.  On January 12, 2009 The New York Times reported that a lender, Apollo Real Estate Advisors, "could begin foreclosure on Thursday if the owners do not resolve their internal dispute."  

Shockingly, the article reported that lawyers were working on a deal that "would force one of the owners Maurice Mann, to surrender management."  Mann was not so sure.  He told a reporter "I control the Apthorp 100 percent."

Five months later journalist Josh Barbanel commented "The Apthorp, one of New York's grandest apartment buildings, has been an ugly duckling of New York real estate development for many months, despite its sprawling interior courtyard and vaulted limestone arches."  The problem was not only the feuding among the owners, but that the real estate market had plummeted.  Prices for the potential condo plan had fallen from as high as $3,000 per foot to $1,950.  Nevertheless, potential buyers were looking, including Alec Baldwin (who was considering combining three 11th floor apartments into a 6,000-square foot space), Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick and Tommy Mottola.

On August 1, 2006 Jennifer Gould Keil began her article in the New York Post saying "If a single Manhattan building could sum up the saga of New York City's big, bad and wacky real estate business, the Apthorp would have it covered."

With dozens of apartments vacant, real estate mogul Joe Sitt had entered into contract to buy 71 of the apartments for the enormously discounted price of $120 million.  The New York Post article said "The deal appears to include development rights for the roof, which are worth at least an additional $25 million."

The majestic Apthorp weathered the bad times.  The following month composer Jonathan Sheffer moved into an apartment after interior designer Robert Couturier had transformed it.  He equated Sheffer's resulting master bedroom to the "best London hotel room ever."

Oscar winning Jennifer Hudson had purchased her 3,000 square-foot 11th floor apartment in 2015.  Her gut renovation of the four-bedroom unit resulted in what one realtor called "plenty of star power."



But all the while the Apthorp endured internal strife and buffeting, its sublime exterior kept that all secret--a regal, unruffled presence on the Upper West Side.

photographs by the author