Saturday, July 27, 2019

170 Years of Remodeling - 19 West 26th Street

By the early 1850's the Joseph Giraud family lived at No. 19 West 26th Street on a block lined with similar brick or brownstone homes near the fashionable Madison Square.  Giraud had married Sarah M. Goodrich in 1815.  The couple had at least three children, Elisa Ann (who married Dr. Dudley P. Arnold on September 2, 1825), Susan M., and John G.  It is unclear exactly when Joseph died, but he left an estate estimated at $148,000--in the neighborhood of $4.5 million today.

Following Susan's marriage to Alexander H. Grant, the couple remained in the house.  Among his other positions Grant was a director in the Grocers' Fire Insurance Company.  

In the summer of 1854 Susan fell ill with what The New York Times called a "severe illness."  She declined rapidly and died on the morning of August 29 at the age of 33.  Her funeral was held in the house three days later.

Sarah Giraud seems to have seriously considered selling the house two years later.  In April 1856 Anthony Bleecker, one of the city's best known auctioneers, announced he would auction "at No. 19 West 26th-street, opposite Trinity Chapel, the catalogue comprising the unusual variety of very costly furniture of recent make and nearly new."  But then on the scheduled day of the auction an announcement appeared in the Morning Courier and New-York Enquirer advising "The Sale of Elegant Household Furniture" had been postponed.

John G. Giraud died on September 6, 1862 at the age of 39.  Newspapers reported that the funeral would be held "from the residence of his mother, No. 19 West 26th st., without further invitation."

The end of the line for the residence as a single family home came when Sarah died at the age of 77 on December 9 the following year.  As had been the case with the other family members, her funeral was held in the parlor.

Three months later, on March 31, 1864 The New York Times reported that the "house and lot" had been sold for $23,550--or about $483,000 today.  It was soon being operated as a high-end boarding house.

Among the first boarders was Edward Mott Robinson and his 30-year old daughter Henrietta, known familiarly as Hettie.    The Robinson family was the wealthiest whaling family in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Edward being the head of the Isaac Howland whaling firm.  But following the death of his wife, Abby, he sold off his interest in the company and became a partner in a New York shipping firm.

But on June 14, 1865, less than a year after they moved into No. 19, Robinson died.  Hetty inherited his $6 million estate.  Three months later her aunt, Sylvia Ann Howland, died, leaving Hetty another $2 million (a total windfall of $127 million in today's dollars).  Hetty was now one of the wealthiest women in America.  She married Edward Henry Green in 1867 and would become famous nationwide for her miserly ways in later years.

The rooms in No. 19 were advertised as being "In one of the most healthy and convenient localities in the city."  The upscale tenor of the boarding house was evidenced when the former proprietor of one of Manhattan's classiest hotels took over.

On September 28, 1875 an advertisement in The New York Herald read: "Mr. Lachenmeyer, formerly of Grand Hotel, having taken house No. 19 West Twenty-sixth street, can accommodate one or two families with elegantly furnished rooms (connecting if desired) and Board and attendance equal to any first class hotel."

The first of several alterations came after Michael Bergmann purchased the house.  He leased it to T. W. Dempter as proprietor, who in turn hired architect F. A. Greenough to make significant renovations.  His plans, filed on January 5, 1886, called for "front and internal alterations" at a cost of about $27,500 by today's standards.

Then only two years later Bergmann commissioned the architectural firm of Berger & Baylies to renovate the house to a "clubhouse."  Their plans included an addition to the rear.  The conversion spoke of the changes to the once-exclusive neighborhood.

On March 9, 1891 The Evening World announced "There will be a pool match, this evening, at the Madison billiard and pool parlors 19 West Twenty-sixth street, between P. H. Walan, champion of the State and the winner of the last two professional tournaments, and W. Murray, champion of the city of Brooklyn."  

Another major alteration came in 1895.  That year Bergmann once again repurposed the former house.  Architect George A. Schellinger removed the facade and replaced it with a front of Roman brick and limestone designed, for the most part, in the Renaissance Revival style.   The openings of each floor above the two-story storefront were treated differently.  Those of the third and fourth floors wore stylized Gibbs surrounds that complimented the quoins which ran up the sides.  The fifth floor sat above a slightly-projecting stone cornice; its arched windows framed by paneled Doric pilasters.

The top three floors now held rented rooms.  Phillip Wassung hoped to lease the storefront but the Board of Alderman dashed those plans.  On March 2, 1895 The New York Times reported that the board had denied Wassung's application "for a saloon license in the building 19 West Twenty-sixth Street, because the place adjoined Trinity Chapel School.  The application was opposed by the Trinity Church corporation."  Somehow, however, James Helde managed to squirm around the licensing problem.  Later that year The Evening World reported that rowdies were throwing bricks or rocks at the windows of Helde's saloon.

Robert B. Dedman got a job as a porter in the building that year.  He had the unenviable job of identifying the body of a friend, 27-year old Mamie Needab on April 1, 1896.  She had come to New York from Virginia at the beginning of the year and found work as a domestic in a house on Sixth Avenue.  

On April 2 The Evening World reported that police "had their dragnets out last night searching for a clue to the identity of the young colored woman whose mutilated body was found in front of the New York Bank Note Company's Building, Waverly place and Sixth avenue," three days earlier.  The article said that Dedman and Bemous Spruiedell, "both colored, called at the Morgue this afternoon and positively identified the body of the murdered girl."  It added "The last time the men saw her was at a cake walk at the Madison Square Garden."

One of the rented rooms was being used as an office in the fall of 1896; and it was the scene of a high-profile raid on October 1.  The New York Times reported that Joseph Ullman, "the greatest bookmaker in the United States;" his brother Alexander, "who is a plunger at the race tracks," Archibald C. Chandler and his assistant Frederick Fisher, "were arrested yesterday afternoon at 19 West Twenty-sixth Street in a room in which was found a great amount of evidence that convinces Anthony Comstock...that he can easily prove a violation of the law against gambling."  

Anthony Comstock was the secretary of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice and well-known to all New Yorkers for his indefatigable battle against obscene literature, gambling, prostitution and phony medicines.  He had been stalking "Joe" Ullman since he arrived from St. Louis.  The Times said "The Comstock agents who were on the trail of Mr. Ullman in this city fixed upon 19 West Twenty-sixth Street as the base of his operations."

Living here in 1898 was the actor Robert Hilliard and his wife.  When Hilliard came home around 9:00 on the evening of April 16, his wife told him that the janitor, William Jackson, "had been insolent to her."  Hillard called Jackson upstairs and asked for an explanation.

"Instead of explaining, Jackson swore in loud tones in the presence of Mrs. Hilliard," reported The Times, "and told her husband that he could go to the devil...Mr. Hilliard declared war at once and knocked the negro down by a blow."  It appeared to Hilliard that Jackson was reaching for some sort of weapon in his hip pocket, and he struggled with the man to prevent him from getting it.  After Jackson went back downstairs, Hilliard went to the West 13th Street Police Station.  But because it was Saturday, the actor was told that Jackson could not be arrested until Monday when Hilliard would be able to swear out a warrant. 

"Then, if that's the case," declared Hilliard, "I'll go and buy a gun.  I don't propose to have a drunken janitor around that house all night."  And so he did.

When he returned home Jackson was barring the doorway.  After Hilliard called Policeman Callan the janitor disappeared inside.  The officer told Hilliard to stand at the foot of the stairs while he searched Jackson's rooms.  In his absence, Jackson descended the staircase, once again putting his hand in his hip pocket.  It was a tense standoff, with Hilliard pointing the gun at him and saying "If you move that hand I'll shoot you dead where you stand!"  Jackson was arrested, but was so violent that it took a second policeman to get him to the station house.

In July 1898 Bergmann leased the store to men's clothiers H. Morley and Walter I. Wright for five years.  On October 25 that year a tiny advertisement, slightly disguised as an article, appeared on the front page of The New York Times:  A Well-Dressed Man Is Armed from head to foot for the battle of life.  Morley & Wright, merchant tailors, 19 West 26th St., four doors west of Broadway.  Moderate prices."

The apartments were unexpectedly commodious.  An advertisement in May 1902 offered "eight rooms and bath, modern improvements."

The Astor real estate offices were next door at Nos. 21 and 23 West 26th Street.  On January 15, 1910 the New-York Tribune reported "William Waldorf Astor bought for $100,000 the modern five story store and apartment building, No. 19 West 26th Street."  The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide more cautiously deemed the building "comparatively modern."

Although Astor was permanently living in London, he continued his real estate business here.  By fall that year he had commissioned architect Clarence L. Sefert to convert the building into lofts.  His plans, filed on October 28, called for new interior walls, an electric elevator, plumbing and "electric fixtures."  It was a major make-over, costing a quarter of a million in today's dollars.

Upon the completion Astor leased the entire building to two tenants, fur manufacturer Jacob Adler, and fur importers Platky & Co.  Adler took the upper floors while Platky & Co. occupied the store and basement.

Other apparel firms soon subleased space.  In 1912 the Junior Dress Co. was here, and Goff Rose Burada, a manufacturer of children's garments, was on the top floor.  A water leak led to a court case between Burada and Astor in July 1913.

An Astor agent saw water leaking from the top floor and blamed Burada.  A standoff about who was responsible resulted in the landlord's shutting off the elevator to the top floor.  It was a major problem for Goff Rose Burada.  Not only were customers unwilling to walk up five flights, but some of the female employees quit.

Burada took the Astor Estate to court and won.  The court found that elevator service was "incidental, if not indispensable;" but because there was no definite proof of the monetary loss, Burada's victory was mainly symbolic.  The Sun reported on July 6, 1913 "the court awarded only nominal damages."

In 1914 the Standard Underwear Co. shared space in the building, subletting like the others from Jacob Adler.

In 1923 the Gotham Novelty Company was creating these children's outfits in the building.  Philadelphia Inquirer, May 1923
By 1931 John Guidotti of Florence was in the two-story store.  The firm marketed imported antiques and reproductions, including furniture, accessories (like mirrors), and paintings.  On January 30, 1937 a sale ad of "18th Century and Earlier Period" antiques appeared in The New York Sun.  John Guidotti of Florence would remain in the space for another four years.

It was replaced in May 1941 by a less glamorous dealer, The Reliable Metal Novelty Company.  In reporting on the 21-year lease, The New York Times noted "The novelty firm, which manufacturers and distributes bathroom fixtures and other metal products, is producing materials for the defense program."  The following February the 21-year old company added another floor to its lease; The New York Times explaining it "is expanding its quarters because of contracts on housing and defense projects."  The firm would remain in the building until around 1951.

At the time No. 19 was owned by Abraham Yarmack and it is almost assuredly he who removed the cornice and replaced it with a brick parapet with the conspicuous Y within a circular opening.

In the early 1950's Credda, Inc., a national distribution of aeronautical and electric parts and equipment was in the building.  Little changed to the property until the late 20th century when the second story show window was updated.

Today a century of dirt obscures the contrast of brick and stone.  And after a succession of major remodeling projects nothing, of course, outwardly survives of the 1850's Giraud house.  But deep within, remnants are still there.

photographs by the author

1 comment:

  1. According to "The Reverend John Graham of Woodbury, Connecticut, and His Descendants" by Helen Graham Carpenter Monastery Hill Press, 1942 - 507 pages Isaac Gilbert Graham married Laura Goodrich Giraud, daughter of Joseph and Sarah, in 1843. I have considerable info on Isaac. Please email me.