The 26th Street block between Broadway and Sixth Avenue was lined with upscale brick or brownstone homes during the Civil War years. But by the mid-1880's wealthy homeowners were inching northward and the district which would be known as Nomad more than a century later was changing. On January 9, 1886 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that John Patterson & Co. had purchased "the four-story stone front houses Nos. 25 and 27 West Twenty-sixth street, for $60,000." It was a significant transaction, equaling about $1.65 million today.
John Patterson & Co. was a manufacturer and importer of high-end clothing, well-known for his equestrian wear for women. Patterson hired architect Charles G. Jones to design an apartment house on the site. It would be one more of the several apartment houses targeting well-to-do residents that were rising throughout the neighborhood. The first floor, however, would be devoted to Jones's upscale clothing store. The plans described a "five-story brick, iron and terra cotta front apartment house with store in part of basement and lower story." The cost of construction was estimated at more than $2.3 million in today's dollars.
The building was completed in January 1887. John Patterson's store was fronted by projecting wooden show windows. The cast iron facing continued to the second floor where elaborate decorations included wreathed cartouches and hanging garlands of fruits and flowers. The Renaissance Revival upper stories were decorated with ornate terra cotta panels in the Renaissance style. The bricks of the fourth floor piers were laid to simulate fluting and were capped by handsome capitals. A stone cornice supported the fifth floor where the openings took the form of an airy arcade.
|Parts of the now-obliterated store level and the beautiful decorations of the second floor can be glimpsed at the left of this photo. from the collection of the New-York Historical Society|
Well-heeled residents could choose from apartments of either six or seven rooms. Among the initial occupants were Fremont D. Snider and his wife, Carrie. Both were graduates of the Massachusetts Metaphysical College and their zeal regarding the Christian Science religion led them to found the Metropolitan Christian Science Institute in the spring of 1888. Church and Association reported that the couple "have given use of their spacious apartments at 27 West Twenty-sixth Street, to the Institute temporarily, until regular quarters are secured."
Not everyone warmed to the concept. On April 15, 1888 the New York Journal entitled an article "Throw Physic to the Dogs" and pointed out "Physicians say that the Christian Scientists have undertaken to work miracles, for the claim put forth is that maladies are to be banished without drugs or any material means." Carrie Snider saw no problem with that.
"Mrs. Snider talks enthusiastically of her mission. She is a bright and decidedly handsome and intellectual young blonde of about twenty-five...Mrs. Snider admitted that people generally would be inclined to view her program with skepticism." But she went on to innumerate several cases in which incurable diseases had been cured by prayer.
|John Patterson moved his store into the new building a month after its completion. The Princeton Bric-a-Brac, January 1887|
Society journalists followed the movements of the residents. When Samuel A. Strang's daughter, Agnes, was married in the Church of the Transfiguration on May 21, 1890, the event earned an article in The Sun. It noted "A wedding breakfast followed at the home of the bride's parents, 27 West Twenty-sixth street."
Typical of the occupants was Major George W. McLean and his wife, who lived here at the same time. Born in 1822, he was made a member of the Stock Exchange in 1854 and was elected its president in 1875. He had been associated with the military since 1851 when he joined the Old Light Guard. At the outbreak of the Civil War he helped organize the Tammany Regiment. He was a life-long member of the exclusive New-York Yacht Club, the Manhattan Club, and the St. Nicholas Society.
On January 30, 1893 McLean attended the Old Guard Ball at Madison Square Garden. The Evening World called it "a memorable event in the chronicles of a thousand debutantes" and "a brilliant company." A highlight of the night was "The military drill of 1,000 men, representing a score of military organizations, and wearing the uniforms of their respective organizations."
Following the ball McLean visited the home of friends. The New York Times reported "while there [he] was seized with violent pains in the chest. He wanted to go home at once, but was prevailed upon to remain and rest himself. His condition grew worse, and pneumonia developed very rapidly."
Almost two weeks later McLean was taken back to his West 26th Street apartment in a carriage. The Evening World explained "he was removed to his own apartments in order that he might die at home." Indeed, the two physicians who were called "did not give much hope," according to The Times. McLean's wife and his son and daughter were at his side when he died at around 4:30 on the afternoon of February 13. The following day his body was removed from the apartment to lie in state at the armory on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 14th Street. "The armory is draped in mourning," noted The Evening World.
Later that year another resident brought unexpected and unwanted publicity to the building. On December 12, 1893 The Sun reported that James Wodes had been arrested the previous evening "in the vicinity of the Church of the Holy Innocents, in West Thirty-second street...for trying to hug and kiss the women who were going to and from the church." The article explained succinctly, "He was drunk."
In the meantime John Patterson & Co. catered to the carriage trade in its high-end clothing shop and factory. In March 1894 The Evening World noted "The old firm of John Patterson & Co., of 27 West Twenty-sixth street, alone employs 100 men." Three months later he looked to augment his staff. An advertisement in The Sun on June 26 sought "Tailors--First-class coat, vest and trouser makers wanted; also bushelmen." (A bushelman was a tailor's assistant, often tasked with repairing garments.)
Those employees backed presidential candidate William McKinley and his running mate Garret Hobart to a man during the 1896 election. The Sun reported on September 26 "The employees of John Patterson & Co., tailors, at 25 West Twenty-sixth street, to the number of 100, have formed a McKinley and Hobart Club and swung a flag with the names of those candidates thereon across the street just west of Broadway."
John Patterson died not long after that election and on March 6, 1897 the Record & Guide reported that his estate had sold the 50-foot wide building. The Sun disclosed the buyer, John Jacob Astor, whose offices were next door at No. 23 West 26th Street. The newspaper reported that he had paid $200,000 for the property, or $6.25 million today.
The romantic and unrequited obsession of Robert H. Moulton for actress May Buckley brought wide-spread attention to the building in 1901. The pair had been introduced by Frank Mohler of the Garden Theatre in 1900 and a friendship followed. (It appears to have at least once gone beyond that, for despite her having a husband in the West, the janitor of No. 27 West 26th Street later identified a photo of the actress as "the woman he had known as Mrs. Moulton.")
Moulton's infatuation for actresses was not limited to May Buckley. In December Emmanuel Levy was dining with actress Gertrude Deming in the West End Cafe on 125th Street. Moulton suddenly appeared, "knocked Levy down and broke a great deal of tableware before he was ejected," reported The Evening World. "The night following Moulton again tackled Levy at the stage door of the opera-house, but this time was well trounced." And then around March 1, 1901 Moulton was dining with another actress at the Adams House in Boston. The Evening World reported that he "made a scene...by slapping the face" of the woman.
Now May Buckley was concerned about her stalker. And with good reason. After her performance on March 22 she went with friends to the Pabst Rathskeller. Moulton charged in and fired four shots at the party in an attempt to murder the actress. He wounded Broadway Theatre manager A. W. Dingwall and another employee, John G. Leffingwell. He was overpowered and taken to the prison ward of Bellevue Hospital. The Evening World reported on March 23 "He is suffering from alcoholism and morphine poisoning."
The publicity led the Borough Mortgage Company to seek the repayment of $200 it had lent Moulton. On March 30 the New-York Tribune reported that City Marshal George W. Klune went to Moulton's apartment to take possession of his belongings. Thomas H. Moulton, Robert's brother, was there packing up valuables to take away. When he refused to answer the door, Klune simply broke in.
While the marshal was compiling an inventory of the furnishings, he discovered evidence that supported Moulton's claim that he had an affair with May Buckley (he went so far as to say they were married). Klune removed "a number of letters written to R. H. Moulton by Miss Buckley," and he found "a large number of pictures of May Buckley, many of which had been signed. Many of the books also contained Miss Buckley's name, and on some of a woman's clothing found in the closet was the initial 'B.'" May refused to comment.
John Jacob Astor had leased half of the former John Patterson & Co. store to the Tidewater Building Company. On March 21, 1903 the Record & Guide reported that "owing to the demands for more space made upon them by their largely increasing business, [they have] taken the entire street frontage of their present offices, which gives them about double the space."
|The Sun, March 14, 1909 (copyright expired)|
Among the most colorful of the building's tenants came along in 1908 in the form of Burton S. Castles. Wealthy and flamboyant, he had made his fortune in a variety of ways—he was a real estate investor and Wall Street speculator. Born in Texas, his flashy lifestyle and demeanor earned him the nickname “the Beau Brummel of Wall Street.”
But he would not move in before his landlord had made improvements to his apartment. On September 5, 1908 the Record & Guide reported that John Jacob Astor had hired architect James Riley Gordon to make changes to a suite "for Burton S. Castles, a well-known bachelor and brother of John W. Castles, president of the Guaranty Trust Company. The alterations will cost about $5,000 and will consist of new plumbing, partitions, parquet flooring, electrical wiring, etc."
Castles would not enjoy his new apartment for long. Astor signed a 12-year lease on the building the following summer with M. A. Steinberg. On August 28, 1909 the Record & Guide reported "This building is 5 stories in height, but is to be rebuilt into a 7-sty loft building, with 2 elevators and is to be ready for occupancy Jan. 1, 1910." Astor had hired architect William A. Boring to make the changes. "In addition to increasing the height of the building 2 stories, a new facade will be erected in the style of the modern Renaissance, finished with bays set between Doric pilasters, and having a cornice and ornamental balustrade."
In the end the facade remake was not as all-encompassing as first reported. Only the first and second floors were affected, toned down for more industrial purposes. The new sixth and seventh floors admirably carried on Charles G. Jones's design, if in an admittedly less extravagant form.
The remodeled building initially filled with apparel firms, like Stern & Co., makers of waists; the Famous Gotham Novelty Co., makers of suits; and Jackson & Sulser, fur importers.
|Famous Gotham Novelty Co. produced these boys' "wash sets" here. They retailed for $3.50--about $44 today. Philadelphia Inquirer, 1920 (copyright expired)|
The 26th Street block would become part of the fur district after World War I. Among the fur merchants in the building by the early 1920's were Leventhal's Fur Storage, run by brothers Jack and Harry Leventhal; and B. Harris.
In 1922 the district was plagued by burglars and on the night of February 6 they hit No. 25 West 26th Street. The New York Herald reported that a $500 fur piece was stolen from B. Harris in the heist.
That year, in May, Leventhal Bros. advertised "Have your furs stored and remodeled during the Summer at a Great Saving. Pay for your work when you are ready to wear it."
The Astor estate retained possession of the building until 1943. It underwent a renovation to offices and a printing establishment in 1972. It was most likely at this time that the first and second floors were mutilated.
Already the Vietnam Veterans Against the War had its headquarters in the building. Founded in 1967 by six young veterans, its membership had grown to more than 25,000 by now. In April 1971 700 veterans tossed their medals earned in Vietnam over a wire fence in front of the Capitol as a protest against the war. Among them was 27-year-old John F. Kerry who tossed away his Silver Star, Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts.
On December 26, 1971 sixteen of the group's members seized control of the Statue of Liberty and, according to The New York Times, "vowed to stay there until New Year's Eve as a protest against continuation of the war in Vietnam." It was, at least for a time, a standoff. "Late last night, as a Coast Guard cutter and a city police launch circled the 12-acre island, the resident manager and his assistant stood in gusting winds outside the barricaded doors at the base of the statue's pedestal and tried to negotiate with the demonstrators inside."
This was not an isolated tactic. In a coordinated maneuver that same week members occupied the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia, the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., a military hospital-ward in California and the South Vietnamese consulate in San Francisco.
The following year six of the group's members were indicted for conspiring to disrupt the Republican National Convention with fire bombs and shooting.
Occupying space on the fifth floor in the early 1990's was the Honey Bee Oriental Club. It's operation came to an end on September 18, 1993 when police shut it down. The Times announced that the raid "brought to 10 the number of unlicensed Chelsea massage parlors shut down this year for prostitution." The action had been brought through the complaints of neighbors. One of them, Susan Herman, warned that Chelsea was "being transformed before our eyes into a red-light district."
The 21st century saw the top floor transformed into a performance space, the 27 West 26th St., Penthouse. It was the scene of the revival of The Boys in the Band by Transport Group on February 12, 2010.
|Jagged scars remain at the second floor where the stone decorations were ripped off.|
photographs by the author