Friday, August 30, 2019

The 1901 Panhard & Levassor Bldg - 230-232 West 13th Street

On December 8, 1901 The New York Herald reported that Jams S. Herman had bought the "two old buildings" at Nos. 230 and 232 West 13th Street from Mrs. Mahalt Miller.  The announcement mentioned that he "will improve the property."  Neighbors on the quiet residential side street may have taken exception to the term "improve" when Herman began construction of his industrial-use building.

Herman commissioned Robert Maynicke to design his low-scale structure.  His choice of architect was perhaps as surprising as his choice of sites.  The well-established Maynicke was better known for impressive commercial buildings.  His design for Herman's project would be far different from the elaborate multi-story structures he was designing on lower Fifth Avenue around the same time.

It would appear that Herman was not entirely sure what he had in mind for the structure.  The plans called for a three-story "office, factory, shop and stable" building.  The ground floor of the beige brick structure featured two wide vehicle bays on either side of two windows.  The brickwork of the lower two floors was laid to create rustication; and the voissoirs of the ground floor and splayed lintels of the upper floors were executed in brick.  The molded cornice that separated the second and third floors was one of the few uses of stone.  A pressed copper cornice finished the design.

It took Herman some time to find a tenant for his new building.  But on October 6, 1903 The Evening Post reported that the Panhard & Levassor Company had rented it for a period of five years.  The Paris-based firm was branching into the American market.

On November 19, 1903 a large announcement in the New York Herald announced:

 Messrs. Panhard & Levassor, 
Manufacturers Of 
Automobiles and Motor Boats,
Of Paris, France,
Announce The
Opening of their American Branch
December 1, at 230-232 West 13th St.,
New York City

The advertisement went on to say that along with the sale of cars and motor boats, the firm "will be prepared to make all repairs, to supply spare places for their various products and to furnish information concerning their cars."

The Automobile Magazine was pleased that Panhard & Levassor now had a "fine new building" in America.  In its  January 1904 issue it accused American dealers who sold parts for or repaired the French vehicles as making "dear through the nose."  The article said "It is, therefore, satisfactory to know that in the future, at least, those who buy a Panhard automobile will be sure to get decent treatment, since the West Thirteenth street establishment will carry a full line of Panhard parts, and will have factory mechanics on hand to attend to any repairs necessary."
"Gasoline carriages" like this model would have been on display in the building.  The chassis (which was sold separately from the body) sold for as much as $8,850 in 1904--more than a quarter of a million in today's dollars.  Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly, April 1904 (copyright expired)

Panhard & Levassor scored a marketing coup less than a year after moving into the 13th Street facility.  In 1904 William K. Vanderbilt II financed the first of the Vanderbilt Cup races.  It was an attempt to bring American manufacturers into racing, already a popular European sport.  The race took place on October 8 and, just as they did for the horse races, society turned out in their finest.  Most expected to see American machines outrace the European cars.

But it was George Heath, driving a Panhard, who crossed the finish line first.  Panhard & Levassor proudly announced that they would "exhibit at their stand at [the] Madison Square Garden Show" in January 1905 "The Vanderbilt Cup won by Mr. George Heath."

The 1904 Panhard race car was admittedly less elegant that its passenger vehicles. from the collection of the Library of Congress  
For some reason Panhard & Levassor did not remain for the entire five-year lease period.  In March 1906 the "brick factory building," as described by the Real Estate Record & Guide, was leased to the Marine Engine & Machine Co.   The new tenant signed a five-year lease as well.

Electrical Review explained in April that year that the firm "will occupy it as the headquarters of its elevator construction department," saying its increasing elevator business had outgrown the old facility on West 24th Street.  "The company will now have the benefit of up-to-date accommodations and facilities in the new building, which will be very advantageous in every way."

Four years into that lease, on February 9, 1910, the building was rented to the U. S. Chemical Co.  The Record & Guide reported it would use the property "for office purposes, and will make considerable improvements."  And although the firm signed a seven-year lease, it too moved on before its expiration.  By 1914 the building was home to the Barnes School of Embalming.

The American Journal of Nursing, March 1914 (copyright expired)

The relatively quick turnover in tenants continued.  On July 31, 1916 The Sun reported that space in the building had been "temporarily" leased to the drug manufacturing firm, Liggett, Riker & Hegeman Company.  The arrangement was temporary, indeed.  Less than two months later, in September, The Iron Trade Review reported that the Johnson-McCabe Ore Testing & Refining Co. had signed a five-year lease on the building.

The firm, a refiner of graphite, would continue the history of short-term residencies.   Johnson-McCabe had not been in the building half a year when it declared bankruptcy in February 1917.

In 1924 the Moisant Ozonized Water Company took over the building.  The Boston-based firm marketed "The Perfect Drinking Water" for office water coolers.  It, of course, provided the coolers, as well.  The firm touted its process of "purification of drinking water by means of ozone."

The wide-flung tenant list at Nos 230-242 West 13th Street continued when, in 1982, a renovation resulted in a day care center on the first floor with offices above; a configuration which survives today.

Other than replacement windows and the reconfigured bay doors, Robert Maynicke's 1901 design survives remarkably intact; a handsome Greenwich Village structure with an amazingly varied past.

photographs by the author

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