Monday, August 19, 2019

The Lost St. Mark's Church Rectory - 156 Second Avenue

By the time this photo was taken in the second half of the 19th century, the original Greek Revival fencing had been updated with an Italianate version.  Most likely at the same time the stoop railings were replaced by the chunky wing walls.   photo by George Gardner Rockwood, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

By the first decades of the 19th century the neighborhood around Stuyvesant Square had filled with elegant homes.  St. Mark's Eipiscopal Church, completed in 1799, was the parish of some of New York's wealthiest and most politically powerful citizens--including the Stuyvesant, Stewart, Fish, Hone and Perry families.  Around 1840 the congregation erected a sumptuous brownstone-faced rectory for its pastor, Henry Anthon, at No. 156 Second Avenue, diagonally across from the church near the corner of East 10th Street.  

At 40-feet wide, it was twice the width of a normal rowhouse.  Floor-to-ceiling length windows on the parlor level opened onto cast iron balconies.  Peaked lintels sat above the openings and brick dentils ran below the cornice.  The double-doored entrance was flanked by columns which upheld a hefty entablature.  The over-all design bespoke elegance and refinement.

Rev. Henry Anthon was born in New York City in March 1795.  He graduated from Columbia College in 1813 and afterward studied theology.  He became pastor of St. Mark's in 1837.  

Anthon had married Emilia Corré, daughter of Joseph Corré, in 1819. Living in the house with them were their two sons, George Christian and Edward.  In 1841 Edward enrolled in the University of the City of New-York.   His brother was already a professor there.

Rev. Henry Anthon wore the severe countenance of a 19th century preacher.  Tribues to the Memory of the Rev. Henry Anthon, D. D. 1862 (copyright expired) 
Like many other high-level pastors, Anthon published academic works.  In 1845 he turned his attentions to his own flock, publishing Historical Notices of St. Mark's Church from 1795 to 1845.  

George Christian Anthon was still living with the family when a serious disagreement with two other professors led to his resignation from New York University on March 7, 1851.  He founded the Anthon Grammar School and would remain its principal until his death.

His brother, by now, had been ordained by the Episcopal Church.  In May 1856 the Vestry of St. Mark's lured Edward from his post of rector of St. Thomas's Church in Taunton, Massachusetts to become Assistant Minister of St. Mark's.

Rev. Henry Anthon celebrated Christmas Day services in 1860, including the administration of Communion to the 300 worshipers.  A few weeks later his close friend, the Right Rev. Manton Eastburn, said "But it was with difficulty that he got through the duty, for he was suffering acutely with pain.  He returned to the Rectory and, after eleven days of severe agony, expired on Saturday, the 5th of January, 1861."  He was 69-years old.

Anthon's funeral was held in St. Mark's Church on Tuesday, January 8, 1861.  Edward Anthon resigned his post at St. Mark's to open his own church, The Memorial Church of the Reverend Henry Anthon, D. D.  On March 31, 1861, only three months after Henry Anthon's death, The New York Herald reported that the new church, on West 48th Street, would open the following morning.

The Rev. A. H. Vinton was appointed rector of St. Mark's.  But following his return to Boston sometime before 1874, the rectory was sold.  In 1877 city directories show that it was being operated as a high-end boarding house with just three residents.  Martha M. Ransom was the widow of Jonathan H. Ransom and would remain in the house for several years.  Alonzo Goodrich Fay was an attorney with offices at No. 237 Broadway; and George G. Kaufman was an editor.

By 1886 the lower floors had been converted to the fashionable Café Manhattan.  The rooms on the second floor were leased to clubs and organizations, and selected cafe employees were provided rooms on the third.  

An investigative reporter for the New York Herald found more than well-dressed diners here, however, prompting him to entitle his article on August 18, 1899 "Where Are The Police?"  The writer said that it was an open secret that gentlemen played cards in some upscale restaurants.  

The proprietors of the more fashionable coffee houses take little pains to conceal this fact.  At the Cafe Manhattan, Second avenue, between Ninth and Tenth streets, where I saw several men playing cards the money for which they played was on the table beside them.  On the broad piazza, back of the coffee room, there were several players, and still further to the rear were half a dozen private parties.

By the time of that reporter's exposé the upper rooms were known national-wide for chess playing.  In 1886 the American Chess Review announced that "The New York Chess Club has moved into its new quarters at 156 Second Avenue," and quickly the location became ground zero for Manhattan chess events.  On September 25, 1887, for instance, the Grand International Tournament was held here, sponsored by the Sixth American Chess Congress, which also had its headquarters in the building.

The chess groups shared the upper floors with at least two other organizations.  The National Philatelic Society's club rooms were here in 1887; and by 1890 the German-American Stenographers' Association Gabelsberger was here.  On October 14 that year The World announced "The association will open a course of studies in German and English stenography on November 4, in its rooms at the Cafe Manhattan, No. 156 Second avenue."  The Masonic rooms of the Perfect Ashlar Lodge, No. 604 were also here at the time.

The Café Manhattan was run by William Stampfer.  In January 1893 he leased the business to M. Moschkowitz, who made a few changes, including the name.  The restaurant was now known as the Café Boulevard.  It was most likely Moschkowitz who joined No. 156 with the house next door and installed a three-story storefront.

An early 20th century postcard shows the significant alterations which successfully erased the dignity of the former mansions.
The New York Chess Club continued to hold annual tournaments in its clubrooms.  It was joined in the building by a new club in 1895.  On December 3 The Evening Post announced "The Progress Chess Club was founded at the Café Boulevard, No. 156 Second Avenue, last night."  The article added "A match was played at the Café Boulevard between Messrs. Borsody and Rosenthal, which was won by the former."

Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly depicted a scene in the Cafe Boulevard during the "hour of Apertif," between 5 and 6 p.m. November 1895 (copyright expired) 
The change in the neighborhood from one of wealthy homeowners to German and Hungarian immigrants was evidenced in the cafe.  Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly said the establishment "rejoiced" in the patronage of "the Teutonics," and noted:

It is more plebeian in its tone, inasmuch as a large proportion of its guests are simple commoners; but there is always a large sprinkling of nobles to be found clustered about its small tables, drinking beer, playing cards or dominoes and reading the foreign papers, of which a greater number and variety are subscribed for by the proprietor than can be found in any other place of refreshment in the town.

By 1898 the club rooms of the Hungarian Society were upstairs.  The cafe was now being operated by Ignatz Rosenfeld who introduced new attractions for his mostly German and Hungarian customers; not all of which were welcomed by neighbors.

On June 28, 1897 The New York Herald reported that Rosenfeld had been arrested for disturbing the peace.  The article explained "He has an orchestra at his place, which plays while his guests consume wiener schnitzels and compote.  The orchestra also plays several bars after the serving of the coffee.  It is alleged that at half-past twelve o'clock yesterday morning the orchestra was discoursing harmony."

The following month Rosenfeld got more unwanted press.  Mary Sajtos had been the cafe's pastry chef for several years.  She was one of the lucky workers who also lived in the building.  In addition to free room and board, she received a salary of $44 per month, or about $1,370 today.

In 1893 she struck up a love affair with the assistant cashier, Adolph Lipschutz.  On Christmas Day 1896 he proposed marriage, and Mary accepted.   Almost immediately afterward he asked to borrow money, promising he would use it to open a restaurant which he would manage and she would be its cook.  In various amounts she loaned him a total of $500, or about $15,600 in today's dollars.   She later said that she waited in vain for him to announced that he had acquired the restaurant and to say "We will be married to-day and go to the home that I have made ready for you."

That didn't happen.

Lipschutz  left his position in the cafe in December 1898.  A few months later a good friend, Marie Rinkacs, confided to Mary, "I know that Adolph Lipschutz is not going to marry you and is going to wed Lena Gross, because I have been shopping with Lena and have helped her buy her wedding outfit."  Mary Sajtos did some investigating on her own and discovered that her fiancé had used her money to buy a gold watch and chain, gold cuff buttons and a diamond pin.

She sued "the faithless Adolph," as worded by The Morning Telegraph on July 29, 1899, for breach of promise of marriage.   The article said she "assesses her wounded feelings at $2,000."  Lipschutz was arrested.  But although the newspaper deemed him a "villain," it made light of Mary's plight.

"By her splendid cooking she won the heart of a man, and by her cooking she lost it, for her fat pies and lollipops soon lost their charm and the man's stomach turned."  Lipschutz, it said, "met a woman with more money than she had and he preferred gold to doughnuts."

Ignatz Rosenfeld was acutely aware of the income provided by the chess clubs.  On October 28, 1899 The Evening Post reported "To supply a great need, Mr. I. H. Rosenfeld, proprietor of the Hungarian Restaurant and Café Boulevard will soon set apart a large and handsomely furnished room for the accommodation of chess-players.

In the meantime the cafe continued to be a popular gathering spot.  On December 28, 1899 the Tammany Association held a dinner in one of the private rooms to honor retiring County Clerk William Schmer.  Two hundred officials and politicians were in the room that night.

Having leased the property for years, Rosenfeld purchased it in in May 1900 "for about $80,000," according to the New York Herald.  It was a significant price, amounting to around $2.75 million today.  But he could apparently afford it.  Three years later The Hempstead Sentinel reported that he had spent $250,000 to buy the entire district called Arverne-by-the-Sea on Rockaway Beach.  It included a 190-room hotel, a casino, and six cottages.

Another romantic involvement among the staff ended tragically in 1904.  Mary Olah, who worked in the pantry, fell in love with Sigmund Bohn, a waiter.  The main obstacle to the affair was Bohn's marriage.  Things got tenser when, it appears, Mary discovered she was pregnant.  She quit her job in mid-December 1904 and moved in with her sister.

Then, only about a week after she left, Mary somehow sneaked into the cafe late on the night of December 30.  She went upstairs where she found Sigmund, but things ended badly.  The New York Press reported "Many late guests in the Café Boulevard...were startled at 1 o'clock this morning by the sound of loud voices on the upper floor, then pistol shots."

Sigmund Bohn then came running down the stairs "with blood streaming from a wound on his chin."  He rushed through the dining room yelling that he had been shot.  The article described "The women jumped from their seats and several men stanched the flow of blood from the wound with napkins and table linen."

Employees ran upstairs to find that Mary had shot herself.  "A terrible wound had been made in her abdomen and she was already unconscious."  Having fire the shot directly into her unwanted fetus, the unfortunate woman later died.

On November 20, 1908 The New York Herald announced that architect Emery Roth had been hired "for partly remodeling the banquet rooms of the Café Boulevard."  It was clear evidence that the restaurant was still highly popular.  The upper rooms were still occupied by chess clubs, including the Rice Chess Club (formerly the Cosmopolitan Chess Club). 

When arrangements were being made for a tournament among some of the world's greatest chess players in January 1913, The Sun reported "Arrangements have been completed with the manager of the Cafe Boulevard, 156 Second avenue, to have the bulk of the rounds played in its studio."

But the days of chess matches, strudel and coffee were drawing to an end.  Second Avenue, once entirely residential, had become nearly completely commercial.  In 1915 a demolition permit was issued for the property.  It was replaced by a brick apartment building which survives.
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