Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The Soon To Go J. F. McQuade Building - 215 East 38th Street

The little wooden house at No. 215 East 38th Street, built at around the end of the Civil War, was the home and business of the Boylston family for decades.  Thomas Boylston ran his undertaking business from the rear, while his wife Eleanor operated a grocery store in the front.  In 1880 a son, John, was born to the couple.  On January 23, 1888 The World mentioned "At 215 East Thirty-eighth street Mrs. Boylston has sold small groceries for twenty years."

Around 1903 Caroline and Frank F. Schwartz purchased No. 215 and the building next door at No. 217.  The titles were put in Caroline's name.  The couple ran the Schwartz Manufacturing Company; and Caroline seems to have been the force behind it.  She listed herself as president, manager and director.  Frank was a director, only.

If the intention was to build a new factory building on the combined sites, that did not happen.  Caroline had No. 217 demolished in 1904 and erected a five-story brick factory on the site, designed by Louis Falk.  The Schwartzes retained possession of both buildings until January 1921 when they sold them to J. Charles Hupfel, president of the newly-organized Hup Realty Co.

Again, if Hupfel considered combining the sites, he changed his mind.  Instead he demolished what the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide described as the "two story frame building" at No. 215 and commissioned the architectural firm of Bruno W. Berger & Son to replace it with a "two-story brick factory."  According to The Accessory and Garage Journal the cost of the building was projected at $30,000--or around $421,000 today.

Bruno W. Berger had been associated with notable architects during his long career.  He began with a brief partnership with Theodore A. Tribit as a partner in Tribit & Berger in 1879 to 1880.  He soon worked with Franklin Baylies in Berger & Baylies, creating some noteworthy Manhattan structures until 1890 when they both established independent offices.  

The architect designed the little 25-foot wide building in the Arts & Crafts style.  The unapologetically utilitarian structure was given visual interest through checkerboard patterned brickwork below and above the ground floor openings.   The high parapet above the grouped windows of the second floor was decorated with Arts & Crafts motives created in brick and concrete--an immense cost savings for the owner.

A separate entrance to the left accessed the second floor.  When this photograph was taken in 1939 the name J. F. McQuade, Printers was stenciled on the ground floor windows.  from the collection of the New York Public Library 

In 1930 Charles Bloom, Inc. leased both floors.  Incorporated in 1919, the firm imported and manufactured silks.  Its mills were in Paterson, New Jersey.  In addition to silk fabrics, the firm manufactured silk accessories and household goods.  It would eventually become a major player in the interior decorating industry after leaving 38th Street.

Among the items produced by Charles Bloom, Inc. was the bag made of organdy, and the unusual  boudoir lampshade.  Dry Goods Economist wrote "Imagine an electric light shining through this lovely pale lemon chiffon and satin lamp shade."  Dry Goods Economist, April 9, 1921 (copyright expired)

By 1935 J. F. McQuade "Book and Job Printing" was here.  Organized by Joseph F. McQuade in 1905, he had been located at No. 205 East 34th Street since its inception.  The Irish-born McQuade was highly active in the Irish and the Catholic communities.  His advertisements, often placed in Irish-American publications, stressed his alliance with the working class.  On October 28, 1944, for instance, an ad in The Advocate read:

We are now in a position to handle your printing needs, tickets, hangars, journals, etc.  All work done by the McQuade Printing of 215 East 38th st--a strictly union shop, and will be delivered on time.

The Advocate was Manhattan's leading Irish-American newspaper.  McQuade scored a coup within the community when the publication wrote "We are now connected with the McQuade Printing Firm, of 215 East 38th Street.  Joe is a member of the Corkmen's Association and Grand Knight of Vera Crus Council, K. of C.  It is strictly union.  The prices are O'K and all work will be delivered on time."

Following Joseph F. McQuade's death in 1938 the business was taken over by his son, Joseph F. McQuade, Jr.  About the same time the structures directly to the east were demolished to create Tunnel Exit Street for the Queens Midtown Town, completed in 1940.

Caroline Schwartz's 5-story factory was taken out by the new Tunnel Exit Street.

J. F. McQuade Printing remained in the building until September 1961 when it moved to a larger facility at No. 104 East 25th Street.

Within months No. 215 was converted to offices; the openings of the ground floor bricked over and the replacement windows installed at the second floor. 

In 2016 the owner marketed it and the building next door at Nos. 211-213 as a "development parcel" as $42 million.  It was purchased by Kent 38th St LLC.

rendering by Hill West Designs via
In December 2017 Hill West Architects released renderings for a "Consulate and Permanent Mission to the United Nations" on the site.   The 20-story building will erase two more elements of the quickly disappearing low-rise fabric of Murray Hill.

photographs by the author
many thanks to reader Sherri Dial for prompting this post


  1. Yet another gem turning into a faceless modern building. Wish I was surprised. Looked so nice in it's prime.

  2. I can see the low-rise charm of this building; but I also see two side-by-side buildings where the ground floors have only steel security doors, making them look more like this side should be facing the alley rather than the street. And on the Tunnel Exit Street side there is a low wall topped by a chain link fence topped with concertina wire … and even with all that there are still grid bars on the ground floor windows. To me, this all says, "This is a dangerous area. You are not safe here." Whatever you may think of the proposed replacement building -- it will not send that message.

    1. Just to defend the block, it is quite safe. (Don't want anyone to get the wrong impression.)

  3. This kind of destruction has increased with the de Blasio administration. Even though I voted for him, I've never like him. On East 86th Street alone there are so many building that have been torn down to be replaced by ugly tall high priced glass and metal structures.