Peter Herter family was involved in all aspects of real estate development. He ran the Herter Realty Company as well as the architectural firm of P. Herter & Son. His son, Peter J. Herter was the in-house architect. The Herters specialized in tenement buildings, lavishing them with borderline gaudy ornamentation that appealed to lower income tenants.
The three-story wooden house at 224 East 74th Street had stood for years when Pauline Wittner sold it in 1899. In September Herter filed plans for a "six-story brick flat" to cost $35,000--just over $1 million today. Although the Upper East Side was filling with lavish mansions nearer Central Park, the grittier neighborhood between Second and Third Avenues was perfect for such a structure.
The same month Herter filed plans for another tenement on the site of the old Ephraim Howe residence at No. 228 West 4th Street. The result of designing the two structures simultaneously would result in fraternal twins--almost identical at first glance.
Completed in 1900, both buildings sat upon full-floor store levels. Because Herter did not put their entrances below street level, as was possibly more expected, the first floor apartments were unusually high. That resulted in a disproportionately tall entrance, necessary to maintain symmetry with the flanking openings.
As he did on West 4th Street, Herter lavished the 26-foot-wide brick and stone structure with a riot of decorations and styles. He borrowed freely from the Romanesque Revival, Renaissance Revival and Moorish Revival styles, the latter making its appearance in the alternating cream and red colored bricks of the first floor arches.
Several of the stone details in both buildings were identical--notably the half-bowl balconettes in the form of spread-winged eagles and grimacing male faces. But at No. 224 East 74th Street Herter added pretty spandrel panels above the second floor windows of angels holding a shield containing his own monogram. They were repeated above the top floor openings. Judging by the West 4th Street building, a rather simple cornice upheld on brick brackets finished the design.
|There were two apartments per floor, two facing the front and two at the rear. Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide, May 5, 1900 (copyright expired)|
The building was barely completed before the Herters were hauled into court by the previous tenant of the demolished frame house. When he purchased the property it was home to fresco artist Edmund Lenkey and his wife Johanna. But on September 10 (the same month that plans were filed for the new building), Lenkey contracted typhoid fever and was taken to the Presbyterian Hospital.
He was released and sent home on September 25 to fully recover. But on October 3 the couple received a dispossess notice from the Herters. Johanna went to court and was granted a stay until her husband could be declared completely recovered. Nevertheless, aware that the couple were still inside and that Lenkey was bedridden, the Herters engaged a demolition firm and informed the Lenkeys that work would start on October 5. And it did.
The workers began dismantling the house around the heads of the Lenkeys. The New-York Tribune reported that Johanna testified "they tore all the doors and windows out, cut off the water, and removed the sink, and made the place uninhabitable."
The disruption may have resulted in the artist's death. The Morning Telegraph explained "The noise and disturbance so affected Mr. Lenkey that he became worse. It became necessary to remove him to a house across the street, where he died on October 14."
Johanna sued the Herters for $50,000 damages; about $1.5 million today. She told the court on February 20, 1901 that when the demolition crew arrived she had "protested and explained that her husband was dangerously ill. The Herters were communicated with, but ordered the work to go on."
|Although undetectable from the street, Peter Herter's initials are included in the decorative panels.|
Residents of turn of the century tenement houses rarely appeared in newsprint for their applaudable activities. And the tenants of No. 224 were not exceptions.
Emil Klapper, a cook, moved into the building with his wife, Minnie, following their wedding in 1902. They had been married less than a year when domestic troubles arose. It seems that Klapper was involved in some illegal activities and that may have been why Minnie left him on May 5, 1903. And in a display of anger and spite, she took all of his clothes with her.
The World began its article entitled "Wife Gone; Clothes, Too" on May 6 saying "Emil Klapper, a cook, who has been married less than a year, is sitting in an empty flat to-day at No. 224 East Seventy-fourth street, mourning the loss of all of his personal belongings and afraid to go after his wife, who carried them away. He fears that if he attempts to follow her she will carry out a threat to have him arrested. Minnie had left a note that read:
Dear Emil: I am going away from here. Don't you try to follow me, because if you do I will surely make lots of trouble for you, in fact, I'll have you pinched. MINNIE
Despite the threat that he might be "pinched," some of Emil's friends did go to the police, who sent out a "general alarm" for Minnie Klapper and the stolen wardrobe.
|The unusual eagle support (the round "balcony" would have originally held a railing) and the severe face to the right are also found on Herter's West 4th Street building.|
In late 1903 or early 1904 Caroline Friend purchased the candy store in one of the two ground floor spaces. She and her daughter, Camile, moved into the tiny apartment in the rear. But the business did not take off as she had anticipated and she quickly panicked. The Globe and Commercial Advertiser reported on May 5, 1904 that "Worry over a business venture prompted Mrs. Caroline Friend to attempt suicide by carbolic acid early to-day."
Camile found her mother and rushed out onto the street and notified Policeman Musanecker. Suicide by swallowing carbolic acid was common and police officers were well trained in quickly reacting to it. The article said he "obtained a can of milk and some eggs, which he gave as an antidote." It saved Caroline's life, but did not help her mental anguish.
A month later, on July 25, The Evening Post reported "Mrs. Caroline Friend, forty-six years old, a widow, who keeps a small candy store at No. 224 East Seventy-fourth Street, attempted suicide this morning by inhaling illuminating gas. Mrs. Friend was taken to the Presbyterian Hospital, and will recover."
Peter Herter's wife, Maria, held title to the property. She sold it in 1906 to the realty firm of W. & J. Bachrach, run by William and Julius Bachrach.
At the time of the sale the Lamb family lived in the building. Their 14-year old son, James, took his air-rifle to the roof on March 11 that year. He tested his weapon by shooting at chimneys. It was an innocent enough sport until another teen, George Beaudry, emerged on the roof of No. 217 East 73rd Street, directly across from Lamb. Beaudry began exercising the pigeons he raised on that roof. They seemed to Lamb a much better target.
When the 17-year old Beaudry protested, Lamb turned the rifle on him. The New York Times reported "One of the slugs passed through Beaudry's hat, another through his coat, and a third struck him in the thigh, injuring him so seriously that it was necessary to have him taken to the Presbyterian Hospital."
Seeing what he had done, Lamb dropped his air-rifle and ran from the building. Beaudry's parents filed a complaint at the East 77th Street station house and a detective went to the Lamb apartment. The Times said "He was absent, and his parents expressed the greatest surprise at the story told by the Beaudrys, but were confident that the boy would return at bedtime. The detective was still waiting for him late last night."
The hard and sometimes violent lives of tenement dwellers was clearly illustrated by the Rolands, who lived here by 1909. On the cold night of January 9, 1910 Thomas Roland sent his wife, Annie, "to get 25 cents' worth of whiskey," according to the New-York Tribune. Annie left, leaving her kettle boiling on the stove. But she did not return as quickly as her husband would have liked.
On the street she ran into friends and paused to talk for a while. "When she returned her husband growled at her for being gone so long and became abusive," said the article. Annie, in an effort to avoid confrontation, ignored him and went into the kitchen. When she refused to respond to his rantings, he was even more enraged and picked up the large kettle boiling on the range and pour it over Annie's head.
The New-York Tribune said "Mrs. Roland gave one scream and sank to the floor." Neighbors heard the cry and rushed into the apartment, doing what they could until the ambulance arrived. In the meantime, Thomas had fled, sparking a search by plainclothes cops.
The working class residents of No. 224 routinely placed ads searching for work as laundresses, housekeepers, and similar positions. One, John Pollen, was looking for a waiter's job on October 17, 1911. His ad described himself as "35, German, wishes position in club, or anything."
Another tenant, Frederick Novack, found a job as a chauffeur for Otto Bidbasch. He was driving his employer on East 82nd Street on the evening of August 6, 1914 when he struck a seven-year old boy. Samuel McGarrigal had been roller skating in the street in front of his home. The little boy suffered a fractured skull and was taken to the Reception Hospital. The New York Herald ended its report with a detail about the boy that did not bode well for Novack. "He is a son of a traffic policeman."
The candy store was still operating in March 1917 when the owner offered it for sale. An advertisement in The Evening Telegram read "Candies, cigars, stationery; established; near schools; telephone; rooms; rent $15; bargain $110."
By the early 1920's one of the retail spaces was a tea room run by "Mrs. Welch." The proprietress knew her repeat customers well and and established a sort of friendship with some. One of her regulars was Mary O'Brien who came in on July 20, 1923. Mrs. Welch noticed that Mary appeared dejected when she sat down at a corner table. She told police later that she attempted to "cheer her up."
But Mary simply sighed "It's all over." As Mrs. Welch stepped away, the 27-year old woman took a small bottle from her handbag and swallowed half of its contents--iodine. The New York Times reported "Mrs. Welsh screamed and ran for a policeman. A Reception Hospital ambulance was called and the young woman was taken there."
Two young women shared an apartment in 1929. Winifred Grayson and Marjorie Wharton were arrested for prostitution On March 7 that year four vice officers rushed into their apartment and arrested them for prostitution. The officers reported they were found with two "unknown men" who had paid them $5 each.
But in a trial that began on December 16, 1930 the two women testified against the officers. They insisted they had been framed and that the officers had abused them.
The New York Evening Post reported on December 17 that Winifred testified that Officer Peter F. Lamb "seized her money, purse and jewelry" and "pushed her as she was escorted toward the street, causing her to fall and injure her knee." She said that she and Marjorie were forced to ride on the laps of two officers in the police car, and that when she screamed for help one of them struck her. "My nose bled and my ears rang," she told the court. "The officer told me not to get blood on his coat."
The women's story was not without question, however. Both had given fictitious names--Winifred's last name was, in fact, Sakwich and Marjorie Wharton was Jennie Domzalski Jappas. Their case fell apart even more when the defense attorney managed to get Marjorie to admit she had changed her story at least four times.
The heavily German and Irish Yorkville neighborhood continued to be reflected in the tenant list of No. 224. On June 6, 1936, for instance the Irish-American newspaper The Advocate announced "Patrick Joyce, 37, 224 East 74th street, native of Galway, and Miss Mary Murphy, 35, 935 East 70th street, native of Fermanaugh, will be married June 7 at St. John's."
|By 1940 the building had lost its cornice. NYC Department of Records & Information Services|
Although the building lost its cornice sometime in the 20th century and a fire escape obscures some of the detailing; Peter Herter's 1900 tenement building is little changed. The original floor plan survives, and the shops where once two despondent women tried to end their lives, continue to operate.
photographs by the author