Thursday, October 31, 2019

Berger & Baylies' 1887 138-140 West 10th Street

Adam Happel was both a real estate agent and a developer.  Many of the tenement buildings he erected in the 1880's were on the Lower East Side.  But in the spring of 1887 he turned his attention to Greenwich Village.  On April 30 his wife, Mary, purchased the property at No. 140 West 10th Street from Sarah a. Hedden.  There was a two-story brick house on the property along with a brick stable in the rear yard.  The price was $13,950, or about $380,000 today.  A few weeks afterward the architectural firm of Berger & Baylies filed plans for a "five-story brick tenement" on the site.

Three months later, on August 25 Adam Happel purchased the two-story brick-front house next door at No. 138 West 10th Street, along with the two-story wooden stable in the rear from Alfred McIntire.  He paid the equivalent of $372,000 in today's money.  Berger & Baylies filed plans for another five-story tenement on September 2.  The construction cost for each was projected at $20,000--a total outlay including the property of more than $1.8 million in today's dollars.

Although they were separate buildings with, technically, separate owners, Berger & Baylies designed them to appear nearly as a unified structure.  In fact, there is not even a seam in the brickwork between them.  A marriage of neo-Grec and Queen Anne styles, they were faced in red brick and trimmed in brownstone and terra cotta.  The design consolidated the two structures by continued stone bandcourses and shallow cornices and by slightly projecting the end bays of each.  

Wonderful decorative masonry supports adorned those bays between the third and fourth floors.  Terra cotta spandrel panels appear at this level and portrait keystones sit above the fourth floor openings.  At the fifth floor the central windows of each building sat below brick and stone arches.  Berger & Baylies stepped away from the unified design at the first floor and with the cornices.  No 140 was entered through double doors within a muscular stone portico above a stoop; while the single doored entrance of No. 138 saw discreetly between two wooden storefronts.  And each of the boldly-bracketed cornices engulfed its own raised section of terra cotta panels; clearly indicating that the buildings were separate entities. 

Adam and Mary Happel were apparently well pleased with the results.  They were listed as residents in No. 140 at least through 1889.  On November 30, 1891 both buildings were sold to Charles Lindner for $80,000, a satisfying $1 million profit in by today's standards.

Both buildings filled with a blend of working and middle class residents.  Arthur Matthewson lived in No. 138 in 1888.  He made his living as a coachman until November when he was accepted into the New York Police Department.  

Also living in the building at the time was Evelina Taylor and her husband.  Because he was a night watchman, Evelina was alone at nights.  She woke to a terrifying scene on the night of March 3, 1889.  The New York Herald reported that she awoke to find George Broderick, who happened to be the nephew of the former California Senator Broderick, in her room.  The article said he "terrified Mrs. Evelina Taylor...almost out of her wits by appearing suddenly at her bedside about one o'clock in the morning."  Her screams brought other tenants running and Broderick was "hustled off to the police station."

Once there he concocted the story that Evelina owed him money and he had simply showed up for payment.  That story soon fell apart and he fessed up.  "It was neither burglary nor worse villainy that had caused his intrusion upon Mrs. Taylor's privacy.  He had simply been 'painting the town,'" said the article.   Finding the street door unlocked, he entered.  Having pleaded drunkedness, he was fined $10--a significant $285 today.

Martin Lynch also enjoyed a drink.  As a matter of fact, The Sun flatly called him "a heavy drinker."  It did not help that he worked as a bartender in his brother Michael's saloon at No. 125 MacDougal Street.  Lynch, his wife, and their four children lived in No. 138 in September 1892 when he valiantly tried to stop drinking.  It resulted in a severe case of alcoholic withdrawal, or delirium tremens, better known today as the DT's.

The Sun reported that he was confined to his room for two weeks and that his wife closely watched him almost constantly.  But early on the morning of November 11 she fell asleep in the chair by his bed.  She was jolted away by the screams of one of her children and realized the bed was empty.  The Brooklyn Standard Union reported "While his wife was sleeping after many weary hours watching him, Martin Lynch, while suffering from delirium tremens, jumped or fell out of the second story window of his home, 138 West Tenth street, New York, early this morning and was found dead in the airshaft sometime later."

Next door lived a highly-respected physician, Dr. A. M. Fernandez de Ybarra, who worked at the Northern Dispensary.  A prolific author, he wrote an article on "A Case of Poisoning with Phenacetine" for the Medical Record while living here, published on January 23, 1892.   Two years later, he wrote the first comprehensive medical history of Christopher Columbus, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.   Medical experts today credit him for describing symptoms which point to the fact that that Columbus was most likely suffering from syphilis by 1502.  

No. 140 was one of 18 buildings victimized by two teen-aged thieves on the night of December 17, 1891.  Nineteen-year old Paul Rogers and his 17-year old brother, Lloyd, who lived nearby at No. 251 West 12th Street, had plagued the neighborhood by stealing brass door knobs, letter box plates and "mouthpieces of speaking-tubes."  Their crime spree was brought to and end by the feisty janitress of No. 274 West 12th Street, Nellie Clark, on December 22.  

While Lloyd worked to remove the hardware, Paul stood watch, giving a loud whistle as warning when anyone approached.  Nellie Clark was aroused by the whistle that night and saw the boys flee.  She was close behind.

At the station house she identified two of the eight brass door knobs found in Lloyd's pockets as coming from her building.  The doorknobs from No. 140, it seems, were never recovered.

Twenty-five year old Robert Marilie worked as a delivery wagon driver for the Hamilton Noyes Company, trunk manufacturers, on Sixth Avenue at 23rd Street.  He was living at No. 140 in September 1899 when his courage was put to the test--and failed.

The New-York Tribune reported on September 28 that "a team of horses, drawing a big delivery wagon, covered and highly finished, ran away down Sixth-ave. yesterday from Twenty-third-st."  The wagon ran into several pedestrians and a peddler's cart, injuring all involved.  Policeman Stevenson "saw the runaway coming.  The horses were apparently making for the plate glass front of a millinery store on the west side of the street.  He dashed in front of them and seized the bridle of the nearest horse.  He could not keep his feet, but he hung on to the bridle, and was dragged along the pavement till within a few feet of sixteenth-st., where the horses turned into the curb and slowed up." 

Stevenson was badly hurt and removed to New-York Hospital.  The wounded civilians were treated on the scene.  But The Tribune reported that Marilie had "jumped from his seat at the start, and last night was not found."

In 1903 Irish immigrant John McNamara, "a likely looking lad," according to the Waterbury Evening Democrat, lived at No. 140 and worked in the kitchens of St. Francis Xavier College.  The young man had fallen in love with a "decidedly pretty girl, Nellie O'Grady," as described by the newspaper.  Their infatuation led to a public display of affection on an East River pier that shocked Detective Kirke on July 15.  He hauled both of them into the Jefferson Market Court.

The article explained "Kirke said he had done some courting himself but he never selected a stringpiece [the large timber at the head of a pier] on a recreation pier when in the throes.  He almost fell into the river at the hugging and kissing between Jack and Nellie.  It made him wilt a collar a minute when Jack would kiss Nellie, then Nellie would kiss Jack, then both would kiss and hug each other something awful, while the stringpiece swayed and the pier crowd sat around in enert [sic] helplessness."

When both assured the judge that they intended to get married as soon a Jack's got a raise in pay, he dismissed their case, saying "Discharged.  Now, if you want to spoon hereafter stay on St. Francis Xavier grounds.  Jack, I'll try to get your wages raised."

Anthony Risetti was 26 years old in 1912 and the owner of his own taxicab.  He worked during the daytime and on January 14, 1913 hired a second driver, John Stankark, for a night shift.  Ten days later Risetti's cab was found wrecked after being used in a daring armed robbery at Rohe Brothers' market on West 38th Street.  Stankark's story was astounding.

According to him, he was sitting in the cab on Seventh Avenue when a man asked if he could accommodate his steamer trunk.  Stankark agreed and the man directed him around the corner onto 26th Street.  They stopped at a building between Seventh and Eighth Avenues and the man asked Stankark to help him bring the trunk out.  Just as Stankark entered the front door he was hit by behind and stunned.  When he gathered his senses he saw the cab moving away with several men inside.

Police arrived at No. 138 the following morning when the cab was found abandoned, out of gas, and damaged in front of Columbia University.  The World reported "Rissetti led the police to Stankard, a big, stupid appearing youth, who told his story."

Interestingly, another resident of No. 138 also lost his taxicab ten years later.  On March 30, 1923 Edward Eddington (described as "a laborer") asked Bernard Van Domalen to take him to Coney Island.  They had gone only a few blocks when, according to The Brooklyn Standard Union, "Eddington told the driver he would like to eat and invited Van  Dormalen into a restaurant to dine with him."

As some point Eddington casually stood up and asked Van Domalen to wait there while he stepped outside to talk to a friend.  When his passenger did not return, Van Domalen walked out to see what was taking so long.  Both Eddington and the cab were gone.

It did not end well for Eddington, who was soon tracked down by cops in Brooklyn.  The Standard Union reported on March 31 that he was "taken to Kings County Hospital early to-day suffering from lacerations and a possible fracture of the skull as a result of a battle with three policemen who were arresting him on a charge of stealing a taxicab.  He put up a fight when cornered in a dark hallway in South Brooklyn after a long chase."

Another tenant of No. 138 was hailed as a hero later that year.  James P. Williams was visiting a friend at No. 41 West 8th Street when the building next door caught fire.  On November 16, 1923 The Evening Telegram reported "With flames licking the curtains of the windows back of her and smoke almost obscuring her from the horrified view of hundreds of persons who gathered in West Eighth street today, a woman clutching a huge cat, clung perilously to the coping above the doorway of the studio-apartment building at no. 43."

Mrs. Emma Von Zibler had been napping when her Maltese cat woke her by jumping on the bed and clawing at her face.  The room was already filling with smoke and the stairway was in flames.  Hearing her screams, Williams lowered himself from the second floor window, dropping to the coping above the doorway of No. 41.  "He teetered dangerously and then, recovering his balance, reached across, circling the wait of the screaming woman, he slowly inch by inch swung her to his ledge and from there she was taken through a window."  Emma never let lose of her cat the entire time.

The second half of the 20th century saw great changes in the Greenwich Village neighborhood.  In 1961 William Friedel and his twin brother, Bruce, opened their metal sculpture shop, Sculpsmith, in one of the storefronts of No. 138.  The 25-year-olds are considered by many to have originated the modern sunburst designs which became emblematic of the 1960's.  Collectors of their works included Sammy Davis, Jr., Malcolm Forbes, Jim Henson, Dom Delouise and former President Richard Nixon.  

Less pricey wares (some of the Fridel sculptures sold for as high as $60,000) are offered today by Jack's Coffee, which opened in No. 138 around 2008.

Berger & Baylies handsome 1887 structures have survived nearly intact, including the wooden storefronts.  They are a striking presence on an architecturally fascinating block.

photographs by the author
many thanks to reader James Ward for suggesting this post

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The James Gordon Bennett Memorial - Herald Square

photo by Jim Henderson

The New York Herald was founded by James Gordon Bennett, Sr. in 1835.  Under his leadership it was the dominant newspaper in the city for most of the century.  Shortly after his death in 1866 James Gordon Bennet, Jr., who was raised in Paris, returned to New York to take the reins.

The junior Bennett brought with him the carefree lifestyle he had enjoyed in France, and his unorthodox behavior sometimes offended well-bred Victorian New Yorkers.  Such was the case in 1877 when he attended the New Year's Day party hosted by his fiancée's parents.  His engagement came to an abrupt end when he urinated in the fireplace.

James Gordon Bennett, Jr.  from the collection of the Library of Congress

In 1893 Bennett engaged the services of McKim, Mead & White to design a new printing plant and headquarters for The Herald far north of Printing House Square on the trapezoid-shaped plot of land facing West 35th Street, bounded by 6th Avenue and Broadway.   Completed in 1895 it was nothing short of a masterwork.

Sanford White based the design on the 1476 Palazzo del Consiglio in Verona, Italy.  But there was obvious influence from the publisher.  James Gordon Bennett, Jr. was obsessed with owls, which he made the symbol of The Herald.  Now 26 four-foot high bronze owls now perched along the cornice of the building.  Those at the corners, with spread wings, had illuminated green glass eyes which glowed eerily on and off with the striking of the two clocks embedded into the facade--one symbolic of Wisdom, the other of Industry.

The massive grouping dominated the roof line.  The two clock faces flank the central second story windows and bronze owls stand guard all along the cornice.  from the collection of the New York Public Library
The striking of that clock seemed to be accomplished by two massive figures in printers' aprons under the watchful eye of Minerva, goddess of wisdom, whose traditional attendant was an owl.  The massive bronze grouping was executed by French sculptor Antonin Jean Carlès, personally chosen by Bennett.  On the hour and the half-hour, the mechanized typesetters were set into action, swinging mallets against a large bronze bell atop which perched yet another owl.

At noon on March 21, 1895 the clock was first set into action.  The Editor & Publisher wrote that "thousands of persons cluttered up the neighborhood and gazed at the two figures."

The mechanical typesetters--given the names Guff and Stuff by New Yorkers--clanged out the hours for nearly nearly three decades--during rain, snow and summer heat--as busy pedestrians scurried by below.   The colorful James Gordon Bennett, Jr. died in 1918 and three years later, on May 12, 1921 the New-York Tribune ran the headline: Old Herald Building Soon to Come Down.  It added "The heroic bronze smiths, known as Guff and Stuff, who had been striking out the hours night and day on the big bell on top of the southern façade of the building for the last twenty-eight years, and the goggling owls that had watched from their lofty perch on top of the building during those years were removed last month, for they were the property of the late Mr. Bennett." 

One calculation put the total number of mallet thumps by Guff and Stuff at 3,188,680.

Thankfully for posterity, Bennett's unnatural love for owls had prompted him to retain personal ownership of the bronzes as well as the sculptural clock grouping.  All of the statuary was carefully crated and stored.

Nearly two decades later a committee of businessmen in the Herald Square area was formed to erect a memorial to Bennett.  The men raised $10,000 (just under $180,000 today) and the well-known architect Aymar Embury II received the commission to design the structure.

As ground was broken on July 3, 1940 The New York Times reported "The proposed new forty-foot granite monument of modified Italian Renaissance design, with its double-faced clock and the two bronze owls, will serve as a background and base for the bronze group...The statue and bell will face south in front of a niche flanked by Corinthian pilasters, the upper part of which contains the clock and two of the owls of which the younger Bennett was so fond."

photo by the author
Although the monument included a lengthy inscription about Bennett and his contributions, The Times essentially ignored him when it reported on the unveiling on November 19 that year.  The newspaper referred to it as "Minerva and the Bell-ringers."  The article ended saying "The ceremonies will end at 6 P. M. with the striking of the clock, the ringing of the bells by 'Stuff' and 'Guff,' and the eyes of the owls blinking again for the first time in twenty years."

The spread-winged owls with their blinking green eyes were salvaged from the Herald Building's corners.  Both clock faces from the Herald facade survived, now back-to-back atop the monument.  photo by the author
The clock and its figures got a make-over in 1989 when Stuff began moving forward and actually making contact with the bell with his mallet, causing damage.  The clock, the granite and the figures were cleaned and conserved and, $200,000 later, emerged looking as they did in 1940.  Others of the reclaimed bronze owls perch on posts around the triangular park.

photo by the author

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Robert Burnett Smith House - 104 West 74th Street

Developer Michael Brennan and his wife Margaret began construction of four 18-foot wide homes on the south side of West 74th Street, just west of Columbus Avenue, in 1886.  They hired the firm of Thom & Wilson to design the structures.   The architects were prolific in the area; their row houses noteworthy for the exuberance of decorative, sometimes exotic elements.

The row was completed late the following year.  No. 104, like its neighbors, was technically Renaissance Revival in style.  But Thom & Wilson had fancifully embellished it with Gothic and Moorish elements that all but erased the Renaissance background.   The first floor openings sat within Gothic arches.  

At the second floor two windows crowned by elongated drip moldings flanked an excruciatingly charming opening fronted by a half-round platform supported by a twisted column.  Carved Gothic tracery ran below the shallow cornice below the third floor.

The complex parlor transoms, composed of hundreds of tiny glass pieces and "jewels" were almost assuredly by Henry F. Belcher.  
The intricate stained glass transoms above every window of the house were almost undoubtedly executed by Henry F. Belcher.  The highly expensive panels, called Belcher Mosaics, were created by a process for which he held 22 patents.

On December 10, 1887 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that the Brennans had sold No. 104 to Christiana B. Smith for $33,000; or about $900,000 today.  She was the wife of Robert Burnett Smith.   The couple had two children, Bennis and Annie.   Smith was a director in the Pennsylvania Railway Company, the Lehigh Valley Railway, and the Reading Railway.   He had entered the Union Army on May 14, 1861 and saw action in no fewer than nine battles, and was brevetted Captain for gallantry at the Battle of Chapel House, Virginia in 1864.

By 1893 Bennis was working in the general office of the Reading Railway Company, likely through his father's influence.  His thoughts turned to romance that spring; a situation that would cause upheaval in the family, air their differences in the newspapers, and demand appearances in the courts.

Bennis, who as 22 years old, met Nannie M. MacGavock "very informally," as described by The Sun.  The newspaper also said "nothing is known of her antecedents."  According to the reporter's account, "Young Smith became a visitor at Miss Macgavock's flat in Fifty-ninth street.  Finally in the latter part of last May, he went to live with her at 258 West Forty-third street."  His parents, of course, knew nothing about the scandalous arrangement.  The couple was secretly married on July 10.

According to The Sun, "The elder smith was incensed when he heard of the marriage.  He objected that Miss MacGarock was not a fit mate for his son and that she was six years older than the boy and had inveigled him into the marriage."  Two weeks after he had been wed Bennis was whisked away by his father to Boston, then to Montreal.

Nannie waited in the West 43rd Street apartment Bennis had rented for them; then gave up hope.  The New York Herald reported on August 15 that she "was very indignant, and instructed Howe & Hummel to sue him for a separation and maintenance and his father for alienation of her husband's affections."

A week later Nannie was behind bars.  The Sun reported on August 21 "Mrs. Nannie M. Smith, a tall, fashionable dressed blonde... was charged with grand larceny in the Yorkville Police Court yesterday morning."  She had been arrested at around 11:00 a Saturday night at Koster & Bial's Music Hall--not the most reputable place for an unescorted woman.

According to the complainant, named Graham, he had gone to her apartment and "advised her to leave the city."  She said she could not because she had no money.  Graham told police that when he pulled a roll of bills from his pocket, "she snatched it and fled."  The $350 he claimed she stole would be equal to more than $10,000 today.  

Her story was, of course, different.  She said Graham attempted to bribe her with $250 to "criminate" herself so Bennis could get an absolute divorce.  No money changed hands.

Nevertheless, she was jailed.  The Sun reported that she was "furious" and "As she started for her cell she said with flashing eyes: 'If they don't let up on this prosecution tomorrow, I'll tell the whole story they are so anxious to suppress."   And just when it seemed that the episode could get no more dramatic, it did. 

"The prison door had scarcely closed upon Mrs. Smith when her husband, a boy with light brown hair and eyes, rushed into the prison and with tears in his eyes begged Keeper Lynch to let him see her.  'She is my wife,' he said, ' and I have a right to see her.'"  Bennis had escaped from his family in Montreal and made his way back to New York.  

But by now it was Sunday morning and no visitors were allowed on the sabbath.  So he penned a note, assuring Nannie of his "deathless devotion."  He told a reporter "It would kill me if she should get a divorce."  

Newspapers were not impressed with the music hall haunting Nannie.  The Delaware newspaper The Evening Journal reported "Nannie Macgavock, the Tenderloin beauty who ensnared Bennie [sic] T. Smith...into a matrimonial alliance, passed a restless night in her cell in the Yorkville prison and was surly and defiant yesterday morning."  Alas, for Bennis, it seems that his parents (and general opinion) won out and the romance fizzled.

Luckier in love was Annie Foster Smith, Bennis's sister.  Her parents announced her engagement to John Campbell Smith on January 12, 1895.  The wedding took place in the 74th Street house exactly one month later, on February 12.

Within months, on June 6, Robert Burnett Smith died.  His funeral was held in at Christ Church on 71st Street and Broadway four days later.

On September 19, 1900 an auction was held of "the entire contents" of the house.  It became home to art dealer Abraham I. Adler, his wife and two daughters.  Adler was a member of the high-end Fifth Avenue gallery Fishel, Adler & Swartz and a co-founder of the Hebrew Charities Association.

The Adlers spent the summer season of 1906 in Europe.  Abraham entrusted his sister, Mary, who lived nearby, to occasionally check the house.  On August 28 a servant in the house two doors away noticed a man leaving through the roof hatch of the Adler house.  Police who responded "discovered that thieves, who had gained entrance through the roof, had ransacked the Adler house," according to The New York Herald.

It was worse than that.  Another neighbor notified Mary of the break in and, as reported by the New York Press, "She went into the house and found that not only had the house been looted, but the person who had committed the theft had torn down valuable paintings from the wall, had slashed and broken picture frames and portiers, and had wantonly destroyed bric-à-brac valued highly as works of art by their owner, Mr. Adler.  Aside from these depredations rare wines had been stolen from the cellars."  She estimated the value of the stolen items and damage at around $144,000 in today's money.

Love, as it turned out, unmasked the burglar.  Arthur O'Grady had a prison record stretching back several years.  But in 1905 he fell in love with a refined young woman.  The New York Press advised "her attractive manners and girlish face won him at once and caused him to regret his misdeeds.  Keeping his prison record secret from the girl he wished to make his wife, he won her love and they were married."

A few weeks later he made a full confession and promised that he would lead an honest life going forward.  After the initial shock Josephine accepted his promise and vowed to remain with him as long as he kept it.  But then in August 1906, less than a year after their wedding, Arthur began bringing Josephine expensive gifts like cut glass bowls and silverware.

Suspicious, she investigated the address on several pieces of silver and discovered that the Adler house had been recently burglarized.  She notified police and a patrolman named Vane went to the O'Grady flat to inspect the goods.  "When the husband came home [he] placed him under arrest," said the New York Press.  "Mrs. O'Grady said after the hearing she would not live with her husband again, because he had broken his promise to her. 'He did not love me,' she said, 'for had he loved me he would have kept his promise and have led a different life.'"

Abraham Adler died at his home in February 1908 at the age of 52.  The following year in September the house was leased to Dr. Lucius A. Salisbury, who opened his practice here.  He shared the space with Dr. Edward Waitzfelder, a well-known endocrinologist.  

It signaled the end of the line for No. 104 as a private home.  The upper floors were leased as an upscale rooming house.  The well-do-to status of the occupants was evidenced in The New York Herald's column "Southerners in New York" on September 23, 1911.  "Mr. and Mrs. J. Turner Hamlin and their son, Mr. James Hamlin, have arrived from Richmond Va, to make their home in New York and are at No. 104 West Seventy-fourth street.  Mrs. Hamlin is a daughter of General J. Thompson Brown, of Richmond, and a relative of Mrs. William W. Ford, president of the Southern Club, of White Plains."

The respectable nature of the rooming house changed when Charles Zig Shye purchased it in 1922 for $32,000, or about $479,000 today.  The slippery owner also went by the name Charles Zigshye.  In 1928 he sold the property to what the New York Evening Post called "the recently formed Zigan Holding Company."  He was the sole stockholder and borrowed $5,500 against his $17,000 mortgage from his friend, Anthony Fiduccia.  It would prove to be a bad decision on Fiduccia's part.

But before then Charles clashed with law enforcement.  On March 7, 1934 The New York Times reported "Charles Zigshye, 41 years old,...was charged with petit larceny in connection with what was said to be a new racket against coal dealers."  Coal was a costly but necessary commodity in the Depression years; and Shye had concocted a scam by which he could get it for free.

The Times explained that a week earlier "a woman" ordered two tons of "rice coal" to be delivered to No. 104, and paid for it.  Only a week later she ordered a ton of a different kind of coal.  After it had been delivered to the coal bins in the cellar, she told the deliveryman that the earlier coal was not good and ordered him to take it out.  That, of course, was nearly impossible, but the driver started to comply.  Then Shye appeared, saying that he was the responsible party, and refused to let the driver remove either lot of coal or to pay for them.

Shye was leasing a room on the second floor to 26-year old Margaret Rand in 1936.  She did not live there, but ran an unlicensed dance studio in the space.  In May she fired two female employees "because they had not brought enough dance pupils to the place," according to them.  But when they refused to leave the premises, she called the police to remove them.  It was a bad idea.  She was arrested for running an illegal business and the girls were sent home.

Mrs. Henriette Drager roomed here in 1941.  Known as Henny to her friends, she was fond of feeding the pigeons in the back yard.  It was a pastime that infuriated the superintendent of the No. 105 West 73rd Street, whose rear yard abutted that of No. 104 West 74th.  

After he had tried unsuccessfully to prevent her and other neighbors from feeding the birds, he offered her grain to feed the pigeons one afternoon in May.  Henriette was suspicious and did not use it.

Instead, she sneaked into the rear yard of No. 105 and bagged up two pigeon corpses, then marched off to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty with them and the bag of grain.  An autopsy of the birds revealed poisoned grain in their crops. 

Frohlich was arrested and fined $25 in the West Side Court on May 19.  A few days later the ASPCA awarded Henrietta $100 for her deed.

By 1943 Shye had stopped making mortgage payments and the property was foreclosed in September 1944.   Anthony Fiduccia sued to get his $5,500 back.  Shye denied any knowledge of the loan and the case was eventually dismissed.

The house continued to be operated as a rooming house until 1971 when it was converted to two apartments per floor.  Even more astounding than the state of preservation of the building is the fact that every one of the striking mosaic glass transoms survives.

photographs by the author

Monday, October 28, 2019

The Lost Draper-Sage House - 604 Fifth Avenue

The presence of advertising on the garden wall in 1920 foretells the coming construction of a small business building.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

In February 1881 William Perkins Draper purchased two lots on the west side of Fifth Avenue between 48th and 49th Streets, abutting the recently-erected St. Nicholas Church.  That the neighborhood was becoming increasingly fashionable was reflected in the price he paid for the vacant land--the equivalent of $3.67 million today.  It was further evidenced when within the month he refused an offer of $155,000 for the plots.  It could have resulted in a quick profit of a quarter of a million in today's dollars.   Instead, reported the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide on March 19, the plots "are to be immediately improved by the erection of a magnificent dwelling to cover both lots."

In fact, that magnificent dwelling would not entirely engulf both lots.   Space for an ample garden between the Draper and Ogden Goelet mansion, construction of which was begun the following year, was set aside.   The 20-foot garden plot was the width of most routine rowhouses.

Draper was married to the former Helen How.  He had made his fortune in the shipping business in Boston.  Now retired he dabbled in architecture with his father-in-law, occasionally designing structures under the name of How & Draper.  

No. 604 Fifth Avenue was faced in red brick and trimmed in limestone.   The asymmetrical design featured an angled bay at the second floor which provided a balcony to the third.  A corner tower with a tall pyramidal roof interrupted the tall, slate-shingled mansard.  Delicate iron cresting crowned the roof.

Draper and Helen had two children, Lucie and William, Jr.  They maintained two summer homes; one in Connecticut and another, The Boulder, in Bar Harbor, Maine.  Unlike other society couples, the Drapers did little entertaining.  The Sun later remarked that Draper "was very retiring in his nature, and participated little in social or club affairs."

Interestingly, it appears that the Drapers' next door neighbors coveted their garden; and were willing to pay for it.  On April 17, 1888 the New-York Tribune reported that the Drapers had sold the property to Ogden Goelet for $50,500--a significant $1.38 million today.

from the collection of the New York Public Library.
The family was at the Bar Harbor residence in July 1894 when Draper suffered what newspapers called "a stroke of paralysis."  It was a massive stroke, resulting in his death a week later.  In reporting his death on July 31 The Sun mentioned "In 1881 Mr. Draper built his handsome residence at 604 Fifth Avenue."

Helen and the children remained in No. 604.  It was the scene of a notable event eleven years later when Lucie How Draper was married to pianist Ernest Schelling on May 3, 1905.   Two weeks earlier the Musical Courier had announced "Paderewski, who was Schelling's teacher, is to be best man at the ceremony."

As it turned out, the illustrious pianist and composer could not make it and Casimir de Coppet stepped in at the last minute.  The Musical Courier explained that although "Madame Paderewski was among the wedding guests," the composer's "physical condition prevented him from attending the nuptials."

Following the ceremony a wedding breakfast was held.  Two days later The Sun reported that the newlyweds were off "on a preliminary wedding journey.  They will pass the summer with Mrs. Draper at her country places in Connecticut and at Bar Harbor."  The article added "Mr. Schelling was much disappointed that Ignace Paderewsky was unable to attend him as best man as arranged."

Helen died at The Boulders on October 2, 1906.  Lucie and William retained possession of the Fifth Avenue house for two years.  The vacant residence presented an opportunity to Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage, widow of Russell Sage.  Her mansion two blocks to the north (on the site of the today's Rockefeller Center Channel Gardens) was becoming surrounded by stores and offices.

On January 21, 1908 the New-York Tribune reported on rumors that she "is likely to vacate in the near future the premises No. 632 Fifth avenue, as business has got a firm foothold in the block front on which the house stands."  The article added "It is also said that she has made overtures to purchase No. 604 Fifth avenue."

Four days later the Record & Guide confirmed that Margaret had purchased the property.  The $400,000 price tag would translate to about $11.3 million today.  

It was a down-sizing of sorts and on January 14, 1909 the New-York Tribune reported "Owing to her expected removal at an early date from her present home, No. 632 Fifth avenue, to a smaller house, No. 604 Fifth avenue, Mrs. Russell Sage has asked the Emma Willard make other arrangements for the care of the Emma Willard memorials which she collected at great expense for the association and has heretofore kept in her house."

On December 29, 1912 the New York Herald commented on the immediate neighborhood.  "Mrs. Sage can look down on the Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas from some of her windows.  Across the way there are wonderful little luxurious shops."  The article said "A varied feast is set before Mrs. Sage from the windows of her home.  The church and the world compete for her favor."

Margaret O. Sage - from the collection of the Library of Congress

Margaret had definite opinions and interests.   It was a time of social enlightenment and reform—when privileged citizens were realizing that  helping the needy improve their conditions was far more productive than doling charity.  Olivia Sage felt that it was the duty of the “leisured women” to do their part in uplifting the poor and oppressed.

Margaret's country home was at Lawrence Beach, Long Island.   She celebrated her 90th birthday there on September 8, 1918.  In reporting on the event, the New-York Tribune marveled that she "still takes an active interest in her many various charities."

Back in the Fifth Avenue house a month later, on October 31, Margaret became ill.  She died three days later "from complications brought about by old age," said the New-York Tribune.  At the time of her death she had given away more than $30 million "for charitable and educational purposes and for the betterment of society," said the newspaper.

Among her most notable works was the creation of the Sage Foundation in 1907.  Her gift of $10.6 million was intended for "the improvement of social and living conditions in the United States."

As she had wished, her funeral was a quiet, private affair within the house.  The pastor of St. Nicholas Church next door officiated.  

On November 15, 1918 The New York Times reported "It would be difficult to dispose of a great estate more sagaciously and justly than Mrs. Russell Sage has done by her will.  She leaves some forty millions for educational, philanthropic and charitable purposes."

An auction sale announcement was plastered across the facade in January 1920.  photo from the collection of the New-York Historical Society
The Sage estate retained possession of the property for two years, leasing it temporarily to the Cornelius Vanderbilts.  Then on January 11, 1920 the New-York Tribune reported that the house had been sold at auction.  The Sun identified the winning bidder as Charles Thorley, society florist, who paid $441,000; about $1.8 million in today's dollars.  The newspaper said "It is understood that Mr. Thorley will open up a florist establishment on the property."

He had opened his first flower shop on 14th Street in 1874 at the age of 16.  The teen astutely watched floral fashions and made the trendiest blossoms available to young men hoping to impress their sweethearts.   His became the go-to spot for the perfect bouquets.  By now he had decorated the mansions of New York's elite for weddings, funerals, dinners and balls for years.  His was the only shop used by the J. P. Morgan family, for instance.  

Five years later Thorley leased the property to William Childs, a partner in the Childs restaurant chain.   He hired modernist architect William Van Alen to design a five story replacement building; a striking, starkly modern presence in the Fifth Avenue district.

The former garden between the Goelet mansion and the new Childs restaurant building was occupied by a two-story store when this photo was taken.  photo by Wurts Bros from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Repeatedly renovated and remodeled, the Van Alen structure is nearly unrecognizable today.

The scalloped roofline of Van Alen's building peeks above full-height signage.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

The Peter F. McCoy House - 414 West 149th Street

Susan Orcutt was a prolific developer in the last decade of the 19th century, focusing much of her attention on the developing Sugar Hill area of Harlem.   On May 19, 1893 her architect, Christian Steinmetz filed plans for seven three-story stone-faced dwellings on 149th Street, between St. Nicholas and Convent Avenues.  Each would be 19 feet wide and cost $14,000--around $403,000 today.

Steinmetz designed the row as a pleasing assortment of styles. He drew mainly from Romanesque and Renaissance Revival but took creative license.  No. 414 was essentially Romanesque Revival with stoop newels capped with medieval style carvings and heavy rough-cut brownstone blocks facing the facade.  But unlike its fraternal twin at No. 410, which stayed much truer to the Romanesque style, its openings were rectangular like its Renaissance Revival neighbors.  The offset gable with blind openings smacked heavily of the Queen Anne style.

No. 410, two doors away, is a near match but more closely adhers to the Romanesque style.

The row was completed in 1894.  Susan Orcutt sold No. 414 to builder and architect John P. Leo.  The president of the newly-formed Builders' League of New York, he apparently used the house simply for rental income.

In January 1896 Leo sold the residence to Peter F. McCoy.  He, too, was involved in real estate, the president of the Ethelia Realty Company.  McCoy's first wife, Margaret, had died in March 1884 at just 35-years old.  Two years later he married Anna R. Hogan.

The McCoy family included Alice Regeina, Ethel Regina, Angelia, Walter, Harvey, and Peter, Jr.  A year after they moved in, their population was increased by the birth of Rosina on July 10, 1897.  Tragically, the little girl died a year later just ten days after her first birthday.  Her funeral was held in the drawing room of the home.

On August 8, 1901 the New York Herald reported "Announcement is made of the engagement of Miss Alice Regeina Mr. John Monks, Jr."  The article added, "Miss McCoy is an attractive and accomplished young woman...She has been at Long Beach, L. I., for several weeks, but will leave there in a few days for the White Mountains, where she intends to remain until some time in September."

Alice Regeina McCoy - New York Herald, August 8, 1901 (copyright expired)

And so it was presumably on Long Island that Alice read the news of her engagement.  And she was not pleased.  Two days later the same newspaper printed a much different article.

Miss Alice Regeina McCoy, daughter of Mr. Peter F. McCoy, of No. 414 West 149th street, requests the Herald to contradict the announcement of her engagement to Mr. John Monks, Jr., of this city.  The announcement was made originally in the Herald on Thursday, on the authority of Miss McCoy's stepmother.  Yesterday Miss McCoy, who is spending the summer at Long Beach, telephoned that she had no intention of marrying Mr. Monks or anyone else at present."

Despite that unpleasant incident, the family forged on.  In 1904 Anna placed a help wanted ad for a "respectable girl to do upstairs work and assist with children."

At some point Anna's widowed father, Michael Hogan, moved in with the family.  He died in the house on November 29, 1915.   His prestige within the Roman Catholic community was reflected in his funeral being celebrated with a solemn requiem mass in St. Patrick's Cathedral.

In 1908 20-year old Peter, Jr. graduated from Columbia University.  Four years later he earned his law degree from the New York Law School.  On January 10, 1918, now associated with the law firm Eaton, Lewis & Rowe, he was elected to membership of the executive committee of the Bank of Washington Heights.

On April 3, 1918 Peter McCoy, Sr. died in the 149th Street house.  His funeral was held there before his casket was taken to St. Catherine's Church prior to the burial.

In October 1920 the family was looking for additional staff.  An advertisement in The New York Herald read "Man and wife wanted in private house."  An ad in another newspaper explained their intended roles more specifically:  cook and driver.

There was no drama this time when Anna announced the engagement of Ethel Regina to William Lane Donovan on September 21, 1921.   The wedding took place in St. Patrick's Cathedral on January 10, 1922.  The impressive ceremony included two monsignors among the celebrants.  Peter escorted the bride down the aisle and Angelia was the maid of honor.  Walter (now a physician) and Harvey served as ushers.  The only member of the family not mentioned in press coverage was Alice Regeina, who possibly had not reconciled with her step-mother.

A year before the wedding Peter was named Assistant United States Attorney.  His focus was on mail and investment fraud.   Among his most visible cases came soon afterward.  The New York Times later wrote "Mr. McCoy was instrumental in breaking up the nation-wide blind pool, or participating syndicates known as the 'Ponzi System...He prosecuted many persons accused of counterfeiting, selling narcotics and violating the Food and Drug Acts."

Peter was still living in the 149th Street house when on March 7, 1924 the Columbia Alumni News reported that he was "still an assistant United States District Attorney...handling bucketing investigation and commercial frauds."

In 1926 Peter was named Assistant United States Attorney General, assigned to break up mail frauds.  Afterward in the private sector he served as a counsel for the General Electric Co. and other large corporations.

The McCoy family left No. 414 not long afterward.  It was seemingly being operated as a rooming house in 1937 when the Department of Buildings deemed it an "unsafe building."  It may have been at this time, while correcting the conditions, that the owners altered the interiors to apartments.  

Whenever that conversion was completed, however, no official Certificate of Occupancy was granted.  It was not until 2015--most likely after a request from the owner's bank--that a Letter of No Objection to the apartments was issued by Department of Buildings.  The former McCoy house has nine apartments today.

photographs by the author