Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Francis Minuth's 1892 569-579 Columbus Avenue

The complex and eye-catching pediment visually set the flat building apartment from its peers.

On May 24, 1890 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide commented on the improved layout of flats devised by architect Francis A. Minuth.  "In houses of this class it is almost invariably the case that neither the kitchen nor the bathroom can be reached without passing through the dining-room for that purpose, so that any plan which affords independent access to each and every room must commend itself to builders at once," said the writer.  With Minuth's design, "The stairways are so place and the halls so divided...that each suite of apartment has a separate hallway which can be entirely shut off from either side.  All windows open directly upon an open court affording an abundance of light and air to halls, stairs, sleeping rooms, kitchens, etc."

A typical floor plan using Minuth's improved design.  Record & Guide May 24, 1890 (copyright expired)

The article might have caught the eye of developer John Casey.  Within a few months he commissioned Minuth to design a "brick and stone flats" on the southeast corner of Columbus Avenue and 88th Street.  As ground breaking neared on January 24, 1891 the Record & Guide reported "It is to be part fireproof in construction, with iron stairways, elevator and all improvements."  The cost of the project was estimated at $150,000--about $4.27 million today.

Entered at No. 72 West 88th Street, the building was a blend of Romanesque and Renaissance Revival with a splash of Queen Anne.  The asymmetrical Columbus Avenue elevation was clad in orange brick and trimmed in stone and terra cotta.  The treatment of the 88th Street fenestration was interestingly different in that western-most third and fourth floor openings were unified within an arched stone frame; and the slightly projecting section that included the entrance bore nearly no resemblance to its counterpart on the avenue.

Even the triangular pediment wore a different Queen Anne design than that on the avenue.

The buildings' tenants were upper-middle class, making their apartments attractive targets for thieves.  One pair, Arthur Mason and John Williams, devised a clever ruse.  They would peruse newspaper ads for apartments for rent, then appear at the doors asking to look over the premises.  When they left, the current residents discovered missing jewelry or other valuables.

In the spring of 1896 Victor R. Delnose became a victim--one of scores as it turned out.  Armed with dozens of eyewitness descriptions, police nabbed the pair on June 2 and Delnose was among those called to the station house to identify them.  The crooks admitted to having robbed more than 100 flats in the Upper West Side neighborhood over a period of two years.   The following day when they appeared before a judge Delnose was back in court to testify.

William W. Scheffler and his wife, Sadie, lived at No. 72 at the time.  The couple had three daughters, Marion Goldie, Elsie Marie,  and June.  Scheffler was the owner of the Hair Coloring Company, a "manufacturer of cosmetics."   The Evening Telegram described him as "a young, rather aristocratic looking man, with hair prematurely gray."  His wife's name appeared in society pages for her entertainments, such as the afternoon reception she hosted on November 19, 1898.

But for months both their names would appear in print after their friend, Roland Burnham Molineux was arrested for the murder of Katherine Adams. Both Molineux and Scheffler were members of the New York Athletic Club and Molineux was a frequent guest of at the Schefflers' apartment.  

In 1898 Molineux became engaged in a feud with Harry Seymour Cornish, the athletic director of the Knickerbocker Athletic Club.  He mailed a bottle of Emerson's Bromo-Seltzer to Cornish's attention at the club.  Molineux had mixed the medicine with cyanide of mercury.  Tragically, Cornish took the bottle home that night.  The following morning, December 28, his 62-year old cousin Katherine Adams was suffering a headache.  Cornish mixed the bromo-seltzer with water and gave it to his aunt.  She died shortly after the doctor arrived.

William and Sadie appeared in court several times during the months-long trial.  Both were questioned on January 4, for instance, concerning a letter Molineux sent to Scheffler complaining about Cornish.

The Schefflers were apparently friendly with other well-heeled residents in the building.  When Robert Williamson and his wife gave a musicale in June 1989 The Evening Telegram listed the Schefflers among the guests.  Sadie provided part of the entertainment, as well.  The article listed the musicians' names, then added "Recitations by Mrs. William Scheffler."

One resident of No. 72 that year, Angel Emanuel, was caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.  On January 14, 1898 "almost the entire staff of detectives at Police Headquarters was called into use," according to The Sun, in a massive raid on "bucket shops" across the city.    The term referred illegal gambling on stock market fluctuations.  Emanuel was arrested in the office of Ridley, Peiser & Co. 

The embarrassing incident was an exception to the press coverage of residents.  As they did with the Schefflers, society columnists covered the movements of the Williamsons.   On April 24, 1901 The Evening Telegram updated its readers:  "Mrs. Robert Williamson...has returned from the South, where she has been for the past two months...Mrs. Williamson will resume her Sundays at home."  And on January 21, 1903 the newspaper announced "Mrs. Robert Williamson...will give a large reception to-day, at which there will be some special music."

Newspapers mentioned two residents in 1902 for a terrifying reason.   On February 17 The New York Times reported "Mary Harmon, fifty-two years old, of 72 West Eighty-eighth Street was removed from her home to North Brother Island yesterday suffering from smallpox.  The house is the one from which Maria Lilly was removed, suffering from smallpox, on Saturday."

In 1910 Benjamin Hano and his wife lived in the apartment directly above that of Alderman Joseph Schloss and his wife, Nettie.  Hano was a "wholesale jobber and manufacturer of blank books."  On Saturday, March 12, that year the couple hosted a card party that extended late into the night.  The noise kept Nettie Schloss awake and she at first rapped on the steam pipes, then hit the ceiling with a broom handle.  The guests upstairs were not pleased with the disruption of their fun.

The party broke up at 2:00.  According to Nettie "As some of the card players were passing my door they began to carry on in a high-handed manner, and I opened the door to remonstrate with them."  It was a bad idea.  Harry Redlick grabbed Nettie by the arm and dragged her from her doorway in her nightclothes.  "He knocked me down and then kicked me," told officers.

The melee continued when Joseph Schloss was awakened by his wife's screams.  The New York Herald reported that "he rushed into the hallway, and for a moment thought his wife was being murdered and struck two men who stood near the door."  The ruckus ended up in court with the Schlosses filing suit against Redlick who claimed it was Nettie who stormed out of the apartment and attacked him.

The Schlosses were still here eight years later when their son, Joseph, Jr. went off to World War I.  They received the horrifying news on November 15, 1918 they he had died of disease--possible influenza or dysentery, both of which were decimating troops.

In the meantime the Columbus Avenue stores were home to a variety of tenants.  In 1895 a tailor shop was at No. 569, and No. 579 was the pharmacy of Frederick Kleinschmidt.  Among the items available there was Paine's Celery Compound, "a blood nerve remedy."  William Becker worked in Kleinschmidt's drug store while he studied at the New York College of Pharmacy.  On January 26, 1896 he was the victim of a bizarre and horrifying accident.  The Pharmaceutical Era reported that he "lost his right eye by the explosion of a syphon of vichy water."

Frederick Kleinschmidt remained in business until 1925.  On his 102nd birthday in 1967 he commented "I'd like to be a little younger.  Fifty is a good age.  A man is settled down by then."

By the Depression years residents here were far less affluent and several were much less upstanding than the Schefflers and Williamsons.  William Duffy was arrested on May 1, 1930 and charged with assault and robbery.  

Edward Rothenberg operated a grocery and "dairy store" in the ground floor of No. 577 Columbus Avenue.  Just past midnight on January 27, 1939 Patrolmen James Niland and James J. P. McShane became suspicious of two teens "peering into stores" along the avenue.  They hailed a cab and followed Alexander Dekas and Thomas Evantino; then witnessed them break the window of Rothenberg's store and entered.

As the patrolmen leaped from the cab, the youths fled in separate directions.  Each cop pursued a suspect, and during the chase 18-year old Fekas was shot in the hand.  He had $20 from Rothenberg's cash register in his pocket (about $362 today).

Ten months later the grocery store was targeted again.  At 11:30 on the night of November 9, 1939 Patrolman McShane's looked into why an idling automobile was sitting in front of the store.  Just as he walked up to talk to the driver "two men with pistols in hand ran out of the dairy," reported The New York Sun.  To reduce the three-against-one odds, "Patrolman McShane cracked the driver over the head with his baton, which reduced him to temporary negligibility, and drew his revolver."  In the flight and gun battle that followed, one of the gunmen was killed and the other captured.

By 1975 Edward Rothenberg's grocery store had become the offices of the Movement of the Puerto Rican National Left.  Founded in 1970 as a community group, The New York Times said on November 9 that year "It is limited to New York and supports 'international proletarianism' and Marxism-Leninism."  The group published a leftist newsletter here.

The service alley to the side provides unexpected light and ventilation. 

Other than the altered storefronts and replacement windows, outwardly Francis A. Minuth's 1892 group is relatively unchanged after more than a century and a quarter.

photographs by the author

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