Friday, November 15, 2019

Cleverdon & Putzel's 1896 60 Grand Street

In 1895 developer John Clark hired the architectural firm of Cleverdon & Putzel to design three loft buildings at Nos. 60 to 64 Grand Street, just east of West Broadway.  They designed the seven-story structures in a commercial take on the neo-Classical style--artistically creating a balanced grouping by giving the middle building its own design, separate but amiable to the flanking, identical structures.

Like its twin at No. 64, the cast iron storefront and the entrance to the upper floors sat above a short set of steps.   The upper floors were clad in beige brick, laid to simulate rustication.   The spandrel panels separating the second through the sixth floors were embellished with elaborate terra cotta.  The top floor featured arched windows separated by stone columns; and a row of masks lined up within the frieze below the deeply overhanging cornice.

The building was completed in 1896 and among the early tenants was the newly-formed American Hide and Leather Company.  The concern was incorporated on May 2, 1899 with a startling capital of $70 million--over $2 billion today.  The Evening Telegram explained "The principal office will be at No. 60 Grand street and the company is authorized to engage in tanning, manufacture of leather and to deal in skins."  

The company's tannery was in New Jersey where trouble arose in January 1914 when it was sued for dumping toxic waste.  A New York Supreme Court decision in May 1918 found that the firm's officers "were chargeable with knowledge that anthrax germs were being discharged from the tannery into the creek through the sewer."

Most of the tenants at the turn of the century were in the garment business.  In 1902 they included J. Salinger, neckwear maker; T. J. O'Hare, manufacturer of tea gowns; and Fredrichs & Levin, cloaks.  Surprisingly unrelated was the commercial photography studio of Duckett & Adler, which would remain for years.

M. & I. Cohen occupied the third floor of the building in the spring of 1904.  The skirt manufacturer employed 25 young women.   Late on the afternoon of May 27 the insulation on the wiring of an electric motor that ran some of the machinery burned off.  The motor was enclosed in a wooden box which caught fire.  The Evening World reported "One of the girls, Fannie Epstein, a forewoman, fainted at the sight of the flames and fell to the floor, near the motor."

The other girls panicked and rushed to the elevator and stairs.  Just over a dozen took the stairway and when they got to the ground floor they "found their further progress impeded by several large packing boxes which had been piled in the hallway witting to be taken to one of the upper floors."

Luckily for the women, Vance Drexel was passing by.  The New York Times called him the "athlete known as the 'Brooklyn Ajax,' who picked them up as if they were bandboxes and tossed them into the street."  In the meantime, the company's bookkeeper, Emanuel Rosenberg, carried the still unconscious Fannie Epstein down the three flights of stairs.

The Evening World said that the building was "occupied largely by women, many of whom, when they heard the excitement on the third floor, became somewhat frightened themselves, and would have run for the hallways had not their employers prevented them."   

The real hero was 16-year old Moe Greenberg who worked in the building.  Known as a "buff," he fully intended to become a fire fighter and spent his free time doing chores for the members of Hook and Ladder Company No. 6.  He even wore a badge embossed with the word "Buff."  He fought the fire alone and by the time fire fighters made it to the scene he had extinguished it.

One tenant, here by 1912, manufactured an interesting product.  The Hip-Fit Mfg. Co. made and marketed an item guaranteed to hold up men's trousers with "perfect bodily freedom at all times."  It also gave abdominal support, according to ads.  Despite the firm's lengthy descriptions of what the Hip-Fit did, it never pictured or explained what it was.

The Sun, April 3, 1912 (copyright expired)

Hip-Fit would remain in the building at least into the 1920's; as did Duckett & Adler's photograph studio and Hans K. Lorentzen, another long-term tenant.  They would be joined in the early 1920's by the American Stuffed Novelty Co., Inc. and the A. & S. Petticoat Company.

The sale price of the American Stuff Novelty Co.'s riding bear in 1921 cost parents the equivalent of $70 today.  The New York Herald, December 11, 1921 (copyright expired)
By the last quarter of the 20th century the Soho renaissance had caught up with No. 60 Grand Street.   In 1993 the Philip Williams Posters shop was here, selling what The Times columnist Mimi Sheraton called in November 1997 "a wild collection of posters on food, theater and other subjects, along with such naive art as paintings on scrap metal from the rural South."

The store became home to the Denton & Gardner art gallery at the turn of the century, not long before the upper floors received a conversion to residential use.  The alterations, completed in 2008, resulted in one apartment per floor.

Cleverdon & Putzel's handsome 1896 building survives virtually intact; one of the innovative set of fraternal triplets.

photographs by the author

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