Monday, November 4, 2019

The Lost Grace Institute - 149-155 West 60th Street

A worker uses a hand mower on the surprisingly lush grass over the rocky outcropping.  The stone columns of the portico have been replaced and the Moore lampposts removed.  from the collection of the New-York Historical Society
By the early years following the Civil War James Moore had established his sizable estate on the mostly undeveloped Upper West Side.  Directories originally listed his address as simply "--- West 60th Street."  The property, which, ran through to 61st Street, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues (later Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues respectively) would have had gardens, stables, and orchards.

The Moore house was three stories tall, including the high mansard roof, above a shallow fieldstone English basement.  It sat on a high stone outcropping and, despite its rural setting, was the latest in architectural fashion and elegance.

Moore had arrived in New York from Ireland in the 1820's.  He became prominent in the National Guard, and as captain of the Montgomery Horse Troops had helped squelch the deadly Astor Place Riots in 1849.  That Moore had chosen this area for his home is not surprising.   He was among the first to recognize the potential of what was termed the West End and, as The Evening Post later said, "was known as a heavy speculator in west side real estate."  His focus was not purely on the Upper West side.  On October 27, 1883, for instance, The American Architect and Building News reported that he was erecting two four-story brick apartment buildings at No.s 595 and 597 West 26th Street.

The porch originally was graced by stone pillars.  photo by Josephine Kaas from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
The Moore family were Catholics and worshiped at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle, just a block away to the south.   James, as well, sat on the Board of Managers of the Association for Befriending Children and Young Girls, backed by the House of The Holy Family.

By the time Moore died on September 25, 1888 his residence had received an address, No. 153 West 60th Street.  His funeral was held at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle three days later.  The World noted later that he left "a large fortune to his eight sons and daughters."

Five years later, on November 25, 1893, The World ran a front-page story entitled "Her Shrine Superb," and described the new altar of St. Catherine in the Church of St. Paul the Apostle.  It had been donated by Julia A. Moore, who still lived in the 60th Street house, in memory of her father.   The World described the altar as "one of the most magnificent in all New York."

Within two years the Moore family looked to sell off the estate.  On February 2, 1895 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that "eight choice building lots on West 60th and 61st streets" would be sold at auction.  "They form part of the estate of the late James Moore," it added.  But on the day of the auction, when the highest bid was $9,750 each for the plots (just over $300,000 today), the real estate-savvy Moore family withdrew the offering.  

It was around that time that former Mayor William Russell Grace, his wife, the former Lillius Gilchrest, and their son Joseph P. Grace, began devising a plan for a tuition-free school for immigrant women.  Irish immigrants themselves, the Graces understood the hardships facing newcomers.  And they were no doubt fully aware of the reform movement, which stressed education for the poor, rather than charity.

Grace later explained that the idea came directly from a strike at the Ingersoll-Sergeant Drill company, which he partially owned.  With the men out of work, their families had no income at all.  He said the situation taught him "that what the workman needed most was a wife who could make a home."

On March 25, 1897 The New York Times reported that the Graces "have jointly set aside $250,000 for the founding of a manual training school for young women and girls."  Grace told reporters "It is the desire of my wife, my son, and myself to erect a building in some central locality of the city which will be appropriate for the education of young women and girls in the various technical occupations suitable for women."

The curriculum, he said, "will include the practical study of cooking and other housework, dressmaking, stenography, and such an amount of business methods as will fit them for the duties of clerks and secretaries.  In fact, every branch of practical education which can make a woman useful to her family and to the community and give her a means of earning an independent livelihood, if circumstances compel her to support herself, will be taught."

The advantages of a tuition-free education to the community were two-fold.  Not only would the women learn occupations, but as Grace pointed out, with the women earning a respectable living "there will be less vice to reform."

Three months later, on May 28, 1897, The New York Times reported "Grace Institute, the industrial school for young women, projected and heavily endowed only recently by former Mayor William R. Grace, is to have a permanent home.  Yesterday the old Moore mansion, at 153 West Sixtieth Street, was purchased from the heirs of the late Thomas [sic] Moore, and the spacious rooms of the old structure will be completely refitted and adapted to the needs of the new institution."  The Institute had paid $32,000 for the property, nearly $1 million in today's dollars.

The article said "The old Moore mansion has long been a landmark.  Surrounded on every side by flats, its old stone walls and mansard roof, touched by the tree tops, are sure to attract the attention of a passer by."  

By September the alterations were nearly completed.  They included brick additions on either side.  Grace had arranged with the Roman Catholic order of the Sisters of Charity to run the school.  Among them would be Sister Marie Dolores, whom The Times was quick to remind its readers "was known to the world before she took the religious vows as Miss Euphemia Van Rensselaer of the distinguished New York family of that name."

A boy in knickers and a newsboy hat rushes past in 1929.  The gas lamps on their stone posts, relics of the Moore residency, still survived at the time.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

The school opened on February 8, 1898.  The New York Herald gave detailed information on the various departments.  The laundry was located in one of the extensions.  It contained eight large porcelain tubs and "along the other walls the pupils will find a gas range for heating irons, a gas drying oven of the latest pattern, and boilers of approved design."  There were also "six heavy ironing tables."  The girls were taught every "branch of laundry work."

The kitchen was directly above the laundry room, "fitted up to make glad the heart of the housewife, and calculated to render good cooking attractive to women."  The writer equated the space to a laboratory rather than kitchen, and stressed that the pupils would learn the nutritive values of different foods along with how to prepare them.

New York Herald, January 30, 1898 (copyright expired)

The dressmaking class was in the main house where there were 20 desks, six sewing machines and a cutting table.  Classes were held in simple introductory sewing and in advanced dressmaking.  The second floor held the typewriting and stenography classrooms and the English classrooms.  Speaking and writing English was crucial for newly-arrived citizens and they were instructed in spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

A practical means of finding permanent work for the students was by showing what they could do.   On May 4, 1899 the New York Journal and Adviser announced "The trustees of Grace Institute have issued invitations for a reception and exhibition of the work of the institute."  

The annual exhibition was special in 1903 when it was held in honor of William R. Grace's 71st birthday.   The Times reported that "hundreds" were there that day, including many graduates.  the membership of the non-sectarian school had grown from 300 to 800 by now.  Grace spoke to reporters about his goal for the institute.  "I want to do something for people that shall do them good and help them.  I don't get very much satisfaction out of life nowadays, except as I can be of some service to people, and if this institute and its work accomplish anything in that line I am satisfied."

Three decades later Joseph P. Grace was still actively involved in the Grace Institute.  On June 16, 1932 he presided at the graduation exercises during which 350 young women received diplomas--200 in the business course and 150 in the "domestic, sewing and mothers' club courses."

photo by Josephine Kaas, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
In 1948 the school offered cooking courses for middle-class women as well.  On January 13 The New York Times said "A cooking school that charges about 25 cents for each lesson may sound like something out of a history book, but although this is the fee at the Grace Institute, 149 West Sixtieth Street, the course is up-to-the-minute."   The classes taught housewives not only about nutrition, but about cost savings.  At the previous day's session, said the article "the young housewife-students learned how to prepare a meat-stretching beef loaf.  The week before the class made money-saving fish balls."

In the mid-1950's Robert Moses proposed the idea for the Lincoln Square Renewal Project as a means to replace low-level housing with a performing arts complex.  Fordham University was invited to be a part of the project--the proposed location directly on the site of the Grace Institute.  On May 24, 1960 The Times reported that the institute had purchased the blockfront on Second Avenue between 64th and 65th Street with "plans to erect a school building on the site."  The Grace Institute moved to its new home in 1963.

Today the precise site of the Moore mansion is occupied by Fordham's McMahon Hall.


  1. It's interesting that the lawn mower shot appears to be from 1880-90, with no lamps on the walk. In 1929 or so you have the ancient lamps, which to me means they were actually installed during a financially fatter year around 1900, before universal electrification. Weird. I would hate to mow that miserable hillock of a lawn.

    1. I'm not sure. The photo with the lamps shows the stone columns of the portico still there. The lawn mower shot shows the replacement wooden posts on the porch. So it has to be after the lamp photo. (Although the tree stump poses another problem!)

  2. Then, in 2015, Grace Institute moved to new office training center at 40 Rector Street:)