Monday, December 2, 2019

The Lost Tiffany & Company Garage - 140 East 41st Street

The Tiffany & Co. garage and the Boylston Stables (the Kips Bay Garage at the time of this photo) sat on the site of the Allen & Co. iron foundry.  photo by Wurts Bros from the collection of  the Museum of the City of New York

For years Allen & Co.'s iron foundry and factory had occupied the lots at Nos. 140 and 142 East 41st Street.  The well-known firm made no-nonsense structural elements like fire escapes.  But jaws dropped around town when its president Eben S. Allen, was sent to Sing Sing prison, charged with embezzling between $80,000 and $90,000 from his company (upwards of $2.8 million today).  An article in The Evening World on August 20, 1899 was entitled "ALLEN SOLD OUT" and reported on the auction of the furnishings and other property.

The foundry building was demolished and Joseph Boylston purchased one lot, No. 142, as the site of his four-story brick livery stables.  The other plot sat vacant for several years.  Then on March 12, 1904 The Evening Post reported that jewelers Tiffany & Company had purchased it "as the site of an automobile stable."

Tiffany & Company had been among the first of Manhattan's upscale retailers to switch from horse-drawn delivery wagons to motor-powered trucks.  Its "automobile stable" project coincided with plans for the company's new marble Fifth Avenue store at No. 401 Fifth Avenue.  Both buildings would be designed by McKim, Mead & White.

The architects filed plans for a four-story "brick and stone garage" at a cost of $20,000.   That number would rise to $30,000 by the time construction was completed in 1906--or about $865,000 today.

Difficult to see in the photograph, the entablature above the double bay doors is inscribed "Tiffany & Company."  Fireproof Magazine, December 1905 (copyright expired)

The architects had drawn closely from the traditional stable layout of centered bay doors flanked by pedestrian entrances.  Brick piers were capped by stone Doric capitals below classic entablatures and cornices.  An arched opening above the bay doors provided height and dignity.  The topmost floor, which included an apartment for the "Transportation Foreman" and his family, was fronted by a stone balcony, giving a grand, domestic touch to the utilitarian structure.

The Power Wagon called it "the most artistic and practicable building of its kind in the country."  As they had with the Fifth Avenue store building, which was touted as fireproof, McKim, Mead & White focused great attention on preventing or containing fire in the garage.  In its December 1905 edition Fireproof Magazine called the nearly-completed building "a fine example of an artistic and perfectly fireproof garage.  There is not a particle of wood in it."  It described the terra cotta walls over a steel skeleton, the separate enclosed elevator shaft, and the fireproof partitions between floors and rooms.  "Nothing less than an explosion which would destroy the walls would permit the spreading of flames."

Tiffany & Company's motor trucks were electric so charging stations were necessarily included in the plans.  The basement held not only the expected equipment--the boiler, elevator machinery, and coal bin, for instance--but "water distilling apparatus, electric service panel with switches for distributing current" and the repair shop.

Power Wagon magazine explained "the distilling plant supplies water for the batteries, having a capacity of one gallon an hour.  A machinist and a helper work in the basement.  No spare batteries are kept.  All repair work is done in the basement, wagons needing attention being let down from the street level on the elevator."

The second floor contained eight charging stations.  The Power Wagon, July 1907 (copyright expired)

Cars were washed on the first floor where circular shower heads were installed in the ceiling.  The building could accommodate as many as thirty wagons.

Tiffany & Company's trucks averaged trips of about 25 miles per day, at an average speed of 8 to 10 miles per hour.  Every evening they were inspected and readied for the following day.  The Power Wagon remarked that "Tiffany's motor wagon drivers are a very superior lot of men.  All men in middle life, sober, intelligent, and industrious.  They work from 8 to 12 hours daily."

The top floor was mostly taken up by the foreman's three-bedroom apartment.  The Power Wagon, July 1907 (copyright expired)
The New-York Tribune commented on October 8, 1905, "When the Tiffany store was first known to New-Yorkers its customers took home what they bought.  Now the packages, no matter how small or how great, are delivered by automobiles, which are so operated that their contents are distributed on an average throughout the day at a rate of two parcels a minute."  The journalist added, "The Tiffany automobile garage, a four-story structure at No. 140 East 41st-st., is itself as handsome and costly as the average modern town house of the same size."

One of Tiffany & Company's sober and industrial workers during the Depression yeas was mechanic John O'Callahan.  He had come from his native Ireland in 1901 and had worked in the garage for years.  O'Callahan arrived at work as usual on April 17, 1933 and only minutes later fell dead, presumably from a heart attack.

Six years after that shocking incident Tiffany & Company sold its garage building to Frederick Fox & Co., Inc.   A week later, on November 22, 1939, The New York Sun reported that the firm had bought up the properties at Nos. 136 and 138 East 41st Street as well.  

But as surrounding properties were being amassed, the former Tiffany & Company garage survived for a while.  In May 1942 the U.S. Government signed a lease for use by the Office of Emergency Management.  The New York Times reported "The Federal agency will use the space for garage purposes."

Finally in 1958 the garage and surrounding buildings were demolished.  Today the site is occupied by a portion of the 42-floor office building known as 630 Third Avenue.

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