Tuesday, August 11, 2020

R. R. Davis's 1890 768-776 Amsterdam Avenue (aka 200 West 98th Street)

In 1871 the area around Tenth Avenue (later Amsterdam Avenue) and West 98th Street was still mostly wild with a few shanties scattered around the rocky outcroppings.  But developers were already anticipating the upscale suburb that would materialize.  That was evidenced when the single building plot on the southwest corner was sold at auction that year for $5,500--nearly $120,000 today.

Little by little over the next decade operators would add to the property.  Finally, when Joseph Brown purchased the six lots in March 1887, he announced he would "improve" the property.   But his plans quickly changed.  He resold the site to developers McKinley & Gunn whose architect, F. T. Camp, filed plans in June for a "five-story brick tenement and store."  But that project, too, fell apart.

A year later, on August 4, 1888, the Record & Guide reported that the new owner, builder George E. Beaudet, had hired architect R. R. Davis to design four five-story brick flats and stores.  The total construction cost was $88,000, or about $2.4 million today.

Davis's four buildings convincingly pretended to be one.  A blend of neo-Grec and Queen Anne styles, the mass was broken horizontally by two intermediate cornices above the first and third floors.  The individual buildings were defined by slightly-projecting, full-height brick piers.  The second and third floors were purely neo-Grec, with simple sandstone lintels that held hands at the second floor, and projecting brick lintels at the third.  Queen Anne made an entrance in the incised brick banding below the third floor cornice, and in the creative textured brickwork in the spandrel panels.

The center buildings on Tenth Avenue, Nos. 1699 and 1701 (later 770 and 772 Columbus Avenue) rose to peaked gables decorated with blind panels and inset brownstone portrait roundels.  A third gable appeared on the 98th Street side.  Rather than a cornice, Davis went with a brick parapet.  Interestingly, the four domestic entrances were treated individually, a surprising departure from the architectural unity of the four buildings.

Each of the residential entrances was given its own personality.
The apartments were spacious, ranging from five to seven rooms with bath.  The southern-most store became home to the James Butler grocery store, advertised as "The Greatest Retail Grocery Concern in the World."  When it moved in the chain boasted 72 branches in the New York City area.  By 1903 this store would be one of 118 branches.

Among the early residents was photographer Ernest Marks and his wife who took an apartment on the third floor in No. 200 West 98th.   While still a teenager he had experimented with new processes of developing and "glazing" photographs.  On February 14, 1894 The Evening Telegram reported that the 35-year old "became convinced last night that he was able to solve the secret he had so long sought to fathom and set up late to follow out his pet theory."

At around 8:00 his wife went to bed, stopping by his workroom first to say "I wouldn't sit up any longer if I were you, Ernest."  He told her "I think I'm getting at it now.  I won't sit up long."  The World reported "He was sitting by a table that was covered with bottles of acids and packages of potash, in the midst of which a big photographer's lamp burned brightly."

At about 12:30 the entire neighborhood was shaken by a tremendous blast.  The Evening Telegram wrote "Instead of solving the problem he very nearly blew himself into the next world."  And The World reported "Two windows were blown out of the room in which Marks sat at work, and pieces of sash and glass went rattling down the airshaft.  Walls shook, and half a dozen doors on the lower floors were forced open."  

The explosion had been heard three blocks away and tenants fled into the street in their night clothes.  Many believed the building was about to collapse.  And while 200 people milled around the 98th Street corner, Marks was dealing with the aftermath upstairs.  He "recovered his balance and put out the fire that had started and then began dancing up and down the room and yelling like a mad man because of the agony he was in from the burns he received," said The Evening Telegram.  

When firefighters arrived they found Mrs. Marks "beside her husband, wringing her hands; the house was wrecked and Marks's face was black and burned.  Parts of his clothing had been torn from his body, leaving his flesh exposed badly burned," reported The Evening World.  The Telegram noted that he "will probably recover."

Striking portrait roundels, unnoticed from the street, decorate the topmost portion.
Also living here at the time was Frederick J. Emmerick, a wall paper commission merchant, and his wife.  The aged couple had five grown children.  Despite his age (he was born in Germany in 1821), Emmerick still went to his office every day.  He planned a short business trip to Providence on January 17, 1899 and so his son, Frederick, Jr., arranged to meet him at his office at 9:30 that morning to see him off.

Emmerick had been in his office a few minutes and was arranging papers at his desk when he suddenly "dropped from his hair to the floor," according to The New York Times.  "His clerk ran in from the next room and found him dead."  The 78-year old had suffered a heart attack.

Police officer William R. Massie lived in No. 200 West 98th Street at the turn of the century.  A member of the West End Presbyterian Church, he and his wife joined about 1,200 others on the steamboat Taurus headed to the church's annual outing on June 16 that year.  The steamer landed at Oscawana Island, near Peekskill, where the group planned to picnic, play games and enjoy the fresh air.

Almost immediately after landing Mrs. Belvedera Crandall took her two daughters and three other little girls to the shore, where they took off their shoes and stockings and sat on rocks splashing their bare feet in the water.  Suddenly the group heard Mrs. Crandall's screams.

Three of the girls, including her daughters, had fallen into the water.   Mrs. Crandall found a heavy stick and a man rushed up to help her pull Helen Crandall from the water.  The other girls were still below the surface.  William R. Massie ran to the water's edge, and "partially stripping himself, he plunged into the water," reported the New-York Tribune.  "On his third dive he brought to the surface the body of Anna Hussey."  She had been under water twelve minutes and could not be resuscitated.  Massie went back into the water in an attempt to find the third girl.  Her body was never found.

The Massies were still living at No. 200 as late as 1905, when the now-retired policeman was receiving a pension of $799.92 a year--or about $24,000 today.  At the time the roomy apartments were renting for the equivalent of $1,500 per month in today's money, according to an advertisement.

The first years of the 20th century saw several musical and theatrical tenants.  Among them was Josephine Frabasilis, known in Italy as Comtesse de Castelveccio.  She was the daughter of the Count of Castelveccio and grand-niece of Napoleon I.  In 1907 The Actors' Birthday Book said "Coming to American in the early '90's she was known simply as Miss Oldcastle, and became a member of Augustin Daly's company."  She later tweaked her stage name to Elouina Oldcastle.

On November 18, 1906 the New-York Tribune reported "Mme. Margaret Telda, former of the Berlin Conservatory of Music, has opened a studio at No. 200 West 98th Street."  She would remain for years, her advertisements not holding back on self adulation.  In 1908, for instance, an ad read "Mme. Telda, the famous dramatic soprano...former prima donna Berlin Opera house; careful and artistic voice cultivation for opera, church, concert, vaudeville, advanced pupils placed, highest recommendations."

On West 98th Street the brick eyebrows of the ground floor windows terminate in carved brownstone portraits.
The large McGrath family (there were seven children) lived here in 1906.  On the afternoon of October 14 4-year old Alexander, the youngest, walked next door to Hook & Ladder Company 22 where, according to The New York Times "The boy was a favorite among the firemen."  The men played with Alexander for a while on the sidewalk outside the station.

The innocent play turned to unspeakable tragedy within seconds.  Little Alexander turned to cross Amsterdam Avenue and walked directly into the path of an electric street car.  His body was dragged under the fender for several yards, then pulled completely beneath the car.

Two of the firemen immediately ran into the street, "but before the car could be brought to a standstill they were horrified to see the little fellow's legs roll out at their feet from under the car wheels.  The rest of the body was drawn around the front axle and crushed to pieces," said The New York Times.  Residents in the apartment houses along the avenue witnessed the horror.  "Women screamed, and several fainted after seeing the ghastly sight," said the article.

The janitor of No. 200, Herman Becker, and his family narrowly escaped death the following month.  Early on the morning of October 31 a 36-inch water main ruptured with an explosion "resembling the boom of distant big guns," said The New York Times.  Residents rushed to their windows to see "a column of water, mud, and Belgian blocks rising from the middle of the street to the sky level."  The newspaper said "Swifter than a prairie fire, the tide found a temporary level in all the cellars and basements round about."

Becker and his family lived in the cellar apartment of No. 200.  Upon hearing the explosion, Becker feared the building's boiler had burst.  His feet swung from the bed into a pool of rising water.  He tried to open the door to the outside, but the weight of the water held it tight.  "He then ran back, aroused his wife and four children, and climbed through a window to the sidewalk, Mrs. Becker handing out the little ones to him."

By the outbreak of World War I Elouina Oldcastle had retired from the stage and was again using her title as she turned her attention to relief work.  In its February 1916 issue The World Court reported "A charity concert was given by 'Le Salon,' of which society Countess de Castelvecchio is President, on December 11, for the benefit of the widows and orphans of victims of the European war."  And in 1919 she was in charge of the collection of funds for the American Convalescent Home Association.

Like William R. Massie, Louis Kovacs was involved in a water rescue in the summer of 1928.  He was at the popular Recreation Pier near Glenwood, New York in June when the motorboat in which 28-year old Mary Brennan was riding was hit by a swell and she was catapulted into the Hudson River.  Arthur Victorus jumped in after her but, although he was a good swimmer, he was weighed down by his clothing and shoes.

The Yonkers Statesman reported "He became exhausted from her weight and shouted for help.  Louis Kovacs, 21, of 200 West 98th Street, then jumped in and brought Miss Brennan to the boat."  Unfortunately, Arthur Victorus did not survive.

The buildings continued to be home to well-respected tenants.  In 1936 the family of Dr. Ramon-Ruiz-Arnao lived at No. 200.  Their son, Guillermo, was also a doctor, now doing x-ray research work on tropical diseases in Puerto Rico.  Living with them here was son Ramon, a concert pianist.  Ramon had studied at the Conservatory of Music in Versailles and Madris and had given concerts at Steinway Hall and in Puerto Rico.

There were still four separate storefronts at ground level in 1941, the southern store still a grocery, home to an Atlantic & Pacific food store.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

By the early 1940's the Rev. David Roitman and his wife Sonya were residents.  Roitman was deemed by the Canadian Jewish Review on April 30, 1943 "an outstanding cantor in Orthodox Jewry for the last thirty-eight years, whose melodies for synagogue services are well-known."  Born near Odessa, Russia in 1885, he studied music at the Leningrad Conservatory.  His outstanding voice earned him the position of cantor of the Jewish Temple at Elisavetgrad in 1904, later at a synagogue in Vilna, and finally at the Baron Ginsbourgh Synagogue in Leningrad.

Roitman made several concert tours of Europe and in 1918 he fled Russian during the pogroms.  He arrived in New York around 1922 and, in addition to his position as cantor at Temple Ohev Sholom in Brooklyn, he continued his concert tours.  Roitman was a composer, as well, and at least two of his works were recorded.   He died at the age of 58 in his 98th Street apartment in April 1943.

Over the decades the apartments were, surprisingly, never broken up and today still contain as many as three bedrooms.  Although the storefronts have been brutally massacred, the upper floors are little changed since the building first welcomed residents in 1890.

photographs by the author

Monday, August 10, 2020

The Lost 1770 Walter Franklin House - 1-3 Cherry Street

from the collection of the New-York Historical Society 

Cherry Street got its name from Cherry Hill, an area near the East River which reportedly once blushed with cherry blossoms every spring.  By the second half of the 18th century it was, according to Gas Logic later, "the home center of New York aristocracy."  

Engulfing two building lots at Nos. 8 and 10 Cherry Street (renumbered 1 and 3 around 1830) was the elegant Georgian style home of Walter Franklin.  Erected around 1770, it sat on the northeast corner of Queen Street (later renamed Pearl Street).  Looking back in 1893, The New York Times wrote "It is said to have been completely filled with simple but elegant furniture, and there was an extensive garden attached."  It was considered to be one of the finest homes in the city.

from the collection of the New York Public Library
Like at least one of his near neighbors, Thomas Leggett, Walter Franklin was a Quaker.  He was the senior partner in the firm of Franklin, Robinson & Co., whose ships brought goods from China and the South Seas.  He was also actively involved in the Revolution and its earliest aftermath.  On May 1, 1775 he was elected a member of the Committee of One Hundred to represent New York "in all affairs growing out of the complications then arising between the colonies and the mother country," according to The New York Times generations later.  "He was also a member of the first Provincial Congress of the Province of New-York, which met in New-York City May 23, 1775."

The New York Times added, "He retired from business comparatively early in life with a very large fortune.  His heart remained free till (so the story is told by Mrs. Hunter...in 1845, his great-granddaughter,) he accidentally met a pretty milkmaid on Long Island."  Taken with the young Quaker girl, he drove his buggy to the home of her father, Daniel Bowne.  "While the two were talking, [Maria] came in to make tea for the city friend, with the romantic result that she 'made tea' for him every after."

The couple married and had two daughters, Maria and Hannah.  Franklin died on June 8, 1780.  Around 1786 Maria Bowne Franklin married Samuel Osgood, a lawyer, and the family continued living in the Cherry Street house.  The ample size of the home would be necessary--Samuel and Maria would have six more children.

Samuel Osgood, from the collection of the Library of Congress
Osgood had been an active revolutionist.  He led a company of minutemen into the Battle of Lexington and Concord in 1775 and saw action in the Siege of Boston.  By the end of the war he had attained the rank of Colonel.  He served two terms in the Massachusetts State Senate beginning in 1780 and he was as a delegate to the Continental Congress from 1782 until 1784.  He returned to New York City in 1785 to take on the position of a commissioner of the Treasury.

On April 14, 1789 George Washington received word at Mount Vernon that he had been unanimously elected the first President of the United States by the Electoral College.  In preparation for his arrival in New York, Congress looked for a suitable home for the "Presidential Palace."  (The term was still in use decades later when the White House was being erected.)  The Osgood residence was selected and leased for $845 a year (about $22,300 today).  As part of the deal Osgood was told to "put the house and furniture thereof in proper condition for the residence and use of the President of the United States."

Harper's New Monthly Magazine, October 1899 (copyright expired) 
The drawing room was enlarged and Maria set about selecting furnishings.  Many of the existing pieces were simply reupholstered while cabinetmaker Thomas Burling provided some new "Mahogany Furniture."   The inventory of Government-owned furniture included "inlaid" pieces as well as "plain" furniture.  The inlaid furniture included a tea table and a breakfast table which would most likely have been in the neo-classical style, while the "plain" pieces were more common Chippendale or Hepplewhite chairs and tables.  In total Congress spent $8,000 to prepare the mansion (a little more than $200,000 today).

Before the arrival of the President, Maria Osgood's niece, Sarah, visited.  In a letter to her friend Kitty Wistar on April 3o, 1789 she wrote:

Uncle Walter's house in Cherry Street was taken for him [i.e., Washington], and every room furnished in the most elegant manner.  Aunt Osgood and Lady Duer had the whole management of it.  I went the morning before the General's arrival to look at it.  The best of furniture in every room, and the greatest quantity of plate and china I ever saw; the whole of the first and second stories is papered, and the floors covered with the richest kind of Turkey and Wilton carpets.

Sarah noted "There is scarcely anything talked of now but General Washington and the Palace."  

George Washington had left Martha behind at Mount Vernon to supervise the packing of things to be shipped to their new home.  Historian Liela Herbert wrote in the October 1899 issue of Harper's New Monthly Magazine, "the President brought on by sea from Mount Vernon a quantity of pictures, vases, ornaments, Sรจvres china, and silver."

Martha eventually made the journey, arriving a month after her husband with two grandchildren, Nelly and George Washington Parke Custis.  She apparently approved of Maria Franklin's efforts, for she called the mansion a "handsomely furnished house."  She gave her first reception on May 29, 1789.  The "systematic entertainments," as described by Liela Herbert, included "levees, dinners, and Drawing Rooms, with pretty ceremony, oiled with wealth and sustained with dignity."

Generations later, on November 19, 1893, The New York Times attempted to recreate in words the atmosphere:

Delicious, festive days [were] those of the Spring and early Summer of inauguration year.  There is an atmosphere about that era impossible to emulate now, or even thoroughly conceive, when fetes and balls and receptions kept the town giddy and what was, after all, a decorous and fastidious gayety.  Imagine, please, the high-caste dames and pretty 'buds' of yore, treading stately minuets, clad in stiff silks and satins and brocades, with swains in uniform, or clad in such garments as light-blue French coats, with high collars, large gilt buttons, double-breasted Marseilles vest, (or waistcoat,) nankin colored cassimere breeches, shining pumps, big ruffles, and ponderous cravats.

Martha had a large staff to assist her.  Seven slaves had been brought from Mount Vernon, and Samuel Fraunces, the steward (who formerly owned Fraunces Tavern), oversaw a staff of about 20 (these included indentured servants, other slaves, and some paid domestics).

This nearly life-sized family portrait was painted by Edward Savage based on sketches he made in the Cherry Street house.  collection of the National Gallery of Art
Every Thursday at 4:00 in the afternoon a state dinner was held.  Liela Herbert wrote "From ten to twenty-two persons were expected besides the 'family.'" (The "family" included Washington's closest associates, who also lived in the Cherry Street house--his private secretary, Nelson; Robert Lewis, his nephew and secretary; and his speechwriter, Colonel David Humphreys.)  Herbert described: 

[Samuel Fraunces's] fine dishes of roast beef, veal, lamb, turkey, duck and varieties of game, and his many other inviting viands, and the jelly, the fruits, the nuts and raisins--the body of the dinner, in short--were placed, before the guests came in, upon the table, with careful respect to appearance.  Upon the central table ornament, sometimes a long mirror made in sections and framed in silver, were 'chaste mythological statuettes.'  A piece of bread was placed below each napkin.  The china and linen were fine...The waiters, five or six or more in number, wore the brilliant Washington livery, and served with quiet and precision.

Martha Washington held a "Drawing Room" every Friday from 7:00 to 9:00.  The stiff formality of society strictly obeyed.  "At seven o'clock on Friday evenings, carrying neither sword nor hat, as being unofficially present, the President took his stand beside Mrs. Washington.  The ladies, attended always by gentlemen, came in, curtsied low and silently, and sat down."  Once each guest had been received, Washington would walk about and speak to the guests individually.  "No very young girls came--those only that had formally entered the social world."

The decorum was not even broken by a most terrifying accident that befell a Miss McIvers, described by one historian as "a belle."  Liela Herbert recalled the incident:

The chandeliers, their myriad candles burning softly in high transparent globes, hung low.  Miss McIvers's fashionable head-dress, monstrous tall, caught fire one evening as she stood beneath the lights...Major Jackson rushed to the rescue, clapped the burning plumes in his hands, and saved the lady as gallantly as possible.  There was no undue rustling of stiff brocades or ruffling of pretty manners.  It was then, as now, good form for ladies to be perturbed only by mice and cows.

Major Jackson comes to the rescue of the Miss McIvers. Harper's New Monthly Magazine, October 1899 (copyright expired) 

It was from the Cherry Street house that in October 1789 Washington wrote the first Thanksgiving proclamation, setting aside a Thursday each November as a national holiday.

Despite its elegance, the Cherry Street mansion proved too small for the President's household.  The French Minister to the United States, the Comte de Moustier, resided in a larger house owned by Alexander Macomb at Nos. 39-41 Broadway.  When De Moustier returned to France in 1790 Washington seized the opportunity and that February the executive mansion was moved to the Macomb residence.

Harper's New Monthly Magazine, October 1899 (copyright expired) 
Walter and Maria Franklin's eldest daughter, Maria, married DeWitt Clinton in 1796.  Their other daughter, Hannah, married his younger brother, George Clinton, Jr.  For a time Maria and DeWitt resided in the house on Cherry Street.  The mansion remained in the family until 1856 when Hannah Clinton's heirs had it demolished and replaced by stores.

The mansion had been converted for commerce by the time this etching was created in 1853.  D. T. Valentine's Manual, 1853 (copyright expired)
That building and scores of others were demolished for the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge.  Fearing that the importance piece of American history would be forgotten, the Mary Washington Colonial Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution had a bronze tablet cast to commemorate the site.  On May 2, 1899 The New York Times reported that it had been affixed to "one of the big stone arches of the Brooklyn Bridge.  The site is at the junction of Cherry and Pearl Streets, on Franklin Square."  About two feet square, it read:

The First
Presidential Mansion
No. 1 Cherry Street.
Occupied by
from April 23, 1789
to February 23, 1790.
Erected by the Mary Washington Colonial Chapter,
April 30, 1899

A century later it was endangered.  On November 1, 1998 Bernard Stamler, writing in The New York Times reported "nothing remains of America's first Presidential home except for a brass [sic] plaque on the Manhattan anchorage of the bridge, noting the site's historic significant...Now the plaque--already inaccessible, and tarnished from neglect--is threatened with total obscurity."  The city had begun the process of erecting six new arches under the bridge to shore up the steelwork.  One of them would sit directly in front of the plaque.

The plaque survives, although essentially ignored and unnoticed.  It is the only indication that the first Executive Mansion stood on the spot.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Charles C. Haight's 1878 275 Canal Street

On October 19, 1870 millionaire Henry E. Pellew purchased the empty "gore lot" at No. 275 Canal Street from Jonathan Edwards.  It would be eight years before he developed the plot, hiring the 37-year old architect Charles Coolidge Haight to design a loft and store building in 1878.  

Pellew was a highly respected and influential businessman.  On February 12, as Haight was working on the plans for his new building, Pellew was a pallbearer at the funeral of Theodore Roosevelt, Sr., the father of the future President of the United States.

Completed within the year, No. 275 Canal Street exhibited strong elements of the Romanesque Revival style to which Haight repeatedly returned over the next decades.  It was most evident in the arched openings of the fourth and fifth floors.  The Queen Anne style made its appearance in dog tooth brickwork panels between the second and third floors and the fanciful pierced cornice designs flanked by stone gablets.

Stone capitals adorn the pilasters and clustered columns of the fourth and fifth floors.  The stone eyebrows of the fourth floor are mimicked in black brick at the fifth.  The Queen Anne style cornice is extraordinary.

The building became home to Eastman, Bigelow & Dayton, "silk and fancy drygoods" merchants.   The firm had begun as Eastman, Sheldon & Townsend in 1845; but after Sheldon was lost at sea on a return voyage from Europe in 1855, the Alden B. Bigelow and Milton P. Dayton joined Albert L. Eastman to form the new organization.

The New-York Sketch Book and Merchant's Guide noted that the firm's "chief feature" was ladies' dress trimmings.  "Their assortment of these goods is always large, and of the newest styles" it said, adding "Their stock also comprises a complete assortment of Taffetas and Satin Ribbons, Bonnet Ribbons, Kid Gloves, Embroideries, &c., &c."

The firm had been in its new home only about a year when valuable silk velvet ribbon disappeared.  The stolen goods were valued at more than $700--or about $18,500 in today's money.  A break in the case came around October 15, 1879 when a customer informed the firm that "quantities of black ribbon, known as 'the Black Friar' brand in the original packages as imported, and bearing the trade-mark of the firm, were being offered for sale at a much lower rate," according to The New York Times.

The ribbon was tracked down to the shop of merchant tailor I. M. Witkoski. and an elaborate plot was discovered.  The goods were initially stolen by a janitor, who sold them to a mattress maker, John Gurney.  Gurney then resold the goods to Benjamin M. Wilkoski, the brother of the the shop's owner.

In court Wilkoski freely admitted he had purchased the ribbon and was reselling it; but said he had no way of knowing the goods were stolen.  He testified that "he had taken them from a man for whom he had made several suits of clothes, in payment for the clothing."  Judge Gildersleeve was unmoved and on November 17 sentenced the tailor to three years in State Prison.

The 1890's saw Casse, Lackey & Co., makers of window shades (renamed Pinney, Casse & Lackey in 1892); the Leopold Ascher Co., makers of paint and shaving brushes; and William Harvey, manufacturers of canes and umbrella handles, in the building.
The Beta Theta Pi magazine, October 1893 (copyright expired)
William Harvey's factory employed 8 men, 18 women, 14 girls under 21 years old and 4 girls under 16 in 1893.  They worked long hours--59 hours during the week and 9 on Saturday.  The firm reorganized around 1898 when it became the Harvey & Watts Co.

In June 1899 Henry Pellew commissioned architects Horenburger & Straub to make structural improvements to No. 275, including new iron girders.

Of the 31 employees in Leopold Ascher's brush factory in 1902, only five were men.  One of them was John Barkey, who lived in Brooklyn and walked to and from work over the Brooklyn Bridge.  Barkey was one of thousands of workers who used the pedestrian crossing, creating what was known as the "Brooklyn Bridge crush" at rush hours.

On the evening of October 21, 1902 Barkey became caught up in what the New York Press described as a "fighting, impatient crowd."  As a streetcar passed, Barkey was forced against it by the mass of pedestrians.  The article explained that "as the car was in motion he could stay on his feet no longer and fell under the car.  As soon as he came in contact with a wheel that tore off his toes, he dragged himself under the feet of the passing throng."

Barkey screamed in pain until Patrolman J. Flood "rescued the man from under the heels of the crowd."  He was taken to the Hudson Street Hospital where his toes were amputated.

In 1902 Pinney, Casse & Lackey Company merged with the Columbia Shade Cloth Company, located next door at No. 273 Canal Street.  The Charles E. Matthews office furniture company took its place in No. 275.

Batten's Wedge magazine, February 1906 (copyright expired)

Charles E. Matthews remained in the space at least through 1913.  The 1920's saw the Reliance Lighting Fixture Corp., manufacturers of electric light fixtures under the brand name Relifco; and the Allied Fruit & Extract Co., makers of food items like maraschino cherries, in the building.

Sixty-three years after their father had purchased the property Marion and Charles E. Pellew sold No. 275 Canal Street to the Myr-Mil Holding Company in November 1933.  The new owners made alterations which did away with factory space.  Completed in 1935, the changes resulted in a store and showroom on the ground floor and additional showrooms on the upper floors.

Among the tenants in the 1940's was the Royal Sundries Corp., which sold novelties like the Marvo Cigarette Roller.  An advertisement in The Billboard on October 6, 1945 touted its "metal sides" and offered the item "in quantities" for 5 cents each.

In 1961 a drug store operated from the ground floor.  On February 20 that year the Long Island Star-Journal entitled a front page article "3-Alarmer Snarls Traffic" and reported "The fire which broke out shortly after 5 A. M. in a five-story commercial building at 275 Canal street soon raged through three floors of the structure."

While damaging the interior, the blaze left Charles C. Haight's striking facade intact.  The building was renovated again in 2020 to create office space above the ground floor store.

photographs by the author

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Alfred Zucker's 1892 246 Greene Street (a.k.a. 20-22 Waverly Place)

By the 1830's the neighborhood around Greene Street and Waverly Place, a block west of Washington Square, had filled with elegant mansions.  On November 16, 1890 publisher Martin Young heard a noise in his cellar of his home at No. 22 Waverly Place.  Upon investigating he caught four boys aged 10 through 15 in the process of stealing brass.  Their names reflected the changing demographics of the area--Angelo Teeini, Sebastian Farconelli, Joseph Cella and Giovanni Lafarzia.

That was not all that was changing as the century drew to a close.  Loft buildings were rapidly replacing residences and  Young's was among the last of the private homes still surviving.  

A month earlier, on October 25, 1890, the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide published a supplement entitled "The New Mercantile District" which began saying "The sudden impulse given to building improvements in the section of the city that lies in the vicinity of Washington square has been generally observed during the past two or three years."  One of the most visible architects in the movement was Alfred Zucker.  Within a two year period between 1891 and 1893 he would design Nos. 12, 18, 24-26, and 28-30 Waverly Place, and the massive stone structure at the corner of Waverly Place and Greene Street, No. 246 Greene (which would engulf the site of Young's house), all of them within a single block.

He designed No. 246 Greene Street for developer Simon Goldenberg.  The plans, filed in February 1891, called for an 8-story "brick, iron and stone warehouse" to cost $140,000 (or just over $4 million today).  Completed in 1892, it was an imposing blend of Renaissance Revival and Romanesque Revival styles.

Each section of the tripartite design was delineated by an intermediate cornice.  Zucker made ample use of brownstone quoins at the ground floor, then used dark brown brick at the second and third floors to imitate stone blocks.  The ruse was continued on the fourth through sixth floor to create the appearance of quoins around the three-story arches.  The openings of the two-story upper section were grouped within arched cast iron frames; the piers between them decorated with terra cotta bands and rosettes.

The building became home to Asch & Jaeckel, wholesale furriers, whose large operation filled the entire building.  The salesrooms were on the ground floor with factory, design and office spaces above.

An advertisement boasted that the firm "completely occupied" the building.  Fur Trade Review, June 1892 (copyright expired)
Just as apparel firms do today, Asch & Jaeckel used live "fit models" when working on new items.  Soon after moving into their new accommodations it placed an advertisement in The Sun on June 24, 1892 seeking "Young Lady as figure; 36 bust; none other need apply."

By 1895 the firm had branched out into other forms of women's apparel, as well.  On February 17 it advertised for "Drapers, experienced on Waists and Suits."  (Waists, or shirtwaists, were a tailor blouse and the most popular item of women's apparel in the 1890's.)

Furriers were frequent targets for sneak thieves and November 30, 1897 Asch & Jaeckel was a victim.  That day Detective Sergeants Aloncle and Carey noticed two notorious criminals, Annie Drayton, alias May Murray or "Big May," and Flossie Maitland in Madison Square.  When the women hailed a hansom cab, the cops followed.   The New York Times reported "The women stopped at the fur store of Asch & Jaeckel...and after remaining inside about fifteen minutes re-entered the cab and drove to the fur store of Adolph Frimal, 1,713 Broadway.  Here they also staid but a few minutes and, coming out, ordered the cabman to drive to an up-town hotel."

Before that happened, however, Sergeant Carey commandeered the cab and ordered the driver to go to Police Headquarters.  Once there the vehicle was searched.  "Two sealskin sacques [i.e., short jackets] were found concealed under the seat, and the matron found a valuable cape concealed on the person of 'Big May.'"  The Times said that Annie Drayton was "considered one of the cleverest shoplifters in the country."  The two jackets taken from Asch & Jaeckel were valued at $327, about $10,400 in today's money.

Both women were able to raise the staggering $3,000 bail through a bondsman.  But when their court date rolled around in March 1898, they had disappeared.  The bondsman was given twenty-four hours to produce them, but when he returned to court on March 10 "he admitted that he could not find them," reported the New York Herald.  The judge ordered that the bail be forfeited--costing the man more than $95,000 in today's money.

While the drama played out, Joseph J. Asch and Hugo Jaeckel parted ways.  Each established his own firm.  Jaeckel moved to No. 37 Union Square and Asch erected his own handsome building at Nos. 23-29 Washington Place.  The Asch Building would become a part of American labor history on March 25, 1911 when 145 women workers in the Triangle Waist Company, locked into rooms on the top three floors, perished.

The building vacated by Asch & Jaeckel now filled with hat manufacturers and apparel-related tenants, among them hat manufacturer M. S. Mork & Co., which sought "Straw Hat Operators" in November 1899.  The ad promised "We guarantee $7.80 to $12 a week, ten months' season; good operators can earn double their guarantee."  The higher end of the range would be about $382 per week today.  Also in the hat business were Higson & Co., "manufacturers of fur hats," and William Read & Co.

In 1902, following the death of Simon Goldenberg, his estate sold the property.  The change of landlords did not affect the tenant list.  Taylor & Seeley were selling agents for out-of-town hat makers like Beltaire Bros. & Co. of Danbury, Connecticut and the Gilman Hat Company of Haverhill, Massachusetts.

The American Hatter, February 1902 (copyright expired)

The wealth of the partners of Taylor & Seeley was evidenced in April 1903 when E. S. Seeley listed his home on Bedford Avenue for sale.  The 25-foot wide, three story brownstone had 16 rooms and three baths, along with an Otis elevator.  He described his home as "handsome, luxurious, convenient and up to date."

Sharing the building with Taylor & Seeley were S. Alsberg & Co. and Alsberg & Moritz, both clothing manufacturers; and Lasky & Levi, makers of caps.  In 1906 the two related firms of S. Alsberg & Co. and Alsberg & Moritz combined to create Moritz, Alsberg & Co.  

The firms would remain in the building until about 1912, joined in 1909 by Pursch & Co., clothing makers; and H. Hauptman & Co., in 1910.

In 1912 the tenant list included Goldfinger & Katz, whose workforce of 35 made cloaks; J. L. Alberts, makers of cotton underwear (it employed 4 men, 45 women, and three children that year); and Tochterman & Schehr, makers of leather purses and bags.

In 1914 the 36-year old widow Annie Feinman had worked for J. L. Alberts for about four and a half years.  She earned $1.50 per day (just under $40 today) as a sewer.  Possibly distracted from her work for a moment on September 11 that year, she drove the needle of her machine through her left ring finger.   When blood poisoning later set in, the top part of finger was amputated.

Annie, her doctor, her supervisor and the doctor's nurse were summoned to answer a barrage of questioning by the State Workmen's Compensation Commission a month later after she filed for benefits.  The doctor was asked, for example, if Annie showed evidence of alcoholism, hypochondria, hysteria or malingering.  She was eventually awarded $10.26 in March 1915.

The personal lives of well-to-do citizens were fodder for juicy newspaper articles at the time.  Harry Long ran a trimmings business in the building in 1915 when his wife, Florence, suspected him of sexual dalliances.  She hired private detectives to follow him and their findings became luridly public in January 1916 when Florence took him to court.

Much of Zucker's original cast iron storefronts survive along street level.
The Sun entitled an article on January 4 "Mysterious Blonde In Long Divorce Case" which began "A mysterious 'blond woman, 5 feet 6 inches tall, aged 30 and weighing 125 pounds,' has been found guilty of improper conduct with Harry Long."  The article continued, "she and Long went to the Terra Marine Hotel, Huguenot Park, Staten Island, Saturday, June 19, and remained until the following Sunday night."

The scandal no doubt had a detrimental effect on Long's business.  Additionally, he was ordered to pay $200 a month for support of the three children, whom he was allowed to see one-half day each week.

Following World War I the apparel business migrated northward, past 34th Street.  In the 1930's the Greene Street building was home to Howard Failing, a wholesale paper dealer.  Like Harry Long, the scurrilous details of his divorce were widely published in newspapers.  But in his case, it was his wife, Flora, who was the inconstant lover.

Around 1934 the Failings moved to the upscale suburban neighborhood of Scarsdale, New York.  A neighbor, Ruby T. Brewster, wife of Le Roy Brewster, testified that things had been going well in her marriage until the Failings moved in.  Then, in November 1935 "My husband left to go to Florida, presumably to be in a warmer climate on account of his sinus trouble.  However, he left with a woman, Mrs. Failing."

Flora divorced Howard Failing in the summer of 1936; and in the spring of 1937 Ruby, "citing a honey-haired ex-neighbor as the case of all the trouble," sued her husband for divorce.   On April 29, 1937 the Daily News said that Ruby Brewster, "a Westchester matron with strong feelings about blondes, clamped a legal stranglehold yesterday on the $1,000,000 moneybags of her hubby."  The article noted that Ruby was trying to beat her husband to filing for divorce to keep him from cutting her off from his wealth.

Any prospect of more scandal related to marital discord in the Green Street building ended in 1946, when New York University converted it to class rooms.  Known today as Kimball Hall, it houses computer labs, lecture and classrooms and a student lounge.

photographs by the author

The 1832 Asa B. Meech House - 108 Washington Place

The flurry of building in Greenwich Village in the late 1820's and '30's prompted mason and builder John Nichols to purchased seven lots on West Washington Place.   (West Washington Place was separated from Washington Place to the east by Sixth Avenue at the time.)  He sold a few to other men also engaged in the building craft and they cooperatively erected a row of handsome Federal style houses along the row.

No. 35 West Washington Place was completed in 1832 and, like its neighbors, was faced in Flemish bond red brick.  It rose two-and-a-half stories tall, its attic story punctured by two dormers.  The brownstone basement level was protected by Federal-style iron fencing with anthemion finials. 

The initial purchaser quickly resold the house in 1833 to Asa B. Meech, the principal in the commission business Asa B. Meech & Co. and his wife, Elizabeth.   The couple had been married in Buffalo, New York in 1819 where Meech had begun his career in "a general mercantile business" with partner Hiram Pratt.  Around 1825 he founded Asa B. Meech & Co., only the second forwarding and commission firm in that city.

Meech had been in New York City five years at the time of his purchasing the house.  He had wasted no time in establishing himself in the city.  By the 1840's he was an alderman and as well owned much property in Greenwich Village and downtown.

The couple remained in the West Washington Place house for 14 years before moving back to Buffalo in 1847.  Before leaving they transferred a large amount of property on Christopher and West Fourth Streets to Rufus Meech, presumably their son.

The next family in the house took in roomers in their home, a practice that was common in the mid-19th century.  Their 1853 ad made it clear that they wanted their domestic peace to remain intact--not even offering food except on Sunday:

A small private family have an elegant suit of rooms handsomely furnished, pleasantly situated, to let to single gentlemen; where there are no children.  Rooms supplies with hot and cold water, and will be taken care of...Meals on Sunday if required.

An advertisement five years later gave a better description of the accommodations the roomer would enjoy.  Nearly the entire second floor was rented furnished, encompassing a "front Parlor, front room...and Bedroom adjoining, with use of bath room."  Again, the ad was explicit in saying "private family; no boarders."

By 1861 the house was home to the Labatut family, who continued to rent rooms.  On December 12 that year they advertised "Gentlemen or a family desiring a comfortable home, with a French family, can obtain handsome accommodations on moderate terms; house contains all the modern improvements."

The roomer who answered that ad did not work out--possibly because of his interest in the ladies.  Four months later he was looking for another home:

A gentleman bachelor, who is suffering from the consequences of a paralytical attack, wants a Room, with all comfort, and plain Board for himself and servant man, who occupies the room with him, in a private family who have no other boarders, and where he can find sufficient ladies society for social intercourse, he being entirely unoccupied."

Caroline Labatut seems to have been widowed by now.  She had three grown children, George, William and Mary.  The title to the house was in William's name and, interestingly, he sold it to his sister in April 1877.  Family relations did not get in the way of the transaction and Mary paid $12,700 for the property--about $320,000 in today's money.  

It was most likely at this time that the house was dramatically updated.  The attic floor was raised to full height and capped with a neo-Grec cornice, the parlor windows were extended to the floor, and stylish neo-Grec double entrance doors were installed.   Upon Mary's marriage to Arthur C. Runyan the couple moved nearby to Christopher Street. 

A Mrs. Howe was renting rooms from Caroline in 1879 when she became the victim of a purse snatcher.  On September 14 The New York Herald wrote "James Riley, an Ulster county lad, who had been sent to this city by his father to seek his fortune, failed to get any work."  In despair, said the article, he "snatched a pocketbook from Mrs. Howe, of No. 35 West Washington place, on Friday night."  The wayward boy was held on a charge of highway robbery.

By the early 1890's, with Washington Place now spanning Sixth Avenue, the house had the new address of No. 108 Washington Place.  Caroline was charging $2 and $3.50 for "nicely furnished double rooms" in 1891.  The higher rate would equal about $100 today, presumably for a month.

On April 24, 1893 Benjamin W. Buchanan and his wife took rooms on the top floor.  The 69-year old had been an attention with the New York Supreme Court for 35 years.  Around Christmas he had been diagnosed with dropsy (known today as edema) and dyspepsia.  Subsequently, according to The Evening Post, "For some time past he had been extremely feeble and could not eat.  He was also troubled with insomnia."

It did not help that Caroline Labatut was having work done on the house.  The Brooklyn Daily Eagle said on April 28 "He could not rest.  For two days plumbers have been at work in the house and disturbed him during the day.  He had become melancholy on account of his trouble."

At around 6:00 on the morning of April 28 Benjamin got up and dressed.  He told his wife he was not feeling well and was going to the roof to get fresh air.  "He said that it would brighten him up and left the room," reported the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

A few minutes later "a little newsboy," Charles Brazzo was passing by the house.  "He saw a man standing on the edge of the roof at 108," reported the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.  "The man drew a razor across his throat and jumped from the roof.  He struck the railing on the stoop and bounced out on the pavement."  The newsboy ran for a policeman, who summoned a doctor.  But Buchanan died on the sidewalk within minutes.  The Evening Post remarked "The gash in his throat was sufficient to have caused him to bleed to death."

Caroline Labatut died in 1897.  Mary Labatut Runyan retained possession until 1916 when the 22-foot wide house was sold to Dr. James F. Navoni.  The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide commented that he "will alter the premises into an apartment dwelling."  On August 6 The New York Herald added "It formerly was occupied by three families, but will be altered into a duplex apartment."

Navoni's renovations included a grouped studio window and balconette at the second floor.  New York Herald, August 6, 1916 (copyright expired)
Greenwich Village had become the center of New York City's artist community and Dr. Navoni responded by installing a studio window on the second floor.  His tenants reflected the trend.  In 1917 artist Sania Rosental Brown lived here, and in 1918 Impressionist and Modernist Frank Osborn was living and working in a studio apartment.  Both he and Brown exhibited at The Society of Independent Artists in 1917.

The Federal style ironwork along the areaway survives.
A different sort of artist moved in that year when Mrs. J. W. Ashley signed a lease in May on the basement and parlor level duplex.   Isabel E. Ashley was known to silent movie fans as Isabel O'Madigan.  She played the role of Mrs. Archibald in two movies that year, Bab's Matinee Idol and Bab's Diary.  

Isabel's husband, James W. Ashley, had been an actor as well, but was now engaged in theatrical management.  In 1918 James was traveling with Ladies First and was in Cleveland when he mailed off a love letter.  There were two problems--the letter was not to Isabel and rather than sending it to the intended 122nd Street address he inadvertently sent it to Washington Place.

In December Isabel sued for divorce, exposing the contents of the letter for all to read:

I sent you all my love, kisses, a million tons of love. I  love you, worship you, idolize you, my baby wife.

Despite the damning evidence, Ashley denied his wife's charges, blaming their troubles instead on her.  The Daily Argus reported that he "says that she is too much devoted to card games and costly gowns for his liking."  Isabel sought $25 per week in alimony, about $425 today.

Another resident involved in the theater was Philip Moeller, who lived here by the early 1920's.  A stage producer and director, playwright and screenwriter, he had helped organize the Washington Square Players and co-found the Theater Guild of New York.  He hosted meetings of the guild in his apartment here.

Guild members pose in Moeller's Washington Place apartment.  Moeller is second from left in the back row.  The Billboard, December 23, 1922 (copyright expired) 
On May 12, 1941 The New York Sun reported that No. 108 had been sold to J. Clark Bingham and Marion L. Bingham for $22,000 (about $382,000 in today's terms) "who will remodel the house."  Their renovations resulted in a duplex in the basement and parlor and one apartment each on the upper two upper floors.

A period mantel (top) survives in the otherwise sleek interiors.  via streeteasy.com
That configuration lasted until 1972 when an alteration created two duplexes.  While a few of the 1832 details survive, the the sleek, nearly gut renovation left little of the original interiors.  

photographs by the author