Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Thom & Wilson's 1886 190-198 Columbus Avenue (100 West 69th Street)

In the mid-1880's developer George J. Hamilton was busy erecting rows of high-stooped houses on the Upper West Side.   He added an apartment building to the mix in 1885 when he commissioned the architectural firm of Thom & Wilson to design a "brick flat and store" along with four four-story row houses at the southwest corner of Ninth (later Columbus) Avenue and 69th Street.

The group was completed in July 1886.  Thom & Wilson, known for its distinctive take on popular styles, did not disappoint with the flat building.   Ground floor shops faced Columbus Avenue, while the residential entrance was located at No. 100 West 69th Street.  

The upper floors were faced in red brick and trimmed in stone.  Predominantly neo-Grec in style, the architects liberally splashed the design with Queen Anne elements.  The 69th Street elevation featured two Palladio-inspired openings at the second floor.  At the third floor the outside windows wore half-bowl decorations--adequate for a pot of flowers or the elbows of an inquisitive housewife.  Each of the top floor windows was capped by a deeply carved fan.  The pressed metal cornice included a handsome wave crest pattern between the brackets.

The more visible Columbus Avenue side was dominated by the unusual treatment of the top-heavy chimney backs which widened into full-blown chimneys that broke through the cornice line.  The central chimneys embraced a pediment that included an arch filled with exuberantly carved vines and fans. 

The corner shop was leased to Gustave Loetdje for his "handsome grocery store," as described by The Evening World.  Loetdje, who had come to America in 1881, seemed confused when the Federal Government stepped in to break up the monopoly of the sugar industry, the "Sugar Trust," in 1888.  His focus was more on the struggling refinery workers who would lose their jobs.

On January 30, 1888 a reporter from The World said "he thought it very hard on the hundreds of poor workmen who were thrown out of employment at this time of year by the shutting down of some of the sugar manufactories."

Among the tenants in 1893 was 20-year old Mable O. Clark, wife of Frederick Sherwin Clark, who was two years older.  The couple had been married on June 27 that year but, according to The New York Times, "the honeymoon lasted until July 1."  According to Frederick, it had been a shotgun wedding, "forced upon him at the point of a pistol."

The article explained that the pair had lived together for some time, but on that night Mable's mother and aunt appeared with a minister.  "Mrs. Clark threatened to shoot him and then commit suicide," said the newspaper.  "Clark preferred not to be shot."

But after returning to the city on July 1 and taking rooms at No. 100 West 69th Street, Frederick vanished.  He then hired a private investigator to gather evidence to file for divorce.  

Unaware of his actions, Mabel sued for lack of support and appeared in court with her mother on July 19.  Clark was there with his father.  After the judge decreed that Clark was to pay $5 per week to Mabel, all parties began to file out of the courtroom.  It was then that Clark's private detective approached Mabel and tried to serve her with the divorce papers.

"She discovered his game and shouted out that she was being assaulted," reported The Times.  Mabel and her mother nearly lost the detective in the crowded hallways, but he caught up with them on the street.  "Mrs. Clark ran around an ash barrel.  The detective ran after her.  Around the barrel they raced again and again.  A crowd gathered and watched the novel game of hide-and-seek."

"At last," said The Evening World, "Wells caught her and thrust the paper into her hands."   But then, back in the courthouse, detective Wells made a crushing discovery--the divorce papers were still in his vest pocket and he had served Mabel with his New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad timetable.

The names of most of the residents appeared in newsprint for respectable reasons--like Gertrude de la M. Ludlam, whose daughter, Helen Denison Ludlam, was married in their apartment to Herbert F. C. Ashenden on June 6, 1900.  But occasionally a tenant would find himself on the wrong side of the law.

Such was the case on March 2, 1907 when Deputy Police Commissioner Hanson and six detectives raided a poolroom on Broadway between 75th and 76th Streets.  The term poolroom referred to an illegal gambling operation, normally involving horse racing.  The New York Press reported "With his detectives he made a quick dash at the door and gained admission without difficulty.  He found sixty men in the room, he said, gathered around racing charts and other paraphernalia."

Among the "prisoners and the plunder" that were carted away in a patrol wagon was Monroe Voorhess, of No. 100 West 69th Street.   He was charged with aiding and abetting John Davis, who headed the illegal operation.

Alfred M. Woolley and his wife lived in the building at the time.  He and W. E. Woolley, presumably his brother, were proprietors of the Hotel Marie Antoinette on Broadway between 66th and 67th Streets.   Captain Walter G. Smith had been Alfred Woolley's secretary since 1898.  

On Sunday January 19, 1908 Smith told one of the clerks that he was going to take a walk.  He never returned.  His friends began a frantic search and a week later a reporter knocked on the Woolleys' apartment door.  Alfred was not there, but his wife said in part, "Mr. Woolley is greatly worried...He has heard nothing from him since he left the hotel last Sunday.  Perhaps Captain Smith has been injured in some way or has become ill."

The reason for his disappearance soon became evident when it was discovered that about $12,000 (about $338,000 today) was missing from the Hotel Marie Antoinette.  Four months later, on April 6, Smith was found in the Susquehanna River with a bullet hole in his head.  But if the discovery initially seemed to have closed the case, it did not.

On April 27 Alfred Woolley had Deputy State Attorney General William E. Kisselburgh, Jr. arrested for defrauding the hotel out of $4,000, $2,263 of which was written on bad checks.  More importantly, it appeared that Kisselburgh had been involved in Smith's embezzlement.  The Auburn Semi-Weekly Journal reported "The charge is now made that Smith advanced part of this sum to Kisselburgh and two other men as I.O.U.'s and worthless checks."

Kate F. Hanley, who made her living as a dressmaker, lived here in 1915 when she visited James Butler's grocery store and butcher shop on Amsterdam Avenue and 68th Street on January 8.  Between the two sections were swinging doors.  The butcher shop was then one step down.  

As Kate passed from one store to the other she did not notice the step and fell.  She sued Butler for negligence.  The jury did not agree and found in favor for Butler, saying that instead it was Kate who was careless.  The feisty dressmaker did not accept the verdict and as late as 1915 was still battling in court.

And while Kate was fighting for justice, 12-year old Alexander Discount was doing the same, albeit in a much different way.  On January 28, 1915 the boy surprised a burglar, William Fiore, "ransacking a bureau in his room," according to The New York Herald.  As the thief ran down the hallway stairs, Alexander flung himself from the second floor landing onto his back.

"Screams brought women tenants with brooms.  The young man was being subjected to a severe pummeling when Policeman Heaney arrived and arrested him on a charge of burglary," reported the article.   Alexander's dresser was obviously not Fiore's first target that night.  "Three watches and a quantity of silver were found in his pockets."

Although they were middle class, several of the residents were affluent enough to purchase automobiles in the post World War I years.   Buying one and successfully driving one were separate issues, however.

On August 11, 1919 the New-York Tribune reported "A car driven by Louis Starvides, of 100 West Sixty-ninth Street, crashed into the machine of Miss Gertrude Mooney, twenty-one, of 1027 Carroll Street, Brooklyn."  The impact was such that Mooney's car was overturned.  She suffered a fractured skull and two of her passengers were severely injured.  "Mrs. George Mooney, fourth occupant of the car, was treated for hysteria and shock," said the article.

Three years later, late on the night of March 18, 1922, 24-year old M. Alexander was driving his automobile in the Inwood section.  The Evening World reported "St. Patrick's Day worshippers returning from church soon after midnight to-day saw a powerful touring car plunge over an eighteen-foot embankment of Vermilye Avenue."   The screams of women attracted police who, with several civilians, pulled Alexander from the wreckage.  "He has a possible fracture of the skull and lacerations of body and head," said the article.  "The car was badly damaged."

In 1929 renovations were made to the building and it was most likely at this time that the 69th Street entrance was bricked up and the doorway moved to Columbus Avenue.

Another alteration in 1981 resulted in a total of 14 apartments above the six ground floor stores.  Over the next decades the shops reflected the increasingly trendy personality of Columbus Avenue.  The Robert Marc eyewear boutique and optician office was here by 1984 and still remains.  Other shops along the row in the 1980's were Contre-Jour, the furniture and housewares store which owner Bill Roach described in 1986 as carrying only "things I would have myself;" and Judy Corman, which dealt in modish accessory items.

The new century saw the Frank J. Miele Gallery, gourmet shop Oliviers & Company, and French tea importer La Palaise des Thés among the ground floor tenants.

The brick and stone have been painted and the windows, of course, replaced.  But other than the blocked up entrance on 69th Street and altered storefronts, Thom & Wilson's somewhat quirky building survives little changed.

photographs by the author

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