Friday, February 7, 2020

The 1869 Grosvenor. Bldg - 64-66 White Street

Jasper Grosvenor was a partner in Rogers, Ketchum & Grosvenor, one of the largest steam locomotive manufacturers in the United States.  Following his death in 1857 his wife, Matilda, took over the administration of his estate and before long turned to real estate development.  In 1869 she had two converted houses at Nos. 64 and 66 White Street and another at No. 60 White Street demolished.  Simultaneously the estate of D. C. Williams did the same with the building in between at No. 62.

Doubtlessly the two owners discussed their projects.  Both estates hired architect William W. Gardiner to design their modern loft buildings, completed within the year, which were near matches to one another.  The largest, Nos. 64-66, was given the name the Grosvenor Building which was incorporated into the pediment high above the street along with the construction date.

Like its fraternal siblings, the Grosvenor Building was clad in cast iron.  Gardiner's Second Empire design featured Corinthian columns at the store front level and Doric pilasters on the upper floors.  Prominent cornices separated each floor and the impressive terminal cornice was supported by ornate brackets.  Its arched pediment was surmounted by a decorative finial.

Nos. 60 and 62 White Street were virtually smaller versions of 64-66 (at right).
In 1877 the building was leased to the auction house of Wilmerding, Hoguet & Co.  Founded by Henry Augustus Wilmerding the firm liquidated excess stock, the goods of bankrupt manufacturers, and other large parcels.   In its January 1877 issue The Carpet Trade Review announced "Wilmerding, Hoguet & Co. remove February 1 to 64 and 66 White Street, where the carpet department will be located on the first floor."

The Carpet Trade Review, January 1877 (copyright expired)
The firm auctioned a wide variety of goods.  On July 23, 1878, for instance, The Evening Telegram reported "An unusually important auction sale, consisting of 6,000 cases blankets, carriage robes, lap-robes and horse blankets took place to-day at the salesrooms of Wilmerding, Hoguet & Co., Nos. 64 and 66 White street."  The massive amount of woolen goods had been assembled from five manufacturers.  The writer estimated the number of bidders present at 600.

The firm briefly subleased space to furrier Joseph J. Asch, who was listed here in The List: A Visiting and Shopping Directory in 1885.  Asch's name is forever remembered as the owner of the Asch Building and the Triangle Waist Company where 146 women perished in a fire in 1911.

Henry Augustus Wilmerding had died in 1870 and his son, John Currie Wilmerding stepped into his post as a partner with Robert J. Hoguet and Henry L. Hoguet.  On January 1, 1889 they brought additional partners into the firm, changing the name to Wilmerding, Morris & Mitchell.  Other than the name, little else changed in the operation or location of the firm.

Among the new partners was Cornelius B. Mitchell who was concerned about the city's barren streetscape.   As sidewalks were laid no thought had been given to greenery, leaving Manhattan's streets increasingly barren.  In 1899 he helped found The Tree Planting Association which sought to correct the situation.

Residents were urged to plant a tree in front of their homes or businesses.  The initial cost, the association
 stressed, was small, the expense of maintaining the trees nearly nonexistent, and the benefits great.  "The enjoyment of seeing them grow and the knowledge that each tree, even though small, will exert a cooling and beneficial influence on the air in summer, and that its graceful outlines and branches will be beautiful in winter--make the investment of a few dollars most satisfactory."  

On March 22, 1899 The New York Press announced "The Tree Planting Association has prepared some new circulars which they will forward without charge to all inquirers by mail only to its office, No. 64 white street, New York city."

In 1901 the ground floor became the showroom of G. Z. Akawo, a Japanese manufacturer of floor matting.  In its January 1902 issue American Carpet & Upholstery wrote "At their salesrooms in the famous Wilmerding, Morris & Mitchell Building at 64-66 White Street, New York, is to be found the entire line, most in exclusive patterns.  Mr. Akawo is one of the latter-day brand of Japanese who are bending their energies to extend their commerce to all parts of the world."

American Carpet & Upholstery Journal, January 1902 (copyright expired)
The commission firm of J. J. Houlihan sublet space in the building at the same time.  He represented carpeting firms like the Coral Manufacturing Company and the Belmont Mills.  He was also a direct competitor of G. Z. Akawo.  American Carpet & Upholster Journal noted that he "also carries a very complete line of China and Japan mattings."  The article added "A call at the White Street establishment will demonstrate that he has three good and thoroughly available lines, and buyers would do well to at least give him a call."

American Carpet & Upholstery Journal, January 1902 (copyright expired)
If the proximity of the two firms was counter-productive, the situation was eliminated when G. Z. Akawo hired J. J. Houlihan to manage his business in New York.  In August 1904 American Carpet & Upholstery reported "G. Z. Akawo, who left for Japan several months ago, has recently forwarded to Manager J. J. Houlihan, at their warerooms, 64 White Street, New York, the samples of new style mattings for Spring 1905 import orders."

Wilmerding, Morris & Mitchell left White Street around 1909.  That year A. L. Reid & Co., importers and converters of dry goods was listed in the building.  

In 1914 the aging structure was in need of updating.  Its owner, George M. Carnochan, hired architect James A. Clark to make sensible renovations, including "enclosure of toilets."

The building continued to house dry goods firms throughout the subsequent decades.  When The Broadway-John Street Corporation purchased the property in January 1920, the New-York Tribune mentioned it was "occupied at present by English commission houses."  Among them was Ridgway, Greeves & Co., Irish linen importers.

By the mid-1940's the Paramount Textile Mills, Inc. was in the building.  Employees were paid in cash at the time and trips from the bank with the weekly payroll could be dangerous.  On August 27, 1946 Jennie Iacone, who was just 20-years-old, made the bank run unaccompanied.  She made it back to the building at around 12:43 with $1,683 in a money bag--a tempting $21,600 in today's money for bandits.

Rather than the elevator, she took the stairs.  She had just reached the first landing when she noticed a young man coming down.  Simultaneously another rushed up from behind.  That man grabbed and choked her.  Although she fought back, they wrested the bag from her and escaped.  Jennie fainted on the landing.  

Police theorized that the thieves had watched the building for weeks, taking note of when the payroll was retrieved and that Jennie had no protection.  They looked for suspects with scratches since Jennie's sole weapon had been her fingernails.

The third quarter of the century saw a starkly different type of tenant.  Among them in 1981 was Julius Blumberg, Inc. publisher of legal forms and documents.

The three buildings have been internally combined.
Around 2015 the Grosvenor Building was joined internally with Nos. 60 and 62.  A gut renovation resulted in a mix-use building.  Lost architectural elements, like the Corinthian capitals of the storefront, were refabricated, restoring the handsome facade to its 1869 appearance.

The elaborate capitals were carefully copied from originals.
photographs by the author

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