In 1890 developer Christian Blinn sold the four properties at the northeast corner of Broadway and 80th Street to Julia Schwartz. He had built the three-story brick faced dwellings and stores in 1882. From 1900 through 1918 she made individual renovations to the four structures at Nos. 2241 through 2247; but in 1919 she embarked on a significant project.
On June 14 that year the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that she would be spending $50,000--more than $725,000 today--to convert the combined former houses "into apartments." She had hired the architectural firm of B. H. & C. N. Whinston to handle the renovations.
Charles N. and his brother Benjamin H. Whinston had practiced together since 1914. Much of their work at the time was in renovating existing structures--making Julia Schwartz's project a good match. The two would end their partnership in 1923; each going on to notable careers. (Oddly enough, they died four months apart in 1964.)
In the first years after World War I a romantic architectural trend was sweeping the country. Structures and, indeed, entire planned communities were being designed as fanciful Tudor cottages and Shakespeare-ready buildings. The Whinstons transformed the old dwellings into a stuccoed English complex replete with half-timbering, Juliette balconies and quirky gables. At least one critic felt the design went a step too far. In its December 1920 issue Architecture magazine wrote "The half-timbered remodelling of shops and apartments, Broadway and 80th Street, New York, by B. H. & C. N. Whinston, are interesting through somewhat exotic."
Even before construction had begun Julia Schwartz had leased the ground floor to the C. & L. Lunch Company for 21 years. The firm installed one of its several restaurants in the store space at No. 2245. In 1920 Scobel-Glauber Company took of the management of the upper floors, known as the Calvin Apartments. An advertisement in the New-York Tribune offered "One, two and three rooms with bath, with or without kitchenette; new building; elevator service."
|The entrance to the Calvin Apartments was in the little cottage building at No. 249 West 80th Street. Although it and the service building next door, most likely originally a garage, have been sorely altered, they retain much of their 1920 charm.|
In November 1923 the Hotel Emerson purchased the lease of the upper floors. The New York Evening Post reported "The new lessee plans extensive alterations and will lease the space for small apartment use."
The United Cigar Stores operated many stores throughout the boroughs. At around 8:00 in the morning on May 13, 1926 two pistol-wielding thugs entered the store at 53rd Street and Broadway and emptied the cash register while the terrified manager could only watch. Then, thirty minutes later they barged into the No. 2241 Broadway shop. The Brooklyn Standard Union reported that they "covered Paul Morrat, the manager, with revolvers, and emptied the cash register of $180."
Four years later it was the C. & L. Restaurant that was targeted. On January 25, 1930 the upstate newspaper the Cohoes American reported "Four bandits with drawn revolvers early today held up eight patrons and the manager of the C. & L. restaurant...Two hundred dollars was taken from the restaurant's till and $200 in money and jewelry was taken from the customers."
The New York Sun added "While the holdup was in progress a man and a woman walked in and they were promptly lined against the wall. A diamond ring was taken from the woman and $60 in cash from the man."
In 1941 the C. & L. Restaurant left No. 2245, replaced by the Zabar Super Market. Louis Zabar operated eight grocery stores and used this location as the chain's headquarters. He found himself in serious trouble on September 25 that year when he was called to appear with other grocers before three magistrates in Municipal Term Court for multiple Office of Price Administration violations.
The New York Post reported "The heaviest penalty, $1,055 fine and 24 days' imprisonment, was imposed by Magistrate Ramsgate on Louis Zabar and the Zabar Super Market...Zabar pleaded guilty to 19 charges of failure to post ceiling prices and 25 instances of over-ceiling prices."
Despite the unflattering press, Zabar's continued in the location, gradually focusing less on mere groceries and more on specialty foods.
In 1949 the upper floors were renovated as the 18-room Center Hotel. It was the scene of a bizarre mystery on March 12, 1974 when the nude body of 38-year-old David Cramer was found on the roof. The man lived in the hotel. The New York Times reported "The police said there were no visible signs of violence, and an autopsy was ordered."
Beck's Drug Store occupied No. 2243 by the early 1960's; but it went out of business in 1966. As the stores along the row closed, Zabar's grabbed up the leases. Today it stretches the entire length, including the storefront in the building next door at No. 2249. It has become an important piece of Manhattan popular culture and has made cameo appearances in motion pictures and television shows.
Unfortunately Zabar's unified storefront pays no architecture homage to the picturesque neo-Tudor building.
photographs by the author