Friday, March 6, 2020

The United States Boarding Stables - 153-155 East 32nd Street

photograph by the author

As the 18th century ended and the 19th began, the bucolic Kips Bay area was filled with the summer estates of some of Manhattan's wealthiest citizens.  But by the end of the Civil War the city was increasingly engulfing the area.   Along the newly-opened streets rose stores and homes, and with the new residents came the need for stabling for their horses and vehicles.

As early as 1865 the Lexington Stables stood at Nos. 153-155 East 32nd Street.  Half of the wooden structure was a single story while the other had a second floor where hay and tack would have been stored.

Livery and boarding stables often helped patrons sell their horses or vehicles and on September 13 that year an advertisement in The New York Herald offered "A bright bay horse for sale--Seven years old, 16 hands high, fit for a coupe.  Apply at Lexington Stables, 153 and 155 East Thirty-second street."

The business quickly changed hands twice.  In 1867 it was known as Crossmon's Stables, and by 1869 had become the United States Stables.  Like his predecessors had done, the owner accommodated his boarders in sales.  One particularly glowing ad appeared in The New York Herald on October 23, 1869:

For Sale--A gentleman's turnout, consisting of a sorrel Mare, Top Wagon, Harness, &c.; there is not a more handsome or stylish beast in the city; young, sound and perfectly gentle, and a good saddle mare; wagon about four months old and harness same; will be sold cheap, as owner has no further use for them; a grand chance for a gentleman to purchase a stylish animal.  Inquire at U.S. Stables, 153 and 155 East Thirty-second street.

James W. Pitney took over operation of the stables around 1872, leasing the building from W. H. Hare.  It was a convenient location for him, since he lived just around the corner at No. 460 Third Avenue and also owned a carriage manufacturing establishment at No. 458 Third Avenue.

Boarding a horse at the United States Stables was not cheap.  The fee was $30 per month in 1872; or about $636 today.  Nevertheless, a horse was a significant investment and worth the outlay.  An ad promised "horses kept in the best manner; stalls all on ground floor; also superior accommodations for carriages on storage."

New York's Great Industries advised "Among the well equipped stables of the metropolis are those owned by Mr. James W. Pitney, and known as the United States Stables, which are located at Nos. 153 and 155 East 32nd street."  The article mentioned that "The stalls are large and well ventilated and have all the modern improvements. Mr. Pitney makes a specialty of boarding horses which receive the most careful attention from experienced grooms."

Because it was both a boarding and a livery stable, vehicles were available for rent, not dissimilar to a rental car business today.   In December 1876 an ad offered: "Horses and sleighs, wagons of all kinds for all purposes to let all times.  Pitney's United States Stables."  

The mention of sleighs reflected the season.  At a time when effective snow removal was impossible, carriages were of little use following a snowstorm.  Sleighs also provided recreation and in February 1879 the Pitney touted "Sleigh riding same price as carriage riding, at United States stables."

On August 23, 1884 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that Pitney had acquired a new landlord.  Millionaire Robert Hoe, Jr., whose sumptuous townhouse was at No. 11 East 36th Street, had purchased the property.  He paid $25,250, or about $667,000 today.

By now the wooden stables was outdated and inefficient.  In April 1899 Hoe demolished it and hired the well-known architect firm of Charles W. Romeyn & Co. to design a modern replacement structure.  The plans called for a three-story brick stable to cost "about $40,000"--in the neighborhood of $1.25 million today.  The new structure would extend through the block to East 33rd Street.

Construction proceeded at a rapid pace and the new building was ready to receive horses and vehicles by December 1.  The architects had created a handsome tripartite Romanesque Revival structure.  Obliterated today, the ground floor would have had double bay doors, most likely centered.  The building was clad in beige brick and trimmed in brownstone.  Harsh edges along the sides of the openings were eliminated by the use of bull-nosed brick.  

Despite the decidedly utilitarian purpose of the stable, Hoe spent extra money on details like the handsome basketweave brickwork between the brownstone arches of the second floor and the stone string course of the third.  Each of the large arched openings at the second floor was echoed in paired windows at the third.  Rather than an overhanging cornice, the architect opted for an arched brick corbel table.  The top floor contained living space for managing employees and their families.

Rounded corners and creative brickwork were added expenses.
In an announcement in the New York Herald on December 1 Pitney "cordially" invited "your inspection of the new United States Stables, just completed with all the modern improvements."
Among the staff was 39-year old Hans Majinos.  Apparently disgruntled, he set fire to the building a month after it opened.    On January 31, 1900 he was held on a substantial bail of $67,000 in today's money, charged "with setting fire to Pinkney's [sic] livery stable."

After having been at the location for more than a quarter of a century, Pitney did not renew his lease (or more probable, it was not renewed).  Hoe leased the building to the Fifth Avenue Hotel for its stables.  The arrangement would not last especially long, however.  The Fifth Avenue Hotel closed its doors in April 1908.  

An announcement of an auction at the Fifth Avenue Hotel Stables on April 8 that year gives an insight into the scope of the operation.  For sale were "86 horses, 8 landaus, 13 broughams, 9 hansoms, 2 opera buses, 7 victorias, 25 sets double and single harness" as well as a "large quantity of blankets, robes, whips, liveries and appurtenances."

The building did not sit vacant.  On the day before the auction the Corporation Council prepared "a lease to the City from Robert Hoe, of premises 153 and 155 East Thirty-second street...for the use of the Police Department."  The five year lease cost the city $7,000 per month; about $197,000 today.

Later that year the Police Department upgraded the building with "electric light and power installation throughout," as recorded by the Record & Guide on December 26.

The stable was the scene of a tragic accident on May 6, 1912.  Officer William Kidney returned in a patrol wagon after having transported prisoners to the Men's Night Court.  The New York Press reported that he "was getting off the wagon, one foot on the hub of the wheel, when the horses took a step forward."  The 48-year old policeman fell backwards, his head striking the cobblestone pavement.  The newspaper said he was "perhaps fatally injured." 

The Police Department remained in the building through 1916.  Robert Hoe had died in 1909 and his estate hired architect J. B. Wallach in 1917 to convert the building to a garage.  But his plans were rejected for zoning reasons by the city.  It was not until the following year that problems were worked out and a new architect, Edward Hughes, filed plans for the conversion.  The renovations included new floors and support beams, elevator and stairs.

photo via
A garage remained in the space for decades.  When a 16-story apartment building was proposed for the site in the early 1990's, the Charles W. Romeyn's handsome stable building seemed doomed.  And it was, for the most part.  The Atrium East was completed in 1993 with the United States Stable facade preserved as its frontage.

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