Thursday, April 2, 2020

200 Years of History - 34 White Street

Around 1805 the two-and-a-half story frame house at the northeast corner of White and Church Streets was completed.  The 25-foot wide residence would have had a peaked roof with dormers.  It unclear who erected the house; but it was occupied by Abraham Moore for several years.  Because Moore was well known in city politics, it is highly doubtful that house originally held a ground floor store.

By 1851 the ground floor had been converted for a grocery store.  It was operated by Gerhard Dieckman in 1853, who lived in the upper floors.  He was too savvy to be taken in by two would-be crooks that summer.  On August 18 the New-York Daily Tribune reported "Officer Trury of the Fifth Ward, yesterday arrested two men, named Charles King and Thomas Brooks, charged with attempting to pass a counterfeit bank bill at the store of Gerhard Dyckman [sic], No. 34 White-street."

Dieckman remained for a few years, but by 1859 the store had been taken over by Christopher Burmester.  On the night of January 18 Burmester neglected to lock the door to the cellar and between 3:00 and 4:00 in the morning fire broke out there.  Because it was "discovered at an early moment," according to the New-York Daily Tribune, it "was extinguished before much damage was done."  

But firefighters quickly suspected an arsonist had entered through the unlocked door.  The New York Herald noted "The fire was subsequently found to have originated amongst some empty barrels...and the fire is supposed to have been the act of an incendiary."

The store continued to see a turnover in proprietors.  Henry Miller ran it and lived upstairs in 1861.  That year the family's pet ran away.  An advertisement in The New York Herald on October 16 read: "$10 Reward--Lost...A King Charles Dog, with white breast.  The above reward will be given by returning him to No. 34 White street, corner Church."  That the dog was beloved was evidenced in the reward--nearly $300 in today's money.

It unclear who was operating the grocery store on March 4, 1864 when The New York Times reported that the house had been sold for $15,500 (about $256,000 today).  The upstairs portion was home to the family of George Reeves and while he was a grocer, his store was at No. 44 Whitehall Street.

The store space was apparently divided by 1873.  Michael J. Gallagher, who lived in Brooklyn, ran a dry goods shop from the address while Henry A. Haack operated the grocery.  Like many grocers, Haack also sold products like wine.  It got him into trouble on August 23, 1875.  The following day The Evening Telegram reported that he had been arrested "for selling liquor on the Sabbath."  He was held in jail overnight before appearing before a judge.

Major change to the building came in 1876 when owner William Watson began significant renovations.  When they were completed in 1877 the house was now a full three stories tall and was faced in brick.  Up-to-date neo-Grec iron lintels and sills were attached to the openings and a cast iron storefront had been installed.

The stylish lintels and sills were the last word in architectural trends.

The former grocery store space was now transformed to a restaurant.  Neither of the partners, Moses King nor Louis Miller, lived in the building.  King's home was on Third Avenue and Miller's on Franklin Street.

The property continued to be in the Watson family for years.  In 1901 the title was transferred to Henry R. C. Watson, presumably a son.

By 1903 the ground floor space was no longer being described as an "eating house," but as a "saloon."  And there was more going on inside than the casual chatter and beer drinking.  Two detectives named Delaney and Rice received a tip that spring, according to The Morning Telegraph, "that a handbook was in operating in a saloon at 34 White street."   A "handbook" operation was a system of betting on horse races.

The two undercover men set out to investigate during the first week of May.  "They had no difficulty in finding the saloon, and a ticker in a corner," said the newspaper.  Detective Delancy explained later that he "hugged that ticker for about an hour, and pored over the quotations on oil, sugar, railroads and horse races."  He said "I acted as much like a sport as I knew how and Kusker eventually approached and asked if I didn't want to be something on the races."

"Kusker" was 24-year old Edward Kusker who, despite his young age, ran what police described as "his gigantic gambling operation."  Delaney feigned "mature deliberation" and then said he "wanted to make a killing on Early Eve, in the sixth."  He pulled out a marked two-dollar bill.   The Morning Telegram wrote "Kusker, says the detective, accepted the bet, and the next thing he knew he was a guest of the City of New York."

In January 1904 Alfred E. Davison purchased the building.  He updated the structure, including a new metal cornice with brackets and a neo-Classical frieze.

Levi Y. Richardson, described by a newspaper as "a wealthy stationer" moved the Ryan Stationery Company into the renovated building.  The firm had been established years earlier and acquired by Richardson that year.  Things were going well for Richardson, who had married his wife, Mary, in 1901.  They lived in a fashionable Brooklyn neighborhood.

But early in 1907 Richardson began consistently staying out late at night.  On April 18 Mary rummaged through his suit pockets and found two love letters from "two young women, one of them prominent in Brooklyn society," according to newspapers.  They left no doubt as to his dalliances, both referring to the happy days that would come after his divorce.  "In the morning, it was alleged, she charged him with duplicity, and he confessed, fell on his knees and with tears in his eyes, kissed Mrs. Richardson again and again," recounted the New-York Tribune.

But his remorse was short lived.  He asked Mary for a divorce and when she replied that she "despised divorces," he exploded.  The New-York Tribune reported on June 11, "One night, she charged, he threw a glass powder jar at her and laid violent hands on her."  After he subsequently moved out, Mary filed for separation on the grounds of "advanced cruel and inhuman treatment and abandonment."

The bad press apparently ruined Richardson's business.  That summer he filed for bankruptcy.  The Sun reminded its readers "A report published in the papers of June 11 of a suit brought in the Supreme Court, Brooklyn, by Mrs. Mary Richardson against her husband...because she found two love letters from other women in his pockets caused considerable comment at that time."

The Ryan Stationery Company survived at the address, taken over by Cornelius Steers in the summer of 1907.  He was successful and on April 25 the following year Walden's Stationery and Printer commented that he "has built up a promising business."

Although clothing manufacturer Perfect Pants Company was in the building until 1913, and outerwear firm The Ranger Sales Co. was here in 1921, it continued to house printing firms.  In 1921 Alvo Printing took the third floor and would stay for years.  

Boys' Life magazine, June 1921 (copyright expired)

Alvo Printing was joined in the building in 1927 by Joseph Eismann, "printers' machinists."

The building was painted white in the 1940's.  from the collection of the New York Public Library
As the 20th century drew to an end the Tribeca neighborhood turned trendy.  By 1994 the Baby Doll Lounge was in the space once occupied by Edward Kusker's saloon and gambling den.  On August 22 that year Anya Sacharow wrote in New York Magazine "TriBeCa hipsters slum at the Jim Jarmusch-ish Baby Doll Lounge."  It would remain in the space past the turn of the century.

In 1997 the upper section was converted to apartments, one per floor.  On February 1, 2006 Petrarca Vina e Cucina opened at street level, described by The Times as "Arqua's wine bar spin-off."

photographs by the author

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