Thursday, April 30, 2020

The Chelsea Hotel - 222 West 23rd Street

photograph by Velvet

In 1869 construction began on the seven-story Excelsior Buildings stretching from No. 216 through 226 on the south side of 23rd Street, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues.  Completed in 1871, it was part of a corrupt Tammany Hall scheme that would be called the Armory Frauds.  Although the city had twelve National Guard regiments, the Excelsior Buildings was one of 24 armories rented by the city.

On February 18, 1878 The New York Times reported that the structure was "totally destroyed" by fire.  The site sat vacant for four years until, on November 11, 1882 The Record & Guide announced "It appears that a new extensive apartment house is finally to be erected on the south side of Twenty-third a co-operative association to be known as the Chelsea apartment house.  The location is that formerly occupied by the old armory that was destroyed by fire...The apartments in this building will be divided into suites of from three to nine rooms."

The architectural firm of Hubert, Pirsson & Co. filed plans in January 1883 for a brick "flat for forty private families" with construction costs of $300,000--about $7.9 million today.  It would be a cooperative, or "Home Club," building.  

The Record & Guide explained how Home Clubs worked.  "A number of gentlemen of congenial tastes, and occupying the same social positions in life, meet together and agree upon a suitable site for, and the erection of, an apartment house."  They next formed a "stock company" with a president and officers.  Each stockholder received a 50-year lease with renewals, and "a fixed rental is established for each apartment to meet the current running expenses, such as coal, gas, janitor, bell-boys, taxes and interest on mortgage."  The journal pointed out that Philip Hubert of Hubert, Pirsson & Co. "was the original projector of this entire system."

The team was, as well, on the cutting edge of apartment house design, having come up with the "mezzanine plan" or split level floor plan, for instance, and were far ahead of other architects in terms of ventilation and amount of sunlight in the units.

Their Queen Anne style Chelsea Hotel incorporated the latest in architectural trends and conveniences.  Tier after tier of cast iron balconies with French doors adorned the red brick 23rd Street facade.  They were ornamented with heavy cast sunflowers--a common Queen Anne motif.  Windows had geometrically patterned stained glass transoms.  The mansard roof was punctured by dormers and chimneys and interrupted by soaring end gables and a central tower.  It was, according to at least one report, the tallest building in Manhattan.

The center gable originally wore a high, pyramidal cap.  photo from the collection of the New York Public Library 

The Queen Anne style was carried on in the interiors.  An intricate central cast iron staircase wound from the lobby to the twelfth floor, its railing continuing the sunflower motif.  Because the building was a cooperative, the apartments were built to the buyers' specifications and boasted fireplaces (one cast in bronze), high ceilings and sound-proof walls.

Cast iron sunflowers blossom along the balconies.
The two top floors were reserved for rental units and the ground floor had commercial space available to bring in extra income for the cooperative.  The plan was that the running expenses would be paid for by the leases, costing the apartment owners nothing.

The sunflowers continue up the inner cast iron staircase. photograph provided by Carlton 

From the beginning residents of the Chelsea Hotel included artists.  Included in the 1886 Exhibition of the American Art Galleries were works by Chelsea Hotel residents J. Francis Murphy, F. K. M. Rehn, C. D. Weldon, Rufus Zogbaum, and Charles Melville Dewey.

John Francis Murphy was a largely self-taught landscape painter.  He and his wife, Ada Clifford Murphy (an accomplished painter herself) had a summer home in Arkville, New York in the Catskills.  

Charles Melville Dewey, whose works hang today in museums like the Corcoran Gallery, the National Gallery and the Pennsylvania Academy in Philadelphia, was a tonalist painter.   Like Murphy's, Dewey's wife, Julia F. Henshaw Dewey, was also a noted painter.

One resident not involved in the arts was Charles Adolphe Pineton, Marquis de Chambrun and d'Amfreville.   Born on August 10, 1831 the Marquis had been sent to the United States during the Civil War as a special envoy.  The Sun later said "He became intimate with President Lincoln, and was present at his invitation at the surrender of Richmond."

On August 26, 1891 attorney George Norris called on the Marquis at his office on Nassau Street.  He found him seriously ill and called two policemen to help remove him.  They arrested him for being drunk, but Norris was able to explain the situation to a sergeant and bring the Marquis home to the Chelsea Hotel.  He died in his apartment three weeks later.

Writers David Goodman Croly and his wife, the former Jane Cunningham were early residents.  Unfortunately, Croly was what might be termed a white supremacist today.  During the Civil War he co-authored a pamphlet Miscegenation, the goal of which was to derail the abolitionist movement and discredit the Lincoln Administration by heightening racist fears.  Croly died in 1889.

Jane Cunningham Croly from the collection of the General Federation of Women's Clubs
Jane Cunningham Croly lived on in the Chelsea Hotel writing under the pseudonym Jennie June.  She was a pioneer feminist, was editor of Demorest's Magazine, founder and editor of the Cycle Magazine and of the Home-Maker MagazineOn June 6, 1898 The Sun reported "Mrs. J. C. Croly, better known by her nom de plume, 'Jennie June,' is seriously ill at her apartments in the Chelsea."  The 69-year old had broken her hip in a fall on a flight of stairs at the Le Boutillier Brothers' department store.  The article noted "it was at first feared that she might not recover, but she is now reported doing as well as the nature of her injury will admit."  Croly never fully recovered, but did live until December 23, 1901.

Stage and film actors were also drawn to the Chelsea Hotel.  Among the first were Lily Langtry and Sarah Bernhardt.  By 1921 Nita Martan lived here.  The motion picture actress went by the professional name of Manila Martan and was best known for her repeated roles in the Tarzan serials.  She shared her apartment with Jimmie, a squirrel.

Manila Martan poses with an elephant for this publicity shot.  from the collection of the Library of Congress

On November 21 that year the New-York Tribune reported "'Jimmie,' New York's most highly educated red squirrel finds Miss Manila Martan's millinery none too delectable.  His mistress (perhaps you recognize her as the wild girl in the Tarzan pictures) delayed her screen activities with wild animals to teach this clever rodent several tricks, the most unique being to use the phonograph in Miss Martan's apartment at the Hotel Chelsea as a merry-go-'round."

Portrait artist Joseph Cummings Chase lived and worked in the Chelsea at the time.  Among the hundreds of portraits he executed were 142 paintings of generals and war heroes of World War I.

Joseph Cummings Chase works on a portrait of Mary Katherine Campbell, the recently crowned "Miss Columbus" of the 1922 Atlantic City beauty contest, in his Chelsea Hotel apartment.  New-York Tribune, September 24, 1922 (copyright expired)

Also living here at the time were novelist Henry Sydnor Harrison, whose works included Queen, Angela's Business, and Marriage; author Thomas Wolfe (who wrote his last novel You Can't Go Home Again here) and Civil War veteran Charles P. Champion.

Champion was one of the original stockholders in the Chelsea Hotel.  One of the founders of the Union League Club, The New York Times recalled that as a member of the renowned Seventh Regiment he "marched down Broadway to the Civil War in 1861.  After an illness of several months the 94-year old died in his apartment on May 1, 1931.  The Times noted, "Had Mr. Champion lived one year longer he would have completed the occupation of his suite at the Hotel Chelsea for the full term of his original lease, which was for fifty years."

In 1952 the aging structure was converted to what the Department of Buildings designated as a "Class B hotel," with furnished rooms and apartments.

By by 1960's and '70s the Chelsea was where both the celebrated and the infamous lived.  Arthur C. Clark wrote 2001 - A Space Odyssey here.  Arthur Miller lived at the Chelsea for six years and wrote of it, "This hotel does not belong to America.  There are no vacuum cleaners, no rules and's the high spot of the surreal.  Cautiously, I lifted my feet to move across bloodstained winos passing out on the sidewalks--and I was happy.  I witnessed how a new time, the sixties, stumbled into the Chelsea with young, bloodshot eyes."

There was tragedy at the Chelsea Hotel, too.  Poet and writer Dylan Thomas lived in Room 205 in 1953 and there, after eighteen whiskies, fell into a coma from which he never recovered.  In 1978 Sid Vicious and his girlfriend Nancy Spungeon were living in Room 100.  On October 11 she was found stabbed to death in the bathroom.  Vicious, while under suspicion of murder, died of a heroin overdose shortly thereafter. 

Over the years the management would sometimes accept artwork 
from struggling artists in lieu of back rent, resulting in the somewhat dowdy lobby and the staircase being crammed with paintings.  Visual artists who called the Chelsea home included Willem De Kooning, Robert Mapplethorpe, Diego Rivera, Christo, Jackson Pollack and Larry Rivers.  Award winning painter, etcher and engraver Alphaeus Philemon Cole lived at the Chelsea for 35 years until his death.  When he died on November 25, 1988 at the age of 112, he was the world's oldest man.

Musicians Madonna, Patti Smith, Alice Cooper, Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, and Leonard Cohen stayed here as well as actors and directors like Kevin O'Connor, Uma Thurman, Edie Sedgwick and Gaby Hoffman.

The hotel inspired two of Leonard Cohen's songs, "Chelsea Hotel" and "Chelsea Hotel No 2."  He carried on his affair with Janis Joplin here and later said of it "It's one of those hotels that have everything that I love so well about hotels.  I love hotels to which, at four a.m., you can bring along a midget, a bear and four ladies, drag them to your room and no one cares about it at all."

The owners began a renovation in 2007--one that is still ongoing.  On February 28, 2020 Zoe Pappas, president of the Chelsea Hotel Tenants Association told Spectrum News "We, the majority, want this building to be finished."   Seven tenants, however, had sued and a stop work order was imposed.  According to Spectrum News's Michael Scotto, "The owner says the seven tenants have said they would drop their suits and leave in return for a $50 million settlement...The owner says he's not paying $50 million and vows to finish the work."

photograph by Nikk0
In the meantime, the embattled, extraordinary piece of Manhattan's architectural, social and art history is a treasure.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

From Picture Frames to Debbie Harry - 266 Bowery

photo by Rob Oliver
In 1832 dry goods merchant Daniel C. Boughton lived in the two-and-a-half story Federal style house at No. 266 Bowery between Prince and Houston Streets.    Within a decade it had been converted for business, with Holdridge & Co.'s drug company in the ground floor.  Among the items it marketed to pharmacists and direct users were the Dinner Pill, a "means of exterminating disease and promoting health," and "Dr. Taylor's original and genuine Balsam of Liverwort."

By 1847 George W. Vroom operated his "oyster cellar" under the store and the following year Millington & Brother's umbrella factory was in the rear building, numbered 266-1/2.  Eventually the company took over the store in the main house, as well.

American Advertiser, 1851 (copyright expired)

Around 1866 Charles Wilatus and his wife, Augusta, purchased the building.  Augusta opened her millinery shop in half of the store along side of Millington & Brother. 

On March 26, 1870 The New York Times entitled an article "Serious Fire in the Bowery" and reported "At 9 o'clock last evening a fire was discovered on the first floor of No. 266 Bowery, in the umbrella and parasol store of F. S. Millington & Brother, who also occupied the upper floors of No. 266 1/2.  The stock of Millington was entirely destroyed, and the building, which is a two-story and attic, was very seriously damaged."

On January 6, 1874 Charles Wilatus sold the property to a "Mr. Mullaters" for $40,000--just over $925,000 today.  Years later real estate agent Edmund C. Price recalled in court, "I remember in the year 1874, property No. 266 Bowery, which is south of Houston street--it is one of the small houses...There was a very good house on it."  Mullaters, he said, replaced it with a new building which was "certainly adapted for dwelling purposes...the house was fitted up with all the modern improvements.  Mr. Mullaters was a wealthy man."

The new Italianate style structure was four stories tall, faced in red brick above the storefront.  Interestingly, Augusta Wilatus moved her millinery shop back into the store, remaining at least through 1879; and by that time she and her husband had repurchased the property.

Augusta and Charles sold it on July 20, 1880 to Henry Waters, a real estate developer and builder who moved into one of the upstairs apartments with his wife.  The following year he enlarged the rear extension by raising it one floor.  

By now the Bowery neighborhood had greatly changed from the residential street it was in 1832 when Daniel C. Boughton lived quietly here.  In his 1882 New York by Sunlight and Gaslight James Dabney McCabe, Jr. wrote:

[The shops] are devoted mainly to retail stores of the cheap order, one peculiarity of which is that about half the stock is displayed on the sidewalk.  Soda fountains, peanut and fruit-stands impede the progress of the passers-by at every step, and street-vendors of all kinds hawk their wares along the entire course of the street.  The Bowery is crowded day and night with a motley throng...The street is a paradise of beer saloons, bar-rooms, concert and dance halls, cheap theatres, and low-class shows.

In 1882 Waters sold the building to Isaac Rosenfeld.  It was a move that irritated his wife and he bought the property back on December 29, 1882, giving Rosenfeld a $26,300 profit in today's dollars.  Waters later explained in court, "I afterwards repurchased the same property, because I made a good deal of money, in that store, and I was very sorry for selling that property...I paid all his expenses to get the property back, to satisfy my wife."

Mrs. Waters would be placated for less than a year, however.  Although they continued to live in the building and Waters to run his business here at least through 1887, on October 1, 1883 he sold the 16-foot wide "store and tenement" to John A. McLaughlin.

Waters and his wife were gone by August 1888 when McLaughlin leased No. 266 to Jacob Berlinsky, who opened his frame shop, J. Berlinsky & Brother, in the store, and moved his family into the upper portion.  

Jacob Berlinsky changed his name before 1894 when he renewed his lease as Jacob Berlin.  The frame shop, now J. Berlin & Brother, remained in the space until the turn of the century.

Around 1900 John J. Mensching, a mortgage and insurance agent, purchased the building and moved his office in.  He partnered with S. Urbach in 1902 in Curtin's Transfer & Storage Co., which also operated from the address.  The firm was one of several throughout the city which picked up luggage from hotels and transported it to railroad depots, and vice-versa.

One of the company's employees, John Barrell, suffered a horrifying accident on Christmas Eve 1907.  The New-York Tribune reported that he "was fatally injured in trying to prevent a horse which he was driving from running away at Dey and West streets...The animal fell on top of him and crushed him so badly that he lived only an hour."

By 1912 Max Jorrisch ran the Jorrisch Pawnbrokers Sales Store, Inc. in the ground floor and lived upstairs.  He remained until around 1919 when the New England Incandescent Supply Co. operated here.  That March Hardware Dealers' Magazine called No. 266 "the smallest hardware store in the world."

The New England Incandescent Supply Co. was more of a housewares store than a traditional hardware store, however.  In 1920, for instance, homemakers could buy the Apex Electric Suction [vacuum] Cleaner here.

The Great Depression brought an even worse reputation to the Bowery, which became known as Skid Row because of the down-and-out derelicts that lined its sidewalks.  Nevertheless, by 1948 the John DeSalvio Association and the headquarters of politician Louis F. DeSalvio were here.

Born in New York City, the son of district leader John DeSalvio (who also boxed under the name of "The Legendary Jimmy Kelly"), DeSalvio was first elected to the New York State Assembly in November 1940.  He would serve in the Assembly for 38 years and was still listed at the Bowery address as late as 1964.

Around the time DeSalvio's headquarters moved in the ground floor had become home to Globe Slicers, a peculiar combination of retail liquor store and restaurant equipment supplier.  (The equipment store remains minus the liquor business.)

In the 1970's the second floor apartment was home to Debbie Harry, lead singer of the band Blondie, and her boyfriend, band guitarist Chris Stein.  The location was conveniently close to CBGB and music club opened in 1973.

Blondie in the second floor apartment.  photo by Chris Stein from Making Tracks: The Rise of Blondie (1998)

Blondie met and rehearsed in the apartment and various members would sleep there after long nights or performances.  Harry and Stein, who had to share a bathroom with other residents, paid $300 a month for the less-than-upscale rooms.

At the same time designer Stephen Sprouse lived on the top floor.  Born in Dayton, Ohio, his fashions in Day-Glo graffiti-print designs eventually sparked a movement.  He is credited with pioneering the "downtown punk" style.

Stephen Sprouse and Debbie Harry photographer and original source unknown
The 21st century saw change happening on the grungy Bowery.  On both sides of the block between Prince and East Houston Streets sleek modern apartment buildings have risen.  Yet, for the time being at least, No. 266 remains unchanged.

many thanks to ready Rob Oliver for suggesting this post.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The Skinny John M. Ruck House - 420 West 58th Street

In October 1881 developer John M. Ruck purchased a long parcel of property along West 58th Street from Effingham H. Nichols.  Included were vacant lots, a wooden stable, and one 25-foot wide "shanty," as described by The Real Estate Record.

Three months later, on January 14, 1882 the journal reported that Ruck's architects, Thom & Wilson, had filed plans for six buildings on the site.  Interestingly, four of them were five-story brick flats, typical of Ruck's projects; but two were private houses.  Those would share a 25-foot wide plot, giving each an astonishingly narrow 12.5 foot frontage.

The architects disguised the slender proportions by designing mirror image brownstone-faced residences that appeared nearly as one.  Paired stoops rose to side-by-side entrances flanked by full-height rounded bays.  Architrave frames surrounded the openings and leafy terra cotta panels and tiles provided interest.

The western house, No. 420, was initially operated as a boarding house.  Among the tenants in 1885 was Cuban born music teacher, Ramon S. Aquabella.  The 31-year old was hiding out from his wife and her family.

Aquabella had been renting a room in a house on West 29th Street where young Helen C. Walsh, the landlady's daughter, caught his attention.  An "acquaintanceship," as worded by The New York Times, developed.  But when it went beyond mere flirtation Helen's brother stepped in and "threatened to kill him unless he married her."

The couple was married on June 1, 1885.  Immediately afterward Aquabella disappeared.  The Walshes' attorneys found him in September living at No. 420 West 58th Street where he was arrested and charged with abandoning his wife and failing to contribute to her support.

In court Aquabella told of being forced into the marriage, said that "he had not intended to live with her," and accused the family of "coercion and fraud."  The fiery Cuban made a scene of sorts in the courtroom.  "The manner of the music teacher was very violent during the examination, and he called the counsel for the prosecution 'a liar' several times," reported The Times.

Also renting rooms in the house that year were two "Firemen First Grade."  John Schwab worked at Hook and Ladder Company No. 20, and Henry T. McBride was with Engine Company No. 54.

At sometime before 1895 John M. Ruck moved his family into the house.  He and his wife, Clara had two daughters, Cornelia (known as Nellie) and Marie.

He had given up real estate development around the same time to form the law office of Kohn, Ruck and Lippman.  The firm specialized in real estate law.  

In 1908 Nellie married Philip Ackerman, and coincidentally or not, November 11, 1914 Marie married Harvard graduate Stephen Hulburt Ackerman.

It was around this time that the name of the firm was changed to Jay-Em-Arr Realty Co., with Clara as president and Marie as a director.  That Nellie was not involved was, perhaps, a hint at troubles within the family.

Clara Ruck died in the 58th Street house on April 22, 1921.  Although her death notice in The New York Herald called her the "beloved mother of Nellie Ackerman and Marie Ackerman," at least one other obituary ignored Cornelia altogether.

The rift between Nellie and the family became obvious to everyone in 1926 when she sued her sister over the estate of a relative, Marie T. Becker.   John M. Rucker represented Marie as her attorney.

No. 420 seems to have been damaged when construction began on the apartment building next door, at Nos. 410-418 East 58th Street in 1928.  It was deemed an "unsafe building" by the Department of Buildings.  A construction permit was issued and reparations completed before the year's end.

The Ruck family retained ownership of the skinny house until 1940 when the Jay-Em-Arr Realty Corporation sold it to an unnamed buyer "who plans to remodel the building for his own occupancy," according to The New York Sun on August 19.

Those renovations included a puzzling a two-story extension--a sort of masonry screen--which brought the entrance to sidewalk level.  The original doorway was preserved, serving as an entrance to a sort of sun room at the former parlor level.

The house was photographed shortly after the renovations were completed.  photo via the NYC Department of Records & Information Services
Simultaneously the matching house at No. 422 was demolished in 1940 and replaced with an "office and storage" building.  While Thom & Wilson had worked hard to hide the narrow proportions of the house, the taller buildings that closed in on either side now exaggerated them.  The result is that the Ruck house is one of those quirky architectural oddities that dot the city.

The original facade can be seen through the extension windows.
photographs by the author
many thanks to reader Peter Hirsch for suggesting this post

Monday, April 27, 2020

The Lost Marlborough Hotel - Broadway and 36th Street

from the collection of the New-York Historical Society

In January 1886 Louis L. Todd leased the northwest corner of Broadway and 36th Street for 21 years with two renewals.  He announced his intentions "to erect a first-class family hotel on the site," according to the Real Estate Record & Guide.  It would be nearly a full year before he moved ahead, but in December 1887 architect Augustus Hatfield filed plans for a six-story brick hotel to cost $250,000--just under $7 million today.

Once the project got going, however, it proceeded rapidly.  As the summer of 1888 drew to a close the Hotel Marlborough prepared to open.  Proprietors C. A. Blanchard & Co. placed an announcement in the New-York Tribune which read:

This elegant new hotel will open Sept. 3.  American and European plans.  Handsomely furnished throughout; single rooms and rooms en suit, with private hall and bath attached--southern and eastern exposure.  Hotel now open for inspection.  "The most perfectly plumbed hotel in New-York."

Hatfield had produced a somewhat hulking Romanesque Revival structure with large arched openings on the 36th Street side and stores on Broadway.  Prominent gables, stone-capped pinnacles and a rounded corner topped by a tall pierced parapet gave the structure a formidable appearance.

The restaurant and café were open to the public.  Only two months after opening C. A. Blanchard & Co. faced its first problem.  On November 24 the New-York Tribune reported "There is trouble in the Marlborough Hotel, Broadway and Thirty-sixth-st., twenty union waiters being on a strike over the employment of a non-union man."  

A "family hotel," the Marlborough Hotel was residential--meaning that while transient guests were accepted, most residents were long-term.  They were financially-comfortable professionals, like Alva E. Davis, president of the American Magazine Publishing Company, who lived here in 1891.

The Evening World, June 7, 1892 (copyright expired)

George Dunn worked in the hotel as an engineer in 1893.  The 31-year old would have tended to the boilers and other mechanical aspects of the building.  He failed to show up for work on Monday October 16 for good reason.  The Sun reported that he had arrived at his home on West 26th Street on Saturday afternoon "and found his wife, Mary drunk and the children crying.  Dunn reproached his wife and she broke his skull with a hammer."

Entrances to four eating places are seen in this photograph from around 1910.  The Ladies' Restaurant is to the left, on 36th Street,  the main restaurant and the cafe are entered at the corner, and the Rathskeller on Broadway.  from the collection of the New-York Historical Society
Well-heeled foreigners routinely came and went through the doors of the Marlborough Hotel.  Typical, at least at first impression, were James Matthew Keene and his wife Kate who arrived from Southampton as saloon passengers on the Berlin on January 29, 1895.  The young couple (Keene was 24 and Kate 22) were well-dressed and refined.  He held the well-paying position as assistant cashier for a British steamship company agency.

But then on February 5 police came to their rooms and arrested them.  Keene was wanted in England for embezzlement.  He admitted to Police Inspector McLaughlin that he had stolen a total of $10,000--around $314,000 today.  It started with a series of small amounts totaling $2,500 which he lost playing baccarat.  The Sun reported "He didn't see any chance of repaying it, so he stole $7,500 more the day before he left England."

In their baggage police found a tin box containing $5,000 in American gold.  Keene would not disclose where the other $2,500 was.  The Sun said "It was Keene's intention to start for Rio de Janeiro in a few days to invest the stolen money in the coffee business."

Two views of the lobby were depicted on a promotional postcard.

Two British visitors and one from Cleveland, Ohio caused an uproar--the New-York Tribune called it "a small sized riot"-- within the normally decorous café two years later.  The young men started out in the dining room where they had several bottles of wine, according to the newspaper.  "They were getting noisy when a waiter refused to give them any more wine, and asked them to step into the gentlemen's café where they would not disturb the other guests."

They did so, but chose a table where a waiter was in the process of replacing the linen.  When he asked them to take another table, it was the last straw for the intoxicated men.  "Jaffray jumped up and declared that he was about tired of being ordered around by waiters.  As he said this the three men attacked the servant."  Pandemonium broke out as the waiter cried for help and a crowd of guests and employees rushed to his rescue.  Finally two policemen were able to end the free-for-all and arrest the three culprits.

Louis L. Todd upgraded the boiler in 1901.  As the installers put it through a pressure test on October 3, disaster hit.  The Evening World reported "A new boiler, just put in position under the sidewalk on the Broadway front of the Hotel Marlborough, gave this afternoon the best imitation of a Yellowstone geyser that New York has ever seen."  Happily no one was walking along the sidewalk directly above the boiler when it gave out "a scream like a fireboat siren" and sent a stream of boiling water 30 feet into the air.  The newspaper said that the fifty men and women nearby "got the shock of their respective lives."  The geyser "roared and spouted for half an hour and secured for itself an enormous audience."

It appeared that the end of the line for the Marlborough Hotel was at hand after Louis L. Todd sold it to the Sweeney-Tierney Hotel Company in December 1904 for just under $6 million by today's standards.  A newly-organized company, the new owner announced that it would begin demolition of the hotel on May 1, 1907 and erect a thirteen story hotel "of artistic design."

In the meantime, a spokesman said improvements would be made including "a complete alteration of the ground floor and the addition of a handsomely fitted rotunda, and an English grillroom...The greater part of the hotel is to be refitted and refurnished."

The renovations were completed, but the grand plans for a new hotel would not come to be.  The upgraded Marlborough Hotel now had four "beautiful dining rooms," and a total of 400 rooms.  The most expensive, consisting of a parlor, bedroom and bath, cost $3.00 per night, or about $90 today.

Among the long-term residents was Thomas J. Floyd who had lived in a room on the second floor facing 36th Street for several years in 1907.   At around 1:30 on the morning of October 24 he went to bed and, "being a great believer in fresh air," according to The Sun, "left his bedroom window open."  He arose five hours later to discover that someone had climbed up the fire escape, "visited his room and decamped with about $300 worth of jewelry."  The police were puzzled as to how anyone could manage to get to the second story window without being seen on the busy corner.

The Marlborough Hotel was sold again in February 1912 to the Philadelphia-based Crosstown Realty Co.  As had been the case eight years earlier, the new owners announced improvements, including additional stores on the ground floor.  "It is rumored that the property will eventually be used as a site for a large department store," said the Record & Guide.

A few days later, on February 10, the journal added its own opinion, saying "it is improbable that its new owners have purchased it in order to keep on running a hotel.  The building is out-of-date and cannot compete with the newer and better equipped caravansaries which have been and are being built in Manhattan."

Nevertheless, the hotel continued on.  Three years later on January 8, 1915 Mrs. S. M. Archer, who lived on the first floor, used an electric iron to smooth her outfit as she prepared to go out for the evening.  The outlet was located directly over the bed.  According to an investigator later, "In the hurry to get to [the] theatre or elsewhere, she forgot to disconnect the current from the iron, and either left the same on the bed or underneath the bed, which in a few hours' time set fire to the carpet and bedding."

At 10:00 smoke began wafting through the hallways.  As guests nervously sniffed the air, suddenly the call of "Fire!" rang out.  Three hundred residents rushed out while others took to the fire escapes, "many of them in dressing gowns and other flimsy attire," said The New York Times.  Fire fighters tracked the source to Mrs. Archer's room.  "There a brisk fire was burning in the middle of the room.  The firemen quenched it quickly confining it to the one room."

The hotel was again remodeled by proprietor Jacob Amron, who had taken over management in 1914.  The 1918 book Eminent Jews of America praised his work, saying "today the entire country is singing the praises of the Marlborough Hotel and its unequalled restaurant...Above all, the distinguishing feature of the Marlborough Hotel is its marvelous cheapness, so that we find all high class features of the great restaurant equaled if not excelled by the Marlborough--and at just one-quarter of the price."

A postcard depicted the Rathskeller, traditionally a male-only retreat.

But as the Record & Guide had pointed out in 1912, the Marlborough Hotel could not keep up with the modern hotels being erected further north.  In an attempt to increase income a nightclub replaced one of the dining rooms.  It was a move that sometimes resulted in unwanted press.

On September 2, 1919 The Evening World reported "The ladies of the Hotel Marlborough cabaret were in their dressing room removing grease paint and rouge at 2 A.M. to-day when 'Trixie' said something to 'Chubby,' or vice versa.  After a lot of conversation had been spilled, so the police say, 'Trixie' broke a cut glass pitcher on 'Chubby's' head."

Trixie was a 30-year old singer who lived in Brooklyn, and Chubby was Marie Goerech, a dancer.  After having her head bandaged, Marie stormed off to the West 37th Street Station to file a complaint.  "When the police went to get 'Trixie' they found her being attended by an ambulance surgeon for a cut over the eye.  She explained she had fallen down stairs while going to her room."  She was arrested for assault.

Things did not improve.  On February 14, 1921 vice square officers arrested two bellboys and four women on prostitution charges.  "The bellboys are accused of accepting money to introduce the women to men guests at the hotel," said The Evening World.  Three of the women lived in the hotel.

At the time Horton Malone was a well-known resident of the Marlborough Hotel.  He had lost both legs in a railroad accident in Ohio, according to him, and made his living peddling pencils.  On August 31 1922 The New York Herald wrote "A beggar whose legs are cut off below the knee pushes himself about on a little platform, on rollers every afternoon, rain or shine, in Seventh avenue between Thirty-third and Forty-second streets...Many a tear has been shed over his beggar by soft hearted men and women, and many a coin has rattled into the tin cup which he holds out with a gesture of infinite pathos."

Malone was not what he seemed, however, and at the time of the article his deception was unraveling.  On August 30 a chauffeur named George Morrison was arrested at Broadway and 82nd Street with a man and a woman in the car.  "It was said by the police that narcotics were found in the machine."

The Marlborough Hotel was looking a bit seedy in 1922.  photograph from the collection of the New York Public Library
Morrison was held pending further investigation.  For some reason he changed lawyers.  His original attorney pressed for payment of $116, but Morrison claimed he did not have the money.  So Henry Frank went after his employer, Horton Malone.  When the city marshal went to the Malborough Hotel to serve papers he found Malone "in an excellent suite at the Malborough with his wife and mother-in-law.  The automobile was seized to satisfy the judgment."

The New York Herald revealed that each day, after begging for coins, "He climbs into his automobile, which is brought around by his chauffeur to a spot not in his stamping ground.  He goes home to his suite in the Hotel Marlborough, where his wife and his mother-in-law greet him.  Then he puts on a pair of very expensive and very fine aluminum legs, and one of three dinner coats which he has in his wardrobe, and then he fares forth to dinner, walking very well on his aluminum legs and with money in his pocket."

Malone avoided reporters and the outraged crowd that waited for him in his usual begging spots.  "Meals for the Malones were served in their rooms and they were not at home to callers," said the Herald on September 1.

Malone and the other residents would soon have to find other accommodations.   The building was sold in February 1923 and The New York Times announced "The Hotel Marlborough will be torn down next Fall, when the buyers will erect a twenty-story building on the entire site representing an investment of about $6,000,000."

photo via
That building, designed by George & Edward Blum, survives.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

The 1842 Albert J. Hopper House - 41 Bethune Street

In 1842 builder Albert J. Hopper erected a three-story, brick faced home at No. 41 Bethune Street.  A secondary rear structure was almost always included in building projects like this one, variously used as a stable, a small house for rental, or a shop--like a blacksmith or carpentry shop.  It is unclear what the building behind No. 41 was initially used for, but it may have been connected with Hopper's building business.

Hopper and his wife, Eliza, had a son, Jeremiah.  It is unclear if the family ever lived in the Greek Revival style house and, if so, for how long.  In 1846 a dwelling was erected next door at No. 39.  Despite the four years between their construction, the two structures were near mirror images.   John Sigler used that rear building for his picture frame factory, which caught fire in 1853.

Not long afterward, Daniel Hoagland Carpenter bought No. 39 and established his "steam mills" for workworking in the rear.   It was probably at this time that he worked out an arrangement with the owner of No. 41 to extend the mill into his rear business.

Fire broke out in that building on June 29, 1867.  In its report, the New York Fire Department described it as a "4 story brick planing mill."

In 1871 M. Murphey ran the Bethune Moulding Mill in the rear buildings.  Real Estate Record & Guide, November 4, 1871 (copyright expired)

By the 1890's No. 41 was home to the Lynch family.  Lawrence and Margaret Lynch had two children, James and Mary.  They owned a country home in Westchester County.

Lawrence fell ill around 1896 and "after a long illness" died in the house on June 20, 1897 at the age of 58.  The family remained at No. 41.  Son James, who was 26-years-old at the time, took up an interesting career--court stenographer.  By 1900 he was earning $1,600 per year, or just under $50,000 today.  He was one of only five stenographers in the New York County court system.

Margaret died in 1900.  She left the Westchester property to Mary, who promptly arranged to sell it at auction.  James was not happy with the decision and on November 14, 1902 took her to court.  Presumably things were a bit tense within the Bethune Street house for a while.

Following Mary A. Lynch's marriage to James Carroll the population of No. 41 increased by two.  Not only did the newlyweds make their home here, but Carroll's widowed mother, Mary, moved in as well.   She died in 1911 and, as had been the case with Lawrence Lynch, her funeral was held in the house followed by services at St. Bernard's Church.

James E. Lynch received a significant pay raise in 1913.  The "Court of General Sessions of the Peace" resolved to increase his salary to $3,600, or nearly $95,000 a year today.

It was about this time that John Carroll died.  Mary no doubt said goodbye with trepidation when their son, Joseph Gerald, was shipped off to see action in Europe in World War I.  And, if so, her fears were realized on November 22, 1918 when the War Department released its casualty list.  Joseph had been killed in action at Landres et St. Georges, France on October 16.

A memorial service was held in St. Bernard's Church on February 22, 1919; but it would be some time before Joseph's remains would come home.  Finally, on August 30, 1921 his funeral was held in the Bethune Street house, followed by a service at St. Bernard's.

On October 30, 1921 a memorial statue, The Defender of the Flag, was unveiled in Abingdon Square.  The ceremony paid tribute to the boys who had given their lives for their country and to their mothers, as well.  The Evening Telegram ran the headline "This Is Gold Star Mothers' Day in Historic Abingdon Square."   A few days before the event a reporter interviewed Mary at No. 41.

"In the low-ceilinged old-time parlor of her little red-brick home, just off the river's edge, she spoke of the loss that had come to her and her pride in that loss," said the article.  She told him, "I am a widow, and my boy, Joseph Gerald, was very dear to me.  Whatever happens I will be at the ceremonies Sunday."

Not long afterward Mary moved to 130th Street and Broadway.  She died on July 1, 1924 and her funeral was held in St. Bernard's Church where her family had worshiped for decades.

Although erected several years apart, the side-by-side houses are near matches.
The Bethune Street house continued to be occupied by the Lynch family for years to come.  As late as 1940 Michael H. Lynch was listed at the address.

The Michael Lynch family lived in the house around 1941 when this photograph, showing the original doorway and charming areaway fencing, was taken.  from the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services
In 1953 Len and Annette Lye purchased the house.  Leonard Charles Hula Lye was a sculptor and film maker, born in New Zealand in 1901.  Annette (known as Ann) was his second wife.  They were married on the same day he received a divorce from his first wife, Jane.

In the more than half century that the Lynch family had owned No. 41 it had fallen into some disrepair.  An article in the Newark News read "The old house at No. 41 would have frightened off one with less courage, tenacity and know-how than Ann Lye.  The stained marble staircase, the collapsed ceilings and the cobwebby walls would have sent a less capable lass fleeing."

While Len worked on his kinetic sculptures and experimental films, Ann threw herself into renovation.  She removed plaster to expose raw brick (the antithesis of Albert J. Hopper's early 19th century sensibilities), and resurrected the random-width pine floors from under layers of linoleum.

According to author Roger Horrocks in his Len Lye: A Biography, the couple made some startling changes, "such as covering a floor at Bethune Street in pigskin.  A special oak seat was made for the toilet, and friends were invited to a 'Bathroom Opening' celebration when it was installed."  An aluminum ceiling disguised the deteriorating condition of the original.  Lye painted murals on some of the walls.

Living briefly in the house with the Lyes was educator and writer Stanley Williams Moore who had taken a one-year sabbatical from Reed College to write in 1953.   Liberal-thinking types often found themselves the target of the Government at the time and on June 2, 1954 Moore found himself in Washington D.C. defending himself against questions by the Committee on Un-American Activities.

Len Lye created his sculptures and films from the Bethune Street house.  In 1956 The Saturday Review reported "of all the industries in need of a good public-relations film the public-relation industry's need is greatest.  Len Lye has organized a small production company called Direct Films at 41 Bethune Street."

In 1963 Ann spearheaded a project to create the first low-income housing cooperative for artists.  Four years later two brick buildings at 12th and Greenwich Streets were converted to studio and living quarters for twelve painters and sculptors.

In the meantime, Len Lye had used the house to create significant works.  It was here, according to The New York Times years later, that he "renewed an early interest in movable sculpture...He became a well-known figure in the international group of 'technological,' or kinetic sculptors" of the 1950's.  In 1961 the Museum of Modern staged a "recital" of his movable works, and in 1965 the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo gave him a one-man show.

The Lyes left Bethune Street around 1975.  No. 41 next became home to Professor Carl Shulman.  He became concerned when the ambitious Westway project stalled.  The plan was meant to do away with the abandoned, rotting piers along the Hudson River, sink a six-lane highway below 220 acres of landfill and cover it with parkland, homes and businesses.  Shulman wrote a letter to the city on June 27, 1984 which said in part:

I would like to tell you how strongly my family and neighbors feel about this marvelous park-and-traffic project.  It is a masterly plan that would have made Olmstead proud.

photo via
Because each family who owned the house did so for decades, No. 41 remained a single family home.  Albert Hopper would have been stunned at the asking price of $7.2 million for his house when it was offered for sale in 2020.

photographs by the author