Wednesday, April 22, 2020

The 1894 Lexington Building - 151 East 25th Street (aka 152 East 26th Street)

photograph by Beyond My Ken

New Yorkers were served by mélange of transportation options in the 19th century--horse-drawn street cars, cable and traction cars, and elevated trains.  As the century drew to a close the numerous small firms were being rapidly consolidated as they were gobbled up by larger companies or merging.

On December 12, 1893 the Houston, the Broadway Railway and the South Ferry Railroad merged to form the Metropolitan Street Railway Company.  Five months later the Lexington Avenue, the Pavonia Ferry Railroad and the Metropolitan Cross-Town Railway were added; and later in 1895 so was the Columbus and Ninth Avenue Railroad.

By then work was well underway for a power house to serve the firm's gargantuan needs.  The site engulfed nearly the entire block between East 25th and 26th Streets, between Lexington and Third Avenues.  The well-known architectural firm of William Schicken & Co. had been commissioned to design what would be called the Lexington Building, completed early in 1896.

The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide, December 14, 1895 (copyright expired)

The architects created a dignified building that looked as much like a commercial structure as a power house.   The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide called it "a monument of strength and beauty [which] marks the era of a new departure in modern and progressive building for that vicinity."  It described the "inviting facade" as being "as nearly perfect as the combination of stone, brick, steel and other fire-proof material would permit."

The Renaissance Revival style structure was clad in speckled "Pompeiian" brick and trimmed in limestone and terra cotta.  The 25th and 26th Street elevations were essentially identical, with massive arched openings at the ground floor, four-story arcades at the third through sixth floors, and regimented, symmetrical balance throughout.

Close inspection reveals exquisite details, like the thin terra cotta bands between courses of brick.

To provide interior light and ventilation the building engulfed a large court paved in white bricks.  The steam power plant itself took up only the basement and first floor levels; the upper floors were always intended to be leased as office and factory space.  And it appears that printing firms had always been anticipated as tenants.  The floors were constructed to uphold 325 pounds per square foot; easily strong enough to accommodate heavy printing presses.

And, indeed, printing and publishing firms quickly moved in.  Among the first were two bookbinding firms, Robert Rutter & Son, and William Launder.  Publisher The S. S. McClure Co. also moved its gigantic operation into the building.

New-York Tribune, December 8, 1897 (copyright expired)

Founded by Samuel Sidney McClure in 1893, McClure's Magazine was a favorite in American households.  It was noted for serializing works by respected authors like Rudyard Kipling, Robert Louis Stevenson, Willa Cather, Jack London and many others.

McClure partnered with Frank Nelson Double to form the publishing firm Doubleday & McClure, which also took space in the Lexington Building.

New-York Tribune, September 30, 1898 (copyright expired)

The tenants were not all from the publishing field.  The Hygiene Manufacturing Company made caps.  An advertisement in The World on May 23, 1897 touted the waterproof "Common-Sense" wool cap.  

Wheelmen [i.e., bicyclists], equestrians, lovers of outdoor sports, the tens of thousands who prefer to wear a cap all or a part of the time, and who have suffered from headaches, profuse perspiration and the debilitating effects of exercise under a torrid sun, will welcome with joy the announcement that inventive skill has at last come to their relief.

And in the first months of 1897 The Sterling Supply & Manufacturing Company moved its factory onto the third floor of the Lexington Building.  The firm manufactured street railway supplies like insulators, brakes, indicators and such.

By 1908 The Magazine of History was published in the building.  Its editor, William Abbott, made the newspapers in July that year when he caused an uproar on the uptown Madison Avenue street car line.  The New York Times described the elderly, bearded man as "wearing a linen jacket and carrying a Bible" when a young stock broker named John E. Irwin got on board smoking a cigarette.

Abbott commanded the conductor to expel him from the car and when he did not, the two men got into "a heated argument."  The Times said that "the whole car soon joined."  Before it was over the offending smoker had spent fifteen minutes in a patrol wagon with other prisoners, two hours in a jail cell, and another hour in the West Side Court.

The Literary Collector, October 1901 (copyright expired)

In January 1906 the New York Interborough Railway and the Metropolitan Street Railway consolidated to form the Interborough-Metropolitan Company.  A few days before, on December 30, 1905, the Record & Guide shrugged "The incident affords one more illustration of the often-repeated statement that this kind of service is a natural monopoly."

The Financial Panic of 1907 devastated the public transportation system and the company and its subsidiaries went into receivership until 1912 when they were turned over to the control of the Interborough Consolidated Corporation.

The changes were being seen within the Lexington Building.  On April 21, 1909 The Horseless Age reported on the establishment of The Lexington Garage which "occupies part of the ground floor of the Lexington Building...The balance of the building is used for lofts and as an electric power station, which formerly occupied the entire ground floor."  The Lexington Garage was used "only for the storage of electric commercial vehicles, and is operated by the New York Transportation Company in connection with its taxicab garage."

In the meantime, printing and related firms continued to operate from the upper floors.  Lithographers Seiter & Kappes were in the building by 1900 and The Schweinler Press was here by 1904.  Pfister Book Binding Co. was listed in the Lexington Building as early as 1912.

Giant terra cotta roundels fill the spandrels between the ground floor arches.

The year 1913 saw major tenants move in, including The Publishers' Weekly and printing firm Andrew H. Kellogg Company.  The Publishers' Weekly had been at the same location downtown for around 40 years.   Now an agreement between the two firms meant that Kellogg would be doing the printing of Publishers' Weekly.  The two firms shared the sixth floor of the Lexington Building.

Also moving in that year was the embossing firm Walcutt Brothers, which took the third floor, and Stuart Specialty Co., which took the fourth.  Another large publishing and printing house to take space was Frank A. Munsey, publisher of the New York Press, Argosy Magazine and inexpensive novels.

At the time New York City, along with nearby areas like Brooklyn and northern New Jersey, was the center of the silent film industry.  In August 1918 the Famous Players-Lasky Corp. leased the fifth floor of the Lexington Building.  The Record & Guide noted it "will use the premises as headquarters for the distribution of advertising matter."

The New York Herald, January 8, 1922 (copyright expired)

In 1925 Charles Schweisler Press purchased the building.  Among the tenants it inherited was the Walker Engraving Company which had occupied the seventh floor for years.  In 1915 Walker Engraving Company had employed a staff of 85 men.  The shop was the scene of a terrifying accident on April 13, 1926.

The New York Sun reported "One workman was slightly injured and some 500 employees of various firms in the building were sent scurrying to the street to-day when acid exploded in the chemical room of the Walker Engraving Company."  Luckily David Levin only suffered burns on his left hand and the fire which resulted from the explosion was quickly put out.  

The former loading dock on East 25th Street still bears the name The Lexington Building.  photograph by Tdorante10

The Walker Engraving Company would remain in the building into the 1940's.  Another firm occupying space in the building in the Depression years was the Ever Ready Label Corporation.  Its president, Sidney Hollander, made a kind gesture to the employees in December 1936 when, according to the New York Post, he announced "that the company would make each employee a Christmas gift of his share of the society security tax for the coming year."

Telecom Plus operated from the Lexington Building following its formation in 1983.  Its tenancy would be short-lived, however.  On September 12, 1986 The New York Times announced that Baruch College would acquire "the historic Lexington Building" among other property purchases.  Baruch's director of campus planning and facilities said that $50 million would be spent "to renovate the Lexington Building, which is to house the college's library, computer center and administrative offices for student groups."

The initial report developed by architects Davis Brody & Associates alarmed some because of its mention of possible "additional stories."  Jack Taylor, in a letter to the editor of The New York Times on May 14, 1989 warned that adding additional stories would "rob the building of its architectural and historic significance."  If that part of the report was ever seriously considered, it was soon dropped.

The 26th Street elevation is essentially a duplicate of the 25th.

William Schickel & Co.'s handsome 1894 power plant is today home to the Baruch's William and Anita Newman Library.  Its facade has been gently restored and the conversion from commercial to educational use sympathetically executed.

non-credited photographs by the author

non-credited photographs by the author


  1. Lots of transit and publishing history here. I'm forwarding the link to two groups, one concerned with transit matters, the other with publishing, plus others who may find it of interest!