The home of Emanuel Bernard Hart at No. 70 Seventh Avenue was one of a row of identical high-stooped Italianate homes erected in the 1850's between 14th and 15th Streets. Four stories high over an English basement, it was faced in brick and trimmed in brownstone. Each house wore a separate but identical paneled and bracketed cornice.
Born into a moneyed family in 1809, Hart was married to the former Mary Louise Coombs (an unexpected match since he was Jewish and she Christian). Like his father, he was a prosperous merchant and active in politics. He was elected alderman in 1845 and within a few years was chairman of the Tammany General Committee. In 1851 he was elected to Congress, and in 1857 President James Buchanan appointed him surveyor of the Port of New York, a highly paid position.
William O. Brown was apparently the son of Mary Louise's sister. He died on December 27, 1869. Three days later The New York Herald announced "The funeral will take place from the residence of his uncle, Emanuel B. Hart, 70 Seventh avenue, this (Thursday) morning, at ten o'clock."
A grievous incident occurred seven months later. There was little escape from the often merciless summer heat in the 19th century. Newspapers ran daily columns reporting on deaths and "prostrations." An article in The New York Herald on July 19, 1870 began saying "Another day of almost intolerable heat was endured by the people yesterday, and a day of extreme suffering and death, it proved to be in very many cases." The temperature had risen from 82 degrees at 9 a.m. to 96 twelve hours later.
English-born Elizabeth Wiseman was 25-years old and one of the Harts' domestic staff. The article reported that she "was overcome by the heat and died soon after."
|Emanuel Bernard Hart from the collection of the New York Public Library|
The Office of Resident Physician and Surgeon to the Mount Sinai Hospital is vacant. Applicants for the position will apply to E. B. Hart, President, 70 Seventh avenue.
It seems that the Harts left No. 70 within the year. Already commerce was creeping into the formerly elegant residential neighborhood and a tailor shop was operating from No. 68 next door. In April 1874 the Hart house was being operated as an upscale boarding house. An advertisement in April offered "To Let--No. 70 Seventh Avenue, elegant floors at a low rent to good tenants." Two months later only one was available. "To Let--Fine Floor, in the Elegant House No. 70 Seventh avenue."
William F. Mahon, the owner of a men's furnishings store on Sixth Avenue, was one of the well-to-do boarders in 1879. On February 7 that year he became the victim of a sneak thief.
Mary Monteith was 28-years old and lived on Jones Street--a crime infested neighborhood. She entered the house and waited for an opportunity, which came in the form of Mahon. As he was "passing through a hallway," according to the New York Evening Post, Mary "abstracted a gold double-cased watch, of the value of $138, from his person." The price of the watch would be in the neighborhood of $3,650 today.
In 1880 there were three other boarders in the house with Mahon. Patrick S. Cassidy listed his occupation as "reporter," and Sarsfield Cassidy, presumably a relative, as "journalist." James A. Dowd was an undertaker. On January 9, 1881 William F. Mahon died at the age of 43. His funeral was held in the house.
In 1882 the basement of No. 70 was finally converted to a business--one that infuriated the editors of the New York Sunday Mercury. Jin Sueng Yueng opened an employment agency for Chinese immigrants looking for domestic or factory work. On May 21 the newspaper entitled an article "Chinese in Droves" and began its article with more racist vituperation than today seems even possible.
"New York is soon to realize the Chinese plague under which San Francisco has groaned for years--the first step towards an incursion of the barbarian hordes having been taken in the opening within a few days past of an intelligence office for the supply of Mongolian labor in every shape and style." The article claimed "The news that Yueng was about to supply the city with Chinese laborers through his new venture spread like wild fire, and ever since crowds of men, women and children for blocks around have been flocking to the place, reading the tablet on the wall and discussing the probabilities of the new enterprise."
The employment office did not last especially long and by 1883 had been replaced by, ironically, a Chinese laundry run by Ye Sheng. The house was owned by Abram Jacobs by now, who lived in it with his boarders. It seems that the prejudice against any Chinese business continued. A suspicious fire broke out in November that year and within the next six months there were three others.
On Sunday morning, April 20 smoke coming from the house "enveloped a number of persons on their way to the Central Presbyterian Church," reported The Sun. One man climbed the stoop and rang the bell, but "before it was answered he heard some one inside run through the hall screaming that the house was on fire."
"The street was instantly filled with panting steam engines and clattering hose carts and trucks," said the article. Someone had filled a baby carriage with flammable articles and set it on fire in a basement hallway. The firefighters removed the blazing baby carriage and little damage was done. "They asked Ye Sheng, a Chinaman who has a laundry in the basement, how the carriage caught fire. He said he did not know." The other tenants, however, were quite sure it was another case of arson.
Even as the neighborhood became increasingly commercial, the residents of No. 70 remained respectable, like Dr. P. La Roche, here in 1890. In 1892 the former laundry space was home to Mrs. Trimmer's dress making shop, and in 1895 French-born Gabriel Marchanol, a real estate and insurance agent, lived here.
An alteration completed in 1917 removed the stoop and a two-story Colonial Revival storefront was installed. The original molded lintels were replaced with splayed versions to match the style. Handsome French windows at the second floor were capped with elegant fan lights.
|photo via NYC Dept. of Records & Information Services|
The space once occupied by a Chinese employment service became home to Big Smoke Burger. It was replaced in 2016 by Muscle Maker Grill.
photographs by the author