Saturday, April 11, 2020

The Erlich Co. Cigar Factory - 241-243 West Broadway

In March 1885 architect John C. Burne filed plans for a six-story loft and store building at Nos. 123 and 125 West Broadway (later renumbered 241-243) for Ella V. A. Dayton and her husband, Abram H. Dayton.  Ella was the owner of record.  The cost of the project was set at $19,000--or about $521,000 today.

The completed building was faced in red brick above the cast iron base.  Although Burne gave the sixth story a decided Romanesque Revival flavor with foliate terra cotta capitals, arched openings and a fortress-ready corbel table; the bulk of the decorations were in the Queen Anne style.  Geometric tiles, pyramidal bosses which ran up the four-story piers, and checkerboard brick panels were all elements of the up-to-date style.

The building was initially home to garment factories.  In 1888 George Schoen was making jerseys, or blouses, here; and by 1892 the Metropolitan Cloak and Novelty Company was operating from the building.  And advertisement that year looked for operators "on reefers and waists" (jackets and tailored blouses in modern terminology).

Ella and Abram Dayton transferred title to the property to Isabella T. Newell and Sarah A. Tucker on February 17, 1898.  The sisters soon resold the building to cigar maker Erlich Manufacturing Co.

United States Tobacco Journal, September 28, 1907

The West Broadway factory was one of two in New York City, the other being on East 68th Street.  A third was located in Tampa, Florida.   A reduction in production in 1908 resulted in the 68th Street factory being discontinued.  The Tobacco World explained in industry-specific terms that "The Erlich Manufacturing Co. has decided to withdraw from the seed and Havana cigar manufacturing business and devote all their time and energy to the further exploitation of their clear Havana lines."

The Erlich factory was a significant operation, employing 100 male and 107 female workers in the West Broadway building.  Rather than being paid by the hour, they were paid by the number of cigars they produced.  In the fall of 1911 representatives met with managers requesting a $2 increase per every 1,000 cigars each employee made (about $55 today).  Their request was denied.

On October 10 The New York Call reported "Not a man returned to his bench when the whistle blew at the shop of the Erlich Manufacturing Company, cigar manufacturers, 241 West Broadway, yesterday morning."  The employees had deliberated for about a week before deciding not to report to work.

The dispute was soon settled and the firm remained here until 1918 when it leased the building to F. J. Smith Co., Inc.

Then in 1922 the Wisner Dairy Manufacturing Company purchased the property and converted it for storage.  The firm, whose president was Harley C. Albee, manufactured "creamery machinery." Journalist Thomas Webster, writing in Milk Plant Monthly in 1918 had called Albee "a practical dairyman" who had "evolved a great many innovations in the creamery equipment field, from the Peerless continuous pasteurizer down to the latest and best, the 'Peerless Regenerative Heater-Cooler.'"  The company's factory was on Greenwich Street.

The building was the random target of vandals in the summer of 1933.  On Sunday, June 25, when the industrial neighborhood was essentially vacant, police noticed the front window of the Chase National Bank at Church and Worth Streets had been "perforated" with small, round holes.  The New York Sun reported "Later the police found that similar damage had been done to a window of the Wisner Dairy Manufacturing Company at 241 West Broadway and to several windows in an empty loft building at 6-8 White street, close to the Wisner office." 

The mystery of what caused the clean holes which did not shatter the glass puzzled investigators, for there were no projectiles inside the buildings.  Finally it was discovered that an air rifle "from which a metal rod is projected when the trigger is pulled" was the culprits' weapon.

Wisner Dairy Manufacturing Company remained in the building at least through 1937, the year Harley C. Albee died.   In the second half of the 20th century No. 241-243 was home to the electrical supply firm, Turtle & Hughes, Inc.  But change to the Tribeca neighborhood was soon to come.

An egg-and-dart frame surrounds the terra cotta tiles in this spandral panel.

In 1999 a renovation was completed which resulted offices above the store level and loft dwellings on the top floors.  On September 7, 2005 The New York Times food critic Florence Fabricant reported that "David Féau, who was the last chef at Lutèce, will open his own boutique restaurant with a raw bar and a French bistro menu that also offers the chef's interpretation of New England clam chowder and chicken wings." 

Cercle Rouge remained until 2017 when Frenchette restaurant replaced it in October.

photographs by the author

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