Saturday, May 2, 2020

Nicholas Whyte's 1869 393 Broadway

In 1868 Nicholas Whyte opened his architectural practice in New York City.  As early as the 1840's the two-story structure at No. 393 Broadway had been used for commercial purposes, home to Abraham Kastor's fancy goods store.  Among Whyte's first commissions came from William Montrose who hired him to design a replacement loft and store building on the site of that vintage structure.  Whyte's replacement would reflect the modern, post Civil War era that was taking over this section of Broadway.

Completed in 1869 the 25-foot wide building incorporated two relatively new trends--the French Second Empire style which was sweeping Europe at the time and a cast iron facade.  Like most storefronts of the period it featured fluted Corinthian columns.  The upper section was divided into two parts by a molded cornice above the third floor.  Blind balustrades filled the spandrels between the floors of each section and engaged columns separated the openings.

The building became home to the dry goods business of Holzinger & Bruckheimer which had operated for years at No. 112 Chambers Street.  The firm was marginally entangled in an unspeakable tragedy in 1877 that centered around its porter, 40-year old Henry Hausmann.

Born in Germany, he lived with his wife of 11 years and three children in a tenement at No. 19 Chrystie Street.  The two boys, John and Adam, were 9 and 4 years old respectively, and their sister Martha was "a bright little girl of six years," according to The New York Herald.   Two other children had died in childhood.

Hausmann had worked for Holzinger & Bruckheimer since 1871.  His job was menial, consisting of janitorial duties and other tasks as needed.  According to him, it was at about the same time that his wife began drinking.  The New York Herald described her as "a cheerful, comely but, said to be, excessively careless woman, indisposed to attend to any domestic duty, and with a mind frivolous and unsettled."  Although she repeatedly promised Hausmann that she would reform, she "was so addicted to liquor that she neglected her household duties and made her home wretched."

The newspaper explained that he "has had, time and again, occasion to complain of her neglect of himself and the children.  Meals have not been prepared, the house has been in disorder and no care has been take to make the place homelike."  And his patience was further tested when he suspected his wife of carrying on an affair with Oscar Hobenstein.  

When Hausmann returned home on November 12, 1877 his wife was drunk, there was no fire in the stove and no meal prepared.  He asked why she had still not done the washing, which had laid in the basket for two weeks.  She said she had asked Oscar Hobenstein over that afternoon to install a pulley for the clothesline, but he was able to get only one done.  It was the last straw for Hausmann.

He went downstairs to the saloon and brought back two pints of beer.  He poured her a glass, "telling her at the same time that from that [time] forth they would see each other no more."  She assumed that, again, he was threatening to leave her and taunted him.  Hausmann sat in silence for a while, and then stood up giving "the woman a furious glance," and walked into the bedroom where the children were.  Mrs. Hausmann heard the crack of a pistol shot and Martha's cry "Mama!"  She rushed to the door to see blood pouring from the girl's chest.  As she grabbed up the girl and rushed from the room another shot rang out.  And then a third.

Before Mrs. Hausmann could return to the room there were two more shots "followed by a heavy fall upon the floor inside."  Hausmann had fired two shots into his own chest.  Martha died minutes later and Adam survived only until the next morning.  John and his father were taken to the Chambers Street Hospital where Hausmann gave his deathbed explanation.  "I shot the children because I did not want them to suffer after I had passed away, for I knew very well that she would not care for them, and I wanted to take them with me."

It was not the end of the pitiful story.  Little John survived, but two years later The New York Herald reported "This terrible lesson had no effect on the wretched mother, who continued in her career of dissipation."  She and Oscar Hobenstein (whom the newspaper frankly called "a miserable tramp") moved in together.  Upon the death of John's grandfather in Germany, he began receiving an annuity of $1,000 (about $26,000 today).  But he never saw the money.  Instead it "furnished means for a continued career of dissipation to the guilty pair."  That lasted until the first week of November 1879 when John's mother swallowed poison.  

According to The Herald, "Hobenstein's supply of rum thus was cut off and he began to shift for himself."  He abandoned the boy and died homeless a week later.  What became of the now 11-year old John is unknown.

Catherine Lorillard Spencer owned No. 393 Broadway at the time.  Following her death in 1882 it was transferred to Lorillard Spencer, Jr. and his wife, Caroline.  But somewhat surprisingly, it was not an inheritance.  He paid the estate $115,000 for the property, or just under $3 million today.  

Spencer would soon have to find new tenants.  In 1883 Holzinger & Bruckheimer filed for bankruptcy after decades in business.   The building became home to firms like Richman, Schmidt & Wolf, cloak manufacturers, and Puffer & Sons' Mfg. Co., makers of soda fountain fixtures.

On December 12, 1890 the Spencers sold No. 393 to John W. Love.  The price, $125,000, gave the couple a tidy profit.  The ground floor became one of two locations of the Eugene P. Peyser menswear store.  

The sale price of the $24 overcoat in this 1894 advertisement would be equal to about $725 today.  The Evening World, December 7, 1894 (copyright expired)
After Puffer & Sons' Mfg. Co. was absorbed into the American Soda Fountain Co. in March 1891 the firm left No. 393.  

In November 1898 Hall's Safes placed understated ads in city newspapers that read simply "New Store, New Stock  393 Broadway."  Headquartered in Cincinnati, the firm would remain in the building for decades.  It may have been the firm's heavy products that prompted John W. Love to install a new elevator shaft in 1901.

Sharing the building with Hall's Safes in 1906 were Ch. Weiss, a musical instrument firm; Smith & Angell, dry goods; A. B. Cohen, hosiery dealers;  and the upholstery firm of Eastern Mfg. Co.

Ch. Weiss was a most interesting tenant.  The firm manufactured hitherto unheard of instruments which it promised parents would be easily learned by their children.  An ad for the Pipeolion, for instance, said "any child who can count can learn to play" it.  It was touted as being able to mimic instruments ranging from the cornet to the pipe organ.

New-York Tribune, September 1, 1906 (copyright expired)
New-York Tribune, September 7, 1907 (copyright expired)

Despite its somewhat quirky products, Ch. Weiss would stay on in the building at least through 1912.  In the post World War I years import and export firms of Silva, Bussenius & Co., Teja & Alonso, and Szel Import & Export Co. moved in.  The Hall Safe company, renamed Hall-Marvin Co., was still here in the 1930's.

The family of John Love retained possession of the building until December 1941.  In reporting on the sale The New York Times mentioned "The sellers had held the property for more than half a century."  At mid century the Norwalk Lock Co. was among the tenants, carrying on the tradition set by Hall Safe Co. in 1898.

The personality of Broadway had greatly changed by the turn of the century.  The sprawling gallery space called the Supermarket was in the building by 2015.

It was about the same time that communications agency Exposure America converted the ground floor to an event space.  It was later taken over by musician Dotan Negrin who marketed it as 393 NYC, a venue for pop-ups.  Here artist Jerkface staged an exhibition and the Herschel Supply Co. and Malin & Goetz opened short-term shops.

photograph by the author

1 comment:

  1. Wow! What a tragic story. If only the walls could talk... Thanks for sharing!