Saturday, October 24, 2020

The 1855 Upsdell, Peirson, Lake & Co. Store - 471 Broadway

On February 19, 1823 Miles R. Burke purchased the handsome Federal style brick house at No. 471 Broadway and the stables directly behind at No. 44 Mercer Street from William H. Harrison and Abraham Ogden, Jr.  A wealthy merchant, Burke owned the two-masted brig Resort which brought goods into New York.  

In 1832 he married Jane Antoinette Duffie.  She traced her American roots to John and Catherine Duffie who left Scotland in 1741 (only Catherine arrived, her husband having fallen overboard).  Jane Antoinette's mother, Maria, was the daughter of Cornelius Roosevelt.

Miles R. Burke apparently knew his death was imminent on July 22, 1836 when he signed his last will and testament.  He died shortly afterward, leaving the Broadway property to his wife.  She married Isaac Gibson on August 29, 1842, within a year of his first wife's death, and the couple remained at No. 471.  Gibson was listed as a "merchant and broker" and was a member of the New York Society Library.

In the 1850's the Broadway neighborhood was seeing the incursion of commerce and the wealthy homeowners left their elegant homes to move further north.  In 1854 the Gibsons demolished No. 471 to replace it with a modern store and loft building.  Confusingly, the paperwork listed Jane Antoinette's unmarried sister, Margaret, as the owner of record (although she was not), and Daniel Badger's Architectural Iron Works, which supplied the cast iron storefront, listed the property's owner as "W. [sic] Gibson."  Although it was her property, Jane Antoinette received no mention.

Completed early in 1855, the Italianate style building could easily have been mistaken for an uptown mansion above the storefront.  The windows within its brownstone front sat within architrave frames upon molded sills.  Carved decoration filled the spaces below gently arched lintels.  An interesting carved frieze of a chain-link design ran below the modillioned cornice.

The new building became home to Ubsdell, Peirson, Lake & Co. which had been founded in 1840 on Canal Street as Ubsdell & Peirson.  When George G. Lake entered the firm, it moved into No. 471.  Here fashionable women would shop for a wide variety of clothing and accessories.  A single advertisement on April 3, 1855 listed "a large lot of English and German cotton hosiery for ladies' wear...a lot of China silk hose very cheap...theatrical hosiery, consisting of French hose, tights &c....a large stock of Bajou's kid gloves, embracing all the fashionable Spring colors...a beautiful assortment of rich Cashmere Stella shawls...ten cases more of those yard wide calicoes...and "the last lot of those cheap Irish linens."

The firm had barely opened in its new home when it was the victim of burglars.  In April the Troy Daily Times reported "During Friday night the dry goods' store of Ubsdell, Pierson & Lake, situated at 471 Broadway, New York, was entered by burglars, and Canton Crape Shawls, to the value of near $2000, was carried away by the rogues."  The heist would be worth more than $60,000 in today's money.

The New York Herald, October 30, 1859 (copyright expired)

Another, much smaller, theft six years later would result in embarrassing press for the store.  On May 8, 1861 the wife of wealthy boot and shoe wholesaler Robert B. Currier and her niece "called at the store of Ubsdell, Pierson & Lake, No. 471 do a little shopping," as reported by The New York Times.  "After looking at some goods, they went leisurely out of the store into the adjoining one of Beekman & Co."

Shortly afterward the clerk who had waited on them noticed a piece of silk he had shown them was missing.  He informed Charles Pierson that they had stolen the merchandise and was told to bring them back.  The well-to-do women were affronted at the accusation and demanded Pierson to search them.  "This he declined to do, as not being proper for him, but determined to and did send for two police detectives," said The Times.  

The women were searched and nothing was found.  Pierson asked the officers to release them; but it was too late.  The clerk had "positively" made the charge and the policemen were obligated to take the women in as "they might have had an accomplice" who made off with the goods.

At police headquarters the clerk was directed by his employer to withdraw the charges and after Pierson gave "ample apologies" the messy affair seemed to have been over.  That is, until Robert Currier stormed into the store a few weeks later 
and asked what reparations Pierson and his partner intended to make.  He was given another "ample apology."

That was not enough to repair his wife's damaged feelings and restore her tainted reputation so Currier sued the store for $10,000 for slander and false imprisonment--a staggering $300,000 today.  After a two-day trial and deliberation of five hours, the jury "disagreed" on a verdict.

It may have contributed to the disbanding of Ubsdell, Peirson, Lake & Co.  The original partners withdrew from the firm and George G. Lake now joined with James McCreery to form Lake & McCreery.  The new partnership continued at the location, offering similar merchandise as before.  An advertisement on December 26, 1864, for instance, read:

Great Reduction In Cloaks--
Lake & McCreery, No. 471 Broadway, are now offering their large and desirable assortment of cloaks, consisting of English, Whitney, Frosted, Chinchilla, Castor, Moscow and other Beaver Cloths, at Greatly Reduced Prices.
Ladies desirous of purchasing cloaks for Holiday Presents will do well to call and examine our stock.

In the meantime, Isaac Gibson had died on June 26, 1860 at the age of 58.  Jane Antoinette retained possession of the Broadway building, living on in the couple's home at 251 Lexington Avenue.   She would continue to own the property until her death in 1889.

Emporiums had to not only watch vigilantly for shoplifters, but for theft from within.  A clerk, Francis Wildey, was arrested on September 26, 1867 "to answer a change of stealing silks and other articles," said The Daily Whig.  "He had sold the goods to various persons, some of them customers of the firm, at cost price, and the purchasers supposed he had the consent of his employers."  The value of the stolen goods would be $26,700 in today's dollars.

The store offered a wide variety of dry goods items.  The New York Herald, June 7, 1868 (copyright expired)
The store was the victim of theft yet again in June 1868 when the well-known shoplifter, Eliza Wallace, walked out with 70 yards of silk.  She was arrested, but released on bail.  And she then immediately disappeared.

Six months later, on January 24, 1869 The New York Times entitled an article "Arrest of a Notorious Female Criminal"  and reported that "Eliza Wallace, alias Eliza Gilford, alias Mary Anderson, alias Mary Rogers, alias Big Mary, alias Boston Mary, was arrested."  She had been tracked down in Philadelphia where police had "six or eight complaints against her for operations in that city."

By the time of her arrest McCreery had bought out George Lake and renamed the store James McCreery & Co. and its new, lavish emporium was rising at the northwest corner of Broadway and 11th Street.   On April 18, 1869 a six-day "Removal" sale was advertised in The New York Herald.

No. 471 Broadway next became home to bookseller and publisher B. Westermann & Co.  It dealt in scholarly works, publishing in 1870, for instance, Die Chemisch-Technischen Millheilungen des Jahres, which it marketed as "a very valuable contribution to technical literature," and Bibliotheca Mechanico-Technologica et Economica, "a classified catalogue of all books on technical chemistry, etc."

B. Westermann & Co. remained at least through 1874, followed by William J. Blake's "millinery trims" operation, which signaled the end of the building as a single-tenant store.  

In 1887 the ground floor was occupied by the lace and embroidery store of Lewis, Cable & Lesser.  Jacob Adler, glove merchant, was on the second floor, and Moritz Fischer, who dealt in dress and cloak trimmings, had the top three floors.  Somewhat suspiciously, on Saturday night, March 26, that year two fires broke out almost simultaneously on the block.  The first started in Lewis, Cable & Lesser's store.

Although the building suffered only about $1,000 damage ($28,000 in today's terms), the tenants were less lucky.  Lewis, Cable & Lesser lost "not less than $20,000, and possibly half as much more," according to The New York Times (as much as $832,000 today); Jacob Adler's losses ranged from $8,000 to $12,000; and Moritz Fischer around $1,000.

Lewis, Cable & Lesser did not return.  The ground floor space was taken by S. Oppenheimer & Co.   Adler and Fischer both renewed their leases.  Adler's firm would be renamed Alfred Adler by 1892.  That year, according to Patricia Ellerton Duffie in her 1983 The Duffie Family of Edinburgh and New York, Oppenheimer and Adler were paying rents "up to $9,500 a year."  (That would translate to an significant $22,250 per month today.)

A. Fisher, manufacturer of dress, cloak and fur trimmings, was in the building in 1914 when its proprietor became the victim of fraud and then the butt of a mean practical joke.  It started when angry store owners began storming into Fisher's office demanding payment on bad checks he had signed to buy items like a new overcoat, an umbrella, and two suits.  An unknown cad was outfitting himself with fine new clothing while posing as Fisher.

And then on March 29 The New York Times reported "Mr. Fisher was nearly distracted by this time, but the worst was yet to come.  Girls began to arrive, blonds, brunettes, and others.  They were all ready to take hold of the jobs at high wages for which they had been engaged."  The girls initially refused to believe that Fisher was, indeed, Fisher.  They were expecting the "nice young man they had met at dances."  They further said he had been very generous and had bought each of them "several glasses of beer or something stronger."  The article said "They were disappointed in the real Fisher and were persuaded to leave with difficulty."

In the post World War I years A. Fisher (who had branched out to include "undertakers' trimmings" to his line) was joined in the building by Van Blankensteyn & Hennings, "embroidery and woolen" dealers.

In the 1940's the 1855 decorative elements were still intact.  The surviving house next door would have been very similar to the Burke-Gibson house.  photo via the NYC Department of Records & Information Services.

A renovation completed in 1965 was most likely responsible for the loss of the Victorian architectural elements--the window framings, carvings and lintels.   Thankfully the cornice and decorative frieze were preserved. 

Another change came in 1976 when the top two floors were converted to artist work-living quarters--one on each floor.  Thirteen years later the second and third floors became artists lofts as well.  The accommodations were perhaps less than first class, however, as reflected in the Department of Building's notation "heat supplied by approved type gas heaters."

photographs by the author

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