Friday, May 15, 2020

The 1862 Hope Building - 131-135 Duane Street

photo courtesy Tribeca Citizen

In 1861 Public School No. 10 had sat within the plots at Nos. 131 through 135 Duane Street for fifteen years or more.  The brick building was surrounded by a schoolyard where the children played.  By now, however, the neighborhood was becoming less and less residential as commercial buildings replaced or altered homes.

That year Thomas Hope demolished P. S. 10 and began construction on a modern loft and store building.  Hope was president of the dry goods wholesaling firm Thomas Hope & Co.  But if he ever intended to move his company into what would be called the Hope Building, he changed his mind.

The structure was completed in 1862, a dignified commercial interpretation of the Italianate style.  The name of the architect has been lost, however it was almost assuredly he who had designed the abutting No. 129 Duane Street a year earlier.  The architect exactly copied that design three-fold.

The four stories of white marble rose that above the cast iron storefront were separated into two sections by a projecting sill course between the third and fourth floors.  Each horizontal section had two-story arches separated by Corinthian "sperm candle" pilasters.  (The term derived from their visual similarity to the tall, thin candles made from the waxy substance found in the heads of sperm whales.)  The spandrel panels between the second and third, and fourth and fifth floors took the form of blind balustrades.  An arched gable within the cast iron cornice announced the building's name.

The Hope Building filled with dry goods merchants, including L. P. Morton & Co.

The Evening Post, October 29, 1862 (copyright expired)
Surprisingly, within a year of moving in, L. P. Morton & Co. made a drastic change of course.  A notice in The New York Herald on December 5, 1863 announced "We have relinquished the dry goods importing and commission business, and taken offices at 35 Wall street for the transaction of a general banking and exchange business."

On the same day Welling, Coffin & Co. "domestic dry goods commission merchants," announced that they had moved into the space "lately occupied by Messrs. L. P. Morton & Co."  The war in the South may have prompted the marketing of two of their cloth goods as "Army Kerseys and Flannels."

Bauendahl & Co., importers of woolens, was a large initial tenant.  It did significant business during the Civil War years, and on June 29, 1865 The New York Times reported that it had done $1.5 million in business the previous year--over $25 million today.

Wholesale dry goods firm Allen Brothers moved into the building in 1865.  It offered to "clothiers, tailors and the dry goods trade" a long list of items including Spanish linens, repellents, sackings and fancy cloakings, satinets, cottonades, and "mantilla and dress black silks."

By now one of the stores was home to Lithauer & Cristlar, auctioneers.  The firm sold off the overstock of dry goods firms, or the remaining goods of defunct stores.  On November 10, 1865, for instance, an auction included 3,000 pairs of men's, ladies' and misses' cloth and Berlin gloves, 1,000 dozen "gents' hemmed linen cambric Handkerchiefs, including some very fine qualities," breakfast shawls, furs, and "fancy goods," including combs and Meerschaum pipes.

D. Powers & Sons operated from the building by 1875 and was perhaps the first of the tenants not involved in the dry goods business.  Founded in 1817, it was the city's oldest manufacturer of oil-cloths--the decorative water-resistant floor coverings placed under kitchen tables.  The firm had two factories upstate, one in Lansingburgh and another at Newburgh.  D. Powers & Sons was also the agent for "leading manufacturers of linoleums, shades and opague cloths," according to New York's Great Industries in 1884.

By the time of that article, shoe manufacturers were taking over the Hope Building.  Ira G. Whitney, boots and shoes, was here before 1881, as was Woodmansee & Garside.  That firm was looking for "some first-class shoe buttonhole operators for Singer sewing machines" that year.

Before the end of the decade the shoe and boot manufacturers Morse & Rogers, M. L. Hiller & Son, W. A. Ransom & Co., and A. Garside & Sons would also be in the building.  

Shoe & Leather Reporter, April 27, 1887 (copyright expired)

The help-wanted ads placed by A. Garside & Sons give a vague idea about the day to day workings within the shop.  On October 16, 1888 the firm advertised "shoemakers wanted to make Oxford ties, Louis XV heels."  And four years later, on July 31, 1892, it wanted a "German boy, between 16 and 18 years, for assistant shipping clerk, who can speak and write English."

The company, which made only ladies shoes, was highly successful.  In 1894 it employed 85 men, 3 boys under 18 years old, 2 under 16, 45 women and 20 girls under 20 years old.  Two years later the workforce had increased to 106 men, 5 boys, 30 women and 20 girls.  And in 1906 there were  now 160 men and 50 females.  They worked a 52-hour work week.

Morse & Rogers would remain in the building through 1910.  An incident in 1909 reflects the close relationship employers often had with their higher-end employees.  On November 30, 1909 The New York Press reported that Edward Van Auken, a retired preacher, had died in a Brooklyn boarding house when the gas jet was accidentally left slightly open.   His landlady, Margaret Turner, found the 80-year old.  The article mentioned "A son of the clergyman is employed in the Morse & Rogers Shoe Manufacturing Company, in No. 131 Duane street, and Mrs. Turner said the preacher told her many times that Morse, the head of the firm, would arrange for the funeral with his son's aid when the time came."

Love was the undoing of one employee of shoe maker Clark, Hutchinson & Co. in 1911.  Walter P. Richmond was convicted of stealing $600 (about $16,700 today) from the firm on July 22.  In court, according to The New York Press, "Richmond blamed his downfall on his infatuation for a woman who worked in an establishment where he formerly was employed and on whom he lavished money and gifts."  

It was a costly crush.  Judge Malone sentenced him to not less than four years in Sing Sing prison.  "When sentence was imposed Richmond almost collapsed," said the article.

Shoe manufacturers continued to fill the building throughout the World War I years.  W. D. Hannah was looking for "wood heelers" and a "naumkeger and finisher" in 1918.  (A naumkeger buffed the bottoms of shoes to a smooth finish.)

The early 1920's saw tenants arrive who were not involved in the shoe industry.  Radio Industries Corporation was in the building by 1923, and the typesetting firm of Stow-Whittaker Company, Inc. operated here be 1929.  That firm would change its name twice--in 1932 it was Whittaker-Glegengack-Trapp, Inc., and by 1940 it was Whittaker-Trapp, Inc.

The Radio Sun & Globe, October 13, 1923 (copyright expired)
Shoe firms, nevertheless, continued to call the Hope Building home.  Lion Shoe Co. was here in the early to mid-1940's, as was the Lester Pincus Shoe Corporation.   The latter firm changed from tenant to landlord when it purchased the building in February 1946.

The last quarter of the 20th century saw artists, restaurants and boutiques taking over the old factory buildings of Tribeca.  The owners of the Hope Building, the Sylvan Lawrence Company, looked the other way as tenants converted former manufacturing space to residential lofts in the early 1970's.  In January 1974 there were two residential tenants on the third floor, two on the fourth, and one on the fifth--despite the leases limiting the use to commercial purposes.

The owners had covered over the Hope Building name at the time of this mid-1970's photograph.  The narrower but otherwise identical building to the right is a year older.  photo by Edmund Vincent Gillon from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
But then in 1982 they organized as the Duane Thomas Loft Tenants Association and claimed rent stabilized status.  The conflict ended up in court with the tenants winning.

In 1994 Maurya 11 Restaurant opened in the ground floor, followed by 131 Duane Street restaurant, which opened in 1997.  That was replaced only a year later by Henry Meer's City Hall restaurant.

The property was purchased in 2014 for $18.5 million.  Once again rent stabilization ended in a legal battle.   Duane Street Realty sought to evict the tenants and could legally do so "if the owner intends to demolish the building," reported The New York Times.  But the tenants argued that "demolition" and "gut renovation" were two different things.
rendering by Jonathan Schloss Architect, via

In connection with its plans for a residential renovation, the operators hired architect Jonathan Schloss to design a rooftop addition.

As the cast iron capitals were removed for restoration, the columns were numbered for accurate replacement. photo courtesy Tribeca Citizen

Work continues on the venerable marble (albeit painted) Hope Building as locals await the eventual outcome.

photographs by the author

No comments:

Post a Comment