Tuesday, May 5, 2020

The Belvedere Garage - 250 West 80th Street

James Renwick Dimond, who went professionally by his first initial and middle name, had made a name for himself while still in his early 20's.  Born on February 9, 1880, he joined father's firm, the Architectural Iron Works of New York City, after graduating from Stevens Institute with a degree in engineering.  At the turn of the century he was involved in real estate development (The Record & Guide would later call his significant holdings near Pennsylvania Station "The Dimond Mines").  In 1902 that business and his interesting in the advancement of the automobile came together.

That year he began construction of a three-story structure the type of which New York had never before seen.  In its May 1902 issue the New York Athletic Club Journal reported "The first building to be erected in New York especially for the storage of automobiles will be completed within a few weeks.  It occupies the site at 250 West Eightieth street, and is to be known as a 'garage,' which is the French term for an automobile station."

Faced in beige Roman brick, Dimond's garage took on the familiar configuration of a stable.  A centered, double-doored bay was flanked by a doorway to the left and a window on the other right.  Simple stone bandcourses and an understated metal dentiled cornice were the extent of architectural decoration.

Dimond had already lined up his tenants before construction began.  The main occupant would be the newly-formed automobile firm Padelford & Bell.  The Motor World reported the building would become its "storage station and salesroom."  In the same issue the magazine noted that Banker Bros. were temporarily on West 66th Street, explaining, "As soon as their new quarters at 250 West Eightieth street are completed they will remove to that place."

Padelford & Bell opened in May 1902.  The Horseless Age reported "They can store ninety vehicles.  The place is being equipped with a complete complement of tools for all kinds of repair work...Banker Brothers have an office in this building, which is now the Eastern headquarters for the 'Peerless' machines."

Padelford & Bell was the New York agent for the Columbia electric automobiles and the garage reflected that.  The New-York Tribune noted "The building is well equipped in every way and was built especially for this business.  It has a fully equipped machine shop and electric apparatus in charge of experience workmen."

By May 3, 1903 the firm name was C. L. Bell & Co.  The cost of the car would equal about $135,000 today.  The Automobile May 1903, copyright expired

Within the year changes were made to the management of Padelford & Bell and it became C. L. Bell & Co.  The changes apparently did not work out and by 1904 the firm was no longer listed at the address.

The De Witt Allen-Auto Co. was incorporated in 1904 and moved into the 80th Street garage.  It was run by E. J. Cabot, Thomas D. De Witt and W. A. De Witt.  

The operation had barely gotten off the ground when tragedy struck.  Mike Daly worked as a car washer.  On January 9, 1904 The World reported that he "fell down an elevator shaft to-day in the De Witt Allen Company's automobile repository."  He was killed instantly.  The young man and his wife had a two-year old child.

Like C. L. Bell & Co. had done, De Witt Allen catered to both gasoline and electric powered cars.  A 1908 listing said the garage could accommodate "125 gasolene and 50 electric cars" and handled "repairing; recharging electrics."

At the time, Thomas D. De Witt--despite having a fortune garnered in the De Witt Coal Company and being a member of many clubs, according to The Sun--was temporarily sleeping above the garage.   An intense disagreement had boiled up within the family when his two sons, Thomas and George (who were involved in the automobile business with their father), tried "to induce him to divide his estate, but that he refused," according to The Sun.  

The family rift was so serious that De Witt left their home on West 78th Street early in 1908.  His wife and sons sold the house, moved to New Rochelle, and cut off all contact.

Around August 7, 1909 De Witt became ill.  He notified a friend, actress Ollie Lowe, who realized the seriousness of his condition and arranged an apartment for him on West 104th Street.  She sent a telegram to his family which went unanswered.  De Witt's condition worsened and on August 12 he was taken to Flower hospital where he died the next day.

His son, Thomas, spoke for the family saying that "they would not pay any of the [funeral] expenses" and that Ollie Lowe could do as she liked in the matter.  When a reporter from The Sun called the family and notified them that a friend had arranged to have the body cremated, Thomas replied "Well, it's too late to talk about it, anyway," and hung up.

The untidy shake up in management seems to have been the end of the De Witt Allen Auto Co.  Just over a week later J. Renwick Dimond leased the building to the Mutual Taximeter Cab Company and the Franklin Automobile Company.

The Sun, November 19, 1909 (copyright expired)

In 1913 J. Renwick Dimond got personally involved in the automobile industry.  Motor and Accessory Trade said "Following an irresistible desire to become more closely affiliated with automobile matters," he co-founded the Dimond-Warren Company.  In 1915 a reorganization resulted in a new name, the Dimond-Apperson Motor Car Company.   On January 1, 1916 Chas. E. Miller's Annual Magazine Section reminded its readers "He built one of the first garages in New York City at 250 West Eightieth street."  Interestingly, however, he never made use of that building for his own company.

That the Mutual Taximeter Cab Co. was in trouble in 1916 was evidenced in an advertisement in The Evening Telegram on July 2.  "Taxicabs, with meters; closing out; cash or time."

Dimond sold No. 250 West 80th Street to the Rosales family, which renamed it the Belvedere.  They operated another location in the Bronx until selling it in the summer of 1920.

The Evening World, August 7, 1922 (copyright expired)

A bizarre incident occurred on the night of November 6, 1939.  As he re-positioned automobiles, the Belvedere's night foreman, Joseph Reyes, had to temporarily park several on the street.  The Sun reported "One was a large sedan belonging to Harold Aranow, a merchant tailor, of 90 Riverside Drive."  Only a few minutes later he "was astonished" to see flames and smoke shooting from the rear of the car.

The original configuration of the ground floor is evident in this photo of about 1941.  Portable gasoline pumps sit on the sidewalk outside.  via the NYC Dept. of Records & Information Services
Reyes grabbed a fire extinguisher and put out the fire.  Then looking up the street he saw another car ablaze near West End Avenue.  He turned in a fire alarm and just as the responding firefighters extinguished that fire, another car around the corner burst into flames.  A fourth car fire broke out minutes later on West End Avenue.   Before he could set another automobile on fire the arsonist was caught by an apartment building porter "who brought him down in a flying tackle after a short chase."  Ironically Morris Brietman made his living as a chauffeur.

Once considered ground-breaking, the garage drew little attention over the subsequent decades.  In 1999 it was joined internally with Nos. 2231-2239 Broadway.

many thanks to reader Suzanne Wray for suggesting this post


  1. There is much I wonder about the De Witt family saga -- and I'm not asking for research (just wondering aloud). Why didn't his wife divorce him if she was willing to leave him, sell their house, and move away (but not too far away) with their sons. Did he fire his sons? Did he disinherit all of them?

    And was an early division of his estate really the issue at hand? Because, to me this reads more like dysfunction than greed.

    1. It's the stuff of a book or play, that's for sure. A wealthy guy living atop a garage, for one thing, when he could have gone to any upscale hotel. It's all an odd tangle of unexplained details.