Thursday, May 7, 2020

The Eliza Payne House - 499 Broome Street

photo by Beyond My Ken

Sometime after 1767 an east-west road was laid out in the district which two centuries later would be known as Soho.  It underwent a string of names--Bayard's Lane, Bullock Street, Hevins Street and "Orchard Street West of Broadway"--until finally, in 1806 it was permanently christened Broome Street in honor of the current Lieutenant Governor John Broome.

Around 1825 Alfred S. Pell began construction on similar, upscale houses at Nos. 497 and 499 Broome Street.   Because No. 499 sat on the corner of Laurens Street (renamed West Broadway in 1897) it was the more desirable, with extra light and ventilation.

The three-and-a-half story dwelling was faced in brick and featured incised brownstone lintels and a single centered dormer at the high peaked attic level.  The doorway would, most likely, have been flanked by twin Ionic columns, narrow sidelights and a leaded overlight. 

It is doubtful that Pell ever lived in either house.  An advertisement in the New York Morning Courier in 1829 offered No. 499 for sale.  It became home to the family of Hannah C. Payne.  Known to her friends as Eliza, she was the widow of William Payne.  She had three children, Walter, Cecelia and Hannah.

Tragedy struck in January 1834.  Walter joined a group of "sixty or seventy boys skating," according to the New York Journal, on a nearby pond.  The newspaper estimated the thickness of the ice at about 1-1/2 inches.  A boy on the bank noticed Walter and five other boys standing together about 30 feet from shore.  "While thus engaged, a coloured boy came so swiftly towards them as not to be able to stop himself, but ran against them, and they were all precipitated into fifteen feet of water."

The ice was too thin for onlookers to attempt rushing out to rescue them, so a board was pried from a fence.  One boy was saved by that method.  By the time a boat was pulled from dry dock, all the others were dead.  "Five were taken out of the water soon afterwards, and another next morning two of them brothers, being clasped in each other's arms."  Among the dead was Walter Payne.

Sometime after 1837 Eliza married Jacob Haughwout.  By the early 1840's she had opened the Broome Street Saloon in the ground floor.  It was listed as a "porter house"--a tavern where malt liquor such as porter and food were served.  For several years she had leased the cellar to Andrew W. Twist and his wife, who made their home there.  

Twist, who testified in court in 1845 that he rented the basement from "Hannah E. Paine [sic]," described the house by saying that "the upper part was occupied as a porter house, called the Broome Street Saloon, and kept by Mrs. Haughwout and her two daughters."

At around 3:00 on the morning of June 25, 1845 Twist and his wife were awakened by a banging on the basement door.  The saloon watchman told him the house was on fire.  "I saw the flames and smoke through the roof and third story windows," said Twist.  After the fire was extinguished Twist went to the second floor where it had begun.  On the way up he noticed a suspicious detail.  "I saw shavings on the stair case, spread on the steps," he told investigators later.  He added another possibly disturbing item, "I saw things taken out of the house about 3 or 4 weeks before the fire."

Investigators quickly suspected that the Haughwout family had set the fire.  On July 3 the New York Herald ran the headline "Important Arrest--Arson" and reported "Jacob Haughwout, Eliza Haughwout, alias Hannah C. Payne, Hannah F. Payne and Cecelia Payne" had been "charged with setting fire to the dwelling house."  The newspaper called the alleged crime "this atrocious outrage."  The New-York Tribune paused to describe Hannah and Cecelia as "smart, black-eyed looking girls about 15 and 17 years of age."

The family members were tried separately.  The outcome of the proceedings could not have been more dire.  As the New-York Tribune pointed out, arson was a crime "the penalty of which, on conviction, is death."

Eliza's trial was first, beginning on October 15.  Things did not look good when a fire investigator testified that when fire fighters arrived, "the Haughwouts were all there, the house was fired in six or eight places, the beds were untumbled [i.e., not slept in]" and a claim for the insurance had been immediately filed.  Cornelius V. Anderson of the fire department testified that one of the fires had been set in "shavings in the bed quilt" and insisted "the fire could not have originated in any way except by design."

The hope for the family's attorney was that the all-male jury would not be able to sentence three females, two of them teenagers, to death.  Indeed, the Tribune reported "There was an almost general sentiment expressed by persons examined as Jurors against the taking of life as a punishment."

Despite the overwhelming evidence against them, the Haughwouts walked free.  

In 1848 Cecelia Payne was listed as the proprietor of the saloon.  The family was renting upstairs rooms by the early 1850's, with E. J. Perry, a "colorist," living here in 1852.  That year Eliza rented the entire house.  Her ad in The New York Herald on March 23 offered "A three story house, consisting of twelve rooms, with croton water on each floor."  It was leased by Timothy Kendall and Jesse M. Carter, both of whom moved in and listed the building as a hotel.  The Broome Street Saloon was renamed Carter & Kendall Porter House.

Eliza Haughwout, once again widowed, was back by 1856 when she reappeared in the city directories here.   In 1864, despite having a saloon in her home, she threw herself into the work of the Educational Institute for the Benefit of Colored Adults.  On Christmas Eve 1867 the first Sunday school service for non-white adults was held in the house.  On January 4, 1868 The New York Times praised Eliza, saying "The institution of this school is the praiseworthy result of the labors of a widow lady during the past four years."  The article noted that the neighborhood now had a "population of 2,000 colored people."

Among Eliza's tenants in 1870 were the family of Joseph Melfi, a musician, and Peter Muske, "segarmaker."  The saloon was run by Cornelius Murphy.  One of Melfi's young students went missing in 1870.  He placed an advertisement in The New York Herald on June 8 that read:

$50 reward--Lost, an Italian boy answering to the name Francesco de Rago; he is thirteen years old and plays on the harp.  Any person that can give any information that will lead to his apprehension will receive the above reward by applying at Melfli Bros.

The reward would be equal to $1,000 today.

The following year Murphy was, apparently, eager to get out of the saloon business.  His ad on November 21, 1871 announced "For Sale--The First Class corner liquor store...If not sold by Tuesday will be sold on that day, at 10 1/2 o'clock by William Abbott, Auctioneer."

It was purchased by Andrew Hopke.  But he would not remain for long.  In an article entitled "Foul Food" on April 18, 1872 the New York Daily Tribune reported he was guilty of serving ""unhealthy puddings; and very young veal, too small to be eaten."  The following year the saloon was on the market again.  "For Sale Cheap--The lease, stock and fixtures of a first class corner liquor store."

By now Cecelia had inherited the property.  In 1874 she protested the assessment she was charged for the paving of Broome Street.  Surprisingly, she won that petition.

James J. Rafferty took over the saloon and around the same time the upper floors were converted for business purposes and a three-story extension was added behind.  

Arps combined the house with the three story building at the rear, dating from 1874, in 1921.  A row of windows was punched into the second floor facade at the time.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

Morris Mehesy ran his fur business here in 1875.  To increase the visibility of his operation, he placed a showcase on the sidewalk.  But displaying furs outdoors was a risky proposition.  On December 2, 1875 The New York Herald reported "the showcase in front of the store of Morris Mehes[y], at No. 499 Broome street, was robbed yesterday of a sealskin sacque and muff valued at $35."  It was a significant loss, equal to about $840 today.

Mehesy and Rafferty both remained through 1877.  But the following year both were gone, replaced by L. Schwartz & Co., printers upstairs, and Edward Gross who listed himself as "beer."

Having been owned by the Payne family for nearly half a century, the house and its three story rear extension was sold in March 1879 for $8,460--or about $225,000 today.

Louis Schwartz & Co. continued to operate here for several more years, and in 1883 John Carmody took over the saloon, paying his $75 excise license fee each year through 1897.  The following year John J. Dougan took over its operation.  In the meantime, in 1895 Samuel Cashman's hat and cap factory opened upstairs.  That year he employed four men and one woman.  He remained at least through 1899.

In 1906 Otto L. Arps took over the saloon.  Ten years later he purchased the building, described by the Department of Buildings at the time as a "cafe" on the first floor and "lofts (factory) existing" upstairs.  Arps leased the upper floors to various businesses over the years, including J. Spaulding & Sons, Co., the Square Leather Goods Co., and the U. S. Steel Stamping Company.

The Volstead Act went into effect on January 17, 1920, kicking off Prohibition.  Otto L. Arps ignored the law until he was finally discovered by Prohibition Agents in 1925.  The New York Times reported that the bar had been padlocked and that Arps was forced to close the business for two months as penalty.

In the meantime, in 1921 Otto Arps connected 499 Broome Street internally with the building behind, at 361 West Broadway.  The third floor of that building became the offices of the St. George Society, described by The Evening World as "one of the biggest British charitable organizations in the country."  Leonard D. Langley, its almoner, was at his desk at 2:15 on the afternoon of December 19, 1921 when three young men entered the office, shut the door, and pointed a gun at his head.  The crooks took Langley's watch, stickpin, and money, then stole $185 from the safe.  "I told them that they were dirty, damned scoundrels to rob a charitable institution that helps the hungry and down-and-outs," Langley told a reporter.  In an unexpected twist, a few days later, on Christmas Eve, one of the bandits returned and asked Langley for his forgiveness.  He was locked up.

Three months later Langley's office was visited by four gunmen again.  The New York Herald reported on March 15, 1922 that they "became angry when they found that he had nothing more valuable than a $2 watch.  One fired at him, the bullet grazing Langley's abdomen on the left side and inflicting a slight flesh wound."  The four men fled with the watch.  That was enough for Langley.  On November 18 that year the New York Herald reported that he was relocating his office downtown.

Following the repeal of Prohibition, the long standing tradition of a bar on the ground floor of No. 499 was renewed.  On October 29, 1938 The Advocate reported that the Rocco J. Angelo and Michael R. Libonati had received their liquor license for the Gotham Bar & Grill.

In 1946 Joseph and Lillian Lata purchased the property.  They leased the tavern to proprietors, while operating Lil's Cafe on Hudson Street.  Their upstairs tenant in the 1970s and '80s was filmmaker, producer and artist Hart Perry.

Following Joseph Lata's death in 1965, Lillian continued managing the property.  A disturbing incident occurred in 1970 when, according to local reports, a man, convinced that the bartender was having an affair with his wife, strode in and fatally shot him.  According to a relative of Lillian Lata, police forced her to close the bar.  It remained shuttered until February 1972, when brothers Kenn and Bob Reisdorff leased the ground floor and opened Kenn's Broome Street Bar.

Kenn soon bought out his partner. and ran the bar--now in a neighborhood filled with art galleries and shops--until his death in 2014.  Two patrons signed a new lease and continue running Kenn's Broome Street Bar today.  The property is still owned by descendants of the Latas after more than three-quarters of a century.

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