Thursday, May 21, 2020

William Field & Son's 1870 134-140 Grand Street

Charles C. Hastings was the principal in C. C. Hastings & Co., a clothing manufacturer.   The millionaire and his wife were described as "popular society favorites" by the Evening Telegram.  In 1869, as the neighborhood which a century later would become known as Soho rapidly developed following the end of the Civil War, Hastings made his mark by erecting a substantial cast iron structure on the northeast corner of Grand and Crosby Streets.

Completed in 1870, it was been designed by the architectural firm of William Field & Son in the emerging French Second Empire style.  The tall ground floor level featured Corinthian columns and rusticated piers.  In an innovative and eye-catching touch the architects replaced squared corners with the free-standing Corinthian columns at the second through fourth floors.  But the pièce de résistance was the mansard level with its frothy dormers, oeil de boeuf windows, and corner cupola. 

Valentine's Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York 1870 (copyright expired)
It appears Hastings erected the building for investment purposes, for he never moved his company from No. 327 Broadway.  His main tenant in Nos. 134-140 Grand Street was publisher Ivison, Blakeman, Taylor & Co.  

Ivison, Blakeman, Taylor & Co. had been organized in 1840 and was by now "the largest school-book publishing house in the world," according to J. Arthurs Murphy & Co.'s List of Printers, Publishers, and Paper Dealers in 1872.  The Grand Street building rumbled under the operation of the firm's eleven Adams steam-powered printing presses.  In May 1873 the company advertised its latest releases, including Swinton's Word Book, The Church Hymn Book (with and without tunes), How Plants Behave, How They Move, Climb, Employ Insects To Work For Them, &c, and The Educational Reporter.

Around 1873 Ivison, Blakeman, Taylor & Co. diversified by importing and wholesaling the Spencerian steel pens.  An advertisement in The New York Herald that year promised "They are of superior English make, and are famous for their elasticity, durability and evenness of point."

The Tribune Almanac for 1876 (copyright expired)
Around December 1876 the management of Ivison, Blakeman, Taylor & Co. recognized that its inventory of pens was noticeably shrinking.  "Some person in their employ was systematically stealing pens in large quantities," said The New York Herald.  "Watches were set upon suspected persons and private detectives were employed, but no person could be caught in the act."

The newspaper said that four months later, just as "the members of the firm were at their wits' ends," a letter arrived from their Chicago office asking how F. D. Alling, a storekeeper in Rochester, New York, could be selling the Spencerian pens at less than it cost to make them.  A representative traveled to Rochester where Alling explained he had purchased "a large quantity of the pens from a peddler named M. Shark."  And Alling was not his only customer.  The New York Herald explained that postmarks on letters received by Alling indicated "that the writer was constantly on the road disposing of his wares."

Back on Grand Street, employees knew that the firm's janitor of ten years, 28-year old James J. Smith, had a brother-in-law named M. Shark.  Undercover detectives followed Smith and "in a little while they became satisfied that he was the culprit."  Each night before going home he would hide a quantity of the expensive pens in his coat.  At his home in the Bronx they found 1,672 gross of the pens.  Ivison, Blakeman, Taylor & Co. estimated that he had absconded with $4,000 in merchandise--more than $100,000 in today's money.

In the meantime boot and shoe maker Benedict Hall & Co. had taken space in the building by 1874.  It was an uneasy period, just a year after the onslaught of the Financial Panic of 1873 sparked one of the greatest economic depressions in the country's history.  But five years later, on September 29, 1879, a representative, Matthew Bunker, told The New York Times he saw the economy turning around.  "On the whole, Mr. Bunker felt greatly encouraged at the outlook, and thought that the era of business prosperity had at last dawned upon the country."

Occupying the storefront at the time was Hinck & Co., dry goods merchants.  Eight months before Matthew Bunker had voiced his opinion on the economy, the building suffered considerable damage.  On January 14, 1879 the large structure directly across Crosby Street caught fire.  It had formerly been the home of Brooks Brothers and stretched along Grand Street from Broadway to Crosby.

As firefighters battled the out-of-control inferno, the Grand Street facade collapsed.  The New York Times reported "The opposite building is of iron, five stories in height, and forms the north-easterly corner of Grand and Crosby streets."  Firefighter John Reilly saw the wall weakening and warned a comrade "Come away, Jack!" but he was too late.  His body was found 10 minutes later "on the stoop of the store of Hinck Brothers, dead."

As the dust settled, the damage to Nos. 134-140 Grand Street became obvious.  The Times reported "as far up as the third-story window sills, the building of Hinck Brothers was seriously damaged and disfigured.  As the five-story wall of the burning building on the opposite side of Crosby-street toppled over it struck this building at its third story, and tore the front almost off, breaking away the cast-iron window-sills and columns as though they were made of pasteboard, and hurling tons of brick and other debris into each floor."  The newspaper added "This building is owned by C. C. Hastings.

The repaired structure became home to Bendheim Bros. & Co., dealers in "cigars, cigarettes and smoking and chewing tobacco" by 1885, and in the last decade of the 19th century the St. John-Kiram Shoe Co.; L. Stern & Co., makers of women's apparel; and Charles Zinn & Co., importers and manufacturers of baskets and willow ware had space here.

Benheim Bros. & Co. would remain in the building at least through 1914.  In 1898 it bid on a Government contract for supplying tobacco to the New York Navy, offering bulk tobacco at 32 cents per pound.

An trade postcard notified customers of the 1893 spring line of baskets.  copyright expired

By the outbreak of World War I the property was owned by John Jacob Astor.   Tenants like Charles Zinn & Co. and Bendheim Bros. & Co. moved on by 1918 when Astor leased the entire building to the Cincinnati-based Globe-Wernicke Co.   In its August issue that year, The Furniture Index reported that the firm would use the property "for warehouse purposes."  Astor "reconstructed" the building for the firm, according to the New-York Tribune later.

Among the foremost office furniture makers in the country, Globe-Wernicke had recently purchased the building at Nos. 451-453 Broadway as its New York office and showroom.  Just two years after moving in, on July 21, 1920, the New-York Tribune reported that Astor had sold the nearly 100,000 square-foot structure to Globe-Wernicke.

A sign clinging to the corner identifies this as Globe-Wernicke's "Warehouse No. 2."   The photograph reveals that the damage of 1879 had been seamlessly repaired.  from the collection of the New York Public Library
In June 1937 Charles F. Noyes purchased the building and, according to The New York Times, "He immediately leased it to J. Rabinovich, furniture dealer, for warehouse purposes."  The article added that Noyes "will retain it for investment after improvements, including the installation of two elevators and automatic sprinklers."  The plans, filed by architect Ely Jacques Kahn, included a remodeling of the vintage facade.  The $25,000 project would equal about $445,000 today.  But the ambitious exterior remodeling, thankfully, never came to pass.

The somewhat battered cupola survives with the date 1870 in its western panel.  
Over the next few decades the building was home to a variety of tenants.  Daniel Jones, Inc. a furniture manufacturing and repair firm, was here from 1942 through 1962.  In 1942 Rose Brands Textiles, "muslin and other covering materials," called the building home, and in 1970 Hercules Drop Cloth Co. operated here.  In 1972 through 1974 the Fly Fisherman's Bookcase, a mail order seller of discount fly fishing books was in the building.

As late as the 1950's the mansard was still intact.  photograph by C. T. Brady, Jr. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
At the time artists were already covertly using lofts as dwelling and studio space.  In 1977 the building was
officially converted to residential space above the first floor.  By then the magnificent mansard roof had been sorely altered.  But surprisingly, the great bulk of the facade had survived wonderfully intact.  

Where books and boots had once been manufactured, artists like Dina Recananti and Dorothea Rockburne, film maker Catherine Gund, musician Kristian Roebling and photographers Arthur Elgort, David Lawrence and Greg Kadel would make their homes.

photographs by the author

No comments:

Post a Comment