Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The Robert Rheinhold Reutter House - 36 West 88th Street





In 1889 real estate developer James J. Spaulding completed a row of nineteen brick and brownstone homes on the south side of West 88th Street, between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue.  Each of the 23-foot wide residences was striking.

Architects Thom & Wilson had created a string of harmonious, yet individual, 23-feet wide homes whose architectural personalities drew from an album of historic styles--Renaissance Revival, Romanesque Revival and Gothic Revival.


No. 36, like its neighbors, was four stories high above an English basement.  A dog-legged stoop led to the double-doored entrance flanked by stout, fluted engaged columns.  The entablature, embellished with Renaissance style carvings, supported a hood decorated with delicate ribbons and fruits.  The angled bay at the second floor was supported by a single leafy bracket.  Stone bands and panels created interest to the upper floors and the cast metal cornice wore a delightful mansard cap.


photograph courtesy of Landmark West!
In January 1890 Augusta Mertens purchased No. 36 for $35,000--just over $1 million in today's money.  The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide pointed out "This is the fourth house sold of the row."   Her residency would be relatively short.  She died in the house on November 22, 1894 at the age of 53.


photograph by the author
The following year, in October, the executors of Augusta's estate sold No. 36 to "a Mr. Ryder," according to the Record & Guide.  The buyer was actually Christopher Rheinhold Reutter (who went by the name Robert).  He paid the exact price Augusta Mertens had five years earlier.

Born in Württemberg, Germany in January 1847, Reutter had married Lena Unger in on June 21, 1883.  In January 1885 he had left the banking firm of L. von Hoffman & Co. to co-found the brokerage firm of Hellwig & Reutter.  He was, as well, a trustee in the German Savings Bank.

The couple had two sons, Robert H. and Charles Earnest, and a daughter Gertrude.  Their summer home was in Litchfield, Connecticut.

In May 1896 Reutter hired architect John P. Voelker to add a second floor to the rear extension of the house; possibly to add a bedroom or increase the size of one.  The renovations cost the equivalent of $15,700 today.

The family was at the Connecticut house during the summer of 1905 when Robert Reutter died on August 27.  His body was brought back to the 88th Street residence for his funeral, held three days later.

Lena and the children continued on in the house.  Charles graduated from Columbia University in 1912 and Robert graduated in 1913.  The brothers both joined Hellwig & Reutter--Charles in 1914 and Robert in 1917.

Gertrude was 15-years old in 1916 and her mother seems to have already been grooming her for her introduction to society.  On December 22 Lena hosted a luncheon for her at the fashionable Sherry's restaurant.

Lena was not the only member of the family to entertain.  On April 18, 1915 The New York Press reported "Mr. Charles E. Reutter of No. 36 West Eighty-eighth street will give a dance, followed by supper, at the Hotel Gotham, on Wednesday Evening, April 26."

The event may have had to do with his engagement to Mildred L. Meadows.  The couple was married in St. Thomas's Church on Fifth Avenue on June 28, 1916.  The newlyweds moved to No. 156 West 86th Street and purchased a summer home in Rye, New York.

Gertrude attended the Brearley School, a private institution for girls.  She continued to be the focus of her mother's social focus.  On December 3, 1916 The Sun announced that Lena would be hosting a dinner dance for her daughter at Sherry's the following Saturday night.  

The much anticipated event finally came during the winter season of 1919-1920.  On October 29, 1919 The Evening World announced "Another debutante will be Miss Gertrude H. F. Reutter, of No. 36 West 88th Street, who is to be introduced on December 13, at a ball to be given for her by her aunt, Mrs. Charles E. Reutter, of Rye, N.Y."

In June 1921 Lena announced Gertrude's engagement to Henry Clarke Banks.  As had been the case with her debut, the wedding took place in Charles and Mildred's Rye home that November.   Mildred was her matron of honor and four-year old Charles, Jr. was the page.

Robert was still unmarried and living with his mother in the 88th Street house.  At the time of his sister's wedding storm clouds were forming over his career.  The following year, on September 15, 1922, The New York Herald reported that the president of the New York Stock Exchange had "announced yesterday the expulsion of Theodore A. Hellwig and Robert H. Reutter from membership.  With Charles E. Reutter they compose the firm of Hellwig & Reutter."  Both men were charged with "conduct inconsistent with equitable principles of trade."

Perhaps seeing the impending collapse of her son's career, Lena sold No. 36 in 1921 to Horace Andrew Saks and his wife, the former Dorothy Drey.  The couple had two children, eight-year old John Andrews and five-year old Edna Jane.  Their summer home was in Elberon, New Jersey.

Saks was born on July 14, 1882, the son of Andrew and Jennie Saks.  Andrew Saks and his brother, Isidore, had established the Saks & Company department store on 34th Street in 1902.  Horace and his brother, William, worked with their father and uncle in running the store.  Following Andrew's death in 1912, Horace essentially took the management reins and it was he who pushed to move the store to Fifth Avenue.



Horace Andrew Saks - The New York Times, November 28, 1925
In 1922 Saks joined forces with Bernard Gimbel to create a high-end specialty store on Fifth Avenue.  (A specialty store differed from a department store by not offering items like housewares and appliances.)  On September 15, 1924 the new Saks Fifth Avenue, engulfing the block between 49th and 50th Streets opened.

On November 25, 1925 Saks was in his office when he complained of a carbuncle on his cheek that had annoyed him for several days.  He went to his physician who sent him directly to Mt. Sinai Hospital for treatment.  Doctors found that septic poisoning had already set in and had spread throughout his system.  The New York Times reported on November 28, "Despite all that medical science could do, Mr. Saks sank rapidly and died within forty-eight hours."  Horace Saks was only 43 years old.


photograph via the NYC Dept. of Records & Information Services

For the next few days newspaper pages overflowed with editorials and letters to the editors praising him.  While extolling his business acumen, The Times added "Personally, all who knew his forcible yet sympathetic temperament, his genial and kindly contacts with his fellow-workers and his friends, will understand the sense of loss which his death will so widely entail."  Philip Goodman wrote "He was that very rare person among business men--a man who was charmingly and culturally civilized."

The house managed to survive as a single-family home for several decades.  In its May 4, 1970 issue New York Magazine reported "Technically the brownstone at 36 West 88th Street is not yet a cooperative," but advised that it "is a limited partnership."  

A few years earlier John Schetky and a friend, Bill Edgerton had found three friends to pool their money and buy the house "which none of them could have afforded alone," said the article.  It added, "Each of the owners designed his floor according to taste."  Both Schetky and Edgerton were master carpenters and they set up a woodworking shop in the basement to craft cabinets, paneling and doors.

Two years after the New York Magazine article, The New York Times reported that Schetky's wife Viviana operated a French cooking school from their space.  Viviana Schetky held a Grand Diplome from Le Cordon Bleu de Paris.  A five week course of once-a-week classes cost $125.


photograph courtesy of Landmark West!

The Department of Buildings has never issued a Certificate of Occupancy for apartments.  Nevertheless there are five units within the house.  But other than replacement windows, the exterior of the striking residence is little changed.

Monday, June 29, 2020

A History of Actors, Heroin, and Artists - The Lost House at 52 East 9th Street


At the turn of the last century the house, flanked by commercial structures, was little changed.  from the New York University Archives, Sailors' Snug Harbor Image Collection 

In 1873 the block of East 9th Street between University Place and Broadway was still quiet and residential.  In May that year a handsome four-story and basement house was completed at No. 52 on land owned by Sailors' Snug Harbor.   The architect lavished its Italianate style facade with special touches--ornate cast iron eyebrows over the arched openings, stone balconettes at the third floor, and a frieze of pineapples, flowers and rosettes below the bracketed cornice.  Most likely a cast iron balcony fronted the floor-to-ceiling parlor windows.

It appears that by the late 1870's No. 52 was being operated as a rooming house.  Mary J. Price lived here in 1879 while she taught in the Boys' Department of Grammar School No. 25.  But within a few years most of the boarders were involved in the theatrical profession.

Among them were William C. Miller, stage manager for the Fritz Emmet Company, his actress wife, whose stage name was Jennie Christie, and their child star daughter, known as Little Peggy Miller.  Peggy was 8-years old in 1883 and extremely popular with audiences.

On March 5 she was playing the role of Kleine Lena on stage at the Novelty Theater in Williamsburg.  She and comedian Fritz Emmet were dancing together when, according to the Buffalo, New York Evening News, "Fritz suddenly felt the little figure tremble and sink.  He lifted her tenderly, carried her to the wings and gave her to her father, but she never rallied."  The article noted that Emmet "says she was the best child actress he had ever seen."

Peggy's funeral was held in the East 9th Street house.  The New Haven Daily Morning Journal and Courier reported "The remains were enclosed in a white casket which was literally covered with flowers."

The lifestyle forced upon child actors was a constant concern for the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which cited their often grueling schedules.  The New York Mirror headed off protests on March 17 by saying "She loved her profession and she died in the harness--it did not kill her."

Peggy's mother was inconsolable.  More than a year later her condition had not improved, and in fact had worsened.   The New York Times said "So great was her grief that she retired for a time from the stage, but subsequently she joined Harrigan and Hart's company...When the season ended her mind was still unsettled by brooding over the death of her child, and she failed to recover her wonted spirits."

On October 2, 1884, William Miller went to Police Headquarters and reported his wife had been missing since the previous evening.  The New York Times reported "Mr. Miller said that his wife was insane, and he feared that she was wandering about the city."  Miller had gotten medical treatment for his wife, but nothing helped.  Within the past two weeks he "thought seriously of placing her under restraint, but he hesitated to separate himself from his wife."

She was found on Thursday night at the Sinclair House hotel registered as Jennie Christie.  That evening she had become "very much excited" and a doctor was called.  "Finding that she was insane, he remained in attendance upon the lady," said The Times.  The Syracuse Standard said that subsequently, "She was taken home and placed under restraint."  On October 4 The New York Times reported that she had been taken to Bellevue Hospital, saying "it is feared now that she is hopelessly insane."


Close inspection reveals cast pineapples and flowers in the cornice frieze.  detail from the New York University Archives, Sailors' Snug Harbor Image Collection 
Harry Jackson, Jr. boarded in the house at the time.  He was the manager of the Queen's Evidence acting company.  He found himself behind bars in June 1885 after actress Florence Western accused him of slipping a pair of diamond earrings and a diamond ring from her satchel while at dinner on the Bowery.  She placed a value of $15,800 in today's money on the jewelry.  The New York Times said Florence "was positive Jackson had stolen her diamonds, and Jackson was equally positive in denouncing the charge."

The house would received its most celebrated resident in March 1886 when the internationally renowned stage star Lillian Russell moved in.  Her mother, Cynthia Leonard, and her sister, actress and producer Susie Russell, already were sharing rooms here.

Lillian had been romantically involved with composer Edward Solomon since 1882 and she starred in several London productions he wrote specifically for her.  In 1885 they married.  Things began to sour for the couple shortly after the birth of their child, Lillian.  Their last show together, The Maid and the Moonshiner, was a financial flop, creditors sued Solomon who fled the country, and Lillian discovered that he was already married. 


Lillian Russell as she appeared in 1889.  from the collection of the Library of Congress

On April 2, 1886 The Brooklyn Union reported that about two weeks earlier Lillian and the baby had moved in with her mother.  "The exact causes of conjugal infelicity between Mr. and Mrs. Solomon have not been ascertained...The actress's counsel say it is only a 'little tiff;' that she prefers to live at her mother's house and he don't choose to live there with her."

On September 23 Edward Solomon was arrested in London on charges of bigamy preferred by his first wife, actress Lily Grey.  A reporter rushed to ask Cynthia Leonard her thoughts and she "spoke with considerable vim of Solomon's arrest, as she sat rocking herself, surrounded by fashionable furnishings and bric-a-brac in her home at 52 East Ninth street," said The Sun the following day.

"I'm glad that man's arrested.  It serves him right.  He won't find any other woman to support him again in a hurry.  When Lillian married him she knew that he had lived with both Lily Grey and Edith Bland, but he swore to Lillian that he had never married either of them, and she believe him."

Two years later news came from London that Edward Solomon had married again.  A reporter from The World again headed off to interview Cynthia Leonard on October 1, 1888 but just missed her.  "She had transferred her household goods from 52 East Ninth street to 155 West Twenty-third street."  He followed the trail.  There Lillian's other sister, Hattie, and her mother were more than happy to talk about the new wrinkle.  Asked if Lillian might cause trouble, Hattie responded, "Not a bit.  She is glad to be rid of him.  But, just the same, if he shows up in America he can be imprisoned for ten years."

In January 1887 Ernst Drescher purchased No. 52 from sisters Catharine and Anna L. Blunt for $8,750, or just under a quarter of a million in today's dollars.  He hired the 29-year old architect C. B. J. Snyder in September 1890 to make interior renovations.  It was among Snyder's last projects before being appointed Superintendent of School Buildings, or the official school building architect, on July 1, 1891.

Included in the alterations was the installation of Drescher's tailor shop in the basement.  The family lived in the building with the other renters.  Drescher's son, Frederick, was also a trained tailor but he sought a different career path by applying to the New York City Police Department in 1891.  Sadly for Frederick, he was rejected.

His decision was most likely prompted by the financial troubles of the tailor shop.  On May 23, 1891 The Sun reported that "Deputy Sheriff Mulvaney has taken charge of the store of Ernest Drescher, tailor, at 52 East Ninth street."  

At about the same time bachelor broker John F. Capron was living here.  In 1890 his brother, the Rev. George C. Capron of Taunton, Massachusetts, and his wife Lillian, were summering on Buzzard's Bay and John went there to visit.  Five years later he was shocked to find his name scandalized in newspapers across the country.

Rev. Capron filed for divorce from Lillian in December 1885. In his petition, according to The Sun, he said "he was a dutiful and loving husband.  At times, he says,  his wife was good and at times bad."  The New York Herald reported that his filing was "on the ground of bad temper."  He said, for example, "At the dinner table he accidentally tipped over a tumbler of water, and she took up her plate and broke it over his head before he could stop her."  John F. Capron supported his brother's action and provided an affidavit regarding Lillian's "bad temper and cruelty."

But in court the minister changed his story.  Shockingly, he said that during the 1890 visit to Buzzard's Bay his wife and brother "misbehaved."  He claimed they "committed adultery one evening while bathing in the sea," and "that on the same evening his brother and his wife left the cottage and walked on the seashore. He followed them at a distance and again witnessed his wife's unfaithfulness."

John F. Capron was understandably indignant.  He employed a lawyer and on December 14, 1895 he told The Sun, "If my name is in any way connected with the charges of adultery made by my brother against his wife, I propose to have it expunged even if I have to break the decree of divorce."  He said "I cannot afford to have any such accusations against my character stand as a matter of record either on my own account or on account of my mother and sisters."

In 1899 the former tailor shop was home to Julius Altman's fur store.  But around the turn of the century Ernst Drescher sold the leasehold on the property to brewer George Ehret.  It was common for breweries to operate their own saloons, thereby guaranteeing a monopoly of the products sold, and the basement was converted to a saloon.

In 1904 the upper floors filled with commercial tenants.  That year Dublin & Morris opened its "fur and skin shop" and Moskowitz and Katzman, another fur business, moved in.

Peter Rienzie was the engineer of the building nearby at No. 33 East 9th Street.  An engineer was in charge of the mechanical facilities, like the boiler, elevator, and such.  Although January 27, 1907 was a Sunday, he came to work that morning to replenish the coal and to clean "my elevator machine."  He briefly left the basement unattended because, as he related in court later, "about eight o'clock, I felt kind of thirsty and I drops into a saloon at 52 East Ninth Street and I gets a glass of beer there."  (The saloon owner apparently paid little notice to the sabbath, as well.)  The break got him in hot water.  When he returned he found a man in the basement with a bundle.  He knew Joseph Moran slightly from the street.  Moran asked him to watch the bundle of dirty clothes until the next day and Rienzie trustingly agreed.  Later police later arrested Rienzie for having stolen goods in his possession.

By the end of the Great Depression the once fashionable block had severely changed.   The tailor store turned saloon in the basement was now a Chinese laundry.  In the spring of 1937 narcotics agents received a tip that "pink heroin pills were being manufactured" there, according to the U. S. Treasury Department's report on "Traffic in Opium and Other Dangerous Drugs" that year.  On March 19 agents searched the laundry.  They "arrested Chin Toy, Chin Len, and Park Chin, and seized 624 pink heroin pills...one package of opium dross weighting 43-1/2 grains net, and three jars containing traces of smoking opium."  The report added "Implements for manufacturing heroin were also seized."

The 1940's saw artists taking over the upper floors.  In 1946 John Ferren and his wife, Rae Ferren, moved in.  Directly below them lived Conrad Marca-Relli and artist Franz Klein was in rooms above.

Four years later the venerable brownstone residence was demolished to make way for The Hamilton Apartments.




Saturday, June 27, 2020

The 1871 Peake, Opdycke & Co. Store -- 427-429 Broadway





In 1854 proprietor George W. Harpel promoted the "enlarged and refitted" City Hotel at Nos. 427-429 Broadway.  Not only was it a mere three minute walk from the Harlem, Hudson River and New Haven Railroad Depots, but "Meals [are] served at all hours, either in their apartments (without extra charge) or in the private dining rooms or in the halle a ménage, which is attached to the Hotel."   By the end of the Civil War the hotel had been renamed the Tontine Hotel.


Broadway bustles with traffic and pedestrians around the Tontine Hotel (far right) in 1870.  The building would be demolished soon after this photo was taken.  from the collection of the New York Public Library
The district around Broadway and Howard Streets was becoming increasingly commercial at the time.  In 1870 prominent attorney and judge Abram J. Dittenhoefer demolished the hotel and hired Thomas R. Jackson to design a modern loft and store building on the site.

Jackson had earlier been the head draftsman in the office of esteemed architect Richard Upjohn and contributed to the design of the rebuilt Trinity Church, completed in 1846.  For Dittenhoefer's project he used the relatively new technology of the cast iron facade.

Used for over a decade, the process involved bolting pre-fabricated cast iron elements to the masonry fronts of buildings.  They could imitate carved stone, be easily cast with elaborate decorative elements and—most importantly—would be fireproof.    By now the process had been perfected and cast iron facades were quickly gaining widespread acceptance.  Jackson used it to full advantage, lavishing the facade with elaborate French Renaissance decorations.

An advantage of cast iron was the speed of construction it allowed.  Work began on Nos. 427-429 Broadway on July 1, 1870 and was completed six months later, on January 12, 1871.  Above the handsome storefront where free-standing Corinthian columns on pedestals separated the windows, four identical stories were separated by intermediate cornices.  They mimicked the ground floor with engaged Corinthian columns upholding a series of round arches that created a hypnotic rhythm.  The sprandrels overflowed with frothy French elements.  The bracketed terminal cornice was capped with a triangular pediment which announced 1870.



The building's first tenant was Peake, Opdycke & Co., fur merchants.  Winter fashions for both men and women in the 19th century included costly fur coats, robes, hats and other items.  The firm marketed skins from buffalo, which were hunted for heavy carriage robes, beavers for men's tophats, and minks, sables and other animals for top coats, muffs, and collars.


Peake, Opdycke & Co. said its "splendid goods are sold by most of the leading retail Dry Goods Merchants in all the leading cities and towns."  Demorest's Monthly Magazine, April 1871 (copyright expired)

But despite the high quality of its goods and its aggressive nation-wide advertising campaign, the firm was on shaky financial footing.  On October 9, 1873, just two years after Peake, Opdycke & Co. moved into the new building, The Nation reported that it had failed.  But the writer placed the blame on the banks and customers, not on the firm.  "The action of the savings-banks in hoarding greenbacks at this time is severely criticised," it said, adding that Peake, Opdycke & Co. "transacted a large dry goods, jobbing and importing business--one of the largest in the city--and their failure was brought about by the difficulty experienced in making collections."

On November 1873 a large announcement in the New-York Tribune informed dry goods merchants of an enormous close-out sale of "their large stock of over one million dollars at an immense sacrifice."  

Space in the building was soon taken by the wholesale drygoods firm of Bartlett, Reed & Co.  In August 1875 it was looking for a clerk, insisting that he "must be sober and capable."

The next major tenant came in 1876.  On July 1 the Real Estate Record reported "Judge Dittenhoefer's store, on the southwest corner of Broadway and Howard street, has been rented to John M. Davies & Co., at $30,000 a year."  The journal pointed out the 50-percent reduction in rent.  "Peake, Opdycke & Co. formerly paid $60,000 for the same property."  John M. Davies & Co., a manufacturer and seller of "gents' furnishing goods," paid annual rent equivalent to $738,000 today.


Difficult to see from the street, the date 1870 is cast into the pediment.
Founded around 1840, John M. Davies & Co. was later described as "the leading house and originator in men's furnishing goods.  Mostly all the first-class furnishers of New York either got their schooling there or emanated from it."

Upon the death of John R. Davies the firm was renamed Robert K. Davies & Co.  The Rochester, New York newspaper the Democrat & Chronicle said "When Robert K. Davies succeeded...the business was looked upon as one of the most successful in New York City."  An advertisement in the New-York Tribune on April 2, 1880 touted its Easter goods, including "novelties in neck dress, gloves and handkerchiefs, dress and fancy shirts, hosiery and underwear."

Trouble within the company's workforce started in 1884 when a new factory superintendent named Schautz was hired (at a significant $3,000 annual increase in pay, or about $69,500, over his predecessor, named Straub).  Straub was fired for being pro-union.

A female employee later explained "Although Superintendent Straub was a union man and we all liked him very much, we continued our work as before when he was discharged to make room for Mr. Schautz, for we belonged to no union and did not consider the matter any special grievance of ours."

Schautz immediate let it be known that he intended to "thoroughly reorganize the working system of the factory."  That included "the most rigid economy."  He immediately reduced the workers' wages by 10 percent.  The staff noticed, however, that cronies of the new superintendent were brought in at higher wages.  Long-standing cutters were fired and "some of the new men got $4 and $5 a week more than the old ones," complained a worker.

The breaking point came in 1887 when Schautz told the female workers he needed to cut their wages to $3 and $4 per week, depending on their positions (about $111 in today's dollars).  They refused, saying "no respectable girl can board and clothe herself on that amount."  Schautz agreed.  Or at least he appeared to.

A worker told The New York Times "We were deceived, however, for in a few days came a wholesale cut averaging 50 per cent on all classes of work."  Schautz refused to meet with the women, as did Robert Davies.  The entire female workforce walked out.  On July 21 The Times reported "The factory is practically shut-down for the present, only a few cutters being at work yesterday and no girls at all."  Schautz remained firm and told a reporter that he "thinks the girls will submit to his terms in a few days."

A reporter who attended a meeting of the women "was surrounded by a bevy of the girls, who all wanted to explain at once the exact situation of affairs," said The Times.  "All we want is a fair show, said one."  The group suggested that if finances were so tight, perhaps Schautz should "knock something off his own salary."

The strike was resolved, but the end of the line for the venerable firm was on the horizon.  Three years later, on April 8, 1890 the Democrat & Chronicle reported that "The great gents' furnishing house" of Robert K. Davies had failed.

S. Hirsch & Co., button dealers, had shared the building with Robert K. Davies for several years by now.  Firms like these employed "cashiers," whose highly responsible positions entailed the handling of cash receipts and payroll.  They were highly trusted but newspapers repeatedly ran stories of dishonest cashiers.

And on June 29, 1888 The Evening World began an article saying "Another cashier has gone wrong and has been arrested in Montreal."  He was Albert E. Krahl, the cashier of S. Hirsch & Co.  Two weeks earlier he entered a check into the books of $900 for payroll.  He then changed the check to $3,900, cashed it, paid the employees then disappeared.  When he did not appear for work the books were checked, showing there was another $2,000 missing--a total of nearly $140,000 today.


The Evening World, July 15, 1889 (copyright expired)
Detectives had gone to Brooklyn to question his neighbors.  One mentioned that on the Saturday before his disappearance he "purchased a new suit of clothes adapted to cold weather," according to The Evening World.  The article went on to say "He had married a young and beautiful girl five months ago, and by keeping close to the lady and watching her movements they traced Krahl to Montreal."  The wayward cashier was extradited for forgery.

The Celluloid Company operated from the building around the same time.  It manufactured "waterproof collars and cuffs that will not wilt, are not effected by moisture and look just like linen."  An advertisement in The Eaton Rapids Journal on August 17, 1894 said they "are all the fashion now."

Men's linen collars and cuffs in the 1890's were not part of the shirt, but sold separately.  The practice meant that soiled collars and cuffs could be simply changed out, and worn collars simply thrown away without sacrificing the shirt.  The celluloid collars and cuffs were easily cleaned and did not wear out.  A collar cost 25 cents, and a pair of cuffs 50 cents--or about $15.30 today for the set of cuffs.  The up-to-date firm boasted a telephone in its office by 1895.

In 1909 Nos. 427-429 Broadway had became home to several railroad offices.  Now known as the Lackawanna Building, that year it housed the offices of The Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad Co.; and passenger and freight agents J. L. Homer, P. M. Ahern, and J. J. Byrne.  All of the tenants would still be in the building through 1916.

That all ended in 1919 when the structure was sold to Frederick Brown.  In reporting on the sale on July 12, the New-York Tribune noted "The building is vacant."  The sale price was equal to $2.42 million today.

New tenants included The Wahl Co., importers of fountain pens and pencils; and the Corona Importing Corp., dealers in novelties like Christmas tree ornaments, toys and mechanical items.


The International Office Equipment Magazine, February 1922 (copyright expired)

As Soho transformed to Manhattan's art center in the late 20th century, the Nancy Hoffman Gallery opened in the building by 1991.  In the first decade of the 21st century the performance space Hub, an off-shoot of Performa 17, was here as well.



The 1871 structure has survived amazingly intact, including the ground floor, normally the first to go.  It still commands attention on the corner of Broadway and Howard Street after a century and a half.

photographs by the author

Friday, June 26, 2020

The Much Altered 1829 Henry Fredricks House - 16 Morton Street



No trace of the Federal-style residence remains.

Around 1829 mason and builder Henry Fredricks erected a two-and-a-half story house at No. 16 Morton Street.  It is likely that Fredricks acted as his own architect for the project.  Faced in Flemish bond the 25-foot wide house reflected the elements of the currently rampant Federal style.  The doorway, above a short stoop, was flanked by wooden, fluted Ionic columns.  An overlight allowed daylight into the foyer.  Stone sills and lintels trimmed the openings and two tall dormers punched through the peaked roof.  

In the rear yard was a two-story brick stable and a smaller frame building, accessed from the street by a horse-walk, or pathway.  Fredricks chose to make full use of the real estate necessary to accommodate the horse-walk.  Rather than create an open alley as was often done, he built the house over it, adding a street level door for access.  With the added square footage inside, the house, which would have been three bays wide, was now four--the window above the horse-walk door being noticeably narrower than its counterparts.

Fredricks sold the house in 1841 to Albert Anderson, who sold it to Peter Edsall, Jr. in 1852.  It appears that he and his wife lost their new-born infant in 1857.  A touching advertisement appeared in The New York Herald on November 16 that year: "Wanted--A child to wet nurse at her own residence, by a respectable healthy American woman, with a fresh breast of milk."

By 1877 Edsall was leasing the house to John Wesley Jacobus and his family.  Jacobus's official occupation was listed as "carman," or delivery driver, but he had serious political ambitions.  That same year he was appointed an Inspector of Elections--the same elections during which he was elected alderman.


John Wesley Jacobus - The St. Joseph Herald, December 22, 1889 (copyright expired)

Jacobus was born in New York City in 1848.  When just 13-years old he enlisted in the 9th New York Volunteer Regiment to fight in the Civil War, coming home with the rank of colonel.  He and his wife had one daughter, Grace.  

He was a daunting athlete as well; something William Rollston would have done well to consider before he rang the doorbell of No. 16 Morton Street on March 4, 1884.  Rollston knew that no politician could afford scandalous press and he attempted to blackmail Jacobus with a story of a same-sex encounter.  When Jacobus opened the door Rollston announced "I've come to have a wrong righted," according to The New York Times.  The article continued "He told Mr. Jacobus that they had met in a lodge-room up town.  Then he accused the ex-Alderman of a disgraceful act and said: 'Now 'stake' me.'"

It was a bad decision.  "The blackmailing demand had hardly left his lips when Mr. Jacobus, who is one of the best amateur boxers in this city, felled him to the floor and gave him a terrible thrashing."  After his arrest Rollston claimed that he had gone to the wrong house, but that was doubtful.  "Rollston has been in similar trouble before," said The Times.

Despite their rather modest Morton Street house, the Jacobus family was financially comfortable.  They spent a long summer weekend with the family of Tom Swift in the seaside town of Highlands, New Jersey in 1887.  The family returned at around 11:00 p.m. on Monday, August 29, exhausted.  The Sun explained that Jacobus had spent "half of Sunday night and much of Monday morning before sunrise in telling stories and looking at the moon on Tom Swift's back piazza."

While the family and their servant slept soundly, two burglars gained entrance to the house through a cellar window.   Jacobus first realized there was trouble the following morning when he reached for his trousers and waistcoat, which he had hung on the head of the bed, to find them gone.   But, oddly enough, his wife's jewelry, valued at nearly $14,000 in today's money, still sat on the bureau where she had left it the night before.

Jacobus's pants and coat were found lying on the floor downstairs.  "The trousers had been skinned of about $150 put there ready to pay a couple of bills in the morning, and of the $50 note always carried in the pistol pocket as a reserve fund," said The Sun.  Missing from his coat was his $250 gold watch, a "65-penny-weight chain and the prized and ponderous gold-mounted claws of a Mystic Shrine badge."  Those items alone would amount to more than $14,000 today.

The audacious thieves had quietly ransacked the house while the family slept.  Even more galling, according to The New York Times, they shined their shoes "with Mr. Jacobus's blacking brush and blacking" in the parlor and helped themselves to Jacobus's alcohol before leaving.  "They calmly cleaned their boots in that sacred apartment, after which they got out a pack of cards and a bottle of whisky, and apparently enjoyed a brief season of quiet and restful converse."  

Suddenly a noise spooked them.  "They apparently went sooner than they expected to, as a bundle of silver-handled umbrellas and some valuable silver which they had wrapped in tissue paper were left behind."

Jacobus's political career continued to rise.  He ran twice for sheriff, unsuccessfully, but in December 1889 he was appointed Federal Marshal of the Southern District of New York.  In reporting on his appointment The St. Joseph Herald noted that he "is considered wealthy.  His business is that of carman."

The house was the scene of a joyous event in 1890.  The New-York Tribune reported on September 17, "the marriage of Miss Grace Lent Jacobus, the daughter of United States Marshal John Wesley Jacobus, to William F. Patterson, will take place to-morrow afternoon at 5 o'clock at the home of Marshal Jacobus, No. 16 Morton-st."   A "large party" of fashionably-dressed guests attended the wedding, at which "The bride wore beautiful diamonds, presents from her husband," according to The Press.  The newly-weds received a generous wedding present from either the Jacobuses or Pattersons (or both).  The Press said that after their honeymoon to Niagara Falls and the Thousand Islands, "they will find a home furnished for them at No. 62 Barrow street."

Jacobus was still renting No. 16 at the time.  On April 25, 1891 the Record & Guide reported that Peter Edsall had renewed his lease for another two years at $900 (just over $26,000 a year today).   Then, in December 1897, Mary C. and Joseph H. Dalrymple took title to the property.  The couple, who lived in Hackensack, New Jersey, took out a $10,000 mortgage--a significant $318,000 today.

The Dalrymples sold the "brick dwelling with stable in rear" to Roger Foster.  The once respectable residence quickly declined.  Operated as a rooming house in 1904, one of its tenants, James Harman, was arrested in a raid on a gambling raid on the Eagle Hotel on Morton and West Street on January 6 that year.  In 1904 and again in 1905 Foster received Health Department violations that cited No. 16 as a "public nuisance."  The term usually referred to reeking outhouses or grossly unsanitary conditions inside.


The Federal style doorway and the entrance to the horse-walk can be seen in this photograph.  Above the junk store the windows of the second floor are woefully broken out.  from the collection of the New York Public Library
By 1914 the ground floor and stable building were being operated as a junk shop and scrap metal and rag business.  It was the target of three youthful robbers early on the morning of February 27 that year.  The beat cop named Flanagan would not have noticed anything out of the ordinary if he had not heard a boy's voice warning "Chiggy, Jimmy, here comes a cop!" 

The voice came from the doorway of No. 14 Commerce street where "three shabbily dressed boys stood guard."  At his approach the boys darted.  In the doorway he found "1,400 pounds of metal, worth $306, which had been stolen from No. 16 Morton street during the night."  The three youths, Herman Paro, 16-years old; Alfred Grossino, 15; and James McGloin, 16, were arrested after a four block chase.

On November 25, 1922 the Record & Guide reported that Henry and David Pippman purchased the "old 2-1/2 story and basement brick dwelling" from Roger Foster.  It was the first of a rapid string of turnovers in ownership until 1927 when barrel makers Giovannini Basilico and Evaristo Barbero purchased the property as home to their Basilio & Barbero Cooperage Co.


A Basilio & Barbero truck sits in front of the building prior to the 1928 makeover.  from the collection of the New York Public Library
The following year the partners hired Italian-born architect Salvatore P. Patti to completely remodel the building.  The facade was removed and replaced and the rear extended to connect with the former stable building.  Patti gave the building a Utilitarian style facade, with a large bay door cut into street level and the entrance moved to the former horse-walk.

Basilio & Barbero Cooperage & Co. remained in the building until 1935 when Mabel Pesango purchased the property.  She commissioned architect Philip Bardes to convert the building to a garage "for more than five cars and repair shop," according to the Department of Buildings.  At the same time he raised the attic to a full floor topped by a stepped parapet.


The Morton Auto Service occupied the newly renovated space when this photo was taken.  via NYC Department of Records & Information Services
Morton Auto Service remained in the building for years before being converted to six apartments.  Then, in 2014 a startling new chapter began.  On May 6 Curbed New York entitled an article "Cynthia Rowley May Be Mending a West Village Fixer-Upper" and reported that the fashion designer had spent just under $11 million on the 4,500-square foot property.  Ten days later plans were filed for conversion of the first floor to commercial space and the "renovation and combination of second and third floor residential apartments."


photo by Leslie J. Garfield via 6sqft.com
Rowley moved into one of the two resultant apartments.  She put the property back on the market in April 2018 for $17.5 million.  The series of make-overs completely hide the bones of the 1829 house where a high-powered politician lived for decades.

photographs by the author

Thursday, June 25, 2020

The Michael Magrath House - 74 Irving Place





As early as 1846 Benjamin L. Blonk lived in the 26-foot wide house at No. 74 Irving Place between 18th and 19th Street.  City directories annually placed his business and residential address here, listing his occupation as "painter."  Blonk operated a substantial house painting business, advertising on May 3, 1854, "Wanted, at 74 Irving Place, six or eight good house painters; also a boy to learn the trade."

Around 1859 builder Michael McGrath purchased the Blonk home.  The wealthy contractor routinely worked with esteemed architects and it was almost doubtlessly he who updated No. 74 with an up-to-date French Second Empire style remodeling in keeping with the elegant tone being set by Gramercy Park a block to the north.

A high stone stoop led to the parlor floor where a cast iron balcony fronted the floor-to-ceiling windows.  The high mansard roof, punctured by full-height dormers with broken pediments, was clad in bands of rectangular and hexagonal slate shingles.


The shortest building on the block in this 1909 photograph, No. 74 still retained its 1860's appearance. At the near corner is Tom and John Healy's saloon, later named Pete's Tavern. from the collection of the New York Public Library
Magrath and his wife, the former Catherine Wall, had three sons, John A., Thomas and Cornelius.  The family's wealth was reflected in Magrath's purchase of a pair of mares and a "four-seat wagon" shortly after moving in.  He mentioned the price in 1862 as $1,175, about $30,800 in today's money.  

The Magraths parted ways with their laundress that year, but it seems to have been an amicable decision.  Her advertisement on September 30 read "Wanted--By a respectable girl, a situation as laundress; lived two years in her last place.  Call at 74 Irving place."

Griffith Thomas was among the most sought-after architects of the period.  In 1908 the American Institute of Architects would call him "the most fashionable architect of his generation."  And so one can only imagine the panic Michael Magrath experienced when he realized he had lost a set of Thomas's plans.  His announcement in The New York Herald on February 17, 1872 read:

$25 Reward--Lost, at corner of William and Cedar streets, a set of Plans and Specifications, drawn by Mssrs. Griffith Thomas & Son, architects, Broadway; return to M. Magrath, 74 Irving place.  No questions asked.

The following year Magrath weighed in on the most talked-about court case of the period, known popularly as The Car-Hook Tragedy.  Living about two blocks away from the Magrath home at the time was John Foster family.  His son, William, killed a man on a street car in May 1871 using an iron bar called a car hook.  Foster lamented from his jail cell "Drink had crazed my brain, and to the cursed demon, which steals into society of all kinds, and works its damning deeds, may I render thanks for the position I now occupy.”


William Foster receives word that the Governor had upheld his death sentence. The Car-Hook Tragedy, 1873 (copyright expired)
Foster was sentenced to death, but appeals dragged the case on for two years.  John Magrath joined with 27 other businessmen, most of them involved in the construction industry, in a written plea to Governor John A. Dix seeking clemency.  They said, in part, "Foster is naturally of an amiable and inoffensive temper; has never been in the habit of intoxication, has never been the associate of idle, disorderly or disreputable persons...We solemnly declare our belief that he never intended or contemplated the death of the stranger."  Next to their name each of the men wrote his suggested sentence.  Magrath wrote "12 years."  Their efforts were for naught.  Foster was hanged on March 21, 1873.

In an ironic side note, the State was nearly unable to carry out the sentence.  When the matron brought Foster a cup of coffee at 3:00 that morning, she found that he had swallowed poison.  She forced him to vomit and he was walked up and down the corridors until 10:00, the hour of his execution.  He was carried to the gallows and as the preacher performed his religious service, the prison physician warned the Sheriff that if Dr. Tyng did not speed things up, Foster would die from the poison before he could be executed.

That fall the Magrath family leased a full floor of their home.  Their advertisement on September 30 described "To Let--For One Year, in a private house, a third story Flat; parlor, dining room, three bedrooms, kitchen, water closet and hot and cold water; rent $800."  (The monthly rent would equal just under $1,500 today.)

The Hecksher family moved in.  Six months later a maid walked out never to return, taking with her a trove of valuables.  On April 30, 1874 the New-York Daily Tribune reported "Louisa Winters, a servant, employed in the family of R. Hecksher at No. 74 Irving-place, recently disappeared, taking with her six diamond rings, two gold watches, a seal-skin jacket, a black cashmere polonaise, and other articles, in all valued at $4,000."  Louisa's haul would be in the neighborhood of $92,600 today.

Michael Magrath received a handsome commission from the Department of Public Parts in November 1884.  The Record & Guide announced he "has been awarded the contract for the erection of a skate building in the Central Park."

Following Michael Magrath's death around 1891 Catherine leased a few rooms in the house.   Her three sons still lived in the house with her in 1893 when the City Directory also listed Thomas O'Brien, a carpenter; Agnes Savage, the widow of John A. Savage; and bartender Eugene Spear.

In 1898 the wife of Martin Mahon, rented rooms here.  Her husband, Martin Mahon, was the proprietor of the New-Amsterdam Hotel.  The couple had been married for 19 years and had three children.   But Mahon was embroiled in a scandalous court case that prompted their living apart.

In court on December 15, 1898 he "denied that he had separated from his wife, but admitted that he had not conversed with her since the incidents in connection with the present case became public property.  He said that prior to the last two weeks had had been home to see his wife, at No. 74 Irving Place, two or three times each day."

The "incidents" that had become public property were the details of his dalliance with Fayne Moore, wife of William A. E. Moore.  The Moores had set a trap for the wealthy hotelier and when Fayne lured him to a room in the Grenoble Hotel on November 4, 1893, William stole a diamond pin.  No doubt much to Mrs. Mahon's mortification, the much publicized case dragged on for months.

The last Magrath listed at the address was John, a member of the Real Estate Exchange, who was still here in 1899.  The family, however, would retain ownership for decades.  That same year the house received a major alteration when a commercial space was carved into the former basement level.  C. & J. Bloomingdale, cabinet markets, moved in.

Dr. Daniel Di Bol was a tenant in the Irving Place house in 1905 when he ran up against a powerful adversary, Anthony Comstock, the founder and head of the Society for the Suppression of Vice.  Comstock, who once deemed himself "the weeder of God's garden," considered himself the arbiter of what was and was not moral.  And he considered Dr. Di Boi's Museum of Anatomy on 14th Street immoral.

On February 8 The Sun described the 35-year old Dr. Di Boi as "the scholarly gentleman with the cane and vocabulary, who stands outside and invites a wondering world to enter."  He hawked the exhibitions inside as "scientific, instructive and interesting, teaching you the wonders of life and the terrors of disease."  But his life-like wax figures of unclothed humans were so anatomically accurate as to raise Puritanical eyebrows.

Months earlier Police Captain Steve McDermott had investigated and warned Di Boi that it could be seen as offensive.  Di Boi dismissed him, saying the exhibition was "strictly scientific."  "So the Captain left after warning the managers not to admit boys under 18," said The Sun.  That was not sufficient for Anthony Comstock.  At 4:00 on February 7, 1905 he "took a running glance" at the figures "and ordered the whole lot to the station house."  Not only were Di Boi and his staff arrested, but the figures were carted off.   The warmth of the station house disfigured the models.  "Tears were running down the leper's nose.  Then it occurred to [Sergeant Carson] that waxen things would melt, and they were carted down cellar to harden in strange poses."


In spite of the assault to the lower floors, the mansard level, minus its iron cresting, is remarkably intact.
At the same time architect D. W. Davis lived in the house and would remain into the 1920's.  By 1908 china painter Anna B. Leonard lived and operated her studio here.  An ad in Pallette and Bench that year offered classes in "Porcelain Decoration and Design for all Handicrafts.  Gold in Power Form excelled for the decoration of Tableware."

On September 29, 1912 The Sun commented "That the manners and customs generally of the ateliers of the Quartier Latin should have taken such a hold in New York, where the Beaux Arts men are most numerous, is not surprising."  Among the "more important of the New York ateliers," it said, was Atelier Wynkoop at No. 74 Irving Place.

Under the directorship of artist J. Wynkoop, the studio produced artists like A. C. Webb, F. A. Elsasser, and J. Regan.  Wynkoop remained at the address until around 1918.

In September 1920 the Magrath family hired the architectural firm Philip Bardes Co. to convert the old house to bachelor apartments.  Included in the project were new walls and staircase, a bathroom, and the removal of the show window.  The renovations to what was now officially described as an apartment house cost the equivalent of $115,000 today.


The renovation lowered the columned entrance to street level.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.
There were now fifteen "sleeping rooms" in the house.  Bachelor apartments did not have kitchens and the Department of Buildings warned that "cooking in more than two apartments" would render the building "liable to immediate vacation."


The New York Herald, February 4, 1921 (copyright expired)
Catherine Wall Magrath died on May 17, 1922 at the age of 89.  After having been in the family for more than 60 years, the house was sold to George Glandening.  Glendening was the principal in the real estate firm Geo. Glendening & Co.

The building continued to house middle-class renters, like Hollis Mitchell, a copy editor and proofreader who lived here in the 1950's.  Then in 1973 a renovation resulted in two apartments per floor.  Among the first of the new tenants was artist and photographer A. Burton Carnes.  He had started his career with Esquire Publishing as a sales promotional director where he also created advertisements for Gentleman's Quarterly.  He left Esquire in 1952 to work on his own, focusing much of his time on the development of animated films.



Sadly denuded of its early Victorian decoration, the Magrath house nevertheless manages to hint at its former beauty--mostly because of the incredibly intact mansard level.

photographs by the author