Friday, July 31, 2020

Samuel A. Warner's 1889 27 Howard Street

The building's most prominent feature, its parapet, has been sadly lost.
Once home to respectable, well-heeled families; the Howard Street block between Broadway and Elm Street (later Lafayette Street) had seriously declined by the late 1840's.  Mary Campbell lived at No. 27 Howard Street on May 6, 1848 when she was assaulted by Edward McKenna who, according to The New York Herald, attempted "to violate her person."  By 1855 the house was operated as a brothel, known as "Mrs. Hardy's."

The block began to change again in the first years following the Civil War as the vintage two- and three-story former homes were demolished for modern loft buildings.  In 1888 real estate operator Samuel Inslee purchased No. 27 Howard Street and commissioned architect Samuel A. Warner to design a replacement factory and store on the site.

This project was by no means the first time the men worked together.  In 1886 Inslee had hired Warner to design the little Mitzvah Chapel at No. 420 West 57th Street; and the following year to design a five-story loft building on Worth Street.

Inslee's five story, cast iron clad structure was a medley of styles--neo-Grec, touches of Queen Anne, and Romanesque Revival.  The understated base forewent the ornate Corinthian columns evident in so many cast iron storefronts in favor of simple paneled pilasters.  The side piers of the second and third floors followed suit, and those of the fourth took the form of fluted Corinthian pilasters.  The fifth floor turned to Romanesque, its windows deeply-recessed within an arcade.  Crowning the design was a pierced parapet above the modillioned cornice.  

The building filled with tenants associated with the garment industry.  In the 1890's Mahaffy & Philips, dealers in buttons and trimmings; Jung & Turnbull, "dress and cloak trimmings; and Brice & Johnson, "dry goods and notions," shared the building.  

As the turn of the century passed, the tenant list began to diversify.  Meyer & Brother was in the building by 1905 and would remain for several years.  The firm dealt in "indestructible pearl hat, stick and lace pins" as well as "pearls and jewelry."  

And by 1906 Peter Woll & Sons operated from the address.  Based in Philadelphia, the firm was founded in 1858 "in the business of preparing bristle for brush-makers," according to The American Carpet and Upholstery Journal in January 1903.  By the time the New York branch opened at No. 27 Howard Street, the firm had broadened "by the addition of curled hair, bed feathers and other kindred lines."

In fact, the manufacture of curled hair was Peter Woll & Sons' main product in the Howard Street location.  The natural material was sterilized and sold in bulk to be used as mattress and upholstery stuffing.   Automobile makers preferred it for car upholstery and the medical profession touted its benefits.  In his 1913 book The Modern Hospital Dr. John Allan Hornsby declared, "there is no material for the hospital mattress that will take the place of curled hair.  It is expensive, and will cost for the average mattress $8 to $10, but, because of its porosity, it can be easily fumigated."

In 1912 the diverse tenant list included importer Robert P. Smyth, an importer.  His well-intentioned gesture for his wife went horribly wrong on June 11 that year.  Smyth's wife had suffered a nervous breakdown and that evening he took her for a car ride around Brooklyn "in hope the fresh air would benefit her."

As he entered an intersection Smyth realized a Myrtle Avenue trolley was bearing down on them.  "Mr. Smyth tried to turn out and avoid a collision," reported The Evening World, "and the motorman, Robert Brothly, tried to stop his car, but both were too late."  The vehicles collided.

Mrs. Smyth's nerves were already fragile and her although husband held her in her seat, she was traumatized.  "The crash of braking glass, the shouts of the trolley passengers and the jolt of the collision were too much for her, however, and she fainted."  She was taken to the nearby police station where a doctor attended to her.  Smyth took her home in a taxicab in much worse condition than before the ride.  "It was said she was suffering from hysteria," said The Evening World.

In 1915 the wholesale paper firm W. M. Pringle & Co. reorganized with new upper management.  Walden's Stationery and Printer reported "The concern has leased the first floor and basement of 27 Howard Street, and alterations have been made preparatory to carrying a stock of paper."

Walden's Stationery and Printer, March 10, 1916 (copyright expired)
The wide variety of businesses in the building continued throughout the succeeding decades.  Samuel Piser, dealer in braids, was here during the World War I years; the Forte Leather Goods Company leased a floor in 1919; and the Globe Brush Manufacturing Company signed a lease in 1922.  Other tenants included Vanity Leather Goods, makers of hand bags and pocket books, in the 1920's and Marks Woodworking Machine Co. in the 1940's.

A grainy tax photo shows the parapet around 1941.  photo via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services
The last quarter of the century saw a noticeable change in tenants as the Soho neighborhood changes from industrial to artistic.  The New York Center for Visual History made No. 27 Howard Street its home in the 1970's.  On October 8, 1979 Robert Palmer, writing in The New York Times, advised that "An educational film series on New York City in the 1930's, which will cover the Depression and the 1939-1940 World's Fair, as well as facets of family life and ethnic groups" was in production at the Center.

At the turn of the century jewelry and decorative accessory designer Ted Muehling opened his shop and studio in No. 27.  A 1975 industrial design graduate from Pratt Institute, he was first known as a jeweler, and then broadened into glassware, vases and other decorative items.

The New York Times columnist Pilar Viladas noted on August 11, 2002 "Ted Muehling has long been fascinated with organic form; just ask the many fans of his jewelry designs."  Viladas focused on his new collection of porcelain decorative accessories.  "Some pieces, like the egg-shaped lantern, were inspired by the translucency of porcelain itself."  A coral-textured porcelain spoon was offered for $125.

When Ted Muehling left No. 27 Howard Street in 2011, Michele Varian moved her home furnishings store from Crosby Street into his former space.  The variety of items available included from vintage furniture, artwork, children's toys, tabletop and barware, and lighting.  (The store remained in the space until around 2022 when it moved to 400 Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn.)

In 2013 the upper floors--where curled hair was once sterilized and packaged, and where indestructible pearl hat pins were made--were converted to spacious residences.  

The current monochromatic paint scheme disguises the architectural elements of the upper floors, and the loss of the parapet is more than regrettable.  

photographs by the author has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

Thursday, July 30, 2020

The Poland Springs Building - 1180 Broadway

A. G. Newman was a manufacturer of "builders' and house-furnishing hardware" with a factory on West 29th Street.  In 1870 he commissioned Stephen Decatur Hatch to design an office and store building at No. 1180 Broadway, just north of West 28th Street.

Hatch had just designed the lavish Gilsey House hotel a block to the north on Broadway and would go on to produce some of New York City's most recognized buildings of the late 19th century.  His project for Newman was less ambitious.

Completed within the year, the cast iron fronted structure rose five stories, each floor clearly delineated by a molded cornice.  Banded piers with Corinthian capitals flanked the second floor where matching pilasters separated the openings.  Hatch toned down the ornamentation of the third floor with Doric capitals, and then forewent the banding of the outside piers for panels on the upper floors.

Only the second floor (and, presumably, the storefront) received Corinthian touches.
A. G. Newman moved his retail store into the ground floor.  From here architects and builders would select the hardware necessary for construction--hinges, window hardware, and even burglar alarms.  

Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide, April 23, 1881 (copyright expired)

Newman's store would be convenient to the those tenants in the upper floor offices engaged in the building and real estate trade.   In the 1880's E. H. Ludlow & Co., "real estate, auctioneers and brokers," had its offices here; and in the 1890's building contractor H. Prost operated from the address.

Henry Andersen had been chief assistant architect in the office of Thom & Wilson since 1885.  Now, on March 26, 1892, the Record & Guide announced that he had struck out on his own, opening his own practice at No. 1180 Broadway.  The article noted "Mr. Andersen is well known to many builders in this city.  His architectural experience extends over some twenty years, both in this country and abroad."  Andersen's venture was successful and he worked from the Broadway office into the first years of the 20th century.  

Another architect, Thomas Nelson, had his offices here by 1899.  There were, of course, non-construction related tenants in the building, as well.  Political cartoonist and illustrator Thomas Nast launched his Thomas Nast's Weekly, a "new illustrated paper," from room 12 in September 1892.  The 16-page periodical offered jokes, editorials, the famous Nast cartoons, and news.

from the collection of the University of Minnesota Libraries
By 1894 the offices of the American Theatrical Exchange were in the building.  That particular year was a difficult one for its manager, A. McConnell.  Nearly a decade earlier, in 1886, he had married actress May Hosmer, but she soon left him and sent a letter from Chicago saying she had obtained a divorce.  McConnell then remarried and was living happily with his second wife.

In 1890 May Hosmer married actor Theodore Babcock.  They had one child together, but then in 1893, according to Babcock, "she left with a handsomer man."  He sued her for divorce, but got a letter in return stating that his marriage to May was "a farce and a bigamy" since she had never been divorced from McConnell.

The Evening World reported "This was interesting to McConnell...Now he will also sue the fickle May for absolute divorce and go through a second ceremony with the present Mrs. McConnell."

Women were finding their way into the workplace in the 1890's.  Secretarial jobs, traditionally held by men, were now being offered to females.  Miss James's School trained prospective office workers in No. 1180 starting around 1894 and continuing for several years.  Her courses in stenography and typewriting included "business correspondence, spelling and punctuation."

Louis Blum sold celebrity photographs from his office here in 1899.  An ad in Broadway Magazine in July 1899 offered "Thirty Stunning Photographs" of female stage stars, "some in tights."  For 25 cents the buyer would received pictures of Lillian Russell, Pauline Hall, Della Fox and others, deemed by Blum as "the most stunning women of the contemporaneous stage."

On February 24, 1906 the Record & Guide announced that "Hiram Ricker & Sons, proprietors of Poland water" had purchased No. 1180 Broadway.  "the buyers will extensively alter and occupy the structure," it said.  Simultaneously they bought No. 1178 next door as additional space.

Plans for renovating the building were filed by Edward P. Ricker & Son, as architect.  Not coincidentally, Edward Payson Ricker was a son of Hiram Ricker.  The completed alterations included a new cornice and ambitious parapet that announced "Poland Spring Building."

The various Ricker-headed firms in the building included the Poland Waist Co., the Poland Spring Company, and the New England Resort Hotels.  from the collection of the Office of Metropolitan History
The building, which held the offices of Hiram Ricker & Sons' many ventures including The New England Resort and Travelers' Information Company, was ready for occupancy in November.  Advertisements touted it as Poland Springs' "new and attractive uptown location."

New-York Tribune, November 26, 1906 (copyright expired)
The Ricker enterprises remained in the building for decades.  The travel and hotel booking offices garnered more attention than the less glamorous spring water.  By the second decade of the 20th century the resorts they represented went beyond the New England locations.  In June 1914, for instance, reservations were being taken for the new The Tak-A-Nass-Ee in West End, New Jersey.  It was touted as an "up-to-the-minute hotel, of concrete construction, and possessing all improvements of the best city houses."

This advertisement listed some of the Ricker businesses headquartered in the building.  The Sun, August 1, 1916 (copyright expired)
The Poland Spring and travel offices remained in No. 1180 Broadway through 1922.  Then in 1923 architect Morris Rhineton was hired to convert the ground floor space to a restaurant and to revamp the upper floor offices.  It was most likely at this time that Edward P. Ricker's bold parapet was removed.

The Poland Spring Building parapet was gone before 1941.  The Parnes restaurant occupies the ground floor .  photo via the NYC Dept of Records and Information Services
In the first years of the 1940's the ground floor was home to Parnes Dairy Restaurant.  The eatery would remain for decades and in 1964 The New York Times well-known food critic Craig Claiborne commented that locals "are enthusiastic about breakfast at the Parnes Dairy Restaurant."  He added that the fare was a bit pricey.  "The cost of eating well at breakfast, or rather of dining in the style to which they are accustomed, is a touch elevated but worth it.  A morning's check might range from $3 at Parnes."  The cost of that breakfast would equal about $25 today.

The rusting and battered building sprouts a garish vinyl sign at street level while commercial lofts have replaced the former offices upstairs.  Perhaps the ongoing rediscovery of this section of Broadway will result in a coat of paint and a renovated store front.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The 1847 Charles A. Baudouine House - 21 West 16th Street

In 1644 Willem Kieft, the Director of New Netherland, granted freed slave Simon Congo 20 morgens (about 45 acres) of land far north of the settlement of New Amsterdam.  Two centuries later Congo's farm would see development as the expanding city began to engulf the area.  Around the newly designed Union Square upscale homes rose beginning around 1845.

John Cowman had acquired much of the former Congo property in 1825.  He died in 1832, leaving a stipulation in his will that his heirs must wait 10 years before inheriting the land.  In 1842 Cowman's son, Augustus T., and son-in-law, Edward Sebring Mesier, divided up the building plots along West 16th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues.  Mesier took Nos. 1 through 21 West 16th Street and in 1845 began selling them while maintaining careful control over what would be erected.

Restrictions were written into the deeds stipulating that no "stable, meat shop, slaughter house...or any base commercial establishment" could be built.   Instead, only "first-class" residences which sat back from the street six feet or more were allowed.

The restrictions resulted in a matching row of upscale Greek Revival homes.  Although individually owned, they were almost undoubtedly designed by the same architect.  Like its neighbors, No. 21 was faced in red brick and trimmed in brownstone.  A wide stoop rose above the brownstone English basement to a double-doored entrance within an earred surround with entablature and cornice.  Two pairs of French doors opened onto an elegant cast iron balcony.  

Although termed Greek, the earred entrance surround was inspired by ancient Egyptian designs.
The newly-completed house was sold to wealthy cabinetmaker Charles A. Baudoine and his wife, Ann, in 1847.   There is no question that the residence was filled with extraordinarily sumptuous furniture.

Born in New York City in 1808, Baudouine had opened his first cabinetmaking shop on Pearl Street around 1830.  As highly-ornate Victorian styles came into fashion, his exquisitely carved Rococo Revival furniture earned him a reputation as one of New York's premier cabinetmakers.  Two years before Baudouine moved into the 16th Street house, Cyrus West Field had hired him to fully furnish his new Gramercy Park mansion It was the first time in New York that an entire private residence was decorated by a single furniture maker.

No. 21 West 16th Street would have held suites of furniture like this sofa, made in the Baudouine workshop.  The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
As a matter of fact, when Baudouine briefly considered selling the 16th Street house in 1850, he mentioned the furnishings in his advertisement:

For Sale--House and Lot. No. 21 West Sixteenth street, between 5th and 6th avenues--a first class house with all the modern improvements.  A most desirable location.  Lot 25 feet by half the block--is now richly furnished, and will be sold with or without the furniture.

Charles and Ann did not sell and remained for four more years.  In 1852 Ann was looking for household help.  She was somewhat liberal concerning where the women came from, but was strict about her religion.

Wanted--Two Protestant women, American, Welsh, Scotch, or English; one to cook, wash and iron, the other as chambermaid and seamstress.

The Baudouines left West 16th Street in the spring of 1854.  The house became home to the Samuel F. Barry family, which were soon looking for a cook, "one who understands her business, and will wash and iron."  The ad was definite:  "None other need apply."

A well-to-do merchant, Samuel Frederick Barry was a partner in Waldo, Barry & Co.  He had married Martha Lewis Peabody on May 28, 1830.  The couple had six children, William Frederick, Jr., Mary Emily (who died in childhood), Edward Herbert, Horace Mansfield, Anna Rebecca (who died in 1851), Robert Peabody, Samuel Frederick, and Harriette Louise.

In 1859 Elizabeth Thompson was among the Barry's domestic staff.  She and her husband, James, lived on 26th Street where she suffered unthinkable abuse.  The New York Herald said they "lived on unhappy terms" and that James "has repeatedly beat her so that she could hardly walk."

On Tuesday morning, August 24 Elizabeth was able to make it to the 16th Street house; but she was by no means in any shape to work.  The night before "a difficulty arose" between the couple and James "again repeated his assaults upon his wife, inflicting several serious wounds about her body," according to the newspaper.  Elizabeth was placed in a bed where, after "lingering along," she died at around 11:00 that night.  James was arrested an hour later at their apartment.

On October 18, 1861 the city turned out for the massive procession accompanying the remains of Irish rebel Terrence Bellew MacManus.  The exiled activist had died in San Francisco and his body had been brought to New York to be sent home to Ireland.  Thousands turned out to view the military escort, the "fine band," as described by The New York Times, and the hearse which was flanked by representatives of Irish societies from Boston, Albany, Philadelphia and even California.

Horace Barry left his office at No. 5 William Street to view the procession.  The press of well-dressed onlookers created a perfect opportunity for pick-pockets.  Three days later Horace placed a somewhat sarcastic advertisement in The New York Herald:

$25 Reward will be paid for the return of a Gold Watch, artistically taken, in the most perfect prestidigitatorial style, from a gentleman, supposed while standing on the corner of Broadway and Chambers street, Oct. 18, looking at the McManus funeral.  No questions will be asked, and no trouble need be anticipated.

The reward Horace offered would be equal to about $750 today.

Six months earlier the first shot in the Civil War had been fired.  Robert Barry went off to war and distinguished himself within the Union Army.  He returned to New York after the conflict with the rank of major.

On March 31, 1868 Samuel F. Barry died in the 16th Street house at the age of 61.  His funeral was held in the parlor on April 2 and he was buried in Trinity Cemetery.  His would not be the last of the funerals Martha would to attend, by far.

Three years later, on October 5, William Frederick died; and on November 19, 1877 Edward Herbert died.  His funeral was held in the house a full week later, on November 29.

In 1888 Harriette was 24-years old and still unmarried.  She and her mother participated jointly in social events.  On December 9 that year, for instance, The World announced "Mrs. Samuel F. Barry and Miss Barry, 21 West Sixteenth street, will receive Dec. 13, 20 and 27."  (Announcing when one was "at home" was crucial among feminine society, preventing the awkward situation of arriving for a visit and finding the lady of the house not at home.)

On occasion Harriette entertained on her own.  Such was the case on February 3, 1892 when she hosted "an informal young people's tea."  Her mother was not involved.  The New York Herald reported that "she was assisted in receiving by her cousin, Miss Margaret H. Barry."

On November 9, 1894 The New York Herald reported that Harriette's engagement to "Mr. Morgan, of the American Embassy in Paris" had been announced.  One can only imagine the flurry of outraged messages that the newspaper quickly received from No. 21 West 16th and from Paris.

Four days later a correction appeared.  "Miss Harriette Louise Barry, of No. 21 West Sixteenth street, is engaged to Mr. R. Dorsey Loraine Mohun, and not to a Mr. Morgan, as was announced."  The article noted "Mr. Mohun has recently returned from Central Africa, where he was in command of an expedition of the United States government."

The couple was married in 1895, just months before Martha Barry's death in 1896.  After having been in the family for four decades, the house was sold at auction in April 1897 for $35,100--or about $1.12 million today.

It became home to the widowed Florence Johnson.  Her father, Asa D. Dickson had been Consul at Nottingham, England under President Grover Cleveland, while her brother had been Cleveland's Postmaster General.  

Florence was highly involved with the Mount St. Vincent Alumnae Association.  In 1903 she hosted the group for a "musical and literary entertainment" to benefit the children of the Providence Fund.  The charity had been formed to cover the hospital costs for those who could not afford to pay.  On December 20 The New York Herald said "Financially and socially the affair proved a success."

The house was sold in March 1910 for $100,000 (about $2.78 million today).  The New-York Daily Tribune reported "The buyer will probably improve the plot by erection of a loft building."  Thankfully that did not happen, although the house would never be a private residence again.

Humorist illustrator G. Viafora and his wife, operatic soprano Gina Ciaparelli established their studios here in 1911.  Both were well-known in artistic circles.  The couple had been married in Rome on April 29, 1899.

On March 12, 1911 the New-York Daily Tribune reported "From Mr. G. Viafora, of No. 21 West 16th street, we have received the circular of an international exhibition of 'humorism' which is to be held this summer at the Rivoli Castle, near Turin."  The exhibition included caricatures, humorous advertisements, and similar light-hearted artwork.

An advertising postcard by Viafora (copyright expired)
Now retired from the stage Gina Ciaparelli went by the name Signora G. Viafora or Mme. Gina Viafora.  She had sung opposite opera legends like Enrico Caruso and Antonio Scotti.  Although she occasionally did recitals (on March 12, 1911 she gave a concert in Mendelssohn Hall), she had officially retired in 1910.  Who's Who in Music and Drama in 1911 said she has since "devoted her time to instruction."

Painter Gene Smith had his studio in the building as well by 1916.  He specialized in painting horses.  In October 1916 a reporter from The New York Herald visited his studio, commenting on the many horse-themed paintings which "are fetching $25 to-day."  (The journalist was apparently impressed at the price tag, equal to around $600 today.)

Gene Smith painted this watercolor, The Finish, in 1891.
On January 27, 1920 one of the residents advertised a "remodeling sale" of household goods.  It was no doubt in anticipation of the coming upheaval of renovation.  By the end of the year house had been converted to apartments.  Among the tenants in 1923 was portrait artist Niccolo Cortiglia.

Another renovation begun in 1939 resulted in a shop in the basement level, one apartment on the first floor and two each on the upper floors.  The store was home to Magellan's Imports in the mid- to late-1950's.

Nearly 175 years after the Baudoine family moved in, their handsome home is little changed on the exterior.  And surprisingly, much of the interior detailing like marble mantles, crown molding and woodwork survives.

photo via
photographs by the author

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The 1893 Charles F. Schmidt House - 30 West 69th Street

Real estate developers George C. Edgar's Sons began construction of six high-stooped brownstone residences on the south side of West 69th Street, just off Central Park West, in 1892.  Designed by Gilbert A. Schellenger in the Renaissance Revival style, the 21-foot wide homes were completed the following year.  No. 30 was somewhat more reserved in its decoration than some of its fraternal neighbors. 

The entrance above the dog-legged stoop was framed in a simple egg-and-dart design and and capped by a triangular pediment.  The strait-laced upper floor openings featured paneled pilasters that upheld molded lintels at the second and fourth floors.  The openings of the third floor wore architrave frames.  The restrained decoration gave an air of polite respectability.

George C. Edgar's Sons sold the newly-completed house to Charles F. Schmidt on October 6, 1893.   Born in Bremen, Germany in 1832, he had come to New York at the age of 20 and became an American citizen.   Charles and Ella Schmidt had a son and four daughters.  

In 1856 Schmidt had established the wine importing firm of Schmidt, Schmidt & Co.  (It was later renamed Charles F. Schmidt & Co. and then, in 1868, Charles F. Schmidt & Peters.)  Now Charles, Jr. was involved in the firm as its secretary and a director.  It dealt in high-end French wines and was the sole American agent, for instance, for Veuve Clicquot Ponpardin of Rheims; Cruse & Fils Freres of Bordeaux; and for Jules Regnier & Co of Dijon.

For the most part, only the wealthy could afford motorcars in 1905.  Motorists were routinely fined $5 or so for speeding violations and released; but Charles seems to have been going far faster than most on April 24 that year.  The New York Herald reported that he "was held in $300 bail for trial" for "speeding his automobile on Sunday afternoon in Fifth Avenue, between Seventy-ninth and One Hundred and Eighth streets."  Magistrate Mayo was serious.  The bail would equal more than $8,800 today.

Before the end of the year Schmidt's health began to fail.  Around December could no longer go to his office.  His condition continued to decline and he died in the 69th Street house at the age of 74 on January 26, 1906.  The Sun called him "one of New York's prominent German merchants."

Not only do the striking stained glass transoms of the parlor windows survive, but so do the interior shutters.

On December 5, 1908 the Record & Guide reported that Ella had sold No. 30.  The article mentioned the high-end nature of the block.  "Both sides of this street are built up with handsome private dwellings."  Interestingly, the buyer was Ella's daughter, Adelaide, and her husband George L. Degener, Jr., who, along with their 7-year old son, George, Jr., already lived in the house with the Schmidt family.

For a while nothing changed other than the holder of the deed.  Ella, Charles, Jr., and the still-unmarried Elizabeth Schmidt remained in the house with the Denegers for several years.

George L. Degener was the senior partner in the stock brokerage firm of Degener & Co.  Like his father-in-law, he was born in Germany.  He graduated from Amherst College in 1892.  The Degener summer home, Cozy Cotz, was in Quogue, Long Island.  

George, Jr. graduated from Williams College in 1924 and entered his father's firm as a partner.  The following year, on October 24, his engagement to Marie De La Roche Anderson was announced. 

The wedding was to be a splendid event planned for March 23, 1926 in the fashionable Brick Presbyterian Church on Fifth Avenue.  The Colony Club was chosen as the venue for the reception.  But the imposing ceremony was derailed by the death of Marie's grandmother.  The invitations to the wedding and reception were withdrawn.   And while the wedding transpired on the appointed day, it was a decidedly understated affair; taking place in the Park Avenue apartment of the Robert Olyphants with "only the immediate members of both families being present," according to the New York Evening Post.

The newlyweds moved into the West 69th Street house.  Nine months later, on Christmas Eve 1926, George L. Deneger 3d was born.

As with all moneyed couples, George and Adelaide's movements were followed in the society pages.  On May 3, 1928, for instance, the New York Evening Post reported that they "are returning from Europe tomorrow on the Aquitania."  It would be George's last trip abroad.  On May 25, 1929 he died after a long illness at the age of 57.  His estate of approximately $3 million today was left entirely to his wife.

Adelaide almost immediately left No. 30.  In January 1930 she leased the house to Marguerite Moras and moved to No. 575 Park Avenue.  Moras paid a yearly rent of $4,350; or about $5,540 per month in today's dollars.

It is unclear how long Marguerite Moras remained in the house; but it was being operated as a rooming house after mid-century.  In 1997 a conversion was made of the "Class B rooms to Class A apartments."  

Only two of the original row survive.  No. 30 has changed little, even retaining its wooden, double-hung windows.

photographs by the author

Monday, July 27, 2020

The Lost 1871 Kemp Building - NE Corner of Cedar and William Streets

Ornate decorations included large cast iron griffins on the stubby stoop newels, massive statues at the third floor corner, and carved stone urns.  Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide, June 25, 1898 (copyright expired)

In 1870 George Kemp had come a long way since he arrived in New York from Ireland with his family at the age of five.  Active in real estate development, The New York Times would later note “He erected many fine buildings upon the real estate that he owned.”  He was also the proprietor of the Buckingham Hotel; but his great fortune was made in Lanman & Kemp, a perfumery nationally-known for its Florida Water and Eau de Cologne.  Florida Water was so popular (today we would call it a “body splash”) that baseball teams used it as a refresher during hot games.

Early in 1870 Kemp hired renowned architect Griffith Thomas to design an office building at the northeast corner of Center and William Streets.  His plans, filed in May, called for a "five story and basement iron and brick building for offices."  They gave no hint of the architectural extravaganza that was to come.

Working with the Architectural Iron Works, Thomas designed a flamboyant cast-iron faced structure in the French Second Empire style.  Technically five stories tall, the full-height basement level made it the visual equivalent of six.   The classical temple-like entrance rose a floor and a half, its staircase continuing upward within the archway.  Thomas gently curved the corner and embellished the facade with balustrades, balconies, and columns.  At the third floor corner a plaque which announced the building's name and date was flanked by cast iron statues a full floor in height.  The elaborate 11-foot tall mansard, covered in fish-scale slate shingles and sprouting elaborate dormers, was crowned by tall iron cresting.

On September 30, 1871 the Evening Telegram called the Kemp Building "most majestic and imposing in appearance," adding "the building cost $225,000, and is cheap at that."  That cost would equal $4.86 million today.

Kemp moved the offices of Lanman & Kemp into the new building, and leased additional space to a variety of businesses.  An advertisement on December 28, 1871 suggested the appropriate tenant:

Offices to Rent--Suitable for bankers, brokers and insurance companies, in the elegant building in William street, corner of Cedar, only one block from Wall street, known as the Kemp building; also in same building, on the third story, a Suit of Rooms, admirably arranged for lawyers' offices.

The structure, indeed, saw several attorneys move in, like Moran Brothers who were among the first tenants.  The attorneys counted among its clients the Toledo, Peoria and Western Railroad Company.  Other tenants in the building were also involved in the railroad industry.  On March 30, 1872, for instance, The Chronicle, announced that the firm of Winslow & Wilson had moved in.  "This firm transacts every kind of railway business," it said, adding that it had "special facilities for building, managing and equipping railways, negotiating railway loans and securities and selling state, city, town and county bonds."  And the headquarters of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway Company was here by 1876.

The City of New York, 1876, (copyright expired)
The legal offices of Burrill, Davison & Burrill were here by the end of the decades.  The firm was nearly the victim of a swindler in February 1880.  The New York Times reported that "A well-dressed stranger visited the law offices...and introduced himself to Mr. John E. Burrill as H. A. Pillman, of Baltimore."  He told "a long and interesting story" about his wealthy father's recent death and the unfair distribution of his estate.  A respected Baltimore lawyer, S. T. Wallace, referred the man to Burrill, Davison & Burrill.

Burrill promised that he would take the case after writing to Wallace for details.  A moment after being shown out of the office, Pillman reappeared.  "By the way, Mr. Burrill, I happen to be a little short of ready money at the moment.  Would you mind cashing a certified check for me?"

The amount of the $500 check, drawn on a Baltimore bank, would equal nearly $13,000 today.  His suspicions raised, Burrill said "I will send this to the bank and get the money for you.  Call around again in an hour."  Pillman happily agreed and left.  Burrill immediately telegraphed Wallace, who said he had met Pillman regarding the suit, but knew nothing about him.  Another telegram to the bank revealed that Pillman had no account there.  A detective waited for the crook to come back, but he never returned.

In 1883 the offices of commission merchants D. A. De Lima & Co. were in the building.  The firm dealt in "South American products."  Around 3:00 on the afternoon of September 17 a messenger boy handed David A. De Lima a letter containing terrifying information.  It said that De Lima's 8-year old daughter Lylia had been kidnapped and unless a $26,000 ransom was paid, "the little girl's throat would be cut from ear to ear and her body sent to her father's house," as reported by The New York Times.  The cash was to be sent to lawyer David De Leon who was to then deliver it to a "Mr. Spofford, on the Mall in Central Park."

De Lima sent a clerk to his home on East 57th Street where, ten minutes after he arrived, Mrs. De Lima and the girl returned home.  This was not the first attempt at extortion.  Three other letters had already been received, one by mail.  The De Limas had five children and "The last three letters contained threats to kill one of the children and do bodily harm to Mr. De Lima if he did not send the money to Mr. De Leon, to be given to Mr. Spofford," said The Times.  Neither De Lima nor De Leon could make sense of it.  Police Inspector Byrnes announced "It was not believed that there was any serious intention of killing any of Mr. De Lima's children."   

The case took an ironic twist when David A. De Lima was suited for $100,000 in damages by Daniel De Leon.  On January 11, 1884 The New York Times reported "De Leon asserts that De Lima has injured his fair fame by telling Inspector Byrnes and other persons that he believed De Leon was a party to a scheme to black-mail him."

Tenants in the building in 1889 included Albert Reynaud, described by the New-York Tribune as a "distinguished New-York City lawyer," and at least four other law firms.

George Kemp died on November 23, 1893.  The New-York Tribune's account was somewhat startling, saying the millionaire "died after an illness of several months on Thursday morning from malnutrition."  His estate retained ownership of the Kemp Building until May 1901, when it sold it to the New York Realty Company.

King's Photographic Views of New York 1895, (copyright expired)
Only two months later, on July 20, 1901, the New-York Tribune reported "The Kemp Building...was sold yesterday by the New-York Realty Company to a new corporation.  The building now on the site will be torn down, and a fifteen story structure built in its place."  The newly-formed group of owners had paid $750,000 for the property, or about $23.3 million in today's money.

The peacockish Kemp Building was demolished shortly after and construction on the Royal Bank of Canada building begun.  The Globe and Commercial Advertiser commented "the old Kemp Building...was a landmark, and gave the thoroughfare its distinctive character."  The Royal Bank of Canada building was completed in 1902 and demolished in 1991.  Today the site is a plaza fronting 2 Liberty Street.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

A Striking Comeback - the 1832 Richard Merrall House - 122 Washington Place

A renovation around 1870 resulted in a full third floor in place of the dormered attic.
Greenwich Village saw a tremendous building boom in the late 1820's and early '30's.  It apparently occurred to mason and builder John Nichols that rather than construct homes for developers, he could do so for himself thereby reaping the entire profits.  In 1832 he purchased seven building plots on West Washington Place, between Sixth Avenue and Barrow Streets; but he quickly found himself in financial trouble.  He resold some of the plots to other blue collar investors--a mason, a carpenter, a builder, and a well-digger.

The well-digger was Derick D. Foster, who doubled as a mason.  He purchased the plot at No. 39 West Washington Place in 1832.  (West Washington Place, which stretched west from Sixth Avenue, would not become part of Washington Place, on the other side of the avenue, until the 1870's.)   He erected a handsome house on the plot that straddled the line between the familiar Federal style and newly-appearing Greek Revival.  Two-and-a-half stories tall, it was faced in warm Flemish bond brick and trimmed in brownstone.  The iron railings of the stoop terminated in ornate basket newels that sat upon stone pedestals.

Foster sold the newly-completed house in 1832 to Hamilton Murray.  He purchased it as an investment, leasing it to middle-class families.  

Renting unused rooms of one's home was common in the 19th century and in June 1854 an advertisement offered "To Let--The upper part of a genteel dwelling house, in a very respectable and quiet location; possession immediately.  Apply on the premises No. 39 West Washington place, near Parade ground."  (It is interesting that the writer still made reference to the Washington Parade Ground, which had been converted to a park, Washington Square, four years earlier.)

It may have been the Merrall family who placed the advertisement.  Richard and Jane Merrall had at least three daughters, Anne, Isabella and Rosetta.  The family was here by 1860 when the somber funeral ceremony of Rosetta, who died on April 22, was held in the parlor.  A year later, on May 15, the room would be the scene of a much happier event when Anne was married to James Smibert there.

Within two years the Merrall family moved to West 27th Street.  The year 1863 was a tragic one, with Isabella dying on August 3 and Richard dying four months later on December 7 at the age of 76. 

The new owner also leased a room in the house.  An advertisement on December 7, 1866 in The New York Herald offered: "A handsomely furnished room to let--To a lady, or gentleman and lady, with or without Board."

Three years later a member of the family fell ill and was apparently instructed to travel to the country or even Europe for his or her health.  A long-term lease which included all the furnishings was offered.

For cause of sickness--A rare chance for cash; furnished House, in the best of order; all new improvement; suitable for boarding house; rent cheap; three years' lease.

When West Washington Place was officially renamed the house received its new address of No. 122 Washington Place.  It was around the same time that the attic was raised to a full third floor with a stylish Italianate cornice.   By the first years of the 1890's it was being operated as a respectable rooming house.  Rooms were advertised at "$2 upward," or about $58 a week.

Among the residents in 1893 were M. Forester, a seamstress; and Madame Delaux and her husband.  Their advertisements seeking work shed light onto the working class status of the roomers.  Ms. Forester's said that she "makes ladies and children's suit and cloaks" and was "willing to assist in other duties."  

Madame Delaux placed an advertisement hoping to find work for both herself and her husband:

Man & wife, young couple.  French, sober & willing, together or separate; hotel or private; woman to wash, iron & cook, &c.; man to help in kitchen or restaurant & make himself useful; good references & moderate pretensions.

Living here in 1896 were Durant I. Biggony, William C. Peck and Joseph L. Oliver.  The names of all three would appear in the newspapers that year, for vastly different reasons.

Durant I. Biggony was a clerk, employed by the high end women's clothiers, Gosta Kraemer Company at No. 24 West 23rd Street.  He found himself the innocent victim of a rift within the upper management that January.  When manager Gustav Kramer learned that the stockholders planned a reorganization, he feared he would be let go.   He locked the stockholders out of the building before they could meet on January 6, 1896 and placed four clerks, including Biggony, standing guard.  Despite the frigid weather, the stockholders' meeting was held on the sidewalk.  The newly-elected president then broke in and took possession of the building.  Because the clerks refused to leave, they were arrested for trespassing.

In the 1890's women were still scarce in offices.  Secretarial jobs were held almost exclusively by men, among them William C. Peck, a stenographer and "typewriter."  (At the time the term "typewriter" referred not only to the machine but to the person who operated it.)

The World, October 4, 1896 (copyright expired)
Peck provided testimonials in the aggressive advertising campaign of Dr. Copeland, who claimed the "Discovery of the Cure for Deafness."  In one ad Peck said "I am a stenographer and in order to earn a living I must hear accurately.  Unless I sat very close to my employer I could not catch his dictation.  My work became a burden to me.  The Copeland Doctors have restored my hearing."

Joseph L. Oliver moved into No. 122 in September that year, having arrived from Charleston, South Carolina to look for a job.  He found a position as a clerk and things were going well for the 25-year old.  He went out with two friends on Saturday night, November 14, who later said he was "in good spirits all night, and when he left them was perfectly sober."  

But the next afternoon he was found dead in his room.  The New York Times reported "Death was caused by gas asphyxiation."  Suicide was not suspected.  "It is supposed that the gas was blown out by a draught or that it was accidentally turned on during the night."

The house almost exclusively attracted office workers like William Peck and Durant I. Biggony.  A position-wanted advertisement on January 9, 1897 described the writer as a "Young Man, good scholar, temperate habits" who sought a position as "assistant bookkeeper, stenographer and typewriter or other general office work.  Ambitious."

The following year 27-year old H. L. Moore placed a similar ad.  "Stenographer, open for position February 1; rapid, accurate; Remington operator; present employers the largest hardware houses in the city; also keep books; any kind office work."

Later that year a less veteran office worker placed an advertisement:  "Young man; docile entry bookkeeper, stenographer, typewriter and general office assistant; A1 city reference, strictly temperate; good scholar."

By the turn of the century the house was owned by attorney James Shea, whose offices were at No. 416 Broadway.  Like those renting rooms in the house, his son Benjamin was an office worker.  Benjamin's ad in 1900 read: "Young man wants position as assistant bookkeeper; understands commission and banking; industrious and willing to work hard; will begin at moderate salary."

Living with the Shea family was James's unmarried sister, Margaret.   In the spring of 1904 she caught pneumonia and died on April 25.

It is unclear whether Sidney Moore was related to H. L. Moore; but starting in 1902 at the age of 21 he, too, was living here and looking for stenographer and typewriter work.  The young man seems to have had a hard time holding a job.  He placed similar ads looking for work the following year, again in 1905, in 1907 and in 1909; all the while still rooming at No. 122 Washington Place.  (His ad in November 1907 noted "can give good reason for leaving last position.")

Other roomers during Sidney's residency included Michael J. Doyle, who applied for a civil service position as a city electrician in 1905; and an unnamed "first-class dressmaker, corset maker," who described herself merely as "French."

By 1912 Shea had sold the house to P. J. Malloy who operated it as a rooming house.  Long term residents were the Curran family which remained for years.  Patrick H. Curran died in the house on January 22, 1916; and William H. Curran, presumably his son, was appointed a Commissioner of Deeds in 1920.  In 1922 the vacant first floor, four rooms and a bath, were offered for $2,000 a year--or about $2,550 per month in today's terms.

Real change came after Margaret L. Malloy gave a 21-year lease on the property to R. Talfair Smith, Inc. in February 1925.  The New York Times reported that the "lessee contemplates making very extensive alterations" which would convert the house into apartments and studios.

Before the end of the year there was one "non-housekeeping apartment" in the basement (meaning no cooking could be done), another on the second floor, and a "housekeeping apartment" on the parlor and third floor.    The stoop was removed and the entrance lowered to the basement level, a few steps below the sidewalk.  An advertisement offered "Attractive apartment of three and four rooms; all improvements; rents $100 to $125."  The higher rent would equal just over $1,800 today.

The 1925 renovation removed the brownstone stoop.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services
A notable resident was Frances Marion Brandon who broke ground when she was appointed the City's Assistant Corporate Counsel at a time when female lawyers were scarce.  She made headlines in 1930 when she sued George J. Gillespie, president of the Board of Water supply, for $500,000, "charging he had reneged on a promise to marry her," according to The Daily News.  The case was settled out of court for a reported $25,000--about $383,000 today.

In 1941 Frances contracted double pneumonia.  Although a number of physicians gave up on her case, Dr. John J. McGrath did not and she survived.  She credited him with saving her live "by his great medical skill and disinterested care."  

Frances Marion Brandon - The Daily News, October 1, 1943.
Following her death on September 4, 1943 her family received a shock.  The Daily News reported on October 1 that she "regarded her personal physician so highly that she left him practically her entire fortune--to the great displeasure of her three sisters, two brothers and their children, who are suing."  Frances left Dr. McGrath her stocks and personal property and set up a trust fund, the income of which was to go to him.  "To her brothers, sisters and the children she left $1 apiece 'outright.'"

A renovation completed in 1968 resulted in two duplexes.  One became home to Dr. Milton I. Marcus, former president of the New York County Optometric Society and secretary of the New York State Optometric Society.  He had also helped found the State College of Optometry of the State University of New York.  He was living here in 1976 when he died at the age of 67.

The "fire mark" to the left of the remarkably convincing reproduction doorway, while not original to the house, dates from the period when volunteer fire companies responded to homes who subscribed to their services--identified by the marks.
In 1999 a seven-year renovation was begun.  It resulted in a private home with a basement apartment.  In a careful restoration the stoop was rebuilt and a period-perfect Federal doorway reproduced, closely following the surviving example at No. 126 Washington Place erected in 1834.

photographs by the author