Living in Stutgart, Germany did not impede Caroline H. Johnston's Manhattan real estate operations. She remotely purchased properties around the island which she improved with commercial and residential structures. As the turn of the century neared, she little by little amassed the properties around No. 1170 Broadway. In 1897 she purchased No. 1172 at the southeast corner of Broadway and 28th Street for $250,000. She acquired the abutting property at No. 1168 Broadway the following year for $110,000; and No. 1168 Broadway in 1900 for $148,005.
On March 15, 1902 The Record & Guide reported that she "has decided to erect a 12-sty store and loft building on the site." The nearly square footprint was just over 105 feet wide on Broadway and almost 103 feet on 28th Street. The architectural firm of Schickel & Ditmars was put to work designing what would briefly be known as the Johnston Building. Their plans, filed a month later, projected the cost at $500,000. Coupled with the price of the properties, Caroline Johnston's project would cost her the staggering equivalent of around $30 million in today's dollars.
The fact that this section of Broadway was dotted with several upscale hotels may have prompted the architects to design the Johnston Building to more closely resemble a hotel than an office structure. Above the street-level storefronts, the limestone-faced building dripped with Beaux Arts decorations, its rounded corner rising to an elaborate cupola.
|The lushly ornamented entrance would have been appropriate for any high-end hotel of the time. photo by Beyond My Ken
The new structure filled with the offices of architects and other construction-related firms. In the first decade after its opening architects James B. Ware & Sons, Bosworth & Holden, W. E. McCoy, J. J. Malone, and N. Serracino were here. Builders and contractors included Jobson-Hooker Co., The Bottsford-Dickinson Co., Geo. Vassar's Son & Co., and the Hennebigue Construction Company.
|The National Cash Register Company was in the highly visible corner store in 1905. photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
When the International Amusement & Realty Co. sought to update its offices in April 1910 by renovating the stairs and walls, it did not have to look far. Both the architect, James J. Malone, and the contractor, Geo. Vassar's Son & Co., were tenants.
In June 1912 Caroline Johnston updated the show windows and replaced the roof. The building continued to lure architects and builders. That year the Atlantic Terra Cotta Company moved in and would remain into the 1920's.
|Atlantic Terra Cotta Company was a major tenant for years. Real Estate Record & Guide, December 21, 1912 (copyright expired)
Atlantic Terra Cotta Company was joined in the building that year by builders Wills & Marvin Co. and architect James Brite. The well-known construction firm of Thomas J. Brady, Jr. Company took space in 1914.
A variation in the tenant list began in 1916 when A. J. Haire Publishing Co. moved in. The firm published The Corset and Underwear Review, a monthly trade journal, and the annual International Corset & Underwear Directory.
|The Corset and Underwear Review, July, 1921 (copyright expired)
The Barker firm advertised nation-wide, hoping to attract would-be small business owners. For an investment of $5,000 (just under $74,000 today), an investor was guided through the process of opening a bread bakery. An advertisement claimed that "many wide-awake men in cities of the Middle West and East are today making $500 to $2,400 per month...who knew nothing whatever of the Baking business." "We have solved all problems for these people, furnished an expert to start them and covered every detail to assure their success."
Other garment-related firms in the building that year were The Textiles Company, Inc. and Naef Brothers, dealers in embroideries "that impart distinctiveness to Lingerie, Blouses and Infant's and Children's Dresses," according to an advertisement.
Another new tenant in 1921 was the New York School of Filing. It entitled an advertisement on January 30 "Woman's Best Vocation--FILING," and claimed "We have trained and placed over five thousand girls and women in positions paying $18 to $35 per week." (The higher salary would equal $500 today.)
After having been in the building for 37 years, Haire Publishing Company left in 1953. The neighborhood around No. 1170 suffered during the next few decades as modern Midtown business buildings attracted tenants. Small offices and stores moved in, like Josalam, headed by Joseph J. Samowich. Another tenant, Yuchius Co., operated from a storefront here and at No. 1133 Broadway.
As Christmas shoppers frantically searched for the popular Cabbage Patch dolls in 1984, Customs Agents raided the Yuchius Co. stores as well as the firm's warehouse on West 27th Street, confiscating 20,000 counterfeit Cabbage Patch dolls. Tests by the Customs Department chemists indicated "that the stuffing in the dolls contained several volatile and flammable compounds, including benzene and toluene," said The New York Times.
In the meantime Josalam garnered more positive press coverage. In October 1983 Joseph Samowich received his patent for "Josalam," a decorative laminate "for home, business or even military use." And two years later he was awarded another patent for a new "bulletproof clothing, or soft body armor." This was Samowich's third patent on the protective garments which he said "required fewer layers of fabric and are less costly than those currently employed" by the police and military, according to The New York Times on April 13, 1985.
|photo by Beyond My Ken
The renovation-restoration resurrected Schickel & Ditmars' 1903 Beaux Arts showpiece.
photographs by the author