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

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