Wednesday, September 2, 2020

H. & H. Brien's 1871 793 Sixth Avenue

In the summer of 1869 Joseph McEntee's wife was taken to the Charity Hospital on Blackwell's Island.  On August 19, according to The New York Times, a man appeared at McEntee's home at No. 477 Sixth Avenue and "announced the melancholy fact that Mrs. McEntee was dead."  Seeing McEntee's overwhelming grief, the man offered to help him make preparations for the funeral.  The pair visited an undertaker where a coffin was purchased.  As the undertaker wrote out a pass which would give Joseph McEntee access to Blackwell's Island, the helpful man suddenly remembered a business engagement downtown and asked McEntee for $5 which he would repay when they met up again on Blackwell's Island.

When McEntee arrived at the Charity Hospital, he found that his wife was not dead, "but as well as could be expected," and that he had been ingeniously swindled out of around $95 in today's money.

It is probable that McEntee leased rooms in his Sixth Avenue house.  The neighborhood was not affluent and the avenue was lined with converted dwellings that housed second-hand shops and similar businesses.  He and the other roomers would have to find new accommodations within the year.

On May 13, 1870 the building was sold at auction to Henry Brien for $35,000 (just over $700,000 today).  The New York Times commented that "For the price sold, the premises were deemed cheap, being so well located for business purposes."

Brien was a partner with his brother, Hugh, in the grocery business H. & H. Brien at Nos. 480-482 Ninth Avenue.  Theirs was no storefront grocery store and the brothers' comfortable financial positions were reflected in their owning at least one other commercial property, on the Bowery, and in Hugh's owning a thoroughbred race horse, Hudson Boy.

H. & H. Brien erected a flat and store building on the plot.  Twenty-four feet wide on the avenue, it stretched 65 feet along West 27th Street.  Face in red brick and trimmed in stone, it was designed in the up-to-date neo-Grec style.  Each  floor sat upon a slightly-projecting stone course which cleverly doubled as sills to the openings, emphasized by the diminutive brackets below each.  The lintels (each joined to the other by a running bandcourse) were carved with incised decorations.  A robust cast metal cornice ran along the roof line.

The neo-Grec lintels with their incised designs were the latest in decorative trends.
The new ground floor store became home to James W. Lamb's saloon.  Lamb lived nearby at No. 213 West 25th Street.   He found himself in the Jefferson Market Police Court on March 19, 1875 following what The New York Herald called "Another Raid On Liquor Dealers."  Lamb had either allowed his excise license to expire, or had simply not bothered with one.  In either case, he was held in $100 bail awaiting his court appearance, for "selling liquor without license."

The residential entrance was to the rear of the building at No. 100 West 27th Street.  The blue collar tenants in the apartments represented a range of cultures and races.  Among the residents in 1878 were the Burrows family.  Edward was a house painter and Orson made his living as a clerk.  

Robert Hooper was also a clerk.  Catherine Fuchs, the widow of Jacob Fuchs, listed no occupation; while another widow, Julia Garraund, eked a living as a dressmaker from her apartment.  Charles Jacobs ran a tailor store directly across the avenue at No. 448, and William H. P. Smithson, despite his high-sounding name, listed no profession that year.

By 1878 Joseph W. Lamb's saloon had become the fruit and grocery store of Dominick Moglia.  

Winifred Quigley was the landlady 1884.  She and her family lived in the building, including her son Martin who worked in a printing establishment.  Hugo Zellman, one of the head waiters at the Hotel Brunswick, rented a furnished room at the time.

In the early hours of New Year's Day 1885 Zellman returned home from work.  In his absence someone had entered his room using a key and made off with clothing which he valued at $107 (in the neighborhood of $2,880 today).  Zellman reported the burglary to Detective James K. Price who wasted little time in apprehending the culprit.

Martin Quigley was apprehended within hours.  According to The New York Times, "He was wearing a pair of Zellman's trousers when arrested."  The landlady's son pleaded guilty and was jailed.

The tenant list continued to be diverse.  On May 11, 1894 The Waterville Times reported a disturbing story about a Black roomer, George Smith, who had attacked a Black woman with a knife.  She did not survive.  "Eliza Berry, a young colored woman, died in the New York Hospital.  She was stabbed in the back in a saloon at No. 146 West Twenty-seventh Street on Thursday night by a negro named George Smith who lives at No. 100 West Twenty-seventy street."

In November 1895 one resident identified himself as "a German man" in his search for work "As headwaiter or steward in a club or hotel, by a German man."  

The cornice is an especially handsome example of the style.

The grocery was being operated by Italian immigrant Guiseppi Ghiggin by now, while upstairs Lizzie Bick was among the residents.  She was married at City Hall on April 28, 1896 to Frank Wyche, described by the New York Herald as a "Virginia farmer."  The article reported "The Mayor married his first colored couple yesterday."  What appears to be an example of 19th century racism was reflected in the comment "The Mayor neglected to salute the bride."

Guiseppi Ghiggin's grocery store briefly became L. Kaufmann & Co., a tobacco and cigar store.  Louis Kaufmann opened in 1898 and was doing a fine business.  But he had heavily backed the cigar manufacturing business of Kaufman Brothers (with only one "n") of his brothers, Abraham and Herman.  Their firm failed in 1899 resulting in the bankruptcy of Louis.

The Brien brothers leased the store next to a dry goods shop.  It was the target of clever burglars soon after its opening.  On June 29, 1899 The Sun reported "The Tenderloin police are keeping a sharp lookout these days for the gang of burglars who are carrying away the property of Sixth avenue shopkeepers...They have got into every store by cutting holes in the floor and coming up through the cellar.  In this way the dry goods store at 447 Sixth avenue was entered recently and $500 worth of goods carried away."  The heist would be equivalent to about $15,900 today.

Like L. Kaufmann & Co., the dry goods store was short lived, followed by Bernard Gutter's pawn shop.  It was there in the spring of 1902 that detectives found some of the jewelry stolen by 18-year old Frederick Henratty.  The theft was made even more scandalous because he had stolen the diamonds and jewelry, worth about $14,700 in today's money, from his mother.  At Gutter's shop detectives discovered a pair of diamond earrings which the teen had pawned for $115 (more than $3,500 today).

The Brien brothers finally landed a long-term retail tenant later that year in the I. Blyn & Sons shoe store.  The well-known retailer, who had several stores throughout the city, would remain for decades.

This price of this men's shoe would be about $107 today.  The Evening World, May 30, 1902 (copyright expired)
Living upstairs at the time was actress Nellie Simmons.  She landed a role playing in Mr. Blue Beard early in 1903 as one of the famous murderer's six wives.  In February she invited the other five "wives" to her apartment.

On February 18 The Morning Telegraph reported "Mr. Blue Beard's six pretty wives held high revel for two hours yesterday afternoon during the absence of the lugubrious ogre.  In a snug flat at 100 West Twenty-seventh street, they feasted and made merry without thought of possible rage on the part of the terrible husband, which might mean decapitation."

Nelli Simmons and her fellow actresses are listed on the playbill as the "pretty wives."  The Cast, March 9, 1903 (copyright expired)
The young actresses had formed a close camaraderie.  "Miss Simmons suggested that it would be pleasant for them to have a party one afternoon each week, the sextette taking it in turn about acting hostess."

Some tenants worked from their apartments.  One, named Poulsen, advertised in 1906, "Facial and Swedish massage, manicure...over shoe store."  In November 1908 an advertisement appeared in The Evening Telegram:  "French lady teacher, individual instruction; also
German, English."  Mlle. Richelieu was still advertising "lessons by the hour" the following year.

Another French teacher, Mlle. B. Lamboley, lived in the building by 1912; but she was less willing to allow her students into her apartment.  Her ad on November 18 that year read: "French teacher from Paris will give morning or evening lessons at pupil's residence."  She was apparently quite successful, for the exact advertisement was still appearing in The Evening Telegram six years later.

The Evening World, January 29, 1920 (copyright expired)
When Sixth Avenue was renumbered in 1925 the store received the new address of No. 793.

The broad palette of cultures within the building was expanded by the Depression years with Greek tenants.  In 1930 19-year old Nick Manos was living here, trying to eke out a living selling cut flowers to subway passengers.  It ended in his arrest on March 10.  According to The Daily Star he was "charged with annoying passengers and obstructing the passageway."  Patrolman William Gallagher told the court that Manos and 36-year old Charles Willett "were peddling flowers and refused to move when ordered."

Five years later Aristides Thofanis was selling flowers from a push cart for 15 and 25 cents a bunch when he, too, was arrested.  He may have not been aware that New York City had just become the first municipality in America to enact a general sales tax.  He was charged with not collecting sales tax, according to the New York Post on March 28, 1935.  Exactly what the sales tax on a 15 cent bunch of flowers would be is unclear.

Following Prohibition the ground floor that had first been home to James W. Lamb's saloon became the Uneeda Bar & Grill.

The Uneeda Bar & Grill sported a sleek 1930's storefront.  photo via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

By the late 1960's it became home to Jaffer's electric and hardware store, which too would remain for years.  In November 1970 the store advertised the new Sony Trinitron color television with a 12" screen.  The price would be equal to about $1,970 today; but the ad explained that it "gives a sharper, brighter color with a lens that's twice as large as other TV's."

Today the ground floor is occupied by a Korean restaurant.  And although the brick has been painted and the storefront much altered, the stylish 1871 structure is otherwise little changed.

photographs by the author

1 comment:

  1. "Mr. Bluebeard", sometimes called "Mr. Bluebeard, Jr." was the show on stage the day of the disastrous Iroquois Theater fire, in Chicago, during a matinee in December of 1903. It had Eddie Foy in the cast, and possibly the same cast listed above in your blog.