Thursday, January 7, 2021

D. & J. Jardine's 1875 Cast Iron 678 Broadway


In 1836 attorney Samuel Alfred Foot began construction on his sumptuous 28-foot wide home at No. 678 Broadway.  The project consumed him and he wrote it "has occupied too many of my thoughts, and too large a portion of my time.  A wise man will never build a house."  When the residence was completed the following year, Foot and his family (he and his second wife, Jane Campbell, would have 14 children) filled it with furniture custom made by Duncan Phyfe.

The neighborhood was filled with similar homes of New York's wealthiest citizens at the time.  But by the years preceding the Civil War those homeowners had moved northward, fleeing the encroachment of commerce.  Their once-elegant homes were either converted for business purposes or razed.

The Foot house survived until 1874 when it was demolished by developer Thomas A. Davies.  He hired the architectural team of brothers David and John Jardine to design a modern loft and store building.  Five stories tall, it was completed the following year, an exuberant cast iron take on  Renaissance Revival.  Each of the floors above the storefront were treated essentially the same with garlands of flowers dripping from the piers that separated the deep-set windows.  Decorative shells sat atop each of the fifth floor openings, above which was the ornate cornice.

Among the earliest tenants was T. Hillyer & Co., woolens merchants.  Only two years after moving in the firm was the target of worried industry gossip.  On September 27, 1877 the New York Daily Herald reported "A rumor was current yesterday that the firm of J. Hillyer & Co., jobbers in fine woollens [sic] at No. 678 Broadway, had suspended.  Upon inquiry at their office it was stated that the firm was financially embarrassed, but they did not call it exactly a suspension."  Nevertheless, the admission of "financial embarrassment" signaled a serious problem, and, indeed, six months later on March 14, 1878 The New York Times reported on the firm's bankruptcy.

Much more successful was the book store of Charles T. Dillingham.  On May 16, 1877 The Buffalo Commercial said, "Mr. Dillingham is known as one of the most enterprising of the wholesale booksellers of New-York."  The store also sold framed artwork and heliotypes, an early form of photography.

The Evening Post, November 26, 1880 (copyright expired)

Rufus Waterhouse moved his men's furnishings business into three floors of the building in 1878, after having originally opened at No. 563 Broadway two years earlier.  In January 1882 Clothier and Furnisher announced "A number of improvements have been made at the saleroom, 678 Broadway, and the place now assumes a more cheerful appearance.  More display room has been added, thus enabling customers to view the handsome stock to aa better advantage."

In its April 1882 issue, the same periodical reported, "Rufus Waterhouse, importer and manufacturer of men's fine furnishing goods at 678 Broadway, is showing one of the most select stocks of novelties in gloves, hosiery, suspenders and and neckwear ever brought to this market."

Clothier & Furnisher, January 1882 (copyright expired)

In 1884 Waterhouse employed about 100 workers in his factory and salesroom.  That year New York's Leading Industries gave him a supreme compliment, saying "The manufacture of gents' furnishing goods is a business peculiarly adapted to persons of culture and elegant tastes."  It described the Rufus Waterhouse shops as "very spacious and convenient...admirably arranged and equipped with every facility and appliance for the prosecution of business."

In the meantime, Charles T. Dillingham continued to operate from the address.  Three days before Christmas in 1886 it touted its literary calendars for the coming year, including the Tennyson Calendar and the Dickens Calendar.  Of the latter it said, "Last year we made the finest and prettiest calendar ever made in America--so they say--with a bit from Dickens for every day in the year, besides the daily picture-panel.  This year we make it Entirely New, both pictures and bits."

In 1890 the ground floor and basement were home to the H. C. Kroh window shades store.  On the night of April 25 Patrolman Schneider was passing by and heard suspicious noises coming from the basement.  He rapped his nightstick on the pavement to summon help.  Officers Cooney, Wesell and Clune responded.

The New York Times reported "It was decided that the proper way to enter the building was through the coal hole.  Patrolman Schneider tried it and got as far as his shoulders.  They were too broad to let him pass and he was pulled out.  Patrolman Clune got as far through as the third button on his waistcoat and there he stuck.  Patrolman Wesell could only get down to the second button and Patrolman Cooney could not do as well as that."  

The article continued to say the "fat quartet" felt that dieting would take too long," and "finally a combination of the thinnest patrolman and a very large transom solved the difficulty, and an entrance to the building was effected.  In the basement was found a discharged clerk of Mr. Kroh's named Dinsmore.  He looked very sleepy, having had to wait a long time for the officers to come and arrest him, and as he seemed to have no business there he was taken to the station and locked up."

As had been the case with J. Hillyer & Co. years earlier, the shirt manufacturing firm of Stern & Co. was struggling financially in 1894.  Finally, on October 24 the firm declared bankruptcy.  The following day, as reported in The Sun, "Policemen Smith and Ryer pulled the body of L. S. Stern out of the Central park lake...Despondency over financial embarrassments is though to have led Mr. Stern to suicide."

Thomas E. Davies retained ownership of the property for more than two decades, selling it in December 1897 for $130,000--about $4.13 million in today's money.  Rufus Waterhouse was still in the building, now employing 25 men, 175 women and 50 females under 21-years-old who worked 54 hours per week.  The firm remained here at least through 1903.

Joining them in the building in the first years of the 20th century were wholesale milliners Coumbe & Kaiser; Julius Sauer, manufacturer of artificial flowers and other millinery trimmings; men's furnishers McIlwaine Knight & Co.; and men's hosiery and underwear firm Heilmann, Loth & Feist.

Mens Wear, November 22, 1905 (copyright expired)

Directly behind the building is a narrow passageway left over from the days when residents like Edward Foot had private stables in the rear of their homes.  It is still known as Shinbone Alley and was the scene of what The Sun said "is destined to go down in history as the battle royal of Shinbone alley."

The importing firm of Adolph Strauss & Co. was one the ground floor of No. 678 Broadway when on the night of June 15, 1917 it was targeted by two Brooklyn burglars.  The Sun said they "entered and looted" the Strauss & Co. store of "trinkets, cutlery and ladies' wear."  But the young men had been noticed by Father Philip McGrath who was standing outside his rectory on Lafayette Street.

He alerted a policeman familiar to him, Robert Murphy, and the two men followed the suspects.  When Murphy asked the pair what they were up to they suddenly they pounced upon the policeman and the priest.  The Sun reported that Joseph Donegan, the 23-year old who struck out at Father McGrath, was unaware that the priest had taught boxing to longshoremen and others at the Catholic Seamen's Mission for years.

A melee ensued with the thieves getting the worse of it, until they both pulled out weapons.  Donegan threatened Father McGrath with a hatchet and John Price pulled a sharp chisel on Officer Murphy.  That tactic did not go well for them, either.  The Sun reported that when backup arrived at the dark Shinbone Alley, "Father McGrath was in the vanguard with an ear in one hand and the weapon made famous by another father--the Father of His Country--in the other.  With the substitution of a chisel for a hatchet, Patrolman Murphy was similarly acquired."  

John Price accused McGrath of having planted the stolen goods on him.  At the station house an officer said "You had your nerve to pull that stuff about the priest framin' you wit' the beads," to which Price answered "Aw, how'd I know he was a priest?  He didn't hit like one!"

In 1927 the York Building Company, Inc. made renovations to the building, resulting in a store on the first floor and factory space above.  In the 1940's it was home to the General Refrigerators Corp. which got into serious trouble with the Government during World War II.  On February 14, 1945 the Daily News reported "General Refrigerators Corp., 678 Broadway, dealer in commercial and household refrigerators, has been suspended for six months, beginning today, for violation of limitation orders, the War Production Board said yesterday."

Herbst Brothers Seedsmen, Inc., seed merchants, had been located on Chambers Street for years before relocating into No. 678 in 1952.  In July 1959 the firm placed at ad in The Villager seeking:  "Women For Packing Seeds.  Seasonal work, $1 per hour.  Part time applicants considered."

The Noho neighborhood experienced a renaissance in the last quarter of the 20th century.  In the 1990's Gallery at 678 operated from the second floor space.  

Surviving elements of the 1875 storefront can still be seen today and the upper floors of D. & J. Jardine's handsome cast iron structure are beautifully intact.

photographs by the author

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