Thursday, January 28, 2021

The Marble-Faced 153 Chambers Street


No. 153 Chambers Street, described in The New York Morning Courier as a "two story and basement brick dwelling," was offered for sale in 1847.  It had been home to Edwin Clark a decade earlier, whose hardware business was located at No. 193 Pearl Street.  During the 1850's it was operated as a "genteel" boarding house by landlady Ann Stewart.

Around 1866 the house and its next-door neighbor at No. 155 were replaced by two identical marble-faced loft and store buildings.  Five stories tall, the ground floor storefronts were cast iron.  The elliptically arched openings of the upper floors were trimmed with molded sills and lintels.  

Among the initial tenants of No. 153 was John J. Staff & Sons, importers, bottlers and sellers of wines and liquors like "brandies, wine &c.," port and "brown stout."  Also in the building was Trager & Garfunkel, hoop skirt manufacturers and dealers in hoop skirt materials.  It was run by Abraham Trager and Moses Garfunkel.

In May 1867 the second and third floors were still vacant in the "marble front Store 153 Chambers street."  The rental advertisement promised "in fine order; rent moderate."

The spaces were taken by U. H. Dudley & Co., "commission merchants and merchandise brokers," and Acker, Merrall & Co., retail grocers.  Uriah H. Dudley and Hiram H. Taylor had formed U. H. Dudley & Co. that year.  It specialized in canned goods and dried fruits.  

The neighborhood was becoming part of the "butter and egg" district at the time.  In December 1869 Gustavus Baylies advertised No. 153 Chambers Street for sale, noting that it was "admirably located for the butter business."

Despite the suggestion, the building continued to house a variety of tenants--none of them in the butter and egg business.  Along with U. H. Dudley & Co. in the mid-1870's were M. Simon & Brother, "gents' furnishings," run by Sinai and Mamklok Simon; John W. Louderback's basket business; and Joseph S. Brockway, who dealt in soaps.   

L. P. Worrall was in the building in 1873, marketing The American Fruit-Preserving Powder.  His advertisements promised that it "will effectually prevent fermentation and preserve all kinds of Fruits, Tomatoes, Cider, &c. during the year round or longer, in large Jars or whatever kind, and in wooden Kegs and Barrels."  The power was purported to preserve fruits "without the need of forming a vacuum or making the vessels air-tight."  The fact that he soon was gone from the building suggests that his product was not all it was promised to be.

The success of U. H. Dudley & Co. was rapid and astronomical.  By 1875 they operated branches in Chicago, St. Louis, San Francisco and Baltimore with sales of $2,500,000 per year, according to The New York Times.  That staggering figure would equal about $60 million today.  In 1879 the firm made negotiated a deal with the Central Pacific Railroad by which U. H. Dudley & Co. promised to ship 100 cars of canned goods from California each year and receive a 25 percent rebate on the freight fees in return.

In 1880 the rebate due for the previous year was $9,900--just over a quarter of a million in today's dollars.  U. H. Dudley & Co.'s problems now began.  The New York Times reported "The Central Pacific refused to pay the bill, and suit was brought in the United States Circuit Court."  Then, reported the newspaper, "In the Fall of 1881 their agents in Chicago and St. Louis are reported to have purchased more goods than the market would warrant, and in December of 1881 they had $75,000 worth of goods on hand in St. Louis."  News that the firm failed in December 1882 "caused much surprise in trade circles."

M. Simon & Brother and John W. Loudenback were still renting space in the 1880's.  C. C. Sullivan, "produce and commission merchant," and D. E. Manton, another produce merchant, were also tenants. The ground floor store held P. Pohalski & Co.'s cigar and tobacco store.  

On the night of December 28, 1887 fire broke out in the building.  It caused a fracas on the street when Thomas B. Fay tried to break through the fire line.  Fay worked in the willow ware company of William H. Barron at No. 141 Chambers and was trying to get to the address.  A policeman named McDermott stopped him, ordering, "Get out of here.  You can't get through here."

Fay responded, "But my employer's place may be on fire and I may be able to render service there."

The New York Eagle reported "'I don't care for that,' said McDermott, moving his club threateningly.  'Get out of here.'"

Fay was not intimidated.  "If you hit me with that club, I'll strike you with my umbrella."  The remark landed Fay in jail until his employer bailed him out.

The fire was extinguished, but not before it severely damaged P. Pohalski & Co's. store.  The company relocated to No. 58 Warren Street, a block away.  But bad luck followed.  Just two weeks later, on January 15, 1888, fire spread along that block to No. 58.  The Sun reported that P. Pohalski & Co. "claim a loss of 150,000 cigars by yesterday's fire."

The 1890's saw Robert Rennie, a merchant of "acids;" the National Railway Supply Co. and James E. Morris & Co. wholesale grocers operating from No. 153.  

In January 1894 James E. Morris received a tip that a huckster had targeted his firm.  For several weeks G. H. Henry had appeared at the offices of various wholesale firms, representing himself to be the buying agent of steamship lines, railroads and other major organizations.  He would order an amount of goods to be delivered at a railroad station where he would then claim them.  Morris told detectives of the information he had received, and a trap was set.

Late on the afternoon of January 25 an "immaculately attired man of refined appearance walked into the wholesale grocery store of James E. Morris & Co.," as reported by the New York Herald.  He identified himself as the purchasing agent of the American line of transatlantic steamers.

"You are just the man I want to see," said Morris.  "Step into the office."

Henry detailed his mission to buy goods and an order was made out.  He signed the order and rose to leave.  "His hand was on the knob of the office door when a policeman emerged from the shadow, a heavy hand fell upon Mr. Henry's shoulder and soon he found himself in Ludlow Street Jail," reported the New York Herald.  There he faced a list of charges.

A. M. Morris was associated with James Morris & Co. by the second decade of the 20th century, as well as being a director in the North River Steamboat Company.  He lived in fashionable Greenwich Connecticut.  He offered his services to that city in February 1917 when its mayor organized the Citizens Security League "for riot and other emergency duties."  He was among the 50 citizens chosen and sworn in on February 25 and "provided with nightsticks and revolvers," according to The Sun.

After having been in the building for more than three decades, James E. Morris & Co. purchased the property in February 1920.  Two years later on July 1, 1922 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that the firm  "have added a parcel to their present holding at 153 Chambers st." by purchasing the six-story building directly across the street.  (It may have foreshadowed the impending sale of No. 153 in 1926 to Samuel Lipschitz.)

The tenant list under the new owner was a drastic change.  Among them were the salesroom of the Moto-Mower Co., makers of "a real motor driven grass cutter;" and the Empire Hardware Company which was on the ground floor.

The hardware store was replaced by the Silver Fox Tavern around 1929.  The problem was that Prohibition was still in effect and at 2:00 on the afternoon of May 17, 1930 "Volstead sleuths dashed into the Silver Fox tavern at 153 Chambers st. and confiscated 40 quarters of liquors," as reported in the Daily News.  "Several patrons in the place were not molested, but three employe[e]s were arrested."

Following the incident, John Mory sold his lease to the Chambers Street Restaurant in February 1931, and following the repeal of Prohibition the space became the Mullins Bar and Grill.  The bartender had just opened on the morning of October 29, 1949 when an armed robber entered at 9:00 and held him up.  He made off with $500 from the register--more than 10 times that amount in today's dollars.

Before 1941 the cornice was replaced with a brick parapet.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

The tavern expanded into the second floor in 1951.  The first floor now held a "bar, grill and cabaret" and the second a "restaurant and cabaret."  Small factories continued to occupy the upper floors.

As the Tribeca neighborhood grew trendier in the last quarter of the 20th century, the ground floor became home to Cheese of All Nations on the ground floor and Cheese 'n' Wine on the second.  In its Going Out Guide on May 2, 1972 The New York Times called Cheeses of All Nations a "store-of-a-thousand cheeses."  It was not so impressed with Cheese 'n' Wine.  "Although the idea of the restaurant evokes commendation, reality invites hope for improvement."

The late 20th century was not kind to the Victorian, cast iron storefront.

The cheese store remained at least through 1984.  A renovation completed in 2008 resulted in loft residences on the upper floors, including a duplex on the fifth floor and new penthouse, unseen from street level.  A reproduction cornice, lost prior to mid-century, was installed at the time.

photographs by the author

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