Friday, March 19, 2021

The "Thomas Twin" - 319 Broadway


photo by Beyond My Ken

The cornerstone of the New York Hospital was laid in 1773.  Its grounds engulfed the two-block area from Broadway to Church Streets, and from Duane to Worth Street.  The hospital's carriage drive would later be named Thomas Street, after Thomas Lispenard whose father owned Lispenard Meadows.

The sprawling New York Hospital complex was occupied by Hessian troops during the Revolutionary War as barracks.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

By the time Major General Thomas A. Davies returned from fighting the Civil War, the hospital was beginning to lease out its grounds, and in February 1870 ceased operation altogether.  Aside from his military career, Davies was a civil engineer who had been a principal player in the construction of the Croton Aqueduct and the High Bridge.  Davies leased the plots at the two western corners of Broadway and Thomas Streets in 1869 and hired the architectural firm of D. & J. Jardine to design two matching commercial buildings.

Brothers David and John Jardine had been in business together just four years.  David immigrated from Scotland in 1860 and his brother arrived shortly afterward.  By the time they received the commission for Nos. 317 and 319 Broadway, the technology of cast iron facades had created a revolution in construction.  The architects turned to Daniel D. Badger's Architectural Iron Works to cast the identical facades for the identical Italianate style structures.

Completed in 1870, the handsome buildings rose four stories above a basement level.  Twenty-five feet wide on Broadway, they stretched 105 back along Thomas Street.  A stoop rose from street level to the first floor.  Each identical floor was composed of a rhythmic arcade, each arched opening separated by an engaged Corinthian column.  A prominent molded cornice defined each floor and a prim bracketed terminal cornice crowned the design.

The original entrance at what is today the second floor, retains its delicate fanlight.

The major tenant of No. 319 Broadway was the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company.  The firm had been formed in 1863 as the National Union Life and Limb Insurance Company to insure soldiers and sailors against wartime injuries and sickness.  It was renamed in 1868.
In the 1870's it shared the building with Fouse, Hershberger & Co., operated by Levi G. Fouse and Henry Hershberger.  The New York Times explained in 1878 that the firm's purpose was "the collection of small debts owing to retail dealers, such as butchers, bankers grocers and milkmen, the amounts ranging from $50 to 10 cents."  When the collectors were unable to obtain payment, the names of the "obstinate" debtors were published in a pamphlet that was regularly distributed to Fouse, Hershberger & Co.'s clients.

The firm came to an abrupt close early in 1878 when the partners absconded with thousands of dollars in collected funds.  Both were arrested on February 12.  The New York Times lamented their fall from respectability, saying "Fouse, who was the manager of the married and has a family.  He had no fast or irregular habits so far as is known, but lived quietly and respectably in a modest house up town.  Hershberger is a bachelor, and had no settled residence.  He was mainly occupied in traveling and when in this City boarded at a hotel."

Also operating from No. 319 Broadway was the Louisiana State Lottery Company, incorporated "for educational and charitable purposes" in 1868.  An advertisement in the New York Herald on July 1, 1879 listed the prizes a player could win.  The "capital prize" was $80,000 (more than $2 million today) and the smallest were $100.  The price of a ticket was not cheap, however, amounting to about $50 today.

The existence of the Louisiana State Lottery and the fact that it openly ran a gambling operation (its advertisements were published in newspapers nationwide) was a thorn in the side of reformist Anthony Comstock, the founder of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice.   Comstock worked tirelessly to close the office down, pressuring the police to conduct raids.  In his 1883 book Traps for the Young, he stressed his efforts were on behalf of "the women and children that are beggared and starving because of this gambling scheme."

The reformers' tactics were sometimes as shady as those of their targets.  Police Captain Kealy raided the office and arrested Richard H. Wilde.  In court the policeman testified that he had previously purchased a lottery ticket from Wilde.  Wilde turned the tables on his accuser, accusing him of perjury and producing evidence that on the day Kealy claimed to have bought the ticket Wilde was in Chicago.  Captain Kealy was arrested and held for trial on $1,500 bail.

It was a temporary victory.  The Anti-Lottery League (prominently backed by Comstock) was formed and denounced the Louisiana State Lottery as the "Golden Octopus" because it reached every town in the country through the U.S. Postal Service.  The renewal of the Lottery's charter was refused in 1892 and it ceased operation the following year.

In 1881 the real estate firm of Daniel Birdsall & Co. moved in.  In its January 12, 1889 issue the Real Estate Record & Guide described it saying, "This real estate firm has for many years been a leading one in the dry-goods and down-town business districts.  They have charge of many mercantile, office and store properties, and make a specialty of wholesale business property."

Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide, June 25, 1892 (copyright expired)

Also in the building at the time were the offices of the Mercantile Benefit Association and the Traders and Travelers' Accident Co-operative Insurance Company.  Russell P. Hoyt was affiliated with both firms.  He was the secretary and treasurer of the Mercantile Benefit Association and the manager of the Travelers' Accident Co-operative.  Primarily he was the head of the sale department of the major dry goods house of E. S. Jaffray & Co. 

In 1888 the Mercantile Benefit Association had more than 2,000 members and an income of about $5.5 million in today's terms.  Hoyt's position with E. S. Jaffray & Co. necessitated his being away from town for long periods.  The New York Times opined on January 22, 1888 "It will thus be seen that Mr. Hoyt had a great many irons in the fire, had to employ assistants to do his work, and his troubles, probably, may be laid to this cause."

Those troubles had to do with the fact that Hoyt discovered a massive amount of cash missing from the books of the Mercantile Benefit Association--possibly as much as $30,000.  Hoyt signed over the title to his properties, including his mansion uptown that was valued at, coincidentally, the same amount.  Attorney J. Henry Smith told reporters, "Mr. Hoyt assured us that whatever happened the association should lose nothing."  The association and the public in general was sympathetic to Hoyt, who clearly seemed to be the victim of his embezzling "assistants."

In 1893 the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company moved its headquarters to 23rd Street and Madison Avenue.  By the turn of the century the tenant list at No. 319 Broadway included the office of builder Harris Fordinsky, the Chicago Great Western Railroad ticket office, and the Monarch Typewriter Company.

The Evening World, May 8, 1907 (copyright expired)

In 1912 the city demanded that all "encumbrances" onto public property be removed, resulting in the stoop being taken away and the entrance to the upper floors lowered to street level.  The former basement now became the first floor.   Daniel Birdsall & Co. was still in the building and in 1913 the upper floors were leased to the Neostyle Company, which manufactured an early version of a duplicating machine.

The Neostyle duplicator streamlined office efficiency.  Cosmopolitan magazine, October 1911 (copyright expired)

When real estate operators Max L. Balene and Jacob Ruderman leased No. 319 Broadway in 1922 the Real Estate Record & Guide noted, "the new lessees will make extensive alterations."  It was most likely at this time that the first floor received its modern storefront and the second floor was given plate glass windows for a restaurant.

Interestingly, Thomas Street was (and still is) technically a private street.  In 1929 real estate broker Charles F. Noyes took advantage of that by announcing plans to built a massive commercial structure that would span engulf the two blocks from Duane to Worth Street.  It was most likely only the Stock Market Crash a few weeks later, that derailed his plan and saved the cast iron buildings.

The renovations can be seen in this 1936 shot by Berenice Abbott.  To the left the mirror-image 317 Broadway is visible.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

By the second half of the 20th century the two cast iron buildings were being called the "Thomas Twins."  In 1966 both structures were justifiably nominated for landmark designation.  But pushback from the owners, who argued that their property values would be diminished, caused the Landmarks Preservation Commission to rescind consideration.  No. 317 was demolished in 1971.

Happily, No. 319 received landmark designation in 1989.  A renovation completed in 1993 resulted in a restaurant in the cellar and first floor and offices above.  Stark's restaurant, which had been in the downtown area since 1898, moved into the space.  The Northern Italian restaurant boasted "our beautiful oak dining room, a replica of a 19th-century eatery."

photo via M&R Construction Group

In 2016 United American Land announced plans to convert the building into "beautiful, luxurious rental" apartments.  The firm hired architects GreenburgFarrow to design the project.  M & R Construction Group handled the restoration of the cast iron facade, bringing back the original appearance of the second floor.  Today there are two apartments per floor above the retail space.

many thanks to reader Doug Wheeler for suggesting this post


  1. Paragraph 6 - "Int the 1870s"; Paragraph 11 - "oepration"; Paragraph 12 - "ahs for many years"; Paragraph 17 - different font

    1. Thanks. Somehow I posted this one without doing a final read-through and following your comment found at least six other tweaks. Thanks again.

  2. When was 317 Broadway removed? It's a two-story building that had a McDonald's until two years ago.

  3. How is it a private street? Does it get blocked off one a year like at Rockefeller Center?

    1. It is a private drive by name only. For some reason it was never redesignated. Odd.