Friday, April 30, 2021

The 1836 Abisha Smith House - 338 West 22nd Street


A stonecutter and mason, Abisha Smith also operated a flagstone business on Washington Street.  In January 1835 he purchased six building lots from Clement C. Moore.  Intent on creating an upscale residential neighborhood on what had been his family's country estate, Chelsea, Moore wrote restrictive covenants into the deeds, demanding that at least one "substantial residence" be erected within a year of the purchase.

In compliance, Smith completed a 25-foot wide Greek Revival home on the easternmost plot in 1836.  No. 244 West Twenty-Second Street (renumbered 338 in 1868) would be somewhat grander that the rest of the row, most likely because Smith always intended it for him and his wife, Lydia Ann.   Three floors high above an English basement, the ceilings inside were higher than its neighbors, resulting in the house standing noticeably above the others.

Smith's business was substantial.  In 1822 he had been awarded the $2,000 contract to supply the stone flagging for the Fulton Market--a significant $45,000 sale in today's money.  Much of the stone he sold came from his own quarry upstate.  In his 1880 History of Ulster County, Nathaniel Bartlett Sylvester noted "The first bluestone (tradename) quarried as a matter of commerce in the United States was at Mosey Hill...about 1829-30.  This quarry was owned by one Abisha Smith of New York."

It is unclear if Abisha's brother, Bezaliel F. Smith, was originally in partnership with him.  In 1833 both signed a letter to Congress from New York businessmen lobbying for the continuance of paper money at a time when a return to only coins was being considered.  Abisha listed himself as "stone dealer" and Bezaliel wrote "ditto."

In 1841 Bezaliel erected a row of homes slightly to the east on West 22nd Street.  They were mirror images of Abisha's row.  He lived at No. 222 West 22nd Street (later 316) until 1852 when he moved in with Abisha and Lydia Ann.  If the brothers had been in partnership, that was amicably dissolved by now, with Bazaliel's stone business, Bazaliel F. Smith & Co., at the corner of Tenth Avenue and West 19th Street.  Bezaliel was highly involved in the public school system, holding the positions of Inspector and trustee of the 16th Ward Public Schools.

In the 19th century single blocks were sometimes renamed--officially or not--to give them an air of exclusivity.  It resulted in Depau Row on Bleecker Street and St. Mark's Place on East 8th Street, for instance.  The block on which the Smith house stood was renamed Lenox Place (sometimes spelled Lennox), but unlike Depau Row and St. Mark's Place, the name Lenox Place was never truly embraced.

For that reason, most likely, when the Smiths advertised for a boarder in 1855, they covered both bases:

Board--A private family, having more room than required, will let a parlor on second floor, also one on the third, to a lady and gentleman, or three single gentlemen, at a moderate price.  Modern improvements.  Location desirable.  No. 224 West Twenty-second street, Lenox place.

It was not unusual for even well-to-do families to take in a boarder or two.  

Lydia Ann was looking for additional domestic help in 1856, advertising for "a neat, tidy girl, to do general housework.  An American, English or German girl preferred."

Abisha had retired by the time of that advertisement, city directories listing him as "late stone."  The Smith family continued to live in the house until 1864 when it was sold to Jessie T. Higgins and his wife, Sarah M. Higgins.

Higgins operated a "fancygoods" store at No. 893 Broadway.  His son, Thomas, worked in the business as a buyer.  A fancygoods store was different from a general or drygoods store.  General stores sold food, like canned goods, as well as kerosene lamps, brooms, and other household items.  Drygoods stores dealt mostly in fabrics, linens, and related goods.  Fancy goods included a range of items like ribbons, buttons, ceramic figurines and such.

As the Smiths had done, the Higgins family rented a room (although unlike their predecessors, they did not offer board).  An advertisement in September 1872 offered:

To Let--A large front room, newly and prettily furnished, at a moderate rate; suitable for one or two persons; family private; references.

The Higgins family remained in the house for more than two decades, selling it to John D. McLean on February 10, 1872 for $13,500 (about $292,000 today).  He and his wife sold it just five years later for a substantial profit.  J. and W. Darling purchased it for $18,000 in June 1887.

The Darlings operated No. 338 as a boarding house.  Among the early residents were a single mother, Catharine Stark, her young son and her mother.  Catharine was married when she was 17-years-old.  Her baby boy was born in 1882.  Her husband died in 1884, leaving the 19-year-old widow to raise the toddler.

Rearing a child alone was not an easy task in the 19th century, especially with limited income.  In 1888 Dr. W. T. Miller began treating Catharine for "nervous prostration," known today as nervous exhaustion at best or a nervous breakdown at worst.  On the afternoon of February 24, 1889 Dr. Miller received an emergency call to the 22nd Street house.  Catherine Stark was dead at the age of 24.

The Evening World reported "An overdose of morphine was the cause of death.  The doctor was inclined to think she had taken it with suicidal intent, and for that reason refused a burial certificate and reported the case to the police."  Suicide was not only against the law, but brought shame to 19th century families.  Catharine's mother, therefore, was quick to respond.  "The mother, Mrs. Scheu, denies that her daughter committed suicide.  She says Catharine has been ailing for some time, and had been in the habit of taking morphine to relieve pain."

Two other boarders in 1895 brought unwanted press attention to the house.  On November 8 The Sun reported "Two nests of scamps were unearthed accidentally by the police on Wednesday, and two gangs of lawbreakers were bagged."  Included in the round-up were "John G. Smaling, a waiter, and Lena Smaling, his reputed wife, of 338 West Twenty-second street."

In an attempt to track down the perpetrators of a string of burglaries, undercover detectives closely watched pawn shops.  When the Smalings dropped off some expensive items on November 6, they were followed back to their rooms.  There they found "a silver-handled hair brush marked 'L.O.S.,' a leather card case stamped 'J. Stewart Barney, 134 West Thirty-seventh street,' and seventeen pawn tickets for clothing and jewelry."  Smaling confessed to robbing four homes.  At an address found in his pocket detectives arrested seven other gang members and discovered 40 pawn tickets, two trunks of expensive clothing and other stolen goods.

Alina Stevens was arrested in June 1903--but under much different circumstances.  Alina arrived in New York from Toledo, Ohio in January that year and took a room in the 22nd Street house.  She spent $130 on a course in dress designing, completed the course, and was now engaged to a letter carrier and attempting to earn a living as a modiste, or high-end dressmaker.

On the evening of June 25 she was waiting for a street car on Fourth Avenue when a man stepped up and said "good evening."  According to Alina, he said "something about the weather or the cars, and she answered him.  Finally he asked her to take a walk, but she told him she was in a hurry to go home.  Then he told her he was a policeman and that she was under arrest."  Alina was taken in on charges of prostitution.

While she sat in a cell awaiting her hearing, a female probation officer went to the boarding house to check on Alina's story.  In court she told the judge "This woman is entirely respectable...The woman with whom she lives says there is not the slightest doubt of her good character."  She added, "Perhaps Miss Stevens made a mistake in allowing the officer to speak to her, but she is not a New York girl, and where she comes from people are more hospitable than in New York."

A tearful Alina was discharged after the judge cautioned her "But let me say to you, a stranger in this great city, that it is unwise to even notice men whom you do not know."  Miss Smith, the probation officer, accompanied Alina to the boarding house to "explain fully to her friends the cause of her detention overnight," said The New York Times.

No. 338 was returned to a single-family home in 1919 when it was sold to William E. Devlin, who operated a trucking business.  Following his death it was sold to E. C. Roach, "for occupancy."  The end of the line as a private home came in 1932 when architect Abraham Grossman was commissioned to convert the house to two duplex residential spaces--one on the basement and parlor levels and the other on the second and third.

Five years later major change came when architect Joseph Mitchell created furnished rooms throughout with a single apartment in the basement level--possibly for the janitor.  It was at this time that the stoop and cornice were removed and the brownstone lintels shaved flat.

The 1937 renovations resulted in a featureless, bland facade.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

Among the residents in 1979 were Charlotte Louise Rivenburgh, who worked in public relations for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and her husband Harold.  The couple was financially comfortable enough to have a summer place near Binghamton, New York.

Harold was Charlotte's second husband.  Her first marriage ended in divorce.   She married Rivenburgh about a year after he was released from prison on charges of armed robbery.  He soon founded and headed a rehabilitation center in Manhattan for prison inmates.  Tragically, in August 1979 Harold found his wife's body in the backyard of their summer home.  The New York Times reported "There was a single, small-caliber bullet hole behind her left ear."  Police noted that Harold was not a suspect.

The Smith house received a Pygmalion-type makeover when a substantial renovation completed in 2015 returned it to a single-family home.  Amazingly, the architects returned it nearly to its 1836 appearance.  The stoop was refabricated as were the Greek Revival entrance and molded lintels.  An Italianate style cornice (slightly out of keeping with the style but appreciated) was attached to what had been a blank parapet.

photographs by the author
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Thursday, April 29, 2021

The Elisabeth and Anna Meyer house - 17 East 64th Street


In 1879 the prolific architect John G. Prague designed four high-stooped brownstone houses on the north side of East 64th Street, just steps from Central Park, for developer William F. Croft.  Completed the following year, No. 17 became home to the family of financier Charles L. Rathborne.

The head of the brokerage firm C. L. Rathborne & Company, he put the title to the new house in the name of his wife, Elizabeth (known as Bessie).  Living with the family was Elizabeth's father, Joseph Hagan.

Elizabeth's entertainments were detailed by the society columnist.  Such was the case on January 26, 1882 when The New York Times reported, "Mrs. Charles L. Rathborne gave a brilliant reception last evening at her residence, No. 17 East Sixty-fourth-street."  After providing the impressive guest list, the article noted, "The supper was served by Clark."  (Clark was one of the three top society caterers at the time.)

In 1885 Elizabeth hired a Swedish butler named Theodore Hahr, who left after only a few days.  Nothing more was thought about it for several months--not until Mrs. Duncan Cryder took a pair of diamond earrings and a diamond ring to Tiffany's to have them reset.  The pieces had originally cost her husband $3,000.  She was "astounded and mortified to learn that they were not diamonds, but glass," reported the Illustrated Police News.

Mrs. Cryder directed suspicion on her former butler, Theodore Hahr, who--just as he had done with the Rathbornes--disappeared after working only a few days.  Knowing that the Rathbornes had also employed Hahr, Mrs. Cryder suggested to police that they should check Elizabeth's jewelry.  The Illustrated Police News said, "an examination showed that Mrs. Rathborne's earrings also, which had cost nearly $1,000, has been successfully tampered with and glass substituted for the expensive jewels."   Hahr was traced to New Jersey and arrested on May 25, 1886.  Happily for Elizabeth, The Evening Post reported, "Inspector Byrnes said that the diamonds stolen from C. L. Rathbone [sic]...had been found pawned in Jersey City and would be recovered during the day."

On May 14, 1887 Joseph Hagan died in the house at the age of 89.  Hagan was a Quaker and his funeral was not held in the Rathborne residence, as some might have expected, but in the Chappaqua Meeting House.

Despite technically being in mourning, Elizabeth turned her attention to her daughter's coming-out.  On December 2, 1887 The Evening Telegram reported, "Mrs. C. L. Rathburn [sic], No. 17 East Sixty-fourth street, gave a large reception to introduce her daughter, Miss Rathburn [sic], yesterday afternoon."  The article added, "An elaborate collation was served by Clark."  One can imagine Elizabeth's annoyance with the newspaper's misspelling of their names.

Elizabeth died on New Year's Eve, 1890.  Her funeral was held in St. Thomas's Church and, like her father, she was buried in Chappequa, New York.  

Charles sold No. 17 East 64th Street to sisters Elisabeth M. and Anna Catherine Meyer in 1895.  The women were the daughters of millionaire sugar refiner Cord Meyer and his wife Catharina.  Never married, they lived quietly and on the few occasions that their names appeared in society columns, it was always as a pair.  They had three brothers, John N., Cord, Jr., and Christian Moller Meyer.  Their father had died on June 10, 1891, leaving each of the children approximately $7 million.

The sisters immediately hired architect Gilbert A. Schellenger to remodel the house.  He and the new owners may have initially wanted to do a complete makeover, removing the stoop and pulling the front forward, but there was a problem.  A restrictive clause in the deed expressly prohibited the "building or extension thereof on said premises beyond a front line established."  And so Schellenger's changes were less drastic.  He gave the house a full-width, three story bowed bay above the parlor floor and added Renaissance Revival decorations.  The cost of the improvements was $8,000--or about $251,000 today.

Complex leafy carvings decorate the underside of the bay.

Elisabeth and Anna shared a summer home with their brother Christian in Maspeth, Long Island.  The Meyer estate held two "costly mansions in the centre of a handsomely-laid-out park," according to The New York Times.  The families of brothers Cord and John shared the other residence.

While most New York socialites traveled to Europe routinely--some going to Paris and London every year to shop for new fashions--the Meyer sisters' trip in the summer of 1897 was only their second.  The Times Union reported on November 18 that they "returned from Europe in the early fall and express themselves as highly pleased with their sojourn abroad....While in Germany they visited the homes of their ancestors.  They were intensely interested in the novelties presented in Switzerland and Holland."

Elisabeth died on April 2o, 1900 at the age of 43.  Her funeral was held in the 64th Street house two days later.  Anna Catharine lived on in the house for another two decades, now alone with her servants.  She died at the age of 63 on September 6, 1922.  Her funeral, too, was held in the drawing room.

By 1927 the house was home to Henry Huttleston Rogers, Jr. and his wife, the former Mary Benjamin.  Huttleston was the son of Standard Oil mogul, Henry Huttleston Rogers.  The house was the scene of the funeral of Mary's father, Dr. George Hillard Benjamin, on November 12, 1927.

The following year the house was converted to apartments.  The renovations included the removal of the  stoop, lowering the entrance to the former basement level, and remodeling the original doorway to a window.

The Renaissance Revival panels to the left do not extend to the base of the pilasters--evidence of the stoop railings that once terminated there.

Among the original well-heeled residents was attorney William H. Harkness, Jr., another Standard Oil heir.  Shortly after moving in, on June 18, 1928, his engagement to Jane G. Penfold was announced.

Another renovation, completed in 1953, resulted in a commercial space on the ground floor.  It became the office of Magnum Photos, founded in 1947 by photographers Robert Capa, David "Chim" Seymour, Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger and William Vandivert.  

In July 1957  The Blackamoore Showroom opened here.  The owners, Charles Meyer and Randall Kenney, designed the furniture exhibited and sold in the shop.  Only five months later the Andre Emmerich Gallery opened in the space.  Its premier exhibition, according to The New York Times on December 20, included "recent paintings by five American artists, a selection of Northwest Indian and pre-Columbian sculpture and several classics, among them a Degas pastel and two Miro oils."

Beginning in 1959 the Edward R. Lubin Gallery, which dealt in Gothic and Renaissance antiques, shared the space.  Both galleries remained for years.  Today the space holds the offices of the design architecture firm Ingrao, Inc.

Surrounded by opulent mansions of the early 20th century, the Meyer house looks a bit out of place, a remnant of the previous chapter along the block.

photographs by the author
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Wednesday, April 28, 2021

The Martyr's (or Soldiers') Monument - Trinity Churchyard

photo via

The first burial within the Trinity Churchyard on Broadway was in 1698.  By 1842 the grounds were filled and the sprawling Trinity Church Cemetery was established far uptown.  Nine years later the city proposed to extend Pine Street, which terminated at Broadway, to the Hudson River.  That would require taking a large slice from the northern hem of Trinity Churchyard.

It seems that the Trinity trustees turned to civic patriotism and sentiment to block what today would be called eminent domain.  On June 8, 1852 a meeting was held at City Hall to consider the erection of a monument to Revolutionary War prisoners of war in Trinity Churchyard, directly in the path of the proposed improvement project.  The church trustees noted, in part:

The remains of a large number of those heroic men who sacrificed their lives in achieving the independence of the United States, many of whom died while in captivity in the old Sugar House, are interred in Trinity churchyard in this city, and from the uniform attention and respect to the dead, which Trinity Church has observed, it is believed on suggestion it will cheerfully erect a suitable monument to their memory.

The "Sugar House" had been a large building owned by the Livingston family, appropriated by the British as a prison.  More than half a century after the war, New Yorkers still remembered the horrors inflicted on the prisoners.  One aged survivor, Jonathan Gillett, gave his account to the New York Herald.  The newspaper recounted:

He spoke of many dying of starvation and disease during his imprisonment.  Almost every day one, and sometimes five or six, were carried out for burial.  The bodies were placed upon the ground, and sometimes frozen there before removed.  These detachments of their living comrades were employed in carrying them to the Bowery, near the freshwater pump, for interment.

The mayor found the church's sudden interest in memorializing the soldiers more than suspicious.  He appealed to Albany, saying, according to The Evening Post, that the erection of the monument "was undertaken for the avowed object of preventing Pine street from being carried through."  The city was unsuccessful and the plans for the monument forged ahead.  

Whether the soldiers were actually buried directly in the path of the proposed Pine Street project is uncertain, since their graves were not marked.  Nevertheless, the site chosen for the monument could not have been more emblematic.  The completed structure would stand like a sentinel behind the churchyard fence, directly across from Pine Street.

Trinity Church insisted that the location sat over the graves.  The Evening Post reported on January 5, 1854, "It is said that a portion of the yard, where the most of those brave men lie, was below the present surface, some sixteen feet about, at, or on a line with, or opposite, Pine street."   The article claimed that soldiers were buried upon soldiers.  "In fact, in that part of the yard, for more than sixteen feet, the ground is composed of human remains, quite decomposed, and nearly all ground to dust."

Trinity Church paid for the monument in full.  On August 5, 1853 the Semi-Weekly Tribune reported, "The Corporation of Trinity Church have appropriated $7,000 for the construction of the work, but this sum will not more than half complete it."  Assuming that the journalist was correct, the total cost would be equivalent to $478,000 today.

The trustees commissioned English-born architect Frank Wills to design the memorial.  He had immigrated to New York City in 1847 and soon became the official architect for the New York Ecclesiology Society.  Wills was especially known for his Gothic Revival designs and had trained under architect John Hayward, a master in the style.  Willis's imposing monument would blend perfectly with Richard Upjohn's  Gothic Revival style Trinity Church.

On August 5, 1853, a few months after construction had begun, the Semi-Weekly Tribune reported, "It will be of brown stone, and its height will be 73 feet.  The pedestal will be 16 feet square, and placed at the top of a series of steps 24 feet square at the bottom."  The article said that--at least originally--Wills intended that statues of military figures would adorn the buttresses.

That detail was not the only scaled-back aspect of the monument.  In 1872 John Francis Richmond described the Martyrs' Monument in his New York and Its Institutions, giving the final dimensions.  "It is a chaste Gothic structure of brown stone, standing on a granite foundation, about forty-five feet high, appropriately inscribed, and crowned with the American eagle."

from King's Handbook of New York City, 1893 (copyright expired)

Variously called the Martyrs' Monument and the Soldiers' Monument, for years the memorial was decorated on patriotic and military holidays.  On May 6, 1861, for instance, The Evening Post reported on Decoration Day observances.  (Later named Memorial Day, the holiday would not become official until after the Civil War.)  The article said, "The revolutionary monument in Trinity churchyard has been appropriately draped with white, red and blue, and four or five flags are to be raised."

photo by Edmund Vincent Gillon from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Half a century after the monument was completed, historian A. J. Bloor weighed in on the argument as to its exact purpose.  Writing in the New-York Tribune, he told readers of a proposal to extend Pine Street through Trinity Churchyard "shortly before the outbreak of the Civil War."  He said "Frank Wills, an excellent architect of the so-called Gothic school, was commissioned to design a 'monument to the prison ship martyrs' with which to block the way.'"  Bloor gave Willis a notable compliment, saying that the monument was "one of the not too many architectural gems of this city."

photo by Wally Gobetz

Nearly 170 years after its construction, the Martyrs' Monument no longer receives attention on Memorial Day or Veterans' Day, and few New Yorkers or tourists are aware of its role in the church-vs.-City Hall battle.  

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Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Horace Edgar Poe Hartwell's 1899 Twins - 6 and 8 West 95th Street


Luther Francis Hartwell began dealing in real estate in New York City in the early 1890's.  In 1893 he hired his brother, Horace Edgar Poe Hartwell, to design three 17-foot wide, stone-faced houses at Nos. 4 through 8 West 95th Street.  

Completed in April 1894, the houses were designed in the Renaissance Revival style and lavished with Churrigueresque elements--decorations inspired by Spanish baroque style.  Nos. 6 and 8 were mirror-image (No. 4 was demolished in 1928).  Their side-by-side stoops were flanked by solid wing walls, their cascading forms decorated with foliate carvings.  The entrances were crowned by elaborate baroque panels, pierced by stained glass oculi that announced the street number.  Simple stained glass panels were set into the walls above the parlor windows, which sat above half-round bowls.  Two wreath-framed oculi provided light and ventilation to the attic level.

The upscale amenities of the residences were reflected in Hartwell's advertisement on October 29, 1893 as construction continued.  It described them as "Artistic Boston Houses," and detailed "marble walls, mosaic floors, fine cabinet work, Louis XVI parlors, old English foyer halls, First Empire dining rooms, nothing like them in the market."  The completed houses were offered for sale in April 1894 at $29,000 each--just under $890,000 today.

No. 6 became home to the Homer Dwight Mix family.  Born in 1846 in New York, Mix was described by the New-York Tribune as a "well-known horseman."  He had married Ella A. Frear around 1866.  The couple had a daughter, Anna, who was attending the Normal College when the family moved in.  She graduated in 1896 and stayed on there as a tutor of Latin.

Mix had made a substantial fortune as a private banker upstate, but failing health forced him to retire in 1878.  He moved his family to New York where he became interested in horses and was a major proponent of the Harlem River Speedway.  He owned the valuable and well-known thoroughbreds Ando and Silk Lace, among others.

On the rainy night of May 15, 1900 a "gray haired, shabbily dressed woman," as described by the New-York Tribune, rang the bell.  She was shown into the parlor where she told Homer that she wanted to see Anna.  Mix went upstairs to get his daughter, but when Anna came down the old woman was gone.  "Miss Mix immediately discovered the loss of a silver bonbon dish and a silver spoon," said the article.  She called her father who ran into the street after the woman.

Mix overtook her on the stairs of the elevated train at 93rd Street.  As Policeman Phelan headed to the West 100th Street station with her, she tried to throw the bonbon dish into a sewer, but Phelan was too fast for her.  The New-York Tribune added, "The silver spoon was found in her possession also."  The woman, Helen Martin, who described herself as an authoress, was locked up on a charge of larceny.

On February 1, 1903 Mix died in the 95th Street house.  His funeral was held in Binghamton, New York three days later.  Ella received the bulk of his estate, including the house.

Anna's period of mourning was barely over when she married lawyer Clayton R. Lusk on June 23, 1904.  The groom was a partner in the law firm of David & Lusk.

In the meantime, the house next door was the home of former police inspector Alexander S. Williams--one of the most colorful figures in New York police history.  He would later be described by The New York Times as having "received more public attention than any other man on the force."

Born in Nova Scotia in 1839, he had come to New York as a boy and joined the police force in 1866.  Transferred to the gangster-ridden 21st Precinct in 1868, he quickly earned the nickname "Clubber" Williams.  According to station house lore, on this third day in the precinct and fed up with the openly criminal behavior of the Gas House Gang, he purposely picked a fight with two thugs and clubbed them mercilessly with his baton. When other hoodlums tried to rescue their comrades, he pummeled them, too.

Supposedly over the next four years Williams engaged in at least one bloody confrontation per day in his efforts to clean up the neighborhood.  He was said to have tossed toughs through the window of the Florence Saloon and had the trademark philosophy that "there is more law in the end of a policeman's night stick than a Supreme Court decision."

By 1874 Williams had risen to captain.  Trouble had come that year when Police Commissioner Rhinelander Waldo convened the Lexow Committee in 1874 to investigate evidence of Williams accepting money and gifts from brothel owners and gamblers.  One madam testified that she paid $30,000 every year to the captain for protection.  Other women with lesser operations told of $500 fees to open a brothel and between $25 to $50 per house thereafter.  Pool rooms paid as much as $300 and high class gambling houses paid more.  Williams was partial owner in a brand of whiskey that saloons were forced to sell.

Harper's Monthly Magazine, March 1887 (copyright expired)

Amazingly, Williams had held onto his job until 1895 when Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt demanded his resignation.  He retired with $1 million in the bank, a yacht moored at his $39,000 private dock, a summer estate in Cos Cob, Connecticut and, now, a townhouse in a fashionable neighborhood.  (He explained that his fortune came from investing in Japanese real estate.)  

He and his wife had two grown sons, Alexander, Jr. who was in the United States Marine Corps., and William H., who worked in the Customs Service.

Williams took advantage of the family's being at Cos Cob in the summer of 1900 to have work done inside the 95th Street house.  The rooms were repainted and redecorated.  The New York Times mentioned on August 9, "When the house was boarded up for the Summer early in July no one thought of turning the water off."

Something seemed wrong to one of the Mix's female servants in the first week of August.  The New York Times reported she told Ella "I don't know what it is.  It ain't burglars nor anything like that, but somehow I feel as if the ceilings were caving in.  I can't explain it.  It's just a presentiment."

When police entered the Williams house, they found a leaking pipe had created severe damage.  "The ceiling of the dining room, which is situated below the bathroom, had fallen in and the floor was covered with laths, plaster, and water.  The tapestries on the walls were soaking wet and had fallen down in portions, while almost all the furniture in the room had been disfigured by the falling plaster."  Williams rushed back and estimated the damages at $471,000 by today's standards.

On March 10, 1903, a month after Homer Mix died next door, The Sun reported, "Mrs. Alexander S. Williams whose husband is the former police inspector, found a three-weeks-old girl baby in the vestibule of her house at 8 West Ninety-fifth street last night.  The baby was sent to Bellevue."  

Later that year the family received a scare.  On August 19 The Sun reported "Ex-Police Alexander S. Williams has been ill for several days with malaria."  He rallied and fully recovered.

That would not be the case in March 1917 when The Sun entitled an article "Former Tenderloin Czar Slowly Dying / Alexander S. Williams, Once Police Inspector, Has No Chance to Live."  The article said, "It was said...last night that he might live until morning, that he might live five hours or five days, but that his death plainly is in sight."

He died on March 25.  In reporting his death the newspapers, of course, recounted his colorful past.  The New York Times noted, "During his turbulent career he won the nickname of 'Clubber.'  He was also called 'the Czar of the Tenderloin."  His funeral was held in the 95th Street house on March 27.

Even in death Alexander Williams managed to beat the system.  On January 30, 1918 the New-York Tribune reported that he left a traceable net estate of $13.49.  "He was believed to have a comfortable fortune when he retired," it said.   

The Williams' next-door neighbors at the time were Dr. John Grant Coyle and his wife, the former Catherine Lennan.  They had purchased No. 6 from Ella Mix the previous year.  Born in Boston in 1868, Coyle had practiced medicine since 1891.  He was a historian, as well, and wrote The Irish in the United States; Captain John Barry, Father of the United States Navy; and General James Shields, Senator From Three States.

In 1899 he had become associated with Rose Hawthorne Lathrope, daughter of Nathaniel Hawthorne, who had established a home for incurable cancer patients in Hawthorne, New York.  Despite its Westchester County location, he served as its physician until his death.

A year after moving into the 95th Street house the 50-year old doctor proved his spryness when Thomas Duffy picked his pocket on the Eighth Avenue streetcar.  On August 11 the New York Herald reported, "Through his prowess as a runner and his agility as an athlete...Dr. Coyle got back a purse containing $22 in cash and a certified cheque for $350."

In 1920 Coyle was made State Deputy of the Knights of Columbus.  Through that position he was largely responsible for founding 36 college scholarships for Catholic youths.

In the spring of 1931 Coyle underwent an appendicitis operation.  Afterward he contracted peritonitis and died in the Misericordia Hospital on April 22.  Following Catherine's sale of the house, it was converted to apartments--one in the basement and two each on the upper floors--in 1948.

Artists Robert Rauschenberg and Susan Weil took an apartment in 1950.  It doubled as their studio.

Rauschenberg and Weil in their apartment here in 1951.  from the LIFE Picture Collection

No. 8 survived as a private house until 1955 when it was converted to five apartments.  That configuration lasted until 1998 when it was returned to a single-family residence above a basement apartment.  No. 6 underwent a renovation completed in 1986 which resulted in a triplex in the basement through second floor, and two apartments on the third.

photographs by the author
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Monday, April 26, 2021

The Lost Nicholas Jones House - West End Avenue and 106th Street


from "The New York of Yesterday - A Descriptive Narrative of Old Bloomingdale" 1908 (copyright expired)

The Humphrey Jones estate engulfed 109 acres near the village of Bloomingdale.  The mansion stood approximately at what would be Broadway and 101st Street.  About six blocks north of "the homestead" was sprawling estate of the Nicholas Jones family, between 106th and 107th Streets and West End Avenue today.  It was accessed by Cherry Lane, which branched off the Bloomingdale Road (later Broadway) through the two Jones' estates.

Washington Irving described the district, referring to "the pastoral scenes of Bloemen Dael, which in those early days was a sweet and rural valley, beautiful with many a bright wildflower, refreshed by many a pure streamlet and enlivened here and there by a delectable little Dutch cottage sheltered under some sloping hill and almost buried in embowering trees."  

Nicholas Jones had purchased the land, with the stone mansion already standing, from Charles Ward Apthorpe on October 12, 1764.  (Apthorpe's own magnificent new home near today's 90th and 91st Streets and Columbus Avenue, was completed that year.)  The stately Georgian main residence was surrounded by verandas.  A fanlight admitted light into the attic level.  It was surrounded by gardens and outbuildings and had sweeping views of the Hudson River and New Jersey palisades.

Jones was a respected member of the New York community.  He signed his name to a petition to King George III in 1771, for instance, asking to establish The New-York Hospital.  The King granted the request on March 9, 1772 (using the "royal we" and florid 18th century prose), saying in part: we, taking into our royal consideration the beneficial tendency of such an Institution within our said city, calculated for relieving the diseases of the indigent, and preserving the lives of many useful members of the community, are graciously pleased to grant the said humble request of our said loving subjects.

Other powerful and wealthy New Yorkers who had joined Jones in petitioning the king were Robert H. and Philip Livingston, Oliver De Lancey, Richard Morris, John and James Beekman, and Charles Ward Apthorpe among others.

But storm clouds were forming over the British colonies.  Four years later insurrection had turned to war, and it landed squarely upon Nicholas Jones's property.  British troops set up an encampment on the property in 1776, taking over the mansion, felling trees and ransacking the family's storehouses. 

The farm became the epicenter of what would be called the Battle of Harlem Heights on September 16, 1776.  Historian Hopper Striker Mott explained in the 1909 Historical Guide to the City of New York, "It was not until they reached Nicholas Jones' farmhouse about sunrise  that the British pickets, light infantrymen, were encountered...During the brisk skirmish which now took place, the woods along the dividing line between the Jones and Hooglandt farms echoed the sharp firing from both sides." 

Outnumbered, the revolutionary army retreated and the British and Hessian troops remained in the Jones mansion.  In his 1890 book Old New York, W. W. Pasko wrote, "They rifled his wine cellar, stole his [silver] plate, drove away his cows, seized his harpsichord, took off his pier glasses, burned up his fences, cut down his trees and devastated the whole estate generally."  Jane Perry Clark added in her 1931 Studies in History, Economics, and Public Law, "The once beautiful estate of Nicholas Jones of Bloomindale was robbed of seven hundred trees."  

Following the war Jones repeatedly attempted to collect for the damage and losses, but, according to W. W. Pasko, "All these efforts failed, and it is probably he was never gladdened by any recompense."  Interestingly, among the losses Jones claimed was a stolen slave.  On September 15, 1776 he documented:

A slave named Ambris was this Day taken up & put in the Provoost, from Whence he was taken & put to Work on Board the Lady Gage, Capt. Loring, by permit of Commissary Loring, without any Benefit to his Master.

Perhaps frustrated and disgruntled, Jones offered his estate for sale on October 28, 1780.  An advertisement in The Royal Gazette read:

To be sold, a Farm at Bloomingdale, about 200 acres more or less, seven miles from the city; on said farm is a large strong stone built house, pleasantly situated near the North River; conditions for the sale will be made easy to a purchaser.  For particulars apply to Nicholas Jones on the premises, by whom an indisputable title will be given.
The estate was not sold, however, and it remained in the family until October 31, 1816 when Nicholas Jones's heirs, William and Ann Roberts, who lived in the former Humphrey Jones mansion to the south, transferred title to their daughter, Sarah, and her husband William Heywood.  The Heywoods named the estate Woodlawn.

The widowed Sarah Heywood sold Woodlawn on April 10, 1847 to William B. Moffat for $20,000 (around $640,000 today).  Moffatt was the editor of Moffat's United States Almanac, and his father, Dr. John Moffat was well-known for his Phoenix Bitters and Moffat's Vegetable Life Pills.

He converted the mansion to the Woodlawn Hotel, which was operated by proprietor William L. Wiley until Moffat's death in 1862.  Hopper Striker Mott wrote in 1908, "After being vacant for some time Courtlandt P. Dixon purchased it for use as a country residence" and later "it was the first home of the New York Infant Asylum."

This photograph was taken in 1890, showing large houses appearing on the property to the left.  Battle of Harlem Heights, 1897 (copyright expired)

The exact date of the demolition of the Jones mansion is unclear, but it stood as late as 1890 as the city encroached on the once bucolic neighborhood. 

The approximate site of the Jones mansion as it appears today.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

The Levi Shulman House - 319 East 10th Street


In 1847 investor Runyon W. Martin began construction of two mirror-image Greek Revival residences at Nos. 317 and 319 East 10th Street.  The builder, James C. Whitlock, may have been responsible for their design.  At four stories tall and 25-feet wide, they were intended for well-heeled families and overlooked Tompkins Square, which was still under construction (it would be opened in 1850).  The park guaranteed extra sunlight and breezes.

The completed residences were sold at auction on March 18, 1850.  No. 319 was purchased by real estate agent John Attridge.  His stay would be relatively short.  On April 29, 1854 the "whole of the furniture" was auctioned.  (It was common at the time for well-to-do families who were relocating to simply sell all their furnishings and start over in the new house.)

The house was purchased by Levi Shulman and became home not only to his family, but to his brother, Louis and presumably his family.  The men were partners in the boot and shoe business of Louis Shulman & Co.  

Louis is no longer listed at the address after 1869 and the Shulmans began renting the extra space to German-born bachelors--never more than two at a time.  In 1872 and '73 two clerks were boarding with the family.  Other boarders over the next few years included painter Marx Steinhard, "segarmaker" Christopher Weipking, and drygoods merchant Joseph Kahn.

In the meantime, by 1878, the Shulman's son, Alexander, enrolled in the New York City College.  His aspirations--or possibly those of his father--were that he would not go into the family shoe and boot business, but became a doctor.

In 1883 it seems that Levi Shulman and his next-door neighbor, Andrew Carey, agreed to significant update their matching houses.  While it appears that the two used the same architect, since the elaborate paired entablatures over the entrances matched, the details differed elsewhere.  The windows of the Shulman house received Queen Anne style cast metal lintels and sills.  In contrast to the the exuberant pediment of the Carey house, the Shulmans' cornice remained relatively unchanged, its fascia cleverly accommodating the edges of the top floor windows.

The formerly mirror-image houses received simultaneous updating in 1883.  Only the entrances matched in the two versions of Queen Anne.

The Schulman's boarders appear to have always been hard working, respectable men.  Until 1889, that is.  Max Hertz rented a room late that year and on December 19 police knocked at the front door.  A telegram had arrived at police headquarters from Boston saying that Hertz, alias Meyer, was "wanted in Boston for the larceny of $650 worth of sealskin sacks," as reported by The Brooklyn Citizen.  It was a significant haul, worth more than $18,500 today.  (Sealskin "sacks" were a type of ladies' jackets.)  Hertz was held at the Jefferson Market Court awaiting arrival of an officer to extradite him to Boston.

Alexander Shuman received his medical degree and was practicing from the house by 1890.  On February 2, 1892 he was called to No. 329 East 10th Street, just a few houses away, by the janitor's wife, Mary Kuehner.  She was concerned about a long-term tenant, Edward Steubendorf, who had been ill for several days.   She had been caring for him herself, but now worried his condition was more than she could handle.  

The New York Times described Stuebendorf saying, "for a quarter of a century [he has been] known on the east side as an eccentric and miserly person."  He had an impressive background.  Born in Denmark, his great-great-grandfather had been physician to the King of Denmark.  The New York Times said "the family has always been well-to-do and respectable."  Steubendorf was educated in Europe and spoke seven languages.  He never married because as a young man he had fallen deeply in love with his cousin, Emma Steubendorf.  That family relationship prevented them from marrying one another, and they both went on to live solitary lives.

Steubendorf had lived in the building for 25 years.  Each morning he would slip out, trying not to attract the attention of the other residents, buy whatever food he needed for that day, then return to his upstairs rooms where he would bolt himself in.  If anyone rapped on his door, he would talk through it rather than opening it.

A recluse and a miser, he spent his days scrubbing his floors, studying his many books, and writing.  "He had no faith in mankind and none in God," said The New York Times.   His close-fisted habits led to his nearly dying in 1888.  Residents heard the sound of a body falling and gained entrance to his rooms through the fire escape.  The doctor who responded admonished him, "You are starving yourself to death."

He was taken care of by neighbors until he recovered his strength, "and then he chased them from his room," reported The New York Times.  "When I want you again I'll let you know," he said.

Now Alexander Shulman found a similar condition.  He diagnosed "an ulcerated condition of the stomach, due to improper and insufficient food."  He was frank with the 56-year-old, telling him he had little time left to live.  Stuebendorf sent for a lawyer who immediately made up his will.  The New York Times noted that "a pile of bank books was produced, and they showed Steubendorf to have in various city banks sums amounting to $9,000.  This whole sum he bequeathed to Mrs. Kuehner.  

Stubendorf died hours after Dr. Shulman made his diagnosis.  Mary Kuehner inherited the equivalent of about a quarter of a million in today's dollars.  She was the only mourner at his funeral.

The Shulman family remained at No. 319 until 1903 when it was sold to Adolf Mandel.  Only two years later, on June 29, 1905, he sold it to Dr. Joel Chasis and his wife, Anna.   Chasis was an assistant genito-urinary surgeon at Bellevue Hospital.  The couple had four children.

The house continued its medical tradition when it became home and office to Dr. Gustave Nemhauser in the early 1930's.  Nemhauser had graduated from New York University in 1930 and by the mid-1930's had the satisfying contract as company doctor for the Yellow Taxi Corporation.

By mid-century significant change had come to the once exclusive block.  No. 319 was operated as unofficial apartments, still home to respectable tenants.  In 1956, for instance, Shuji Fujii lived here.  Born in Los Angeles in 1910, he was educated in Japan, in the City College of New York, Columbia University, New York University and the New York Community College.

Today there are five apartments in No. 319.  Although the entrance doors and the windows have been replaced, overall the house retains its appearance following the 1883 remake.

photographs by the author

Friday, April 23, 2021

The First National Stables - 228 West Houston Street


In 1862 Edward Senior hired builder William Owens to construct a "brick building" at 228 West Houston Street, running through the block to Downing Street.  Both streets were dotted with livery stables and Senior was about to add one more.  

Faced in red brick, the two facades were identical.  The arched second floor openings wore brick eyebrows, while the upper floor windows were given simple stone lintels and sills.  The simple brick dentiled cornice was a cost savings to Senior.

Named the First National Stables, the commodious structure housed at least 14 horses and a variety of vehicles, including coaches, buggies, wagons, and carriages.  The upper floors provided housing for stable employees.

As aged or lame horses were no longer able to work, they were quickly replaced.  An advertisement in the New York Herald on October 13, 1868 offered: "For Sale--Four cheap horses at The First National stables, No. 228 West Houston street, near Varick."

The Washington Ice Company housed its wagons and teams at The First National Stables.  Work horses were often abused and overworked and this firm's drivers seem to have been especially uncaring for the animals.  On July 28, 1871 The New York Times reported "Six teams belong to this Company had been turned out one afternoon, all having sores under the collars."  The day prior to the article one driver, Charles King, had been arrested "for driving a team of horses before ice-cart No. 137...both badly galled under the collars."  (Galls were open sores caused by the constant rubbing of the leather collars.)

The First National Stables was lost in foreclosure in 1876.  The entire contents were sold at a mortgage auction on October 21.  Included were seven pairs of horses and a variety of vehicles.  Along with the expected carriages and wagons were two "large hearses," one child's hearse, a "covered coffin wagon," a doctor's wagon and a six-seat sleigh.

The business changed hands twice before 1886 when it was leased to T. Higgins, a partner in the Higgins & Dyer's livery stable.  Among its staff was 28-year-old John Brown who lived in an upper room.  On Saturday afternoon, December 18 that year, Brown had been drinking.  At around 3:00 he went next door to Margaret Kelliher's "little tobacco and candy store," as described by The Sun, to buy a package of tobacco.  What should have been a mundane errand turned ugly.

A Black man, he and the white shop owner got into a confrontation.  The Sun reported, "Mrs. Kelliher, who was alone in the store, says that Brown insulted her, and she ordered him out.  He came behind the counter, caught her by the throat, and struck her several heavy blows in the face, knocking her down.  He then assaulted her.  She tried to make an outcry, but he held her mouth shut."

Eleven-year-old Michael Moran walked into the store "just then, to buy two apples."  He ran to the street "scared half to death," said the article.  Using a racist term that would be unprintable in newspapers today, he told Policeman James Dunn that Brown was "killing a woman in here!"

Brown did not help his own case when he added robbery to assault.  Just as Officer Dunn approached the store, he ran out with the money drawer.  Brown dropped the till, scattering coins over the sidewalk.  He was caught two blocks away, and his excuse to Justice Gorman was not convincing.  "I was too crazy drunk to know what I was doing," he pleaded.  He was held on $2,500 bail awaiting trial--a staggering $70,000 in today's money.

In 1893 the two upper floors were converted for the cabinetry and woodworking factory of C. Boege & Sons, makers of saloon furniture like the bars and elaborate mirrored backbars that graced Victorian saloons and restaurants.   The firm remained here until around 1902.

That year the three-story stable portion was leased to the Senderling Co. and the upper floors became home to the Composition Decorative Company, makers of "plaster ornaments," like ceiling medallions.  

The Composition Decorative Company left in 1905 and three years later the entire building was offered for lease.  The advertisement described it as a "five-story brick stable and lofts," with the annual rent of $550 per year (about $15,800 today).

Architect Michael Bardo was hired to update the building in 1923 for the Wilson Paper Stock Company, described by The Paper Industry magazine as "among the largest packers of waste paper in New York."  It would be used as another packing facility for the firm.

The carriage bay had been replaced by a show window when this photo was taken around 1941.  via the NYC Dept. of  Records & Information Services.

The onset of the Great Depression and the repeal of Prohibition brought change.  The Wilson Paper Stock Company left around 1932.  That year the ground floor became the Appraiser's Tavern, and by 1934 the third floor was a costume jewelry factory.   The firm advertised for "people engaged in home selling" that year, suggesting the jewelry was sold door-to-door.

By the mid-1940's Nathan Schectman's photographic case factory was in the building.

Popular Photography, January 1947.

Major change in the neighborhood resulted in the Prince Street Players Loft, an off-Broadway theater, here in the mid-1970's, while the ground floor held Martin's Bar & Grill.  The tavern was the scene of a terrifying incident on October 21, 1977 when three men walked in and joined a patron who had been drinking at the bar.  They displayed guns, forced the bartender and customers into the basement and locked them in.  Warning their captives not to come out for an hour, they escaped with $12,360.

Martin's Bar & Grill was replaced in 1988 by Brother's Bar-B-Q, known for its "smoked pork butt and pork ribs."  On April 13, 1994 The New York Times' food critic Florence Fabricant noted, "Brother's specializes in New Orleans-style barbecue, with plenty of hot sauce."  The following year Brother's Bar-B-Q moved to a larger space nearby on Varick Street.

The Downing Street facade is identical to the West Houston Street elevation.

Today the space is home to a Subway sandwich shop on the West Houston Street side, while a nail spa occupies the Downing Street space.   Despite noticeable abuse, the venerable stables building retains much of its 19th century appearance.

photographs by the author