Monday, May 31, 2021

The Lost Temple Beth-El - Fifth Avenue and 76th Street


The vacant lot in the foreground would become the site of the Edward S. Harkness mansion in 1906.  from the collection of the New-York Historical Society

On September 12, 1873 the magnificent Victorian Gothic synagogue of Congregation Anshe Chesed was on Lexington Avenue at 63rd Street was consecrated.  Only six months later the congregation merged with Temple Adath Jeshurun, resulting in Temple Beth-El.  Its rabbi, Dr. David Einhorn, was progressive, insisting that the reform movement was a step towards Jewish freedom.  He was succeeded in 1879 by the Rev. Dr. K. Kohler, who continued Einhorn's reforms, such as performing services in English and German rather than Hebrew.

Perhaps surprising to some, just 17 years after its synagogue was completed the congregation sought to move.  On June 7 the Record & Guide reported it "intends to build a new place of worship which will be one of the finest ecclesiastical buildings in the city."  

At the time of the article a site had not yet been chosen.  That changed three months later when the journal reported that the estate of Meldon C. Martin had sold the congregation six vacant lots at the southeast corner of 76th Street and Fifth Avenue.  The architectural firm of Brunner & Tryon filed plans early in October.

Construction was completed in the summer of 1891.  On September 19 The New York Times reported, "The cost of the site was $250,000, and the temple cost $350,000."  The total would be equal to about $17.4 million today.

Brunner & Tryon had produced a hulking Romanesque Revival structure with Byzantine and Moorish influences.  Faced in rough cut Indiana limestone, it was 102 feet wide along the avenue and stretched back 160 feet on 76th Street.  The entrance, above a wide flight of stairs, consisted of an arcade of bronze doors below a smaller, blind arcade.  They sat within a single large arch. 

The structure's most striking feature was the massive dome, 51-feet in diameter at its base and rising 140 feet.  Constructed of copper-covered iron, it was ornamented with gilded copper tracery.

The 2,190-seat, amphitheater-shaped auditorium was dazzling.  There were two galleries on either side and two above the entrance.  The ceiling rose 70 feet, upheld by a marble colonnade.  Light streamed down from a stained glass section "1,200 feet in extent," according to The New York Times.  Above it was a clear glass skylight and within the space between were electric lamps that enabled the ceiling to be illuminated at night.

The New York Times reported "The shrine at the eastern end is composed of columns of Mexican onyx, with gold capitals and bases supporting an onyx arch on which are the tables of the law framed in gold.  On each side are columns of Numidian marble, and the entire shrine rests on St. Beaume marble."

Behind the shrine was a semicircular wall of marble and gold mosaic.  Above a marble cornice a marble colonnade supported the half-domed ceiling.  Lighting was provided by 1,000 incandescent lamps.

The new temple, deemed by The New York Times as "one of the finest synagogues in this country," was dedicated on September 18, 1891 "with much ceremony."  The newspaper said 3,000 members took part in the service and "not less than two thousand others tried to gain admission, but were unable to, even though they held printed invitations."

photo by Wurtz Bros., from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The area in which Temple Beth-El sat quickly became the most exclusive residential neighborhood of Manhattan.  The increasing property value caused the congregation to consider moving again just a decade later.  The site was placed on the market in January 1902 with a shocking proposal.  The New-York Tribune explained, "The present temple of the congregation was built and opened in 1891, and, therefore, it is practically new.  It is one of the most valuable and most imposing houses of worship of its kind in this city.  It is said that it could be razed and then rebuilt in its present form for a sum considerably less than it would take to build a new temple."

The sale of the land, therefore, did not include the structure.   As ambitious as the plan was, it made financial sense.  The congregation placed a $1 million price tag on the lots, four times what it had paid a decade earlier.   Buyers were less enthusiastic, however, and while several offers came in, the best was $850,000 and they were all rejected.

The congregation, therefore, continued on in its sumptuous home.  The New-York Tribune called it "the house of worship for the wealthiest Jews in New York," on March 28, 1906.  A few years later, when the Government's Liberty Loan drive was initiated during World War I, Rev. Schulman directed the affluent members to open their wallets.  "It is the duty of every man and woman in the nation according to ability to uphold the hands of the Government by taking some share in this loan," he said.  "Not to enroll one's self in the army of those who are helping the Government with their funds, if one is at all able, is, in the innermost recesses of the heart, to be disloyal to it."

The congregation supported law enforcement by hosting annual Memorial Sunday services for the New York City policemen who had died in service throughout the previous year.  On January 7, 1917 500 policemen marched from the East 67th Street station to Temple Beth-El for the service.

With World War I raging, Memorial Sunday was slightly changed to honor policemen and letter carriers killed in military service.  In 1918 the policemen's memorial was moved to Trinity Church and Temple Beth-El held the service for the 34 letter carriers who had died.   It was preceded, as always, by a solemn march up Fifth Avenue by the uniformed letter carriers.

The congregation went further in its support of the troops a few months later.  On June 22, 1918, The Sun reported, "the Temple Beth-El at Fifth avenue and Seventy-sixth street, will be opened to-morrow night for the use of 250 soldiers and sailors who may be in the city on furlough.  Sleeping quarters will be given to the men in the synagogue, and in the morning coffee and rolls will be service to them."

The article had the figures slightly wrong.  There were, in fact, 200 beds in what those in charge called a "sleeping camp."  On the first night the beds were quickly filled and just before midnight two more soldiers arrived.  With no beds available, the men said they would sleep wherever there was room.  The Sun reported, "A bed was hastily improvised and the two late comers soon were in the land of dreams."

The following morning the soldiers and sailors declared the accommodations the "finest camp they were ever in."  Not only did they have a comfortable cot on which to sleep, but got a hot shower and breakfast of "cereal with milk, jam, rolls and butter, coffee and cream."  The Sun added, "Before going to bed on Saturday night the men were all treated to ice cream and cake."

The congregation's golden anniversary was celebrated in 1924.  A special sabbath morning service on Saturday, February 16 was followed by a dinner at the Hotel Biltmore attended by more than 1,000 members.  The New York Times reported that the jubilee was consummated  the following afternoon "with a pageant at the temple where the spirit of Judaism will be presented in six parts."

The March 1926 issue of The American Hebrew reported on rumors of "the proposed amalgamation of Temple Beth-El and Temple Emanu-El."  The article said that the plan "calls for the erection of a great house of worship on the [John Jacob] Astor site at Sixty-fifth Street and Fifth avenue big enough for both congregations."

Indeed, Temple Emanu-El had already taken deed to the massive double Astor mansion.  The merger was essentially assured and confirmation came on April 25, 1927 when a vote of the congregations approved it.  Confident, Temple Emanu-El had already sold its property at the time.

The combined congregations retained the name Temple Emanu-El.  It moved into the new structure--one of the largest synagogues in the world--in 1929.  Nevertheless, the congregation returned for one last service on the final night of Yom Kippur, on  October 13.  Afterward, said The New York Times, it will "take formal leave of that sanctuary."

A week earlier the Park Avenue Baptist Church congregation had held its first service in the synagogue.  Headed by the Rev. Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, it leased the space while construction of the massive Riverside Church continued.  The New York Times noted on October 12, "The 'Eternal Light' burned all during the Baptist service last Sunday and will tomorrow morning.  After that it will be extinguished because the building will no longer be a synagogue."

Riverside Church was completed on October 5, 1930.  Within four months Congregation Emanu-El gave use of the old Temple Beth-El rent free to the congregation of the Community Church, "until the completion of the two units of buildings which the church will erect," according to The New York Times on February 14, 1931.

A 1905 postcard shows the green patina that had formed on the copper dome.

The building would once again house a Jewish congregation after an arsonist set fire to the West End Synagogue in March 1937.  Harry N. Wessel, president of the congregation, told reporters, "Almost every temple in the city has offered us a place in which to worship pending the repairing of our synagogue.  We selected the Temple Beth-El because it is not occupied at the present time and we would, therefore, cause as little inconvenience as possible."

On August 15, 1945 The New York Times reported that the Congregation Emanu-El had agreed to sell the property to builder Samuel Rudin as the site of a "large apartment house."  He paid $425,000 for the property (about $6 million today).

The newspaper followed up on April 29, 1947 saying, "The Romanesque edifice, once regarded as one of the finest synagogues in this country, now resembles a bombed-out building.  Its floors are covered with rubble; only the slender steel frame remains of the roof."   The article noted, "Unimpressed by the beauty of the temple, Abe Klotz, in charge of the demolition, commented, 'Its' a routine job.'"

photo via

The magnificent structure was replaced by the 18-story Emery Roth & Sons-designed apartment building which survives. has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

The 1906 Nottingham Apartments - 35 East 30th Street


Howard Nott Potter grew up in the magnificent mansion which his uncle, Major General Robert B. Potter, erected at 16 Gramercy Park (home today to The Players).  After studying architecture at Columbia College and in Europe, he went into partnership with Glenville Snelling.  In January 1906 Snelling & Potter filed plans for an upscale apartment house on the triple lot at 33 through 37 East 30th Street for the newly formed development firm of 33 East 30th St. Co.  Howard N. Potter was its president.

The nine-story structure, which cost the equivalent of $6.6 million today to construct, was completed within the year.  Snelling & Potter's tripartite design featured starkly disparate sections.  The two story, deeply rusticated base was faced in white terra cotta.  While service entrances were traditionally underplayed, here the architects gave them dramatic voussoirs that swept over tympanums filled with elaborate terra cotta decorations on a deep blue background.  

A cornice and faux balcony introduced the much less ornamented midsection of variegated brown brick.  Brick quoins which created three vertical sections provided the only visual interest.  Snelling & Potter gave a nod to the currently popular Arts & Crafts style by diapering the brick piers of the top floor in a lattice pattern.  A deeply overhanging cornice--typical of the Arts & Crafts style--completed the design.

The Record & Guide pointed out an innovation used by the architects--concrete and steel construction--which it called "somewhat a novelty."  The fact that the finished concrete floors were only nine inches thick, "makes it possible, with a judicious distribution of the girders, to obtain a 9-sty building where eight stories would be the limit for the same height with any other construction."

The striking, overhanging cornice has been removed.  Apartment Houses of the Metropolis, 1908 (copyright expired)

There were two apartments per floor, "admirably lighted by very large windows," said the Record & Guide.  It noted that the "grand foyer hall" carried the weight of nine stories, "made possible by the nature of the material."

There were two sprawling, mirror image apartments per floor.  Apartment Houses of the Metropolis, 1908 (copyright expired)

An advertisement for the building, called the Nottingham, described "new housekeeping apartments of 9 rooms and 3 baths [which] will be decorated to suit tenants."  (One of those bathrooms, of course, would be relegated for servants.)  Yearly rents ranged from $2,500 to $3,500 depending on the floor (more than $8,500 per month for the most expensive in today's money).  Apartment Houses of the Metropolis said, "The dining rooms are wainscoted to the ceiling in hardwood.  The living rooms have open fireplaces and imported marble mantels, designed from Louis XVI protypes."  The principal rooms had parquet floors and the doors into those rooms were of mahogany.

Among the early residents were broker R. Lawrence Benson and his family.  Like their neighbors, the Bensons maintained a small domestic staff.  On May 28, 1911 one of their servants caused what The New York Press "much excitement."

The newspaper said that on that afternoon "a maid ran screaming from the seventh floor.  Tenants who went upstairs found a man running around the hall almost nude and shouting."  He was, it turned out, Honore Camy, the Bensons' heretofore very proper butler.

The superintendent tried to calm Camy with no success.  Patrolman Donohue arrived on the scene and sent a hurried call to Bellevue Hospital.  Dr. Biram, appeared in the responding ambulance just in time to witness more drama.

The New York Press reported "A maid peeped out of the door of an apartment and the man grasped her.  Dr. Biram...says he found the man apparently trying to choke the terrified girl.  With difficulty the surgeon, the driver, and the policeman rescued the maid, who ran away screaming."

Eventually Camy was subdued, although initially he refused to clothe himself.  He was taken to the psychopathic ward for observation.  R. Lawrence Benson said he had been in his employ for a year "in which time he had not shown eccentricity."

At the time Howard Nott Potter was living in the building which he had erected, as was his unmarried sister, Virginia Potter.  Virginia Potter was, perhaps, more well-known than her architect brother.  She devoted her life to the betterment of women's conditions and was a pioneer in providing housing for working women.  Additionally, in 1885 she helped found the New York League of Girls' Clubs, and she organized the first independent hotel for women in New York and the Manhattan Trade School for Girls.  She was a director of the Association of Working Girls Societies and in 1910 opened the women-only Hotel Virginia.

The New York Press, May 3, 1914 (copyright expired)

It may have been Virginia Potter's influence that drew another women's rights proponent to the Nottingham in 1913.  On November 13 The Evening Enterprise reported, "Mrs. Eugene Boissevain, formerly Miss Inez Milholland, announces she has started housekeeping at No. 35 East Thirtieth street."  The remarkable woman was a labor lawyer, a war correspondent and an ardent suffragist.  Earlier that year she had led the dramatic Woman Suffrage Procession on horseback prior to the inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson.

Inez Milholland Boissevain, from the collection of the Library of Congress

In 1914 the National League of Women's Workers opened its headquarters in the Nottingham.  Another resident, Mrs. Hilborne L. Roosevelt, was involved in the League with Virginia Potter.  

In October 1916 Inez Milholland Boissevain was in Los Angeles, California on a campaign tour of the National Woman's Party when she collapsed during a speech.   On October 26 The New York Times reported "Mrs. Boissevain is unable to lift her head from her pillow.  She is allowed to see no one, and is under the constant care of a doctor and her sister."  She had been diagnosed with aplastic anemia.  The remarkable woman died on November 26 and her body was returned to New York for her funeral.

While Virginia Potter and Inez Milholland Boissevain were known for their reform work, the names of most of the well-heeled residents of the Nottingham appeared in newspapers simply for society engagements, debutante entertainments and travels.  

Above the entrance is a bas relief marble panel depicting a Roman procession.  Unlike the durable terra cotta around it, the marble has been seriously eroded.

Typical was the William Ayrault Hazard family.  The president of the Sterling Salt Mines, the Michigan Salt Works, and head of the William A. Hazard Salt Company, he and his wife, the former Laura Pelton, had two sons and four daughters.  Their summer estate, Meadow Hall, was on Long Island where Hazard was an avid yachtsman and polo player.  He was, according to the New-York Tribune, the "foremost American authority on polo."  On July 12, 1913 the Hazards announced the engagement of their daughter, Jessie Ashley, to Charles Reginald Leonard, from Meadow Hall.

Another socially visible family was that of E. Hicks Herrick.  The apartment was the scene of Margaret Herrick's debutante reception on December 7, 1912.  "After the reception there was a dinner at Sherry's and a theatre party at the Globe Theatre," said The Sun.  Margaret's sister, Louise, took the social spotlight seven years later when she was married in the fashionable St. George's Church to George Alden Cook on November 8, 1919.

On July 19, 1922 William A. Hazard died at Meadow Hall at the age of 68.  Laura Hazard stayed on in their apartment.  Other recognizable names of upper society in the Nottingham included Leland, Cornell, Lacey, Mead and Breese.  Virginia Potter died in 1937 and was buried in Martha's Vineyard where her summer home was.

Society columns continued to follow the movements, engagements, and funerals of the Nottingham residents.  A renovation completed in 1941 divided the sprawling apartments.  Where there had been two per floor, there were now five.

Nevertheless, the exterior of Snelling & Potter's Nottingham apartments, other than the tragically lost cornice, is essentially unchanged.  Its remarkable terra cotta base is as eye-catching today as it was in 1906.

photographs by the author
many thanks to reader Karen L. Green for prompting this post has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

Friday, May 28, 2021

The Unexpected House at 2 East 78th Street


In the first years of the 20th century the the marble palazzo of James Buchanan Duke, at the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 78th Street, faced the brick and brownstone mansion built by William Van Duzer Lawrence.  The Edward Lauterbach residence, a delightful blend of Queen Anne and Second Empire styles, abutted the Lawrence mansion to the east at 2 East 78th Street.

The Lauterbach house with its mansard and pointed tower can be seen to the left of the sliver-like Lawrence mansion at the corner.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

Edward Lauterbach was an attorney who specialized in the reorganization of corporations.  Interior photographs of the mansion show rooms overstuffed with late Victorian furnishings and decorations.

By the Depression years the days of tiger skin rugs, costly oil paintings and French furniture within the Lauterbach mansion were over.   It was now owned by banker Jacob H. Schiff who leased it to Theresa Pearson as a rooming house.  Because of that use, in 1937 the city ordered Schiff to install fire escapes, a sprinkler system and to "fire proof" the basement.  When he got the $6,000 estimate for the work--about $107,000 today--he refused.  Therefore City Marshall James J. Larkin issued eviction notices on the 28 residents, the last of which vacated  the "one-time mansion," as worded by The New York Sun, on February 2, 1937.  

There may have been more to Schiff's refusal, however.  At the time the Kensington Estates, Inc. had demolished the Lawrence mansion to make way for a luxury apartment building designed by Irving Margon.   The New York Sun reported "The two top floors, seventeen rooms with surrounding terraces, have been rented to John M. Schiff, grandson of Jacob Schiff."

Schiff sold the former Lauterbach mansion to the developers who demolished it and had Margon design a low-rise  replacement structure.  The following year The New York Sun explained, "As a light-protector for the [apartment] building a private dwelling of three stories has been built at 2 East Seventy-eighth street."  The practice of erecting short buildings to prevent subsequent property owners from cut off the light and ventilation to a large house or apartment building was common.

Compared with the magnificent marble and limestone palaces that lined the block, the new house was unexpectedly Plain Jane.  Faced in Flemish bond red brick and sparsely trimmed in limestone, it strained to bring no attention to itself.  Two shallow brick arches framed the paired windows of the top floors.  An understated stone cornice ran along the roofline.

The sole purpose of the house was provide light and ventilation to the hulking apartment house on 5th Av.

On July 23, 1938 The New York Sun reported that the house "has been leased by Dr. Henry Templeton Smith for his residence.  Dr. Smith, whose wife is the actress, Helen Menkin, will have professional offices in the larger building his home 'protects.'"

Born in Waxahachie, Texas in 1891, Smith had served in the Medical Corps during World War I.  He was now "a famous eye specialist," according to the Daily News.

Dr. Henry Templeton Smith in his Army uniform.  (original source unknown.)

Helen Menkin was well-known to New Yorkers as a Broadway star.  Smith was her second husband.  She had married actor Humphrey Bogart in the Gramercy Park Hotel on May 20, 1926.  It was a short-lived marriage.  Helen left Bogart in May 1928 and obtained a divorce in Chicago that November.

On April 8, 1938 the Daily News profiled Helen, saying, "Her most beautiful features are her large, warm brown eyes and her slim, sensitive hands.  Her hair is a natural red, and her skin not so pale as the makeup she usually affects in the theatre.  She leans to black or white in dress, and is intensely feminine in the manner of style."  The article hinted at differences between the physician husband and entertainer wife.  "Helen loves to dance, but as her husband doesn't, she frequently attends dancing classes incognito.  She is, she says, much too shy to go to the nite clubs."

Helen Menken early in her career.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

Shortly after moving into the new house Helen encountered tax problems.  On her 1935 Income Tax filings she declared $8,041 on "wigs, dresses, etc.," related to her leading role in the play The Old Maid.  It was a significant deduction, equal to about $150,000 today, and the Internal Revenue auditors balked.  They reduced the figure to $797.

On June 10, 1938 the Daily News reported, "Miss Menkin protested.  She said she played the part a full year on Broadway and several months on the road--that the production department furnished only two original costumes and she had to pay for replacements herself."  She scoffed at the implication that she had used the period clothing for her personal use.  "None of the costumes, consisting of hoop skirts, petticoats and pantalets, has been used in private life."

The Smiths divorced in 1947.  Two years later 2 East 78th Street and the 18-story apartment building were sold to 965 Fifth Avenue, Inc.  The little house continued as a private home and by the early 1960's was owned by James R. Frankenberry, vice president of the Cunningham & Walsh advertising agency.

On December 30, 1964 The New York Times announced that Frankenberry had leased space in the house to the Synanoh Foundation, Inc., described by the newspaper as "an organization founded on the West Coast in 1958 to help narcotic addicts."  Frankenberry was chairman of Synanon's National Council.

The article explained that Frankenberry "will maintain quarters in the house, but most of the rooms will be turned over to the foundation staff members, seven of whom will live there."  It added, "Mr. Frankenberry also owns a home in Bronxville."

The 26-foot wide property was recently offered for sale at $7.5 million.  A listing noted that it is "currently used as headquarters of a nonprofit organization" and "has been renovated to a high standard by Keenen/Riley."

photographs by the author
many thanks to reader James Bullock for prompting this post has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

Thursday, May 27, 2021

The Hayward House - 171 Third Avenue

Around 1845 a three-story brick house-and-store was erected at 171 Third Avenue, between 16th and 17th Streets.   The Greek Revival structure was capped with a simple dentiled cornice, but its brownstone lintels gave it a touch of elegance with their graceful ogival-type Gothic arches.

The upper floors became home to the blue collar Worster family.  Jacob Worster made his living as a blacksmith and John was listed as a locksmith.  (They most likely worked together in a single business.)  

As was common at the time, in the rear yard was an ancillary structure which, by 1847, was home and shop of tailor George Schleicher.  In 1853 another tailor, Frank Schaeffler listed his address here, and in 1856 the men were joined by Henry Fischer, also a tailor.

In the meantime, the store in the main house home was to J. O'Neil's pharmacy.  He moved his business to University Place in 1852.  Two back-to-back advertisements appeared in the New York Herald on May 10 that year.  The first read, "To Druggists--A Drug Store, located in one of the best thoroughfares and doing a good business, for sale," and the second offered, "To Physicians--For Sale--A physician's wagon, in good running order, Built by Wood & Co., Cost $250; will be sold cheap for cash."

The business was purchased by druggist John Williams, who remained until 1856.  That year the space was converted to a saloon.  The proprietor, it seems, took on too much in opening what was apparently one of several businesses.  On December 29, 1859 he advertised, "For Sale--The lease, stock and fixtures of a liquor store in good neighborhood well fitted up, in consequence of having other business to attend to."

It was purchased by John Hayward who renamed it the Hayward House.   Known as "Jack" or "Darkey," Hayward was a volunteer in the 79th New York Infantry Regiment, formed just prior to his purchasing the Third Avenue business.   The regiment was organized to defend Manhattan, but was, in fact, busier with providing parade and guard duty for visiting dignitaries.

That all changed on April 12, 1861 when rebel troops fired on Fort Sumter.   It seems that going to war was something Hayward had not counted on when he signed up for a five-year term of duty.  Yet, he initially seems to have accepted his fate of marching off to battle.  On October 2 that year an advertisement appeared in the New York Herald:

Hayward House, No. 171 Third Avenue--The lease, stock and fixtures of the above named house; for sale to a business man; it will be a good investment.  To be sold at a sacrifice for cash.

It was purchased by Frank Rimington who retained the saloon's name and continued to market it as a high-end business.

Trow's New York City Directory, 1864-1865 (copyright expired)

But it seems that John Hayward was seriously rethinking his military obligations.  On October 12, 1861, just a week after he placed the saloon for sale, a "Special Notice" appeared in the New York Herald.  

The renowned Jack Hayward, alias Darkey, of the Hayward House, 171 Third avenue, is to carry a placard of the Seventy-ninth regiment, one before and behind him, from corner Eighth street and Third avenue to Thirty-second street, for a wager, between 12 and 1 o'clock to-day.

He was willing to pay a great amount of money to get out of his service.  On March 17, 1863 he placed an advertisement in the New York Daily Herald that read: "A man wanted to service in a Regiment--With all the privileges of an old member, which has been out two years, with one more to serve.  A bonus of $50 will be given.  Apply at 171 Third avenue.  Hayward was offering the equivalent of $1,000 in today's money to anyone who would take his place.

Graceful ogival-type Gothic arches adorn the lintels.

In 1861 the Government issued the first $5 bill, known as a Demand Note.  Edward Dewey handed one to Frederick Rimington in October 1862.  Rimington was uncomfortable accepting it, but, according to The New York Times, Dewey said it was all he had.   And sure enough, when Rimington took it to the bank, he was told it was a fake.  It was not a small loss for the saloon-keeper, equal to about $130 today.   Dewey was arrested on October 4 and charged with counterfeiting.

Rimington operated the Hayward House through 1868 when he sold it the business to Thomas Oakley.  The neighborhood was now on the northern fringe of what was known as Kleindeutschland, or Little Germany, and Oakley renamed it Germania Hall, an "oyster and dining saloon."

The back room was used as a meeting place for local organizations.  It would not be Germans, but Irish-born New Yorkers who filled the room on January 15, 1871.  After years of political imprisonment, on January 5 the Irish Government had released members of the failed 1867 Fenian Rising.  The New York Times reported that, "A large and influential meeting of delegates...of the United Irishmen of New-York" had meet in Germania Hall to arrange "a hearty welcome to the released Irish political prisoners."

In Victorian prose, the group's resolutions said in part, "Some of the bravest and best of those who have periled all for Ireland, and suffered all that the perverted ingenuity of their enemies could devise, are soon about to arrive in our midst...It is but right and just that they should be tendered a reception commensurate with the extent of their sufferings."

Perhaps surprisingly, the rear building still held a tailor shop, now H. Hinkel & P. Hessler.  As George Schleicher had done, one of the partners, Henry Hinkel, lived in the building.

In 1879 the former saloon space became the upholstery shop of Basler & Bischoff.  By 1886 the partners had opened a second location around the corner at 200 East 16th Street.

An employee, Joseph Walsh, made a disturbing discovery on April 19, 1891.  The Evening World reported, "It was just 7 o'clock last night when Joseph Walsh, an upholsterer, of 171 third avenue, accosted Policeman Frank Nugent, of the Sixth Precinct, on Pearl street, and told him that a man was lying dead in the stone-flagged alley at 20 Mulberry street."

The "medium-sized laboring man" was 36-year-old bricklayer Thomas Donigan.  He had died from "an ugly gash across the right side of his head."  The police theorized that "he got into a row with some Italians and was by them assaulted."

The upholstery shop became a cigar store within two years of the incident.  But its proprietor, M. E. Odell, was making more money on gambling than on selling cigars.  Policy games were illegal lotteries, later known as the number racket.  The games preyed on low-income persons who dreamed of quick riches.  On September 19, 1893 The Evening World reported, "For several days complaints have been lodged at the Tenth Precinct Station to the effect that a police shop was running at 171 Third avenue."

Detectives descended on the shop on the night of September 18.  The Evening World explained, "The front part of the place is ostensibly a cigar store.  The only way out of the backroom is by a narrow passage and two windows."  When the officers entered the store, the gamblers and operators in the rear panicked.  "When the detectives reached the back room, they found each window clogged up by men endeavoring to escape."  Along with the arrests, the newspaper reported that "a large number of policy slips and a quantity of gambling paraphernalia were seized."

As the neighborhood changed, the store saw a variety of tenants.  Shortly after the raid it became the office of Charles Greenbaum's plumbing business.  He moved further up Third Avenue in 1905.  He was followed in the space by Dr. A. F. Johnson's veterinary office, and by 1922 it was the real estate office of "poet and real estate agent" Thomas Ford.  Ford would sell real estate and insurance from the space at least into the mid-1950's.

In 2007 Kelli Bernard opened Amai Tea and Bake House in the store.  The New York Times' food critic Florence Fabricant commented on November 28, "A brick-walled oasis, it serves high-quality teas and drinks like frothy green-tea latte and green tea cupcakes."  The space was most recently home to Jack's Sliders and Sushi.

The sole surviving relic of the early 19th century along the block, the little building's modest appearance disguises its colorful history.

photographs by the author
no permission to reuse the content of this blog has been granted to

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

The 1857 Louis Desire Peugnet House - 9 Bank Street


Baron Louis Desire Peugnet and his brother, Hyacinthe, had led impressive lives before arriving in America.   Years later the New York Herald put it succinctly, "M. Peugnet was a somewhat remarkable man, and had passed through stirring scenes in intimate relation with the greatest actors in them."

Louis was born in 1792, "just at the close of the reign of Louis XVI, and in the dawn of the Reign of Terror," as worded by the New York Herald.  In 1813 he entered the Grande Armée and became an intimate of Napoleon and a member of the Emperor's body guard.  Peugnet was wounded in the disastrous Battle of Waterloo.

One of the unidentified body guards depicted in Antoine Alphonse's Les Adieux de Fontainebleau is Louis D. Peugnet.  collection of the British Museum

Louis remained in the army following Napoleon's exile and, according to the New York Herald, was "now devoted to the royal cause of Louis XVIII.  In 1821 he was one of the leaders of the military conspiracy, at the head of which was Lafayette, to overthrow the government.Condemned to death, he and his brother escaped to America in 1821.   He never again used his noble title.

The Marquis de Lafayette sent letters of introduction "to many of the best families in this city and other parts of the country," which enabled Louis Peugnet to "make many useful and pleasant friends," according to the New York Herald.  In February 1830 he married Theresa Pratte, the daughter of General Bernard Pratte.

On April 5, 1836 the brothers acquired land in Greenwich Village along Bank Street.  In his 1893 book Creoles of St. Louis, historian Paul Beckwith noted, "Mr. company with his brother established a Civil and Military Academy in New York City."  The Freres Peugnet School was located on their Bank Street land and became "the most fashionable school in that city," according to one source.  Louis Peugnet personally instructed young men in swordsmanship, including graduates like Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard, who would start the Civil War by attacking Fort Sumter.

In 1845 Louis Peugnet erected a fine home for his family at 11 Bank Street.  Twelve years in 1857 later he built an Italianate home next door at 9 Bank.  An investment property, he intended the 23-foot wide residence for well-heeled tenants.   Three stories of red brick sat upon a brownstone English basement.  Hefty Italianate stoop railings and newels led to the double-doored entrance and the parlor windows, which extended to the floor, were most likely fronted by an ornate cast iron balcony.

Peugnet's first tenants did remain long.  Their "elegant household furniture" was sold at auction on April 28, 1858.  The listing included a rosewood piano, evidence of the family's affluence.  

Two weeks before the auction, Peugnet listed the house for rent, noting it was "built with great care, with the modern improvements."  The ad said that "cards of admission" could be obtained from No. 11 Bank Street and placed the rent at $950, or about $2,500 per month today.

For some reason, by 1864 the Peugnet family had moved from 11 Bank Street into 9 Bank Street.  They were listed here until 1870 when, according to the New York Herald, Louis Peugnet "went abroad for a long stay with his family."  That they intended to return to the Bank Street house was evidenced in the fact that they left all their furnishings.

A rental advertisement in August 1870 offered the furnished house "with all modern improvements, fine yard, large basement, fine parlors, mirrors &c. $175 per month."  The monthly rent would equal about $3,540 today--a bargain by a 21st century point of view.

As it turned out, the Peugnet family never returned to Bank Street.  On September 21, 1877 the New York Herald reported "News has just been received by mail of the death on the 31st, at Trois Torrent [Switzerland] of M. Louis Peugnet, a French gentleman, long a resident of New York."  The article said the family "were residing for the summer at the quiet little watering place where the old gentleman, who had hardly ever had a sick day, breathed his last peaceably in sleep, dying from old age."

The Bank Street house initially saw a relatively rapid turnover in occupants.  In the mid 1870's it was home to Richard J. Tothill, a printer, and his family.  In 1879 Amos K. Hadley, a lawyer with offices at 71 Broadway moved in, and in 1886 it became the home of Peter Denyke.

A Civil War veteran, Denyke and his family would remain at least through the 1890's.  His son, John, was dragged into a scandalous divorce suit in the summer of 1891.

Florence M. and Merrit J. Mott had been married on April 3, 1889.  According to her, he "instituted...a system of cruel and humiliating treatment."  He accused her of infidelity, hired spies to watch her, and continuously asked the neighbors about her movements.  On April 20, 1891 he "removed her and her wearing her aunt's residence in Jersey City" where she had previously lived.  He told the aunt, "Here is where I took her from and here is where I leave her."

Florence obtained a divorce with alimony, but on July 20, 1891 Mott took her to court, seeking to have the alimony revoked.  He denied her story and accused of "of unfaithful conduct with one John Denyke, at 9 Bank street," and two men."

The Italianate stoop railings and newels were still in place in 1941.  Elegant tie-back draperies hang in the parlor windows.  via the NYC Dept. of Records & Information Services.

At some time after the turn of the century the house became home to Frank Wardell Felch and his wife the former Clara Van Leeuwens.  Frank was born in 1854 in New Jersey to George Washington Felch and the former Adelia Francis Roll.  He and Clara were married in 1880.  Interestingly, she had been born just two doors away from 9 Bank Street in October 1867.

Frank died in 1918 and Clara died just two years later, on November 23, 1920, at the age of 62.  In reporting her death, the New-York Tribune noted that the Van Leeuwens were "one of New York's oldest families."

The Felches were following by silversmith John McNally, who died in the house on November 9, 1928. 

The marble Italianate mantel survives in the parlor.  photo via

The end of the line as a private house came in 1957 when an upper story addition was added.  The basement and parlor floors were converted to a duplex apartment, and the upper floors now held one apartment each.  The modernization of the interiors has happily left a few of the 1857 details intact.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2021

The Nahan Franko House - 296 West 92nd Street


Architect Clarence F. True rarely practiced outside of the Upper West Side district.  After having worked in the office of Richard M. Upjohn, he opened his own office in 1884 and within a few years was the most prolific architect within the developing neighborhood. True worked in historic styles, often playing with period accuracy either to create a slightly lighthearted air or simply to conform the structure to modern tastes and needs.  

His success was such that by the early 1890's he acted as his own developer for some speculative work.  Such was the case in 1894 when he designed an 18-foot wide residence at 296 West 92nd Street.  True loosely drew his inspiration from Elizabeth architecture, but the resulting structure was purely 1890's.

The English basement and parlor levels were faced in brownstone.  The lintels of the parlor windows were given graceful ogival arches and the entrance sat within a pointed Gothic arch.  Carved ribbons fluttered from a heraldic shield above the doorway.

The contrast between limestone and brownstone is lost under a coat of white paint.

Limestone shared the stage with brownstone in the two-story midsection and the windowless attic floor.  By extending the lines of the pointed pediment atop the roofline, True tricked the eye into seeing a full-height gable.

On January 16, 1894 Clarence True sold the house to Louis and Rosalie Bowsky.  Louis was an engineer whose office was nearby on West 87th Street.

The city had trouble keeping up with the infrastructure of the rapidly developing Upper West Side and Bowsky's clients found themselves sometimes stepping through mud to get to his office.  On August 20, 1901 he joined influential property and business owners--including Mrs. Alfred Corning Clark, Peter Gilsey, and Alexander Walker--in signing a petition to the Municipal Assembly asking "that the carriageway of [87th Street between Broadway and West End Avenue] be repaved with asphalt pavement."

He would be dealing with a problem much closer to home on February 18, 1904.  At around 4:00 that morning one of the largest water mains in the city broke at Broadway and 92nd Street.  The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported, "Several basements were flooded, so that the water reached the ceilings.  Chairs, tables, trunks and everything that would float was carried by the water from room to room and windows were broken and walls injured by the contact of hard objects against them."

The article noted, "The house at 296 West Ninety-second street is owned by Louis Bowsky, engineer and inventor.  The water here rushed through from the rear yard, which was boxed in, and entered his private parlor, damaging relics and valuables.  The cellar was also flooded."

The following year, in October, Bowsky sold the house to well-known violinist and conductor Nahan Franko and his wife, German actress Anna Braga.   Born in New Orleans on July 23, 1861, Franko was a violin prodigy who toured the world with Adelina Patti at the age of 8.  In 1883 Franko became the concert master of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and a year before purchasing the 92nd Street house he was made its conductor.  His salary for the eight-month 1904-05 season was $4,045--or about $120,000 today.

The Frankos' housewarming was an event.  On November 12, 1905 The New York Times reported, "Nahan Franko was happier last night than a young girl in a conservatory whose instructor has acknowledged at least that she has taken high 'C' and sustained it as he would have her.  He ran up and down the stairs of his new home, 296 West Ninety-second Street, singing."

The party began at 11:00, conveniently after the closing curtain for the couples' musical guests.  The article said the neighbors soon realized that the night "promised grand opera, opera comique, and songs by singers of international repute...The neighbors sat at their windows in their furs to hear four tenors and twice as many bassos sing."

The New York Times listed three dozen celebrated musicians by name, including Enrico Caruso, conductor Willem Mengelberg, Antonio Scotti and Otto Wehl.  "The neighbors heard the popping of corks.  Selections from 'Goterdammerung' filled the streets with bass harmony.  There were 'Hochs' for this, that, and the other, mostly for the host.  There were vivas and bravos, too, now and then.  Then every man tried to imitate a trombone in rendering 'Oh, Thou So Fine, the Evening Star.'"  The party lasted until dawn.

Anna settled into her social routine in the new house.  On December 17 the New York Herald announced, "Mrs. Nahan Frank, of 296 West Ninety-second street, gave the first of her at homes for this season on Friday last.  Mrs. Franko will also receive on January 12 and February 9 from three until six o'clock in the afternoon."

In 1907 Franko left the Metropolitan Opera to form his own ensemble, the Nahan Franko Orchestra.  It performed regularly at the Plaza Hotel and at private, opulent balls in Newport and Manhattan mansions.

Franko had a well-publicized temper, one which often got the best of him.  On April 26, 1906, for instance, The New York Times reported on a incident at Grand Central Depot.  Franko was returning from San Francisco and Anna was at the station to meet him.  She was not permitted to pass through the gate leading to the inner platform.

"She protested, but the guard was obdurate.  When the train came in, Mrs. Franko, catching sight of her husband, ran to greet him.  The guard caught her by the arm," recounted the article.  Seeing his wife struggling with the guard, Franko dropped his satchel and rushed to her defense.

"He struck the guard, who struck back, and was soon joined by another guard.  There was trouble for half a minute.  Then explanations followed.  Nevertheless Mr. Franko said that he would do his best to have both of the guards arrested."

Two years later Franko attempted to break through the police lines to cross Fifth Avenue during a parade celebrating the 100th anniversary of the New York Roman Catholic Diocese.  When Patrolman Edward Xenodochious blocked his way, Franko became combative and was arrested.  At the station house he refused to apologize to the officer, preferring to pay the $2 fine instead.

Franko filed a complaint against the policeman and they appeared before Police Commissioner Hanson on May 12.  According to the New-York Daily Tribune, Franko charged that he was "grabbed roughly and shoved back" by Xenodochious.  He said that the wife of a prominent businessman would have testified on his behalf if her husband had not objected to the notoriety.

Xenodochious denied the charges, and said, "Why, Mr. Franko thought that he would have two hundred witnesses marching to the station house behind him, with slow music being played."  The jab was too much for the conductor.

"You have no right to comment on my profession, I would not exchange mine for yours.  Mine is more intellectual," he spat.

When he had restored order, the Deputy Commissioner made his decision.  "This complaint is dismissed.  You have lost your temper here probably in the same way that you lost it when the patrolman prevented you from going through the police lines."  Nahan Franko stormed out of court grumbling that "he could get justice nowhere," said the article.

Franko conducts his orchestra at the Sheepshead Bay Speedway on August 31, 1918.  from the collection of the Library of Congress

The Frankos continued to host glittering entertainments in their West 92nd Street home.  On February 19, 1911, for instance, The New York Times reported, "Nahan Franko, the musician, gave a reception and supper last night at his home, 296 West Ninety-second Street, to a number of his friends."  Among the musical celebrities present were Mr. and Mrs. Victor Herbert, Mr. and Mrs. Gustav Mahler, and Metropolitan Opera stars Andrés Perelló de Segurola and Giuseppe Campanari.  Others on the guest list were Mrs. Randolph Guggenheim and the German writer and expert on Richard Wagner, Baron Hans von Wolzogen.

In the spring of 1930 Franko suffered a stroke as he approached his 69th birthday.  He was left partially paralyzed and unable to speak.  He was taken to a sanitarium in Amityville, Long Island where he died on June 7 of a blood clot on the brain.  In reporting his death, The New York Times called him "one of the most colorful figures in local music circles during the last half century" and said he "met with varied experiences, which included shipwrecks and cyclones."

Although Anna Franko retained possession of 256 West 92nd Street, she left in 1937 and leased it to The Apostolic Faith Christian Church.  She moved to 55 West 94th Street, a few blocks closer to Central Park.  

On September 11 the following year Anna attended a musicale at the home of Mrs. Hugo Lieber.  The New York Times reported, "She collapsed during the evening and died before a doctor could arrive."  The article said that patrons of the old Irving Place Theatre, "will remember her as Anna Braga, the beautiful German-speaking actress, who reigned as leading lady there for many years."

In the early 1940's the unpainted facade still retained its upper floor carvings.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

The Apostolic Faith Christian Church continued to occupy the former house.  It applied for permission to install an electric sign on the building in 1938.  It remained here until the early 1950's when the property became home to the New York City branch of the United Pentecostal Church.

At some point the dual-colored stone facade was given a coat of white paint, disguising Clarence F. True's purposeful contrast in colors, and the intricate carvings of the top floor were shaved off.

Happily, the decorative carvings at the parlor level were preserved.

The house was returned to a single family residence in 2000.  Surprisingly, a few of True's 1894 interior details survive.  It was recently sold for just over $6 million.

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