On May 12, 1894 the Real Estate Record & Guide reported, "Gordon Bros. have purchased three lots, 75x100, on Amsterdam avenue, between 82d and 83d streets, for immediate improvement." The "improvement" of the vacant plots would be in the form of three identical flat--or apartment--houses with stores.
The partners commissioned architect Gilbert A. Schellenger to design the structures. His tripartite design was, for the most part, Renaissance Revival, with touches of the Romanesque Revival style.
Completed within the year, each was five stories tall. The brick and stone bases held cast iron store fronts, and short stoops led to the residential entrances. The three-story midsections were clad in beige brick and separated by full-height piers. Schellenger used bull-nosed brick to round the corners of the piers and the openings. Above an intermediate cast metal cornice, the top level featured an arcade of windows joined by a continuous thin eyebrow. Each structure was crowned with an elaborate pressed metal cornice and triangular pediment.
There were two apartments per floor, front and rear. An advertisement in The World on May 29, 1897 offered "Four rooms & bath, all light, finely decorated, low rents, 1 month free." The "low rents" ran from $20 to $24 per month--just over $750 for the more expensive apartment today.
Among the early tenants of 466 Amsterdam Avenue was Fanine Milne, who was known as Fannie. She lived in the rear flat on the fourth floor and worked at the printing shop of George E. Shepard on Chambers Street. Shepard and his wife, Lola, had been married since 1886 and had three children.
Fannie and her boss became friendly and around 1895 she was invited to the Shepard home. Shortly after that Lola Shepard discovered "that her husband was untrue to her, but forgave him," reported the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. George Shepard traveled to Europe for two months in February 1897. Upon his return Lola began unpacking his bags.
She discovered a parcel of letters from Fannie Milne. They included phrases such as "To my own foreign baby," "Goodnight, my own dear love, think of me as often as you can, with love and kisses to yourself and baby. Fannie," and "Try and not forget me and try to always think of me as your best girl. If I had you here to-day, I am afraid you would never live after it to tell the tale."
Lola was understandably upset and went to unexpected lengths to gain additional evidence. She somehow got access to the other apartment on Fannie's floor. On the evening of August 14 she went there with three friends "and with them watched the place all night." According to Lola in court, at about 7 a.m. George Shepard "left the apartment of Fannie Milne, who soon afterward followed him out."
She sued Shepard for divorce, naming Fannie Milne as the other woman and using her incriminating letters as evidence. Fannie's attorney denied the allegations, saying she was "a family friend and although the letters seemed to indicate undue familiarity, such was not the fact." He said the letters found in the bag were "simply a good joke on Shepard," and that the overnight visit to her apartment was "on business connected with his office." The judge did not buy the defense and granted the divorce, allowing Lola $25 per week alimony (about $795 today).
It would not be the last time Fannie Milne and George E. Shepard appeared in court together. George's attorney in the divorce case had been Benjamin Levy and Fannie's was a lawyer named McKinney. According to Fannie, she gave Levy $150 which he was to turn over to McKinney for his fees.
Around February 10, 1900 Fannie accosted Levy on Park Row, accusing him of keeping the money for himself. She demanded to accompany him to his office where she insisted he sign a confession that read, "I acknowledge the receipt of $150, which I obtained on false pretenses."
Levy's story about the money was different. He said, "Shepard had given it to me for my services and not to be paid to McKinney, and I told her I wouldn't give it to her." It was not the answer Fannie was looking for. "She began to abuse me, and used such language that I told her to get out of my office," said Levy later. "I was going to get up and go out into the hall for some of the employe[e]s of the building, when Shepard came in."
Shepard, too, demanded that Levy sign the confession. Levy testified, "I said I wouldn't give anything to him. I told him I had earned the money all right, and he should be the last one to kick, as I had saved him a lot of money."
Levy tried to get to the office door, but the pair pushed him back and blocked it. When the lawyer attempted to use the annunciator (a speaking tube) to have a clerk call a policeman, he was stopped short by a firearm. "The first thing I knew I was looking right at a revolver," he said.
On February 16 Fannie Milne and her father appeared in the Center Street Police Court. She confidently handed Magistrate Cornell the signed confession, fully expecting him to demand Levy to pay her the money. Cornell asked Levy if the signature were genuine. Levy admitted it was, but then explained it was signed under intimidation.
"I was afraid of the man," he told the judge. "This man Shepard, Your Honor, was held in the court here for pouring acid on a man. He was very nervous, and I didn't know but he would pull the trigger of the revolver at any time. That man is liable to do anything when he is excited. I was scared, and I let him push me down into the chair, and I wrote what he told me to. No one who isn't crazy would sign a paper like that unless he was in fear of his life."
Magistrate Cornell told Fannie, "On your own admission, Miss Milne, you used duress. I will not accept the complaint." Fannie's father indignantly replied, "We will take the case into General Term." "That's the best thing you can do," said Cornell, "as I won't have anything to do with the matter.
Another tenant of 466 Amsterdam Avenue at the time was William C. Hurst. He was affluent enough to afford a Locomobile (a stream-powered automobile). On April 30, 1901 he appeared in the West Side Police Court charged with "scorching" (i.e, speeding). The New-York Tribune said "Hurst had no excuse to make when he was arraigned, and a fine of $5 was imposed on him. He sent a messenger out to pawn his gold watch in order to get the money to pay the fine."
In the meantime, Policeman McIntee took his prisoner to the stationhouse using Hurst's own Locomobile. The New-York Tribune reported, "The water in the boiler was very low, and McIntee had not gone more than a block when the safety valve began to screech in the most ear splitting manner."
Fearing the boiler was about to explode, the policeman jumped out and ran back to the courtroom where Magistrate Meade was hearing another case. Breathless from his sprint, McIntee rush to the bench and shouted "Judge, the machine is in the middle of the street. It is going to blow up! Give me an order for the prisoner or the whole street will be blown up!"
The New-York Tribune continued, "Several women in the courtroom became almost hysterical. Magistrate Meade shouted: 'Don't wait for an order; go down and get the prisoner at once! Run quickly!"
McIntee returned to the scene and removed Hurst from the car. His handcuffs were removed and he "turned off one or two valves and then raked the fire. Over a thousand persons had gathered at the spot." All danger was now squelched.
Officer McIntee walked Hurst to the stationhouse, then returned to push the automobile to the station. Once there, the sergeant told him to take it to Pierce's Stables at 58th Street and Seventh Avenue. The New-York Tribune reported, "McIntee pushed the machine all the way to this place, and just as he reached the stable in an almost exhausted condition, Hurst, who had paid his fine, appeared and claimed it."
In 1903 a branch of the James Butler grocery stores opened in 462 Amsterdam Avenue. It was the chain's 110th store in the metropolitan area. The store at 464 was home to the Wing Sing Chinese laundry, and Edward Unterman's wine and liquor store occupied 466 Amsterdam Avenue around the same time. Unterman's shop would remain in the space at least through 1919.
Living in 464 Amsterdam in 1918 was Custom House broker Samuel Harry Pomerance. He was estranged from his wife, whose professional name was Dorothy Green. A silent movie actress, Dorothy was described by The Sun as "a slightly built brunette." She had appeared in numerous films and was best known for playing "vamps."
Pomerance was born in Russia and arrived in America around 1898. He married Dorothy in 1911 and, initially, their marriage went well. According to Pomerance, when Dorothy was working in the movies in California, she "would send him as many as six love letters a day." But in 1916 things changed. She began an affair with wine merchant Emanuel S. "Manny" Chapelle.
The unfaithful Dorothy Green. Shadowland, December 1919 (copyright expired)
In court Pomerance said, "When Chappelle began paying attention to my wife early in 1916 we quarreled and finally separated. She told me frankly she did not intend to change her way of living, and that if I didn't like it I could get out." Pomerance went to Chappelle's office and told him to leave his wife alone. The merchant responded saying that since the couple was not living together, Pomerance should "go about his own business and let her have a good time."
Chappelle was also married. His wife was the ice skater Grace Helaine, the sister of actress Billie Burke. Pomerance hired a private detective to follow Chappelle and Dorothy. They raided Dorothy Green's apartment where they found the couple together. The scandalous divorce trials--Pomerance sued Green and Helaine sued Chappelle--became fodder for gossip and screen magazines nationwide.
World War I took a toll on several of the families who lived here. On November 30, 1918 the War Department's casualty list included John M. Donahue, "killed in battle." And on February 20, 1919 the New-York Tribune reported that Thomas J. Rowley had been been wounded, "degree undetermined."
At 3:00 p.m. on September 25, 1946 Patrolman Kenneth Heil was directing traffic at 82nd Street and Amsterdam Avenue when several children ran up and told him Louis Cafiero's stationery store at 462 Amsterdam Avenue was being held up. The Daily News reported, "The patrolman drew his gun and sprinted." As he neared the store John O'Neill, a longshoreman, ran out and ducked into the cellar of 460 Amsterdam Avenue. He had robbed Cafiero of $30 at gunpoint.
Heil followed the gunman into the darkened cellar. A tense cat-and-mouse game continued for 15 minutes. Then, as reported by the Daily News, O'Neil shouted, "If you try to come near me, I'll kill you." The article continued, "Heil aimed at the voice and answered--with two bullets from his service revolver, one of which found its mark." The wounded 27-year-old was booked on assault and robbery.
Officer Heil displays the gunman's weapon to Police Inspector James Mulholland. Daily News, September 26, 1946
The following year, on October 3, 1947 the store was targeted again. At around 5:30 a.m. Thomas Connelly broke in and stole $20 in coins and a wrist watch. He was spotted by a bakery driver who telephoned police. As police cars pulled up to the store, the 22-year-old crook ran out the back door. He was captured after a "chase across the rooftops during which several shots were fired," according to the Daily News.
The Amsterdam Avenue neighborhood became one of trendy shops and nightspots in the last quarter of the 20th century. In 1992 The Insomnia Hotel & Bar occupied the former stationery store at 462 Amsterdam Avenue. It was replaced in 1998 by Mason's Bar, owned by former child actor Mason Reese.
Next door at 464 Amsterdam was Gelateria Richard, described by The New York Times food critic Florence Fabricant on November 23, 1994 as capturing "the flavors and textures of sumptuous Old-World Italian ice creams, called gelati." Falcon's Peruvian Restaurant occupied 464 Amsterdam Avenue.
The commercial spaces continue to house restaurants. And other than replacement windows, the upper floors of the 1894 trio remain essentially unchanged since the colorful Fanine Milne moved into her fourth floor flat.
photograph by the author
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