Saturday, August 28, 2021

The 1895 St. George Flats -- 173-177 Third Avenue


A blank scar replaces the cornice, lost in the 20th century.

St. George's Church was founded in 1749 and erected its first church on Chapel Street (later renamed Beekman), deemed by one historian "the bon-ton promenade for society people."  A new stone edifice was erected on Stuyvesant Square in 1856.  And while the East Side neighborhood changed, filling with German and Irish immigrants, the wealthy St. George's congregation remained steadfastly loyal.  The magnificent church continued to be the scene of highly visible society weddings and funerals.

On April 2, 1895 the New-York Tribune reported "The corporation of St. George's Church have filed plans for a five-story flathouse and store at Nos. 173, 175 and 177 Third ave."   The property sat between 16th and 17th Streets, directly behind the church complex on the square.  Architect Marshall L. Emery had been chosen to design the building, which was to cost $30,000--or about $955,000 in today's money.

Completed in 1896, the St. George was faced in yellow Roman brick and trimmed in limestone and terra cotta.   The  offset residential entrance featured free-standing, banded Corinthian columns that upheld an entablature and classical, triangular pediment.  Within the pediment was the monogram SG--for St. George.

Emery used mostly brick to decorate the three-section upper portion--creating quoins and radiant voussoirs.  Terra cotta, Renaissance style spandrel panels appeared between the third and fourth floors.  The windows of the top floor created an arcade below the now-missing metal cornice.

Expectedly, the St. George filled with immigrant families, not all of them upstanding.  Among them was the Adamson family, whose son Charles got into serious trouble in 1901.

As was the case in Manhattan, well-to-do Brooklynites closed their homes in the summer and went to their country estates or resorts.  In the summer of 1901 Captain Tools instructed his policemen to "keep a sharp watch for suspicious characters" in the "wealthy section" of Brooklyn's 19th Ward.  On the evening of August 22 Charles Adamson was seen "loitering for over an hour," according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, prompting nervous neighbors to point him out to Policeman Bender.

The newspaper reported, "It did not take the policeman long to make up his mind to take the man into custody on suspicion."  When the 25-year-old was searched at the station house, police found "suspicious looking keys, including one of a skeleton character."  It was also discovered that his photo was in the Rogues' Gallery, after he had served a year for carrying burglars' tools.  A reporter went to the St. George, where Charles's mother confirmed he had served time "for a similar offense."

The residential entrance to the St. George separated two store spaces.  In the first years of the 20th century one was home to the Western Union Sewing Machine Co. store and the other to a tailor shop. 

The World, August 4, 1902 (copyright expired)

In the early morning house of December 11, 1907 Patrolman Mullen noticed a young boy lurking in the entranceway of the St. George.  The Evening Post reported, "When the policeman asked him what he was doing there, the young fellow said he was waiting for a friend."  Mullen took him into the hallway of the building, where he found three large bundles of clothing and furs ready to be carried off.  The 17-year-old boy had pried an iron bar from the rear window of the tailor shop and stolen the goods.

As had been the case with Charles Adamson, at the station house Samuel Goldberg's photo was found in the Rogues' Gallery.  However, when it was taken six months earlier he had identified himself as Louis Cohen.  The Evening Post said Goldberg "admitted that for seven years he had done nothing but pick pockets and rob apartment houses."

Unlike the well-to-do families who shut their homes in the summer, flat dwellers had to suffer the stifling heat and humidity.  One way to get a modicum of relief was to install awnings that deflected the direct sunlight.   

The St. George was outfitted with canvas awnings, one of which was damaged during the summer of 1908.   Tragically, on October 6 The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported, "Losing his balance while at work on the fifth floor of the house at 177 Third avenue, Manhattan, to-day, John Cantwell, 30 years old, fell to the sidewalk and was instantly killed.  The man had gone to a window to repair an awning."

July 2, 1911 was reportedly the hottest July 2 in ten years.  Three people died from the heat and dozens more were hospitalized.  Among the "prostrations" was St. George resident Daniel Sullivan, who was overcome at 71st Street and Avenue A and taken to Reception Hospital.

Living here in 1914 were the Schneiders, who ran a delicatessen at 161 Third Avenue.  Another tenant, Adolphine Heidbrader, worked for the couple in the shop.  On November 23, The New York Times reported that on the previous night Adolphine took $600 in cash and two gold watches from the store to bring back to Mrs. Schneider in her apartment.  The article said she "was attacked by two young men" in the hallway and robbed.  "Upon recovering her wits, Mrs. Heidbrader ran to the Schneider apartment and gave the alarm."

One wonders if the Schneiders were totally confident in Adolphine's story.  "Detectives from the Second Branch Bureau found no trace of the robbers, of whom the victim could give only a meagre description," said the article.

By 1925 Thomas Ford's real estate offices occupied one of the ground floor spaces.  The Irish-American newspaper The Advocate called his operation "one of the oldest realty concerns in that section of the city."

The Advocate, August 28, 1925 (copyright expired)

A tragic accident occurred here in the building 1939.  William and Anna Harrison had a five-room apartment, which they shared with William's 70-year-old uncle, John Kelly.  It is possible that Kelly was suffering the beginning stages of dementia.  On the evening of February 24 William left some food on the stove for his uncle, then went to bed.  Kelly attempted to heat it up by turning on the burner, but neglected to light a match.  He was found dead in the kitchen shortly before midnight, having been asphyxiated by the escaping gas.

By 1975 the St. George's Thrift Shop occupied the larger store space.  The New York Times journalist Olive Evans said on February 14 that the store "benefits the finally-troubled landmark Episcopal church on Stuyvesant Square" and described it as "more like a neighborhood boutique."  The article went on, "Inside, the coffee urn is kept hot, and around it staff and customers chat about neighborhood matters.  Lunch-time business booms with many customers who work at Con Edison...or at the several hospitals in the area."

The St. George's Thrift Shop remained through 1986, replaced by Fatburger in 1987, which was replaced by Shanghai Restaurant in 1988.  The rapid turnover caused Spy Magazine to call the space "jinxed" in its November 1988 issue.

The smaller space was occupied by the restaurant Pie in the Sky until around 1987.  It was followed by the Okura Japanese restaurant in 1988.  In 2020 Chito Gvrito "modern Georgian cuisine" restaurant opened in the space.

Today there are 12 apartments in the building, which desperately needs a washing.  Other than replacement windows and the sad loss of the cornice, Marshall L. Emery's unusual and interesting design is essentially intact.

photographs by the author has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

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