Thursday, September 30, 2021

The 1854 55 Murray Street

It appears that a French dressmaker had moved her business into the house at 55 Murray Street between West Broadway and Church Street in the early 1850's.  An advertisement--written in French--on October 20, 1853 read:

We ask for a good Frenchwoman who knows how to sew well.  Contact 55 Murray Street between 12 and 2, after noon.

That year attorney James R. Whiting purchased the property and soon erected a five-story store and loft building on the site.  Faced in gleaming white marble, it was designed in the Italianate style above the cast iron storefront.  The architrave surrounds of the upper floor windows and their Renaissance-inspired pediments could have as easily graced a civic building.

The earliest tenants were dry goods merchants.  In 1859 William Brand & Co. advertised a plethora of items, including "Scotch linens, Barnsley sheetings, bleached and brown damasks, linen and Union table cloths, diapers, towels, hucks" and such.

Someone associated with a garment shop in the building placed an advertisement totally unrelated to the business on June 8, 1859.  The puzzling ad read:

Wanted--A violinist, a good player.  One willing to travel, and capable of leading at a performance; must be satisfied with a moderate salary.  Apply at 55 Murray street, up stairs, in the shirt store.

William Brand & Co. was still in the building in 1865, now joined by M. Fishel & Co., makers of skirts (run by Marks Fishel), and Adolphe Opper, another skirt manufacturer, and dry goods firm Brand & Gihon.  

The Chronicle, November 24, 1866 (copyright expired)

It is unclear what Alexander Platt's business was, but he got himself into an embarrassing situation on November 29 that year.

On that night Platt went to Greene Street, notorious for having no fewer that two dozen houses of prostitution.  The New York Times reported he accompanied "Cecilia Austin, otherwise Flora Reed, a syren [sic] from Greene-street" to her house.  The next day he realized his valuable gold watch was gone.  Prostitutes very often got away with thievery since their clients avoided the humiliation and scandal that would accompany reporting the crime.  Such was not the case with Platt and Cecelia was arrested later that day.

By the time the Whiting family sold 55 Murray Street in 1877, the tenant list was changing as glassware merchants took space.  In 1878 Vogel & Reynolds, "dealers in glassware," was here, and by 1884 Hasings & Hahn, glass manufacturers had space.

At the turn of the century the building was occupied by Surpless, Dunn & Co., hardware; A. L. Tuska & Co., which dealt in Japanese goods; and the New York Bag Company which occupied several floors.  

In July 1901 a fire broke out on the third floor, causing about $64,000 in damages in today's money.  Only eight months later it happened again.  On Saturday night, March 15, 1902, the engineer of a Sixth Avenue elevated train noticed smoke coming from a fourth floor window.  He stopped his train midblock between Church Street and West Broadway directly in front of Fire Patrol No. 1 and blew his whistle several times.  He shouted that there was a fire at 55 Murray Street.

The blaze had broken out in the New York Bag Company, which was filled with flammable materials.  It soon grew to a three-alarm fire.  The New York Times reported, "An exciting incident occurred soon after the second alarm had been sent in.  Four firemen of Engine Company No. 7 had climbed to the fourth story by the fire escape, and as they reached the cage a sheet of flame burst forth, completely enveloping them."  The water tower truck had just gotten into position.  The stream of water "struck the men with great force," but saved their lives.

This fire was much more intense than the earlier one.  The New York Times said, "The fire burned fiercely for over an hour, spreading up to the top floor and roof, down to the third floor, and back to the Murray Street side."

A. L. Tuska & Co. remained in the building following the repairs.  It offered an array of Japanese imports including porcelains and decorative items.   Also in the building by 1907 was Plume & Atwood Mfg. Co., makers of "electric portables," such as "lamps, unmounted gongs for electric bells, etc."

For several years the 55 Murray Street was occupied by the Columbia Graphophone Company.  It moved out in 1920 after erecting its own building at Fifth Avenue and 34th Street.  In March that year, the I. Blyn Shoe Company purchased the property.   Founded in 1874, it operated the popular Red Cross Shoe Stores.  The firm moved its main office into the building and continued to rent space.

An advertisement in May 1921 offered a "fine day-lighted loft, especially suitable for office use."  The 4,300 square foot space was offered at "less than $1.00 per sq. ft."

Change came in 2014 when a renovation resulted in a total of four expansive apartments above the ground floor.  The elegant marble building is remarkably intact after near 170 years.

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Wednesday, September 29, 2021

The Remodeled Frederick W. Rhinelander House - 12 West 28th Street


In 1866 Miller's Stranger's Guide to New York described the area around Madison Square, saying "The houses surrounding this park include some of the most elegant of this city."  Around seven years earlier a handsome, high-stooped residence had been erected at 12 West 28th Street, between Fifth Avenue and Broadway.

The owner advertised in September 1859:  "Wanted--A first rate waitress; must be neat looking and have the best of city references.  Scotch or Welsh preferred."  Waitresses were more polished than servants like chamber maids.  Among their duties was the serving of meals in the dining room and tea in the parlor.

By 1867 the house was home to the Frederick William Rhinelander family.  Born in 1828, Rhinelander was married to the former Frances Davenport Skinner.  The socially-prominent couple, who had eight children, maintained a villa in Newport, Rhode Island. 

Frederick Rhinelander's sister, Mary Elizabeth, had married Thomas Haines Newbold in 1846.   The Newbold family was as prominent as the Rhinelander family.  Both traced their ancestry in America to the 17th century.   The Newbolds' country estate, Fern Tor, sat on the banks of the Hudson River above Poughkeepsie.  

Thomas Newbold died on March 12, 1869.  Frederick Rhinelander and his family were still listed at 12 West 28th Street in 1870, but before long Mary Newbold and her children, Thomas, Frederick, Catherine and Edith, moved in.

By the 1880's affluent families were moving northward as commerce inched into the neighborhood.  In March 1890 Mary Newbold leased the house to the Actors' Fund, and then hired architect G. P. Graves make renovations totaling about $59,000 in today's money.  The plans called for altering walls, "internal alterations," and a new front.

The Actors' Fund of America had been founded in 1882 to "foster and benefit the physical, as well as advance the intellectual, welfare of the actors of America."  On the parlor floor of its new home on West 28th Street were the reception room and reading room, and in the rear two offices.    The New York Amusement Gazette reported, "The remainder of the building will be rented out as offices to different branches of the profession."  Offices on the second floor were leased to the Dramatic Exchange, and to the Horace Wall American Amusement Agency.  Years later, in 1913, The New York Clipper would recall, "These offices were handsomely fitted up.  The walls were papered in gold."  On the third floor was the Actors' Fund committee room, "and no one was admitted to it but the trustees," said the newspaper.

The former English basement level was home to Carl Wernicke's "bric-a-brac shop" by 1891.  The "art room" where paintings and statuary were displayed was behind the main shop.  On January 24 that year Mr. and Mrs. De Ford picked out a jardinière and asked that it be converted to a jewel case at a cost of $35 (more than $1,000 today).  

A few days later the returned, and said that rather than have it delivered they would take it themselves.  They paid for the piece and took along two statuettes for wedding presents, "if they were deemed suitable."  On February 16 they returned again, saying the statuettes would not do, and began browsing for something else.  De Ford wandered into the art room, while his wife waited.  

Suddenly, she told a clerk that she was going shopping at Macy's and left.  Five minutes later De Ford came out of the back.  The Sun later said, "De Ford wore a bulky, shaggy overcoat, closely buttoned, and Mr. Wernicke noticed that it bulged."  The bulge was the result of "jewels and silverware, valued at over $7,000" stuffed in his pockets.

As it turned out, Mr. De Ford was Robert Howe, "otherwise Ralph Hamberg, otherwise De Ford," and his wife was Nettie Hamburg, "otherwise Nettie Kirby, the reputed wife of Howe."  And Wernicke was only one of their victims.  When they were tracked down and arrested, the "plunder" found in their rooms was brought to court as evidence.  The Sun reported on September 29, 1891, "Jewels in almost every conceivable form for woman's wear flashed upon the prosecutor's table yesterday...A hamper full of antique silverware stood at one end of the table.  Near the table were three trunks filled with fine clothes."

In the meantime, the Actors' Fund assisted down-at-the-heels thespians, often paying their medical or funeral expenses.  On April 23, 1894 The Evening World reported, "Only a dozen people were present at the obsequies over the body of Adele Waters, the young actress who died at the Bellevue Hospital...The services were held at noon yesterday at the Actors' Fund rooms, 12 West Twenty-eighth street."

Around 1899 George Busse moved his shop into the former Wernicke space.  A publisher of art reproductions, he also used the shop to stage exhibitions of contemporary artists.

The Evening Post, October 27, 1900 (copyright expired)

On October 1, 1903 The Dowling-Sutton Music Publishing Company moved into an upper floor office.   In announcing the move, the firm noted, "Our latest Song Success are: 'In Those Happy Autumn Days,' 'You'll Always Be The Only Girl For Me,' 'My Mabel of Mulberry Bend,' 'The Sun Shines On No Sweeter Girl Than Mine, " Yo' Am De Best Soap Bubble Dat I Knows,' etc."

In December 1916 the Corn Exchange Bank signed a 21-year lease on the property.  The Evening Post reported, "A marble front and other changes made to meet the needs of the new tenant will be made from plans by S. Edson Gage.  

Gage's plans, filed in January 1917, would completely transform the old brownstone residence into a modern bank building at a cost of about $535,000 today.  The stoop and front were removed and a gleaming white marble façade installed.  A grand, three-story arch dominated the design.  Below the intermediate cornice below the fourth floor, delicately carved festoons draped above the keystone and trailed down the sides.  Two-story fluted pilasters separated the openings of the third and forth floors.

Architecture magazine, November 1917 (copyright expired)

The 28th Street Branch of the Corn Exchange remained in the building until 1925, when it became home to the Gramercy Finance Corp.  

The main floor banking room.  Architecture magazine, November 1917 (copyright expired)

Starting in 1928 and lasting well into the Depression years, the bank housed the Modern Investment and Loan Company.  In 1936 the structure was altered and it was most likely at this time that the arch, which so closely identified the building as a bank, was removed and replaced by square-headed openings.  

A recent renovation replaced the bottom two floors.  Happily, the neo-Classical swags of S. Edson Gage's 1917 design and his regal upper floors survive.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

The Charles and Anna Sewall Mansion - 320 West 81st Street


By 1897 architect Clarence Fagen True had become successful enough to form his own development firm, the Riverside Building Co.  That year he designed and began construction of six upscale homes that wrapped the southeast corner of Riverside Drive and West 81st Street.  The architect had made his mark working in historical styles and this group would be patently Clarence True.

Completed in 1898, of the three 81st Street residences, 320  stood out with its vivid red brick and stone façade.  Inspired by the Elizabethan Renaissance, it rose four-and-a-half stories to a stepped gable.  A two-story bowed oriel dominated the design; its white limestone standing out against the deep red brick.  It provided a solid-walled balcony to the fourth floor.

True sold the residence to Charles Joseph Sewall and his wife, the former Anna Brooks Wellman.  The couple had been married in 1875 and had four children, Henry Foster, Edith Brooks, Otis Prescott and Duer Irving.

Charles Sewall was president of the Commercial Union Insurance Company of New York.  He came from an old New England family and among his early ancestors in America was Samuel Sewall, the first chief justice of Massachusetts.

He was born in Brooklyn in 1848, the son of merchant and print collector Henry F. Sewall.  Henry had died in 1896 and his astonishing collection--some 23,000 works by artists like Rembrandt, Dürer and Whistler--was sold at auction in 1897.  Charles "inherited his father's fondness for books and art," according to The Weekly Underwriter, and filled the new residence with a fine library and collection of paintings.  

Late in November 1898, only a few months after the family move into their new home, Charles became too ill to go to the office.  Doctors diagnosed Bright's Disease, a kidney disorder known today as nephritis.  The Weekly Underwriter said, "an unfavorable diagnosis of his condition by his physicians greatly depressed him, and apparently he gave up hope and the fight at once."  

Five weeks later, around midnight on December 28, Charles died in his sleep at the age of 50.  Black and White, a monthly insurance journal, reported, "His funeral was from his residence, 320 West 81st street, New York city, and was largely attended by the fire underwriters of that city."

The Sewall children were all approaching or had reached young adulthood at the time.  Henry, Edith, Otis and Duer were 22, 20, 19 and 17 years old respectively.  Otis was attending Harvard University.  Five years later, in 1903, Anna moved to Bronxville, New York and leased 320 West 81st Street to David Walter McCord.

McCord was vice president of the Western Steel Car & Foundry Co.  He and his wife, the former Fannie Eliza Davis, had had a nine-year-old daughter, Dorothy Davis.  Shortly after moving into the 81st Street house, on June 7, 1903, a second daughter, Janet, was born.

By 1909 Anna Sewall was leasing the mansion to Andrew Mills, president of the Dry Dock Savings bank founded by his father, also named Andrew Mills, in 1848.  The younger Mills had been president since his father's death in 1879.   He and his wife, Aimee Gabrielle Alexander had a son, Herbert Lawrence Mills.

Still unmarried, Herbert, lived in the residence with his parents.  A graduate of Princeton University, he was the bond salesman of the Wall Street brokerage firm of Edward B. Smith & Co. 

Anna Brooks Wellman Sewall died in Bronxville on March 14, 1917 at the age of 69.  The estate continued leasing the 81st Street house to the Mills family for five more years, selling it in 1922 to Dr. Hugo Julius Leobinger and his wife, Sophia M.

The 59-year-old Leobinger was educated at the Universities of Erlangen and Heidelberg in Germany, where he held the title of Baron.  He established his medical office in the mansion.  The widely-talented Sophia Monte Neugerger Leobinger was journalist, singer, orator and pioneer suffragist.  She was editor of The American Suffragette.

A determined-faced Sophia addresses a rally outside City Hall.  from the collection of the Library of Congress

Just two years after moving in, Leobinger was in serious legal trouble.  Police raided his office, arrested and jailed him without bail.  On September 6, 1924 the Medical News reported, "Dr. Hugo J. Loebinger and three ex-convicts were arrested, August 23, charged with attempting to swindle a wealthy Manhattan furrier out of $7,000."  The article said Loebinger "is alleged to have been the go-between for the ex-convicts and the furrier."

Happily for the doctor, Magistrate Simpson of the West Side Court dismissed the charges against him on September 15.  The severe damage to his reputation and his practice had already been done, however.  Before the year was out he sued three members of the Bomb Squad and two others for $202,642 in damages for false arrest.  The New York Times reported on December 25, "The police, he said, entered his office, accused him of leading 'a Jekyll and Hyde' existence, and contended he was mixed up with a gang of international crooks."

In 1954 the upper floors of 320 West 81st Street were converted to two duplex apartments.  The ground floor continued to house the doctor's office.  While the doctor's office remained after 1964, the upper floors returned to a single residential space; and a subsequent renovation, completed in 2003, returned it to a true single-family home.

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Monday, September 27, 2021

The Lost City Prison "The Tombs" 101 Centre Street

from the collection of the Library of Congress

In 1838 the gray granite Halls of Justice and House of Detention was completed.  Designed by John Lloyd Stephens, the massive Egyptian Revival prison and courts complex was modeled after a monumental Egyptian tomb.  Facing Centre Street, the building engulfed the block back to Elm Street (Lafayette Street today), and from Franklin to Leonard Streets.  The ancient, brooding appearance of the structure gave it the nickname, The Tombs.

The New York Times deemed The Tombs "the finest specimen of purely Egyptian architecture to be found in the United States."  from the collection of the New York Public Library

On March 7, 1897 The New York Times reported, "Arrangements for the erection of a new City Prison to take the place of the Tombs are fast nearing completion.  Plans and specifications have already been drawn, and are merely waiting to be approved before the contracts for the building are given out' and the historic structure so closely associated with New York Criminal annals will soon sink into oblivion."  

On one hand the journalist lamented the coming loss of an architectural treasure, but on the other accepted the pragmatism of the decision.  The Tombs, said the article, "is inadequate to meet the demands of the criminals of the city.  It was built for a prison and not for architectural interest, and in consequence it must be torn down."

Withers & Dickson's design drew from French 16th century architecture, melded with Gothic and Renaissance elements.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

Construction on the replacement structure would take five years.  The city had approved the Chateauesque style plans of the architectural firm of Withers & Dickson in 1896.  But, said the New-York Tribune on July 15, 1900, "when Tammany last came into power it desired to have the spending of the appropriation in its own hands, and so appointed Mr. [Richard] Croker's favorite grandstand builders, Horgan & Slattery, to supersede Withers & Dickson."

The writer explained, "so the consequence is that the building is like a ship with two captains, each with different ideas of what should be done, each giving orders that contradict the other's, the usurping architects pulling down and altering the work of the original architects, and thus prolonging the job and vastly increasing the expense."

Withers & Dickson's plans projected costs at $460,000.  The New-York Tribune averred that after Horgan & Slattery became involved, "it was seen that about $500,000 more would be needed, and this was appropriated in 1898."  Now, in 1900, "a third appropriation of $350,000 has been demanded."

The new City Prison rises on Centre Street while on Elm Street (i.e., Lafayette Street) the remnants of the old Tombs still stand.  original source unknown.

In September 1902 architect Frederick Clarke Withers described the nearly-completed structure saying, "The building is a prison, and there has been no attempt to conceal the fact by giving it the appearance of something else.  No one who sees it will have any doubt as to the character of the structure.  But it is a modern prison, and the men who go to it from the place where they are now confined will appreciate its superiority."

The prison held 320 cells arranged in two four-tier corridors.  The New-York Tribune reported on the improved conditions.  "The cells are large, and the walls are light in color.  The prisoner can walk erect through the massive doorway of a new cell, and need not stoop, as he must now to enter a City Prison cell."  Each cell had a cot, a hinged, table, a wash basin and toilet, and a single light bulb.  Prisoners were required to take two baths per week either in the shower at the end of the corridors, or in the "plunge bath."  Criminals just arriving were often filthy or ridden with fleas or lice.  The article said "the newcomers are compelled to undergo the process of scrubbing" in the plunge bath.

A typical cell.  New-York Tribune, September 28, 1902 (copyright expired)

The administrative section of the building held counsels' offices, hospital cells, a "search room," and "roomy and well arranged offices."  There were also a library on the third floor, a Protestant chapel on the fourth, and a Catholic chapel on the fifth.  On the roof was an exercise space.  But despite the modern amenities, the new building inherited the old nickname, The Tombs.

Thomas W. Hynes, the Commissioner of Correction, had modern ideas about incarceration, especially concerning young prisoners.  He initiated programs aimed at rehabilitation rather than mere imprisonment.  On January 28, 1903, soon after the new facility opened, the New-York Tribune reported that he "expected within a week or two to open a school for the boys temporarily confined in the City Prison."

Because the Board of Education could not spare a teacher for the prison, Hynes had requested an appropriation for the hiring of one.  He explained that among the 40 young prisoners between the ages of 26 and 21, "Some of them are appallingly ignorant."  But, he stressed, "Many of these boys are naturally bright, but they are absolutely unlettered."  He felt that a "faithful teacher" would be able to "drive the rudiments of learning into some of their minds during their temporary detention."

By the end of the year David Willard had the title of "principal of the school in the Tombs."  A journalist who visited the schoolroom "where the prisoners sat on wooden benches" in December that year wrote:

One would hardly realize that every member of the class was charged with crime.  The majority looked more dirty than wicked.  Many seemed to have just tumbled out of bed and had not bothered even to wash their faces nor brush their hair.  And yet on either side of one frowsy looking lad sat two prisoners who had been bank clerks.  Their clothes fitted well.  their linen was clean, and one wore a stickpin, which the frowsy headed lad squinted at with a grin.

The boys had good reason to behave and learn.  David Willard's assessment of the prisoners--good or bad--was taken into account when the possibility of their release neared.

Prisoners were taken from The Tombs to the Criminal Courts Building (right) across Franklin Street on the elevated "The Bridge of Sighs."

Less than a decade after the model prison had opened, there were troubles.  On November 17, 1911 The Evening World began an article saying, "Some relief is promised from the scandalous overcrowding of the Tombs."  The current Commissioner of Corrections, Patrick H. Whitney, assured "I'm doing my best to remedy the overcrowding," while admitting, "There are two prisoners in each cell in the Tombs...but every prisoner should be alone as the law requires."

Two years later nothing had been done.  In 1913 a well-spoken prisoner, Julian Hawthorne, wrote a detailed description of his time here.  He said in part:

It is a unique place, a devil's ante-chamber, where almost anything except what is decent and orderly may happen.  It is not so much a prison or penitentiary as a human pound, where every variety of waif and stray turns up and sojourns for a while; murderers, pickpockets, political scapegoats, confidence men, old professionals, first time offenders, even suspects afterward to be proved innocent.

Despite the challenges, the Department of Corrections continued to focus on rehabilitating youthful offenders.  On February 26, 1928 The New York Times reported on the work of the Committee on Boys in the City Prison of the Public Education Association.  It said that of the 2,290 boys incarcerated in The Tombs in 1927, 916 had been "advised and aided" by the group.  "Many of these boys, who had reached only the border land of crime, are now leading useful lives," said the article.  The Committee on Boys investigated the prisoners' background and focused on "cases where abnormal home conditions or unemployment, rather than inherent viciousness, seem to be responsible for the boy's plight."

In the meantime, proposals to correct the overcrowding continued.  In 1930 the State Commission of Corrections "condemned the practice of confining more than one prisoner in a cell in the Tombs and declared that New York City should lose no time in correcting conditions there," according to The New York Times on February 22.  There were 419 cells and 669 prisoners at the time.  The Commission urged the construction of a supplementary uptown jail.

Still nothing had happened four years later when, on June 17, 1934, The New York Times reported, "If Mayor LaGuardia has his way, the gray, dingy Tombs, or City Prison, and its dull-red neighbor, the Criminal Courts Building, will be torn down to make room for a skyscraper combining the functions of both."  The article mentioned, "The Tombs connected with the Criminal Courts Building by the Bridge of Sighs over Franklin Street."

While the debate went on, the fact that the prisoners in the overcrowded facility were, in fact, not mere statistics but human beings was illustrated by a heart-rending incident on August 7, 1934.  A patrol wagon containing five prisoners pulled up to the Lafayette Street entrance that afternoon.  The driver had been, most likely, unaware that a dog had been trotting alongside the vehicle.  The New York Times reported, "The prisoners filed into the entrance, under the watchful supervision of two policemen."  The dog, described by the newspaper as "mostly black, two-thirds chow, one third spaniel," scurried up, looking for his owner.

"The dog tried to follow the last prisoner, but the policemen, who could think of no reason why such a bright-eyed, scrappy little dog should be jailed, interfered."  Locked out of the jail, the dog refused to budge, instead it sat by the doors and continuing "its mournful plaint."

An attorney took charge of the dog, taking her to the New York Women's League for Animals.  The group agreed to hold her until her owner's release.  "Pending the claim, the league said, the dog would be called Nancy, after the lady in 'Oliver Twist,'" said The New York Times.

Finally, after more than 25 years of debate, in January 1937 Mayor Fiorello La Guardia sent a bill to Albany requesting $15 million to erect and equip a replacement for the City Prison and the Criminal Courts Building.  Construction of the massive Criminal Courts Building and Men's House of Detention, designed by Wiley Corbett and Charles B. Meyers, at 100 Centre Street, directly across the street from The Tombs, began in 1938.

The new Criminal Courts complex looms behind the still standing old Criminal Courts Building (left) and The Tombs in 1941.  The New York Times, June 29, 1941

Today an urban oasis, the Collect Pond Park, occupies the site of The Tombs.

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Saturday, September 25, 2021

The Charles B. Macy House - 117 West 12th Street


The handsome, paneled double doors are deemed a "notable feature" by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Elizabeth Walsh had four brick-faced houses erected in 1848 on the north side of West 12th Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues.  Three stories tall, the 23-foot wide residences sat upon rusticated brownstone basements.   Floor-to-ceiling French windows shared the parlor level with the fine Greek Revival entrance, its entablature graced with a dentiled cornice.  The paired brackets that upheld the roof cornice were influenced by the emerging Italianate style.

No. 117 West 12th Street first became home to the family of Pierce Duffay.  Interestingly, he listed his occupation as "junk."  Given his new, high-end home, it is obvious he was not the rag-picker that the term might brings to mind.  Most likely his was more like today's salvage businesses.

The Duffays remained for several years.  In 1857 through 1859 builder Henry Boyd lived in the house.  Then, in 1860 long-term residents arrived with the family of Charles B. Macy.

Macy was a wine merchant whose business was at 67 Liberty Street.  Born on December 4, 1807, he traced his American roots to Thomas Macy, a Puritan who arrived in Massachusetts around 1635.  On April 16, 1834, Charles B. Macy married Lavinia Seely.  The couple had four children, Caroline E., Lavinia, Charles S. and Robert S. Macy.

Lavinia had barely settled her family in their new home when she had to turn her attentions to the upcoming wedding of Caroline (known as Carrie).  She and Charles S. Jenkins were married in the Church of the Ascension on Fifth Avenue at 10th Street on August 1, 1861.  

Robert was eight years old at the time of his sister's wedding.  In 1867, now a teenager, he contracted a terrifying disease--typhoid fever.  The boy died in the 12th Street house on November 26.   Interestingly, his funeral was not held in the family residence, as was customary, but in St. Ann's Episcopal Church.

Charles B. Macy died around 1870.   Charles S. Macy inherited the house and five years later, in June 14, 1875, he transferred title to the property to his mother.  The transaction was deemed "gift."

Charles remained with his mother in the house in which he had grown up.  By the early 188o's he was a physician and by 1886 was Clinical Assistant to the Chair of Gynecology at the New York Homoeopathic Medical College.  He was a well-respected member of the college faculty and at the turn of the century held the position of treasurer of the school's Dispensary Society.

On September 23, 1901 Lavinia Seely Macy died in the house that she had called home for six decades.  She was 85 years old.

Charles sold 117 West 12th Street to another doctor, J. Wilford Allen, in 1905.  The two not only knew one another professionally (Dr. Allen was also a faculty member at the New York Homoeopathic College), but they were neighbors.  In its June 1905 issue, The American Physician announced:

Dr. J. Wilford Allen, our enthusiastic and indefatigable Materia Medica Miscellany editor, announces the removal of his office to 117 West Twelfth Street, opposite his former location.  While continuing his general practice, Dr. Allen will hereafter devote special attention to the study and treatment of chronic diseases.

The doctor and his wife, Bertha, had a daughter, Elisabeth, known as Billie.  Mrs. Allen's widowed mother, Harriet A. Brush, also lived in the house.

Later that year The Hahnemannian Monthly announced, "Dr. and Mrs. T. W. Allen [sic] invited the faculty and students of the New York Homoeopathic College to a reception their home, 117 West 12th Street, Wednesday, October 11th, at 8 o'clock.  Music and refreshments."

Like Charles S. Macy, Allen was active in homoeopathic affairs, both socially and professionally.  He was a member of the Dunham Club of New York, organized in 1894, the membership of which consisted entirely of homoeopathic doctors.  In 1907 he was elected the club's president.

Harriet A. Brush died in the house on February 15, 1910.  Her funeral was held in the parlor two days later.

By 1917 Dr. Charles T. Sibley not only worked with Allen in his office, but lived in the house, as well.  He very well may have been one of Dr. Allen's students, since he graduated from the New York Homoeopathic Medical College in 1905, the same year Allen purchased the house.

A native of Somersetshire, England, Sibley had been out of the country for several years.  In 1908 he had helped establish a Congregational mission hospital in Davao, the Philippines, and he and his wife, Anne, had lived there until 1916 as he operated it.  

There was a third physician in the office by 1921, Dr. Edward H. Rogers.  He treated a high-profile patient that year.  The distinguished scientist Madame Marie Curie and her two daughters arrived on the Olympia in May.   She had a grueling schedule ahead of her.  She was to receive degrees from several colleges, awards from scientific organizations, and be honored at numerous receptions throughout the New York and Washington DC areas.

On May 18, 1921 The Evening World reported "Madame Marie Curie was slightly indisposed today.  She was examined by Dr. Edward H. Rogers, of No. 117 West Twelfth Street."  The physician issued a statement that said in part:

I find Madame Curie to have been very much exhausted by her voyage from France, and in no condition to take part in so many of the receptions and dinners that have been planned during the next few weeks.  I have so advised her.

Billie Allen was educated at the Packer Collegiate Institute, formerly known as the Brooklyn Female Academy.  Following her introduction into society, Billie's name began to appear in society columns.  On January 4, 1925, for instance, The New York Times announced, "Miss Elisabeth Allen, daughter of Dr. and Mrs. J. Wilfred Allen of 117 West Twelfth Street, gave a luncheon at Sherry's yesterday for Miss Dorothea C. D'A. Kibbe, debutante daughter of Mrs. Harry Ulysses Kibbe, of 1,148 Fifth Avenue."

In September 1930 Elisabeth married Gilman Williams, the Brooklyn Times Union noting, "Mrs. Williams is a former Packer girl."

Dr. Charles T. Sibley and his wife, Anne, were still lived with the Allens.  Sibley purchased the house from his long-time partner and landlord that year.

In the early morning hours of February 5, 1932 Sibley was called to the house of John R. Voorhis at 786 Greenwich Street.  The amazing man was well-known in Greenwich Village and the city in general.  The Sun reported, "He was 102 years old, more than half way through his 103d year, and his fifty-eight years of public service terminated only last October 20 when he retired from the office of chairman of the Board of Elections."

Voorhis had been sick for two days and was in the care of a nurse.  She checked upon him shortly after midnight and found his breathing labored.  She telephoned Sibley, who had been the elderly man's doctor for many years.  He rushed to the Voorhis home, but his patient died of a heart attack at 12:45 a.m.

In October 1947 Anne Sibley purchased about 15 acres of land in East Fishkill, New York, possibly as a site for a summer or retirement home.  Charles Sibley's long-term hobby of birdwatching may have contributed to the decision to buy the land.

The Sibleys moved out of No. 117 in 1955.  Charles died two years later, on September 4, 1957, at the age of 83 after a long illness.  That same year the West 12th Street house was converted to apartments--just one per floor.

A subsequent renovation completed in 1983 resulted in a duplex in the basement and parlor levels.  The last of the 1848 row to survive, the house is amazingly preserved.

photograph by the author

Friday, September 24, 2021

The Edward J. King, Jr. Mansion - 7 East 82nd Street


In 1895 real estate developer Daniel Hennessy completed an elegant row of four 25-foot-wide homes at 7 through 15 East 82nd Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenues.  Designed by Henry Andersen, the easternmost mansion, No. 7, like its siblings, rises five stories, with three floors of yellow brick sitting atop a two-story limestone base.  An imposing five-foot-high iron fence and gate surrounds the areaway.  The entrance, above a three-step stoop, sits within fluted Greek Doric columns that support an entablature decorated with rosettes and triglyphs.

Those elements reappear at the second floor, where Doric pilasters flank the openings and uphold a frieze embellished, again, with rosettes and triglyphs.  Elaborate terra cotta frames surround the third floor openings.  Between the brackets of their prominent cornices flank the rosette motif is continued.  The triglyphs and rosettes would make yet one more appearance in the frieze of the copper cornice.

On November 5, 1897 The Jewish Messenger reported that Edward J. King, Jr. had married Jessie Rosette Ickelheimer two days earlier.  The groom was 43 years old and the bride was 26.

The following year, on August 11, 1898, The New York Times reported that Daniel Hennessy had sold 7 East 82nd Street to King.  The New York Herald placed the price "at about $85,000" (around $2.74 million today).

Edward was a partner with his brothers David and Bennett in the furrier firm of Edward J. King & Sons.  Jessie, whose parents had both died prior to the wedding, had grown up in affluence.  Her father, Isaac Ickelheimer, had been a member of the stock brokerage firm Heidelbach, Ickelheimer & Co. and a director in several banks.

The four neo-Classical style residences form an elegant, dignified row.  7 East 82nd east at the far left.

It appears that Edward's busy work schedule did not always suppress Jessie's travel plans.  On January 27, 1901, for instance, the New York Herald reported, "Mrs. Edward J. King, of No. 7 East Eighty-second street, will leave for California during February.  She will give her last at home for the season on Friday afternoon."  ("At homes" were the published days when other socialites were welcome to call.)

More often, of course, the couple traveled together.  On July 30, 1905 the New-York Tribune reported that among those "returning to the Mount Washington [Hotel]" in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire in the White Mountains were the Kings.  Two summers later they used millionaire Levi P. Morton's Pine Brook Camp on Upper Saranac Lake for the season.

After being in the 82nd Street mansion over a decade, in 1911 King commissioned the well-known architect John H. Duncan to update the interiors.  The "general alterations" cost the equivalent of around $141,000 today.

The Kings leased the house for the winter season of 1914-15 to Elihu Root, Jr. and his wife, the former Alida Stryker.    They had barely settled in when the couple became a trio.  The Utica Sunday Tribune reported, "Tuesday, October 13, a son was born to Mr. and Mrs. Elihu Root, jr., of 7 East Eighty-second street, New York City.  This is their first son and has been named Elihu Root, 3d, being a grandson of United States Senator Elihu Root."

Incursion of commerce into exclusive residential neighborhoods had been the bane of millionaires for decades.  Although the property along the 82nd Street block was protected by restrictive covenants that prevented the homes being used for commercial purposes, that was not the case on Madison Avenue.  Early in 1928 Edward J. King alerted his neighbors that undertaker Frank E. Campbell had laid plans for an upscale funeral parlor at the corner of Madison Avenue and 82nd Street.

On January 14 The Evening Post reported that the "silk stocking residents" opposed the plan.  The article explained that "fear that scenes like those that accompanied the funeral of Rudolph Valentino may occur in the midst of their exclusive neighborhood have led prominent property owners of the section to protest."  A letter to the neighbors signed by Edward King warned that their property values would drop by 25 to 33 -1/3 percent.  It said, as well:

In addition, conveyances bearing corpses of the deceased would presumably drive up with their burdens at all hours of the day and night, since the business of the mortician is known as one where the telephone never sleeps.

Frank Campbell had already purchased the property, however, and the efforts of King and his well-to-do neighbors were fruitless.

Jennie Rosette King died on May 20, 1933 at the age of 62.  Edward survived her by two years, dying in the mansion on October 11, 1935 at the age of 81.

The following year The New York Times detailed the distribution of his estate, reported at $3,110,201--more than $58 million in today's money.  Because the Kings were childless, much of the fortune went to charities, including Lenox Hill Hospital, the Trudeau Sanitarium, the Henry Street Settlement and the New York Association for the Blind.  King was generous to his loyal servants, as well.  Two maids received the equivalent of $280,000 today; and three other live-in servants received the equivalent of $187,000.

In July 1939 the King estate leased the 82nd Street mansion to Dr. Harry Gold, with the option to buy.   The New York Sun noted a surprisingly early amenity, saying the house "contained an electric elevator and is air-conditioned."  The article said, "After alterations are completed, the house will be occupied as an office and home."

Gold was a 1919 graduate of Columbia University.  Born in Russia on December 25, 1899, he was brought to the United States as an infant.  He was now a heart specialist connected with the Cornell University Medical College.  His wife, Bertha, was a professor of physiology at Hunter College.  Of their four children, three--Stanley, Muriel and Naomi--would all pursue medical careers.

Dr. Gold took advantage of his option to buy in 1942.  Five years later he became a professor of clinical pharmacology at Cornell University Medical College and would become the consulting cardiologist at Beth Israel Hospital and at the Hospital for Joint Diseases.

By 1967 he had established the Harry Gold Research Fund for Human Pharmacology, Inc., with offices in the house.  A pioneer in developing modern potent forms of digitalis for heart disease, he was given the Award of Distinction of the Cornell Medical College Alumni Association in 1971, which cited him "as founder of clinical pharmacology, which concerns the effect of drugs on man rather than on other species, and provides basic principles for evaluating the efficacy, potency and toxicity of drugs."

On April 21, 1972 Dr. Gold suffered a fatal stroke in the 82nd Street house.  He was 72 years old.  Bertha Gold died on December 25, 1987 at the age of 91.

The mansion remains a single family home today.  Interior renovations were completed in 1992, but the exterior is essentially unchanged since Edward and Jessie King moved in nearly 125 years ago.

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

Thursday, September 23, 2021

An 1889 Make-Over -- 496 Sixth Avenue


In 1842 Thomas C. Acton and his family lived in the boarding house at 180 Sixth Avenue (renumbered 496 in 1925).   That year he worked as a janitor in Grammar School No. 35 around the corner on West 13th Street.  Born in Greenwich Village to relatively poor parents, the young man had aspirations beyond janitor work.  He landed a city job as deputy clerk, then became Deputy Register, and was appointed Police Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Force in 1860.  The New York Times would later called him "the most prominent public official of his city."

By then, of course, the Acton family had moved away from Sixth Avenue.  The ground floor of the boarding house in which they had lived had a store at street level.  In the late 1840's it was home to Fendall & Donnel, a hardware and cutlery store, and by 1854 S. N. Burrill ran his "ice cream saloon and restaurant" from the space.

The owner of the property, Gabriel Winter, leased the building to Leonhard Boch in 1863.   He ran his blacksmith shop in the rear and continued to operate the upper floors of the house proper as boarding house.  A disturbing article appeared in The Daily Whit on December 10, 1867:

Another blacksmith--Michael Boch of No. 180 Sixth avenue, New York--has been wounded by thrusting a pistol into his forge without first examining its barrels.

In the late 1870's E. J. Lecocq's photographic gallery was here.  (Advertised as the "First Gallery on block below Macy's store," the rear entrance of which was on West 13th street.)  He left in 1882 and the space soon became home to Quong Sing's laundry.

Sadlers' Catholic Directory, 1880 (copyright expired)

Major change would come to the building after Rosanna Smith (who lived directly across the street at 181 Sixth Avenue) purchased 180 Sixth Avenue on February 21, 1889.  The price she paid, $28,100, would be just under $830,000 today.  She had plans for the outdated structure and hired the architectural firm of A. B. Ogden & Son to make significant alterations.  Although the architects most often worked in Romanesque Revival and Renaissance Revival styles, this project would be different--a blend of the popular neo-Grec and Queen Anne styles.

The attic level was raised to full height and the façade received a facelift.  The storefront was given fluted, cast iron pilasters.  The second floor windows now wore prominent, bracketed brownstone cornices; and those of the top floor were fully arched, with handsome stone lintels and keystones.   A stone plaque below the elaborate pressed metal terminal cornice announced the date 1889.

The upper floors now housed small businesses and offices, and the ground floor became a restaurant owned by Pulaski Terwilliger.  He and Wilson Terwilliger ran a large livery stable on East 121st Street, as well.  On March 31, 1891 the Board of Aldermen gave him permission "to place and keep an ornamental lamp-post and lamp in front of No. 180 Sixth avenue, provided the lamp be kept lighted during the same hours as the public lamps."  The resolution made clear that "the work to be done and gas supplied as his own expense."

By 1892 the Sixth Avenue Gospel Mission was operating from an upper floor and Caroline C. Nicholas had taken over the "eating house."  The Mission remained at least until 1898, by which time Otto C. Wurst's photography studio was here.

Dressed in her best finery, this young girl was brought to Wursts's studio in the 1890's.

Otto Wurst advertised his studio for sale in 1906, describing it as "Well-equipped New York gallery established eighteen years.  If sold at once buyer can get big bargain.  Ill health the only reason."

The restaurant space was taken over by a United Cigar store in June 1910, but in 1921 it once again became a restaurant, owned by George Wilmot.  Among the tenants in the upper floors was Papamihales Bros., "furs and fur trimmings."

The contrast of brick and brownstone was lost beneath a century of grime.  photo via

By the 1990's when It's A Small World Pets occupied the ground floor, a coating of soot and grime covered 496 Sixth Avenue.   The space later became Groom-O-Rama, and today is a delicatessen-café.  And A. B. Ogden & Son's eye-catching façade has happily been cleaned.

photographs by the author
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