Friday, December 31, 2021

The 1875 John Russell House - 342 West 46th Street


Born in 1830, Henry Astor was the youngest son of William Backhouse and Margaret Armstrong Astor.  He incurred the wrath of his family at the age of 20 when he married Malvina Dinehart.  She was the daughter of a farmer and gardener who lived near the Astor family's summer residence at Red Hook, New York.  He had done gardening work on the estate.

Henry and Malvina moved to West Copake, New York.  Most New Yorkers assumed that his disobedience resulted in his ruin.  Decades later The New York Times remarked, "It was thought for years that he was a pauper, disinherited for marrying the gardener's daughter."  Instead, he and his wife lived well on "the rents from property in the heart of New York City, valued at many millions."  It was held in trust, however, and Henry was kept at arm's length from his holdings.  The newspaper added, "The trust established for Henry Astor was recommitted in 1869 to his brothers, John Jacob Astor and William Astor."

A portion of his 119 parcels of real estate was "the block bounded by Broadway, Eighth Avenue, Forty-fifth and forty-sixth Streets."  In 1874, the Astor trust leased plots on West 46th Street to developers James Henderson and James Blackhurst, who erected a long row of 20-foot-wide, brownstone-fronted Italianate houses.  They advertised the completed residences for sale on April 25, 1875, clearly noting, "On Astor Lease."

No. 342 was sold to John Russell.  Neither he nor his son, Robert, listed a profession in city directories, suggesting they were possibly "gentlemen," meaning they lived off inherited money.  The Russell family maintained a 218-acre summer estate in Dutchess County.

The family's residency was very short lived.  By 1877 the home was operated as a Jewish boarding house.  An advertisement in the New York Herald on September 16 read:

Wanted--One or two Jewish gentlemen in a first class private boarding house; location and accommodations unexceptionable; charge moderate.

Unlike today's connotation, the term "unexceptionable" in 1877 assured the reader that no exceptions, or faults, could be found.  Among the boarders in 1878 and '79 was Samuel Lewison, who was attending New York City College.

Edwin C. B. Garsia moved his family into 342 West 46th Street in 1879.  A stock broker and consul with offices at 14 Broadway, he was born in Kingston, Jamaica and had arrived in New York City in 1861.  Six years later he married Maria Gertrude Bachem.  The couple had two children, Maria and Edwin Rudolph Christopher, (known as Teddy).

Garsia's work seems to have necessitated significant travel.  He was occasionally listed on the manifests of steamships headed to places like England and the Dominican Republic without his family.

Even well-to-do families often took in a boarder and in 1883 French-born Eugene Lebou was living with the Garsias.  Lebou's wife of 16 years had left him, resulting in his being emotionally troubled.  He became obsessed with getting his wife back, the New York Herald saying that he "was at one time in the express business, but had abandoned his place and work for drink."

In what today is known as stalking, Lebou doggedly trailed his wife.  The situation became so serious that on August 24 she went to the police, complaining "that he was following her about and was the cause of her losing several positions."  Police began searching for Lebou to arrest him.  He seems to have gotten word that he was a wanted man.  The following day he hired a rowboat at 72nd Street, rowed out into the Hudson River and jumped overboard and drowned.

The Garsia's social status was evidenced in 1892 when society columns noted, "Mrs. Garsia and Miss Garsia are at home on Fridays in February."

After nearly two decades in the house, the Garsia family left in 1894.  It became home to Adolf Bottstein and his family.  Born in Poland, Adolf and his wife, the former Augusta Ollendorf, had seven children.  The rent on the leasehold, or lot upon which the house stood, that they paid to the Henry Astor trust would equal about $1,000 per month today.

Like the Garsias, the Bottsteins were involved in society.  On April 23, 1897, for instance, the New-York Tribune reported on the upcoming "springtide jubilee" at the Lexington Opera House.  The article noted, "Tickets may be obtained upon application to Miss Louise Bottstein, No. 342 West Forty-sixty-st."

During the winter of 1904 Frederic Bottstein caught a cold, which developed into pneumonia.  The 31-year-old died in the West 46th Street house on January 19, 1905.  His funeral was held in the parlor three days later.

By 1910 the Bottstein family had left West 46th Street, and the house was being operated again as a boarding house.  By now the neighborhood had seen major change.  One block to the east the former Longacre Square had been renamed Times Square in 1904 and was quickly becoming the center of the entertainment district.  The residents of 342 West 46th Street were now working class.

Typical was Thoams Bisping, described by The Sun in 1910 as the "uniformed chauffeur" of a taxicab.  Bisping went through a terrifying ordeal on February 24, that year.  He told police he "got a call at the Cafe de l'Opera from a man who said over the telephone, 'This is the Senator."  Bisping picked up the man, who never gave his real name, then made two more stops until there were five passengers in his cab.  He drove them to Bunt Gilmartin's saloon at Eleventh Avenue and 37th Street where they ambushed a known gangster, Jacob Greenthal, known as Sheeny Jake.

The men stabbed Greenthal on the sidewalk.  "The thing was done in broad daylight," reported The Sun, noting it was witnessed by Bisping, "who saw the whole performance, but was too scared to move or speak."  The assailants climbed back in the cab, "and drove to Ninth avenue and fortieth street, where they paid for their ride and walked off."  The article said, "As soon as Bisping was sure his five fares had vanished for good he went to a telephone and called up Police Headquarters."

Henry Astor died on June 7, 1918 at the age of 88.  The estate began selling off the properties soon afterward.  Like almost all of the houses along the block, 342 West 46th Street continued to be operated as a rooming house.  

The proximity of the 1875 row to the theater district made the properties attractive to restaurant owners.  In 1929 the basement level of 342 West 46th Street was converted for  a restaurant.  It was home to A La Fourchette by 1935.

Four decades later the French restaurant was still going strong.  On March 30, 1973 Raymond A. Sokolov, writing in The New York Times, said, "Survival is not the only recommendation for an eating place, but it is a good one."  He wrote, "It is neither grand nor a museum of cookery, but it is a very professional place and the price remains competitive, although no longer quite the bargain that it once was."

The Villager, June 22, 1994

By the early 1990's A La Fourchette had been replaced by Tio Pepe, a Spanish-Mexican restaurant.  In 1994 Da Rosina Ristorante Italiano opened, and remains in the space today.  In the meantime, above the basement level the house is vacant and boarded.  The brownstone framing of the entrance is crumbling and iron supports appear to stabilize the stonework of the upper floors--a sad circumstance for a once proud residence.

Only one of the carved Italianate stoop newels survives.

photographs by the author
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Thursday, December 30, 2021

The Christian and Minna Rost House - 161 West 13th Street


In 1847, builder John Hanrahan started construction on eight identical brick-faced houses on West 13th Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues.  Completed the following year, the three-story and basement residences were handsome examples of the Greek Revival Style.  Hanrahan may have used style books for his design, and none of the architectural elements--the brownstone basements, the heavy stone entrance enframements, and the dentiled cornices, for instance--were out of the ordinary.

The westernmost of the row was 137 West 13th Street (later renumbered 161).   Although no doubt intended for an upper-middle-class family, it seems to have been operated as a boarding house from the start.  Living here in 1851 were paver Owen Lafferty, who would remain for several years; John Tole, a laborer; and Anne Toner, who did washing.  Thomas M'Govern, another laborer, lived in the small building in the rear yard.

Although the residents were, on the whole, working class, the boarding house seems to have been a respectable operation.  An advertisement on September 25, 1864 offered:  "To rent--With board to a gentleman and wife or two gentlemen, a very desirable second story front Parlor and Bedroom."

As the ad suggested, it was common for two men to share rented rooms.   On December 22, 1865 two young men, Thomas Hennessy and Louis Rufane, took a room.  Rufane was just 17 years old and Hennessy was 22.  Their stay would be extremely short.

Rufane had previously been living at 100 James Street with his brother and sister-in-law.  On December 21, the couple went to visit Christina Rufane's mother, who lived uptown.  The New York Times reported that when they returned home, Christina discovered "a trunk containing $850 in Treasury notes, and two diamond rings valued at $650 [had been] carried off.  The startled owner immediately reported the robbery to Capt. Thorne, of the Fourth Precinct."

It did not, of course, take long for suspicion to fall on Louis Rufane.  They quickly tracked him to the West 13th Street house and arrested him and Hennessy.  Although Hennessy maintained his innocence, his teenaged accomplice caved to questioning.  "When arrested, Rufane confessed to the commission of the crime, implicating his companion, also," said The New York Times.

In 1869 an auction of the household goods and furniture was held.    After two decades of being operated as a boarding house, 161 West 13th Street was finally a private residence, home to William P. O'Connor and his widowed mother, Jane.  It may have been at this time that the entrance was slightly updated with oval-paneled Italianate doors.  

William O'Connor was a banker, with offices on Pine Street.  He and his mother occasionally took in a boarder.  In 1878 William I. Hardie, a clerk, lived in the house, and in 1883 the O'Connors leased rooms to Dr. Virgil Thompson, his wife, and his mother-in-law.

The house was sold in 1891 to Christian Rost and his wife, Anna, known as Minna.  The couple owned country property at Rockaway Beach.  The Sun called Rost "one of the expert engravers in the employ of the American Bank Note Company."  Born in Lahr, Germany in 1826, he was the son of an accomplished artist, Johann Gottlieb Rost.  He and Minna had a son (who was also a fine line artist), Ernest Christian Rost, born in 1867.

Rost studied art in Paris and London and by the time he and Minna arrived in New York in 1855 he was recognized for his fine line drawings and engravings.  In addition to creating bank notes, he executed at least two postage stamps for the Federal Government--the Pony Express rider on the 1869 2-cent stamp, and the Locomotive on the 1869 3-cent stamp.

Christian Rost did this fine-line engraving, The Little Wanderer, in 1866.

Minna was also a highly trained artist.  She perfected the process of deep-layered gold embroidery used in military patches and uniforms.  She established a studio and workroom in the basement of the house where her business thrived.

Six years before moving into 161 West 13th Street, on Saturday night September 19, 1885, Rost had been the victim of a violent attack just steps away at the corner of Seventh Avenue and West 13th Street.  He had been visiting friends on East Fourth Street and started home around 10 p.m.  On his way he stopped to buy groceries on Greenwich Avenue.  He told police that "Just as he got to the corner his throat was griped by a man who had come up behind him, and another grabbed him in front.  The next he remembers was that he found himself lying on the sidewalk beside a lamp post," according to The Sun.

The crooks had taken his watch and chain and his pocketbook.  In their haste they failed to check his pockets.  The newspaper said "He had a lot of money in his inside waistcoat pocket, but it was not disturbed."

Minna's brisk business was reflected in an 1895 advertisement seeking girls accomplished in fine embroidery.  The year after that advertisement appeared, on April 10, 1896, Christian Rost died at the age of 73.  

Minna stayed on for a few years, continuing to operate her embroidery business from the lower level.  She died in 1903 and was buried next to her husband in the Old St. Paul's Church in Mt. Vernon, New York.

By then 161 West 13th Street was once again being operated as a boarding house.  Patrick J. O'Leary was living here by 1900, listing his profession as a clerk.  Other tenants in the first years of the 20th century were Elizabeth Nolan, a "cottage attendant" with the Department of Parks, and Morris Welch who was coincidentally in the embroidery business.

Patrick J. O'Leary would rent rooms in the house for years.  A member of the American-Irish Historical Society, by 1913 he was a director of the Longacre Publishing Co.  Elizabeth Nolan, too, would stay for years--at least through 1916.

In April 1922 William Maltag purchased the house, only to sell it the following year to Angela Duffus. In 1932, the Duffus family leased the "lower floors" to the Alpha Gamma Fraternity.  (Between 1936 and 1940 Harry T. Duffus was under the watchful eye of the government for his pro-Communist voting choices.)

In the entrance hall, some historic elements have survived.  photo via

At some point the house was converted to three apartments.  While most of the interior detailing has been lost, several mantels and some original woodwork survives.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2021

The 1867 Brooklyn Flint Glass Works Bldg - 73 Hudson Street


image via

In the first years of the 1860's the five-story building at 73 Hudson Street was home to The Union Glass Co., which made pressed glass tableware (like bowls and tumblers), lamps and utilitarian items.  The property had been in the family of ship chandler William Hustace since 1839.  

The Commercial Register, May 1, 1862 (copyright expired)

In March 1866, Hustace signed an agreement with the Brooklyn Flint Glass Works to buy the building for $45,200--about $760,000 in today's money.  That sizable debt, coupled with bad luck would have dramatic consequences later that year.

According to authors Davis Dyer and Daniel Gross in their 2001 book The Generations of Corning, "...the Brooklyn Flint Glass Works teetered on the brink.  In the fall of 1866, a Dun's correspondent reported that the company 'is in a bad way.'"  The firm's troubles were compounded when, on December 3 that year, fire destroyed the Hudson Street building.

It is unclear whether William Hustace had already foreclosed on his property, but it was he who immediately rebuilt.  Because the roof was already on in January 1867, it appears that much of the gutted structure was salvaged.  Completed that year, the five-story, Italianate style building was faced in red brick above the cast iron storefront.  The windows sat upon stone cornices and continuous moldings linked the segmentally-arched openings.  The terminal cornice was upheld by unexpectedly understated brackets, only two of which survive.

The Brooklyn Flint Glass Works got back on its feet and later in 1867 announced:

The subscribers would respectfully inform you that their WORKS having been rebuilt and greatly enlarged, they are now prepared with increased facilities to furnish all kinds of Rich Cut, Plain Blown, and Pressed Glassware. 

With a new building and much better luck, the firm quickly expanded and in 1868 moved to Corning, New York, changing its name to the Corning Glass Works.

Small manufactories took space in the building, while Michael Foley ran a grocery business from the ground floor store space.  The threat of fire plagued William Hustace's building.  At 4:30 on the morning of March 13, 1872 fire broke out in the tin can factory of Brown, Cole & Co.  It was extinguished before extensive damage was done.   Then, four months later on July 26, another fire "from an unknown cause" occurred in Michael Foley's grocery store.  Oddly, The New York Times reported it had originated in a window.  "Mr. Foley's stock was damaged to the extent of $2,000," said the article.  The loss would equal nearly $44,000 today.

The "Cole" in Brown, Cole & Co. was Jonah R. Cole, who was apparently the inventive end of the business.  In 1874 he received two awards from the American Institute, one for his "portable cooking apparatus," and the other for a "strainer cover for pots and kettles."

The other tenants at the time were W. D. & A. S. Nicols, makers of "marble, slate and wood mantels" and cast iron "cresting, stable fixtures, fence, grates, weather vanes, &c;" and Ludgren & Frier, manufacturers of "general house-furnishing tinware."  The firm made "large and butter pails and boxes for home and shipping purposes."

In May 1880 the Ohio-based American Encaustic Tiling Company announced it had moved into 73 Hudson Street.  The  colorful architectural tiles it made were vivid and durable, since the colors were not the result of glazes, but of tinted clay.  Encaustic tiles were widely used for flooring, fireplace surrounds, and even wainscoting.

A catalog page showed several designs of encaustic floor tiles.

The American Encaustic Tiling Company produced these shallow relief wall tiles around 1885.  from the collection of the Minneapolis Museum of Art

Troubles between the partners resulted in W. D. & A. S. Nichols going their separate ways.  On October 28, 1882 the Real Estate Record & Guide announced that the business, "will hereafter be carried on by Adelbert S. Nichols," adding, "This concern has a reputation second to none in the trade."  The firm remained at 73 Hudson Street for another four years, moving to 15 West 27th Street in April 1886."

Brown, Cole & Co. was still operating from the building at the time and Jonah B. Cole was still inventing.  In its July 3 issue that year Scientific American reported that he had patented a new folding box.  The bottom and sides were made of a single piece, and the corners contained eyelets for a drawstring, "so that by drawing up the ends of the string, the box may be drawn to folded position and so tied."

By the 1890's the neighborhood had become the center of the butter, eggs and cheese district.  In 1894 Kemp, Day & Co., a canned food business, occupied space at 73 Hudson Street.  In 1894 it employed a force of 35 men, 2 boys, and five women, who worked a grueling 54-hour work week plus nine hours on Saturdays.

The building continued to house dairy firms and by 1955 Dorman & Co., Inc, a member of the Cheese Importers Association of America was here.  It would remain at least through 1971.

The Tribeca renaissance arrived at 73 Hudson Street in 1995.  On July 2 that year The New York Times reported, "New Yorkers will soon be able to buy 800 types of exotic farm-raised game like ostrich and kangaroo, along with the more common deer and pheasant, at a retail store, Polarica, scheduled to open in the fall."

The turn of the century saw Xiaoping Design in the space.  The New York Times columnist Elaine Louie said on September 2000 that proprietor Xiaoping Cao "sells antiques and her own interpretations of Chinese furniture."

photo via

Although there has never been a Certificate of Occupancy issued, there are two residential units in the building today, along with three commercial spaces.  And, although the much of the cast iron Corinthian capitals of the storefront are gone, and three of the cornice brackets are missing, the handsome 1867 structure is beautifully intact.

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Tuesday, December 28, 2021

The 1906 Central Park View (The Orwell) -- 2 West 86th Street


The original section (right) and the 1907 addition are defined by a zipper-like row of quoins.  photograph by Jim Henderson

On September 1, 1906 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that the 12-story apartment building being erected by the Gotham Realty & Construction Co. on Central Park West and 86th Street was nearing completion.  The article noted that the $1 million structure (nearly 30 times that much in today's money) "is arranged in suites for forty-eight families."  Even as the finishing touches were being worked on, Gotham Realty broke ground for an addition on the 85th Street corner.  The nearly identical edifices were designed by the architectural firm of Mulliken & Moeller.

The Record & Guide described the architectural style as "French Renaissance...with an exterior of brick with buff limestone trimmings."  But Mulliken & Moeller toned down the style known today as Beaux Arts.  Other Beaux Arts style apartment buildings on other Upper West Side, like the Dorilton and the Ansonia, bubbled over with frothy French decorations.

A two-story, rusticated limestone base supported ten floors of deep red brick, highlighted by stone lintels, quoins and scrolled cornice brackets.  The 12th floor took the form of a sloped mansard pierced with stone framed dormers.

When this sketch was released in the summer of 1906, construction had already begun on the addition to the south.  New York Daily Herald, September 23, 1906

The entrance to The Central Park View was located on West 86th Street, under a French-style iron-and-glass marquee.  The building opened on October 1, 1906, offering residents "elegant housekeeping suites" from 8 to 11 rooms, with two or three baths.  A central courtyard provide light and ventilation to the interior rooms.

An advertisement boasted, "Every detail as to finish and for house service carried out to the highest degree."  Importantly, the term "housekeeping" set The Central Park View apart from residence hotels, so popular at the time.  It meant that the apartments had kitchens and dining rooms, while amenities like management-provided maid service, for instance, were not included.  Living in The Central Park View was not cheap--the 11-room suites rented for $4,000 a year--or about $10,000 a month today.  The southern structure, which doubled the size of The Central Park View, was completed in 1907.

Among the initial residents was Florence Guernsey, an unmarried socialite whose summer home, Cedar Lawn, was north of the city on the Hudson River.  Her name appeared in newspapers most often for social reasons.  In May 1914, for instance, she hosted the annual meeting of the board of managers of the Free Industrial School and Country Home for Crippled Children; and later that year, in September, she held a "small tea" in honor of her houseguest, Mrs. George Hewlett Clowes.

But in 1908, it was racial inequality that drew her focus.  Florence had five servants, four of whom were white and one Black.  On April 28 she stopped by the box office of the Colonial Theatre and purchased five tickets for women.  That evening Florence was surprised when her Black maid returned, alone, shortly after the group left.  When they arrived at the theater, they were told that the Black woman could not sit with her friends, "but must go up stairs where the colored people sat."  She refused to do so, and returned home.

The maid had been with Florence for more than 12 years.  Incensed, Florence fired off a letter to the editor of The Dramatic Mirror, which said in part:

I cannot understand in free America such a condition of affairs, when a thoroughly respectable, well-dressed woman, be she white or colored, should be refused a seat (already bought and paid for) in the part of the house for which her ticket called.

The Rev. Dr. Charles F. Aked and his wife were also initial residents.  Aked was the pastor of the Fifth Avenue Baptist Church--his most prominent congregant, perhaps, being John D. Rockefeller, Sr.  A native of Nottingham, England, he had been highly-involved in the Suffrage and Temperance movements there before immigrating to New York in 1907 to accept the church's pastorship.  He was, as well, an ardent pacifist and founded the Passive Resistance League.

Rev. Dr. Charles F. Aked, from the collection of the Library of Congress

Aked and his wife may have chosen The Central Park View on the recommendation of another resident, Carrie Chapman Catt.  She was also actively involved in Suffrage and was a mutual friend with the Akeds of Lady Philip Snowden (who preferred the title "Mrs. Snowden"), the famed English suffragette.  Carrie Catt and Reverend Aked had more than suffrage in common.  She, too, was a pacifist, and in 1915 would help found the Woman's Peace Party.

Born Carrie Clinton Lane in 1859, she had become involved with the suffrage movement in the 1880's.  In 1900, she was elected president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, taking over for Susan B. Anthony.  Her husband, engineer George Catt, died in 1904, leaving her, according to one source, "a wealthy widow."

On September 23, 1908 the New-York Tribune reported that Mrs. Snowden "arrived yesterday at the home of Dr. and Mrs. Aked, No. 2 West 86th street, where she will be a guest for a month."  The Aked apartment was the scene of a press conference, during which Mrs. Snowden tried to describe the brutal treatment of suffragists in Britain, saying "The things that have been done to the suffragettes by the stewards of political meetings in which they asked questions would not be believed in America."

Dr. Aked chimed in, saying "It is true that neither Mrs. Snowden's word nor mine would be sufficient to convince the American public of the things that have been done to those women."

During her annual visit to America the following year, Mrs. Philip Snowden stayed with Carrie Chapman Catt.  The New York Press said on November 4, 1909, "Mrs. Snowden arrived on the Carmania, which docked about eleven o'clock, and went to the home of Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt...where she received the reporters in the afternoon."  Dr. Aked was present during that press conference.  Mrs. Snowden stayed with Carrie Chapman Catt in The Central Park View apartment the following year, as well.

Carrie Chapman Catt around 1913, when she lived in The Central Park View. from the collection of the Library of Congress

The family of millionaire brewer Anton Schwartz, a partner in the Bernheimer & Schwartz brewery, lived in the building at the time.  Schwartz, his wife, and their daughter, Mrs. George Ruppert (the wife of another brewer), were in Europe during the summer of 1910.  Their 24-year-old son, Adolf, remained home to tend to business.

The family received an urgent telegram telling them that Adolf was seriously ill.  They hurriedly booked passage to New York, but upon their landing on October 11, they were told that Adolf had died the previous day.

Anton was grief stricken.  According Mrs. Max Bernheimer, the wife of his partner, "the father was wrapped up in this son, whom he expected to succeed him in the business."  He shut himself inside the apartment, The New York Times saying on November 7, "For two weeks the elder Schwartz had not been at his office."  Finally, his emotional anguish took its toll.  The newspaper reported that Schwartz "committed suicide by shooting himself yesterday morning in his apartment on the third floor of the Central Park View Apartment House."

Broadway producer Henry B. Harris and his wife, Renee, lived here by 1912.  In April that year, they were returning home from Europe on the R. M. S. Titanic.  On the afternoon of April 14, the couple joined a card game in the lavish stateroom of Lady Cardeza and her 40-year-old son, Thomas.  (That same promenade stateroom was used by filmmaker James Cameron as that of despicable character Cal Hockley in his 1997 film, Titanic.)

Carefree cardplaying turned to terror that night when the ship struck an iceberg.  Later the New-York Tribune recalled, "Henry B. Harris, when the Titanic was sinking, had been helped into one of the small boats with his wife, when an officer called out, 'Women and children first!'"  Harris looked at his wife and said, "That's right," and stepped back onto the ship.  Renee's boat was lowered to the ocean and rowed away.

When the monument to Isidor and Ida Strauss, Memory, was unveiled in April 1915, survivors were invited to participate.  Renee Harris could not bring herself to do so.  On April 16, the New-York Tribune noted, "In her home, at 2 West Eighty-sixth Street, Mrs. Harris sat alone with the little dog which has been her companion for ten years."  She explained to the reporter, "I can't talk about the Titanic.  It is all too dreadful to think of, and I have trained myself to keep it out of my mind."

The Central Park View had been the scene of another tragedy two years earlier.  Joseph Skolny was the head of the clothing manufacturing firm Joseph Skolny Co.  He and his wife had two live-in servants, Josephine Romer, the cook, and 22-year-old Anna Schaefer, a maid and companion to the Skolny's daughter, Rosa.  

In the fall of 1913 Anna showed signs of what today might be diagnosed as a brain tumor.  She began having excruciating headaches and her eyesight was failing.  Rosa took her to a specialist, who said she simply needed eyeglasses.  The Sun reported that the severe headaches made Anna "fear that glasses could not remedy the defect."  She and Josephine shared a bedroom, and as they prepared to go to bed on December 22, Anna said, "If it weren't for you, I'd kill myself."

The following morning the women arose and went into the kitchen to start the day.  Josephine walked out for a moment, and when she returned, Anna was gone.  The Sun reported, "A chair placed in front of an open window told the story.  The superintendent of the house found her body on the ground."

It was around this time that the Japanese Government leased an apartment for its Consul General, Kametaro Iijima, who arrived in New York in June 1913.  The Iijima's four-year-old daughter, Mosa, was playing in front of the building on March 22, 1914, directly across from the mansion of James "Diamond Jim" Buchanan Brady, at 7 West 86th Street.  Brady's chauffeur, Ray Lascher, was bringing the automobile around when he struck the little girl.

The New York Press reported that Lascher carried Mosa to her apartment.  Dr. Joseph Weinstein was called, who happily said she "was suffering from shock, but was not otherwise injured."

Kametaro Iijama as he appeared in 1913, the year he and his family moved in.  from the collection of the Library of Congress

Iijama's successor, Consul General Chenosuke Yada and his wife, took over the apartment around 1917.  On November 26 that year, Mrs. Yada entertained the Women's Oriental Club.  The New York Times reported, "Jean Bol, a Belgian tenor and recent war refugee, sang."

Early in 1919 the Peter Stuyvesant Operating Corporation leased the building and hired the architectural firm of Schwartz & Gross to convert it to a residential hotel.  On March 16, The Sun reported that it "is to be converted into the highest type of apartment hotel, containing on the upper eleven floors about 350 rooms and 200 baths.  The first floor will be used for a restaurant, lobby and reception hall."

The two-year conversion was completed in 1920.  Now known as the Hotel Peter Stuyvesant, there were 19 apartments per floor.  An advertisement in The Sun on June 27, 1920 touted "Special Summer Rates" and offered "Suites of one room to as many as required, furnished or unfurnished."

Now both transient and residential, the Peter Stuyvesant published this advertising postcard around 1938.

The conversion did not mean that all of the former residents evacuated.  The Yada family, for instance, was still here in 1920.  The long-term residents, for the most part, continued to be affluent.  Such was the case with the widowed Mrs. Elizabeth Bruch, who lived here with her 24-year-old son, Russell, in 1921.

That year the Bruches spent the summer season at Sound Beach, Connecticut, staying at the Greenwich Inn.  On the evening of August 7 at around 7:00, Russell took a canoe onto the Long Island Sound.  He never returned.  Two days later the New York Herald reported, "His mother, Mrs. Elizabeth Bruch of the Hotel Peter Stuyvesant, is prostrated at [the] Greenwich Inn."  Police had notified distant communities "on the theory that the young man may have been carried far into Long Island Sound," said the article.

Five days after Russell's disappearance, his mother offered a $50 reward ($725 in today's money) "for information leading to the recovery of the canoe," according to the New-York Tribune.  "She believes that finding the craft might help to locate her son."  But, tragically, the next day searchers in a small boat discovered his body.  The New-York Tribune said on August 13, "To-day the body came to the surface.  The canoe has not been found."

The conversion retained the iron-and-glass marquee.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

A socially-visible resident in the mid-1920's was Jesse Winburn, head of the Jesse Winburn Banking and Investment Company and of the New York City Car Advertising Company.  An avid sportsman, in 1923 he loaned 1 million francs to the French Olympic fund to stage the Olympic games in Paris.  

On December 20, 1926, The New York Times reported that Winburn had given a musical the previous afternoon.  Among the guest list were socially elite surnames like Rappaport, De Witt Rogers, and Crouch.  Following Winburn's death at the age of 58 at his summer home in Rye, New York, his estate was estimated at about $1.6 million--or around $24 million today.

In 1939, with Prohibition having ended five years earlier, a cabaret and piano bar was installed in the ground floor.  Two years later the building was sold to the Wilger Realty Corporation.  The Hotel Peter Stuyvesant was sold again in July 1960.

Among the residents at the time were renowned explorers Irvin Baird and Jill Cossley-Batt.  Irvin had also been a correspondent for Reuters in India.  The two had led an expedition into the Himalayas in 1931-32 where they discovered an isolated tribe that, according to their reports, lived to "great age and free of disease and pressures of civilization."  The people were believed to be one of "the lost tribes of ancient Chaldeans."  Following that expedition they were married by a missionary in Darjeeling, India.  Irvin Baird died on January 30, 1964 at the age of 63.  

The building was purchased in 1968 by Simon Haberman, who initiated a substantial renovation, completed in 1970.  The project reworked the floorplans and converted most of the first floor to a medical center.  A new main entrance was created with the address of 257 Central Park West.  Now a cooperative apartment building, Haberman renamed it The Orwell House.  An advertisement in The Sunday News on May 10, 1970 described, "Luxury Coop Bldg / Complete reconstruction has resulted in one of the finest & most complete deluxe Coop apt bldgs in all of Manhattan."

A decade later Haberman explained the name to The New York Times writer Edward Deitch, "I like [Orwell's] books.  I read 'Animal Farm' in high school and found it delightful.'"  Haberman, himself, lived in the The Orwell House, and told Deitch that his homage to the author went so far as to sometimes use the name George Orwell, Jr., although "just kiddingly."  Deitch noted, however, "Kidding or not, there is a George Orwell, Jr. listed in the telephone book.  The address is 257 Central Park West--Orwell House." has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

Monday, December 27, 2021

The Lost Abyssinian Baptist Church - 166 Waverly Place

In 1902 the wooden structure was showing its age, including the many missing slats on the tall shutters.  from the collection of the Library of Congress

In 1797 the Rev. William Gibson organized New York City's first Reformed Presbyterian congregation.  Its members were mostly Scotch and Irish immigrants who had fled persecution for refusing to declare loyalty to the British government.  The group established the city's first Sunday school.

It may have been the 1822 yellow fever epidemic that prompted several members to move northward to Greenwich Village.  In 1828 they purchased the wooden Dutch Reformed church at the corner of Bleecker and West 10th Streets.  
The building's architecture exhibited some Georgian elements of a generation earlier, like the Palladian influenced windows and fanlight above the entrance.   

In 1830 the congregation formally became the Second Reformed Presbyterian Church.  When its church building was apparently threatened two decades later, the trustees made an astonishing move.  On February 8, 1885, The New York Times recalled, "In 1847 the building was removed on rollers to its present location."  According to historian David W. Dunlap in his 2004 From Abyssinian to Zion, the structure was "transported whole...with the preacher delivering a sermon inside while en route."

The church was now situated at 166 Waverly Place, just east of Grove Street.  Its relocation came just before an irreparable schism formed among the congregants.   In 1848 a splinter group, the Third Reformed Presbyterian Church, was established.  It retained possession of the Waverly Place structure while the Second Reformed Presbyterian constructed a new church on West 11th Street, near Sixth Avenue.

The Third Reformed Presbyterian installed its new pastor, Rev. John Little, on June 5, 1849.  The Evening Post noted he had "arrived a few weeks since from Ireland."  Having separate structures did not heal the deep wounds between the two congregations and on October 13, 1851 Reverend Little was forced to defend himself to the Presbytery against charges by the Second Reformed Presbyterian that he was "a preacher of heresy."

In 1859 the trustees purchased land at 238 West 23rd Street and began construction of what The New York Times described as "a small but comfortable edifice of brown-stone."  That same year, on April 16, the Abyssinian Baptist Church was incorporated.  The all-Black congregation had been formed in 1808 and was currently worshiping at Thompson and Spring Streets.

The area around Minetta Lane, about four blocks south of the Waverly Place church, was populated by freed Blacks, earning it the nickname Little Africa.   The Abyssinian Baptist Church now purchased the building.  The Sun later explained that its minister, the Rev. William Spelman, "bought the church property partly with his own money and partly with money collected from Baptist churches in town."  George H. Hansell described Spelman in his 1899 book Reminiscences of Baptist Churches and Baptist Leaders in New York City as, "of Southern birth, a barber by profession, and...once a slave."

Although the Emancipation Act had outlawed slavery in New York in 1827, racial equality was non-existent.  The Sun recalled: was deemed wise to have the control of the church property in the hands of white men, and a special act was passed at Albany in 1859 giving the control of the property to nine trustees, four of whom should be white men, while a transfer of the property could not be made by the votes of less than five trustees.

The congregation began fund-raising in 1862, in an attempt to pay off the outstanding debt (and, perhaps, to release the "white men's" hold on the property).  On February 19, the New-York Daily Tribune reported, "Miss E. T. Greenfield, the Black Swan, announces a grand concert for the benefit of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, No. 166 Waverley Place, near Sixth avenue, this evening."  

Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield, "the Black Swan."  from the collection of the New York Public Library

It was a notable event.  Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield had been born into slavery in 1819.  Her mistress, a Quaker woman, gave her a formal education.  Against all odds, in 1851 she began singing professionally and in 1853 went to London under the patronage of the Duchess of Sutherland and Harriet Beecher Stowe.  She gave a command performance for Queen Victoria on May 10, 1854.

On September 19, 1865, The New York Times headlined an article, "Lecture By A Colored Lady."  It reported, "Miss Richmonia Richards, recently from Richmond, where she has been engaged in organizing schools for the freemen, and has also been connected with the secret service of our government, will give a description of her adventures, on Monday evening, at the Abyssinian Baptist Church."

It may have been Richmonia Richards, or her experiences, that prompted Rev. James J. Spelman to travel to Mississippi in February 1868 to temporarily teach in the "freemen's" schools.  The war was over, but it seems to have only increased racial hatred among some Southern whites.  Upon Spelman's return, he gave a lecture on August 3 about his encounters.  Calling him, "an intelligent colored man," The New York Times reported:

He had been persecuted by the whites continually; was threatened with death by the Kuklux [sic] Klan, and once was ordered to leave the State within forty-eight hours, and failing to comply with the direction, was fired upon from covert places repeatedly.

The churches of New York's wealthy citizens closed during the summer social season, when the congregants left for their country homes in places like Newport.  Working class churches, of course, stayed open.  But that was not the case with the Abyssinian Baptist Church, as might be expected.  On July 22, 1877 the New York Herald reported it was closing and explained, "The church numbers about 1,200 members and seats only 500, but so many of the congregation are coachmen and upper servants in fashionable families leaving the city, that the attendance during the summer is reduced to a minimum."

As had been the case with the Third Reformed Presbyterian Church, by the early 1880's a division was forming within the Abyssinian Baptist congregation.  Its severity was evidenced on Sunday, September 21, 1884.  Following Rev. Spelman's prayer, Deacon Henry Harris "jumped up," according to The New York Times, and attempted to announce a meeting to reorganize the church.  Spelman tried to stop him, and a "row" developed among the backers of both sides.  The New York Times reported, "the backers of Harris and the regular church party were carrying on a wrangle in front of Harris's pew.  The minister called for quiet, but he was not heeded, and the bandying of words and a few pushes were continued."

The author of the caption of this dignified portrait misspelled the surname.  original source unknown

The differences festered until, in 1885, Rev. Spelman was "deposed," according to The New York State Reporter.  Spelman and his followers formed a separate congregation that began worshiping in Garnett Hall on West 26th Street.  In reporting upon Spelman's death on February 13, 1891, The Sun called him "for over forty years a vigorous personality among the colored Baptists," and noted, "The differences between the factions are still in the courts."

The Rev. Robert D. Wynn had taken over the pulpit at Abyssinian Baptist.  He was on vacation in July 1891 and a well-known Black revivalist "Mr. Jones," preached on July 30.  His prediction that day that "a certain section of New-York City is to be destroyed, with all its inhabitants, by 'fire and brimstone' from the nether regions," caused panic.

The New York Times reported, "The colored people, it seems, would have taken no stock in Mr. Jones's prophesying if he had not gained a reputation by foretelling incidents which have actually come to pass."  It seems that Jones had foretold of the Charleston earthquake, and predicted that Johnstown, Pennsylvania would be "overwhelmed with a mighty flood."  Both catastrophes had come to pass.  The newspaper noted that Jones "has a great influence over New-York colored Baptists, and it is reported that when he foretold its impending doom some of his followers fled from the city."  (As it turned out, New York City was not devastated by brimstone, nor was Chicago buried beneath the waters of Lake Michigan, "never to come up," another catastrophe he had foreseen.)

More than three decades before the NAACP began law suits to desegregate public schools, the members of the Abyssinian Baptist Church were on the forefront of the fight.  In 1899 there were no schools for Black children in Jamaica, New York.  But there was at least one Black child.  On September 26 the New-York Daily Tribune reported, "Since the exclusion of a colored child from the schools of that district, which are attended by white children, and the decision of Justice Smith that such an act of exclusion was legal, the colored people of the city have been taking steps to appeal the case."  A large meeting had been held in the church the night before that article.  Ministers and delegates from other congregations spoke, and money was raised for legal costs.

In 1901 the congregation hired the architectural firm of Pollard & Stedman to design a replacement structure.  The new "one-story brick church" was expected to cost $30,000 to construct--a significant $942,000 in today's money.  But, by now, much of the Black population of New York City had moved uptown.  The plans were scrapped, property was acquired on West 40th Street, and the new building erected there.  The congregation took title to the property on January 12, 1903.

The old wooden church sat empty for a year.  Then, on May 21, 1904 the New-York Daily Tribune reported, "The Zion Baptist Church, which for many years has worshipped in a hall, has leased the church building at No. 166 Waverley Place, and will begin worship there to-morrow."  Another Black congregation, organized in 1832, its residency would be relatively short lived.  On July 19, 1907 architects Bernstein & Bernstein filed plans for a six-story apartment building, which survives, on the site. has 
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Saturday, December 25, 2021

The Brooks-Van Horn Building - 112-116 West 18th Street


West 18th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues was a "stable block" in the mid-19th century.  It was lined with the private carriage houses of well-to-do Fifth Avenue residents, and with livery stables.  But things were changing in the 1880's, as palatial emporiums rose along Sixth Avenue and Fifth Avenue mansions were being converted to businesses like art galleries and dressmaking shops.  

On August 16, 1899 Edward Jansen purchased the three two-story brick stables at 112 through 116 West 18th Street for $60,000--about $1.9 million today.  Two weeks later, acting as his own architect, he filed plans for a six-story building, the cost of which would double his investment.

On September 9, 1899, even before demolition had begun on the old stable buildings, the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported, "A printing house has leased the 6-story building which Edward Jansen is about to erect at Nos. 112 to 116 West 18th street."  That firm was the Grannis Press, Inc., the owners of which, Herman Wheaton Grannis and John W. Grannis, almost assuredly had input on the design of the structure.

Completed in 1900, Jansen's Renaissance-Revival factory and store building was faced in beige brick.  Bands of undressed stone created a striped effect to the piers of the second floor, each of which was decorated by delicately carved swags.  Grouped windows with engaged cast iron columns rose in three vertical sections, giving visual height to the structure.

The building's proximity to the department stores of what would be called the Ladies' Mile, was a significant consideration to any potential ground floor tenant.  On September 5, 1900 The Evening Telegram entitled an article "A Fine New Restaurant" and reported, "A new restaurant will be opened by F. A. Archambault at Nos. 112, 114, and 116 West Eighteenth street, opposite the Eighteenth street entrance of B. Altman & Co.'s store, Saturday next."  The writer opined, "This will be a great convenience for the shopping district," adding, "It is promised that the prices will be moderate, the cuisine excellent and the service unsurpassed."

Reed's Restaurant catered not only to the feminine patrons of Sixth Avenue, but to dinner parties and private groups.  On January 30, 1902, for instance, The Vegetarian Society hosted the first of its annual dinners here.  The Brooklyn Daily Eagle said that the 100 guests "well represented the best social element of both Manhattan and Brooklyn."  Non-meat diets were somewhat novel at the time, and the article noted, "One of the features of the evening which elicited much merriment was a vegetarian song, by George Bushwick."

The following year the eatery became Hunter's Restaurant, although little changed other than the name.  On April 25, for instance, a dinner was held in honor of William S. Devery by a group supporting his run for mayor.  The menu was notably different from that of The Vegetarian Society's dinner.  The Daily Standard Union reported, "Beefsteak was the 'piece de resistance' on the bill of fare."

Two weeks earlier the restaurant had seen much excitement.  On Saturday night, April 4, ten waiters were fired.  In solidarity, 29 others walked out.  The owners found replacements to fill their places before Monday afternoon and business went on as usual--until the 39 out-of-work waiters showed up outside.

The men harassed potential patrons, warning them, according to The Evening World, "The grub is on the bum!" or "It's poison!" and "You ought to see where they cook it!"  When the manager was unable to disperse the men, he called the police.  The newspaper said, "The waiters broke and ran when the wagon arrived."   Waiters were pursued by police in different directions, the chases going on for blocks.  The sight "served to highly amuse the large crowd of women who were about in the shopping district," said the article.  A dozen of the protestors were arrested and things returned to normal in Hunter's Restaurant.

Grannis Press, Inc. remained in the building until 1905, afterward replaced by several apparel firms.  Among them were Striker Manufacturing Company, makers of women's neckwear; and L. Dofflien & Co.  L. Dofflein placed an advertisement in The New York Times on March 26, 1905 that read, "Girls just from school to learn making negligee wear; pay while learning."

In the summer of 1910 Edward Jansen filed plans for a six-story building at 113 to 119 West 17th Street, directly behind his West 18th Street structure.  This time he hired the architectural firm of Rouse & Goldstone to design the building, which cost him the equivalent of $2.8 million in today's money.  The resultant structure was designed as a similar, simplified version of 112-116 West 18th Street.  Combined internally, the floorspace was now doubled.

Rouse & Goldstone closely followed the design of the original building in the 17th Street extension.

The 15,000-square-foor ground floor space was leased to the United States Post Office before construction began.  On July 2, 1910 the Record & Guide reported, "the premises will be occupied by Post Office Station 'O,' now at 5th av. and 17th st."

A letter mailed shortly before midnight on August 17, 1913 was, perhaps, the most significant piece of mail that passed through the post office branch.  Harry Kendall Thaw, who had been found not guilty of murdering architect Stanford White in June 1906 by reason of insanity, was committed for life at the Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.  In August 1913 he simply walked out and escaped.

The letter dropped at the post office on August 17 was from Thaw to his mother, who was staying at the new Hotel Gotham.  It said:

All well.  Shall take a rest before coming to Elmhurst [the Thaw home in Cresson, Pennsylvania], as I might be asked for interview and do not want to refuse; yet do not care to make any statement.  Hope M. and G. [Margaret and George Carnegie, Thaw's sister and brother-in-law] arrived safe and you will go home together.
                                                                      H. K. T.

Although Mrs. Shaw shared the contents with police, she also attempted to throw them off the trail.  The Evening World reported, "Mrs. Thaw does not believe her son was in New York last night.  She thinks he scribbled the letter in the automobile in which he made his escape and intrusted [sic] it to one of the men who sided with him to be mailed in this city."

In the meantime, the upper floors continued to house garment manufacturers.  Typical were M. Scher & Co., makers of shirtwaists; H. B. Katzman, manufacturers of cloaks and suits; and Jan Globe Cloak Manufacturing Company.  Also in the building in 1914 was the German Novelty Company, makers of toys.  The Post Office branch remained for decades, a designated spot each year for the purchase of Christmas Seals, part of a fund-raising project to fight tuberculosis.

The combined buildings were sold in February 1942 to real estate operator Nathan Wilson, who resold it two years later to Morris Luskin & Son.  Tenants in the building in the early 1950's included Klein & Co., Inc., makers of candy boxes; and Van Cott Brothers, manufacturers of athletic uniforms and sportwear.

photo via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

On November 20, 1962, the Brooks Costume Company merged with the Philadelphia firm of Van Horn Costume Company.  The New York Times reported, "The merger links the two top costume groups in the country," and noted, "the new company, to be known as the Brooks-Van Horn Costume Company, will have offices here and in Philadelphia.  Its facilities will enable it to serve Broadway shows, television, stock theaters, schools, community theaters, state and national events and pageants."

Among the consolidated firm's initial commissions to design and supply the male costumes to Franco Zeffirelli's 1963 production of The Lady of the Camellias, starring Susan Strasberg as Marguerite.  (The women's costumes were designed by Pierre Cardin.)   The firm was still located on East 26th Street at the time.  But by the mid-1970's it had moved into the West 18th Street building.

Change came to the combined buildings in December 1982 when a renovation resulted in a total of 35 apartments above the ground floor store.  Known today as the Brooks Van Horn as a nod to the costume firm that did business here for so many years, the building's commercial tenant has been the furniture and d├ęcor store West Elm since October 2004.

photographs by the author
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