Thursday, December 9, 2021

Albert Wagner's 1896 37 East 12th Street


In 1895, the old building at 37 East 12th Street underwent a flurry of sales.  Emil Bloch purchased it from John W. Condit "for a sum less than $150,000," according to the Real Estate Record & Guide.  Shortly afterward, on October 11, he resold it to Jacob Hirsh, "for improvement."  And a month later, Hirsh sold the property to architect and builder Albert Wagner.  On November 30 the Record & Guide reported that Wagner "will improve the plot by erecting an eight or nine-story modern business structure."

Wagner was already responsible for many mercantile and loft buildings throughout the city.  For this eight-story structure, he turned to the Italian Renaissance for inspiration.  The two-story base was clad in cast iron and encrusted with intricate arabesques.  

Wagner used terra cotta to lavishly embellish the upper floors.  The three-story mid-section featured a centered, full-height, engaged Ionic column.  A complex band framed this area, which was flanked by two pairs of three-story, barley twisted colonettes.  The dramatic treatment of the top three floors included shell-carved pediments supported by Corinthian columns at the sixth floor, and an arcade of deep-set windows at the eighth.

The building was completed by December 1896 and it filled with garment manufacturers.  Among the first was Henry Cohen & Co., makers of ladies' silk waists, or shirtwaists.

In March 1902 Fromberg & Goldstein moved in, doing business as the newly-formed Fashion Cloak and Suit Company.  It was not long before the fledgling firm was in trouble.   In September Siegel Brothers had not been paid for 13 pieces of cloth, valued at $233 and filed a complaint.  But, according to The New York Times on September 12, when Assistant Deputy Mayforth went to the factory, he "found it closed, and was informed that it had been cleaned out on Saturday last."

The firm's creditors did not wait for authorities to find the missing owners.  The Fur Trade Review reported, "On September 18 a petition in involuntary bankruptcy was filed against the concern."

In the meantime, other apparel firms fared much better.  Operating from the building at the time was Edelman Bros., makers of "misses' and children's cloaks and suits."  In its January 1904 issue, Cloaks and Furs remarked, "Every season they turn out many new and exclusive styles for the young folks which make 'hits.'"

Cloaks & Furs, January 1904 (copyright expired)

Other apparel-related tenants were cloak manufacturer Moses Natelson; Horwitz & Goodman; A. Lehman & Co., makers of tailored suits; and La Mode Skirt Co.  

A. Lehman & Co. catered to the carriage trade.  An advertisement on September 9, 1908 touted its "Exceptionally attractive Designs made in the latest Fall models.  Critically correct to your measure."  The prices ranged from $15 to $35--the more expensive equal to about $1,000 today.

During the 1910's the building was home to D. Kaplan, makers of shirtwaists.  The firm employed two men and 26 women.  Other tenants were Nelson and Ladin, another shirtwaist manufacturer; A. Ratkowsky, "medium-priced furs;" and Kurshan Bros., importers of "venetians" (worsted fabrics used in suits, coats and dresses).  

The Depression years saw a change in the tenant list.  While at least one garment firm, Benjamin Margolis, maker of pajamas and blouses, moved in in 1931, a variety of industries were now represented.  That same year the Crown Footstool Corporation leased a floor.  They were joined by the Joy Packaging Co., Inc., which sold and distributed candy.

Most notable, however, was the Communist-based The Workers School Forum, which leased space on the second floor by 1932.  

from the Daily Workers, October 8, 1932

A tenant with a similar political bent, the newspaper L'Unita Oberaia, set up its operation here in 1935.   The two-year old publication was run, according to The Daily Worker on February 7, by "revolutionary Italian workers."  The article explained...

this Italian language newspaper has conducted the most relentless struggle against the penetration of Italian fascist propaganda and against the persecution of Italian workers in this country by the agents of Mussolini.  It has been the best guide of the Italian workers in all their daily struggles against the attacks of capitalism upon their standard of living and against the deportation weapon of the bosses.

The newspaper did not go unnoticed by the Federal Government.  The Massachusetts House Committee on Un-American Activities report of 1938 described it as "An Italian monthly which the Communist Party admits is under Communist influence."

Other tenants were decidedly less political, like the Clyde Furniture Co., here at the same time.  After mid-century the Acme Bulletin & Directory Board Corp. leased space in the building.

But the last quarter of the century saw significant change in the district, and around 1975 the Kenshire Galleries moved in.  In its December 7, 1987 issue, New York Magazine mentioned that "Nineteenth-century Italian gilt armchairs, $6,000 a pair, and an antique French Aubusson fire screen, $2,200," were available here.  The upscale store remained until around 2015.

In February 2015, The New York Times journalist Vivlian Marino reported on Edward J. Minskoff's upcoming conversion of 37 East 12th Street to residential space.  The president and founder of Edward J. Minskoff Equities, he announced that there would be just six units, pointing out "the room sizes are big and the ceiling heights range from 13 to 16 feet."

The renovation, which was completed in 2016, resulted in one apartment per floor from the second through sixth, and a four-bedroom duplex on the top two floors.  A three-bedroom, two-story maisonette (called The Townhouse by realtors) has a private entrance on the ground floor.

Albert Wagner's striking facade remains unchanged and is worth a pause to adequately appreciate.

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

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