Tuesday, September 27, 2022

The 1892 Elliott B. Roosevelt House - 313 West 102nd Street


photograph by Dayle Vander Sande

In 1892 developer Charles G. Judson completed a row of five upscale rowhouses on the north side of West 102nd Street, between fashionable Riverside Drive and West End Avenue.  They were designed by the prolific architect Clarence Fagan True, who typically produced creative takes on historic styles.

For 313 West 102nd Street True turned to the Flemish Renaissance for inspiration.  The three-story-and-basement dwelling was clad in rock-faced limestone, its basement entrance and windows tucked delightfully within an arched recess.  The stoop rose beside a full-height bay to a single-doored entrance, decorated with a scallop shell tympanum and foliate carvings.

photograph via Landmarkwest.org

Elaborately carved Renaissance-inspired spandrel panels between the second and third floors, a blind lancet window sitting atop a half-bowl feature in the peaked gable, and a fearsome gargoyle contributed to True's romantic design.

Willet C. Ely purchased the house on September 16, 1892 for $25,000 (about $768,000 in 2022).  If he lived here at all, his was a short residency.  He resold the house in October 1893 for exactly the same amount. 

The new owner leased 313 West 102nd Street to Elliott Bulloch Roosevelt, a member of one of New York's oldest and most prestigious families.  Known as an "Oyster Bay Roosevelt," he was the third of four children of Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. and Martha Stewart Bulloch.  His brother, Theodore Jr., was a Civil Service Commissioner who would go on to be President of the United States.

Upon his father's death in 1878, Roosevelt had inherited a personal fortune.  He lived the life of a gentleman, going on bison hunting trips to the West, and tiger hunting expeditions in India, for example.  Roosevelt maintained a country estate in Abingdon, Virginia where he also had valuable coal mining interests.

Elliott B. Roosevelt, from the collection of the National Park Service.

Roosevelt was battling demons when he moved in.  He had married Anna Rebecca Hall on December 1, 1883.  The marriage was strained because of Roosevelt's addiction to alcohol and laudanum (an opium compound intended to relieve pain).  The Sun diplomatically said, "Excesses had undermined his health."

photograph by Dayle Vander Sande

On the advice of his physicians, in July 1891 Roosevelt, his pregnant wife, and their children went to Paris.  Little Anna Eleanor was 7 years old and Elliott Jr. was 2.  There Elliott was placed in the Chateau Sauresnes, described by The Evening Post as "an asylum for the insane."  Today we would call it a detox facility.

After nine months in the institution, Elliott Roosevelt sailed home.  Anna and the children remained in Paris until the birth of Gracie Hall on June 28.  Elliott's treatments had not eased the domestic tensions.  When Anna and the children returned to New York they went to the home of her widowed mother, Mary Livingston Hall.  

On December 7, 1892, ten months before Roosevelt rented the West 102nd Street house, his 29-year-old wife died of diphtheria.  Her death set him into a downward spiral.  His increased drinking and drug use worsened when Elliott Jr. contracted scarlet fever and died on May 25, 1893.  The Sun said, "the death of his favorite son and namesake, Elliott Roosevelt, Jr., sent him into further excesses."

Living in the 102nd Street house with Roosevelt were his valet and a housekeeper, Mrs. Evans, whom some biographers suggest was his mistress.  The Sun said, "he was never estranged from his family, he preferred to live alone."  The Evening World, however, was more pointed, saying that here "he has lived virtually cut off from any intercourse with his relatives."  He was told pointedly by his mother-in-law that he was not welcomed in her home.  And while Elliott kept up a regular correspondence with his daughter, Anna Eleanor (who would go on to marry Franklin Roosevelt and become First Lady), he was barred from visiting the Hall house.  His brother Theodore cut all ties with him and urged his sisters to do the same.

Roosevelt with his children, (L-R) baby Gracie, Anna Eleanor, and Elliot Jr. in 1892.  original source unknown

Roosevelt's substance abuse worsened, resulting in frequent hallucinations.  On August 9, 1894 he either jumped or attempted to jump from a window at 313 West 102nd Street (there are two versions of the account).   In either case, his condition was rapidly deteriorating.  Immediately after the incident his valet put him to bed, from which he would never get up.

The Evening World wrote, "Mr. Roosevelt took to his bed Friday.  He has been ailing for some years and was not at all in a condition to withstand a severe illness."  Roosevelt's doctor, F. W. Holman, was with him for days.   The tormented 34-year-old died alone on August 14, 1894.

The following year, on October 16, 1895, 313 West 102nd Street was sold at auction.  The listing described, "hardwood trim throughout; newly decorated; gas fixtures; open fireplaces in every room."  It was purchased by Dr. Charles Gilman Currier and his wife, Caroline Mary Sterling.  

A watchful gargoyle perches at the base of the gable.  photograph by Dayle Vander Sande

The couple had a two-month-old son, Gilman Sterling when they moved in.  Two more children would be born in the house, Dorothy Sterling, who arrived in 1897, and Edith Frederica Sterling, in 1902.  

Dr. Currier was well-known for his research on the causes of certain diseases and public health problems.  On July 13, 1890, for instance, The Sun had written, "Mothers in the populous tenement districts of this great town may do much toward keeping their babies well this summer if they follow the advice of Dr. Charles G. Currier, published in recent issues of the Medical Record and Medical Journal."  Currier discovered that during hot months, "the average milk sold in this city contains many thousands of bacteria in each teaspoonful."  He cautioned mothers to boil the milk to kill bacteria.

And the following year he published a pamphlet, "Self Purification of Water," in which he "considers the influence of polluted water in the causation of disease," according to The Sun on March 7, 1891.

The Curriers maintained a household staff of about four.  In September 1896 they advertised for a "Young German Protestant, neat and well recommended, as upstairs girl; private house."  The term "upstairs girl" in New York City differed starkly from that in the West.  In the East, it referred to a more polished servant who could interact with the family and guests.  In the West, upstairs girls were the prostitutes who lured cowboys from the second floor windows of saloons.

It appears that working for the Curriers was difficult.  The family placed an inordinate number of help-wanted ads for various positions over the years.  In December 1909 they had lost three servants.  An ad that month read, "American family wants cook, laundress; also upstairs girl; references required."

The Currier family remained at 313 West 102nd Street at least through 1941.  Gilman Sterling Currier, now also a physician, married Katharine Nairn Gray on August 30, 1938, eventually settling in Bernardsville, New Jersey.  His father died on January 3, 1945 in Greenwich, Connecticut.

The replacement windows attempt no pretense of historic accuracy.  photograph by Dayle Vander Sande

The house remained a single family home until 1991, when it was divided into apartments.  Other than architecturally unsympathetic replacement windows, Clarence True's fanciful 1895 house is outwardly little changed.

many thanks to Anthony Bellov for suggesting this post.
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Monday, September 26, 2022

The Lost Metropolitan Police Headquarters - 300 Mulberry Street


from the collection of the New York Public Library

In 1854 the infamous Tammany Hall politician Fernando Wood was elected mayor.  He immediately initiated a system of open corruption in appointing and promoting officers within the Municipal Police Department.  The state, however, did not stand idly by.  On April 15, 1857 the Metropolitan Police Act was signed into law by Governor John King.  This effectively disbanded the old Municipal Police Department and took policing out of the hands of Wood.   Corrupt cops were dismissed and while others, were reinstated.

While the Metropolitan Police Department initially took over the old headquarters at 413 Broome Street, plans were almost immediately laid to erect a new structure.  In 1862 property was acquired on the east side of Mulberry Street between Bleecker and Houston Streets.  Construction on the new building was completed in January the following year.

Four stories tall above a high basement level, the headquarters was faced in gleaming white marble.  Gas lamps with green glass panels atop the stoop newels identified the building, especially at night.  The Italianate design featured a rusticated base with arched openings and an impressive entrance flanked by engaged Corinthian columns that upheld an entablature.  It was crowned by a swan's neck pediment with a shield carved with the date of construction.  Each of the upper floors was delineated by a stone bandcourse, and the windows on prominent molded sills were fully enframed.

The department moved into the new building at 300 Mulberry Street in two stages--the Board of Police Commissioners settling in first during the second week of February.  On February 25, The New York Times reported, "Yesterday the entire department was removed, consisting of the office of the detective police, the telegraph office, also that of the Superintendent, the Inspectors of Police and the rendezvous for lost children."

The article was quick to point out that construction costs had been covered by the Contingent Police Fund, and "thus the New-York public will not be directly taxed for the expense of the erection and fitting up of this fine four-story marble front building."  The writer noted, "The entire building is arranged with especial deference to the wants and conveniences of those connected with the Police Headquarters, and reflect much credit upon the architect."

from Valentine's Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York, 1868, (copyright expired)

The opening of the headquarters took place during the height of the Civil War.  Less than four months later, on  July 11, 1863 the nation’s first attempt at a military draft played out in New York with a lottery.  When the first 1,200 chosen names were published, it was obvious that they were overwhelmingly from the city’s poor and immigrant population—the wealthy had either bought exemptions or used their political power to circumvent the draft.  The result was the Draft Riots—a three-day reign of terror and carnage unlike anything seen in the country before.  As worded by Police Commissioner John G. Bergan, "riot, robbery, arson and murder, raged over the City." 

The police department battled the mobs alongside the National Guard.  In one case, Colonel Mott's men "had a contest with the mob in the vicinity of Gramercy Park," according to Police Commissioner John G. Bergan in a letter on July 28.   A sergeant was killed and the guardsmen, forced to retreat, "left the body among the enemy."  An "expedition" from Police Headquarters was assembled to recover the sergeant's body.

The city faced what could have been an equally disastrous incident the following year.  A group of Confederate conspirators devised a plan to burn New York City.  Members checked into hotel rooms across the city and committed synchronized arson, theorizing that the Fire Department, receiving multiple alarms from across the city, would be unable to attack all the blazes and the fires would spread ferociously.

Each terrorist piled the furniture and bedding in the center of his room, doused it with turpentine, and, having set it aflame, sauntered out of the building.  The first alarm sounded came at 8:43 on the evening of November 25 from the St. James Hotel.  Within minutes Confederate Army Captain Robert Cobb Kennedy had set Barnum’s Museum on fire.  Quickly fires were discovered in the St. Nicholas, the United States Hotel, the Metropolitan, Lovejoy’s and the New England Hotel.

Lumber yards were also torched.  And the Confederates' plan would have worked had it not been for the quick action of hotel employees.  Unbelievably, by dawn the fires had been extinguished.  

Now the police department was tasked with finding the perpetrators.  And only three months later the last of the four, Robert Cobb Kennedy, was in custody at 300 Mulberry Street.  The New York Dispatch said of him, "A more out-and-out rebel never lived."  The article said "to look upon his face as it rests in quiet," one could not imagine that he was "connected with the nefarious attempt to burn our hotels and places of amusement, and scatter desolation and death over our fair metropolis."

The New York Dispatch, February 19, 1865 (copyright expired)

The Metropolitan Police Headquarters was also the "rendezvous for lost children."  On July 8, 1865 the New York Herald reported that during the previous year 3,477 children were brought here. The article noted, "3,266 were there claimed, and the remaining 211 were sent to the Commissioners of Charities and Correction, there appearing no claimants for them."

Also housed in the building were the District Court Squads, which oversaw the various court district courts, the Sanitary Corps, and the Detective Department.  In the basement of the building was the nerve center for the police telegraph system.  On January 8, 1871 the New York Dispatch explained, "A network of telegraph wires encircles the city, all terminating at No. 300 Mulberry street."  There were between 75 and 80 miles of police telegraph lines in the city.  Transmissions could be sent to or received from each of the precinct stations, and Bellevue Hospital.  "This office is never closed, day or night, and is invaluable to the public in the recovery of lost property, strayed children, accidents, fires, and casualties," said the article.

Harper's Weekly, January 18, 1908 (copyright expired)

The corruption that had prompted the state to abolish the Municipal Police Department had never truly disappeared within the Metropolitan Police Department.  On August 9, 1901 The Evening World recalled, "The seeds of corruption, the seeds of decay, were in it from the beginning...But at least life and property were safe under 'the finest.'  And the strong, if corrupt, hands of the leaders of the force restrained the elements which they corruptly tolerated."

However, by 1895 the malfeasance was once again out of control.  Change would begin on May 6 that year with the installation of a new reform-minded Board of Police Commissioners, headed by 36-year-old Theodore Roosevelt.  Roosevelt and his commissioners initiated numerous reforms within the department.  

Before 1893 a nearly seamless addition had been added to the north.  Kings Views of New York City, 1893 (copyright expired)

Although the building had been expanded in the late 19th century, in 1901 Police Commissioner Michael C. Murphy pushed for a new headquarters, saying 300 Mulberry Street was "too old and too small and too far downtown."  By the following year, when the department had a new commissioner in John N. Partridge, the plan had gained momentum.  On September 12, 1902 Partridge announced he had selected a site for a new headquarters.  The Evening World reported he "suggests that the old Headquarters property be sold and that the amount realized be applied on the new building and property."

As the magnificent new headquarters building at 24 Centre Street was nearing completion in January 1908, Frank Marshall White titled his article in Harper's Weekly "The Passing of '300 Mulberry Street.'"  Comparing it to Scotland Yard for figuring "in history and fiction," he recalled the Draft Riots, the Orange Riots of 1871, and the famous officers--good and bad--who had worked within the building.  "It was at 300 Mulberry Street that Thomas Byrnes, at the head of the Detective Bureau, made an international reputation as thief-taker, and here that he originated the mysterious 'third degree' that has been the undoing of many a criminal since."  Other terms originated at 300 Mulberry Street, White recounted, were "gold brick," (and the "original gold brick is today among other relics of crime" at the building, he said), and "copper," meaning an officer.  At 300 Mulberry Street was displayed a collection of early copper badges. 

At midnight on November 27, 1909, Police Commissioner William F. Baker "pressed a key which switched all the telegraph and telephone lines" from 300 Mulberry Street to 240 Centre Street.  In reporting on the move, The New York Times remarked, "No other building in the city, probably, is richer in memories than 300 Mulberry Street.  It is famous all the world over."  The journalist recalled some of the renowned crimes solved there and the "noted criminals, murderers included, whose names are intimately associated with the hold structure."  Among the colorful names were "Red" Leary, "Humpty" Williams, and Liverpool Jack.

The venerable building was not totally abandoned, however.   The office of the Chief City Magistrate, the Traffic Court, the Probation Bureau, the Fingerprinting Department and the "old record room" continued to be housed here.

The Traffic Court had its most celebrated prisoner on June 7, 1921--baseball great Babe Ruth.  When word got out that he was being held in the detention room, "there was a rush for the 'jail' by court attendants, pretty girl stenographers and other baseball hero worshippers," reported The Evening World.  That portion of the building had to be shut off.  Things got tense as the clock ticked away and the slugger's case had not been heard and the 3:30 game time moved ever closer.

Ruth's uniform was delivered to 300 Mulberry Street and at 3:00 his two-seated roadster was sitting at the curb, running.  Finally, after being fined $100 for speeding, Ruth was set free at 3:45--15 minutes after the game began.  To ensure he made it to Yankee Stadium Magistrate McGeeghan rode along, presumably "to see that if he speeded he would do it within the law."

A memorable modernization occurred later that year on September 15, 1921.  The old gas lamps were removed, replaced by electric lamps.  The New York Herald noted that they had burned unceasingly for 59 years.

On January 6, 1922 a bronze tablet, designed by James E. Fraser, was unveiled in the third-floor office once used by Theodore Roosevelt.  The mayor, city officials, and prominent New Yorkers were in attendance, and the Police Glee Club provided music.  (The room would be officially dedicated as the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Room three years later, on March 14.)

Another department was added within 300 Mulberry Street in 1922 with the formation of the new Homicide Court.  On October 3, the day of its opening, Magistrate Frederick B. House said, "This court will be a clearing house for all kinds of fatal accidents and deaths, and will reach two of our greatest evils: the selfish, reckless driver, who is no better than a murderer, and the pistol carrier, or gunman."

During World War II the old building became headquarters for the city air raid wardens and the civilian defense office of the police department.  On January 10, 1942 The New York Times reported, "It is planned to give lectures to classes of 200 to 300 air raid wardens at a time in the new headquarters."

By the time photographer Cyrus Townsend Brady, Jr. took this photograph, the lampposts had been removed.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The old Police Headquarters building was converted to a courthouse in March 1946.  Three new courts opened here, the Lower Manhattan Summons Court, the Lower Manhattan Arrest Court and the Downtown Traffic Court.  The days of honoring the former President within the building ended on May 10 that year.  The New York Times reported that Police Commissioner Arthur W. Wallander "turned over the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Room in the old Police Headquarters Building...to the Home Term Court."  The furniture, portrait of Roosevelt and the plaque were all removed.

Just three years later the venerable marble building was demolished for a parking lot.  For nearly six decades automobiles parked on the site, most of their owners never knowing the history that had played out there.  Then in 2004 a rather nondescript brick apartment building was erected on the site.

image via streeteasy.com

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Saturday, September 24, 2022

The 1860 John Russell House - 454 West 25th Street


photograph by the author

In 1860 a row of handsome Italianate style homes was erected on the south side of West 25th Street, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues.  The 20-foot wide brick-faced residences reflected the latest in domestic taste--with high stone stoops, substantial Italianate cast iron fencing, and paneled and bracketed cornices.  One house, 454 West 25th Street, stood out among the row with its oversized center window on the top floor.  It was apparently a specification of the purchaser during construction.

That buyer was 43-year-old John Russell, who owned a stonecutting business on West 30th Street near the Hudson River.  He and his wife Helen had nine children.  Despite what must have been somewhat tight conditions, they took in a boarder.  They would have to find a replacement in 1865 when C. P. Byron was drafted into the Union Army.

By 1865 the Russell's eldest daughter, Helen, was a teacher.  She divided her day between two relatively nearby schools--P.S. No. 55 on 20th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, and P.S. No. 19 at 223 West 18th Street.

Around 1868 Russell moved his stone operation to the foot of West 51st Street and the Hudson River.  By now, the population of 454 West 20th Street had increased by one following Helen's marriage to Alexander Orr Hopkins, a boat pilot.

In 1876, Janet Russell, who was just five years old when the family moved into the West 25th Street house, became a teacher like her sister.  She taught in the primary department of Grammar School 546 on West 18th Street.  Her brothers, John Jr. and Robert, were both listed as masons, working in their father's business.

Sadly, that same year, on April 13, Helen died at the age of 31.  Her funeral was held in the parlor two days later.  Her husband moved out of the Russell house the following year.  The Russells once again took in a boarder.  Edwin Connor, who ran a coal business on West 29th Street, lived with the family in 1879 and 1880.

John Russell died in the house on March 20, 1881 at the age of 64.  His funeral was not held in the family residence, but rather far to the north, in the Church of Our Saviour on West 57th Street near Eighth Avenue.  His children inherited the West 25th Street house in equal portions.

The ornate Italianate style ironwork survives along the row.  photograph by the author

Alice R. Russell, who had married James P. Clark, sold her interest in the house to John Russell Jr. in 1887 for the equivalent of $22,o00 today.  By the mid-1890's 454 West 25th Street was occupied by what appears to be a different Clark family.  Patrick J. Clark operated a "three-story brick hotel" nearby on the northeast corner of Ninth Avenue and 25th Street.

He and his wife, Sarah Coleman, had a daughter, Mary, and five sons, Joseph, James, Philip, Eugene, and John Joseph.  Joseph attended P.S. No. 17 on West 20th Street in 1901.  On June 27, the day before his graduation, the 11-year-old was running home from school when, as reported by The New York Times, "he fell in front of a horse car at Twenty-fifth Street and Ninth Avenue and was instantly killed.  The front wheel of the car passed over the boy's abdomen."

Joseph's brothers were significantly older.  In 1909 James P. Clark was made a commissioner of deeds, a civic position similar to today's notary public, and John Joseph Clark was the proprietor of Clark's Café on Columbus Avenue and 62nd Street.    John Joseph died at the age of 30 on January 5, 1915.

Not long afterward, 454 West 25th Street was being operated as a rooming house.  War was intensifying in Europe at the time and the conflict would deeply affect three families living here.

John J. Flood held a job which today would qualify him as an "essential worker" and which qualified him as except from the draft.  But on August 10, 1917, the New York Herald listed him on "the honor roll of the national army" after he waived him exemption.

Two other residents joined the army, Edward P. Lynch and Joseph E. Nash.   Lynch enlisted with the 69th Regiment and was sent to Europe in October 1917.  Joining around the same time were his cousins, with whom he had grown up.  Nine months later, his widowed mother, Mary Lynch, received the news every mother feared.  On July 15, 1918 Edward was killed in action.  The New-York Tribune noted, "The corporal was Mrs. Lynch's only son, but she has two nephews, the sons of her sister, whom she has raised and who are at the front."

Mary E. Nash also received frightening news from Government.  Lt. Joseph E. Nash was "wounded severely" in April 1919, but happily he survived to return home to 454 West 25th Street.  Over the next few years his name would appear in newspapers for less heroic reasons.

In 1921 Irish-American newspaper The New York Age reported on the trials in Belfast, Ireland, of court-martialed Irish soldiers.  Virginia-born Ed Cahill had been stopped while bicycling and searched.  "Four envelopes were found in his possession.  One was addressed to "Jos. Nash 454 West 25th street, New York, containing seditious matter re affairs of Ireland," said the article."  In Cahill's room were found the floorplans of a police barracks, the plans for blowing up a bridge, and a notebook about the Irish Republican Army.  Cahill was sentenced to "five years' penal servitude."

Nash was still rooming at 454 West 25th Street on June 19, 1922 when he was pulled over by Patrolman D. J. Mullen for "failing to observe the eight-foot law."  (The law required motorists to stop no closer than eight feet from a stopped street cars and buses.)  Because this was Nash's second offense, he was fined $25--a hefty $400 by today's standards.

The house continued to be operated as a rooming house for years.  Mary Ellen Laritz and her adult son lived here in 1943 when she witnessed a horrifying accident from her window on August 24.  Directly across the street was the U.S. Coast Guard Chelsea Encampment.  She later testified before a Congressional hearing that at 7:00 that evening, "I was looking out of my front-room window, which faces the property now occupied by the Coast Guard."  She said that several children were running up and down the sidewalk playing, and a Coast Guard supply truck was on the sidewalk, fueling trucks parked along the curb.  The truck moved slowly up the block from one truck to another.

Mary Laritz recalled, "I suddenly heard screams from these several children, and saw several of them running back along the sidewalk, but I did not see the little light-haired boy.  I saw coast guardsmen and others running toward this oil truck which was at a standstill on the sidewalk."  The reason Mary Laritz could no longer see five-year-old William Mooney was because the supply truck had run over his leg.  The driver of the truck said the children had made a game of riding on the running board of the truck, and Mooney had slipped under.  Mary said, however, "The injured boy was not in the roadway at any time I saw him and was not hitching on any truck at the time I saw him."  

William Mooney suffered a fracture of his right femur, multiple abrasions and a laceration of the groin.  He spent two months in St. Vincent's Hospital.  Mary testified on January 22, 1944, "This oil truck and others were always running along the sidewalk, but since this accident, they do not run on the sidewalk anymore."

photograph by Beyond My Ken

A renovation completed in 1965 resulted in five apartments within the house.  A subsequent remodeling in 1992 combined the parlor and second floor into a duplex.

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Friday, September 23, 2022

Frank Ayres Wright's 1911 112 East 23rd Street


In 1856 Rev. Augustus Valette Clarkson and his family moved into the 24-foot wide residence at 66 East 23rd Street (renumbered 112 in 1868).  Three stories tall above an English basement, the high-stooped house was typical of the elegant homes in the fashionable Union Square neighborhood.  Nearly half a century later, while business buildings crowded in around them, several of Rev. Clarkson's children still lived in the family home.  

Frederick Clarkson died in the house of pneumonia on February 5, 1901.  The New York Times called him, "a member of an old Colonial family and associated with many scientific and religious movements."  Three years later, on July 23, 1904, The Globe and Commercial Advertiser reported, "David Clarkson, one of the oldest residents of the lower park of the city, died Thursday at his home, 112 East Twenty-third street."  Clarkson was 83 years old.  The article noted, "Four brothers and a sister survive him."

One brother, Augustus L. Clarkson, stubbornly held onto the house for six more years.  In reporting that he had sold it to Oswald Oelschlaeger, "who will make extensive alterations," the Record & Guide noted, "The property has been owned by the Clarkson family for more than fifty years."  Oelschlaeger paid $125,000, nearly $3.7 million in today's money.

Oelschlaeger initially intended to substantially alter the house for business purposes.  His architect, Frank Ayres Wright, filed plans days that called for an extension to the rear, and new interior walls and windows.  But Oelschlaeger quickly changed his mind, and a week later Wright filed revised plans for an entirely new building.  It was described as a five-story brick and stone loft, to cost $20,000 to construct (about $590,000 today).

Wright's Arts and Crafts style facade was as much glass as it was it was brick.  A steel skeleton allowed for vast, grouped windows within a cast iron framework.  The entrance to the upper floors was set to the side of the storefront.  The most striking element of Wright's design was the deeply overhanging cornice, supported by alternating pairs of long and short brackets.

The greatly-changed personality of the neighborhood was reflected in the ground floor tenant, a saloon operated by Ralph Elsinger.  It played the pivotal role in a landmark New York Supreme Court Case in 1914.  Harlem resident Aldwin C. Babb dropped into the tavern for a drink, but Elsinger refused to serve him because he was Black.  In an early and unexpected move, Babb sued.  On April 14, the Supreme Court justices ruled in Babb's favor, saying "that a saloon was a place of public accommodation and therefore no discrimination was permitted."

In the meantime, the initial tenants of the upper floors included a Marine Corps Recruiting Office.  In December 1911, an advertisement looking for "Able-bodied men," offered monthly pay of "$15 to $69," plus "food, clothing, quarters and medical attendance free.

Another of the original tenants was Gabriel Weis, who ran a rare books store.  On April 7, 1912, The New York Times reported that Weid had obtained a "bejeweled copy of Edward Fitz-Gerald's 'Rubaiyat' of Omar Khayyam" at Sotheby's in London.  The newspaper said it "is said to be, for richness of design and beauty of decoration, the finest specimen of binding ever designed," and noted, "the outside covers and the doublures [are] lavishly inlaid, richly tooled and studded with 1,650 jewels set in gold."

Ironically, Weis had seen the book in London a year earlier and offered $4,000 for it--a significant $118,000 today.  The owners would not accept the offer.  When he saw that it was to be auctioned, he sent his agent to London, instructing him to bid $3,125 but "to go higher if necessary, as he wanted the book."  He was flabbergasted when his agent cabled to say he had won the book, valued at $5,000, for $2,025.  Sadly for Weis, the treasure was carefully packed and loaded onto the RMS Titanic for shipment to New York.  The New York Times would later remark simply, "it was lost at sea."

Gabriel Weis commissioned exquisite, one-of-a-kind volumes, as well.  Around the time of the Rubaiyat disaster, he commissioned a "a beautifully illuminated copy of 'Romeo and Juliet,'" according to The New York Times.  The illuminations were executed "by the famous Alberte Sangorski."  Upon its completion, the bookbinders, Riviere & Son, received a $6,000 offer for the book, "presumably from an agent of King Albert [of Belgium]," said the newspaper.   It is unknown if Weis would have accepted the offer, since, once again, circumstances out of his control foiled the unlucky Gabriel Weis.  

He had sent the volume to an exhibition in Leipzig, Germany, which is where King Albert saw it.  But World War I broke out in April 1914, and on November 22 The New York Times reported the book "is now in possession of the Germans at Leipsic."

A most colorful tenant was Captain O'Brien's Gymnasium, which occupied an upper floor by 1915.  He offered his services to aspiring recruits for city agencies, like the fire department.  After giving them an examination, he then prepared them with physical training.  An example was 21-year-old Hugh A. Halligan in 1916, a Fire Department hopeful.  The Evening Telegram reported his measurements when he "first entered the gymnasium of Captain O'Brien, at No. 113 East Twenty-third street," and after training.  He had gained 22 pounds, 1-1/2 inches in his biceps, lost two inches around his waist, and chest increased from 39 to 44 inches.

New York Irish American Advocate, 1915 (copyright expired)

Captain O'Brien was quick to adapt to changing times.  By the end of the war, he had expended his gymnasium to include a clerical school.  On May 29, 1918 he ran three advertisements in The New York Times that read:

Girls, Ladies, Attention!
Learn telephone switchboard operating, typewriting, stenography, filing, dictaphone bookkeeping, billing.  Capt. O'Brien, 112 East 23d

Attention--Filing Course
Filing course $10.  Why pay more?  Capt. O'Brien School, 112 East 23d.

Attention Ladies!
Learn elevator and telephone operating; fee reasonable.  O'Brien, 112 East 23d.

And on March 10, 1921 the Merchant Plumber and Fitter reported on Captain O'Brien's Civil Service School.  It noted that he coached prospects for the plumbing examinations, saying "His class in technical training and lead wiping has been large, and when appearing before the board of plumbing examiners, his students have been thoroughly grounded, making it easy for them to pass the examination."

Other spaces in the building at the time were leased to the Accurate Office Supply Co. and the Secor Manufacturing Co.  An unexpected tenant was the Committee of Fifty Friends of Conscientious Objectors, here in 1918.  The group was formed to support conscientious objectors who were imprisoned at Fort Levenworth, Kansas.  

On December 23, 1918 the committee met with the Secretary of War, Newton D. Baker, in Washington, presenting him with a petition containing 15,000 signatures.  Baker told them that "the future of the objectors now undergoing military discipline at Leavenworth for refusing to submit to military authority" was being considered.  The committee pointed out that many of the incarcerated were valuable to society.  A representative told the New-York Tribune, "We spoke of George Wiershausen, whose scientific skill effected a wonderful cure on a five-year-old boy crippled with infantile paralysis; of Evan Thomas, the brilliant young minister serving a twenty-five-year sentence; of Roderick Seidenburg, the gifted etcher, and many others."

The 1920's saw the Triangle Radio Supply Co., the Gramercy Radio Store, and the Hair Specialty Co. move into the building.  The ground floor became home to Joseph Habas's stationery store in 1924.

image from the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

The Hair Specialty Co. would remain in the building for decades.  An advertisement in October 1955 promised, "Gray hairs need worry you no more," and said its hair colorer "will cover gray hair in 10 to 30 minutes so that you would not know it ever was gray."  The advertisement apparently did its job, because other than an updated model photograph, the text of an ad in Ebony magazine in March 1962 was verbatim.

In 1979 Neustro Teatro operated from the building.  In September that year it presented Neil Simon's Plaza Suite in Spanish.  Admission was $5.

The Institute for the Protection of Lesbian and Gay Youth leased the third floor in 1983.  The group would be responsible for the organization of the first high school in America specifically for LGBT youth, the Harvey Milk High School.  It remained in the space at least through 1988, when it was known as the Hetrick-Martin Institute.

Other than the starkly remodeled storefront, home to a Wendy's restaurant today, Frank Ayres Wright's handsome Arts & Crafts building is nearly unchanged since its opening in 1911.

photographs by the author
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Thursday, September 22, 2022

The 1855 Samuel Joyce House - 219 East 17th Street


Benjamin Wise and Joseph Whitehead assuredly knew one another through the building trade.  Wise was a bricklayer and Whitehead a mason.  In 1855 Wise purchased two vacant lots on East 17th Street, half a block from Stuyvesant Square from Lewis Rutherford, and Whitehead acquired three adjoining plots, also from Rutherford.  The five houses were completed in 1856, the only telltale sign that they were built as separate projects being a gap in the otherwise continuous cornice between the two groups.

The easternmost of the row was one of Wise's two houses, 118 East 17th Street (renumbered 219 in 1866).  Like the others, it rose four stories.  The basement and parlor levels were faced in rusticated brownstone, and the upper floors in warm orange-red brick.  The stoop was slightly higher than the average Anglo-Italianate example, yet still shorter than those seen in high-stooped Italianate homes.  The fully round arches of the parlor floor gave way to flat-headed openings on the upper stories, their flat lintels topped with projecting molded caps.

Wise sold 118 East 17th Street in 1856 to Samuel Joyce, a merchant tailor.  Like top tier dressmakers of the period, merchant tailors were highly paid, their clientele coming from the top rungs of business and finance.  Joyce's customers would have come to him for their extensive wardrobes--business attire, formal wear, riding outfits and such. 

Joyce and his wife, Ellen, had two children, Charles Augustus, who was 12 years old when the family moved into the house, and Emily.  A third child, Arthur James, had died in 1851 at ten months old.  Also living in the house was Samuel's brother, James T., and their widowed mother, Isabella, who was 84 at the time.

The family had barely settled in when Joyce received chilling news.  His large shop was at 378 Broadway at the corner of White Street, where he employed several workers.  Among them was Bartholomew Burke, the porter, who had been with Joyce for a decade.  Burke had a room in the back of the shop where he lived.  Around 8:30 on the night of July 18, 1856, Joyce bade him goodnight and came home.

The following morning, at around 9:00, an employee appeared at the Joyce house with startling news.  When the clerks and tailors arrived for work that morning, the door was locked and they could get no response from within.  After the door was forced open, according to the New York Herald, "a large pool of blood was discovered on the floor."  A trail of blood led the men to a small anteroom.  The article said, "on opening the door they were horror stricken."  There was the nude body of Burke, his throat cut "almost from ear to ear" and his forehead smashed in, "evidently produced by a large pressing iron which was lying within a few feet of the corpse."  Burke's gold watch and his bankbook were missing.

Later that morning Joyce told investigators, "I then came down to the store and found the body lying on the right side of the inner room."  He said, "I don't know that the deceased had an enemy in the world."  He notified the bank not to give money to anyone producing Burke's bankbook, explaining what had happened.

Rather surprisingly, the investigation was closed just three days later.  The New York Herald reported, "not a single available clue could be obtained to the perpetrator of one of the most shocking murders ever committed within the premises of New York.  The mystery attending the barbarous proceeding still remains unsolved."

The year 1861 was one of upheaval and sorrow within the Joyce household.   Charles Augustus went off to war, where he rose to the rank of first sergeant with the 88th New York Volunteer Infantry, known as The Irish Brigade.  On June 12, James T. Joyce died at the age of 48, and his funeral was held in the house the following day.  Four months later the parlor would be the scene of a second funeral.  Samuel Joyce died on October 1 at the age of 50, and his funeral was held on October 3.

There would be one more Joyce funeral held here.  Having just buried her two sons, Isabella Joyce died on December 11, 1862 at the age of 90.  Her casket sat in the parlor until her funeral there two days later.

Samuel Joyce's thriving business continued.  In 1863 Emily and her brother, Charles, were running it, both listed as tailors in the city directories.

Although Ellen retained possession of the house, the family left in 1864.  She leased it to a series of tenants before selling it in 1873.  It became home to the Metz family in the late 1870's.  Charles D. and Henry F. Metz were attorneys, with an office at 23 Park Row.  They sold the house to Dr. Sylvester Straat Bogert around 1883.

Bogert was born in Rockland County, New York on September 23, 1844, and graduated from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1865.  He married Sara Kathrina Van Zandt (known as Kittie) on October 28, 1869.  They had two children, Helen Alberta and David Van Zandt.

When the family moved into 219 East 17th Street, in addition to his private practice Bogert was the House Physician of the Eastern Dispensary.  His close relationship with his patients was evidenced in the assumption by one of them who assumed Bogert would come to his financial aid on October 13, 1890.  The problem was, it seems, that the doctor had done so repeatedly already.

The New York Herald reported that "a tall young man wearing a blond mustache" had hired hackman James Hanley "to carry him to many Broadway cafes."  Two hours later and without the money to pay for the cab, "the young man told Hanley to drive him to No. 219 East Seventeenth street," said the article.  But when the cab arrived there, Dr. Bogert told Hanley "that he had paid all the cab fares for the young man that he proposed to pay."  Hanley then drove the young man (who refused to give up his name) to the West 13th Street police station "where he was deposited for all night."

After living in the house for nearly two decades, Bogert moved to Pearl River, New York where he set up his practice.  The house was sold to two wealthy, unmarried sisters, Katherine and Susan McGee.

In 1908 the sisters welcomed Edwin O. Kindberg into their home.  They had been close friends with him and his wife for nearly two decades.  Kindberg's wife had committed suicide on October 11, 1908 and within a week he moved into the East 17th Street house "pursuant to her express wish," according to court papers later.   "He occupied the best room in their house and paid generously for it," said the brief.

Kindberg had had a falling out with his brother, whom he claimed had scammed him out of property.  After moving into the East 17th Street house, he rewrote his will, leaving essentially his entire estate of around $90,000 (more than $2.6 million today) to the Presbyterian Hospital.  To his brother he bequeathed $100.  And to the Katherine McGee, he left the items he had brought to the house, "All my furniture, bric-a-brac, books, engravings, paintings, jewelry, piano and sundry personal effects...in recognition of her many kindnesses to my late wife."

The trauma of his wife's sudden death drove Kindberg to start drinking.  He was abetted in this, despite the McKee women's protests, by his lawyer August Reymert, who would take him drinking.  Katherine later told how Reymert would bring Kindberg home drunk, "although specifically warned by Miss McGee that Dr. Burke had said was dangerous to his health."

In February 1909 Kindberg became ill, to the point that he was unable to feed himself, take solid food, nor leave his bed.  The McGee sisters later testified that for two weeks "he rambled in his talk, was unable to carry on any connected conversation or hold his mind upon any subject."  While he was in this condition, on March 5, 1909, Reymert brought relatives of Kindberg to the McKee house and wrote a new will, dividing the estate among the Kindbergs and Reymert's daughters, leaving nothing to the hospital.

A series of suits to overturn the new will were launched, one by the Presbyterian Hospital, and another by Charles A. Kindberg, the brother who by the new will did not even get his $100.  Understandably, the McGee sisters were repeatedly called to the stand to testify.  The contest lasted until December 1910 when the Presbyterian Hospital won the case, and the second will was overturned.

On the afternoon of July 27, 1914, the 60 year old Katherine was crossing Fourth Avenue (later Park Avenue South) at 17th Street when she was struck by a streetcar and killed.  The New-York Tribune reported that her body "lay all last night in the Morgue, while police tried to discover, by means of addresses and papers in a handbag, who the victim was."  In the meantime, Susan was panicked when her sister did not return home.  The following morning she went to the East 22nd Street police station to file a report.  There she was shown jewelry which had been removed from the body, and identified it as Katherine's.

Susan's grief was augmented by a ghoulish crime.  When she collected her sister's effects from the morgue, a chamois bag containing diamond rings "worth about $2,000," according to The Evening World, was missing.  (The figure would be closer to $23,400 today.)  The newspaper noted, "Neither the Coroner's office nor the morgue records had any entry regarding them.  It was suggested the bag might have been caught in the underwork of the car and carried away."

Susan did not accept the unlikely explanation and pressed for an investigation.  And on August 8, The New York Times reported, "Thomas Carr and George Delassandro, employed at the Bellevue morgue...were locked up at Police Headquarters last night on the charge of stealing four diamond solitaire rings from the body of Miss Katherine McGee of 219 East Seventeenth Street."  The men admitted to stealing the jewelry, "but they said they thought the stones were imitations."

In fact, their story was true.  They men had gone to a saloon and, believing the rings to be worthless, gave three of them to friends to give to their wives, and sold the other to the bartender for $1 which they used to drink."  Detectives followed up, and found all four men.  The New York Times said, "All gave up the rings."

Around 1917, Susan sold 219 East 17th Street and it briefly became the Anna Levenberg Home for Immigrant Girls.  Mrs. Oscar Straus explained to a Congressional committee on immigration in 1920 that while the girls left their homelands with addresses of relatives, "These poor people move about a lot.  They had the wrong addresses, so that when they sent the telegrams and the relatives did not come to meet them, and then they are sent to us while they are looking up their relations."

In a macabre case of déjà vu, on the night November 12, 1920 an occupant of the Anna Levenberg Home for Immigrant Girls, 30-year-old Kathleen O'Connor, attempted to cross Fourth Avenue and 17th Street--the exact spot there Katherine McGee had been struck and killed by the streetcar--when she was hit by an automobile.  The New York Times reported, "The machine stopped after striking the woman, and the driver, a man, assisted in placing her in the automobile of Berger W. Tonneson."  Tonneson headed to Bellevue Hospital and the driver of other car promised to follow.  But along the way he disappeared.  The article said, "Miss O'Connor died shortly after reaching the hospital."

It appears 219 East 17th Street was being operated as a rooming house during the Great Depression years.   One resident, Thomas Scheehy, was the victim of a now all-too-familiar accident on October 1, 1939.   At 2:35 that morning, as he was crossing Third Avenue at 36th Street, he was struck by a southbound streetcar.  Scheehy was not killed, but was hospitalized.

image via elliman.com

A renovation completed in 2002 resulted in an apartment in the basement and parlor levels, and a triplex on the top three floors.  From the exterior, almost nothing has changed since the house was completed in 1856.  It recently sold for just under $5.5 million.

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