Friday, February 18, 2022

Ritch & Griffiths's 1861 27 Mercer Street


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In 1866 the trustees of the estate of Charlotte Gomez contracted the architectural firm of Ritch & Griffiths to design a commercial building at 27 Mercer Street, between Canal and Grand Streets.  The neighborhood, only a generation earlier, had been residential, but it was quickly transforming into one of factories and stores.

The architects, who were recently responsible for designing elaborate buildings like the Emigrant Hospital on Ward's Island, and the Labor Exchange at Castle Garden, would now produce a much humbler structure.  Completed in 1867, the  three-story building was faced in granite above the cast iron storefront.  Twenty-four feet wide, its simple Italianate design looked as much like a converted house as a new loft and store building.

Unlike the large, cast iron-fronted structures rising throughout the district, 27 Mercer Street could accommodate only a handful of tenants.  Among the early occupants was Martin V. B. Travis, who operated a "notion business."  
Notions merchants offered a variety of goods, many of which were related to sewing, like ribbons, buttons, and buttons.  But other small items, like collar stays, pocket knives and mirrors were also offered.  

By the mid-1870's silk fabrics dealer George B. Skinner & Co. had its salesroom  here.  The firm's mills were in Yonkers, New York where it made textiles, the names of which are alien to today's seamstresses: "tram, organzine, fringe silk, sewing silk, and machine twist."

The company shared the building with Patterson Dyeing & Finishing Co., run by Claude Greppo.  It dyed piece goods at its dyeworks in Patterson, New Jersey.

The first years of the 1890's saw Jackson Brothers, makers of furs and fur trimmings, here.  Julius and Moritz Jackson employed ten men, four women, and three teens--one boy and two girls--in 1892.  They worked 58 hours per week and eight hours on Saturdays.

In the summer of 1893, Joseph Stiner & Bros. pressured the brothers for an outstanding debt of $2,375.  The Evening World said, "The Jacksons begged for time," and explained that they had just shipped more than $4,000 of goods to various clients.  And an inventory showed the firm had more than a third of a million in today's dollars worth of furs in stock.

Suspicious, however, the creditors wrote to one of the supposed customers and "were informed the firm had not bought the amount of goods represented, and did not owe Jackson Brothers what appeared on the books," according to Fur Trade Review.  When Steiner & Bros. filed for an attachment of the Jackson Brothers inventory early in September, according to The Evening World, "the Jacksons represented that they would settle with Steiner & Bros. if given until after the celebration of the Hebrew New Year, which began the next day.  They represented that as orthodox Hebrews they could do no business during that sacred festival."

Steiner & Bros. should have been wary of the excuse, given that the brothers' factory operated on the sabbath every week.  When the sheriff visited the Mercer Street premises early in September, he found that the Jacksons had fled in the night, taking the furs and leaving an empty loft.  On September 15, The Evening World reported, "The Sheriff has closed up the place of business of Jackson Brothers, manufacturers of furs at 27 Mercer street...on allegations that they had disposed of their property."  A manhunt for the fugitives was launched across several states.

Four days later the brothers were under arrest in Boston.  They were charged with fraud and extradited to New York City.

Following the disgraced Jackson Brothers in the building was Frank & Co., cloak manufacturers.  The tiny firm of Louis Emanuel, which made curtains, was here at the turn of the century.  Emanuel's staff of just three men worked 59 hours per week.

A major change came in 1916 when the Nicholas Doddato Company leased the building.  The Waste Trade Journal announced that the firm, "now occupy a three-story building, thoroughly equipped for the handling of their business."  That business was the scrap business.  The Doddato family dealt in "rags, bagging, cotton and wool waste, paper stock, [and] strings."

That tradition continued after 1925 when the building was sold to Rose Tuzio and her daughter, Victoria Mastronardi.  Victoria's husband, Andrew, took over the first floor for his waste paper business, while their existing tenants used the top two floors for theirs.

A horrific accident occurred on January 31, 1939.  Two years earlier Morris Dell 'Olio and his son had moved their waste paper business into the rear half of the upper floors.  The front half was occupied by a tenant named Derico, who was in the same business.

That morning Dell 'Olio and his son were unloading materials from a truck and hoisting them to the third floor.  Court papers later explained, "The hoist was operated by pulling a rope and it was necessary for the person operating the hoist to continue pulling the rope until such time as he desired to stop the hoist."  Dell 'Olio was unloading about seven or eight bags of heavy waste material into a sling, which he would then send up to his son.

For about five or six months, Dell 'Olio had complained to Andrew Mastronardi that the rope was in bad condition.  His concerns were warranted.  As bags, weighing about 700 pounds, were nearly at the third floor, the rope broke, sending them crashing directly onto Dell 'Olio.

While Dell 'Olio was not killed, he was seriously injured and sued the landlords.  In court, Andrew Mastronardi said that since Dell 'Olio knew the rope was in bad condition, he could have stood away from the spot directly underneath the load.  The jury did not agree and awarded Dell 'Olio $1,000 (about $18,600 today).

The Mastronardis' bad luck continued.  Late on the night of June 9 that year, fire broke out.  It developed into a two-alarm blaze, and by the time it was extinguished, according to The New York Sun, "the place was wrecked" and one firefighter injured.

The discovery of what is now known as the Soho district by artists in the third quarter of the 20th century changed the personality of 27 Mercer Street.  In 2006 Fringe Central was in the building, where tickets to the New York International Fringe Festival could be purchased.   Started in 1996, it is the largest multi-arts festival in North America, attracting world-wide companies.

The store space became home to Surface to Air in 2011.  It was the first store for the sportswear line that had been available in stores like Barneys New York and Bloomingdale's for years.

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The little building that had stood in the shadows of its neighbors for 160 years was converted to a residential triplex in 2016-17, designed by the architectural firm GDSNY.

The days of waste paper and rags were over in 2016.  image via

Curbed New York called 27 Mercer Street "very Soho-glamorous" and described the five-bedroom space as having "wide white oak hardwood floors, imported natural stone, and marble; fancy appliances; an excess of slightly; and 'dueling terraces."  The unfinished residence went on the market in 2016 for $16.5 million.

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