Saturday, March 5, 2022

Samuel A. Warner's 1857 23 Park Place

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In 1855 the formerly elegant neighborhood around the homes of Edwin Brutton  Strange and Dr. Valentine Mott, at 23 and 25 Park Place respectively, was becoming increasingly commercialized.  That year Richard D. Lathrop and Charles H. Ludington signed a lease on the properties.  It stipulated that "a good and substantial building...of five stories high beside basement and sub-cellar with marble fronts and iron pillars" would be erected on or before November 1857.  The lease additionally specified that the building would be used "as a dry goods store."

The latter stipulation was not coincidental.  The renters were the principals in the drygoods firm Lathrop, Ludington & Co., then located at 16 Cortlandt Street.  They hired architect Samuel A. Warner, who specialized in mercantile buildings, to design two matching structures that would run through the block to Murray Street.

The nearly identical buildings were completed early in 1857.  As the lease stipulated, Warner had clad the upper stories in marble, above a cast-iron storefront manufactured by Daniel Badger's Architectural Iron Works.  At three-bays wide, 23 Park Place was slightly narrower than its counterpart, but continuous stone intermediate cornices above the third and four floors, and a bracketed terminal cornice unified the buildings, making the difference nearly undetectable.

At first glance, the buildings appear to be a single structure.  23 Park Place is to the right.

Warner's dignified Italianate style design took inspiration from Renaissance period antecedents, particularly at the second and third floors.  The openings of the second floor were clearly influenced by the 16th century Palazzo Farnese in Rome, with their alternating triangular and arched pediments.  The window treatment gradually became less elaborate with each successive floor.

Warner clearly took inspiration from Rome's Palazzo Farnese for his second floor window treatment.  from the collection of the University of Notre Dame

Lathrop, Ludington & Co. moved into 25 Park Place and part of 23--assuredly the lower section.  An advertisement in December 1857 said that a shipment of "new, fresh and desirable goods" had made "their magnificent Warerooms the most attractive resort in town for buyers who have the cash to spend."  The variety of drygoods offered included, "sheetings shirtings, tickings, flannels, De Laines, prints, blankets, black and fancy silks, merinos, alpacas, paramettas, cloths, cassimeres, &c. &c."

The upper floors of 23 Park Place were leased to another dry goods firm, Wm. Lottimer & Co.  Thanks to a sharp-eyed policeman, the company narrowly escaped being burglarized on January 21, 1860.

Evening Post, March 1, 1858 (copyright expired)

The New York Times reported, "Wm. Smith, a carman, and Martin Besby, an oysterman, were detected on Friday night as they were leaving the store of Lathrop, Ludington & Co., No. 23 Park-place, which, it is alleged, they had broken open with the intention of robbing."  Officer Wildey arrested the men, who had two pieces of serge fabric in their possession, the value of which would translate to about $2,250 today.  Smith and Besby were sent to prison.

The near loss paled to a forgery committed against the firm four years later.  According to The New York Times on November 17, 1864, police were searching for the gang that had carried out "one of the most extensive and successful series of forgeries which have ben perpetrated in this country for several years."  The name of Richard D. Lathrop, the firm's senior member, had been signed to a $27,127.50 check--more than $425,000 today.  The newspaper explained, "The fraud was not discovered until some time after the crime was perpetrated."  Authorities feared the extend of the forgeries would reach $300,000.

In the spring of 1867 Lathrop, Ludington & Co. leased 23 Park Place to seed distributor B. K. Bliss & Son.  The firm sold a vast variety of vegetable seeds through the mail, advertising in agricultural periodicals throughout the country.

American Agriculturist, February 1873 (copyright expired)

As a marketing device, in 1869 B. K. Bliss & Son held an exhibition of strawberries in the building.  The following year, on September 24, 1870, The New York Times reported that the firm "announce that the success attending their prize exhibition of strawberries, last Summer, has determined them to give a similar one of grapes, next week, when the sum of $250 will be distributed in prizes."  That exhibition, too, was a resounding success.

On September 28, The New York Times announced, "The spacious store of Messrs. B. K. Bliss & Sons, No. 23 Park-place, was yesterday crowded by grape-growers and connoisseurs, who came to view the splendid display of grapes presented for competition.  There were fully 500 specimens on the tables, and they all presented a fine appearance."

Earlier that year B. K. Bliss & Sons had made an unfortunate business decision.  The previous fall 23-year-old Luther Burbank dug up his newest variety of potato in Lunenburg, Massachusetts.  Decades later, he told a reporter:

As quick as I dug I knew I had a prize.  I wrote to B. K. Bliss & the spring of 1873.  I sent a sack.  I felt glad that I had a wonderful potato.  The firm replied that they were so sweet and nutty that they feared they must be frozen, and therefore turned them down.

The Burbank Potato would become the most widely grown potato in North America.

B. K. Bliss & Son lost a formidable employee almost simultaneously.  On March 11, 1873 a position-wanted advertisement appeared in the New York Herald that included an impressive resume:

A landscape gardener and rural architect, with a thorough knowledge of floriculture and vegetable growing, wishes an engagement, permanent or otherwise; seven yeas' reference as general foreman on Regent's Park, London; two years assistant to Sir Joseph Paxton on the Sydenham Crystal Palace, at Northwood, England; five years connection with the Department of Parks, New York and Brooklyn.  City References.

Frederick Law Olmstead, Esq.  Address Bliss & Sons, 23 Park place.

After B. K. Bliss & Sons moved out in 1875, the ground floor store was completely remodeled.  On December 26, 1875, an advertisement disguised as a news article in the New York Dispatch touted, "Bro. Benjamin F. Stiles, for the past fourteen years in Nassau street...has opened a new and splendid restaurant at No. 23 Park-place, running through to Murray street.  Here will be found in endless profusion every delicacy and substantial Nature has provided or art combined, as anyone may see and know for himself by just looking in and ordering a meal."

The upper floors saw a distinctly different type of tenant shortly afterward.  In 1879 the Gutta Percha & Rubber Manufacturing Company moved in, and in 1884 the Rand Drill Company, sellers of mining machinery, and the Rendrock Powder Company, makers of blasting equipment, took space in the building.

The American Engineering Register, 1885 (copyright expired)

Sharing the building with its industrial neighbors in 1887 was Horace Partridge & Co.  The commission merchants sold much gentler products--dolls and toys, games, "fancy glassware," albums, decorated chinaware, "magic lanterns," and "an immense assortment of novelties and specialties."

On January 25, 1892 a man from Guttenberg, New Jersey purchased a crate of 30 "Rack-a-Rock" sticks of dynamite from Rendrock Powder Company.  Company employees later told a detective, "He had put the box on his wagon and driven away.  An hour later he returned, and said that he had lost the box of cartridges.  It had mysteriously disappeared from the wagon."  In the wrong hands, the stolen explosives could prove deadly.

At around 1:00 that afternoon, Rudolph Heig, the superintendent of the Newsboys' Lodging House at Chambers and Duane Streets, was entering the building when he noticed a crate just inside the door.  The New York Times reported, "Near the box lay a brick, with which the lid of the box had been knocked open.  The board of the lid had been split and the brick had been broken in the effort to open the box."

Heig carried the box into the light, where he discovered its terrifying contents.  The newspaper said, "The cartridges were neatly packed in wood shavings, and it was probably the packing that prevented the hammering on the box from causing a disastrous explosion."  A detonation would have, indeed, been a calamity.  The article noted, "At the time the box was found there were about 250 people in the building.  Of this number 175 were children in the school and kindergarten."  Police surmised, "On finding out what the contents were the thief must have run away as fast as he could."

Around 1897 Remington & Sherman Co., manufacturers of safes and vaults, opened its showroom in the building.  It would remain well past the turn of the century.

In 1903 the Broadway Savings Institution leased the ground floor for two years while its future home at 17 Park Place was being renovated.  The New-York Tribune reported, "It will move to No. 23 Park Place on August 1."

The upper floors continued to house industrial tenants, including the American Street Lamp & Supply Co., here in 1904, and the Universal Printing & Manufacturing Co.  By 1915 the Banks Law Publishing Co. was in the building.  Among the firm's industry-specific offerings that year were Insurance Law of New York, Principles of the English Law of Contract, and Commentaries on the Law of England.

From 1921 to 1930 The Daily News operated from both buildings.  They were once again separate entities in 1932 when 23 Park Place now had a store on the ground floor, a "private club" on the second, and factory space above.  That configuration lasted until 1945 when the building was converted to storage.

The changes in the neighborhood were reflected in the alteration to 23 Park Place completed in 1966.  The was now an "eating and drinking establishment" with "restrictions on entertainment," on the ground floor; a pool and billiard hall on the second; and storage on the upper floors.  

When the building was offered for sale in October 2005 for $13 million, the realtor suggested its used for "retailing space and loft apartments."  Today there are a total of six apartments above the two-story restaurant space.  A sidewalk shed suggests that the care-worn building is currently receiving some well-needed attention.

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

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