Thursday, March 24, 2022

The Mark J. King House - 50 West 22nd Street


An outdoor dining shed currently obscures the extant stoop of 50 West 22nd Street.

In 1850, two decades after Henry Brevoort, Jr. erected the first mansion on Fifth Avenue, grand homes had spread northward as far as 23rd Street.   The development of the retail shopping district along Sixth Avenue, known as the Ladies’ Mile, would not be in full swing for years.  And so, the blocks between Fifth and Sixth Avenues took on an elegant residential nature.

That year developer John Latson erected a row of carbon copy brownstone-fronted residences on the south side of West 22nd Street.  Each twenty-three feet wide and three stories tall above a English basements, their Italianate elements included handsome stone entrances with carved pilasters and dentiled cornices, heavy iron stoop railings and fencing, and unassuming bracketed cornices.

Among the row was 50 West 22nd Street, described in an advertisement in February 1855 as "The medium sized three story stone front House...containing all the modern improvements and conveniences."  Among those conveniences was indoor running water, made possible by the opening of mains from the Croton Reservoir in 1842.

The house became home to the Mark J. King family in 1861.  King was the principal in Mark J. King & Co., a retail furrier at 62 Broadway.  He and his wife, Sarah, had two sons.  Initially living with the family was Mrs. Ella Hall.

They had barely gotten settled when youthful burglars broke in.  On the night of February 23, 1861, Police Officer O'Connor saw "three lads, named Patrick Farrell, Michael Farrell and Patrick McDonnell," carrying a mantel clock.  The New York Times reported, "believing they had stolen it, he arrested them."  The boys languished in jail for three days until Mrs. Hall appeared to report the burglary.  They had not only stolen the mantel clock, but "sawed off the water-pipes and did other damage."

The three Irish boys confessed to the crime, "stating that they had entered the building by sliding down the coal-hole, not to steal but merely to have a slide for the fun of it."  Once in the coal cellar, they could not escape without going upstairs.  "Then they found the clock and took it away," they explained.

The King boys were teenagers when the Civil War broke out.  On July 11, 1863 the nation’s first attempt at a military draft played out in New York with a lottery, but newspapers explained "Isaac M. King and H. King were disposed from the draft as being under age."  In fact, few sons of wealthy families were inducted, their parents having bought exemptions or used their political power to circumvent the draft.  It resulted in the infamous Draft Riots, a three-day reign of terror and carnage unlike anything seen in the country before.  That the King boys were truly ineligible for the draft is questionable, given that shortly afterward King changed the name of his firm to Mark J. King & Sons.

King had renamed the firm and moved further up Broadway by 1866.  New York Dispatch, December 30, 1866.

Mark J. King died in 1866.  Sarah and Isaac lived on in the house until 1869.  Isaac had decided not to continue in the fur business, and in 1868 was listed as Dr. Isaac M. King.  

Another physician, Josiah Clark Nott, next occupied 50 West 22nd Street.  Born in 1804 in South Carolina, he was the son of politician and judge, Abraham Nott.  After receiving his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1827, he further studied medicine in Paris.  A esteemed surgeon, Nott is listed at the address in 1869.  He is best remembered for his studies into the origins of malaria and yellow fever (he was the first to suggest the mosquito was responsible for spreading the diseases), and for his racist theories.  A slave owner prior to the end of the Civil War, he wrote in 1847 that "the negro achieves his greatest perfection, physical and moral, and also greatest longevity, in a state of slavery."

Dr. Josiah Clarke Nott, from the collection of the Alabama Department of Archives and History

Nott was still listed at the West 22nd Street address when he died on March 31, 1873.  His body was returned to Mobile, Alabama.

The house was next home to Rev. James Mulchaney, a minister with St. Paul's Episcopal Chapel on Broadway at Fulton Street.  Mulchaney was a prolific author whose works include The Inspiration of History, The Witness of the Church to Christian Faith, and Christianity in the Daily Conduct of Life.

The Mulchahey's son, John Henshaw Mulchaney graduated from Columbia University in 1879 and the following year the family left 50 West 22nd Street.  By then the commercial tone of Sixth Avenue had begun spilling over to the side street.

In 1888 Ella Hoyt purchased the house and opened Miss Hoyt's Dance School.  Her advertisement that year promised "Strictly private lessons daily; classes for adults and children's private classes; special terms; all dances carefully taught."  It was most likely Ella Hoyt who converted the basement and parlor level for commercial purposes by installing storefronts.

Andrew J. Graham was the inventor of Graham's Standard Phonography, a method of shorthand writing based on sound.  He was, as well, the editor and publisher of The Student's Journal, affiliated with his process.  In its November 1890 issue Graham wrote:

We have opened at 50 West 22nd Street...a school of Standard Phonography and typewriting, where we can accommodate a large number of pupils...The school is on the first floor, and is thoroughly lighted and ventilated with windows and a large skylight.  The location is one of the finest in the city, and being so accessible, must be a popular one for all pupils, especially ladies.

St. Nicholas magazine, June 1891 (copyright expired)

The former residence would have a wide variety of commercial tenants.  In 1891 Emily M. Coe operated the American Kindergarten Normal School, here, and the millinery store of Sunderland & Son, importers of ladies hats was in the building.

By the end of 1899, Higgens & Seiter occupied space in 50 West 22nd, as well as in 52 and 54.  The firm dealt in "fine china [and] rich cut glass."  The company was joined in the building by G. F. Conlon, "practical furrier," the following year, and by the furniture store of Cowperthwait & Co. in 1901.  G. F. Conlon advertised, "the repairing and altering of seal garments and fine furs a specialty."

A surprising tenant in 1902 was the Koch Lung Institute, run by Drs. Edward Koch and Frank A. Bigelow.  The facility promised to cure asthma and consumption (the then-common term for pulmonary tuberculosis) through "The Koch Lung Inhalations."  The public may have first become suspicious when Bigelow was sued in July 1903 by the widow of Thomas H. Collie.  On July 22 the New-York Tribune reported, "Mrs. Collie told the magistrate that her husband began taking the Koch lung cure on March 1, and had been paying for medicine and treatment, which, she said, did him no good.  She also told the court that Dr. Bigelow had not been near her husband for a month before he died."

Higgins & Seiter, described by Recreation magazine in 1903 as offering "the most complete and extensive stock of fine cut glass and china ware in the world," remained at 50 West 22nd Street through 1912.  Most of the interior remnants of the once-refined residence were erased in 1917 when owner Henry Stein made renovations.  Upon completion, the Department of Building noted the structure was to be "occupied as tenant factory with not more than 22 persons employed above the first story at any one time."

The post-World War I years saw tenants like F. J. Bernard & Co., jewelers, the International Trimming Co., and King & Reissman, Inc. dealers in sewing machines.

Woolen & Worsted Piece Goods Houses, 1920 (copyright expired)

The building was sold in 1941, described as having "a double store on the street floor with lofts above."  By 1945, the Metropolitan Mechanical Display Co. was in the building.  The firm manufactured the motorized department store figures especially in demand at Christmas.  It would remain in the building at least through 1964.

The New York PM Daily labeled this drawing of the Metropolitan Mechanical Display Company's shop "Santa and satellites in the making" in December 1945.

The owner of the building in the 1950's was Jacques Gadiel.  Born in Germany in 1906, his dramatic, years-long escape from the Nazi regime had culminated with his arrival in New York in April 1941.  Gadiel established Cameo Novelty which originally manufactured large plastic buttons and shoulder padding, then transitioned to making the brass fastenings for women's handbags.

Gadiel's son, Peter, recently recalled his visits to the building in the 1950's:

The stoop on the east side of the building front led to the main entrance door, behind which was a small vestibule with stairs straight ahead that led up to the main floor.  At the top of the stairs was a statuary niche...Behind the offices and separated from them by a wooden wall were large power metal stamping presses producing the brass parts used in the handbag “turnlocks.”  On the floor above were smaller foot powered presses used in assembly. Other than the wall enclosing the offices there were no other interior walls. 

Change in the neighborhood was evident in the last decade of the 20th century.  In 1990 the Swiss Sun Tanning Salon, one of four in the city, occupied space; and in 1995 the upper portion of the building was converted to apartments--one each per floor.

A subsequent renovation, completed in 2008, resulted in an eating and drinking establishment in the basement level.  It is home today to BXL Zoute, a Belgian pub.  (BXL is the airport code for Brussels, and Zoute is a high-end neighborhood on the North Sea.)  On June 12, 2018 The New York Times called BXL Zoute "a home base during major [soccer] tournaments for fans of all stripes, not just those of the Red Devils."

photos by the author
many thanks to Peter Gadiel for suggesting this post
no permission to reuse the content of this blog has been granted to

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