In early 1830's, the first of the aristocratic homes that would line the East Fourth Street block between Lafayette Place and the Bowery appeared. Mary Waldron, the widow of Oliver Waldron, Jr., was a little late to the party, erecting a speculative, 25-foot-wide residence on the south side of the block in 1844-45. The elapsed decade was reflected in the architecture. The brick-faced house was Greek Revival in style, as opposed to its earlier Federal style neighbors. Three-and-a-half stories above a brownstone English basement, its low-key outward appearance belied the opulence of the interiors.
Among the early residents of 372 Fourth Street (renumbered 38 East 4th Street in 1865) was Morris S. Hopper, a merchant, listed here in 1845. In 1851 the family of Gilbert Allen occupied the residence.
Mary Waldron's estate sold the house in 1853 to Anna M. Rutgers, who leased it to the affluent Dr. William W. Dwight. Born in South Hadley, Massachusetts, Dwight had graduated from Yale University in 1826. He seems to have occasionally treated police prisoners, supplying the Board of Aldermen with bills "for medical attendance at the Third District Watch-House." Dr. Dwight died on July 11, 1861 at the age of 55, and his funeral was held in the parlor the following day.
Lawrence (or Laurence) Maher and his wife, Bridget, purchased the house in 1865. The appearance of the couple on the refined block may have caused comment over teacups in the neighboring homes. Maher listed his occupation as "liquors," which could have meant he ran a saloon, or at best a wine and liquor store. An incident in November 1865 suggests the former.
Thomas Moore ran a gambling parlor at 700 Broadway. On November 14, 16-year-old Beverly Gibson had a bad stroke of luck there, losing $600 playing faro. (It was a massive loss, equal to about $10,300 today.) The teen had been a sailor in the Confederate Navy, and was the son of a Confederate surgeon-general. Even worse than losing a fortune, that money did not belong to him.
Earlier, Gibson had picked William W. Smith's pocket of $920 "while walking in the street," according to The New York Times. Suspecting the police might be after him, he boarded the Good Hope heading for California, but Police Sergeant Garland overtook the ship off Bedloe's Island and arrested the boy. The New York Times reported, "Sergeant Garland called upon Moore and politely requested him to return the money won from Gibson, but Moore refused to comply." Thomas Moore was also arrested, and "Lawrence Maher, of No. 38 East Fourth-street, became his surety." (The term meant that Maher bailed him out of jail.)
Two years after the incident, the Mahers sold the East 4th Street house to Henry Iden. (Incidentally, Laurence Maher's life would come to a gruesome end on August 11, 1880. He and Thomas Hogan were driving "a loaded beer-wagon," according to The New York Times, when somehow both of them "fell beneath the wheels and were killed."
Iden leased the house to Lewis and Bertha Schneider, who operated it as a high-end boarding house. Among their tenants in 1873 were Max Bottstein, a shoe merchant; and engraver Anton Hilgenreiner.
The elevated class of the Schneiders' boarders was evidenced in a court case in 1876. Renting rooms that November were the recently widowed Eusebia Fitzgerald and her adult son, Horace. Three weeks after they arrived, on December 16, the Los Angeles Evening Express reported, "Mrs. Fitzgerald, a wealthy lady from San Francisco, and a step-sister of Gen. Ewing of California, charged Mrs. Bertha Schneider, a boarding house keeper of No. 38 East Fourth street, with robbing her of diamond jewelry valued at $6,000." (The actual amount was $4,000, or about $104,000 today.)
Saying that Bertha "keeps a fashionable boarding-house," The New York Times described her as "an honest-looking German woman, apparently about fifty years of age." Eusebia Fitzgerald, said the article, "is a woman apparently a little more than thirty years old, with light yellow hair, and a face which, though fair, is not by any means beautiful."
The women faced off in court on December 16. The New York Times said Eusebia "seemed rather nervous and excited while giving her evidence, and several times manifested a decidedly combative disposition when closely questioned by counsel." She told the court she had come to New York to settle her husband's $800 life insurance policy. She had shown the cash to Bertha on December 11, "and soon afterward missed it." Three days later, she said, "Mrs. Schneider came into her room and seized her diamonds." According to her, Bertha told her they "were perfectly safe," and she "would give them up as soon as the board was paid." Horace Fitzgerald took the stand and corroborated his mother's story.
Bertha's testimony, not surprisingly, was starkly different. She said Colonel St. Martin had brought her to the house, introduced Eusebia as his sister-in-law, and paid her the first week's board. When the second week's rent was not forthcoming, Bertha asked for it several times. Eusebia Fitzgerald showed her several $100 bills on December 13 as proof that she had the money, and said she would pay her rent when she returned from shopping. "She went out and when she came back she said she had lost her money," said Bertha. Eusebia then went to Colonel St. Martin and declared Bertha had stolen her jewels.
Ellen Dillon, a servant girl in the house, appeared on behalf of Bertha. The New-York Daily Tribune reported she "testified that Mrs. Fitzgerald offered her $500 to state that she had seen the jewel box containing $4,000 worth of property in the possession of Mrs. Schneider." And while Eusebia had testified that she had known Colonel St. Martin "for many years," he told the court they had only met in July. Furthermore, acquaintances of Eusebia and her late husband said that there was no life insurance policy.
The case lasted nearly a week. Then, on December 21, 1876 Judge Bixby exonerated Bertha Schneider and dismissed that case. The Salt Lake City Deseret News reported, "Mrs. Fitzgerald was very indignant, and threatens libel suits against the papers for writing her up so extensively."
In 1881 Ms. H. Bulliganer took over running the boarding house. A colorful tenant that year was Professor St. Leon, who advertised in the New York Dispatch, "Professor St. Leon, late of London, Astrologer and Clairvoyant, reveals everything. No imposition. No. 38 East Fourth street." His "office" fees were 50 cents, and "consultation by mail" was $1.00.
Henry Iden enlarged the house in 1883 by raising the attic to a full fourth floor. It was purchased by tobacco merchant Jacob L. Kahn in December 1890 for $29,000--around $891,000 in today's money.
By now the once refined residential block was much changed. Almost all of the wealthy homeowners had migrated northward. Some of the homes were now being operated as boarding houses, others had been converted for business or razed for commercial structures. On June 18, 1897 the New York Journal and Advertiser would note that to the east side of Kahn's house "is a saloon, and next to that a Chinese laundry."
Born in Germany, Kahn had gone into the tobacco business in 1877. In 1895, five years after moving into the East 4th Street house, he went head-to-head with a formidable opponent, the Tobacco Trust. The Trust was bent on monopolizing the industry, intimidating retailers to purchase only their stock. In December 1900 The Tobacco Worker explained, "Having a large business and an extensive stock, [Kahn] found it absolutely necessary to carry the goods which were now in control of the Trust." But he balked at being bullied, and went to extreme measures to obtain other goods. One by one, Trust spies discovered who his suppliers were, and threatened them. "Nothing daunted, Kahn hunted up other jobbers," said The Tobacco Worker. "Many a night Kahn, after closing up his store for the day, would take a midnight train out of New York and start out on a hunt for cigarettes. In this manner he succeeded, despite all the efforts of the Trust, to keep supplied."
As part of the District Attorney's investigation against the Tobacco Trust in 1897, Jacob Kahn was scheduled to testify in court. And as the date of the case approached, he discovered he was dealing with a fearsome adversary. On June 18, 1897 the New York Journal and Advertiser wrote, "Jacob L. Kahn, probably the most important witness for the people in the Tobacco Trust case...to prove that rebellious dealers have been persecuted by the Trust, that spies have been employed to annoy them, and that efforts have been made to break up their business, was the victim of a mysterious casualty in front of his home, at No. 38 East Fourth street, yesterday morning."
Just after midnight, as Jacob approached his stoop, he was attacked "by two thugs and was felled to the pavement." He suffered two deep cuts to the face when he "struck the pavement with fearful force." The attack did not dissuade Kahn, who appeared in court as scheduled. (The weeks-long trial ended in a hung jury on June 29. The members were so heated in their disagreement, according to The World, that "the struggle in the jury-room" required a physician to be sent in to tend to at least one of them.)
The Kahn family remained in the house for years. By 1915 Semon Kahn was working in his father's business as a clerk. The property was sold to Dr. Benedict F. D'Angelo in 1933. The family would retain possession through 1967. During that time the once-proud home was brutalized. The stoop was removed, as was the cornice which was replaced by a brick parapet. The parlor floor entrance was converted to a window, and the entrance moved to the former basement level.
Astounding change would come in 2007. Two years earlier the Fourth Street Inn, LLC had leased the house. Now, having purchased it, the concern completed a remarkable restoration of the facade, rebuilding the stoop, and recreating the Greek Revival doorway. The Lafayette House, a 15-room inn opened in October 2007 "with no fanfare at all," according to Fred A. Bernstein of The New York Times.
Although the parapet (with a newly-added cornice) gives the house a rather high forehead, and the parlor windows, which were undoubtedly full height in 1845, have been shortened, 38 East 4th Street has essentially regained the appearance it had when the stylish broughams of the block's wealthy residents passed by.
photographs by the author
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