Friday, September 30, 2022

Battered Survivors - 203 and 205 East 26th Street

Around 1850 two modest, mirror image houses were completed on East 26th Street, just east of Third Avenue.  The working class, immigrant neighborhood was known as the Gas House District because of the sprawling Metropolitan Gas Light Company's gasworks between East 22nd and 23rd Street, from First Avenue to Avenue A.  Residents also shared the neighborhood with lumber yards and a stone-and-lime yard, as well as the notorious Gas House Gang.

Despite their gritty surroundings, the houses boasted handsome Italianate detailing.  The elliptically arched openings wore molded brownstone lintels.  Paneled fascia boards enhanced the cornices, upheld by foliate brackets.  Both houses had a store in the basement level.  

Frederick H. Ahrens, an "ink man," operated his business at 113 West 26th Street (renumbered 203 in 1867) by 1853.  He lived at 330 Third Avenue where he also ran a grocery store.  By 1857 both this store and the one next door at 115 were home to Francis Ripperger's shoe store (one, perhaps, for men's shoes and the other for women's and children's).   Interestingly, he lived at 330 Third Avenue, the same tenement in which Frederick H. Ahrens lived.

Living above the store at 113 in 1857 was Jacob V. Hutschler, who ran a saloon at 339 Third Avenue.  He would remain here at least through 1863.  His next door neighbor at 115 was in the same business.  George Tator's saloon was on East 24th Street.

Despite what must have been tight conditions, Tator took in two boarders.  In 1865 two school teachers lived here.  Alexander Morehouse taught in the boy's department of School No. 20 on Chrystie Street, and Augusta S. Van Noy taught at School No. 19 on 14th Street.

The same was true next door by the mid-1870's.  An advertisement in March 1876 offered a "nicely furnished parlor and bedroom" for $6 per week, or a "second story front room" for $4, "meals if desired."  The rent for the more expensive accommodations would equal about $165 per week in today's money.

The store space in 203 East 26th Street was home to Herman Kahn's grocery store by the early 1880's.  On July 22, 1882 Mary Moakley came in and asked for a quart of peas and three lemons.  The New York Dispatch said, "She was so far pregnant that she could scarcely walk."  Mary Moakley's bill was 15 cents.  Kahn gave her the items, and briefly walked outside.  When he returned she demanded, "I gave you a dollar bill.  I want my change."

The New York Dispatch reported, "No bill was given him or his clerk.  He sent out for a policeman, took the basket from her, and she waited till the policeman came."  The article added, "The officer was long in coming, and she could have escaped, but for her condition."

Both Moakley and Kahn told their stories to a magistrate.  The New York Dispatch wrote, "She was not believed in the Police Court, nor in the Sessions."  For attempting to steal 15 cents worth of peas and lemons, and 85 cents in change, she was sentenced to 10 days in City Prison.

In the meantime, Michael Sweeney had lived in 205 East 26th Street since the early 1870's.  His store at 352 Third Avenue was listed as "butter" in 1873, but by 1879 he had branched out to include teas.  He sold the house to the James Hall family in the mid-1880's, around the time he changed his business once again, to a liquor store.

Living with James Hall and his wife, the former Frances Sweeney, were nephews Michael, Thomas, George, Matthew and John Brannelly.  The boys were the sons of Frances's sister, Bridget Sweeney Brannelly, and Patrick Bernard Brannelly.

Another Irish immigrant, Patrick Curley, rented a room in 1889.  When a friend, James Giblin, applied for a Civil Service job that year, Thomas Brannelly and Patrick Curley testified to his good character.

James Hall died on February 20, 1888, and John F. Brannelly died on October 10, 1894 at the age of 22.  Both funerals were held in the East 26th Street house.

Living next door the year of John Brannelly's funeral was Ellen Burke, who also came from Galway, Ireland.  The unmarried woman was looking for work in 1895, advertising, "Chambermaid and seamstress--or assist with growing children; best city references.  Miss Burke, 203 East 26th st."

A year before placing that ad, Ellen had been disturbed by a window display across the street.  On May 2, 1894 The Press reported, "At No. 202 East Twenty-sixth street, near Bellevue Hospital, is the surgical instrument shop of Eyers & Co., who have a large consignment of male and female skeletons and skulls on exhibition.  The skeletons are in various stages of articulation, and two of them are in the shop windows.  One of them is by no means a cheerful looking object, as the cartilage has been left sticking to the ribs."

Ellen Burke got together with her neighbors to write a protest letter to the Board of Health.  Among those who signed the petition was Michael Sweeney, who had lived next door, and 500 girls employed in a nearby factory.  The article said the workers wanted the skeletons removed so "they will not spoil the girls' midday lunch or give them a nightmare."  John Drake, of Eyers & Co., called the protestors "silly" and said "a nice, fresh skeleton is no more objectionable than a coffin or red flannel underwear in other shop windows."

Never married, Ellen Burke died at 203 East 26th Street on July 23, 1903.  Her funeral was held in the house two days later. 

Living with the Brannelly's that year was blacksmith William P. Black.  He "caused some excitement in Madison Square Park last night," said The Sun on November 16, 1903.  The article explained, "Black, who was drunk, made a remark to a woman which she resented."  Upon being reprimanded by the woman, Black "pulled a big revolver from his pocket and began to dance around, waving it over his head."  People in the park fled in panic.   They drew the attention of Policeman O'Connor, who rushed to the park.  When Black saw the officer's drawn firearm, he put his away.  The Sun said, "O'Connor had no trouble in locking him up."

George E. Brannelly's funeral was held in the parlor on January 11, 1907.  The 30-year-old had died two days earlier.  Following his funeral, a solemn requiem mass was held at St. Stephen's Church on East 28th Street.

In 1911 a grocery store occupied the lower level of 203 East 26th Street and by 1917 the house was described as a tenement, a term applied to almost any multi-family dwelling.  It was the scene of a disturbing incident on the morning of January 10, 1917.  The New York Herald reported that school children passing by, "saw a young woman topple and fall headlong in the hallway."  

Two young girls rushed to her aid, and when they realized she was unconscious, sent a boy to get help.  Policeman Rider recognized the stains on her lips and fingers as iodine.  Josephine De Leon did not live in the house, but on First Avenue.  She had simply ducked into the open door of 203 East 26th Street to swallow the poison.  The 18-year-old was revived at Bellevue Hospital, where she said this was her third attempt to die.  "She explained that her life was a history of trouble, and that she would be better dead," reported the New York Herald.  The article noted that the quick actions of the school children had saved her life.

In 1983 both houses retained their parlor floor windows.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

Beginning around 1925 the store at 203 East 26th Street was home to the King Cole Sound Service.  An advertisement that year offered "standard, portable, motion picture equipment, operators for entertainment in churches, home, &c."  The store remained in the space at least through 1947.

Both houses were renovated in 1986, resulting in store space in the cellar and first floors, and one apartment each above.  While the little houses with their varied histories have been sorely abused, they manage to retain their charm.

photographs by the author
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Thursday, September 29, 2022

The Thomas T. Sturges House - 816 Broadway


The area of Broadway around 10th Street was filled with elegant brick- and stone-faced homes when Grace Church was completed in 1846.  
Merchant Thomas T. Sturges and his family lived at 816 Broadway, a three-and-a-half story Greek Revival house.  But change was rapidly coming.  

By the time the well-respected Sturges became a member of the New-York Historical Society in 1852, the ground floor of his residence had been converted for business for at least two years.  In 1850 it held the grocery and butcher shop of James Morgan and George W. Marsh. 

Despite having a business in the ground floor, Sturges remained in the house through 1862.  It had been given an insurance valuation the previous year of $35,000--just over $1 million in today's money.

Dr. J. E. Von Eisenberg followed the Sturges family in the upper portion.   On September 19, 1863, he took out a full-page advertisement in the New-York Daily Tribune with the ponderous title, "Surgical and Practical Observations on the Diseases of the Ear, with the New Mode of Treating Deafness, to Which is Added an Appendix, Containing a Treatise on Catarrh and the New System of Treating It."  An ad in The New York Times the following year promised that Von Eisenberg could cure "deafness, impaired sight, noises in the head, catarrhal affections in the throat, chronic catarrh, catarrh of the tympanic mucous membrane, obstruction of the eustachian tube," and guaranteed "cross-eye straightened in one minute."

On April 1, 1866 the New York Dispatch ran the headline, "A Sad Disaster," and reported, "About 8 o'clock on Wednesday evening, the building occupied by Dr. Von Eisenberg, No. 816 Broadway, was discovered to be on fire.  The alarm was given, but notwithstanding the exertions of the firemen, the flames soon enveloped the building, and the interior was badly damaged."

The article placed the value of the lost furniture at $200,000--more than $3.5 million today.  It said that two tin boxes containing an equal amount of Government bonds were saved.  The doctor was stalwart in the face of the disaster.  "To a less energetic man than Dr. Von Eisenberg, such an occurrence would have been ruin, but the Dr. has already commenced the practice of his specialty at the old place, No. 816 Broadway, determined that even the elements shall not deprive sufferers from Eye and Ear Diseases of his assistance."

Nevertheless, Von Eisenberg had moved on by 1869, when the former home was completely converted for business.  It became home to M. M. Johnston & Co., operated by Wilbur Fisk Johnston and Melville Morton Johnston, both of whom had graduated from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.  The firm manufactured the gold foil necessary for dental fillings.

American Journal of Dental Science, June 1870 (copyright expired)

Other tenants in the building in the 1870's were S. T. Taylor's dressmaking shop, shoemakers E. J. Thierry, and the A. F. Marks Chair Company.   An advertisement for Marks' "Improved Adjustable Folding Chair" in January 1879 called it, "a parlor, library, smoking, invalid or reclining chair, lounge, bed, and child's crib combined in one."

New-York, Its Past and Present, 1874 (copyright expired)

Merchant tailor J. H. Miller was in the building by 1901 and would remain at least a decade.  And while other apparel firms, like the Truefit Raincoat Company, would lease space prior to World War I, a change in the type of tenant was happening.

F. W. Engels, here in 1913, imported German novelties, like a leather-cased manicuring set and the Hansel and Gretel "Fairy Weather Indicator" available that year.  (The latter was a German-style cottage with a thermometer and carved figures of Hansel and Gretel and a witch, which would emerge from separate doorways when the weather changed.)  Around the same time, Berk Bros., electrical dealers and contractors moved in.

In 1941 the once-identical house next door, at 818 Broadway, still retained its square-headed lintels.  via the Dept. of Records & Information Services.

Small businesses continued to operate from the building throughout the succeeding decades--the Purvin Typewriter Exchange, the Eastman Machine Co., and the Hudson Milling Co. in the 1920's, for instance.  By the second half of the 20th century, 816 Broadway was the last hint of the refined residential block of the early 19th century.   

Today the venerable building is sadly abused.  A patchwork storefront covers the lower two floors and a stucco-like substance shrouds the upper facade.  And yet, the domestic appearance of the building survives after more than 170 years.

photographs by the author
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Wednesday, September 28, 2022

The 1848 Sherman-Dodge House - 52 West 9th Street


Wealthy physician Austin Sherman completed construction of his Greenwich Village home at 13 Ninth Street (renumbered 52 West 9th Street in 1868) in 1848.  The double-doored entrance of the Anglo-Italianate style residence was entered at street level within a rusticated brownstone base.  The two upper stories were faced in red brick and trimmed in brownstone.  In the rear yard, as was common, was a small, tw0-story house.

Austin was well-known for his patented medicine, "All Healing Balsam."  In addition to his medical practice, Austin dabbled in real estate.  In May 1851, for instance, he advertised: "To Let--A first class three-story and attic House with all the modern improvements and conveniences, pleasantly situated, 43 Ninth street.  Apply to A. Sherman, 13 Ninth street."

Dr. Austin was stricken with paralysis, according to the Weekly Drug News, in 1871, most likely the result  of a stroke.  He died 13 years later, on November 22, 1884.

The house would be home to three families by the turn of the century.  John A. Stevens was here by 1887, followed by the Charles E. Griswold family.  On March 27, 1891 The Epoch reported, "Mrs. Charles E. Griswold and Miss Gertrude Griswold gave an exceptionally pleasant musicale on the night of Wednesday, March 25th, at their residence, 52 West 9th street.  They will receive informally on the second, third and fourth Mondays of April."

Finally, William Cornelius Hall moved his family in.  He and his wife, Marie Suzette de Mirigny Thomas, had married in 1880.  Their first son, William Claiborne, was born in 1881, followed by John Mandelville the following year, and by twins Agnes Stuart and Marie Suzette de Marigny in 1886.

A graduate of Yale University, Hall was a vice-president of the Perth Amboy Terra Cotta company, perhaps best known for making the Tiffany bricks, designed by architect Stanford White.  Marie Suzette was related to the Marquis de Marigny, the Duc de Villinbrosa, and to Baron Louis von Hoffmann of Germany.  Her grandfather was the first governor of New Orleans.

Upon his graduation from Yale in 1904, William Claiborne Hall took a ground-level job in his father's firm, earning $5 per week (about $160 today).  A year later he was promoted to the sales department.

Marie Suzette's wedding to Charles Schuveldt Dewey on December 20, 1905 was a socially important affair.  Three days earlier The Sun had reported that pre-wedding entertainments had been going on for two weeks.  It added, "To-morrow night Chauncey Dewey of Chicago, a cousin of the bridegroom and a nephew of Admiral Dewey, will give a dinner dance for the bridal party at the Waldof-Astoria.  The final ante-nuptial affair will be a dance given on Tuesday night by the bride's aunt, Mrs. Gilbert Colgate."  

According to the New York Herald, Marie wore the wedding gown of her great-grandmother, "who was a lady in waiting to the then Queen of Spain."  The Church of the Ascension filled with some of Manhattan's most elite families, with names like Havemeyer, Schuyler, Roosevelt, Colgate and Hall.  Following the ceremony, a reception was held in the West 9th Street house, which the New York Herald said, "is one of the old fashioned houses that has undergone few changes."

Despite a privileged upbringing identical to his brother William, John Mandeville Hall (who went by his middle name) became the black sheep of the family.  He was seemingly unable to keep his name out of the newspapers for the worst of reasons.   It started on June 12, 1906 when the Perth Amboy Evening News began an article saying, "Mystery surrounds the sending out of a card bearing the Hall coat-of-arms and reading as follows":

                                                                    52 West Ninth St.

The engagement of Lily F. Wilson, of New Rochelle, daughter of Mrs. George Grant Wilson, and Mr. Mandeville de Marigny Hall, of New York, has been broken by mutual consent.

The Hall family had sailed for Europe soon after Marie's wedding, and had just returned.  Mandeville insisted he was dumbfounded at the announcement.  The newspaper said, "The envelope is from Tiffany's and Mr. Hall said it is unquestionably from their own supply of stationery...he asserted that he did not know who the mysterious sender was."

Not surprisingly, the engagement was called off.  Instead of marrying Lily Wilson, one month later, on July 9, Mandeville married Florence Teall.  The wedding was kept secret from society--even initially from Florence's parents.  The couple moved into the West 9th Street house, but Florence left Mandeville the following January, "owing, she says, to his dissipated habits," said The Evening World.  The marriage was no longer secret.

On Sunday January 10, Mandeville sent for Florence, "and urged her to return, but she refused," according to The Evening World.  He went up to his room and shot himself.  The following day The Perth Amboy Evening News wrote, "Mrs. William C. Hall, of 52 West Ninth street, a summer resident of Perth Amboy, was kept busy yesterday telling sympathetic callers that her twenty-four-year-old son, Mandeville, who was removed to the Roosevelt hospital on Sunday suffering from a pistol wound, had not attempted suicide."

Suicide, or attempted suicide, within a high society family would be scandalous, and the family (including Florence) joined in a well-constructed explanation.  Mandeville (who survived) told police and reporters that he noticed a jar of vaseline on a table in his room and decided to clean his revolver.  "There were three cartridges in it, and I omitted to remove them.  One of them exploded accidentally."

Following the incident, Mandeville sailed for Europe.  But it was not entirely to escape the ugly publicity.  On June 31, 1908 The Evening World reported, "Mrs. Florence Teall Hall, who learned through The World that her husband Mandeville de Marigny Hall, was traveling in Europe with Vida Whitmore, a former Weber & Field's beauty, today sought her lawyer, John L. Linehan."  Florence ordered an investigation "and if the fact were as reported," she would direct her attorney to bring suit for divorce.

She did not have to wait long for proof.  On August 4, chorus girl Vida Whitmore arrived in New York on the Lusitania "with a meagre wardrobe," according to the Perth Amboy Evening News.  "Although she travelled first class she was penniless, and her cab hire to her apartments uptown was paid by friends."

Although still married to Florence, Mandeville had told Whitmore he was divorced, and they had been married in New Jersey on May 21.  According to her, he convinced her to give him between $18,000 and $20,000 in "precious stones," then gave her the key to a strong box in the Colonial Trust Company.  When she opened the box upon her return to New York, "there was nothing in it but air," she told a reporter.  She continued, "It would take a book to tell all the low, mean things that man did.  His deception as to his former marriage and divorce was deliberate."

He had also told Whitmore that his father had died and left him a fortune.  "The poor old man is a victim of paralysis, and lives in a helpless condition in his lonely old-fashioned home No. 52 West Ninth street," she said.

Both Florence and Vida would have to wait to get justice.  The Perth Amboy Evening News noted, "Hall is now under arrest in London accused of having passed a worthless check."  He was extradited to France and sentenced to 13 months in prison.

But on September 28, 1909, The Perth Amboy Evening News said, "Through mysterious influence he obtained his release and turned up last May at Watch Hill, Rhode Island, in company with a married woman of New York...Hall is only twenty-five years old, but for four years he has led the life of a spendthrift, chiefly on money he got from women."

That lifestyle came to an abrupt end at the fashionable Narragansett Pier on July 12, 1909, where he was using the pseudonyms Charles W. Stevens and Douglas Turner Johnstone.  According to The New York Press, "A technical charge of forgery was entered against Hall, who is alleged to have drawn many checks on the [Fifth Avenue Bank] which were valueless."  According to the arresting detective, "Hall was enjoying himself hugely, having run up an automobile bill of $175...and was popular with summer girls there when arrested."  He was sentenced to two years in the Rhode Island state prison.

Despite the never-ending bad publicity, the family continued to maintain appearances.  Invitations went out in December 1909 for Agnes's marriage to Walter Bateman Allen on January 26, 1910 in the Church of the Ascension.  Most likely because of her brother's notoriety, her wedding did not get the ample press coverage that Marie's had.

William Cornelius Hall's paralysis that Vida Whitmore had earlier mentioned was the result of a stroke he suffered while he and Marie Suzette were touring Egypt in 1906. On June 6, 1911 he suffered another stroke.  This one proved fatal.  His funeral was held in the West 9th Street house at 5:00 on the following afternoon.  It may have been Mandeville's past that prompted Hall to simply leave the entire estate to his wife rather than deal with the untidy issue of disinheritance.

The house was purchased in October 1915 by Edith Livingston Hall Morgan.  In reporting the sale, The New York Times described it as "a three-story dwelling, with a two-story dwelling at the rear of the lot," and added, "Mrs. Morgan plans extensive alterations to the houses."

Edith Livingston Hall (unrelated to the previous Hall family) had married William Forbes Morgan, Jr. in 1904.  At the time of the wedding, according to the New-York Tribune, she was "one of the most prominent young women in New York society."  Morgan was a member of the brokerage firm of Morgan, Livermore & Co.  The couple had three children, Barbara L., born in 1905, and twins Ellen and William Forbes Morgan II born in 1907.   Edith's sister Anna Rebecca was married to Elliott Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt was Edith's niece.

Things were not going well for the couple, and William remained at 176 East 70th Street, while Edith and the children moved into the West 9th Street house.

In 1920 William, Jr. was away at boarding school.  Shortly before 4:00 on the morning of February 4, Edith was awakened to the smell of smoke.  The New-York Tribune wrote, "Prompted by mother-love and disregarding her own safety, she rushed up to the fourth floor her home."  That was where 10-year-old Ellen and 14-year-old Barbara were sleeping.  "Before she could reach her children...she was overcome by smoke and collapsed."

Fire fighters had to break into the entrance doors.  On the fourth floor landing they found the body of Barbara.  "A quick search revealed the bodies of Mrs. Morgan and her other daughter, Ellen," said the New-York Tribune.

Edith's will demanded that the West 9th Street house "shall not be sold until Mrs. Morgan's youngest child shall have reached its majority, when the proceeds from the sale shall be distributed equally among her children," explained the New-York Tribune on April 21, 1920.  Despite her expressed wishes, the house was sold the following year.  On July 28, 1921 the New-York Tribune reported that William de Leftwich Dodge had purchased the "three and one-half story building and two-story studio building in the rear."  The article noted, "The new owner is a mural painter, and will improve the premises for his own occupancy."

Indeed, William de Leftwich Dodge was a mural painter.  Born in 1879, he grew up in Europe and studied at the École des Beaux-Arts.  His mural Glorification of the Arts and Sciences adorned the dome of the Administration Building of the 1893 Columbian Exhibition in Chicago, and in 1895 he completed a series of murals for the Library of Congress.  He had decorated the Cafe de l'Opera and the Follies Bergeres Theater in Paris.  

Dodge poses in front of The Purchase, one of six murals for the Tower of Jewels at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco.  Original source unknown.

The "improvements" Dodge made to the West 9th Street house were transformative.  Essentially, only the ground and third floors gave hint of the home's 1848 appearance.  A five-paneled set of leaded casements was the feature of the second floor, and a double-height studio was installed at the former attic level.  Unlike most studio windows in converted vintage homes at the time, this one was recessed, providing an ample balustraded balcony.  On either side were complex terra cotta medallions, possibly designed by Dodge.

The balcony and medallions in 2011, prior to a restoration of the facade.  photo by Beyond My Ken.

By the time the Dodges moved into their remodeled house, William was a professor at the Arts Students League of New York.  He and his wife, the former Francesca (known as Fanny) Theodora Bland Pryor, had a daughter, Sara, and a son, Roger.  The family's summer home was in Setauket, Long Island.

On March 26, 1935, The New York Sun reported, "William De Leftwich Dodge, one of America's leading mural painters, whose panels form part of the decoration of many public buildings in this country and abroad, died yesterday after an illness of some months.  He was 68 years old."  Despite his international prominence, Dodge's funeral was private, held in the West 9th Street house the following afternoon.

The New York Sun revealed what was perhaps a little known detail in the artist's resume.  "The helicopter which Mr. Dodge made and flew for ten feet before the Wright brothers' flight in 1903 is now on exhibition in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington."

Dodge's renovations to 52 West 9th Street were perfect for artist Hans Hoffmann, and the following year the Hans Hoffman School of Fine Arts moved in.  Born in Weissenberg, Germany, Hoffmann grew up in Munich where he studied architecture before turning to painting.   In 1934 he had opened a summer school in the artist colony of Provincetown, Massachusetts, then a year-round school at 137 East 57th Street before moving to the former Dodge house.  The school remained here through 1938.

A renovation completed in 1948 resulted in a duplex on the ground and second floor, and one apartment each on the upper floors.  In May 2016 the duplex was purchased by Craig Newmark (founder of Craig's List) and his wife Eileen as their Manhattan pied-à-terre.  They paid $5.9 million for the three-bedroom, 3-1/2 bath home.

With the facade sensitively restored, the house looks remarkably as it did when William de Leftwich Dodge made his overwhelming 1921 "improvements."

photograph by the author
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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

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. has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

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 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.

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