Hard to imagine today, 14th Street was lined with elegant brownstone homes in the first half of the 19th century. Among them was the 21-foot-wide, four-story home at 157 East 14th Street (renumbered 309 in 1868). Typical of the Italianate houses rising throughout the city, it boasted floor-to-ceiling parlor windows, molded architrave frames around the elliptically-arched windows, and a cast metal cornice.
In the mid-1850's it was being operated as a boarding house by the widow Elizabeth Edwards. She had seven boarders, four of whom were tailors, two were in the shoe business, and another, Abraham Maybee, was a builder. They lived in comfortable surroundings, as noted when an auction of the furnishings was held on April 28, 1866. Among the items sold were "all the handsome rosewood, walnut and mahogany" furniture.
The house was purchased by wealthy milliner George Hallady and his wife Margaret. The couple had four daughters, Jeanette, Margaret, Emma B. and Louise S.
In January 1879, Hallady was stopped on the street by his next door neighbor, who asked what had happened in his house, "because from a loud sound he had heard a day or two before he thought the plaster on a ceiling had fallen with a crash to the floor," reported The Sun. Hallady gave little more thought to it until two weeks later, when, during a rain storm, water began to run down through the house. An investigation revealed that the scuttle--the hatch-like cover that gave access to the roof--had been forced off and was lying on the roof. That sound of the heavy scuttle crashing to the metal roof was no doubt what the neighbor had heard.
The scuttle was repaired, and securely bolted. A week later, on January 29, Halladay left "his handsome brown stone house" at 10:20, according to the New York Herald, leaving Margaret, the girls and a female servant at home. Margaret was startled by what the newspaper called "a loud crash, almost as sharp as a pistol shot." The servant had heard the noise, and ran into the rear yard thinking something had fallen. No one, however, could find the cause and the matter was eventually disregarded.
Dinner was served at noon and afterward, according to The Sun, "one of the girls sat down at a piano and practiced music for an hour. When she had finished her hour she went up stairs to her room in the third story, but immediately came running down to tell her mother that she had found some sealskin sacques and silk dresses belonging to herself and her sisters laid out upon the floor of her room, and other articles strewn about." As she headed downstairs, she had heard a hushed man's voice from the fourth floor.
Margaret ran up the stairs saying loudly, "Here come the police! Open the door and let them in!" Her ruse worked and the thieves fled up the ladder to the scuttle and out onto the roof. In the meantime, the servant had, indeed, rushed out to find a policeman.
Unbelievably, while the women had been having lunch, the burglars had brazenly raided the third floor bedrooms. They carried two large trunks to the fourth floor where they broke them open--one of them causing the pistol-like bang heard earlier. They had managed to make off with jewelry. From the trunks they stole "about $450 worth of jewelry, consisting of rings, chains, and gold medals belonging to a young man, a friend of the family...A valuable gold ring belonging to one of the Misses Halliday [sic] was taken from her room in the third story." The New York Herald reported, "Miss Halladay's apartment had been turned topsy turvy." The value of the jewelry taken from the trunks would equal about $12,000 today.
Margaret's quick thinking might have prevented further loss. The Sun wrote, "She thinks they knew that there were none but women in the house, and that if she had not prudently shouted her order to let in the police, as if the robbers' presence had been discovered some tie previously, they would have overpowered her daughters and herself and ransacked the whole house." On the second floor were the silver and other valuables "worth $3,000 or $4,000."
Even more disturbing was that the police found the scuttle had not been forced open, as before. This time the bolts had been removed from inside, meaning that one of the thieves had entered the house by the parlor or basement door and sneaked upstairs unseen by the women, then let his accomplices on the roof in. The Sun said, "Mr. Halliday's [sic] silverware and jewelry, not in daily use, are now stored with a safe deposit company."
Jeanette would be the only daughter to marry, and oddly enough, her marriage to a Mr. Prentice was not reported in the society columns. She is not listed with the Halladay family in the 14th Street house in 1880, suggesting the ceremony took place not long after the robbery. With unused space in the house, the Halladay's took in a boarder. An advertisement on August 28, 1888 in the New York Herald offered, "Rooms to rent in house of owner, with homelike board."
East 14th Street was changing at the time, however. The Bowery entertainment district was inching ever closer and the Halladays' affluent neighbors were moving northward one-by-one. By the late-1890's the Halladays, too, moved on, while retaining possession of the property.
Louis Dauffalder and his wife, Ida, leased the house from the Halladays and ran a boarding house. Their tenants covered a wide range of backgrounds. Two of the boarders in 1899 could not have been more different. A respected attorney, Richard H. Smith was a junior assistant counsel within the city's Law Department. Little Mabel Hazelton had a sketchier if much more colorful story.
She was the illegitimate daughter of married actor and burlesque promoter Sam T Jack, the owner of Sam T. Jack's Theatre on Broadway. He apparently provided her financial support. Jack died on April 27, 1899 and his bizarre will gave a measure of security to Mabel, while not giving her a cent of his fortune.
In his will he directed his brother James to marry his widow, Emma, that they "shall become husband and wife." Things only got more bizarre. On June 2, 1899, The Morning Telegraph explained that in the document:
...it is related that living among his heirs is an illegitimate child, Mabel Hazelton, the nine-year-old daughter of an actress, residing at No. 309 East Fourteenth street, for whom no provision is made in the testament. It is stated, however, that shortly Jack's death he told his brother of the existence of the girl and asked that when he died he take the child and bring her up as one of his own children.
Among the boarders in 1904 were the Gray and the Hartmann families. Jacob Hartmann and his wife, Mary, and four children, Margaret (who went by Margery), Clara, Jacob Jr., and Mary. On the morning of Wednesday, June 15, 1904 13-year-old George Gray and two friends joined the members of St. Mark's Evangelical Lutheran Church at 323 East 6th Street near 2nd Avenue on their 17th annual summer outing. Also attending were Mary, Margery, and Clara Hartmann.
For $350 the church group had chartered the 235-foot steam sidewheeler The General Slocum for a day trip up the East River and across the Long Island Sound to a picnic grove on Long Island. Later George Gray would recount, "The boat was just passing out of Hell Gate and going toward an island, when I smelled fire. I said to Otto and Albert, 'Hey, boys, there's a fire,' and we jumped up on a seat and tried to pull down some life-preservers."
The preservers would not help. Most fell apart in the passengers' hands, the canvas fabric having rotted after years of exposure to the elements. The cork filling in the rest of the life vests had granulated over time, so when mothers laced their children into the vests and tossed them overboard, they watched in utter horror as the cork absorbed the water and pulled their children under. Within 15 minutes the General Slocum was burned to the waterline and of the 1,300 people on board, only 321 survived.
Mary Hartmann and her daughters jumped into the river. Clara later said, "But the moment we got into the water we had to let go of each other to do what we could for ourselves. Seeming Mamma and Margery struggling nearby, I tried to save them, for they were struggling awfully. Then a lot of swimmers got around us and we were separated. I heard Margery say again 'God save us' then she gave a gasp and sank out of sight. Mamma I didn't see after that."
Clara's body was pulled from the river and taken to a make-shift morgue. She later recalled,
I heard men tramping on the floor and felt that I was lying on something hard and that my head was covered. Then there was talk about taking the dead people away and I remembered the fire and the people drowning all around me. I thought that I was still in the water too. My stomach got sick--I had swallowed a whole bunch of salty water. Then it began to gush out of my mouth, and a woman said, 'this little girl ain't dead' and she called 'Doctor! Doctor!' just like that. They pulled the cover off of my head, and I began to feet much better and the air came to me.
Sadly, Clara's mother and sister did not survive. George Gray, who was 13 years old, was saved by a tugboat. He told a reporter, "I jumped onto the boat, and then a whole crowd of people jumped on top of me. Half of them that jumped on the boat fell into the water between the tug and the steamer." His young friends, Albert Greenwald and Otto Hands, both perished.
A month later Captain John McAllister of the tugboat Director was presented a gold medal studded with diamonds by the people whose lives he had saved. Thinking that he was attending a birthday party at the Pilot Social Club, he was totally surprised. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that George Gray "made the presentation speech and in behalf of the survivors expressed their gratitude to Captain McAllister for saving their lives."
The house continued as a boarding house, with many of its residents being entertainers, like Frank and Pauline Berry, who formed Berry & Berry a "comedy musical duo." They lived here in 1904.
After having owned the property for half a century, the Hallaway women sold 309 East 14th Street in September 1922. Harry Wandermann paid $18,000--about $278,000 in today's money. The neighborhood in which the Halladay girls had grown up was now p0pulated greatly by Italian immigrants. Wandermann installed a store in the basement level, run by Guiseppe Scalia.
The roomers were less respectable by now. In 1926 Pietro Stella was convicted of practicing medicine without a license. In July of the previous year his uncle, Dr. Guiseppe Stella, had gone to Europe and Pietro stepped in to handle his patients. Among them was Mrs. Rosina Loforte, who came in to have her left eye treated. Stella told her the treatment would cost $350 and he accepted $50 on account. It went horribly wrong and, as reported in The New York Medical Week, "Subsequently the eye was removed at one of the city hospitals."
Another roomer, Guiseppi Giordano, was arrested on September 2 that year. The Newburgh News said he "is known as 'the sheik of Fourteenth Street' and lives up to his sobriquet by wearing sideburns and slicking back his glossy black hair." He was at a dance hall on 14th Street and Third Avenue when police arrested him for "robbing the apartment of Reginald Sturges, a lawyer, of 12 West Fifty-fifth street." The article explained that while Giordano "spends his evenings in dance halls," by day he was employed by the Victory Window Cleaning Company. While washing windows, Giordano was able to enter apartments and steal jewelry.
Rose Ferron lived here in in 1931. The New York Sun said she was "known as 'Princess Rajah' in vaudeville." Ferron operated a fortune telling studio at 218 East 14th Street where she hired seers. Undercover detective Margaret Brennan went there on December 10, 1931 and paid $1 to have her fortune told by Florence de Quatto. "Using tea leaves as her medium, Miss de Quatto did the actual forecasting, said the policewoman, and Miss Ferron collected the money." Both women were arrested for fortune telling.
The once-proud residence was remodeled in 1938. The stoop was removed, the entrance lowered to the basement level, and the molded frames of the openings shaved flat.
A tax photograph from 1940 shows the architectural vandalism of 1938. via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services
The Halladay house would be renovated two more times. In 1978 it was converted to furnished rooms above the ground level floor. Then, a restoration-renovation completed in 2017 resulted in one apartment each on the former parlor and second floors, and a duplex apartment on the top two. Amazingly, the sympathetic remodeling included the refabricating of the molded window surrounds, and the installation of a period appropriate lintel above the entrance.
photographs by the author
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