Monday, October 31, 2022

The Lost Mutual Bank Building - 49-51 West 33rd Street


The scale of the building can be judged by the figures standing on the steps.  photograph by Irving Underhill, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

In the fall of 1910, the Mutual Bank had operated from leased space at the northeast corner of Broadway and West 33rd Street for years.  But that was about to change.  In October, the bank purchased the property at 49 and 51 West 33rd Street, just steps away from its present home, as the site for a permanent building.  On October 8, the Real Estate Record & Guide reported that construction would begin as soon as an architect was chosen, adding, "It was said all probability a tall structure would be put up, containing offices above, the bank occupying the two lower floors."

By the time architect Donn Barber filed plans in January 1911, the idea of a "tall structure" had been scrapped.  It was now to be a "two story brick and stone bank" to cost $100,000 to erect (about $2.9 million in 2022).  His office provided a preliminary sketch to journalists which showed a neo-Classical facade with two-story Scamozzi columns and a stone balustrade along the roofline.  
Barber's preliminary rendering proved to be strikingly accurate.  Real Estate Record & Guide, January 21, 1911 (copyright expired)

The bank opened for business on February 13, 1912.  The Sun called the building "the latest word in design."  The New York Times agreed, deeming it "one of the most unique structures in the Greeley Square section," and remarking, "The exterior is entirely of limestone with granite base and steps and is treated in an adaptation of classic architecture."

Customers entered a one-story vestibule that provided second-story space for offices.  Beyond that, the great banking room opened up--soaring 38 feet upwards to a coffered ceiling and leaded glass skylight.  The walls were clad, full-height, in Caen stone.  The counters were of Bottichino marble, the teller cages of bronze, and the floors of Tennessee marble.  The Sun said, "Hung from the ceilings are eight gilded electric chandeliers, reasonable in size and delicate in modelling, which with the wall brackets around the panelled  [sic] walls give good light to all parts of the room."  

Within the second story space was the director's room.  "This room is almost Colonial in character," wrote The Sun, "having grayish blue stuff on the walls, white painted trim, mahogany doors and furniture, bluish leather furniture covering, and a blue rug, together with certain ornaments and antique silver electric fixtures."

The vaults were below street level, accessed by a marble staircase.  The doors of the security vault and of the safe deposit compartment weighed, respectively, 12 and 23 tons.  The article said, "They are so evenly balanced on a line of crane hinges, eccentric effects, ball and pin bearing degrees that a child could swing them."  

Architecture magazine, April 1913 (copyright expired)

The opening advertisement promised, in part:

The location of the new Mutual Bank building, at West 33rd Street, just a few feet from Broadway, and in the heart of the city, makes it one of the most centrally situated banks in New York, and unusually convenient for important business institutions now locating in this section of the city.  Its appointments, moreover, are unique in the measure of convenience they afford to patrons.

The New York Times noted the "ingenious device which forestalls any possibility of a holdup man making a 'getaway.'"  The article explained that should a gunman demand cash, "he would no doubt find that gentleman very obliging so far as the handing over was concerned."  But simultaneously, the teller would press a foot button that locked "the main and only exit," and activated a huge gong.

It was not a holdup man who confronted cashier William J. McGirr on October 8, 1921, but two young men wishing to cash a $1,000 railroad bond.  Edmond Foughot, who was 18 years old, and Dennis Doyle, 21, handed McGirr the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad bond.  As they waited, he carefully compared its serial number with a list of stolen bonds and found a match.

At the West 13th Street police station, they said that they had been in Washington the previous Friday, where a man approached and attempted to sell them the bond.  While they debated whether it may or may not be stolen, he disappeared, leaving them holding the bond.  The story did not preclude their being charged with attempting to cash a stolen bond.

Shortly after the incident, the institution's name was changed to the Mutual National Bank.  It would be changed again in 1927 when the Chase National Bank stockholders voted to acquired Mutual National Bank.  The elegant limestone structure survived until 1951, when it was razed to make way for the four-story Modernist structure that remains.

image via

many thanks to reader Doug Wheeler for prompting this post
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Saturday, October 29, 2022

The Much Abused Jonathan L. Hyde House - 22 East 13th Street


The 22-foot-wide, brick-faced house at 22 East 13th Street was completed around 1845.  Located midway between Fifth Avenue and University Place, it was just a block south of mansion-lined Union Square.  Three stories tall above a high English basement, its Italianate design originally featured a handsome entrance surround and a bracketed metal cornice.  It was home to the well-to-do Phillips family.  Lewis Phillips was secretary of the Manhattan Fire Insurance Company at 68 Wall Street, and Theodore F. Phillips operated a silk goods business at 29 Liberty Street.

When wealthy families relocated in the mid-19th century, it was common for them to sell everything in their former home and simply start over.  A household auction of the family's possessions was held on April 8, 1851.  The announcement noted:

The entire Furniture contained in said house, consisting in part of Mahogany Sofas, Chairs, Quartette Tables, Sofa Tables with Egyptian Marble tops, Ormolu Girandoles, Hat-stands.

The residence became home to the Jonathan L. Hyde family.  Living with the family was Jonathan's father, John E. Hyde, who had started the family business in 1825 at 22 Maiden Lane importing watches.  By the time the family moved into 22 East 13th Street, the name of the business had been changed to John E. Hyde & Sons (not to be confused with the contemporary watch makers John E. Hyde & Sons in London).  To further complicate matters, two of the sons were named Jonathan.  Working with their father were Jonathan L., Jonathan Joseph, and William H. Hyde.

The Jewelers' Circular and Horological Review later said, "The firm bought watches from several European makers which were stamped with their name and sold as Jno. E. Hyde & Sons watches."  Importantly, Jonathan Joseph convinced the high-end Swiss watchmaker Jules Jurgenson to make watches especially for the American market, for which the Hyde firm became its sole American agents.

There seems to have been problems within the Hydes' domestic staff in 1853.  An advertisement on April 12 read:

Wanted--By two young women, situations; one as chambermaid and waiter, or to do chamberwork and plain sewing; the other as seamstress; can cut and fit children's dresses.

Following the death of John E. Hyde, the family leased a room in the house, while not offering to share meals.  An  advertisement on November 21, 1866 read, "A furnished room and bedroom to let--To single gentlemen, at 22 East Thirteenth street, in a private family, without board."

After the Hyde family left around 1868, Mary Day, a widow, lived at 22 East 13th Street with her daughter, Margaret.  They remained until 1871, after which it was leased to various proprietors who operated it as a boarding house.

The boarders were upper middle class, as evidenced by a burglary in July 1873.  Michael Barry entered the house and made off with two silk dresses belonging to Anna Reilly.  She valued them at $100, around $2,250 in today's money.  Barry was arrested, charged with grand larceny, and "locked up to answer," according to the New York Herald.

Around the time of the theft, Mary Robinson purchased the house.  A real estate developer, she owned dozens of properties throughout the city.  In 1874, the basement level was converted for business purposes.  An advertisement in April 1874 touted it as "suitable for tailors, dressmakers and bootmakers."  At the same time the parlor floor was remodeled and a large show window installed.  On October 2, 1874, an ad offered, "To Let--First floor of 22 East Thirteenth street, between Fifth avenue and University place; lately altered and bay window put in."

The parlor floor was leased to the Scribblers' Club, described by The Evening Post as being "composed exclusively of gentlemen of literary pursuits."  The newspaper said the recently organized group "bids fair to become one of the most popular clubs in the city, and to accomplish the object of its organization in bringing publishers and authors together in social intercourse."

The club rooms were officially opened on December 20, 1874.  The Sun reported, "At the meeting of the Scribblers' Club in their new club house in Thirteenth street, on Saturday evening, Mr. Joseph Howard, Jr., made the inaugural address.  It was brimful of wit and humor, and at its close brimming bumpers were quaffed in honor of the inauguration of the club."

Howard's speech was followed by a 17-course dinner, "washed down by as many brands of rare old wines, poured from bottles wreathed in cobwebs."  Among the well-known members present that evening was former Mayor Abraham Oakley Hall. 

The lavish dinners were a monthly affair.  The Evening Post remarked on January 15, 1875 that "A letter from William C[ullen] Bryant was read, in which he regretted his inability to attend." 

In the meantime, the basement level had become home to Killeen's Auction Mart.  It sold household goods, like the "parlor and chamber suits, wardrobes, etageres, &c." auctioned in November 1875.

As the East 13th Street block became increasingly commercial, the residents in the upper floors here became less affluent and respectable.  Typical was Patty Kitt, also known as Kitty Trainor, who worked with the Salvation Army.  When Joseph Harrington's wife sued for support in June 1887, she blamed Kitty for ruining her 12-year marriage.  She told the judge, "He formed an alliance with the Salvation Army and Kitty.  I have seen them linked arm in arm, when he wouldn't give me ten cents.  I saw them go in a basement in Seventh avenue near Twenty-eighth street.  I followed them, and asked him to come home.  He said, 'Hush! this is my mash.'  From that night he said he never would live with me."

Antonio Stradder, also known as Joseph Kealy, lived here with Nellie Wright in 1890, a scandalous arrangement.  The couple went to Long Branch, New Jersey for the weekend on August 9 that year.  On Sunday, "the man became jealous of Nellie," said The World, and they quarreled.  Nellie stormed off and did not return to their room that night.  The newspaper reported, "On Monday morning [Stradder] learned she had gone to New York and he hurried after her."  When he arrived at 22 East 13th Street, "He found that his trunk with all his belongings had been carried off by Nellie Wright."

He had Nellie arrested, and "on the way to Jefferson Market Court, Stradder exacted a promise that he would get his wardrobe back."  As a result, in court he refused to make a complaint.  Whether the couple remained together in their tense relationship is unclear.

Another tenant with domestic problems was Lucy Leink, here in 1900.  She had married Louis Leink on January 6, but he quickly deserted her.  She took him to court on April 18 seeking financial support.  The Morning Telegraph reported, "The evidence brought forth the fact that Louis Leink had married two women and the one who had him in court was the last he led to the altar."

Leink was now held on a bigamy charge, and Lucy received $3 a week for her support "until the divorce case, which was pending, was tried," said the article.  (Why she needed a divorce, since her marriage was invalid, is puzzling.)

The estate of Mary B. Robinson leased 22 East 13th Street to George A. Hearn in 1902.  He hired the architectural firm of John B. Snook & Sons to make renovations, including the installation of an elevator.  When the building was sold to George Gernant in January 1911, the Real Estate Record & Guide noted that he "will occupy the premises after making alterations for business purposes."

Gernant hired architect O. Reissmann to update the building.  It received modern plumbing, interior walls, and a new two-story storefront.  The renovations cost Gernant the equivalent of $84,300 today.

Gernant moved his restaurant into the lower floors.  Early in 1922, he discovered that Prohibition laws were inflexible.  On January 20 The Evening World reported, "Federal Circuit Court Judge Mack, sitting to-day in the District Court, decided that an injunction against 'selling liquor or maintaining a public nuisance' can be property issued against a saloon where but one drink had been sold in violation of the Volstead act."

Prohibition Enforcement Agent Samuel Kupferman had entered the restaurant on November 29, 1921, and purchased a drink.  The article said, "George Gernant, the owner, he said, was present, saw the price of the drink and rung it up on the cash register."  Gernant's bartender was still in jail nearly two months later.  "The case against the bartender has not yet been tried," said the newspaper.

By mid-century, the East 13th Street neighborhood was on the upswing.  In 1959 The Studio Gallery was at 22 East 13th Street.  The office of real estate firm of Percy Brower, Newman & Frayne was in the building in the mid-1960's.

The space that Prohibition agents had deemed a saloon was home to The Mushroom Pub in the early 1970's.  It was the scene of a benefit dinner of the Manhattan Committee for Irish Freedom in November 1971.  Promoters said it was an opportunity "to help the Irish Cause (by non-violent means)."

A renovation completed in 1974 resulted in a restaurant in the basement level, and apartments on the upper floors.  Borgo Antico opened here in 2000, described by The New York Times on April 30 as serving "appealing northern Italian food in a laid-back atmosphere."

It made way for All'Onda in December 2013, which occupied both the basement and parlor floors.  Run by Chris Jaeckle and Chris Cannon, it was inspired, according to Jaeckle, by Venice.  It was replaced in 2017 by Babu Ji, a modern Indian restaurant.

The building, once home to wealthy merchants, looks sorely abused today.  Its Italianate cornice was lost sometime in the 20th century and the 1911 storefront is a bit battered.  It is one of just a handful of survivors of a refined era along the block.

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Friday, October 28, 2022

The Transformed Manhattan Opera House (Manhattan Center) 311-321 West 34th Street


photo by Jim Henderson

Theater manager and impresario Oscar Hammerstein branched into grand opera when he erected his Manhattan Opera on Eighth Avenue near Broadway on November 14, 1892.  The critic of The New York Times was taken with its size.  "The new theatre is very large.  The stage was obviously designed for grand opera," he wrote.  But the cavernous auditorium had a drawback.  "The auditorium must be 100 feet deep...Last night, in the centre of the house, beyond the first four or five rows of seats, it was difficult to follow the speech on the stage," he wrote.

Eleven years later, Hammerstein sought to improve the situation.  In April 1901, his architect, William E. Mowbray, filed plans for a "five-story brick and stone theatre" three blocks away on West 34th Street, just west of Eighth Avenue.  Mowbray projected the construction cost at $300,00o--or about $10 million in 2022.

Oscar Hammerstein I, from Who's Who on the Stage, 1906 (copyright expired)

The new Manhattan Opera House would take five years to complete.  Hammerstein took advantage of the time to recruit the most talented and famous musicians and vocalists in the world.  Upon his return from Europe on April 29, 1906, he told reporters, "When I left New York eight weeks ago I concluded that if I could not create for my Manhattan Opera House an ensemble of such magnitude, artistically, as would eclipse every effort ever made in this direction since grand opera found a foothold in this country, I would abandon my project and give up the idea of giving grand opera for once and all."  The New York Times titled its article, "Hammerstein Declares War In Grand Opera."

Hammerstein had signed contracts with some of the most famous opera singers in the world for his opening season.  Among them were sopranos Nellie Melba and Gabrielle Lejeune-Gilibert, baritone Maurice Renaud, and tenors Alessandro Bonci and Amedeo Bassi.

The approaching opening of the Manhattan Opera House could not have come at a worse time for Hammerstein's rival, Heinrich Conreid of the Metropolitan Opera House.  The Metropolitan chorus singers had unionized, and on November 1, 1906, The Sun ran the headline "Conried Defies The Union."  It reported that he refused to sign an agreement.  The article ended saying, "Fifteen [singers] applied the other day to Oscar Hammerstein for engagements at the new Manhattan Opera House."

Construction was completed early in December 1906.  Mowbray's neo-Classical structure featured five double-doored entrances beneath a glass-and-iron marquee that stretched to the curb.  The seven mid-section bays were separated by Scamozzi pilasters, each window fronted by a stone balcony.  A classical pediment topped by a anthemion fronted the balustraded fifth floor.

from the collection of the Library of Congress

The Manhattan Opera House opened on December 3, 1906 with I, Puritani, although the finishing touches on the building were not yet complete.  The New York Times reported, "Yesterday afternoon, Bonci, the new tenor, and Mme. Pinkert, the soprano, rehearsed with chorus and orchestra while some shifters set scenery and carpenters pounded the last nails.  The din was terrifying."  When Hammerstein held up a finger to stop the work, the foreman told him "We can't get this theater done unless we have every minute, and if we don't get the theater done, you can't give the opera."  And so the workmen continued.  "Bonci sang the rest of his high notes to a hammer accompaniment."

Architects' and Builders' magazine, February 1907 (copyright expired)

The New-York Tribune noted, "To Mr. Hammerstein alone the public is indebted for this new addition to its places of amusement.  He has no board of directors nor opera company.  He is the board of directors, impresario, real estate company, manager, treasurer.  Under his famous hat the affairs of the house will be entirely decided."

At the end of December, The New York Times critic Richard Aldrich deemed the Manhattan Opera "worthy of support," praising the excellence of Hammerstein's productions.  The problems of the former house had been corrected.  Aldrich noted, "Its acoustics are remarkably good.  Notwithstanding its size, it is so built that the audience as a whole is brought nearer the stage and into more intimate relations with what goes on upon it than is the case in the older houses."  The "older houses," of course, included the Metropolitan Opera.

A postcard pictured the venue shortly after its opening.

The international fame of Nellie Melba was such that her debut here on January 11, 1907 caused a near riot.  That evening she appeared with Bonci in RigolettoThe New York Times reported, "The crowd was so large at the Manhattan Opera House last night...that it was necessary for Mr. Hammerstein to telephone to Police Headquarters at 7 o'clock for a squad to control the mob of people in the lobby."  The efforts were not enough.  The "crowd surged up the gallery stairs, breaking away the side railing.  At 7:15 the box office closed, and no more standing-room tickets were sold...In the course of the second act a woman fainted and was carried out."  The carriage man (the uniformed employee who met and opened the doors of arriving carriages) counted 510 vehicles that pulled up to the marquee that evening.

Nellie Melba in the role of Ophelia.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

In 1911 Hammerstein leased the venue to Metropolitan Opera House chairman Otto Kahn.  The contract came with a massive $1.2 million bribe that Hammerstein not be involved in opera in New York City for ten years.  He used the money to erect the London Opera House, in London.  By 1916, the Manhattan Opera House was being managed by the Managing & Producing Co., Inc., headed by Alexander Kahn.  That summer the venue was "lavishly renovated," and it may have been at this time that a sixth floor was added.

The upward enlargement created a bulky, disproportionate appearance.

Oscar Hammerstein died on August 1, 1919.  His wife Emma Swift Hammerstein inherited the Manhattan Opera House.  The venue continued to offer grand opera, opening with Aida that season, followed by La Boheme.  In 1921 Emma sold the building to her daughters, Stella H. Pope and Rose H. Tostevin.

Massive change came the following year.  On March 11, 1922, the Record & Guide reported that the sisters had sold the structure to the New York Consistory, Scottish Rite Masons, "who will use it as a temple after a few structural changes."  The New-York Tribune placed the price at $600,000--or about $9.7 million today.  The newspaper said, "It is the plan of the Scottish Rite Masons to leave the auditorium as it is and hold assemblies and ceremonies there.  Upstairs will be constructed rooms for a library, lounging quarters, banquet hall and kitchen."

If the organization's initial plans called for "a few structural changes," the board soon changed its mind.  On July 30, 1922 The New York Times reported that the Scottish Rite had hired architects Harrison G. Wiseman and Hugo Taussig to renovate the structure.  The "entire Thirty-fourth Street facade will be remodeled and stores added," said the article.  "A large assembly hall and banquet room will be constructed on the present roof."  The article said the assembly hall would be one of the largest in the city, capable of holding 1,200 diners.   The architects placed the cost of renovations at $250,000.

The architects' rendering showed a hipped roof.  The New York Times, July 30, 1922 (copyright expired)

The use of the renovated building as a Masonic temple was relatively short-lived.  In 1927 Warner Brothers leased the auditorium space as a sound stage, and in 1940 it was converted to a meeting hall and multi-purpose venue, called the Manhattan Center.

The meeting hall was a favorite venue for political meetings.  A two-day mass meeting was held here on in 1942 to pressure the Government to release Communist leader Earl Browder from an Atlanta prison.  An announcement in The New York Age on March 28 urged, "Trade unions, fraternal societies, religious and young peoples organizations, send delegates to the National Free Browder Congress at Manhattan Center, 311 West 34th street, Saturday and Sunday, March 28-29."

A banner at this National Communist Party meeting reads, "Communism is 20th Century Americanism."  original source unknown.

A somewhat surprising meeting was held here following the end of World War II.  On January 26, 1946, The New York Age reported on the "Rally for Democratic Japan" to be held on January 24, 1946.  It was sponsored by the Japanese American Committee for Democracy, which stressed, "Japanese who are sympathetic to American ideals must be used in reconstructing a democratic Japan."

The use of the Manhattan Center continued to morph over the decades.  The Manhattan Center Studios was organized in 1986 for multimedia events.  The group opened Studio 4 in 1993, with a cutting edge control room for recordings and live ballroom events.  Other studios followed, all connected to the Ballrooms and capable of recording the events there.

The Hammerstein Ballroom, photo by aconson

The Hammerstein Ballroom was the venue of "WWF Monday Night Raw" airings beginning in January 1993.  Episodes of the "Impact Wrestling" television program were taped here in 2014, and several seasons of "America's Got Talent" took place here.

photo by Tdorante10

The Manhattan Center continues to be house event, production and performance spaces.  And those passing by or even entering the building, can hardly imagine that it was once one of New York City's premier opera houses.

Many thanks to reader Rich Conrad for requesting this post has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

Thursday, October 27, 2022

The Tiffany Studios Building - 333-335 Park Avenue South


Artist and designer Louis Comfort Tiffany established Louis C. Tiffany & Company in 1878.  It expanded three years later with the founding of Louis C. Tiffany & Co., Associated Artists.  Within a year the decorating firm was hired to do work in the homes of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, Ogden Goelet, Mark Twain, and to decorate several rooms in the White House.  

Tiffany had been experimenting with glassmaking since 1875.  When Louis C. Tiffany & Co., Associated Artists was dissolved in 1883, he forged on with Louis C. Tiffany & Co. and, in 1887, the newly formed Tiffany Glass Company.  On March 5 that year, the Real Estate Record & Guide reported that P. H. Mandel had leased the building at 333-335 Fourth Avenue to the Tiffany Glass Company.

The brick-faced, Italianate style building was erected around 1861, and was being advertised for "storage and light manufacturing" in 1870.  Handsome dentiled lintels crowned the elliptically arched windows of the second through fourth floors.  The scrolled cornice brackets were separated by a paneled frieze.

Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide, July 5, 1890 (copyright expired)

The name of the firm changed again in 1892.  On February 27 an announcement in the Record & Guide read:

The Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company, of No. 333 4th avenue, announces to the patrons of the Tiffany Glass Company...that it has acquired by purchase the entire plant, assets, business and good-will of the last named company.  It will continue the business of the Tiffany Glass Company, and will fulfill all orders and contracts held by them without interruption of inconvenience.

The following year, the firm's exhibition at the Chicago Columbian Exposition displayed its expertise in interior decoration, glass, and mosaics.  It constructed an entire chapel, one which must have awed the thousands of visitors to the fair.  On April 1, 1894, The Sun reported, "The Tiffany Chapel, which was one of the most notable American exhibits at the World's Fair, can still be seen at 333 Fourth avenue.  It represents the interior of a chapel Romanesque in the style of its arrangement and decoration and a remarkable demonstration of what may be accomplished in modern ecclesiastical art."

The Baptistery of the Tiffany Chapel.  from the collection of the Library of Congress

New Yorkers and tourists visited the Fourth Avenue building to view the exhibit.  The Sun described the elements, saying "The mensa is a single slab of Carrara marble resting upon a frontal of white glass mosaic made of 150,000 pieces.  This is ornamented with the Apocalyptic emblems of the four Evangelists."  The chapel was complete, including "six canonical candlesticks of gold filigree embedded with semi-precious stones and an altar cross which is a blaze of white topazes so arranged on a thin metal frame that they scintillate in every direction."

A portion of the chapel as it is exhibited today at the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art in Florida. photograph by mirsasha.

The reredos consisted of polished black marble with iridescent glass mosaics of peacocks among twining vines.  Above it rose a half-dome, "covered in ornaments in relief and made brilliant by overlays of gold, settings of jewels, and inlays of mosaic inscriptions."  The dome was supported on columns composed of 200,000 squares of glass mosaic.  They sat against a background "of mosaic, and having astragals of jewels set in gold," said the article.  There were also, of course, stained glass windows.  "The entire chapel was made from the design of Mr. Louis C. Tiffany, and was executed under his personal supervision."  (Following the exhibition, it was disassembled and placed in storage.  It was installed in the basement of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in 1898 where it eventually fell into disrepair.  Tiffany repurchased and restored it for his Long Island home, Laurelton Hall.  It was again dismantled in 1949 and sold in various sections.)

The Tiffany Chapel may have been the first time that extraordinary pieces were exhibited here, but it was certainly not the last.  In 1894 the firm was commissioned to design and execute a frieze for the rotunda of the Marquette Building in Chicago.  The work, executed in favrile glass mosaics, took an entire year to complete, and, prior to shipping, was exhibited in the Fourth Avenue building beginning on April 13, 1895.

Designed by Jacob A. Holzer, the frieze was four feet high and 112 feet long, its three panels depicting the travels of Marquette and Joliet, who explored the Mississippi River in 1673.  The Sun reported, "There are 200,000 pieces of glass and 10,000 pieces of pearl used in the work."

Later that year, another important commission was placed on display.  The New York Times reported on December 12, "An unusually attractive and brilliant stained glass window is now on view at the studios of the Tiffany Company, 333 Fourth Avenue.  The design is by Frederick Wilson, and the work goes to the Young Men's Library at Troy, N. Y., the gift of Mrs. Mary Hart of that city in memory of her husband."  Entitled The House of Aldus, Venice, A. D. 1502, it depicted the printer Aldus presenting Doge Leonardo Loredan the proof pages of the first popular edition of Dante.  The New York Times said, "Yellow, reds, and greens predominate, while by use of the new Favrile glass exquisite tones and effects of astonishing luminosity have been obtained."  Simultaneously, two other memorial windows, one for the Unitarian Church of the Saviour in Brooklyn, and the other for Christ Episcopal Church in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, were exhibited.

By the time of this exhibition, the firm was known as Tiffany Studios.  New-York Daily Tribune, October 13, 1897

By the turn of the century, the firm's extraordinary success prompted it to expand into the Fourth Avenue Studios Building next door, at 337-341 Fourth Avenue, owned by Ogden Goelet.

The corner building held the studios of some of New York's preeminent artists.  King's Views of New York, 1893 (copyright expired)

Tiffany Studios was not immune to labor problems.  In 1903, the workers went on strike.  Labor issues at the turn of the last century were often marked by violence, but in this case it was internal corruption within the union that caused problems.  Union leader Sam Parks approached the foreman of Tiffany Studios, Louis Schmitt, demanding $500 "to settle the strike."  It was a considerable amount, equal to around $16,000 in 2022.  Management paid the money, then filed charges against Parks for extortion.  He was indicted on September 14, 1903.

This 1901 advertisements reflects the expanded address.  (copyright expired)

Requiring ever more space, in 1905 Tiffany Studios moved from Fourth Avenue to the former Knickerbocker Athletic Club at the corner of Madison Avenue and 45th Street.  Ogden Goelet leased part of 333-335 Fourth Avenue to the Fifth Avenue Auction Rooms.  For decades it would be the scene of estate auctions, many of them liquidating the collections of millionaires.  On February 1, 1906, for instance, the firm advertised the auction of "the extensive and valuable art collection formed by Mr. T. Idsumi, a native expert and collector of Kioto, Japan."  

The building was used, as well, for exhibition space.  On April 20, 1907, for instance, The Evening Post reported, "The first annual exhibition of the Guild of Book Workers will be held at the old Tiffany studios, No. 333 Fourth Avenue...on April 25, 26, 27 and 29.  Examples of hand-printing on hand-made paper, illuminating and binding will be shown."  The exhibitions were held every year through 1909.

That year Goelet leased the lower parts of the corner building to the Fifth Avenue Auction Rooms, as well.  The two structures, however, were not joined internally.  While the auction house operated from the lower floors, the upper portion of 333-335 held artists studios--like those of Thomas R. Manley and Robert L. Dodge in 1911--and businesses spaces.  The National Metalizing Co. was here in 1915.  The firm manufactured decorative and functional items like lighting fixtures.

This National Metalizing Co.'s hanging fixture provided indirect lighting to "parlors, drawing rooms and receptions rooms."  Electrical Record, October, 1915 (copyright expired)

Also in the building was the publishing firm, The Century Co.  It published The Secrets of Polar Travel by Rear Admiral Robert E. Peary from the address in 1917.

In the meantime, the Fifth Avenue Auction Rooms continued to operate from both buildings.  In March 1919, the sale of the James L. Bishop estate was held in the portion at 333-335 Fourth Avenue.  The New-York Tribune reported, "The collection comprises in part Louis XV and XVI furniture, including Aubusson suites; a marble fountain representing 'Venus Rising from the Shell,'" and paintings, etchings, "books in fine bindings," etc.  The Fifth Avenue Auction Rooms would continue to occupy the ground floors through 1922.

By 1919 the offices of the Schola Cantorum occupied space in 333 Fourth Avenue.  Founded in 1909 as the MacDowell Chorus, it was now headed by composer and conductor Kurt Schindler.  On October 19, 1919, The Sun reported on the upcoming season, saying, "The chorus held its first rehearsal on October 8, when work was begun on the Mozart 'Requiem' and a Bach cantata...There are still a few vacancies for professional singers, especially sopranos and tenors, information concerning which may be had at the office of the society at 333 Fourth avenue."  The Schola Cantorum would occupy space here through 1922.

At the time the studio of renowned photographer Jennie Tarbox Beals was in the building.  The first published female photojournalist in the United States, she was especially known for her photographs of Greenwich Village.  She used her studio as a meeting space, as well.  On October 9, 1921, for instance, the New-York Herald reported, "The poetry group of the New York League of American Penwomen will meet Wednesday at the studio of Jennie Tarbox Beals, 333 Fourth avenue."

Another noted figure to have an office here was architect and painter Edwin Hooper Denby.  Born on February 9, 1872, his work received an honorable mention at the Architectural Section of the Paris Salon in 1895.  By the 1930's, when he established his office and studio here, he had designed churches, schools and apartment buildings.  But he was, perhaps, as well known for his architectural water colors and his contributions to typography.  

On March 10, 1934, The New York Sun reported, "The exhibition of Edwin H. Denby, A. I. A., comprising water colors of architectural subjects, will remain open to the public during the months of March and April in the gallery adjoining his office at 333 Fourth avenue."  He also developed and designed his own type fonts and styles.  In 1940, his book Catalog of Enorm Type Slotted to Interlock for Better Spacing was published, and two years later his Lincolniana, and Various Display Prints in Denby Type appeared.  Denby still worked at his studio here when he died on January 17, 1957 at the age of 84.

Two years later Fourth Avenue was renamed Park Avenue South.  The building saw a variety of tenants over the succeeding decades.  In 1970 the American Computer Institute operated from an upper floor, while Antenna, a unisex hairdressing saloon, occupied the third floor.  

On August 12, 1971, Angela Taylor wrote in The New York Times, "The current 'in' shop is Antenna...It's a spacious, airy arrangement with brick walls, a polished wood floor, and lots of greenery in pots and hanging baskets.  The outdoor effect is emphasized by the shop's own zoo: a pair of large turtles that lumber around freely, snakes, frogs and lizards in glass cages, plus three whippets and a huge black cat."  The reputation of Antenna was such that one customer traveled from San Francisco every six weeks for a styling.  He told Taylor, "It's a long way to come for a hair cut, but I don't let anybody else cut it."

The last years of the 1970's saw apartments mixing with offices in the upper floors.  The building was converted to co-ops in 1981.  Above the modern storefront today, the structure looks much as it did in 1887 when Louis C. Tiffany moved his new company in.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2022

The 1857 143 Duane Street


In 1835 the family of James Dunn, a grocer at 137 and 147 Anthony Street (later named Worth Street), lived in the 25-foot-wide home at 143 Duane Street.  In the rear yard was a smaller house, most likely the home of Andrew J. W. Butler, a "bill poster," who was listed at the address.  At the time, George Colgate lived about two blocks to the south at 158 Chambers Street.  The passing of two decades would bring remarkable changes to both neighborhoods.

As the population of New York City grew, the expanding commercial district pushed residential neighborhoods northward.  In 1856, the estate of George Colgate demolished the former Dunn property and began construction of a five-story commercial building.  Completed in 1857, the Italianate style structure was faced in red brick above the cast iron storefront, the Corinthian capitals of which have been sadly lost.  A pressed metal cornice with scrolled, foliate brackets crowned the structure.

The building filled with drygoods firms, Naef & Schaeppi, which advertised "silks and ribbons;" Richard Bell & Co., linens dealers; and J. & D. Clarke.  They were joined in April 1860 by Kellogg  & Tenbroeck, another drygoods firm, and in January 1862 by George B. Grinnell "dry goods commission merchant."

H. Hennequin & Company specialized in imported shawls.  After moving into the building in March 1869, it advertised its "new and choice stock" of items like "rich Paris printed and fancy spring shawls, Plain Thibet and Merino shawls--wool and silk fringes," and others.

The Evening Post, April 10, 1871 (copyright expired)

By 1871 the ground floor was home to Edmund Mardaga's eatinghouse, or restaurant.  Among the first tenants in the upper portion not related to the drygoods business was Ghio & Rovira.  A. P. Ghio was born in Genoa, Italy in 1853 and came to New York City at the age of 14.  In 1883, at the age of 30, he partnered with another immigrant, Benito Rovira, "a young Spaniard," as described by Tobacco: An Illustrated Weekly Journal, to form the cigar manufacturing firm of Ghio & Rovira at 143 Duane Street.

Rovira had arrived in New York from Barcelona in 1872.  Tobacco later said, "Rovira's good judgment concerning tobacco, his ability as a factory superintendent and his success as a salesman on the road, caused Ghio to be eager to get Rovira for a partner."   The firm was highly successful.  A help-wanted advertisement in The Sun on June 10, 1884 read, "Tobacco filler strippers wanted at Ghio & Rovira's, 143 Duane st."  And, indeed, the company's growth was such that a year later it moved to larger quarters on 33rd Street.

In 1885 renovations, including a cast iron skylight, were made to the building by architect G. Joralemon.  Possibly, it was at this time that the lintels and sills were capped with the sheet metal coverings we see today.

Another tenant not related to the drygoods industry was the Indiana Paint & Roofing Co., which moved in around 1887.  As its name implied, the firm supplied builders with roofing materials and house paint, as well as household items like oilcloth and carpeting lining.  The firm remained here through 1891.

Carpentry & Building, November 1887 (copyright expired)

In 1893 only one drygoods merchant, "white goods" dealer G. K. Sheridan & Co., which occupied the fifth floor, was in the building.  The others were related to publishing.  Occupying the ground floor store as well as the fourth floor was paper dealer M. B. Belden.  The upper floor was used as his storehouse of paper bags and paper stock.  On the second floor was the German Clay Co., which, despite it's misleading name, was a publisher, and the third floor was home to S. Feinberg & Co., book importer and publisher.

Just after 6:00 on the evening of September 14, 1893, fire was discovered in S. Feinberg & Co.'s space.  The vast amount of paper and ink quickly created an inferno, which burned through the ceiling to M. B. Belden's paper storerooms.  Firefighters were able to extinguish the blaze, but because of the flammable nature of the building's contents, an insurance patrolman named Waddy was left on the premises overnight.  And, sure enough, several times throughout the night he discovered small fires that had reignited, which he put out himself.

Then, at around 4:00 a.m., another fire broke out on the fourth floor that spread too quickly for him to handle.  The New York Times reported, "He carried the alarm to the Franklin Street engine house, and when the firemen arrived at the building, the fire had obtained such headway that second and third alarms were sounded."

This blaze was worse than the initial fire.  At 5:00 the roof collapsed, "carrying with it the floors to the second story," said The New York Times.  When the fire was finally extinguished, M. B. Belden had lost everything.  He estimated his loss at $200,000 (about $621,000 in 2022).  The losses to S. Feinberg and the German Clay Co. were less, while damages to the structure were estimated at $373,000 in today's money.

As 143 Duane Street was being rebuilt, the neighborhood around it was becoming the center of Manhattan's shoe district.  The renovated building was almost exclusively occupied by boot and shoe firms, like Williams, Hoyt & Co., Carlisle Shoe Co., and Robert J. Boyd.  Non-shoe related tenants in 1898 were B. H. Sweet & Co., dealer in dressmaker supplies, and G. Mandelbaum & Co., which dealt in "toilet supplies."

In 1902, half a century after it erected 143 Duane Street, the George Colgate estate liquidated its holdings.  Title to the Duane Street building was transferred to Hannah Colgate.  Her tenants continued to be, mostly, shoe and boot firms.  Among them in 1909 were the shoe manufacturers A. Grossman and O. H. Kraeger.  They were joined in 1917 by the Duane Shoe Company.

The Shoe and Leather Journal, June 1, 1917 (copyright expired)

The Duane Shoe Co. remained in the building into the 1920's.  Throughout the rest of the 20th century, the building continued to house similar businesses.  Then, in 1989, the transformation of Tribeca from gritty industry to artsy shops, galleries and residences resulted in a year-long renovation to 143 Duane Street.  Today there is one loft dwelling per floor above the commercial space.  And, although the cast iron capitals of the storefront have fallen away, the building retains its pre-Civil War appearance.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Samuel B. Reed's 1887 122 West 88th Street


In 1886 developer William Taylor acquired a vacant 125-foot-wide parcel on the south side of West 88th Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues.  He gave his architect, Samuel B. Reed, a daunting task--to squeeze eight houses into a plot that would normally accommodate no more than six.  When construction was completed the following year, Reed had created a streetscape of charming, 15-foot-wide homes, no two of which were identical, but all of which combined into a pleasing composition.  Each had cost the equivalent of $267,000 in 2022 to erect.

For 122 West 88th Street, Reed dipped freely into a grab bag of historic styles.  A carved Renaissance Revival style panel sat below the arched Queen Anne parlor window, while a neo-Georgian fan light graced the entrance.  The parlor floor openings were crowned with beefy brownstone voussoirs and Romanesque Revival keystones.  The windows of the second floor vied for attention--one sporting a classical stone pediment, the other sitting within a slightly projecting metal, hooded frame decorated with polka-dot-like rounded bosses.  Separated by a brownstone bandcourse, the third floor featured grouped windows within a vast stone arch.  Above it, Reed forewent a cornice in favor of an Elizabethan-inspired parapet.

The house became home to the family of civic engineer William H. Grant.  Born in Neversink, New York on May 15, 1915, he had taken over the position of chief engineer in laying out Central Park, originally held by Egbert I. Viele, and had spent nine years as an assistant engineer on the enlargement of the Erie Canal.  He had recently returned to New York after working for the Federal Government, superintending the deepening and widening of rivers and bays in Maryland and Virginia.

The Grant summer home was in Ossining, New York, and it was there in 1896 that William H. Grant died.  The family had left West 88th Street about three years earlier.  By 1893 the family of James E. Childs lived at 122 West 88th Street.  The apparently busy Childs was vice president and general manager of the New York, Ontario & Western Railroad Company, president of the West End Cottages and Casino Company, vice president of the Ontario, Carbondale & Scranton Railroad Company, and a director of several corporations such as the Niagara River Hydraulic Company.

Although Childs retained possession of 122 West 88th Street, the family had moved to West 93rd Street by the turn of the century.  Childs would continue to lease the house, furnished, for over a decade.

Other houses along the row demonstrate Samuel B. Reed's charming and playful jumble of styles.

Two of Childs's early tenants suffered heartbreak in the house.  Henry Goldberg was perhaps the first renter.  Living with him were his parents, Morris and Bertha.  Bertha died here on January 5, 1898 and her funeral was held in the parlor four days later.  Following the Goldbergs in the house were John T. Little, his wife, and widowed mother-in-law, Mary Dyer Buckbee.  Mary died in the house on September 4, 1900.  Once again a funeral was held in the parlor.

The rapid turnover of tenants continued.  In 1903 and '04 the Franklin family leased the house.  Jennie Franklin, a recent debutante, frequently entertained.  On March 1, 1903, for instance, the New York Herald reported, "Miss Jennie E. Franklin, of No. 122 West Eighty-eighth street, will entertain at cards on March 9."  And on December 4 the following year, the newspaper wrote, "Miss Jennie Franklin, of No. 122 West Eight-eighth street, is to entertain tomorrow afternoon the members of the Bridge Whist Club."

James E. Childs died on July 16, 1912.  One year later, on June 11, 1913, his estate sold 122 West 88th Street.  On August 10 an advertisement for the sale of the furnishings in the "handsome nine room house" appeared in the New York Herald.

The new owner operated 122 West 88th Street as a boarding house.  On September 23, 1913, an advertisement read: "Two girls wanted; one for general housework and plain cooking; one for chamberwork and assist waiting; private boarding house."

By the time Lillie Wilkin purchased 122 West 88th Street in 1920, it was a rooming house.  Among her tenants was Ethel Davis, who also went by the name Ethel Martinez.  Ethel ran a beauty parlor at 23 Manhattan Avenue.  She ran afoul with the law in 1921 and was sentenced to Welfare Island (today's Roosevelt Island) in September.  Eight months later she was released.  But she would not make it back to West 88th Street that day.

On May 16, 1922, The New York Times reported, "The dream of restored freedom of Ethel Davis, 30 years old, of 122 West Eighty-eighth Street...received something of a setback when she was rearrested as she was about to leave the island yesterday, at the expiration of her sentence."  During her incarceration, a customer, Mabel Tichenor, filed a complaint.  In September, right before Ethel's first arrest, she said, "she handed Miss Davis three rings while she was being shampooed, but only two were returned to her."  Mrs. Tichenor valued the missing ring at $600 (almost $9,700 in 2022).  Ethel was now arrested for that theft.

Tenant Lee Carrier, who rented a room in 1925, proved to be a tragic figure.  He had been a dancing master in Norfolk, Virginia, and moved to New York to further study dance.  A year later, things were not going well for him and on May 4, 1926, according to The Evening Post, he flung himself from Park Avenue to the New York Central tracks at 87th Street.  The fall did not injure him, however, so he "laid his head on the rails in the path of an approaching train and was killed."  He had given no impression to his landlord of being depressed.

Not all of the tenants, of course, brought unwanted publicity to the house.  Living here in 1934 was artist Roland Rolando, who worked with the Depression era Public Works Art Project; and in 1938 tenant Julie Naud gave playing card lessons from her apartment.  She advertised, "French conversation practice, new card game, 2 to 12 players, 2 sets, questions-answers; beginners, advanced. $1."

In 1969, 122 West 88th Street was converted to a two-family house, with a duplex within the basement and parlor floors, and another on the top two levels.  Then, a renovation completed in 2003 brought the house back to a single-family residence.

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