Saturday, October 15, 2022

The 1895 Solomon Sayles Building -- 434-438 Sixth Avenue


Noticeably missing, the cornice was removed in 1961.

Solomon Sayles was a successful "meat and provisions dealer" in the last decade of the 19th century.  His operation sat on Sixth Avenue, directly opposite the Jefferson Courthouse complex.  In February 1893 the Record & Guide reported that J. Dalmage Trimble had sold "the old building" at the southeast corner of Sixth Avenue and 10th Street "to Solomon Sayles, the butcher, who occupies adjoining premises."  He had ambitious plans for the site.

Sayles commissioned architect Ralph S. Townsend to design a large commercial building on the site of the combined properties.  Completed in 1894, the six-story brick-and-stone structure was designed in the Italianate Renaissance manner of the Eclectic period.  The ground floor of the two-story stone base provided a store for Solomon Sayles's grocery business.  The windows of the upper floors were grouped in threes.  Those of the third floor were framed in terra cotta and separated by engaged, spiral Scamozzi columns.  Paired, double-height fluted pilasters divided the window groupings of the fourth and fifth floors; while the sixth floor openings, above an intermediate cornice, were also graced with the spiral columns, each group separated by an ornate terra cotta panel.

A Renaissance-inspired hood crowns the entrance to the upper floors.

For awhile it seemed that Solomon Sayles had overextended himself.  In 1899 he was forced to assign his business, often the first step before bankruptcy, and in May 1897 he transferred title to the Sixth Avenue building to Charles A. Hess "for the benefit of creditors," according to the Real Estate Record & Guide.  Hess told reporters that the actions were merely to placate "an overly aggressive creditor."

And that seems to have been true.  Solomon Sayles regained title to his property and his business thrived here for decades.  In the meantime, the upper floors filled with a wide array of tenants.   The early years of the 20th century saw apparel business, like milliner S. Meyer Co., as well as industrial and artistic tenants--the American Self-Lighting Appliances Co., the Pasbach-Voice Lithographic Co., and the Art Designing Works, for instance.

The Illustrated Milliner, January 1902 (copyright expired)

In September 1917, Ralph Townsend, now a partner in the architectural firm of Townsend, Steinle & Haskell, was called back to update the building.  The plans are vague, but most likely the work involved updating electricity and plumbing and such.

Solomon Sayle's business was renamed Sayles, Zahn Company at the end of World War I.  Advertising as "butchers and packers," it did business from the location into the Depression years.  Apparel-related firms were a minority on the upper floors.  By now, the artistic and industrial tenants had taken over.

Occupying space by 1920 was Montague Castle-London.  The firm was, perhaps, best known for stained glass windows, but fabricated "all forms of memorials in glass, mosaic, bronze and marble," as noted in an advertisement in 1920, and "mural decorations of every kind."

The address of 126-130 Sixth Avenue would be renumbered 434-438 in 1925.  Year Book of the Architectural League of New York, 1921 (copyright expired)

In 1925 Montague Castle-London Co. was looking for a self-reliant designer.  Apparently not wanting to waste time with applicants who overestimated their worth, the ad required them to state the salary they expected to earn.

Stained glass designer wanted, one having experience in designing along traditional lines; must essentially be individual, and be willing to come to New York and associate himself with an established firm; state remuneration expected.

Other tenants in the Depression era were the Eagle Water Heater Company, the Farrell Silvering Place Co., and the Century Metalcraft Corporation.

Scarsdale Inquirer, April 8, 1927 (copyright expired)

In 1956 the Robert Joffrey Theater Dancers was formed by six young dancers.  They hoped to spark interest in ballet by performing in school gymnasiums, small town theaters and other far-flung venues.  By 1960 the Joffrey American Ballet Center occupied the third floor of 434 Sixth Avenue.

Founders Gerald Arpino (left) and Robert Joffrey at a third floor window of 434 Sixth Avenue around 1960.  photo by Herbert Migdoll.

Before 1941 the structure's cornice was removed, and in 1961 metal storefronts were installed.  A more comprehensive renovation three years later resulted in stores and a post office on the ground floor, a factory space on the second, the Joffrey school on the third, a plating company (possibly Farrell) on the fourth, and apparel manufacturers on the two two floors.

As the neighborhood changed, so did the tenant list.  Around 1976 the Village Weaving Center occupied the fifth floor.  In addition to its retail shop, it offered classes in weaving.  The architectural firm of Edelman & Salzman moved in around the same time.

By the time this photograph was taken in 1941, the cornice had been removed.  photograph via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

In the meantime, the Joffrey Ballet's official school, the American Ballet Center, thrived in the third floor space, spreading into the fourth floor by 1979--this despite New York Magazine's description of the studio on September 10, 1979.  The article said, "cramped quarters make hallways, dressing rooms, and the waiting room noisy and hectic, and ventilation in the good-size studios is poor."

The article noted, "A large number of gifted children are granted generous scholarships here, and starting at twelve, selected students are given ample opportunity to perform in the Joffrey Ballet's concert group for up-and-coming young dancers."

More than six decades after signing its first lease, the Joffrey Ballet School continues at 434 Sixth Avenue.  Today it is among the foremost dance training institutions in the world.

photographs by the author
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1 comment:

  1. Not sure how the building allowed the atrocious lighting in the new deli. Looks like a 42nd street peep shop. It such a nice deli, but those lights!