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.

photograph by the author has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

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