Carpet merchant Alvin Higgins quietly bought up the three Federal style houses at 97 through 101 Reade Street between 1855 and 1858. The block between Church Street and West Broadway had become increasingly commercial, and each of the homes had been converted for businesses. Late in 1861 he demolished the vintage buildings and hired architect Isaac F. Duckworth to design three loft-and-store buildings. Within the next ten years, Duckworth would design numerous buildings in the Tribeca neighborhood.
He designed these three buildings in the Italianate style, and deftly disguised them to appear as a single structure. Above cast iron storefronts manufactured by Daniel D. Badger's Architectural Iron Works were four floors of white marble, divided into two sections by an intermediate cornice. Each section consisted of Duckworth's take on the popular "sperm candle" arcade--so named because the thin, two-story columns appeared similar to the candles made from sperm whale oil. But in this case, Duckworth replaced the columns with paneled pilasters. The ornate terminal cornice included a paneled frieze, leafy scrolled brackets and a row of dentils below a secondary corbel table.
Among the initial tenants of 97 Reade Street were Charles W. Timpson, listed simply as "merchant," and H. & A. Stursberg, an importing firm. (Herman Stursberg lived on Staten Island and oversaw the New York operation, while Albert lived in Europe where he handled the firm's purchases.) Importers Julius and Richard Forstman were the earliest occupants of 101 Reade Street.
By 1865 Convex Weaving Co. leased space in 97 Reade Street. The firm won a gold medal at the American Institute Fair that year for its "loom for weaving irregular shapes." It was about this time that the three buildings were joined internally, so now tenants could rent more expansive lofts, if needed. Such was the case with Keller & Linogg, importers of a wide variety of wares like "fancygoods," musical instruments, cutlery, china, and thread.
The buildings continued to house mostly textile-related firms through the 1860's. And then, starting around 1876, wholesale grocers made an appearance. That year Francis H. Leggett & Co., operated by Francis H. and Theodore Leggett, occupied space in 97 Reade Street, and next door at 99 were Stephen L. Bardash and Henry T. McCoun, also wholesale grocers.
Even grocery firms were the targets of nocturnal burglaries, and so the Leggetts hired the American District Telegraph Company to provide a watchman. The private security men would make their rounds throughout the night, testing the doors of establishments and checking to ensure everything was secure.
At around 10:00 on the night of June 18, 1879, John O'Halloran was doing just that. Simultaneously, Patrolman Thomas J. Sullivan was making his rounds across the street. He confronted O'Halloran, who explained what he was doing. Sullivan called the watchman "a damned liar," and said he was aware that Leggett & Brothers was guarded by a burglar alarm company. He warned O'Halloron he would "take in any one of his company who tried doors" on his beat.
The security guard reported the incident to the District Telegraph Company, and was told to continue his duties as normal. And at 11:00, when O'Halloran tested the door again, Sullivan was waiting in the shadows. He dashed across Reade Street and again accosted the guard. O'Halloran said, "I told you I had the authority to watch this store, and I intend to do so. You'd better go about your business now, and I'll go about mine." Things got heated and The New York Times reported, "the two exchanged some angry epithets." Officer Sullivan pushed O'Halloran back with his club and then struck him on the nose.
The newspaper wrote, "Thereupon, O'Halloran assumed the aggressive, and, as the patrolman flourished his club above his head, lifted his own locust [i.e., nightstick] and disarmed him instantly, striking him on the jaw as he did so." The policeman stood stunned as the night watchman calmly walked away. After recovering from his shock, he made a formal complaint and O'Halloran was arrested the following day. When the facts came out before Justice Flammer, Sullivan was censured, the case against O'Halloran was dismissed, and a complaint against the officer was filed with the Police Commissioners.
By 1880 Leggett & Brothers had spread into all three buildings. In October that year, the firm hired John Duffy a temporary delivery driver. The married 38-year-old had been a pilot on a Long Branch steamboat and took the job while he looked for a similar position. He found one at the end of the month, and on his last day, October 30, a perfect storm of coincidences created severe problems for him.
That day shipping clerk William T. Houser loaded a $41 order of groceries into Duffy's cart. The goods were intended for 520 Grand Street, but had been mislabeled for New Haven, Connecticut. Duffy delivered the shipment to the dock, returned the empty cart, and quit his job, prepared to start his pilot's position the next day.
When the customer had not received his goods by November 3, he complained. Francis Leggett, discovering that the driver had disappeared after receiving the shipment, pressed charges of grand larceny against Duffy. That night, Duffy was arrested at his house on East 10th Street. He appeared in court the following afternoon, insisting "that the goods in question had been given him, with instructions to deliver them at the New-Haven boat...These instructions he had obeyed," according to The New York Times. The judge believed him, said the article, but Leggett insisted he be held. He was locked up again awaiting trial.
In the meantime, the grocery firm "made inquiries, and discovered that Duffy's story was correct." It dropped the charges on Sunday, November 7 and he was released. Unfortunately, in the four days he had been locked up, he lost his new job. He announced his intentions of suing the firm for false imprisonment. The New York Times reported on November 8, 1880 that Francis H. Leggett & Co. "offered to pay him $300 in cash and a permanent situation provided he would abandon his intention to see legal redress, but he asserted that he would do nothing of the kind, and declared he would not on any consideration again enter into the service of the firm."
Within a few years the Reade Street area would see an influx of shoe and leather manufacturers and wholesalers. The trend first appeared here around 1887 with Rose, McAlpin & Co. in 97 and 99 Reade Street. It would be joined by shoe dealers Roberts & Vaughn and S. G. Meeteer by the early 1890's.
The American Bookmaker, December 1887 (copyright expired)
Early in 1898, Rose, McAlpin & Co. "wanted an expert bookkeeper," as reported by the Syracuse, New York Evening Herald. Former Confederal Army Colonel William Carrere "answered the advertisement, was engaged and gave perfect satisfaction," said the newspaper on October 27. What the firm did not realize was that Carrere was a notorious forger, described by officials as "a remarkably fine penman." The Evening Herald reminded readers, "Carrere is the man who in 1877 flooded the market with forged bonds of St. Louis County, Missouri." After serving a term in prison, had been arrested again on August 19, 1894 for grand larceny and forgery. The World called him at the time "notorious." And it did not take him long to be back to his old ways.
On October 24, 1898, George L. Rose was called to the Nassau Bank. There a "poorly dressed man" had attempted to cash a $100 check ostensibly signed by Rose. (It was a significant amount, nearly $3,700 by 2022 standards.) Rose immediately denounced it as a forgery. Trapped, the unemployed man said he had gotten the check from Carrere, and that a few days earlier he had cashed a similar check, with Carrere giving him half of the proceeds. Once again, Carrere found himself behind bars awaiting trial. And, once again, he pleaded not guilty.
At the time of the incident, the three Reade Street buildings had become home to several more industrial tenants. The Dexter Folder Company was already at 97 Reade Street in 1896 when, in February, the newly formed Phonograph Record & Supply Co. moved int0 97 through 101. They were joined later that year by printing firms F. L. Montague & Co. and the Michele Printing Press & Manufacturing Company. Charles E. Miller opened his bicycle store at 97 Reade Street that year.
Phonograph Record & Supply Co. signed a valuable contract with tenor George J. Gaskin, one of America's most popular singers, in 1896. In August the firm announced:
We are pleased to inform our patrons that we have secured the services of this famous Tenor, and have now in stock a full line of his songs. These records are marvels of loudness, distinctness, brilliancy of tone, and execution. They possess all of the qualities essential to perfect reproduction through either horn or hearing tube.
Among the popular songs by Gaskin released that year were "Drill, Ye Tarriers, Drill," "The Fatal Wedding," and "We Were Sweethearts, Nell and I."
The Printer and Bookmaker, September 1898 (copyright expired)
The industrial nature of the tenant list increased in 1897 with the arrival of the Cleveland Twist Drill Co. and C. A. Baynon, Co., hardware dealers.
An advertisement pretending to be a scientific article in the May 1903 issue of The Medical World asked, "What do you rely on in troubles affecting the brain, nerve centres and spinal cord, and where a safe but powerful aphrodisiac is needed?" The article suggested trying Freligh's Tonic. "It is made by the well-known firm of I. O. Woodruff & Co., 99 Reade street, New York, N.Y., who also make Freligh's Liver Medicine and Freligh's Heart Drops." I. O. Woodruff & Co. had been in the building about three years at the time of the advertisement.
Another "manufacturing chemist" in 97-101 Reade Street in 1903 was Kenzel Manufacturing Co., which marketed itself as "the firm that made Rouge famous." Lipstick and rouge were worn only by actresses at the time--any woman seen in public wearing makeup would be deemed a "painted lady," a term that suggested low morals at best. And advertisement for Kenzel's Rouge in The New York Clipper in 1903 said in part:
No manager knows how good your act is until he see it, and you don't know how good our rouge is until you try it. Let's get acquainted. We also make Kenzel's face powder, Kenzel's face bleach, Kenzel's cucumber milk, and Kenzel's toilet powder.
By 1900 Charles E. Miller had moved from bicycles to motor vehicle accessories. The Horseless Age explained that when he opened his store at the height of the bicycle craze, "he even then realized that the future must inevitably be occupied by the mechanically propelled vehicle, which at that time was just being introduced from abroad." Because he was among the first to recognize the potential of the industry, his success was phenomenal. In 1903 the Cycle and Automobile Trade Journal said the firm represented "probably the largest collection of automobile parts, fittings and sundris to be found in the world." Among the items he sold that year was the Miller's Foot Power Horn. The magazine explained that an air pump fastened under the automobile's floorboard could easily be operated by the driver's foot. The firm also introduced "an entirely new line of imported automobile goggles, covering twenty-five or thirty different styles. Some of these goggles are lined with otter and other furs."
Cycle and Automobile Trade Journal, February 1, 1903 (copyright expired)
Charles E. Miller's business flourished. By 1911 there were 15 stores throughout the nation, and in its January 15, 1917 issue, The Horseless Age called him "The wise man of Reade Street" and "America's pioneer automobile accessory jobber."
The 1862 cornice can be seen in this 1941 photograph. image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services
Following World War I, other automotive firms would join Miller in the buildings. In 1922 P. & F. Auto Supply Co. was here, and by 1926 Pederson & Glanagan tire wholesalers operated from 97 Reade Street.
And in 1939 the New York Stationery Manufacturers moved, as did the Associated Footwear Company.
Change came in 1988 when the cornice was removed and two additional floors added. Sadly, the renovation, completed in 1989, was done with no interest in honoring Isaac F. Duckworth's marble structure. Instead, the addition sits as a blatant 20th century afterthought.
uncredited photographs by the author
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And here is tenor George J. Gaskin singing "Drill, Ye Tarriers, Drill".