Saturday, December 30, 2023

The 1869 Thomas H. Van Tine House - 47 Charles Street


Peter L. P. Tostevin listed his profession as mason in the Brooklyn directories during the 1860s.  He was not, however, a struggling bricklayer, but a partner in the thriving construction firm of Rabold & Tostevin.  In 1868, fellow Brooklynite James S. Bearnes purchased three building plots on the north side of Charles Street, just east of West Fourth Street, and hired Tostevin to build fashionable rowhouses on the site.  Completed in 1869, the brownstone-faced residences were handsome examples of the Italianate style.  

Like its identical neighbors, 57 Charles Street (later renumbered 47) rose three stories above an English basement.  Stone stoop railings with urn-shaped balusters rose from beefy newels to the arched, double-doored entrance.  Above it, an arched pediment sat upon scrolled brackets.  

All three homes were purchased by William Rabold in 1869, who initially rented them.  Then, in March 1872, Thomas Hartwell Van Tine purchased 57 Charles Street for $14,500--about $358,000 in 2023.

Born in New Jersey in 1820, Van Tine and his wife, the former Sarah E. Owens, had three adult children, Thomas Jr., Archibald, and Sarah Amelia.  Thomas, who was engaged in his father's business, moved into the Charles Street house with his wife, Adelaide Allen, and their three-year-old daughter Addie.

Thomas Hartwell Van Tine (original source unknown)

Like Peter L. P. Tostevin, Van Tine's profession of plumber belied his social and financial status.  He operated one of the chief plumbing firms in the city and handled significant projects, like the plumbing of several city fire stations.  

Little Addie Van Tine contracted scarlet fever in the spring of 1874.  She died in the Charles Street house at five-and-a-half-years-old on April 11, and her funeral was held in the parlor three days later.

According to The Evening Post, "The family had two trained birds of which they were very fond."  They became the target of malicious interlopers in the fall of 1874.  The family was away on October 1 when burglars pried off one of the iron grates protecting the basement windows and entered the house in broad daylight.  The Evening Post called the 3:00 break-in "one of the most daring robberies of late."  When the Van Tines returned home, they discovered that about $1,000 of "laces and other valuables" had been carried off. 

But, perhaps worse, their prized birds had been cruelly killed.  The Evening Post explained, "The burglars evidently intended at first to carry them off, and prepared a pasteboard box for that purpose.  Afterwards they changed their mind and, killing both birds, left them dead on the mantlepiece."

Sarah Owens Van Tine died on June 30, 1881.  Thomas Hartwell Van Tine survived her by almost four years.  He died on May 26, 1885 at the age of 64, and his funeral was held in the parlor two days later.

Somewhat surprisingly, considering that Thomas Jr. and his wife lived at 57 Charles Street, it was his sister Elizabeth who inherited the house.  She had married Cornelius Van Zandt on June 4, 1866.  By the mid-1880s the house was being leased to the family of Captain George Washington Gastlin of the New York City Police Department.

Born in 1835, Gastlin had joined the Police Department in 1864.  He had been with the Steamboat Squad since 1878, the station of which was at Pier A on the Hudson River.  The Sun said, "Under his management the river pirates and 'dock rats' that were a terror to boatmen and sailors who slept on their vessels along the water front were suppressed."  

Captain George Washington Gastlin, The Sun, July 6, 1890 (copyright expired)

In 1887, Gatlin purchased a "big buff-colored St. Bernard," as described by The Sun, which he named Nero.  The massive dog was a frequent visitor at the police station and the newspaper said, "Nero knew every one of the policemen at Pier A, and he didn't believe his day was complete unless he had spent a few hours with the Captain at the station."

Equally fond of the big dog was Gastlin's little granddaughter, Maggie Dorn Johnston, who was three years old when her grandfather purchased him.  The Sun said, "The Captain had trained the dog to carry the little girl on his back, and it was a common sight in Greenwich village to see Maggie sitting on a tiny saddle riding her faithful steed."

On Friday afternoon, April 19, 1889, Maggie, who was now five years old and lived nearby at 133 West 10th Street, "came around to the house to call on the Captain and her shaggy friend," according to The Sun.  "She left the door open, and Nero slipped out on a voyage of discovery."  Four days later, the St. Bernard was still missing and, said the newspaper, "Maggie is disconsolate."  No follow-up articles appeared after that, making it unclear whether Nero was ever found.

Captain Gastlin endured public humiliation in 1894 when the New York Senate's Lexow Committee held hearings on police corruption.  Gastlin earned a salary of $2,500 per year (about $83,000 by 2023 terms), which he supplanted by inexcusable means.  He was one of three supervisors accused of extorting money from their own officers.  During hearings on December 19, Office Murphy testified that he "had been paid $25 per month for 14 years for dock work" and "gave up half of this money every month to the different wardmen."  Wardman Ball admitted to taking money from the officers, and testified he passed it on to Captain Gastlin.

Gastlin was not indicted, but was forced to resign on July 5, 1890.  The Sun reported, "He will lose his salary...but his pension will enable him to live well in the country, for he will probably never live again in New York."  He died one day after his 60th birthday on October 2, 1895.

In 1941 the original doorway pediment and the stone stoop railings survived.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

On September 14, 1905, Elizabeth Van Zandt sold 57 Charles Street to T. G. Patterson and his wife Mary.  They leased it to Edward Price.  

Price had arrived in New York in 1888 from his native Wales, where he was born in 1859.  He was the cashier (the accountant responsible for the cash and keeping of the books) of the Palatine Insurance Company, and then of the Northern Insurance Company.  He died at the age of 61 on January 28, 1920.  Three months later the Patterson estate sold the Charles Street house.

Since the early 19th century, the north side of one block of Charles Street--between Bleecker and West 4th Street--had been named Van Nest Place in honor of Abraham Van Nest whose sprawling country estate engulfed the area in the 18th century.  It caused immense confusion and in 1900 residents began lobbying the city to discard the name.  Finally, in 1936 Van Nest Place was renamed Charles Street, necessitating a renumbering of the houses.  No. 57 Charles Street became 47 Charles Street.

A renovation completed in 1969 resulted in a doctor's office in the basement level and one apartment each on the upper floors.  It was most likely at this time that the arched pediment and brackets above the doorway was removed, and the stone stoop railings replaced with modern iron examples.

image via

Then, a restoration completed in 2003 returned 47 Charles Street to a single-family residence.  Period-appropriate Italianate style stoop railings were installed and the entrance enframement reproduced.

photographs by the author
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Friday, December 29, 2023

The 1862 Double-Flat at 321 West 16th Street


On October 29, 1860 Samuel Conlon acquired the vacant lot at 321 West 16th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues from Martha Sophar.  He soon began construction of a five-story "double flat" on the site.  (The term referred to buildings with two apartments per floor.)  Completed in 1862, the Anglo-Italianate style edifice sat upon a rusticated brownstone base.  The top four floors were faced in red brick, their openings trimmed with cast metal lintels and sills.  Those of the second floor wore Renaissance style pediments.  An ambitious cornice, complete with bold, scrolled brackets, swags, and an urn-topped pediment crowned the design.

The elaborate cornice originally terminated in a cast metal urn.

The building filled with respectable working class tenants, like William Bofer and William Mager, both bootmakers, who were among the first.  Milton Henderson, who lived here in 1868, had a profession different from any others in the building.  He was listed in directories as "magician."

An interesting resident was Amzi Howell, who lived here with his family until the spring of 1880.  Born in New York City in 1824, he had been in the milk business and frequently moved his family, including wife Sarah and daughters Josephine H. and E. Mary, from one rented space to another.  The year that he moved into 321 West 16th Street he changed his career to "lecturer."  (That apparently did not work out and he soon began publishing The Milk Reporter.)

On May 1, 1880, Amzi Howell moved his family again, this time to a rented house one block away at 251 West 16th Street.  The Howells remained there through June, and then left without paying any rent.  Their landlady, Mrs. Eliza A. Stymus, sued for the $130 she was owed.  The parties appeared in court on September 1 and Howell's defense startled everyone in the room.  The New York Times reported:

He claimed that he rented the house with the full understanding that it was untenanted.  When he moved in, however, he found that the attic was crowded with ghosts...Moreover, the ghosts were extremely disorderly.  They persisted in slamming doors, groaning, and pursuing other objectionable and strictly ghostly industries all night long.

Howell further asserted that he had pleaded with Mrs. Stymus to remedy the situation, and she did nothing.  He "maintained that ghosts constitute a nuisance" and that it was Mrs. Stymus's obligation to "abate the ghosts."  Her failure to do so, he said, "released him from any obligation to retain the premises and to pay rent therefor."  Unfortunately for the creative squatter, the judge disagreed and Howell lost his case.

Laura Lawyer lived at 321 West 16th Street in 1887 when she was forced to call a policeman on a friend, Ella Matsada.  The New York Times reminded readers that Ella's "marriage to the Japanese wrestler, Matsada Sorakichi, and subsequent pranks in Mrs. Schneider's establishment, at 44 Bond-street, a couple of years ago attracted much attention."

Laura and Ella had apparently roomed together and Laura still had some of Ella's Things.  According to Ella, reported The Evening World, she had "called to see about some furniture which belonged to her and a general row followed."  Laura's version of things was different.  On November 11, The New York Times reported that Ella "had gone there with a bottle of Old Tom gin and drank until she became a nuisance.  When requested to leave she created a disturbance and threatened to brain her with a bottle."  Officer Westleborn arrived and arrested Ella Matsada, whom The New York Times said "was the most gorgeous prisoner at the Jefferson Market Court yesterday."

Upon Samuel Conlon's death, his only son John P. Conlon inherited 321 West 16th Street, along with other Manhattan properties.  The younger Conlon, who had been an architect and real estate developer, now "retired from the pursuits of business in New York to enjoy his fortune," explained The San Francisco Call.  He began enjoying another pursuit as well.

Conlon was married to Eva K. Conlon.  His niece, Abbie Kinnes was recently widowed.  The San Francisco Call said, "She was young and attractive.  She took up her abode with her uncle, and the mutual relationship soon turned into love."  Conlon left his wife and "the rich old uncle at once legally adopted Mrs. Kinnes."  The newspaper said, "Mrs. Kinnes was given everything she wished and the couple enjoyed themselves to their hearts' content."  They traveled through Europe and made a trip around the world.  "It is said Mrs. Kinnes generally passed as Mrs. Conlon," said The San Francisco Call.

On January 10, 1899, the couple sailed to San Francisco.  It was a long trip, requiring crossing Panama (there was no canal yet).  They arrived in California five months later.  The San Francisco Call reported on April 6, "Bicycles were procured and they started to make a tour of the State awheel."  They rode to San Jose around May 29.  On the evening of May 30, the couple was dining at the Mercantile Restaurant there when the 53-year-old Conlon had a stroke.  He died in their suite in the Grand Lodging House on April 6.

The San Francisco Call began an article that day saying, "A love romance, in which a rich old uncle and a fascinating niece were the Romeo and Juliet, ended here this morning...Mrs. Abbie Kinnes is the bereaved, and is left about a half million dollars in New York properties and securities."

The newspaper was as yet unaware that there was a Mrs. Eva K. Conlon back in Manhattan.  The following day it noted, "There is an increasing mystery surrounding he death of John P. Conlon, the semi-millionaire of New York City," and accused Annie of "rushing" the affairs of her uncle and adopted father.  And, indeed, because Conlon died without leaving a will, the estate, including title to 321 West 16th Street, was tied up in the courts for years as the legal wife and the adopted daughter fought it out.  (As it turned out, Eva won.  She sold 321 West 16th Street in 1908.)

Resident Julia Green appeared in a Brooklyn courtroom twice in 1907--once to defend herself on an assault charge, and the other to testify in her sister's divorce proceedings.  Both revolved around an affair her sister Agnes Jordan had had with Timothy Neligan, a "war correspondent and conductor on the Montague street cable line," as described by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.  

Neligan had boarded with Julia and her husband Mike, beginning in November 1906.  He left a month later when Mike Green "accused him of being too intimate with his wife."  But his absence did not end the problems at home and the couple separated.  Agnes's three sisters, including Julia, blamed the break-up entirely on Neligan and began what he called "persecution."

On May 24, 1907, the team of sisters boarded his streetcar and denounced him before his passengers.  Neligan said Julia Green "commenced to abuse me and assaulted me with a parcel she was carrying."  He told a reporter later that "not wishing to create a scene," he withstood the attack until they disembarked.  But, he said, "On my return journey Mrs. Green boarded my car and paid her fare, and then commenced to abuse me, with the intention, no doubt, of intimidating me, her idea being to report me to my superiors (which she and Mrs. Mae Belford afterward did), and, if possible, get me discharged."  When Neligan threatened to have Julia arrested, she and her sisters got off the streetcar.

That evening Neligan wrote a letter to Julia Green, letting her know that if she continued to verbally or physically assault him while he worked, he would "be obliged to take her to court."  The ploy did not work.  He testified later:

The following day she came again, this time by herself, and after calling me all the abusive names she had at her command, she deliberately spat in my face.

True to his word, Neligan stopped the streetcar and summoned an officer.  He said, "when she saw me returning with him, woman like, she commenced to cry and complained to the policeman that I had slapped her in the face."  Luckily for Neligan, other passengers served as his witnesses.

The urn atop the parapet survived in 1941.  image via the NYC Dept of Buildings and Information Services.

Widow Mary A. Smith lived here at the time.  She was receiving her husband's $300 per year pension, equal to about $9,640 in 2023.  

Less upstanding than Mary Smith was William Quinn.  On the night of May 31, 1909, Robert McVetty was standing on the corner of 19th Street and Tenth Avenue when he was shot through the hand by a man whom he told police "he know only as Tony."  Two hours later, as William Quinn stood on the same corner, three men jumped off a passing street car and shot him in the chest.  Unlike McVetty, his wound was fatal.  The New York Times reported, "The police believe the two men were members of rival gangs."

Like the house that Amzi Howell rented in 1880, some residents of 321 West 16th Street believed the building was haunted in 1912.  The Syracuse Herald reported on March 31, that for five nights they heard a "spook" making "mournful, ghostly howls."  A 2:11 on the morning of March 29, police were summoned to investigate the specter.  They discovered Nemo, the missing cat of Mary Kenny "imprisoned in the chimney."  Happily, said the article, it was "as healthy as he was hungry."

Around the time of Nemo's imprisonment in the chimney, architect Hans P. Hansen was living at 321 West 16th Street.  He remained at least through 1914.

Throughout the remainder of the 20th century, residents came and went with little notoriety.  There are still just ten apartments in the building.  The paint on its brick facade, once red, has faded to pink.  And the brownstone base has been painted black.  Sadly, the metal urn that once crowned the parapet was lost in the second half of the 20th century.

photographs by the author
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Thursday, December 28, 2023

Isaac Duckworth's Cast Iron 39 Worth Street


Only months apart, architect Isaac F. Duckworth received commissions from James Smith and Philo Laos Mills to design side-by-side, five-story store-and-loft buildings at 39 and 41 Worth Street, respectively.  For both, Duckworth turned to Daniel D. Badger's Architectural Iron Works to cast his facades.

Ground was broken for 39 Worth Street on March 1, 1862 and construction was completed on January 28, 1863.  The Superintendent of Building's Semi-Annual Report to the Board of Aldermen described it as a "first-class storehouse."  Duckworth's commercial take on the Italianate style included Corinthian pilasters between each of the upper floor openings, and prominent intermediate cornices defined each floor.  The gently rounded upper corners of the windows drew on the emerging Second Empire style.  Duckworth crowned the building with a robust cornice composed of a corbel table, paneled fascia, and large and small foliate brackets.

The area was rapidly becoming Manhattan's dry goods district.  Among the early tenants of 39 Worth Street was E. Waitzhelder & Co., "commission merchants and dealers in dry goods and cottons."  The New York Herald called the company "old and reputable," adding "The firm have a cotton factory in Philadelphia which cost them about $100,000."  That figure would translate to about $2.75 million in 2023.

The Financial Panic of 1873 devastated banks and businesses, and E. Waitzhelder & Co. was not an exception.  On November 27, 1875, the New York Herald reported that the firm's failure had "created a great deal of excitement in the Cotton Exchange" the previous day.  

Importantly, the article noted that E. Waitzhelder & Co. "have made an assignment to Abraham Backer."  He was a partner in the cotton commission firm of Backer & Cohen, which was also in 39 Worth Street.  That firm survived the depression and would remain in the building for years.  Backer's personal fortune survived as well.  When the Jersey City Finance Committee secretly sold off large amounts of city bonds in 1880, The New York Times reported "Mr. Backer, a capitalist, at No. 39 Worth-street...took $400,000 of the issue."  The amount would equal about $11.8 million today.

Although freight elevators were being installed in commercial buildings in the last quarter of the 19th century, that was not the case at 39 Worth Street.  Tenants used a "hatchway"--an open shaft outfitted with a pulley system by which crates and bundles were hoisted up and down.  It was a dangerous process which resulted in tragedy in 1882.  

Fourteen-year-old James Sullivan lived on Bayard Street in the impoverished Five Points district.  Like most teen boys of needy families, he dropped out of school to work.  The New York Times reported on January 6 that he "fell through the hatchway of the building No. 39 Worth-street, from the third to the first floor, yesterday, and was killed."

By now, Abraham Backer had established a second firm in the building, Arkwright Mills, A. Backer & Co.  The company's mills in Manayunk, Pennsylvania manufactured "ginghams and checks."  Also here by 1886 were the New York buying office of I. Epstein & Bro., and importers Lipman & Co.  

I. Epstein & Bro. was a Savannah-based firm established in 1854.  The Industries of Savannah described it as "an example of the better class of business houses doing business out of Savannah, and will compare well with any similar concern elsewhere located."

The list of items Lipman & Co. imported was exhausting, including "linen and jute goods, burlaps, sackings, and yarns, Aberdeen, French elastic, pelissier, military, double warp and other clothiers' canvases," according to the New York Stock Exchange Historical Review in 1886.  Established in 1840 in Dundee, Scotland, the firm now had branches in Germany, Ireland, England, Chicago, Minneapolis and New York.

One tenant decidedly not in the dry goods trade in 1886 was George M. Jacocks & Co.  Among the items it marketed was the Rubber Marking Pen, for labeling crates and mail.

The American Stationery, April 15, 1886 (copyright expired)

The Persian and East India Co. occupied the store space in 1888.  That year it advertised "Holiday Presents Extraordinary," including exotic "Rugs, table-cloths, tea-cloths, antique arms, antique shawls, portieres, draperies, benares-ware, armor, tea gowns."  The advertisement said the items were available "at the Bungalow of the Persian and East India Co."

William E. Harrop did business from 39 Worth Street in 1890.  That fall he traveled to Syracuse, New York on business, staying at the Leland Hotel there.  The Leland was described by The New York Times as "the largest hotel in Central New-York."  On October 16, the newspaper began an article saying, "What proved to be the most disastrous fire that has visited Syracuse for many years was discovered in the Leland Hotel at 12:30 o'clock this morning."  The journalist, who was writing the article at 2:00 a.m., said "the fire is still burning fiercely...The hotel is entirely destroyed."

Twenty-five persons perished, and among them was William E. Harrop.  The Morning Telegram explained, "he was coming down from the fourth floor on the fire escape when the rope broke and he fell.  He died at St. Joseph's hospital at 4 o'clock."

By the early 1890s, the massive Carl A. Evertz company operated from at least one floor of 39 Worth Street.  In 1894 it employed 25 men, 11 teenaged boys, 49 women, 45 teen girls, and one "child who cannot read or write English."  The staff worked 59 hours throughout the week and another 9 hours on Saturdays.

Carl A. Evertz was born in Germany in 1856 and came to New York as a boy.  His firm manufactured "sample books, sample cards, and card cases."  Like most successful immigrants, he had not forgotten his roots.  He was for years the president of the Frederick Gluech Quartet Club, was a member of the Arion Singing Society (a German-language singing group), a member of the German-American Municipal League, and president of the German Hospital Society.

The first decade of the 20th century continued to see dry goods firms occupy the building, including Edward Scheitlin Co., dealers in hosiery, underwear and gloves; the Worchester Woolen Mills Company, which manufactured "uniform cloths;"  the dry goods commission merchants Textile Commission Company; and Nathan & Greer.
Dry Goods Economist, December 23, 1911 (copyright expired)

The post-World War I years saw Henry C. Kelley Co., dealers in rope and cord; Haslin Mills, which advertised its Spring 1920 line of "clever cotton fabrics for dresses and costumes;" and H. Wertheim, cotton fabrics, in the building.

Wertheim was stopped on the street in September 1924 by a reporter from The Sun.  Each day, the newspaper's "Inquiring Reporter" asked five random persons a question.  Wertheim was asked, "Has prohibition accomplished what its advocates claimed for it?"  His answer left no question as to his stance.  "Why don't the advocates of prohibition, who claimed so much, go out and acknowledge frankly that it was a gigantic mistake and modify the law?" 

Morris and Edward E. Scher took a loft in 1935 for their newly formed Scher Textiles, Inc.  The brothers had been brought to America from Russia by their parents as children.

In 1938 the ground floor store space became home to the Weeping Willow Tea Room.  It was possibly at this time that the the Daniel Badger storefront, which would have had fluted iron columns, was replaced with a masonry front with a vast window.

The building continued to house textile firms for decades.  Slowly, beginning in the third quarter of the 20th century, the Tribeca neighborhood saw change, as artists and shops took over the vintage loft structures.  In 2002, 39 Worth Street was converted to residential above the store space.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2023

The 1917 Astor Trust Building - 501 Fifth Avenue


On October 16, 1915, the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that architect Montague Flagg had nearly completed plans "for the store and office building, 75x100 ft., at the southeast corner of 5th av. and 42d st., for the Oceanic Investing Co."  A week earlier, the journal had mentioned, "On completion of this structure the banking floor will be occupied by the Astor Trust Co., under a long term lease."

Unlike his well-known brother Ernest Flagg, Montague Flagg had not started his career as an architect, but as a portrait and genre artist.  He spent years in France studying art, including at the famous Ecole des Beaux-Arts.  Although he had been awarded the Thomas R. Proctor Prize for portraiture in the National Academy of Design's 1909 winter exhibition, by the time he started plans for 501 Fifth Avenue, he had essentially abandoned his true passion.

Flagg designed 501 Fifth Avenue in a modern take on Renaissance Revival, its tripartite configuration including an impressive three-story base with vast arches at the second and third floors separated by engaged Corinthian columns.  The 14-story midsection was relatively unadorned, other than triangular pediments over Palladian-inspired fifth floor openings.  The double-height columns reappeared at the top section, where faux balconies clung to the corner windows and a dainty frieze of carved festoons and rosettes ran below the cornice.  

photo by Irving Underhill, from the collection of the Library of Congress.

In 1917, the year the building was completed, the Astor Trust Company merged with Bankers' Trust.  Flagg made note of the change in his design of the main entrance.  The New International Year Book - A Compendium of the World's Progress for the Year 1917 praised the design, saying, "A typical modern bank and office building of conspicuous merit is the building for the Bankers' Trust and the Astor Trust...carried out in a clean-cut, modernized Italian Renaissance type of detail."

Flagg's rendering of the bank's entrance labels it the "Bankers' Trust Company" and tepidly shows the Astor Trust name on the bases of the signs on either side.  image from the collection of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

The tenant list could not have been more diverse.  Among the initial firms to take space were yacht dealer Harry W. Sanford, the publisher of Musical Trades Magazine, the export offices of the Corning Glass Works, the Manufacturer's Aircraft Association, the Bert Electric Car Company, and the Martin Dewey School of Orthodontia.  

Perhaps the most visible tenant was the American Automobile Association, partly because of the ongoing war.  Thousands of young men were housed at Camp Upton on Long Island, awaiting the ships that would take them to the battlefront overseas.  The American Automobile Association launched free Sunday trips to Long Island for their families.  But the program depended on the patriotism and generosity of car owners.  An advertisement in the New-York Tribune on April 9, 1918 used guilt to convince drivers.  Saying that a lack of cars the previous Sunday had resulted in disappointed family members, it continued in part:

Were you to blame?  If you have a motor car that could have gone and did not go down to Upton last Sunday, you are responsible for the disappointment of just as many of these folks as your machine could have carried.

The formation of the Manufacturer's Aircraft Association was a direct result of World War I.   Firms like the Wright Aeronautic Corporation, the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company, and the Gallaudet Aircraft Corporation had been pressured by the U.S. military to share their patents.  The legal obstacles had been preventing the makers from rapidly supplying the government with airplanes to be used for warfare.  The association was formed in 1917, the same year that 501 Fifth Avenue was completed.  Now, by cooperating in a cross-licensing agreement, the various airplane manufacturers were able to swiftly produce the best-quality fighting craft.  Among the association's initial members were Orville Wright and Glenn Curtiss.  

The post-World War I years saw an influx of real estate and development firms move into the building.  Among them were the Harris B. Fischer real estate firm; Felix Ismand, Inc.; the Montray Real Estate agency, which marketed land in Florida; and the Dranyam Realty Corporation, a contracting and construction firm.  

Interestingly, one of Montray Real Estate's customers was Glenn Curtiss--a deal that possibly came about through Montray's and the Manufacturer's Aircraft Association's sharing the address.  A Montray Real Estate ad on July 6, 1921 boasted of Curtiss and his partner J. H. Bright taking "ownership of the Curtiss-Bright Ranch, consisting of 14,000 acres, one of the most fertile sections in the world.  The edge of this ranch will be part of the area that everybody expects Miami City to occupy within a few years."  Curtiss was not interested in ranching, however.  He established an "aviation field" on the land.

Greatly because of Prohibition, the Roaring 20s was a time of unbridled gangland warfare, headed by the likes of Al Capone, John Dillinger, and Baby Face Nelson.  Federal investigators ended up at 501 Fifth Avenue on October 1, 1921 when a search warrant was served on the offices of the Auto Ordnance Corporation.  Earlier that week, 495 police riot guns had been seized on the East Side and subsequently traced to the Auto Ordnance Corporation.  A search of the books revealed transactions like that of John J. O'Brien, purportedly a carpenter with the Interborough Rapid Transit Company, who had purchased 50 machine guns.

The Automobile Association of America turned its focus to a contentious proposal by the City of New York in 1922--identification cards with photographs for drivers.  On July 30, the New-York Tribune reported that the association "is preparing to carry the issue to the courts, to ascertain the validity of the ordinance."  A spokesperson explained, "Our members feel that the regulation is a needless and objectionable discrimination, as it affects only the residents of greater New York," adding, "Forty-eight states are now able to identify their motorists without using photographs.  Surely the New York City authorities are equally astute."

Harry W. Sanford was still operating from the building in 1928.  Presumably, his business would be greatly affected by the onslaught of the Great Depression.  Motor Boating, March, 1928

On April 8, 1955, Bankers Trust Company merged with The Public National Bank and Trust Company.  Still operating under the Bankers Trust Company name, the firm continued to lease the ground floor.

Among the tenants here in the 1960s were the Bagby Music Lovers Foundation; the Storecast Corporation of America, "specialists in chainstore merchandising methods;" and the Oceanic Investing Company.  In 1971, the newly-formed Boardroom Reports, a bi-weekly journal, leased space. 

The legal office of Nathan L. Levine had been in the building for years at the time.  He had come into the national spotlight in 1948 when he performed a risky favor for his uncle, Whittaker Chambers.  Chambers had been a courier for a covert Communist espionage agency prior to World War II.  The New York Times reported, "In 1948, Mr. Levine told the House Committee on Un-American Activities that he had hidden the so-called pumpkin papers for 10 years for Mr. Chambers before he turned them over to the Government.  The papers--microfilms of secret Government papers--had been hidden in a pumpkin on the Chambers farm in Maryland."

On the afternoon of January 25, 1972, Levine and a client, Walter Stefani, became engaged in an argument.  Suddenly, Stefani pulled out a gun and shot the 61-year-old attorney in the head.  Two days later Levine died at St. Clare's Hospital.

The 1980s saw a number of travel agencies leasing offices in the building.  Elie Tahari ran a branch of its designer ready-to-wear clothing and accessories store on the second floor by 2011.  And Bagby Music Lovers Foundation, now known as the Bagby Foundation for the Musical Arts, continues to rent space, offering grants to support opera and classical music professionals.

In January 2014, Alan B. Abrahamson, president and CEO of Abrahamson Brothers, owners of the building, spoke to New York Times journalist Vivian Marino about the ongoing restoration of 501 Fifth Avenue.  "The building doesn't look as good as the corner deserves," he said.  Indeed, in the 1960s the limestone base had been modernized by black granite panels.  "I guess at the time it was a good idea, but what happened was it lost the look that really tied it to the library," he said (referring to the New York Public Library directly across the avenue).  "We're restoring that look; we're cleaning the limestone and restoring it."  

The restoration, headed by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, cost approximately $10 million.  Included were bronze letters reading "Astor Trust Company" which were affixed to the Fifth Avenue entablature above the third floor.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2023

The A. Howard Hopping House - 256 West 93rd Street

Charles Pierrepont Henry Gilbert did not officially begin practicing architecture in New York City until 1886.  But by the mid-1890s, C. P. H. Gilbert was designing some of New York's grandest mansions.  In 1893, he designed a row of seven upscale residences for the City Real Estate Co. on West 93rd Street between Broadway and West End Avenue.

Designed in the Beaux Arts style, the homes rose five stories above shallow American basements.   Like its fraternal twins, the ground floor of 256 West 93rd Street was faced in limestone, while the upper floors were clad in beige Roman brick.  The three-story bowed bay wore a stone, tiara-like balustrade.  Limestone elements--the carved panel at the third floor and splayed lintels at the fourth, for instance--contrasted with the brick.

On September 14, 1894, The New York Times reported that A. H. Hopping had purchased the house for "about $23,000."  That amount would translate to approximately $807,000 in 2023.  Andrew Howard Hopping was a partner in the dress goods business of Hitchcock & Co.  

In his personal life, Hopping served as a vestryman in the church of St. Matthew and St. Timothy.  His deep American roots were reflected in his memberships in the Sons of the Revolution, the Society of Colonial Wars, the Society of the War of 1812, and the Huguenot Society.

Born on July 18, 1852, Hopping and his wife, the former Emma Louise Tilton, had three sons, Allen Tilton, Howard Hitchcock, and a newborn baby, Spencer Bininger.  A fourth child, Hallsted Lubec, would arrive in September 1902.

Andrew Howard Hopping (original source unknown).

Two years after moving into the West 93rd Street house, Hopping was contacted by his brother Henry D. Hopping about a disconcerting and embarrassing situation.  Henry and his family lived in an apartment building on West 134th Street.  His 13-year-old son Arthur was a student at Grammar School 50, and worked as a messenger.  On November 4, 1896, The Sun reported, "For three weeks past Fire Marshal Hollister had been at his wits' end because of the frequent fires in the district between Columbus and Fifth avenues and 125th and 137th street."  There had been 11 apartment house fires, all deliberately set.

Arthur H. Hopping was arrested and charged with the arsons.  The newspaper reported, "He set the fires, he said, just out of pure love of excitement, and because he wanted to see the engines and firemen in action."  Henry Hopping was "stunned at the revelations made by the boy," said the article.  A clerk, he did not have the financial means to provide the $5,000 bail to get his son out of jail.  The New-York Tribune reported that it "was furnished by his uncle, Andrew Howard Hopping, an importer...who lives at No. 256 West Ninety-third-st."

Journalists tagged the 13-year-old a "firebug."  The Sun, April 11, 1896 (copyright expired)

Arthur Hopping had problems of his own the following year.  Two of W. G. Hitchcock & Co.'s largest clients were the English manufacturers B. B. Priestly & Co. and S. Courtland & Co.  Hitchcock & Co. owed B. B. Priestly & Co. "a large amount," according to the Brooklyn Standard Union.  So large was that amount, in fact, that its principal left Britain for New York in October 1897 "for the purpose of looking into the accounts between his firm and Hitchcock & Co."  The visit ended badly.

On October 23, 1897, the Brooklyn Standard Union ran the headline, "BIG FAILURE / The Old Dress Goods House of Hitchcock & Co. Goes."  Calling W. G. Hitchcock & Co. "one of the oldest and best-known houses in the dress goods trade," the article said the firm's bankruptcy "was a great surprise in commercial circles."  The article, which noted that the firm had been in business since 1818, commented, "It is believed that Mr. Priestley's visit to New York may in some way be responsible for the failure of the firm."

Arthur and Emma sold 256 West 93rd Street to John Marshall and his wife Nellie in February 1899.  The Marshalls apparently never lived in the house, but rented it to affluent tenants.

By 1914, the family of Willis A. Follmer lived here.  Follmer was affiliated with the umbrella manufacturing firm Follmer-Clogg Company, co-founded by his father Charles Jennen Follmer.  Willis and his wife had at least three children, Florence V. J., Charles J., and  Natalie D.

In the decades before seat belts, collisions often resulted in passengers being ejected from automobiles.  On October 12, 1914, The Sun reported, "Mrs. Olive Waldman, wife of Henry Waldman, an insurance agent of 220 West Ninety-eighth street, was thrown from the tonneau of her husband's automobile yesterday afternoon at Broadway and Ninety-first street."  Waldman had been driving west when it "came into collision with the machine of Willis A. Follmer, of 256 West Ninety-third street," said the article."  Although Olive Waldman's injuries "appear to be serious," it appears her husband was at fault and Follmer was not detained.

By 1918, Willis's parents, Charles and Teresa, who had lived at 214 Riverside Drive, moved in with the family.  Also living here was Willis's widowed sister, Eleanor McCormack.  

On February 28 that year, Charles and Teresa were at Atlantic City, where Charles died "suddenly."  His body was brought back to New York and his funeral was held in the West 93rd Street house on March 1.  

Willis inherited the equivalent of $3 million today from the estate.  After having leased the house for years, on December 16, 1918, The New York Times reported that Willis A. Follmer "is the buyer of the dwelling, 256 West Ninety-third Street, sold recently by Mrs. Nellie D. Marshall."

On July 8, 1920, an advertisement appeared in the New-York Tribune offering 256 West 93rd Street for sale, adding "possession at once."  Just two days later, the newspaper reported that Willis Follmer had sold the house, adding, "The new owner will alter it into small apartments."

image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

The residents of the remodeled apartments were financially comfortable and respectable.  The actions of one of the initial residents, however, tainted that description.  The Evening World reported that Charles E. Turney rented a "villa" in Newburgh, New York owned by Gladys E. and Ward Brewer for the summer of 1921.  On January 17, 1922, the newspaper related, "When he moved out last November he took valuable property.  Some of the stolen articles were found in a garage, more in Turney's New York home."  He was sentenced to "from a year and a half to three years" for the theft.

Much more respectable was Mrs. Anna Manion, who lived here in 1933.  That year she was one of more than 150 "mothers and widows of New York State men who died on the battlefields or at sea during the world war" who accepted the invitation of the U. S. Government "to visit the graves of loved ones or attend memorial services at points abroad during the coming summer," as reported by The New York Sun.  There would be five sailings, the trips to last for one month.

Swiss-born art student Walter Herdeg lived here by 1936.  He became acquainted with a German, Otto August Ritter, that year.  Ritter promised Herdeg a job earning $800 a week as soon as he received $2.5 million that was coming from his father in Germany.  He just needed $2,400 "to tide him over," as later reported by The New York Sun.

The newspaper noted that it was "a story which Mr. Herdeg had no reason to doubt."  He had no reason to doubt it, because he was unaware that the German Vice Consul had written to the New York City Police Department on August 10, "warning them that he was known as an international swindler and had been in jail in Germany."  Police were watching the 42-year-old, but so far had no reason to arrest him.

Herdeg gave Ritter the $2,400 in cash.  Early in January 1937, Ritter paid him $800, but the check bounced.  Police arrested Ritter "in an expensively furnished apartment overlooking the East River," according to The New York Sun on January 6.  He was held on a grand larceny charge.  Ritter's attorney "alleged that his client was being persecuted by the Nazi Government" and insisted "that while it was true Ritter had been in three German prisons, he had been arrested on political, not criminal, charges."

A renovation completed in 1988 resulted in a total of eight apartments.  Unfortunately, the contrast in brick and stone that C. P. H. Gilbert so purposefully designed has been lost under a coat of white paint.

photographs by the author
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Monday, December 25, 2023

The Lost Eli White House - 51 Fifth Avenue


Seen here in April 1925, 51 Fifth Avenue (on the corner) is one of only three mansions still standing on the block.  The southernmost, 47 Fifth Avenue, was originally home to Irad Hawley and is today the Salmagundi Club.  from the collection of the New York Public Library.

The construction of the Henry Brevoort mansion in 1834 transformed Fifth Avenue above Washington Square.  Still a dirt road at the time, within a few years it saw other splendid structures, like the James Lenox residence on the northeast corner of 12th Street, vying or surpassing the Brevoort house in magnificence.  

In 1851 Eli White moved his family into a recently completed house on the southeast corner of 12th Street, across from the Lenox mansion.  Its architect had married the quickly waning Greek Revival style with the more modern Italianate to create an imposing five-story-and-basement home.  The former style was evident in the pilasters and heavy entablature of the entrance atop the high stoop, and in the squat attic level and understated cornice.   Italianate made its appearance in the molded, architrave window frames and the grouped openings on the parlor level facing 12th Street.  The family enjoyed a walled garden in the rear.

Born in Danbury, Connecticut in 1791, White married Caroline White in 1817 (whether she was a relative is unclear).  He was the head of the hat importing firm Eli White & Sons and a director in the North River Insurance Company.  The couple had five children, Arthur Eli and James L., who were partners in his father's firm; Susan Elizabeth; John Jay, who was an attorney; and Mary Ann.  A sixth child, Caroline, had died in infancy in 1825.

Eli White (original source unknown)

Like their neighbors, the White family maintained a country home.  In the decades before the Upper West Side teemed with apartments and businesses, what was known as Bloomingdale was sparsely populated with farms and summer estates.  When the Whites leased theirs for a summer (they possibly went to Europe that year), the advertisement described:

At Bloomingdale, about five miles distant from Union-square, between 119th and 121st sts--a pleasantly situated residence, consisting of between five and six acres of land, extending from the Post Road to the Hudson River, with a convenient dwelling and all requisite out-buildings, a good garden, water, fine shade and fruit trees, &c.; suitable for a Summer and Winter residence, and will be let to a private family only.

Arthur Eli White died on September 7, 1855 at the age of 37.  His funeral was held in the parlor, and he was buried in New York City Marble Cemetery.   (The family had second thoughts six years later, and on April 25, 1861, his body was removed to the White family plot in Litchfield, Connecticut.)

Caroline White White (original source unknown)

Eli White's prominence in the business community was evidenced in the spring of 1863 when he joined others "opposed to the Broadway Railroad scheme," as worded by The New York Times on April 4.  White owned the building at 361 Broadway, on the corner of Franklin Street.  A year earlier the area was described by Harper's Magazine, which said, "Some of the new stores in Broadway are almost as imposing as some of the palaces in Italian cities."  The concept of a "street railroad" running up Broadway threatened the upscale tenor of the shopping district.  During a meeting on April 3, White was chosen as one of 24 committee members to carry their objections to Albany.  His eminent co-members included the likes of Charles L. Tiffany, Paran Stevens, Alexander T. Stewart, William E. Dodge and William H. Appleton.  (Importantly, in 1882 James L. White would erect a magnificent cast iron replacement structure at 361 Broadway.)

Caroline White died on November 26, 1873 at the age of 79.  Eight days later, Eli White died.  He was 82 years old.  Both were buried in the Litchfield, Connecticut plot.  In reporting his death, the New York Herald called him "an old and very much respected merchant" who "always maintained a reputation for the strictest commercial integrity and liberality towards those in his employment."

Still living at 51 Fifth Avenue were James, who was still unmarried; and Mary Ann, her husband William J. Fitzgerald, and their four children, Arthur Butler, born in 1860; Augustine (known as Austin), burn in 1862; Caroline, born in 1865; and Edward, born in 1871.  Following's James White's marriage, the Fitzgerald family continued to occupy the mansion.

Caroline Fitzgerald enjoyed the lifestyle of a privileged young woman, spending 18 months in Europe with the family beginning in 1876; and between 1881 and 1884 they lived in London and Geneva, Switzerland.  Following Caroline's debut, she became well known in Manhattan society.  She would go on to be a poet and classics scholar.  At Yale College, she became one of the first women to study Sanskrit.  

Edward Burne-Jones painted this portrait of Caroline in London in 1884   from the collection of the University of Toronto Art Centre.

The family's travels brought Caroline into contact with important people who would help shape her life.  In 1882 she met poet Robert Browning and the two corresponded regularly.  Bertrand Russell was a friend of the family, who called Caroline "the ideal of young womanhood."

On July 14, 1889, the New York Press titled an article, "To Marry Titled Husbands / Miss Gwendoline Caldwell and Miss Caroline Fitzgerald."  The article said in part:

Miss Caroline Fitzgerald who, when she is in New York, lives at 51 Fifth avenue, but who is now in England enjoying the blessings of prospective matrimony.  Her future husband is Lord Edward Fitzmaurice, the younger brother of the Marquis of Lansdowne, formerly Governor General of Canada and now Viceroy of India.  Miss Fitzgerald is only 21 years of age, and as charming as she is young.  She is wealthy in her own right, and is also the heiress of the estate of the White family, which owns a big share of the lower part of Fifth avenue. 

The article mentioned, "By her marriage Miss Fitzgerald will establish a bond of kinship between her family and that of Queen Victoria, as her future husband's brother married a daughter of a cousin of the Queen," adding somewhat cattily, "The demand on the pretty and rich girls of America by titled foreigners has recently been a very large one, and the business is rapidly increasing."

Only a few months after this photograph was taken on June 16, 1928, 51 Fifth Avenue and its next door neighbor would be demolished.  from the collection of the New York Library

As the end of the century neared, the wealthy families of Lower Fifth Avenue were migrating northward.  The Fitzgerald family still occupied 51 Fifth Avenue on April 14, 1894, when The World reported succinctly, "William J. Fitzgerald is in Europe."  Within four years, however, William Wood & Co., publishers of medical books and The Medical Record, was in the former mansion.

William Wood & Co. operated from the converted mansion for nearly three decades.  Then, on October 21, 1928, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported, "The southeast corner of 5th ave. and 12th st., Manhattan, is to be improved immediately with a 16-story fireproof apartment house to be known as 51 Fifth Avenue.  Designed by Thomas Lamb, the building survives.

The 1928 structure left the Irad Hawley house sandwiched between two soaring apartment buildings.  image via

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