Tuesday, February 28, 2023

The 1931 El Dorado - 300 Central Park West


photo by Jay Dobkin

At the turn of the last century Central Park West saw the rise of fashionable residential hotels and apartment buildings like the 1901 El Dorado between 90th and 91st Streets.  But their Victorian designs quickly fell from favor and in the decade after World War I, they were replaced by sleek Art Deco apartment buildings.  Developer Louis Klosk joined the trend in 1929 when he demolished The El Dorado and hired the architectural firm of Margon & Holder, with Emery Roth as consultant, to design a replacement.

The original El Dorado stood only 28 years.  from The World's New York Apartment House Album, 1910 (copyright expired)

Roth was concurrently designing the San Remo Apartments on Central Park West between 74th and 75th Streets.  Both buildings would feature twin towers that soar above the base, and it is generally agreed that Roth was responsible for the general plan and massing of The El Dorado.  Margon & Holder handled the details, like the facade design, including the extremely handsome three-story German Expressionist influenced entrance frame, and the futuristic pinnacles atop the towers.

Unfortunately for Klosk, shortly after ground was broken the Stock Market crashed.  The effects of the Great Depression slowed progress and resulted in the building's being lost at foreclosure to the Central Park Plaza Corporation in November 1931.  As construction neared completion in September 1930, an advertisement touted "tower apartments" with express elevator service, "terrace apartments" with breathtaking views, and duplex apartments of eight to twelve rooms.  The ad noted, "rentals more modest than you would expect."

Wurts Bros. photographed the newly completed building in 1932.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York.

The New York Times wrote, "One of the largest apartment structures in the city, the building is thirty stories in height and contains 200 apartments with a total of 1,500 rooms."

As they do today, residents and guests entered the El Dorado under a marquee that stretched from the doorway to the curb.  Happily, the doorman was close to the doors early on the morning of October 6, 1933.   Workers had excavated a large hole in the road at the corner of 90th Street.  It was not seen by 29-year-old Wilbur R. Shoop who was driving 50 miles an hour along Central Park West.  In his automobile were two passengers.  Shoop hit the excavation and lost control.  The car hurled upside down onto the sidewalk, demolishing the El Dorado's marquee and killing one of the passengers. 

This 1935 advertisement boasted "on the lake at 90th Street."

The El Dorado was managed by E. Eugene Grossman in 1938.  He told a reporter from The New York Times in October that year that the building was 95 percent rented.  He credited the location for its success, along with the World's Fair, then being readied in Queens.  He noted that two large apartments had been rented by "men from the Middle West who have contracts at the fair."  The article noted, "An interesting example of the demand for quarters in the building, Mr. Grossman points out, is that of a motion-picture executive who two years ago moved to Hollywood but has since returned and has again taken up residence in the structure."

Grossman was referring to Dan Michalove, an executive with Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.  He got the timeline slightly wrong.  Michalove and his family had left the El Dorado in the summer of 1937, and moved back in in February 1938.  The New York Sun reported, "Mr. Michalove has leased the twenty-eighth floor tower suite consisting of nine rooms and five baths."

Margon & Holder's striking three-story entrance.  photo by Epicgenius (cropped)

The majority of the residents in the 1930s were well-to-do businessmen and professionals.  Among them were Dr. Jacob Oshlag and his wife.  An authority on heart disease, he was born in Poland and came to America in 1916.  Among the Oshlags' neighbors were Moe Levy and his wife.  Levy was born in Suvalk, Russia on New Year's Day 1865 and was brought to America at the age of three.  He went into business on his own when still a boy, and eventually founded the Moe Levy chain of low-priced menswear that made him a fortune.

The mix of businessmen, industrialists and professionals was exemplified in leases signed in September 1940.  Moving into the El Dorado that month were Abraham Rotwein, a professor at the Brooklyn Law School; Joseph Smith, president of the Blue Strike Safety Razor Company; Alfred J. Grunebaum, president of the Anglo-American Metals & Ferro Alloy Corpoiration; and Zionist activist Nahum Goldmann.

Goldmann was newly arrived in America from Geneva.  Born in Russia in 1895 and reared in Germany, the prodigy began making speeches and publishing articles at the age of 14.  While living in the El Dorado he would work tirelessly for the formation of Israel.  He co-founded the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, negotiating with West Germany for reparations for Jewish victims of the Nazis.

Nahum Goldmann as a young man.  from the collection of the Brandeis University Library.

An advertisement for one of the tower apartments in 1940 more than hinted at its luxury.  Titled "Penthouse in the Clouds," the ad called the apartment "a private house of several floors, atop the south tower of one of New York's most distinguished buildings, designed and occupied by a well-known connoisseur of fine living."  That apartment had "six terraces with views of the four horizons," an "enormous" living room, dining room, four principal bedrooms "with luxurious bath," dressing rooms and an "especially designed and equipped kitchen and pantry."

Living in the El Dorado at the time was Lyn Furman Greene, the widow of Max Greene.  The couple had had two sons, Elliot H. and Leonard Michael, the latter of whom lived with her.  A professional artists, she was a member of the National Association of Painters and Sculptors.

Lyn Greene's Bearded Man was most likely painted in her El Dorado apartment.  private collection

Leonard Michael Greene had been a precocious child.  Born in 1918, his father was a chemist and both parents had encouraged his inventive bent.  By the time of his marriage to Beverly Anne Kaufman in June 1943, he was a consultant engineer for the Grumman Aircraft Corporation and the author of several technical papers.  He would go on to hold more than 200 patents, many of them related to aviation, including the Aircraft Stall Warning device.

In 1941 Lyn Greene put art to the side to focus on the formation of the National Grandmothers' Club and the establishment of National Grandmothers' Day.  The club was intended "to help disabled and neglected old folks with no means of support," as explained by The Daily Argus on September 12, 1947.  The colorful woman lived on in her apartment in the El Dorado until her death at the age of 86 on November 14, 1974.  Her works have been exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery, and others.

In the meantime, the El Dorado was sold by the Central Park West Plaza Corporation to the Church of the House of Prayer, a predominately Black congregation, in May 1953.  In reporting the sale, which it said was "for investment," The New York Times mentioned, "The 1,310 rooms in the building are laid out in 216 apartments, most of which have wood-burning fireplaces.  Twenty-nine suites have private terraces."  The church owned the El Dorado until May 1960.

Shortly afterward, Harold and Hester Diamond purchased and combined a duplex on the 18th and 19th floors of the south tower and an abutting apartment.  The couple, who had three sons, Michael, Stephen and David, were art dealers.  Hester also did interior design work.  The apartment would become museum-like in its display of the Diamonds' extraordinary collection of artworks.

The apartment building received an important figure 1971.  Among the residents was the Israeli delegate to the United Nations, Yosef Tekoah.  On March 18 he hosted a luncheon in his apartment for Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban and Dr. Gunnar V. Jarring.  Jarring had been appointed Special Representative of Secretary-General U Thant for the Middle East peace process.  The luncheon provided Eban and Jarring an opportunity for private discussion.

Abba Eban (left) and Dr. Gunnar V. Jarring peer out the window of Yosef Tekoah's apartment on March 18, 1971.  photo by William E. Sauro, The New York Times March 19, 1971.

Living here at the time were Daniel  E. Ferro, head of the voice department at the Manhattan School of Music and a faculty member of the Julliard School of Music and his wife, Beth Hollinger Ferro.  Beth Ferro was a radio and television writer and producer.  During the 1950s and early '60s, she produced the game show "The Price is Right."

By the time of the Ferros' and Tekoahs' residencies, the El Dorado was home to a score of celebrities.  In its 1985 landmark designation of the structure, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (which used the one-word spelling of the building's name) noted:

Among the Eldorado's residents have been Milton Avery, Martin Balsam, Richard Dreyfuss, Faye Dunaway, Carrie Fisher, Tuesday Weld, Pinchas Zuckerman, Richard Estes, Sybil Burton, Phil Donahue, Marlo Thomas, Edie Adams, Ernie Kovaks, Groucho Marx, Roddy McDowell, and Marilyn Monroe.

The 21st century saw another well-known artist, Moby, move in.  Born Richard Melville Hall in 1965, the songwriter, singer, and producer was called by AllMusic "among the most important dance figures of the early 1990s."  He purchased a four-floor, two-bedroom apartment in the south tower in 2005 for $4.5 million.  

In the meantime, Harold Diamond had died in November 1982.  Hester Diamond increased the apartment size in 2009 by acquiring an adjacent apartment on the 18th floor.  The Diamond apartment was now 6,300 square feet and had six bedrooms and seven and a half bathrooms.  And the art collection within it was remarkable.  Vivian Marino of The New York Times wrote that the "vast collections of paintings, sculptures and other memorabilia were displayed throughout the home and included pieces from Fernand Léger, Pablo Picasso and Pietro and Gian Lorenzo Bernini."

After living in the El Dorado for more than half a century, Hester Diamond died in January 2020 at the age of 91.  The artwork and furnishings were auctioned off and the apartment was placed on the market in 2022 for $19.5  million.

photo by Hu Totya

In designating the El Dorado an individual landmark in 1985, the Landmarks Preservation Commission declared that Margon & Holder with Emery Roth "created one of the finest and most dramatically massed Art Deco style residential buildings in New York City."

no permission to reuse the content of this blog has been granted to LaptrinhX.com

Monday, February 27, 2023

The Lost Second Building of the New York Society Library -346-348 Broadway


print by G. Moore from the collection of the New-York Historical Society

The New York Society Library was formed in 1754, occupying rooms in City Hall (later Federal Hall).  Its members erected the first permanent structure at 33 Nassau Street in 1795, where it remained for just over four decades.  Then, according to Ezekiel Porter Belden in his 1850 New-York, Past, Present and Future, "the crowding demands of commerce drove it further from her domains."  In 1838, land was purchased at the southeast corner of Broadway and Leonard Street and two years later the library's magnificent new home was completed.

from the collection of the New York Public Library

The New York Society Library had chosen a young, British-born architect newly arrived in New York.  Frederick Diaper was 29 years old in 1839 and this was his first major commission.  The risk paid off.  Diaper's striking brownstone structure exuded taste and refinement.  A classic Greek temple sat upon a one-story rusticated base.  Double-height fluted columns supported the crisp triangular pediment.  Soaring openings flooded the second floor with natural light.  The building cost the New York Society Library, including land and furnishings, $118,000--about $3.82 million in 2023.

Ezekiel Porter Belden described it saying:

This building, 100 feet long, by 60 wide, is constructed of finely-cut brown sand stone, and presents on Broadway a chaste facade of Ionic columns.  On passing the structure, the eye is arrested by its bold and massive front, while the beauty of its proportions, and its highly finished masonry, elicit the approbation of good taste and critical observation.

At the front of  the ground floor were "two handsome rooms," according to the New York Herald, behind which were "a neat and commodious theatre, or lecture room" capable of seating 500 people.  The second, or "principal floor" held the library and reading rooms which the New York Herald said, "consist of two large halls and two smaller apartments for study and conversation."  Ruggle's Picture of New York in 1846, a guidebook, called the interiors "unsurpassed for architectural beauty by any in the United States."

By now the New York Society Library had merged with the New York Athenaeum.  When it moved into its new home, the New York Society Library boasted a collection of about 40,000 volumes.   The New York Herald opined that the library "having been selected with care, and purchased at a great expense, (very few donations having ever been obtained) will undoubtedly be found, at least, equal in value to any library in America."

Members paid $25 membership fee and annual dues of $6.  (The dues would be equal to about $195 today.)  The library garnered income by leasing space to two tenants.  

The National Academy of Design occupied the top floor, the New York Herald saying on January 5, 1847, the academy "are enabled by their central and conspicuous accommodations, to promote their objects with great success."  

The Universal Exchange Lyceum also rented space.  An announcement in The Evening Post on February 1, 1842 explained:

The members at their own option, and in their own way, form 'Society Lyceums' of from 6 to 10, or 15 ladies and gentlemen, who hold weekly meetings for reading, conversation, preparing specimens for 'Exchanges,' and various other exercises, as they may be selected...The general Depository of the Lyceum is at 358 Broadway, corner of Leonard street, N.Y., in the building of the N. Y. Society Library, probably the best location and room for the object, to be found in the city or country.

Additional income came from the meeting room.  On January 18, 1842, for instance, the New York Herald reported on "Mr. [Joseph] Braham's Farewell Concert" and noted, "To-night the Monarch of English song, gives his farewell concert...By a reference to the programme, it will be seen amid a galaxy of other entertainments, the magnificent Brigand song from Fra Diavolo is to be given."  The article cautioned potential audience members, "The concert is given at the New York Society Library, and we advise those to go early who desire good seats."

The library trustees were open-minded enough that sometimes controversial subjects were occasionally the subjects of lectures.  In the winter of 1844 Rev. Dr. Henry Ward Beecher delivered a sermon on the evils of the theater.  In response, Thomas Barry, the stage manager of the Park Theatre gave a lecture here on February 22 titled "The Uses and Abuses of the Stage and a Reply to the Attacks of the Rev. Dr. Beecher."  In advertising his lecture, Barry announced, "Had the great code of Christianity presented any thing in opposition to the Histrionic Act, I should not have had the temerity to proceed with my present undertaking."

The New York Society Library handled the problem of purloined volumes by shaming the borrower.  On August 7, 1845, for instance, an announcement in the New York Herald noted that the London Journal of Arts and Sciences, Vol. XVIII was missing.  "The individual who took this book from the New York Society Library, is requested to return it."  Also missing was the third volume of Hallam's Introduction t0 the Literature of Europe.  The notice said "Both these volumes are marked with the library stamp, in printers' red ink, thus--'The property of the New York Society Library'" and warned, "Other missing books will be advertised, unless returned soon."

Only thirteen years after moving into its handsome home the library was on the move again.  In 1853 three plots were purchased on University Avenue (later University Place, between 12th and 13th Street, and in March 1854 the trustees approved the plans of T. Thomas & Son, architects, for a new structure at 109 University Place

The New York Herald was not pleased with the choice of sites.  Pointing out on June 23, 1854 that the Astor Library, the Mercantile Library, the Cooper Union, and the American Bible Society had all moved in the vicinity of Astor Place, it wrote, "It only remained for the New York Society Library and the Historical Society to obtain sites for the buildings which they propose to erect for their large and valuable libraries, in or near Astor place, to carry out the hopes and expectations of the friends of literature generally."  Instead, both had "purchased sites wide apart from the location referred to."

At the time of the article, although its new building would not be completed until 1856, the New York Society Library had already moved out of its Broadway home.  On January 9, 1854 a "Notice of Removal" had appeared in the New-York Daily Tribune, informing the "friends of customers" of D. Appleton & Co., publishers, that "they will remove on Wednesday, January 11, from No. 290 Broadway at which place they have been established more than twenty years to their new and extensive promises, Nos. 346 and 348 Broadway, corner of Leonard-st. (formerly the Society Library building).

D. Appleton & Co. installed shops on the ground floor.  Report of Executive Committee of The New-York Historical Society, 1916 (copyright expired)

Daniel Appleton had begun business with a bookstore on Exchange Place in 1825.  The firm had moved several times, and by the time it purchased the former library building, it was one of the most successful publishers in the country.  It produced academic and religious books and tracts, stereopticon slides, pamphlets and cabinet photographs.  In addition to selling its own publications, D. Appleton & Co. imported books.  On December 24, 1855, the New-York Tribune said, "A large and select assortment of first-class Publications, handsomely illustrated and bound in superb styles, may be obtained at this store.  In addition to their own issues, such books as Gems of British Art...a host of other splendid Gift-Books, and the best editions of standard authors, [are] always on hand."

As the New York Society Library had done, D. Appleton & Co. leased unneeded space in the building.  In 1856, W. H. Willson advertised The New Eyelet Machine, a "hand-sewing machine" for "tailors, dressmakers and families."  The ad listed the shop's location as "Appleton's Building, No. 348 Broadway."

D. Appleton & Co. would have to move once again when fire destroyed the grand Greek Revival building in 1867.  On June 2, 1868, The Sun reported, "Messrs. [Griffith] Thomas & Son, architects, are now engaged, for the New York Life Insurance Company, on what gives promise of being one of the finest and most costly buildings on Broadway.  The site is that of the old Society Library building, which was altered and used for mercantile purposes, and finally destroyed by fire."

from the collection of the New York Public Library

And, indeed, Thomas & Son's replacement structure, completed in 1870, was fine and costly.  But it would not last.  It was demolished in 1894 to be replaced by the the New York Life Insurance Company Building that survives.

from the collection of the New-York Historical Society.

many thanks to historian Anthony Bellov for prompting this post.
no permission to reuse the content of this blog has been granted to LaptrinhX.com

Saturday, February 25, 2023

John B. Snook's 1878 121 Spring Street


David O. Hogan lived at 90 Greene Street in the 1850's.  He made his living as a hackman, or carriage driver, and volunteered as a firefighter, or "laddie," with the Oceanus Engine Co. No. 11.  His respectable neighborhood was on the verge of serious decline.  Two decades later, John Ryan who lived next door at 121 Spring Street, was arrested for running a gambling operation in his house.  But the district was changing again at the time, as vintage homes were being razed to make way for modern loft buildings.

Catherine Lorillard Wolfe inherited $12 million (around $275 million in 2023) following the death of her father in 1872.  While she greatly used her fortune for philanthropic causes, like her father she also ventured into real estate development.  In 1878 she purchased the former Hogan and Ryan houses and hired architect John B. Snook to design a replacement store and loft building on the site.

Ground was broken on May 22 and construction was completed just six months later, on November 30, 1878.   Snook faced the building in red Philadelphia brick trimmed with sandstone.  A handsome cast iron storefront featured a robust Corinthian column at the corner and matching pilasters at either side of the store.  The entrance to the factory spaces upstairs was placed to the rear, at 90 Greene Street.  Snook's neo-Grec design incorporated stone bandcourses that connected the openings and doubled as lintels, and a bracketed cornice with a fringe-like frieze. 

The Soho district was filling with millinery firms at the time.  Wolfe's early tenants were Corn & Co., and the newly-organized Raymond J. Bennell, both hat makers; as well as A. L. Philips & Co., "cloak, furriers' and hatters' trimmings" merchants.  It was not long before Corn & Co. was the victim of burglars.

Julius Corn's firm occupied the ground floor and an upper floor.  On February 23, 1879, the New York Herald reported that George Cautine had pleaded guilty of stealing "ninety-five dozen hat bodies."  A hat merchant on Avenue A, Franz Wallehalter, was also arrested and charged with receiving stolen goods.

The following year, in November 1880, Corn & Co. filed for bankruptcy.  The Hatter and Furrier reported: 

The spacious store at 121 Spring street, corner of Greene, formerly occupied by Corn & co., has been refitted and will now be occupied by three firms:  C. H. Merritt of Danbury takes one half of the Spring street store, the other portion is rented to Adolph Wimpfheimer...The Greene street apartment is rented by Meyer Mercy of Newark, and will be used as a sample room by Frank Riley.

The magazine followed up in January, saying "C. H. Merritt, No. 121 Spring street, is making a specialty of stiff hats, with flexible brims.  Buyers are taking hold of them with eagerness."

Beginning in March 1882 a devastating financial depression swept the country that would last slightly more than three years.  Two of the tenants here would not survive it.  Raymond J. Bennell, who had borrowed $15,500 from his father-in-law in 1879 to start his business, and Meyers & Cohen both failed.

Catharine Lorillard Wolfe died on April 4, 1887 and bequeathed 121 Spring Street to her sister, Dorothea Wolfe Hoffman.  At the time the millinery industry was sharing the neighborhood with silk merchants.   Dorothea's primary tenant in 1888 was Johnson, Cowdin & Co., manufacturers of silk ribbons.  The firm's factory and mill were in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.  

As the turn of the century approached, Sicklick Embroidery also operated from the building.  In December 1899 the firm was looking for an "experienced salesman" and "experienced applique cutters."  In both instances, the ads were titled "Bonnaz," referring to the embroidery machines invented in France in 1865 by a maker named Bonnaz.  In 1901 Sicklick Embroidery employed 7 men and 20 women, who worked 59 hours per week.

A year earlier Johnson, Cowdin & Co. had exhibited at the Paris Exposition.  Its accomplishments there smacked of today's Olympics.  The firm brought home a gold medal, three silver medals and four bronze medals.  The Report of The Commissioner-General for the United States said in part:

Johnson, Cowdin & Co. are among the few American ribbon manufacturers who take silk from reelers and spin, dye, weave, and finish their products by their own skilled operatives.  By attention to every process under one perfected interlocking organization the exhibitors are able to arrive at satisfactory results.

The judges were particularly impressed with a "brocade sash ribbon about 102 lines in width in pompadour effect, made with two and three colors."

The early years of the 20th century saw textile and apparel businesses moving into the building.  They included fabric merchants Silverman & Black; cloak and suit manufacturer Weltman, Pollack & Co.; and textile makers S. J. Hall & Son.

Silk magazine, December 1908 (copyright expired)

L. Hyman & Son, "dealers in paper, stationery, and blank books" had been located from across the street at 116 Spring Street for several years.  Then, in 1911 the firm leased the store and basement of 121 Spring Street and relocated in February 1912.  

The company was unusual in that one of the partners was a woman.  Frustratingly, because of the custom of the period, she was always referred to with deference to her gender only as Miss Hyman.  On July 25, 1914, for instance, The American Stationer wrote, "H. Z. Hyman, of L. Hyman & Son, dealers in stationery and office supplies...is expected to return from his vacation on Monday next.  Until his return Miss Hyman will continue to act as buyer."  And three months later the magazine noted, "Miss Hyman, of L. Hyman & Sons...is back at her desk, after spending a month touring New England."

The upper floors, occupied by textile dealers like Jansen & Pretzfeld, were joined by the Fordham Manufacturing Company, which took the second floor, in 1916.

American Silk-Journal, January 1912 (copyright expired)

L. Hyman & Co. was looking for delivery drivers in 1918.  Their religion-specific advertisement would raise eyebrows today: "Drivers:  (Jewish), experienced, wanted for paper and twine warehouse.  Only those having worked in such line need apply."

L. Hyman & Co. would remain in the building at least through 1921.  Other tenants in the 1920s included Ell-Jay Middy Co., apparel makers; and the Strong Machinery & Supply Company, which took space in 1927.

The New York Times, June 8, 1920 (copyright expired)

The Soho neighborhood would once again see drastic change during the third quarter of the 20th century.  In 1983 the Sonnabend Art Gallery moved into the store space, and two years later the lofts were converted to joint living-work quarters for artists. 

The Standard Casing Company occupied the ground floor space in 1941.  The building remains essentially unchanged today.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

The Rosa Esman Gallery opened here in 1984, replaced by the O. J. Gallery 121 in 1987.  Today the audio products store of Bang & Olufsen occupies the ground floor.

The artist lofts were converted to condominiums in 1996, one per floor.  

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

Friday, February 24, 2023

J. F. Miller's 1889 308-312 West 115th Street


As the Harlem district changed from one of rural summer estates and farms to blocks of prim rowhouses and stores in the late 19th century, real estate develop P. H. McManus was a strong proponent.  He moved his family into a house on West 135th Street and erected rows of handsome homes.  In September 1888 J. F. Miller filed plans for another--11 three-story brick rowhouses on the south side of West 115th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues (today's Frederick Douglass Blvd. and Manhattan Avenue, respectively).  Miller arranged them in groupings of two and three.  Nos. 308 through 312 were designed in the Queen Anne style, with Romanesque Revival influences.

Perfectly balanced in an A-B-A configuration, each of the 12-room houses was approached by a dog-legged box stoop.  Romanesque Revival appeared in the arched openings and terra cotta eyebrows of the second floor.  It was Queen Anne that took center stage, however, with terra cotta panels, tympani and band courses, and quirky metal hoods over the third floor windows of the end houses.  The center residence, which at 17-feet-wide was an imperceptible one foot wider that its siblings, boasted a striking second floor oriel and a prominent gable that overlapped the pressed metal cornice.

By 1892 the recently married H. Richard Payne and Bertha B. Payne lived at 310 West 115th Street.  Tragically, Bertha died in the house on January 19, 1893 at just 20 years of age.  H. Richard Payne remained at least through 1895.

Living next door at 312 West 115th Street was Henry Steinhardt, whose liquor store at 315 Bowery was the scene of a bizarre incident on the night of May 16, 1895.  Policeman Timothy Keyes, who was on duty that night, was described by The Evening Telegram as having a reputation "of being observant and highly intelligent."  At 10:00 he blew his whistle in front of Steinhardt's liquor store.  "Policemen in plenty and a crowd of people were soon on the scene," said the newspaper.

Keyes explained that he peered into the store and saw a juvenile burglar on his knees, working the safe.  The would-be thief looked up, saw the policeman, and bolted to the rear of the store.  The Evening Telegram reported, "Keyes says the burglar was about seven years old, of the male sex and had brown eyes, untidy hair and a pale complexion.  He wore short dark trousers, a striped shirt and a small round cap."

The police surrounded the store to prevent escape.  A messenger notified the station house and a telephone call was made to Steinhardt.  At 1:00 in the morning he and two salesmen arrived.  By then the policemen had broken in by smashing a lock.  An hour-long search of the premises were made and all the doors and windows were found to besecure.  Steinhardt and the salesmen decided to wait until daylight inside the store.  At 7:00 they gave up.  The Evening Telegram titled its article "Burglar Vanished in Air" and ended it saying that Officer Keyes was "of a sober disposition, and was not addicted to ghosts."

Living with the Steinhardts in 1896 was E. J. Saunders.  He became involved in the push to have sculptor Ernst Herter's marble monument to poet Heinrich Heine, called the Lorelei Fountain, brought to New York.  Sculpted in 1896, it had been intended to sit in Dresden, but antisemitism and the German Empire's nationalist propaganda derailed the plans.  In February 1896 Saunders signed his name with scores of other businessmen imploring the Board of Aldermen to accept the fountain.  (It was accepted and now sits in Joyce Kilmer Park.)

At the turn of the century 308 West 115th Street was occupied by F. M. Davis and his wife.  The couple ran Grangely Hall, a private school for boys and girls, within the house.   When a crime wave hit the district in the summer of 1904, the Davises were hit hard.  On September 12 the New York Herald reported that there had been 42 robberies within a 35-day period.  The article noted that on August 12 the "house of Mrs. Davis, No. 308 West 115th street, [was] entered by [a] thief and nearly everything of value taken."  It would not be until New Year's Day 1905 that the James G. Walker, alias Lawrence Macy, was captured.

At the turn of the century, 310 West 115th Street became the fraternity house of Columbia University's Beta Theta Pi chapter.  A member wrote in the 1900 Convention Minutes:

We rent a very comfortable house five minutes walk from college at 310 West 115th street.  A colored man and his wife take care of it and do the cooking.  We own all the furniture in the house, including a pool table.  As yet we have not started to think of building, but that is merely a question of time.  Land and building are expensive in New York, but we hope that some plan will present itself that will enable us to own a house before many years...Four men live in the house.  We can accommodate seven or eight.

Among the members living here in 1903 was A. E. Thurber, who also served as secretary of the Intercollegiate Lawn Tennis Association.  The chapter continue to rent the house for several years.  Upon its departure, 310 West 115th Street was operated as a rooming house.  (Rooming houses differed from boarding houses in that there were no meals provided.)  It was offered for rent in March 1918, the advertisement reading, "Furnished rooming house, $300 cash; all rooms rented; in good order."

No. 312 was also a rooming house by 1912.  Two of its tenants were well-known criminals--"Red" Walker and "Jew" Baylies.  They were spotted by Detectives James and Gus Reilly and James Fiman on a westbound crosstown 116th Street streetcar on September 6 that year.  The pair was unwilling to be arrested and a "hard fight" resulted.  "The fight in the car," said the New York Herald, "caused intense excitement in 116th street and alarmed the many passengers in the car."  That "excitement" was no doubt intensified when the detectives determined "it was necessary to subdue their opponents with drawn revolvers."

At the station house they were charged with having "jimmies" and other burglar tools on them.  Detectives escorted the pair to their rooms at 312 West 115th Street, "where a large quantity of silverware, jewelry and men's and women's articles of apparel were found."

Following World War I 308 West 115th Street was also operated as a rooming house.  Truck driver Joseph Giordano lived here in 1922.  He was driving along Skillman Street in Brooklyn on July 14 that year, the sign on his truck reading "Carpets and rugs cleaned, dyed, washed and repaired."  During the Prohibition Era, random stops of trucks was common and that afternoon Giordano was pulled over.  Police Lieutenant Patrick Sheridan asked the 21-year-old, "What have you got in there, son?"

Giordano was unexpectedly candid.  "Whisky," he said.

The truck was searched and detectives found 110 burlap bags of 660 bottles of rye.  They also discovered that the license plates were fake.  Not surprisingly, Giordano was taken in.  Police believed the illegal liquor was "cached in the harbor."  The New York Times explained, "The burlap bags were dripping wet and the corks showed the effects of immersion.  Smugglers are suspected of bring contraband up the harbor and hiding it under water in bags attached to a buoy until the coast is clear for delivery to trucks."

The decline in the neighborhood was reflected in the death of Leonard Mastromanaco, who lived at 312 West 115th Street in 1933.  The 18-year-old was playing cards on the night of October 12 when two men called him into the hallway.  The Yonkers Statesman reported, "They held a whispered conversation in the hallway and suddenly one of the strangers fired at Mastromonaco."  The bullet entered his left temple and he died at the Harlem Hospital later that night.  Police told reporters the argument was "over a young woman."

At the time of the incident, 308 West 115th Street was owned by Jacques Danielson and his wife Fannie, who was better known by her penname, Fannie Hurst.  The novelist's Imitation of Life was published that year.  It is doubtful that the Danielsons lived in the 115th Street house, and most likely rented it.  They sold it in November 1934.

All three houses suffered in the subsequent decades.  No. 310 was converted to furnished rooms in 1937.  By the last quarter of the 20th century, at least one of the homes had been acquired by the city in a valiant, but failed, rehabilitation effort.  On February 8, 1988 The New York Times wrote, "The city had hoped to stem the decay of the housing by seizing it from tax-delinquent landlords and by quickly turning it over to new managers.  But the buildings, often in the poorest neighborhoods and in need of major repairs, proved unattractive to investors."  

The article pointed out 308 West 115th Street, where it said the single-room occupancy building had been redesigned into apartments by the city, "creating some that were windowless."  It noted, "One apartment did have an 8-by-10, single pane skylight, but it had been nailed shut and had been covered with a glass dome."

Time and a rediscovery of the neighborhood changed all that.  In 2003 308 West 115th Street was reconverted to a single family home with a basement apartment.  Plans were filed for interior renovation of 310 West 115th Street in 2017.   The trio creates a charming architectural ensemble on the ever-changing block.

photographs by the author
LaptrinhX.com has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

Thursday, February 23, 2023

The Cornelia Jones Miller House - 58 West 9th Street


In 1853 builder Reuben R. Wood erected three exceptionally handsome homes at 10 through 14 Ninth Street (renumbered 54 to 58 West 9th Street in 1867).  Their three-step porches were protected by brownstone wingwalls, surmounted by beefy iron Italianate railings and newels.  The double-doored entrances and parlor windows sat within fully arched openings.  At the second floor, a common balcony stretched the width of the three homes, its railing matching that of the porches and areaways.  The upper floor windows sat below segmental arches and wore molded lintels.  Separate bracketed Italianate cornices crowned the homes.

Wood initially leased the westernmost house to Thomas Smith, a drygoods merchant, and his family.  They lived in 14 Ninth Street in 1853 and 1854.  The house was advertised for rent again the following year, after which James R. Swords, who ran a book business on Broadway, moved in.  The pattern repeated with families rarely staying for more than two years.

Among them was Emilie Crooks.  She was the widow of Ramsay Crooks, a Scottish-born fur trader.  A partner in the Pacific Fur Company, he had spent years in the wilderness, dealing with Native Americans, and had married Abanokue, the daughter of an Ojibwa Chieftan.  Following her death, he married Emilie Pratte.  Emilie leased the house in 1863, four years after her colorful husband had died.  Living with her were two of her nine children, Ramsay, a merchant at 57 Front Street, and Sylvester, a broker.

The Crooks family remained until about 1866, and the house again saw a succession of occupants.   Its first real long-term owner came in 1878 when it was purchased by Dr. Edmund Carleton, Jr.

A homeopathic doctor, Carleton was on the faculty of the New York Medical College and Hospital for Women.  That not all of the medical community supported homeopathic practices was clearly and publicly evidenced in 1884.  On January 17, Carleton visited a patient who lived in a boarding house on West 12th Street.  While he was there, the landlady, Mrs. Babbitt, asked him to examine her throat.  The New-York Daily Tribune reported, "He told her that she had a mild attack of diphtheria; he wrote a prescription and advised her to disinfect her rooms."  Following city policy, he sent a report to the Board of Heath, which in turn directed the 12th Street Grammar School not to admit pupils from Mrs. Babbitt's boarding house.

The following day Mrs. Babbitt's family physician arrived and "pooh-poohed the idea that she was suffering from a contagious disease."  The New-York Daily Tribune said, "learning that a homeopathic physician had sent a report to the Board of Health, he undertook to procure a correction.  He also expressed his opinion that the other physician did not understand his business."

Carleton struck back, telling a New-York Daily Tribune reporter, "If Dr. Spreng says Mrs. Babbitt did not have diphtheria, he is a fool."  He explained the symptoms, and said had she continued the medicine he had prescribed, her condition would have been much improved.  "Perhaps he does not know that a child, Mary Cook, was removed from the house last week suffering from diphtheria."

At the time of that incident, Dr. Carleton was dealing with another problem.  In November 1882, he had paid several visits to a patient, Helen Lillian Russell Solomon, better known by her stage name, Lillian Russell.  His bill totaled $39 (just over $1,000 in 2023).  Carleton wrote notes, and paid personal visits to the actress's home in attempts to collect his fees.  Finally, on June 5, 1888, The Evening World wrote, "It took five years and seven months to tire out the doctor's patience; but he went to Court determined to recover the money with costs."  The article said that initially, "the fair warbler...intended to give the doctor a legal fight."  But faced with a public trial, she agreed finally to pay the bill.

Dr. Edmund Carleton, Jr. remained at 58 West 9th Street through 1890, when he sold it to Cornelia Jones Miller.   She was the widow of John Bleecker Miller who had died in Toulon, France on April 22, 1861.  He had served under President James Buchanan as consul-general to Germany.  Cornelia's impressive pedigree equaled that of her husband's.  She was the daughter of Judge Samuel William Jones and Maria Bowers Duane.  Initially living with Cornelia were her unmarried daughter, Maria Duane Bleecker Miller, and her married daughter Cornelia and her husband, Admiral French Ensor Chadwick. 

In October 1891, when famine in Russia killed upwards of 400,000 and sparked a revolt against the Tsar, Admiral Chadwick sent a letter from the West 9th Street house to the editor of The Sun.  He reminded readers of the strong sense of gratitude Americans should have to Russia.  During America's own rebellion three decades earlier, the Russian Admiral was directed "in the event of the recognition of the Confederacy by France or England, to place his fleet at the disposition of the American Government."

Admiral French Ensor Chadwick.  from the archives of the West Virginia & Regional History Center

Chadwick, who was also a military historian and author, was well-known to have similar strong opinions.  He would later complain that American women were not keeping up with immigrant women in procreating and "soon the older American stock will be replaced completely."  He balked at the replacing of male teachers in public schools with women, charging that boys were being made effeminate.

Around 1892 the Chadwicks relocated to Washington D.C.   They would be back to attend Maria's wedding to Wilmot Townsend Cox in the house on December 26, 1896.  The New York Times remarked, "The ceremony was performed in the parlor, which was decorated with evergreens, palms, and potted plants," adding, "An informal reception followed the ceremony, which was attended by the numerous family connections and intimate friends."  The "numerous family connections" included some of the oldest names of New York society, including Beekman, Irving, Jones, Rutgers, and Townsend.

The bridegroom's first American ancestor, James Cock, had arrived in Setauket, Long Island prior to 1659.  Other of his ancestors included Henry Wisner, a signer of the Declaration of Independence; John Townsend, an early settler of Long Island; and Robert Coles who accompanied Roger Williams to Rhode Island.  Wilmot Townsend Cox had graduated from Harvard in 1879 and from the Columbia College Law School in 1881.  At the time of the wedding he was a member of the law firm Scudder, Tappan, Seaman & Cox.

Maria Duane Bleecker Miller Cox.  This may have been Maria's wedding dress, described by The New York Times, as "white moiré...tastefully trimmed with rare old family lace."  original source unknown.

Maria had long been interested her family's genealogy and was one of the five incorporators of the Colonial Dames of New York.  The first meeting of the Colonial Dames had been held in the West 9th Street house.  Among her ancestors were Jan Jansen Bleecker, Mayor of Albany in 1700; Major Thomas Jones, who arrived in America in 1692; James Duane, a member of the Continental Congress; and Robert Livingston, the first Lord of Livingston Manor.

The Coxes remained with Cornelia Miller in the West 9th Street house, and mother and daughter entertained together.  On February 6, 1898, for instance, The New York Times announced, "Mrs. John Bleecker Miller and her daughter, Mrs. Wilmot Townsend Cox, of 58 West Ninth Street, will receive during February.  Mrs. Miller's daughter, Mrs. F. E. Chadwick, is with her for the Winter."

On December 7, 1901, Cornelia died at the age of 75.   Maria inherited the West 9th Street house.   She and Wilmot remained there until her death on December 16, 1915.  She left the house to her husband.  To ensure her work went on after her death, she left $3,000 each to Cornelia and French Ensor Chadwick, who now lived in Newport, and a trust of $1,000.  The New York Herald explained that the money was "to be used for the publication of manuscripts relating to the Dutch occupation and the English government of New York." 

In 1916 Wilmot Cox left 58 West 9th Street, never to return.  At some point he transferred title to Cornelia Chadwick.  It was leased in rapid fire succession to Charles J. Berdell, Jr. in 1916, G. P. Dubois in 1917, and George D. Yeomans in 1918.  After years of leasing the house, in 1920 Cornelia Chadwick sold it to Juliana R. Force.

photo via the New York Times

Force converted the venerable home into unofficial apartments.  Living on an upper floor in 1924 was Dorothy Harrington and her two-year-old son, Donald.  Dorothy's husband, Portus Harrington, was a Cleveland stock broker.  Why she and the boy were living separately in New York is unclear.  

On the afternoon of February 17 that year, Dorothy put Donald into his crib and (unthinkable today) left to visit her uncle, Justice Davis on East 94th Street.  Before she reached his home, at around 3:00 fire broke out on the second floor of the 9th Street house.   It started in the apartment of Dr. Ettore Perrone, whose eight year old daughter Rose was in bed with tonsilitis.   "The child saw the flames and screamed in fear," reported the New York Evening Post.  Her father, who was downstairs in his office, rushed up and carried her to the street.  The article said, "He was there in plenty of time to have returned for Donald, had he known the child was there alone.  But he believed the boy was with his mother."  Later, in the thick smoke firemen stumbled upon the crib in the Harrington suite.  The toddler was already dead.

A renovation completed in 1997 returned 58 West 9th Street to a single-family home.  It is the only one of the trio to retain all of the 1853 architectural elements.

photographs by the author
no permission to reuse the content of this blog has been granted to LaptrinhX.com