Saturday, March 11, 2023

The 1863 No. 143 East 13th Street

An expert on toxicological chemistry, Dr. Bernard L. Budd lived in the high-stooped house at 143 East 13th Street in the 1850s and early 1860s.  The demographics of the neighborhood were changing in the first years of the Civil War, however, as throngs of immigrants swarmed into the Lower East Side and East Village.  Dr. Budd's house was demolished and replaced by a four-story flat-and-store building in 1863.  

The prim Italianate style structure was faced in warm red brick above a cast iron storefront.  One of the first multi-family buildings in the area, 143 East 13th Street held two apartments per floor above the stores that flanked the centered residential entrance.  The upper-floor openings wore crisp metal lintels and sills, and a handsome foliate-bracketed cornice with  a paneled fascia crowned the design.

Among the original tenants was the Wines family.  Young Edward Wines was inducted into the Union Army on March 15, 1865.  Happily for him, the war ended just over three weeks later, on April 9.

One of the first commercial tenants did not remain long.  On September 7, 1865 an advertisement in the New York Herald offered:

For Sale--The Good Will and Lease of a good paying business, established for years; duties light; no night work; will be sold cheap.  Apply during this week at 143 East Thirteenth street, near Third avenue, in the office.

It appears that the business that demanded light duties and no night work was a real estate firm.  It was taken over by the office of Pierce & Martin that year.  Apparently a start-up business, on September 30 it advertised:

Wanted--Houses and parts of houses to rent.  Also unfurnished Rooms, on first or second floor, for small families.  Those having such will please address or call at the Real Estate and General Agency Office, 143 East Thirteenth street, between Third and Fourth avenues.  

                                                                    Pierce & Martin.

The partners were unexpectedly progressive for the period.  The following month it advertised an opening for a traveling saleswoman.  Noting that she should be "a young lady with good address" for the "highly respectable business," the ad promised that "board and travelling expenses" would be paid.

The other commercial space was home to the store and office of The Society for the Employment and Relief of Poor Women.  Founded in 1844 by women of various Unitarian churches, its purpose was: prevent, in a measure, the pauperism which forms so painful a feature in the community; to supersede the daily alms-giving, which, instead of benefitting, only lends to deepen the degradation of this class by depriving them of a healthful self-dependence; to elevate them to the rank of independent laborers, and insure them a fair compensation for their work.

To that end the Society provided an employment office for women looking for domestic work, and a store where the goods made by underprivileged women were sold.  Women "who are willing to labor at plain sewing, &c.," were given instruction on needlework and made "dressing gowns, slippers, underclothing, &c." either in their homes or in the basement of All Souls' Church on Fourth Avenue and 20th Street.  

The carriages of affluent women stopped at the door of the Society.  Here they either shopped for reasonably-priced, well-made garments, or made their requests for domestic help.  The Society advertised available "cooks, chambermaids, waitresses and girls for general housework."  It recruited for specific positions as well, advertising in 1872 for:

A respectable American girl to take care of children and assist in chamberwork.  Apply at the Employment Society store, 143 East 13th st.

The upper floor tenants brought little attention to the building until the colorful Eleanor F. Bishop (known as Ellen) moved in in 1871.  Accustomed to much more luxurious living arrangements, she was involved in a highly-publicized and acrimonious separation from her husband, Nathaniel C. Bishop, a retired real estate agent.  Ellen was Bishop's second wife.  According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, he had a "large private fortune."

The residential entrance features one etched glass panel.

It is unclear what went wrong in the relationship, but Ellen tried repeatedly to divorce Bishop.  It appears that Bishop fought her merely out of spite, certainly not because he wanted to save their marriage.  On December 31, 1871 her motion "to punish [Bishop] for contempt" was denied.  But she was resolute.

The following year, on August 7, the New York Herald reported on her latest suit that charged her husband with abandonment and sought support.  The article noted, "The case has already been prominently before the public, in consequence of the complainant having made six different procure a divorce."

Still married to Ellen, on March 30, 1874 Nathaniel C. Bishop died at the age of 78 in his fashionable home on West 44th Street.  The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported, "Before his death, he expressed a wish that his wife should not be permitted to enter the room in which he lay dead, or to participate in any way in the funeral ceremonies."

Ellen was refused entrance to her deceased husband's bedroom by the housekeeper.  The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported, "Finding that she was balked in the attempt to see the body of her dead husband she determined to exercise exclusive control over the arrangements for the funeral."  What followed was a macabre test of wills between Ellen and her step-daughter by Bishop's first marriage.

Determined to have control over Bishop's funeral, she blocked the burial following the ceremony arranged by his daughter, insisting on a private burial the following day.  "The undertaker was nonplussed, as was also the clergyman, and likewise the persons present," said the article.  Finally, she said she would consent if she were provided a private carriage to Greenwood Cemetery.  "Those present agreed, at last, to submit to her demand, as the delay had been provoking, besides destroying all the solemnity of the occasion."

Things became more circus-like at the gravesite.  Ellen had chosen a receiving vault, however Bishop's grave in the family plot next to his first wife had already been dug.  "Mrs. Bishop was obstinate," said the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.  "The spectators were terrified at her vehemence," said the article.  To stop the burial, "she jumped into the grave forthwith."  Ellen remained in the grave until she was satisfied that the body was placed in the receiving vault.

Eleanor Bishop was not done yet.  A month later, on April 23, the Vermont Citizen reported that Nathaniel Bishop's body, "whose burial at New York, last month...[caused] so much excitement," had been exhumed.  Eleanor ordered the exhumation in order to have an autopsy performed.  She declared her husband had been poisoned.  The autopsy showed no traces of poison.

Ellen Bishop was by no means typical of the working-class tenants within the building.  Families living here in 1873 paid $10.50 per week, a rather pricey $245 by a 2023 conversion.  

One of the residents found a creative way to earn extra money the following year.  That June the Great Comet of 1874 (known today as the Coggia comet) became visible to the naked eye.  People around the world craned their necks towards the sky at night for months to see the marvel.

Parisians view the Great Comet of 1874.  original source unknown.

The resourceful tenant placed an advertisement in The New York Times on June 20 that read:

The Comet plainly and beautifully seen every clear evening, from 9 to 10, through a good telescope, on the top of No. 143 East 13th st., one door west of 3d av. for 25 cents.

Living in one of the second floor apartments at the time was the family of John Johne, an engraver.  Near tragedy occurred on the night of May 4, 1875 when a breeze blew a window curtain into the open flame of a gas jet.  The fire spread rapidly, quickly engulfing the Johnes' rooms.  By the time Hook & Ladder Company No. 3 extinguished the blaze, the equivalent of $38,200 today in damages had been done to the building and furnishings.

By the mid-1880s one of the shops was home to Philip Hafner's tailor shop.  Born in Dreieichenhain, Germany, he and his wife, Magdalene, lived in one of the apartments above the store.  

At around 1:30 on the morning of January 15, 1888, undercover Detective Sergeant McCarty noticed three known burglars--James "Jersey" Hogan, William Drinkhouse, and John Francis--on the Bowery.  McCarty casually followed them into a saloon and sat near enough to eavesdrop.  The New York Times reported, "Over their beer he heard enough to convince him that they were about to attempt a robbery at Thirteenth-street, near Third-avenue."

McCarty engaged another detective named Rogers, and went to East 13th Street where they waited in a dark cellar doorway.  Before long the trio approached Hafner's tailor shop.  One stood on the corner as a look-out.  The detectives watched as the other two forced open the wire doors and then used a skeleton key to enter the shop.  The detectives then crossed the street and waited for the patrol officer to come along so all three perpetrators could be arrested.  Instead, it was Hafner, just arriving home, who appeared and "stepped up and looked at the door."  He was immediately "pounced upon by the detectives," according to The New York Times.  Hafner yelled out, drawing the attention of the patrol officer.  The article said, "the patrolman rushed up, and explanations were made."  Hafner and the policemen now entered the shop.

The New York Times reported, "The thieves, who had been alarmed by the outcry, were found trembling in a closet."  The men had packed up $600 worth of cloth to cart away.  In their possession were various skeleton keys and two jimmies.  Their accomplice got away.

The Hafners, incidentally, remained in the building for decades.  Magdalene died at the age of 78 in her apartment on August 7, 1914.

In the last decade of the century the gradual decline of the neighborhood was reflected in a few of the tenants.  On March 19, 1892 Richard Lindsey was arrested with three others on complaint of reformer Anthony Comstock.  Accused of being "policy men" (operators of illegal gambling operations), Comstock said, "These men, or men of their kind, ruin the city."

Three years later two tenants, John Powers and William Srank, were arrested for a much less egregious crime.  They were caught peddling spectacles without a license in Long Island City.

On May 31, 1896 The World began an article saying, "Interesting in the extreme is the case of three-year-old Rudolph Hertel, who began to smoke tobacco when eight months old, and before he was a year old was a confirmed smoker."  The boy was the only son of Frederick Hertel and his wife, who lived here.  Neither of the parents smoked, but according to the article, when the "small and pretty" baby was born, "Friends of the family dropped in and offered the baby puffs of their pipes and cigars, just to see what it would do."

The Hertels were amused that the baby enjoyed smoking and continued to entertain guests with the display.  "One old man in particular was persistent in his efforts to have fun with the smoking infant.  He came to the home every Sunday afternoon, and always brought an extra stock of cigars with him."  When "Rudie" was nine months old, his parents realized "the alarming fact that their boy was a confirmed smoker."

By the time he was a toddler, Rudolph's addiction affected his health.  He became jaundiced and Dr. William E. Bullard diagnosed an enlarged liver and heart problems.  "The physician declared that if he was not compelled to stop [smoking] the little boy would die in a very short time," said The World.  

All efforts to break his habit failed, until Rudie began expressing the desire to wear trousers.  His parents gave him an incentive--stop smoking and earn pants.  The ruse worked.  The boy chose trousers over cigars.  Nevertheless, his mother told a reporter from The World, "I dread to think of what may happen when my little boy reaches the age when I cannot keep constant watch over him, but I can only trust in his determination to stick to the promise he made never to smoke again."

Rudie Hertel on the day before and after giving up cigars.  The World, May 31, 1896 (copyright expired)

At the time, Jean A. Le Roy ran his Acme Exchange from one of the commercial spaces.  Opened in 1894, it was among the first film exchanges to sell kinetoscope supplies and film.  Le Roy also did repair work.  

In 1896 Le Roy branched out into a new area.  In its May 23, 1896 issue, The Electrical World reported, "Mr. J. A. Le Roy, 143 East Thirteenth Street, is making portable Rötgen-ray outfits, which, no doubt, will be interesting information to those who desire to carry on experiments in this line.  The outfits are complete and include everything necessary to produce the rays; also a fluoroscope."  The equipment was an early form of x-ray machinery, developed in Germany by Wilhelm Rötgen.

An article in The Electrical Engineer that year said, "The action of the heart has been plainly seen with the instruments he furnishes, also the bone of the body, the liver and the denser organs have been readily traced.  Owing to these facts the demand for the very best apparatus has become imperative."  The Acme Exchange remained in the space into the first years of the 20th century.

Living here in 1921 was James "Frisco" Rogers, one of three men who were called by police "modern highwaymen."  The trio used stolen cars to drive to Long Island where they conducted armed robberies.  They were captured on September 24, 1921, The New York Times noting, "the police expected their arrest to clear up some of the many recent hold-ups by motor bandits on Long Island roads."

In 1967 the eastern store was leased to Cornell Edwards, who established his Flower Stall in the space.  The shop would be a fixture in the neighborhood for decades, and when Virginie Alvine-Perette featured Edwards in her 2008 documentary Twilight Becomes Night lamenting the disappearance of neighborhood stores, he became a local luminary of sorts.  Cornell Edwards was still running the Flower Stall in 2011 when he died at the age of 79.

In the meantime, the western shop was home to Melissa Howard's Stock Vintage.  Founded in 2006, the store sells vintage men's clothing and accessories dating from the turn of the last century through the 1970s.  The shop still operates from the space.

Looking as if it were plucked from an Edward Hopper painting, after 160 years little has changed to 143 East 13th Street.  Most remarkably, the storefront--always the first element to be remodeled--remains intact, including the three original sets of double doors.

photographs by the author
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