Saturday, April 29, 2023

The 1893 314 West 51st Street


The entrance framework, now gone, originally matched that of its next-door neighbor.

In 1892 Henry Aplington sold the four-story brick house at 314 West 51st Street to builder Alexander Moore, the principal in Alexander Moore & Son.  Within a year he replaced the vintage structure with a modern flat building.  Sitting on a brownstone base, the upper floors of 314 West 51st Street were clad in yellow Roman brick and trimmed in warm terra cotta.  Half of a mirror image pair with 316 West 51st Street, its exuberant Renaissance Revival design featured elaborate carvings, paneled Corinthian pilasters, and an ambitious pressed metal cornice with scrolled brackets and a foliate-decorated frieze.

There were two apartments per floor (front and back) in the five-story building.  Moore was a builder, not a landlord, and in March 1893 he sold his newly-completed structure to James R. Corbitt for $40,000, approximately $1.24 million in 2023.

Despite its close proximity to the notorious Hell's Kitchen neighborhood, the building filled with respectable upper middle class tenants, all of them affluent enough to afford at least one servant.  On September 19, 1897, Mrs. John Halzderber advertised, "A girl wanted, German preferred, for general housework," and a month later the Corbitt family was looking for a "Girl, to do general housework and assist with children."

A servant of Dr. Turner, 20-year-old Amelia Merlath, suffered a horrific accident on December 5, 1898.  The Turners' apartment was in the rear of the third floor.  While cleaning the windows Amelia lost her grip and fell to the yard, fracturing her skull.  She was taken to Roosevelt Hospital where, according to The World, "it is said she is in a critical condition and may not survive."

Lillian Knight lived here at the turn of the century.  The young unmarried woman was riding in an open street car on June 1, 1903 when it crashed violently with another at 53rd Street and Eighth Avenue.  So forcible was the collision that "passengers were thrown in the street in a confused heap," as reported by The New York Times.  One of them was Lillian Knight, who later realized she had dropped her green bag.  She searched frantically for the purse, which held the equivalent of $950 in cash in today's money, two railway tickets to Chicago, and valuable papers.  It appears that a sharp-eyed thief saw Lillian's purse first.  The article said, "The bag and its treasures were not found."

It was a resident of 314 West 51st Street who found a bag, rather than lost it, two years later.  Tom Jolly had been a partner in the upscale Manhattan Club in Saratoga, New York.  Jolly was "sauntering past the Hotel Cadillac," according to The Daily Saratogian on June 17, when near the curb he "espied a well-worn purse, evidently that of a woman."

Inside was a small, silver watch and 56 cents.  The newspaper said, "It was evidently the property of some poor working girl."  Unlike the cad who had made off with Lillian Knight's purse, Jolly notified the newspapers of his find.  The New York Telegraph reported he was holding the purse at 314 West 51st Street awaiting word of its owner.  "Those who know the generous Tom will not be surprised to hear of a poor girl getting back her purse with a $5 bill stuffed in one corner," said the New York Telegraph.

In 1905 James R. Corbitt sold the building to Samuel Huston, who moved into an apartment with his wife Elizabeth.  She died in the apartment on February 14, 1912, while Huston would live on there for decades.

Two of the well-respected residents were pharmacist George F. Phillips, who operated a drugstore at 839 Eighth Avenue, and well-known attorney Owen W. Bohan.  Described by The Morning Telegraph as an "adherent of Tammany," Bohan was appointed "county tax appraiser" for the city in January 1914.

George F. Phillips suffered intense humiliation on August 18, 1917 when he was removed by police from his store and charged with selling narcotics.  At least one customer had brought him a prescription written by Dr. Howard James for the substance.

Phillips spent that Saturday night in jail, and when allowed to make a telephone call in the morning, the irate pharmacist did not waste it.  He phoned his neighbor, former State Senator George Washington Plunkitt, who lived at 323 West 51st Street.  Plunkitt, in turn, called United States Commissioner Hitchcock.  The Sun reported, "the Commissioner and United States Attorney Edwin M. Stanton went to the police station, where the three fixed up the papers for the druggist's release."  Senator Plunkitt provided the $5,000 bail, offering his residence as security.  (The incident seems to have affected Dr. James even more severely.  On the day Phillips was released, he was committed to Bellevue Hospital for the insane.)

Intricate Renaissance inspired carvings surround the ground floor window.

George F. Phillips might as easily have called his neighbor Owen W. Bohan.  A year before the incident, Bohan had been appointed Assistant District Attorney.  (He earned $4,000 per year in that position, or about $102,000 today.)  

Born in Ireland, he was as well-known in Irish-American circles as in the legal community.  In 1916, his apartment became the "headquarters" for the west side's campaign for raising funds for the Irish Republic.  When Sinn Fein president Eamon de Valera slipped out of New York in 1920, according to the Irish-American newspaper The Advocate, "It was at Mr. Bohan's house he put on his disguise of clothes."

In fact, Bohan and his wife were abroad at the time and in their absence had offered their apartment to "Harry Boland, Lian Mellows and others interested in the Irish movement," according to The Advocate.  

Bohan's trip to Italy was strictly for business, not pleasure.  On February 13, 1917, 18-year-old Ruth Cruger had gone missing.  Her body was found buried in the cellar of Alfred Cocci's shop where she had taken her ice skates for sharpening.  Cocci fled to his native Italy, but to no avail.  While he was not extradited to the United States, he was tried in Italy with Owen W. Bohan assisting in the prosecution and conviction.  On December 20, 1920, the New-York Tribune reported that Bohan, "returned on the White Star liner in company with Mrs. Bohan.  Paying high tribute to Italian justice, he said that the verdict against Cocci was unanimous."

In March 1923, Bohan was promoted.  The Morning Telegraph reported he "has been advanced to the top by District Attorney Joab H. Banton.  He will receive a salary of $10,000."  (That pay would translate to about $160,000 in 2023.)  The Bohans were still living at 314 West 51st Street a decade later when, on September 4, 1933, The Advocate reported he was nominated for office of Judge of the Court of General Sessions.  The newspaper said, "Owen W. Bohan is an ornament to the Celtic branch of the American family.  He will grace the bench with his dignity and erudition and his humane viewpoint on life."

Samuel Huston died in his apartment here in 1936, after having owned the building for more than three decades.  His estate sold the property to Rose Lauter in July that year.  By now the West 51st Street neighborhood was in decline.

Among the tenants in 1938 was 28-year-old Patrick Pico.  He was the mastermind of a two-man burglary scheme tagged by police as a "dollar-deposit" racket.  He and 27-year-old Ruben Tormey would go to rooming houses, pay $1 deposit on a room saying they expected to get money that day, and obtain a set of keys.  When the landlord left, "they would fill their suitcases with jewelry, furs, cameras, binoculars, clothing and anything else they could lay their hands on, and flee," as reported by the New York Post on May 17, 1938.  By the time Ruben Tormey was caught, they had victimized at least 25 rooming houses.  The newspaper said Tormey took police to 314 West 51st Street "where they found Pico--as well as six leather bags full of alleged loot and thirty-five gown tickets."

In 1941 the ground floor was still unpainted and the entranceway intact.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

In 1942 the once-respectable building was converted to single-room-occupancy, with seven and eight rooms per floor.  Markos Maviudis took over as proprietor in February 1943, and among the first things he did was to clear out the basement.  There he found two trunks, one of which held an old mattress.  He closed the trunks and forgot about them.

But then, two years later on August 2, 1945 Maviudis returned to the basement, prompted by tenants' complaints of an odor.  He opened the trunk, removed the mattress, and made a shocking discovery.  The Associated Press reported, "The body of a man, clad in tan trousers, tan belt, lumber jacket and green overcoat was found in a trunk yesterday in the cellar of a five-story rooming house at 314 West Fifty-first street."  The body had been stuffed in a canvas bag and hidden underneath the mattress.

Living here in 1953 was 25-year-old actor William Canty.  Homosexuality was not something to be openly displayed at mid-century, something that Canty and his date, 45-year-old Stanley McGreary painfully discovered in March that year.  The couple took in a show at Radio City Music Hall, but their affection got the better of their discretion.  They were arrested on technical charges of loitering.  The Herald Statesman reported that Detective Mary Shanley told the court, "McGreary and Canty were seated in the theatre with their arms around each other and their heads on each other's shoulders."  Each was released on $500 bail awaiting their hearing for the crime.

A renovation completed in 1980 brought the building back to two apartments per floor.  The brownstone base has been painted and, sadly, the Corinthian columns and entablature of the entrance have been removed.

photos by the author
no permission to reuse the content of this blog has been granted to

Friday, April 28, 2023

The 1900 Paul Chopak House - 250 West 137th Street


In May 1897 architect John Hauser filed plans for seven rowhouses on West 137th Street, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues (today's Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and Frederick Douglass Boulevard, respectively) for developer Charles E. Picken.  Simultaneously he filed plans for three others, for James C. Picken (presumably a relative) on the same block.  Charles E. Picken was apparently well pleased with the outcome.  In February 1900 Hauser filed plans for six abutting houses for the developer.

Similar to the earlier homes, the Renaissance Revival style homes were three stories high above tall English basements.  Hauser designed them in an A-B-C-A-B-C pattern, with the imperious B models, including 250 West 137th Street, demanding the spotlight.  

Hauser gave the parlor level restrained amounts of Renaissance style carving--in the center pilaster between the windows, in the panels below the windows, and in the spandrel panels flanking the arched entrance transom.  The viewer's eye was drawn to the second floor, where the center window sat within a balcony-like framing of engaged columns upholding a sumptuous arched pediment.  A pressed metal cornice and frieze completed the design.

On October 2, 1901 Picken sold 250 West 137th Street to Paul Chopak.  He and his wife, the former Antoinette Klein, had an eight-year-old son, Herman.  Chopak was the president of the real estate firm P. Chopak & Co., Inc.  

At the end of World War I, the neighborhood was rapidly becoming the center of Manhattan's Black community.  The Chopaks had left West 137th Street by 1919, after which their former home was operated as a rooming house.

Typical of the tenants was a woman who was looking for employment in 1921.  Her advertisement in The New York Times on March 13 read: "Cook--Experienced colored; private people; sleep out.  250 West 137th."  By "private people," she meant she wanted to work in a single-family home, and "sleep out" meant that she did not want to live with her employers.

A widow, 60-year-old Susie James, lived here in 1924.  On  the morning of March 29 that year she was hit by the automobile driven of Frank Faherty and died on the scene.

In addition to providing rented rooms, around 1931 the landlord made either the parlor or basement level available for club purposes.  Living here that year was Leon Hogan, the secretary of the Nautilus Exclusive Club, which met every Sunday night in the house.

While ostensibly a men's group, the Nautilus Exclusive Club's social events most definitely included females.  On March 13, 1932 it hosted the Suenos de Amor (Dreams of Love) dance at the Witoka Club.  The response was so great that at 8:35 the venue's management closed the doors, refusing additional ticket holders entrance.  They were later promised a full refund by contacting Leon Hogan.

In June 1932 the club chartered a boat for what The New York Age had promised would be "a trip of unexcelled merriment," on July 3.  The article said, "there'll be music and dancing, dining and, oh I forgot this is a prohibition era."  The newspaper directed, "Make your reservations early, communicate with Leon Hogan, 250 West 137th street."

Perhaps not to be outdone, another resident, Doloris Lee, co-founded the Ala Mode Girls in September 1932.  On September 10, The New York Age reported, "These girls of style and fashion breezed into Clubdom on Tuesday evening at 250 West 137th street, where they held high pow wow at their installation, where words of congratulations were voiced by the elite of clubdom."  Doloris Lee was made president.  She and the other officers were installed by "the genial M.C. George Sands."  The article noted, "Numerous clubs were represented and the party lasted into the yawning."

Like their male counterparts, the Ala Mode Girls hosted social events.  On October 12, 1932, a "guest night" was held in the 137th Street house, followed by an afternoon dance four days later.  The New York Age wrote, "Just next Sunday at the Popularity Studio these fashionable lassies will endeavor to show you what a real Matinee Dansente should be like.  Take it from Miss Lee the president you'll be surprised (but pleasantly tho)."

The Ala Mode Girls was not merely about social events.  On November 26, 1932 The New York Age reported that the club would sponsor a Charity Bazaar at St. Mark's Hall on West 138th Street the following month.  "Proceeds will be used to purchase baskets of food to be distributed on Xmas morning by members," said the article.  It noted, "Among the many entertainers that have donated their services is Ethel Waters, now appearing at the Lafayette Theatre."

In 1967 the house was converted to apartments, two per floor.  An advertisement in the N.Y. Amsterdam News on June 2, 1979 described, "2 rooms, private kitchen and bath, working persons preferred."

Hauser's handsome 1900 row.  250 West 137th Street is to the right, behind the white automobile.

Although the brownstone facade has been painted, 250 West 137th Street retains its commanding presence along John Hauser's dignified 1900 row.

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

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Billy Madden's Athletic Hall - 120 East 13th Street


In the 1850s piano maker Peter A. Meeks lived in the brick-faced house at 94 East 13th Street (renumbered 120 in 1868).  Following his death, the estate entrusted the management of the property to real estate broker and builder John B. Marcella.  He testified decades later, in 1899, that he "altered and repaired" the building in 1864.

Because Marcella was a builder, he most likely did not use an outside architect.  His renovations resulted in what today would be called a mixed-used structure that essentially followed the designs of a stable--a wide bay at ground level flanked by an entrance and a window.  The upper floors held residential spaces.  And, in fact, a livery stable may have originally occupied the first floor.  On June 25, 1871, The New York Times reported, "Yesterday Henry Bergh arrested Thomas Quinn, of No. 120 East Thirteenth-street, for driving a white horse with a large raw sore under the saddle."  (Henry Bergh was the founder of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.)

If there was a stable at 120 East Thirteenth Street when Thomas Quinn was arrested, it was gone the following year when May Bayersdorfer ran his auction business from the ground floor.  He liquidated furniture and such and on May 10, 1871 auctioned the contents of a 14-room house, including "elegant Piano, rich black walnut Chamber Suits, marble top Bureaus and Tables," and other high-end furnishings.

Living upstairs in the late 1870's was Frederick W. Brown, a clerk in the city's Topographical Engineer's office.  He earned $2.50 per day in 1877, or about $1,334 a month in 2023 (assuming he worked only five days a week).  

Actors George T. Ulmer and his wife, Lizzie May lived here in 1879.  George T. Ulmer had been a drummer boy in the Civil War and first appeared on stage in Boston in 1868 with the Selwyn stock company.  

Nelson A. Primus's portrait of Lizzie hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.

Lizzie's success and popularity was reflected in the fact that she had posed for a large portrait two years earlier.  In January 1877 the Evening Express of Boston reported, "Mr. N[elson]. A. Primus has just finished a life-size oil painting of the beautiful and accomplished little actress, Lizzie May Ulmer.  It is pronounced by critics to be the finest painting ever seen in Boston."  Lizzie reprised her role as Moya in Dion Boucicault's drama The Shaughraun on May 17, 1879 while living here.  

Within a few years the reputation of 120 East 13th Street was slipping.  George A. Greene had converted the ground floor to a "concert saloon."  The Board of Excise revoked his liquor license in 1883 based on a petition of nearby residents who complained of the "disorderly character of Greene's place."   In August Greene protested, claiming in court that the majority of the signers were unfamiliar with his business.

Interestingly, when the case came up again on September 10, only Greene and his dozen witnesses appeared.  Policeman Thomas Raymond, who had charged on August 26 that he had been served liquor on a Sunday morning while in uniform, now denied he had made the statement.   When the Society for the Prevention of Crime was called forth to "substantiate the charges made in their report," no members appeared in court.  And the society's lawyer avowed that "no complaint had been made against Greene by the society."

Henry Burroughs lived upstairs when he was arrested on March 4, 1884 with Patrick Green.  The Daily Graphic said, "The two men are well known in criminal annals."  They were detained by Roundsman (i.e., foot patrolman) Devery "as suspicious persons."  At the police station they were found to be carrying a burglar's jimmy and each had a loaded revolver.  The article recalled, "Eleven years ago Burroughs was arrested for burglary, and during the trial of his case in the Court of General Sessions slipped off his handcuffs and dashed out of the room.  He was arrested, however, and served a term in the State Prison."

A major change had come to the ground floor two months earlier.  On January 2, 1884 The Sporting Life announced, "Billy Madden has opened a saloon at 120 East Thirteenth st., N.Y., with boxing and dancing room attached."  Originally called Madden's Sporting House by the press, it later was named Billy Madden's Athletic Hall.

The well-rounded Madden was well-known as a champion boxer, trainer and manager, but he was as well an author, playwright, and sports promoter.  Born in London in 1852, Madden had competed until January 1877.  Then, according to the National Police Gazette on September 13, 1884, "he made up his mind that it was not a very profitable business, and he took to teaching the manly art.  Among his pupils are some of the wealthiest as well as the most proficient gentlemen, including George Jay Gould, G. P. Moroisini, W. E. Conner, Gladwins and many others."  Among his stable of professional boxers were John L. Sullivan, Jake Kilrain and Jack Dempsey.

Billy Madden.  The National Police Gazette, September 13, 1884 (copyright expired)

On September 13, 1884 The National Police Gazette called Madden, "the best trainer, second and judge, and shrewdest manager in the world.  He can always be seen at his popular sporting house, 120 East Thirteenth street."

A month prior to that article, The New York Clipper had reported, "Madden's Athletic Hall...was filled with admirers of boxing on the evening of Aug. 4. gathered to witness the competitions between amateurs for the lightweight medal in the tournament for valuable prizes then inaugurated by him."  A shrewd marketer, Madden had guaranteed a good turnout both in competitors and boxing fans by announcing two days earlier that he would be awarding the winners with "gold medals of elegant design."

Later that year Madden held a benefit for another "trainer of pugilists, pedestrians, and wrestlers," Bob Smith.  The New York Dispatch said the New Year's Eve event would include "sparring and wrestling by all the champions."

Days before the New Year's Eve benefit, Madden had sold Athletic Hall to one of his boxers, Jack Dempsey.  On December 18 the Boston Globe reported that the boxer had bought the "sporting resort" and "will endeavor to become expert in mixing drinks."  The pugilist-turned-bar-owner held an inauguration event on January 12, 1885.  In his 2019 biography Nonpareil Jack Dempsey, author Joseph S. Page says:

A large crowd paid the one-dollar admission and came out to drink, see the bouts and to help christen the newly-relaunched establishment.  Dempsey would put on several evenings of fight cards in January, during which the Nonpareil played a variety of roles, from host to referee to timekeeper to pugilist.

Billy Madden remained, helping Dempsey run the operation and acting as referee.  On January 22, for instance, ten days after the opening, Bill Glynn failed to appear for a bout against Jim Fell.  The National Police Gazette reported that Dempsey stepped in, and gave a blow-by-blow account of the match:

It was a slashing affair for four rounds.  In the last round Fell dashed at Dempsey and planted several blows on his ribs.  Dempsey got home with the left and right, the latter's fist landing on Fell's ear.  Then they wrestled, and Fell thought he had Dempsey on a hip-lock.  The latter wriggled out of the lock, however, and both went to the floor together.  They arose and resumed the contest, and after a sharp exchange Dempsey succeeded in rushing Fell back to the edge of the stage near the dressing-room and in a wrestle threw him.  Billy Madden then stopped the bout, and both shook hands good-naturedly.

The Athletic Hall closed before 1891 and the little building was converted to factory space.  That year it held the offices of The Astoria Veneer Mills.  It advertised, "This company make a specialty of the manufacturing of Poplar and Walnut Lumber for the use of the Piano and Organ Trade."

The building was purchased in 1893 by Alfred Dolge, who simultaneously moved his large piano felt making factory into the nearby building at 110-112 East 13th Street.   Dolge made renovations to 120 East 13th Street for the firm's offices.  

Dolge's substantial operation--he had created the town of Dolgeville, New York around his main factory--came to a crashing end in 1898.  The firm failed that summer, and on June 10 120 East 13th Street was sold in foreclosure to Adolph Sietor, who held the mortgage, for $2,000 (about $67,400 today).

The building once again became home to an auction house, run by Louis Levy.  On November 25, 1902, he advertised a "mortgage sale" of "two pool tables complete, formerly at No. 34 West End Avenue."  It seems likely that the pool tables had been repossessed by Alfred B. Marx & Bro.  The pool table manufacturers were listed at the East 13th Street address at the time, apparently operating from the upper floors.

Susan Stein purchased 120 East 13th Street in 1918.  She immediately hired the architectural firm of Gronenberg & Leuchtag to design a four-story garage on the site.  The American Machinist reported on March 7, that the proposed building would cost her $30,000 to construct.

But Susan Stein changed her mind.  On August 23, 1919 the Real Estate Record & Guide reported she had sold 120 East 13th Street and the vacant lot next door at 118 to the Star Box Lumber Co. for $30,000.  The article noted, "The buyer will alter the property for business use."

Star Box Lumber used the vacant lot, as well, for its business.  When this photograph was shot in 1941, the cornice was still intact.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

In 1943 the Rolley Realty Corporation, which owned the loft building at 110-116 East 13th Street, purchased 120 and the empty lot at 118.  The purchase was quite likely to ensure that no towering building would be constructed on the site, blocking air and light to 110-116 East 13th Street.  

The little battered building continued to see industrial use.  In the 1950s it was home to the Conopac Corp., makers of "dry filling machines," and the following decade the Mitchell Offset Plate Service, Inc. occupied it.

A renovation completed in 2007 resulted in a plumbing and heating contractor's shop on the ground floor, offices on the second, and two apartments on the third floor.  At some point during the 20th century the cornice was removed and the brick painted white.  The innocuous little structure, unwilling to give up any hint of its colorful past, draws no attention from passersby.

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

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

The Much-Abused Frederick C. Havemeyer House - 313 West 14th Street


Little hint of the former mansion's architectural beauty and opulence remains.

In the first years of the 1840's sumptuous brownstone mansions began appearing on West 14th Street, from Union Square west to Ninth Avenue.  The 25-foot-wide residence completed around 1843 at 193 West 14th Street (renumbered 313 in 1868)  left no question as to the vast wealth of its owner.

The Italianate style mansion rose four stories above an especially high English basement.  Its stone stoop rose to an arched entrance under a prominent cornice supported by foliate brackets.  The architrave windows sat on molded sills upon tiny brackets, and were crowned by gently arched lintels.  The handsome cornice included paired, scrolled brackets and a paneled fascia with central rosettes.

Although the stoop was removed in 1925, the mansion (left) otherwise retained its 1840 appearance.  from the collection of the New-York Historical Society.

Sugar refiner Frederick Christian Havemeyer Jr. moved his family into 193 West 14th Street.  His father and uncle, William, had opened a sugar refinery in 1807.  Upon their retirement in 1828, Frederick Jr. and his cousin William took over, renaming it W. F. & F. C. Havemeyer.  By the time Frederick's family moved into the West 14th Street residence, both were wealthy, and William was mayor of New York City.  (The cousins' close relationship may have prompted William to move into a house nearby at 113 West 14th Street around 1867.)

Frederick and his wife, the former Sarah Louise Osborne Henderson, were married in 1831 and now had nine children.  A tenth child, Warren H., was born in 1849.  

Frederick Christian Havemeyer and Sarah Louise Osborne Henderson Havemeyer.  original sources unknown

The following year Sarah became ill.  After what the New York Herald called a "lingering illness," she died on the morning of January 7, 1851 at the age of 39.  Her funeral was held in the parlor two days later.

There would be second funeral in the house that year.  Little Warren died on September 9.  His tiny casket sat in the parlor until his funeral on September 11, 1851.

Although there was, of course, at least one nurse on staff in the Havemeyer mansion, Frederick enlisted the help of his mother and mother-in-law, Catharine Billiger Havemeyer and Mary Osborne Henderson, to help rear the children.  Several of the older boys were sent off to exclusive private boys' schools.  In 1853 14-year-old Theodore went to Mr. Betts' School in Stamford, Connecticut, and the following year his two younger brothers, 7-year-old Henry and 9-year-old Thomas, were sent to the Bellport Academy on Long Island.  

In November 1859 Havemeyer listed the West 14th Street mansion for sale.  The advertisement boasted, "This House is new, and has just been finished in the very best manner."

It was purchased by Washington J. Smith, who had formerly lived with his parents nearby at 241 West 19th Street.  He was associated with his father, Washington Irving Smith, in Washington I. Smith & Co., a pottery factory.  Originally called Greenwich Pottery, the firm did not make decorative jardinières or terra cotta plaques, but a much more utilitarian product--sewer pipes. 

Trow's New York City Directory, 1865 (copyright expired)

Sadly, Smith would not enjoy his opulent new home for long.  He died on January 27, 1863 at the age of 54.  Once again a funeral was held in the parlor.  Smith's estate sold the mansion at auction on April 1 that same year.

It was purchased by wealthy tobacco merchant Albert S. Rosenbaum and his wife Elizabeth.  The couple had a son and four daughters.  Born in Germany, he had gone to California during the 1849 Gold Rush.  The New York Times said, "by dint of great business tact, shrewdness, and industry [he] rapidly accumulated money, which he invested advantageously in San Francisco real estate.”  Now back in New York, he founded his tobacco business and became a director in the street railroads like the Third Avenue Surface Railroad Company, the Morris Avenue Railroad Company and the Brook Avenue Railroad Company.  

Upscale neighborhoods like this were closely guarded by foot patrolmen.  Officer David Walsh was in charge of the beat on the night of April 22, 1869 when he interrupted a break-in.  The New York Herald reported that he caught Andrew Leaney and Jeremiah Shaunessy trying "to enter the dwelling house of Albert S. Rosenham [sic], No. 313 West Fourteenth street."  Despite being caught in the act, both men pleaded not guilty.

A daughter, Leonora, was born in August that year.  Tragically, she died just under eight months later.  As had been the case several times before, her funeral was held in the parlor on April 24, 1870.  

Within the decade, the once exclusive block saw the incursion of commerce.  Wealthy homeowners migrated north, and in December 1889 the Rosenbaums moved to the former Bonesteel house at 5 East 73rd Street.  The family retained possession of 313 West 14th Street, leasing it.

West 14th Street was rapidly becoming the center of Manhattan's wealthy Latin community.  No. 313 West 14th Street became what newspapers called a "Spanish boarding house."  Its residents were both influential and well-to-do.  On November 11, 1897, for instance, The Sun reported on the arrival in New York City of two Cubans, injured in the Spanish-American War.  One of them was F. B. Caballero, described by the newspaper as "an officer in the insurgent army."  The article said, "He is wounded and has come for surgical treatment.  He will stop temporarily at No. 313 West Fourteenth street."

On August 17, 1898 the Cuban Arteaga family arrived in New York and took rooms at 313 West 14th Street.  The New York Times reported, "the father has been a commission merchant [in Venezuela] for several years.  The visit to New York was in the interest of property which the elder Arteaga owned in Cuba."  Traveling with their parents was Ricardo, a correspondent in the Spanish department of Henry W. Peabody & Co., and Augusto, "a harmlessly demented lad seventeen years old," according to the newspaper.

On the day they settled into the boarding house, Augusto wandered away.  Challenged with what possibly would be diagnosed as autism today, he was hopelessly lost in the city.  The family extended their stay for four months before giving up hope, leaving only Ricardo behind to search.  A year later, on September 11, 1899, The New York Times wrote, "his brother believes that he may yet be found alive in some asylum in New York or vicinity, and has offered a reward for any information concerning his whereabouts."  It is unclear if Augusto was ever found.

The boarding house would operate for years, accommodating well-to-do Hispanic New Yorkers.  On January 14, 1903, for instance, the Musical Courier reported, "Mrs. Manuela Agramonte, wife of Emilio Agramonte, the well known teacher of music, died at her home, 313 West Fourteenth street, Monday.  She was fifty-seven years old and a native of Cuba."

Five months later, on May 1, The New York Times reported, "Bernardo Bueno, thirty-seven years old, a Cuba sugar and tobacco plantation owner, said to have been a millionaire...committed suicide yesterday afternoon by shooting himself at 313 West Fourteenth Street."  Bueno had been a captain in the Cuban army during the Spanish-American War, and had come to know Theodore Roosevelt.

A reporter visited 313 West 14th Street and spoke to Edward Agramonte, Manuela's son.  According to him, "Bueno had 400 men employed on his plantation around Santiago de Cuba, on which was machinery valued at $100,000."

An advertisement in the New York Herald on April 24, 1909  seems to have been reaching out to English-speaking boarders as well.  It read, "Spanish-American Board, Granada House, 313 West 14th; good opportunity to learn Spanish Free."

On July 15, 1914, the president of Mexico, Victoriano Huerta bowed to international pressure and resigned.  Before leaving, he sold or removed the valuable works of art in the presidential palace.  On October 29, 1914, the New-York Tribune reported that "in spite of revolutions and business depression the Mexican government has purchased several valuable paintings by old masters, which are now in this city.  The pictures were brought here from Europe by Dr. Juan Valez, a Spanish art expert, and member of the Royal Academy, who has just arrived from Europe and is staying at 313 West 14th st."  Valez was on his way to Mexico with more than 50 paintings "by Spanish, French, Dutch and English masters," said the article.  "Some of the canvases are 300 years old."

According to Peter Hulme in his The Dinner at Gonfarone's, Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío boarded here in the spring of 1915.  He would have been in the company of many Mexicans nationals who had fled the ongoing upheaval at home.

On March 20, 1916 an article in the New York Tribune titled, "Latin Refugees Still Fear [Pancho] Villa" began by saying, "Behind the curtains of the high-ceilinged old sitting room of La Granada, that boarding house of all the world, at 313 West Fourteenth Street, a little group of Mexican refugees daily refight the battles across the border."  Included in the group was Dr. Juan Velez--who had first stayed here on his way to Mexico with the paintings for the presidential palace.  He had just returned from there three days earlier and was animatedly relating the situation at home to his compatriots.  "His black eyes gleam with fervor, his thin, black-bearded face looks suddenly ferocious, and he is making furious lunges in the air with a knife,' said the article.

On January 19, 1924, the Real Estate Record & Guide reported that the estate of Albert S. Rosenbaum had sold 313 West 14th Street.  "It is the first sale of the parcel since 1863," said the article.  The new owner, Dr. James A. Clark, removed the stoop and installed his doctor's office in the basement level, and lived in the upper portion.  

In 1941 the Dr. James A. Clark residence was the last along the row to hint at the block's former appearance.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

Dr. Clark would live and practice from the address through the 1950s.  Then in 1960 the building was renovated as apartments, two per floor.  The early Victorian architectural elements were shaved off in a effort to make the building appear more modern.  Today the sadly abused structure gives little hint of its former opulence.

photographs by the author
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Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Holdouts - 242 and 244 West 103rd Street


Real estate developer Robert Wallace began construction of a row of six upscale homes on the south side of West 103rd Street, between Broadway and West End Avenue, in 1899.  Architect George Fred Pelham designed the residences in the Renaissance Revival style--embellishing them with elaborately carved panels and keystones, wreaths and heraldic-style shields.

The basement and parlor levels were faced in dressed limestone, while the upper floors were faced in tan Roman brick.  A continuous pressed metal cornice united the row. As construction neared completion in April 1900, Wallace sold the entire row to William W. Brower.

Brower briefly leased the houses, selling 244 in 1904 and 242 the following year.  The latter became home to Manuel J. and Lilien P. Suarez.  The well-heeled Suarez was a member of the Atlantic Yacht Club and the exclusive Metropolitan Club.

On October 30, 1910, the New York Herald reported, "In the drawing room of her parents' home, Miss Josephine Madeleine Suarez, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Manuel J. Suarez of No. 242 West 103d street, was married to Mr. Alfred Pach by the Rev. Father Barry on Wednesday."  The 25-year-old groom was well known in New York City.  He was a partner in the photographic firm of Pach Bros..  In its studio in the Mortimer Building on Broadway socialites and celebrities sat for their portraits.

The title to 242 West 103rd Street was still in the name of Lilien Suarez in 1915, when the property was appraised for tax purposes at $32,000--around $890,000 in 2023.  At the time the Barton family had been leasing the house for about a year.

Daughter Nellie Barton received a new 30-horsepower automobile towards the end of May 1914.  The family's chauffeur, George MacAdam, gave her four days of driving lessons, and on June 1 Nellie felt she was adept enough to take the wheel.  MacAdam sat in the front passenger seat and Nellie's friend, Jeannette Prindega was in the back.  The outing did not end well.

Nellie successfully drove to Westchester County, then headed home.  At around 5:30 she initiated a turn south from St. Nicholas Avenue onto 181st Street.  At first she attempted to beat a streetcar, "but when she saw the car approaching rapidly she changed her mind and turned the steering wheel sharply," said The New York Times.  Nellie became "bewildered" and lost control.  The automobile hit the curb and drove onto the  crowded sidewalk, at which point Nellie fainted.

MacAdam grabbed the steering wheel, but could not stop the vehicle before it had plowed into several pedestrians.  One victim, Joseph Cassidy, suffered a fractured skull, which proved fatal.  Other injuries included broken ribs, a concussion, and several cuts.  The New York Times reported, "After Miss Barton had recovered consciousness she was driven to her home in her auto by MacAdam.  No arrests were made."

Living next door at 244 West 103rd Street at the time was Samuel Camerson.  In an unbelievable case of déjà vu, his 22-year-old daughter, Juanita took the family car out on September 11, 1915.  She lost control and hit an elderly woman, breaking her hip.  At the station house, Lieutenant W. P. Meehan took the call from the beat cop, and telephoned the hospital.  "Woman struck by automobile.  Send Ambulance to Webster avenue and 188th Street."  The New York Herald commented, "He did not know that his mother was the victim until the policeman made his report."

In 1916 four houses of the row--246 through 252--were demolished to be replaced by Alexandria House, a Rouse & Goldstone-designed residential hotel.  Their razing upset George Fred Pelham's architectural balance, with the rounded corner of the upper floors of 242--formerly balanced by a mirror-image design at 252--now looking somewhat odd.

In 1917 real estate operator Herbert Du Puy purchased 242 and 244 West 103rd Street.  Both were leased to moneyed families, who regularly appeared in society columns.  On November 27, 1919. for instance, the New York Herald announced, "Mr. and Mrs. Spencer B. Driggs will be at home next Sunday afternoon from three to six, at No. 242 West 103d street."  Following the Driggses, James Hardie Proctor and his wife rented the house.  

Mrs. Proctor was active in several clubs, including the Daughters of Ohio, the National Craftsmen, and the City Federation.  She hosted a card party in April 1921 for members of the Daughters of Ohio to benefit the Blind Fund.  The Proctors were still at 242 West 103rd Street in 1923 when Mrs. Proctor lost her "blue fox neckpiece" on June 19 and offered a reward for its return.

In 1918 Cornelia Bedell Phelps, widow of Abel Mix Phelps, and her daughter Eleanor Mix Phelps moved into 244 West 103rd Street.  Eleanor was educated at Barnard College and Columbia University.  She would later write scholarly books, including Trends in Infant and Childhood Mortality, Mortality of White and Nonwhite Infants in Major U.S. Cities, and Recent Demographic Trends and Their Effects on Maternal and Child Health Needs and Services.

On October 22, 1922 The New York Times reported, "Henry T. Hunt, predecessor of Chairman Hooper on the Railroad Labor Board, has entered the practice of law in New York City.  Mr. Hunt is a graduate of Yale and a former Mayor of Cincinnati."  Known as the "Boy Mayor," Henry Thomas Hunt had served in the Ohio State House of Representatives.  He was Cincinnati's mayor in 1912 and 1913.

On September 22, 1925 Hunt and Eleanor Mix Phelps were married in a civil ceremony in the chambers of Supreme Court Justice Charles L. Guy.  The newlyweds moved to 22 East 89th Street, and most likely brought Cornelia Bedell Phelps with them.

Seven months earlier, Herbert Du Puy had sold 242 and 244 West 103rd Street to real estate operator Samuel Brener.  A renovation to both houses, completed in 1927, turned them into boarding houses.  Nevermore would residents be mentioned in society columns for weddings, summer homes and receptions.

In 1936 David and Jean Ehl Phillips lived in 244 West 103rd.  The couple were married in September 1935.  On March 21, 1936, the New York Post reported, "Their wedded life suffered a setback early this month when Mrs. Gladys Phillips walked into the picture."  David had married Gladys in June 1929.  "This so upset Jean that she decided to bring her husband into court."

The two wives, whom the article said "are pretty blondes," went to court together.  "The girls are on friendly terms," wrote the journalist.  While the judge held the 26-year-old bigamist on bail, his sexist remarks would have caused him trouble today.  "He's all right," Magistrate Aurello said of Phillips.  "He's consistent.  He sticks to blondes."

Domestic problems were not restricted to 244.  On April 10, 1940 Mary V. K. Lorey, who lived next door, sued her husband William Boynton Lorey for divorce, claiming he had "been intimate with 'Ruth Beardsley'" several times and in several locations.

Both buildings were converted to apartments, two per floor, in 1961-62.  Sandwiched between apartment buildings, the two holdouts look much as they did in 1899 when the block was peopled by wealthy residents.

photographs by the author
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Monday, April 24, 2023

The Lost Majestic Theatre - Columbus Circle at 59th Street


The gently curved structure conformed to the rounded shape of Columbus Circle.  from the collection of the New-York Historical Society

At the turn of the last century, the Upper West Side was fully developed.  Mass transit had been extended northward into the district now filled with lavish homes and apartment buildings.  Residents, who already enjoyed shops and social clubs in the relatively new neighborhood, saw entertainment venues beginning to arrive.  In 1902 developers E. D. Stair and A. L. Wilbur broke ground for a lavish new theater on the western side of Columbus Circle, between 58th and 59th Streets.

Designed by John H. Duncan, the crescent-shaped Beaux Arts style structure gently followed the curve of Columbus Circle.  Four stories tall, the ground floor held two restaurants, one for men and the other for ladies.  The main entrance was protected by a glass-and-iron marquee.  Above it a broken pediment was fronted by a carved lyre, a symbol of entertainment.  Directly above was a round window surmounted by a carved female portrait and palm fronds.  But stealing the show was the tower, carved with a dramatic figure of a winged male and topped by a domed roof and electric-lighted finial.

photo by Byron Company, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Inside, patrons found themselves in a grand lobby with a double staircase, marble wainscoting, and white columns.  The auditorium, which could seat 1,584, was inspired by European opera houses, and featured two balconies and two sets of box seats.   On either side of the proscenium were trumpeting figures and gilded eagles.  The state-of-the-art 80-foot-wide stage was equipped with all the latest mechanics necessary for elaborate productions.  And it would be tested on opening night with the new play based on L. Frank Baum's book The Wizard of Oz. 

photo by Byron Company, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

On January 11, 1903, the New-York Tribune reported, "January 16 is the date set for the opening of the new Majestic Theatre, with a performance of 'The Wizard of Oz,' in which Montgomery and Stone, as the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman, play leading parts."  And on Monday, January 19, 1903 Theatrical Notes hinted that this would be no run-of-the-mill production:

"The Wizard of Oz" will wave his magic wand before the gaze of New Yorkers for the first time on Tuesday night next, when he begins his reign at the Majestic Theatre, 59th street and Broadway, or what is known as the Grand Circle.  "The Wizard of Oz" is described as an entertainment compounded of the most attractive elements of smart up-to-date musical comedy, extravaganza and old-fashioned Christmas pantomime.

The lavish production featured a jaw-dropping on-stage tornado scene, an all female poppy field, and vaudevillian Fred Stone as the Scarecrow whose "boneless" performance made him more famous than he already was.  Audiences came back multiple times and the play prompted a flurry of sales of Baum's book, phonograph records, sheet music and piano rolls.  The Wizard of Oz played for nine months.

Dorothy meets Glinda after having crash-landed in Munchkinland.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

On October 14, 1903 The New York Times wrote, "The great success of 'The Wizard of Oz' at the Majestic has caused a good many persons to wonder how the management could follow it with an attraction that by contrast would not seem 'stale, flat, and unprofitable.'  Well, 'The Babes in Toyland' is not stale, it is not flat, and it certainly will prove highly profitable."  Once again the Majestic debuted a new extravaganza suitable for family fare.   The article said "'Babes in Toyland,' had its first production before an audience that for two hours and a half took everything that came its way and then greedily cried for more."  The critic from The Evening World pronounced, "Scenically and musically, though not humorously, 'Babes in Toyland' outshines 'The Wizard of Oz.'"

A much more somber event took place the following month.  On November 8, 1903 it was the scene of the memorial service for Emma Booth-Tucker, daughter of the founder of the Salvation Army, killed in a train crash on her way to Chicago.  The New York Times reported, "The theatre was crowded, and not a few wept as Capt. Norma Durand sang 'She Died at Her Post."

The success of Babes In Toyland fostered a close relationship between Victor Herbert and the Majestic Theatre.  Plays were outlawed on Sundays, but concerts were not.  Starting in 1904, Victor Herbert gave weekly concerts, continuing at least through 1905.  On December 5, 1904 The New York Times said, "The popularity of the Victor Herbert Sunday night concerts at the Majestic Theatre was demonstrated again last evening by an audience that filled the house, and that applauded each number on the programme."

In February 1906 the management staged what unnecessarily became a controversial production, Abyssinia.  The all-Black musical featured music by Will Marion Cook and Bert A. Williams.  The Freeman reported on March 17, "Shipp and Rogers' 'Abyssinia,' with music by Will Marion Cook, is scoring at the Majestic in Broadway and 59th street, and is indeed a worthy achievement of Negro ideals, playwrights and performers."  

Unfortunately, not all white critics were pleased with a play written and played by Blacks.  Charles Darnton, writing in The Evening World, compared Bert William's performance of the song "Nobody" as being "reminiscent of the howl of a pensive coyote across a lonely prairie (prairies are always lonely), an asthmatic calliope getting up steam for the circus parade, or Marie Dressler getting her second wind."  Another, Alan Dale, accused the actors of "trying to be too much like white people."

The Freeman's critic, Sylvester Russell, lashed back on May 19, 1906.  He wrote in part, "If color is the ground upon which white critics build their nests, it is up to the black critic to throw rotten eggs...Let this be the last time that otherwise critics of New York will overlook art for the mere mortification of color."

Robert Warwick and Virginia Harned were the lead actors in the 1907 production of Anna Karenina here.  For some reason or other, before the October 5 show the two "had a lively discussion," as worded by The New York Times, "over the presence of mind of men and women in moments of excitement."  Warwick believed that women "had no presence of mind" in emergencies, while Harned insisted they were more dependable than men.  As fate would have it, the debate would be solved on stage.

During the third act, Warwick, was on stage when a actor playing a servant entered and accidentally overturned an oil lamp.  The New York Times reported, "in an instant the entire top of the table was ablaze."  Warwick realized something was wrong by the murmurings of the audience.  The article said, "Glancing quickly around, he saw that the actor who impersonated the servant was doing his best to put out the fire, but without success."  The action on stage stopped and the audience was now focused on the fire.

Virginia Harned, as Anna Karenina, was not to appear on stage yet.  Nevertheless, she jumped into action and entered the scene.  She whispered to Warwick, "get the cushion from the chair!"   He did so, and in a moment smothered the fire.  The actress saved the scene and proved her point.

Frank McKee and William Harris leased the venue in 1911.  The New-York Tribune reported on August 25, "with the beginning of their lease of the Majestic Theatre at 59th street and Broadway it will be renamed the Park Theatre.  This is due to their desire to apply an historic name to a New York theatre."  Indeed, there had been a Park Theatre in New York City since 1798.

The Park Theatre opened with The Quaker Girl on October 23, 1911.  It ran for 240 performances.  Before long, however, The Park Theatre was staging vaudeville.  Eva Tanguay, known as the Queen of Vaudeville, opened here on March 24, 1913.  She headlined what the program called "cyclonic vaudeville."  The New York Times remarked, "there was no doubt that she won her audience completely."

The sometimes naughty Eva Tanguay.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

The Park Theatre began showing motion pictures in 1913, starting with a controversial film, The Inside of the White Slave Traffic.  Produced by the Social Research Film Corporation and endorsed by the Sociological Fund of the Medical Review of Reviews, it dealt with a serious problem at the time--abduction and forced prostitution.  Not all New Yorkers were convinced of its educational value.  The New York Times reported on December 20 that complaints had "flowed" into Police Headquarters.

On December 19 the theater was raided and closed down.  The Park's manager, Alfred P. Hamburg, was charged with showing a picture "of a character likely to impair the morals of young girls."  The action drew the wrath and indignity of women like Alva Belmont, Carrie Chapman Catt, and the associate editor of Harper's magazine.

photo by Byron Company, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

A month later, on January 18, 1914, The New York Times reported that Kinemacolor had taken over the lease of the Park Theatre.  The article said, "The Kinemacolor people aim to make the Park in the moving-picture world what the Princess theatre is to the legitimate--a theatre of thrills for the silent drama."  The venue opened with the four-reel film Sin, and silent shorts of "Ethel Barrymore and her children at home," a comedy, The Note in the Skirt, and "a trick picture which contains the very highest art known to the producers in this sort of work," said The New York Times.

The stint as a silent movie theater was short lived.  On July 19, 1914 The New York Times reported on the opening of the play The Garden of Paradise.  The article described the production as "a vast spectacular offering."  The following fall, the famous actress Mrs. Patrick Campbell appeared here in George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion.

In 1917, the Park Theatre turned to opera and operettas, staging The Pirates of Penzance in November 1918, for instance.  The following year, on October 12, the New-York Tribune reported "Von Suppe's 'Boccacio' is the opera which will open the Society of American Singers' third season at the Park Theatre to-morrow evening."

Change came again in the fall of 1922.  On September 16 the New-York Tribune reported, "'Burlesques--Girls, Travesties, Laughs.'  Presented last night at the Park Music Hall by the Minsky Brothers...At the Park Music Hall the Minsky Brothers spell it 'burlesques.'  They declare that the final letter makes a difference."  The article said the brothers "have made a brave start to build a permanent institution in Columbus Circle."  The New York Times noted, "The theatre recently underwent complete renovation, and its interior was almost entirely an expense of $62,000."

But the Minsky's Park Music Hall did not survive.  On August 2, 1923 The New York Times reported that William Randolph Hearst had purchased, remodeled and redecorated the venue, renaming it the Cosmopolitan Theatre (most likely after his popular magazine of the same name).  Now a motion picture theater, perhaps not coincidentally it opened with the film Little Old New York starring Marion Davies, Hearst's mistress.  More coincidentally, however, it was accompanied by Victor Herbert and his orchestra.

In 1925 Hearst turned the operation over to Florenz Ziegfeld who hired architect Joseph Urban to update the interiors.  On January 11 The New York Times reported, "Mr. Ziegfeld will convert the former Park Theatre to the drama again...The late Park, which is now Mr. Hearst's Cosmopolitan, will be opened in four weeks or so with 'The Comic Supplement' as its attraction."  The deal was always intended to be temporary, however.  The article noted that Hearst was in the process of erecting the Ziegfeld Theatre for the impresario on Sixth Avenue.

The Ziegfeld Theatre opened in February 1927.  The Cosmopolitan continued, without the famous Ziegfeld, to stage plays and operettas.  In May that year Gilbert and Sullivan's Ruddigore opened.  In February 1928 Robert Warwick was back to star in William Gillette's Sherlock Holmes; and in December 1929 the melodrama Damn Your Honor opened.  That would be the last production for some time to come.  The Cosmopolitan closed its doors and did not reopen until 1931, once again a motion picture and vaudeville venue.

After undergoing several more incarnations--the legitimate Theatre of Young America in 1934, the Park Theatre again in 1935, the International Theatre in 1944, and the Columbus Square Theatre in 1945--the the building sat vacant until early 1949 when it was acquired by the National Broadcasting Company as a television studio.  It opened with the premier of the Your Show of Shows starring Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca.

The end of the line for the building came with Robert Moses's "Slum Clearance" of Columbus Circle.  In 1954 he assembled the Slum Clearance Committee, of which he was chairman.  The New York Times noted on July 5, 1954, "Columbus Circle is not, of course, the only project" in his slum removal vision.  Also included were "Morningside-Manhattanville, West Park, Harlem, North Harlem, Corlears Hook, Fort Greene and Pratt Institute."  But it was Columbus Circle--and the Majestic Theatre--that was first in his crosshairs.

The Majestic Theatre in the course of demolition (lower left).  The New York Times June 22, 1954

The New York Times, June 15, 1954

In his 2015 book Blue-Collar Broadway - The Craft and Industry of American Theater, Timothy R. White notes, "As in many other Moses projects, wrecking crews got to work before local leaders understood what was happening."  The "stately playhouse," as described by White, was razed to make way for the New York Coliseum, designed by Leon and Lionel Levy.

from the collection of the Library of Congress.

That structure was replaced in 2003 by the current Time Warner Center.

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