Thursday, August 31, 2023

The 1903 Abingdon Apartments - 25-27 Charles Street


A close inspection reveals that the building angles back behind the brown brick building to the right.

In March 1903, J. & I. Polstein purchased the three brownstone-faced houses at 33 through 37 Charles Street, built in 1869.  (The addresses would be renumbered in 1936).  The Polstein brothers razed the residences, which were located midblock between Waverly Place and West Fourth Streets, and hired architect George F. Pelham to design a modern apartment building on the site.  His plans, filed on March 27, 1903, estimated the cost of the six-story flat at $75,000--or just over $2.5 million in 2023 terms.

In the mid-18th century, Sir Peter Warren's nearly 300-acre summer estate had engulfed the district.  His daughter, Charlotte, married Willoughby, Earl of Abingdon.  The Polstein brothers gave a nod to Greenwich Village history by naming their building The Abingdon.  Pelham's Colonial Revival style carried out the motif.  Above a rusticated stone base, five floors of red brick were trimmed in white limestone.  The Gibbs surrounds of the second floor windows were drawn from Georgian prototypes, and the splayed lintels and scrolled keystones recalled late 18th century architecture.  

Pelham admittedly introduced gentle Beaux Arts touches--a style highly popular with apartment dwellers of the day.  The entrance door was given a French-style grill, and additional ornaments were added beside some keystones, making them frillier than an 18th century colonist would have abided.

Around the time The Abingdon was completed, real estate agent Charles C. Hickok began lobbying to have Seventh Avenue, which began at 11th Street, extended south to Varick Street.  His suggested thoroughfare would run through a portion of the building.  Two years later, the debate was still going on and may have made the owners skittish.  They sold the property that year.

The residents of The Abingdon were professional and financially comfortable.  Among them in 1907 was the De Graff family.  De Graff was an "inspector of cargoes."  Living with him and his wife was his 80-year-old mother.  

On the night of October 18, 1907, 26-year-old May De Graff was killed instantly when she fell from their apartment window.  Suicide at the time was considered shameful to the families, and the De Graffs quickly conceived a cover story.  The elder Mrs. De Graff told investigators that while she was in the kitchen, May had "fallen asleep in a rocking chair near the dining room window and toppled over the sill."  She said when she found the rocking chair empty, she looked out the window and discovered May's body.  It seems no one questioned the unlikely explanation.

S. Francis Short and his wife lived in the building at the time.  Short listed his profession as "foreman."  On March 11, 1908 he was chosen as a juryman in the trial of actor and comedian Raymond Hitchcock.  The Evening World noted that the musical comedy star faced six indictments "connecting him with young girls," including 14-year-old Helen Van Hagen.  The newspaper noted, "She will be followed on the stand by agents of the Children's Society who first worked up the charges that now involve the lanky actor."

The sensational trial went on for months before the girls' stories began to fall apart.  One by one they admitted to lying.  On March 16, 1908, for instance, the Palestine Daily Herald reported, "Flora Whiston, one of the girls alleged to have accused Raymond Hitchcock of abusing her, denied on the witness stand today that she had ever gone to Hitchcock's room."  Eventually, teenaged Hugo C. Poecks pleaded guilty to masterminding the effort to blackmail Hitchcock. S. Francis Short and his jurymen acquitted Hitchcock of all charges on June 11, 1908.  The actor had been wrongly imprisoned for nine months.

William H. Adams shared an apartment with his son, W. C. Adams at the time.  The senior Adams was an inspector at the U. S. Customs House downtown and despite his advanced age--he was 73 that year--he continued to go to work every day.   Not surprisingly, The New York Times described him as the oldest inspector at the Customs House.

In June 1908, Adams and his son incorporated the Adams Ontario Company, a real estate firm.  Sadly for William, he would not live to enjoy his new position long.  He suffered a fatal stroke in his Abingdon apartment on October 22.

A month earlier, residents had been shocked by a tragic incident.  Living here were William L. Sherwood and his wife, Mary E. Sherwood.  Mary had been in ill health, and had spent some time in a private sanitarium.  She was back at home in the Abingdon by the fall of 1908, but was seriously despondent over her condition.

On the afternoon of September 28, 1908, Mary stood on the elevated railroad platform at 14th Street and Sixth Avenue.  In the center of the shopping district known as the Ladies' Mile, the platform was crowded with female shoppers.  As a train pulled into the station, Mary threw herself onto the tracks.

The New-York Tribune reported, "The spectators shrieked and George W. Page, the motorman, made every attempt to stop the train, but in vain."  Also on the platform was Father T. F. White of St. Francis Xavier's Church.  He "sprang on to the tracks, and, while the crowd stood with bared heads, anointed her," said the article.  The Sun noted, "The body was so firmly wedged between the forward trucks of the first car that it took a wrecking crew more than half an hour to jack up the train and release the body."  Rather surprisingly today, as Mary Sherwood's body was removed to the morgue George W. Page was arrested for homicide.

In the meantime, Charles C. Hickok's lobbying to have Seventh Avenue extended had not abated.  The push gained momentum and in 1913 work began on a two-pronged project--the extension of the avenue and the construction of the 7th Avenue subway.  Like a titan-sized lawn mower, the work cut a swatch through Greenwich Village, erasing scores of buildings and leaving others with sections sheared off, their interiors exposed like a child's doll house.

On August 2, 1914, The New York Times reported, "A slice of the six-story Abingdon apartment was sawed off and the triangular portion of the building formerly adjoining to the north has been entirely walled up, giving the rear part of that structure a frontage on the new Seventh Avenue."  Originally mid-block, The Abingdon was now a corner property.  Architects deftly copied George F. Pelham's design, quite possibly salvaging elements to be reused in the reconstruction.  Assuredly the original brick, which perfectly matches the rest of the building, was reused.  The outcome was a single-bay on Seventh Avenue South, with the remainder of the building angling oddly back to the north.

Ada Beazley had an apartment in the building in 1920.  The unmarried nurse worked at the Henry Street Settlement, one of a crew who visited tenement buildings to provide medical care.  On March 8, while she treated a three-year-old with influenza on the fifth floor of 240 Spring Street, fire broke out in another apartment.  The New-York Tribune reported, "Miss Beazley grasped the child in her arms, rushed through a smoke-filled hallway to a fire escape and delivered the body to a 'human ladder' formed by several young men."  Ada Beazley was declared a hero who saved the sick toddler's life.  And she had done so in the nick of time.  The article said, "the floor on which the child lived was wrecked."

The Abingdon backed up to the rear yards of the houses on Perry Street, a condition that caused tensions in 1927.  On March 7, The New York Sun reported, "Spring is at hand and the time for cleaning up gardens is marked in the house holder's calendar.  Therefore, 32 Perry street has put up a brand new sign in its rear yard facing directly on the rear windows of Charles street."  The sign read:

Dear Charles Street--

Please DO NOT THROW Things in Our Yard.

When interviewed, residents of the Abingdon denied tossing refuse into the yards.  One said, "The yards of Perry street are very pleasing to those of us who reside in the rear apartments of Charles street, and we would never dream of disfiguring them.  We enjoy looking at the scenery supplied by our Perry street neighbors."  When the reporter pointed out that several orange peels had recently fallen into a yard behind the Abingdon, the resident came up with a reasonable explanation.  

"But why blame us?  Those orange skins are what the cat dragged in."

In 1936 Charles Street was renumbered, giving the Abingdon the new address of 25 Charles Street.  A cooperative building today, it has a total of 30 apartments.  And while the interior spaces have been altered, the exterior looks much as it did when Seventh Avenue South chopped off a good portion of its eastern end.

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

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

The 1915 Brooks Brothers Building - 346 Madison Avenue


Henry Sands Brooks opened his haberdashery shop on April 7, 1818.  Following his death in 1833, Henry Jr. headed the business until 1850, when his sons, Elisha, Edward, Daniel and John took the reins.  The brothers renamed it Brooks Brothers.  Seven years later they moved northward from Catherine Street to the northeast corner of Broadway and Grand Street.  By then Brook Brothers catered to an exclusive clientele.  The suit President Abraham Lincoln wore to Ford’s Theatre on the night of April 14, 1865, for example, had been purchased at this store.

On June 13, 1914, the Real Estate Record & Guide hinted that Brooks Brothers was moving from its fourth location.  "The real estate market was enlivened this week by several transactions, the most prominent involving a Madison avenue and 44th street corner, where by a prominent downtown clothing establishment, for thirty years at Broadway and 22d street, joins the growing colony in the neighborhood of Grand Central Terminal."

Within a week ground had been broken for Brooks Brothers's new 10-story headquarters and store, designed by La Farge & Morris with Clinton & Russell.  The Record & Guide said, "The facade has been designed in a dignified yet simple manner in the style of the Italian Renaissance and which will harmonize beautifully with the Hotel Biltmore, diagonally opposite and the new Yale Club being erected on Vanderbilt avenue."  The structure would cost $750,000 to construct (about $22.7 million in 2023), not including the custom made fixtures, counters and lighting.  Not mentioned in the article were the specifications for "a shower bath" for the use of executive staff.

from the collection of the New York Public Library

The building's tripartite design included a three-story stone base, a subdued red brick mid-section, and a show-stopping, two-story top section of double-height arched openings framed in stone and separated by Corinthian pilasters.  The architects placed the main entrance on 44th Street, where two-story engaged columns upheld a massive entablature and cornice.  

A window directly above the Renaissance style Madison Avenue entrance was framed in intricate carvings that included the Brooks Brothers insignia of the Golden Fleece, used by the firm since 1850.

Like any proper haberdashery, Brooks Brothers offered the accessories and other miscellaneous items gentlemen would need.  Its tobacco department sold the Brooks Brothers brand "346," named for the Madison Avenue address.  The firm's button-down collar shirts had been marketed under the Polo name since around 1902.  (Coincidentally [or not], in 1964 25-year-old Ralph Lauren, recently discharged from the US Army, took a job here as a clerk.)

When the firm erected its new headquarters, its president was Francis Guerin Lloyd, who also served as the vice-president of the United States Savings Bank.  Conservative, proper, and wealthy, he lived in an art-filled Bernardsville, New Jersey estate where he raised Scottish Terriers.  He had worked for the firm since the age of 14, was made a partner in 1879, and became senior partner upon the death of John E. Brooks in 1896.

Staunchly patriotic, he was one of the prominent New Yorkers chosen to welcome home returning troops in January 1919.  It was an honor that seven of those men, including Lloyd, refused when they discovered that William Randolph Hearst was also on the list.

Hearst had rankled many Americans by vilifying the British Empire in his publications, and steadfastly opposing the U.S. entry into the war.  Lloyd's letter of refusal echoed the sentiments of others, saying in part:

Mr. Hearst's attitude, as expressed by the newspapers which he controls, toward our entrance into the war and toward our chief ally has been too notoriously subversive of all that I regard as the best ideals and spirit of the United States to permit me to service with him on a committee to welcome the returning troops.

The following year, on October 6, 1920, Francis Guerin Lloyd left his Bernardsville home, headed for the office.  He never made it.  The 72-year-old died on the way, presumably the victim of a heart attack.

Lloyd's insistence on quality and conservative dress resulted in jackets being displayed on tables inside-out.  The practice enabled customers to readily see the workmanship involved in the goods.  That ended in 1966, according to Town & Country magazine, when HRH Prince Philip (on a trip to New York without his wife) visited the Madison Avenue store and commented that the tables looked "untidy."

At the time of the Prince's remark, the name Brooks Brothers had been synonymous with quality in men's apparel for decades.  Author F. Scott Fitzgerald "dressed his star-crossed heroes in Brooks suits," pointed out The New York Times journalist Gilbert Millstein in 1976.  And writer John O'Hara "took the measure of his protagonists by the cut of their clothing (the good guys went to Brooks; the heels wore padded shoulders and severely pegged pants)."  Author Mary McCarty titled one of her most famous short stories "The Man in The Brooks Brothers Suit."  

Millstein noted that over the years Brooks Brothers had dressed "Astors, Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, five generations of Morgans and Clark Gable."  Presidents Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson all wore Brooks Brothers suits when they took the oath of office.   And when President Gerald Ford met Emperor Hirohito in Tokyo in 1975, he wore a morning coat and ascot from Brooks Brothers.

photo by Karsten Moran for The New York Times, July 2020

But back home in America, times were changing in men's fashion.  Writing in The New York Times in May 8, 1976, Lawrence Van Gelder began an article saying, "Brooks Brothers, one of the nation's venerable bastions of sartorial conservatism, is phasing out all custom tailoring."  Brooks Brothers president Frank T. Reilly explained that there was simply a "declining demand" for custom-made suits.  The decision shocked many customers, who mourned the end of the 158-year tradition.  Gilbert Millstein said, "my reaction (I will try not to exaggerate) was one of disjointure: a slight dizziness, a sense of being in Cleveland, a feeling of malaise of the kind induced by discovering that one has left home in one blue sock and one black."

The stately 44th Street entrance.

The end of custom suits was a hint of things to come.  America's embrace of casual business attire, the rise of affordable brands like Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and J. Crew, and finally the onslaught of COVID, brought the venerable firm to its knees.

In July 2020 Brooks Brothers filed for bankruptcy.  Lisa Birnbach, author of the 2010 True Prep, wrote, "Maybe we should blame the bankruptcy on the perception that one buys suits at Brooks Brothers, and who wears a suit anymore?  I get that.  Everyone is wearing sweatpants or ugly shorts with a button-down shirt and tie for Zoom meetings."

In January the following year the property was placed on the market, the listing noting the site could be used for an office or residential tower.  In the meantime, in February 2022 the newly formed Piazza Italia rented space in the building.  Partner Dennis Ulrich described it as a "collective office and network concept that will facilitate the ability of Italian companies to grow both their business and brand awareness in North America."  In December, Bindi, an Italian dessert company, opened a holiday pop-up store in the ground floor, offering panettone, pandora and ice cream.

Office space on the upper floors and the main showroom floor continued to be offered for lease.

photographs by the author
many thanks to reader Andrew Cronson for requesting this post
no permission to reuse the content of this blog has been granted to 

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

The 1885 Russell R. Cornell House - 67 West 83rd Street

67 West 83rd Street is the middle house in the trio.

In 1884, John and David Jardine designed a pair of sumptuous homes for Richard Deeves at 58 and 60 West 83rd Street. The brothers, who comprised the architectural firm of D. & J. Jardine, were prolific in designing rows of houses, especially on the Upper West Side.  That same year, John Jardine purchased the 50-foot-wide lot directly across the street from the Deeves property for $14,500 and the Jardines set to work designing three rowhouses for the plot.

Completed in 1885, each of the houses cost the equivalent in 2023 of $377,000 to construct.  The 16-foot-wide, four-story-and-basement homes were faced in red brick and trimmed in brownstone.  The most eye-catching elements of their Queen Anne design were the romantic, Flemish Renaissance Revival gables fronting slate-shingled mansards.  The stoop of the middle house, 67 West 83rd Street, featured solid undulating wing walls.  The large parlor window was crowned with stone voussoirs and a hefty keystone.  The upper portions of the second- and third-floor windows were outlined in small panes (typical of the Queen Anne style), and 
and a stone balcony fronted the multi-paned fourth floor windows.

Jardine sold 67 West 83rd Street to Russell Root Cornell and his wife, the former Charlotte Lydia Todd (who went by her middle name).  Married on October 9, 1878, the couple had a six-year-old son, Russell Todd.  A second child, Samuel Hoag, would arrive on January 24, 1890.

Russell Root Cornell was the senior partner in the wholesale paper firm Cornell, Ward & Co.  He was, as well, a director in the Metropolitan Plate Glass Insurance Co.  Rather than elite social clubs, he was a member of the New England Society and the American Museum of Natural History.

Russell Todd Cornell graduated from Columbia University with a degree in engineering in 1901.  The following year he became a member of the American Institute of Mining Engineers.

In the spring of 1902, the elder Cornell was elected foreman of the grand jury in the sensational case of Florence Burns, accused of murdering Walter S. Brooks at the Glen Island Hotel in Manhattan on February 14.  The two had had an intimate affair, one that prompted her father to "drive her from home because of her conduct," according to The Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

The newspaper reported on May 14 that Brooks "refused to make her his wife, throwing her aside for Ruth Dunn."  Witnesses placed Florence in Brooks's office on the afternoon of February 14, and testified that "he feared death from her hands and had declared he was going out with her that night for the last time."  Later, the couple was seen together at the hotel where Brooks died of a gunshot wound.  

Somewhat surprisingly (by a 21st century viewpoint), the jury exonerated Florence Burns.  Russell R. Cornell explained their reasoning, which could be considered both both racist and sexist today.  The Daily Union reported that he disclosed, "The jurors disregarded the evidence of George Washington, the colored bellboy of the hotel."  The article added, "The jurors also, said Mr. Cornell, did not believe that the Burns girl had been fairly treated at the Church street station house when arrested." 

Living with the family in 1908 was Lydia's brother, attorney Ambrose Giddings Todd.  An 1884 graduate of Princeton College, he was a partner in the legal firm of Reeves, Todd & Swain.

Samuel Hoag Cornell followed his brother's lead and in 1911 graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a degree in marine engineering.  He initially worked in the Chief Engineer's Office of the New York Shipbuilding Company.  Then in 1918, with the outbreak of World War I, he was hired by the United States Navy as "Special Expert Engineer" with the Ship Protection General Committee.  He would spent the rest of his career with the Navy, and was a member of the American Society of Naval Engineers.

Charlotte Lydia Todd Cornell died "suddenly" at the age of 70 on April 26, 1924.  (The term often referred to a heart attack or stroke.)  Her funeral was held in the parlor two days later.

Samuel was still living with his father at 67 West 83rd Street when Russell Root Cornell died on September 25, 1927 at the age of 74.  By the early 1940s, following his marriage, Samuel Hoag Cornell moved to Hempstead, Long Island.

Somewhat difficult to see, the small panes of the upper story windows survived in 1941.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

The West 83rd Street house was a rooming house in the mid-1940s.  It was home to Italian immigrant Luigi Pate in 1947.  A naturalized citizen, that year he testified on behalf of Maria Veltri Magnone, a resident of his native village Belmonte Calabro who wanted badly to come to America.  She had good reason.  In his testimony, Pate said, "She [is] very interested in things in America and advised me that she hoped to be in this country soon where her husband is and from whom she has been separated for over 14 years."

The 1960s were not kind to the former Cornell house.  In 1968 it was converted to furnished rooms throughout.  But change came again in 1976, when a renovation resulted in a triplex apartment in the cellar through parlor floors, two apartments each on the second and third floors, and one on the fourth.

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

Monday, August 28, 2023

The Lost Dept. of Charities and Corrections Building - 66-72 Third Avenue


The one-story stable to the rear was used to house ambulances.  image from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York.

The arm of the New York City government that would become the Department of Charities and Corrections and eventually the Department of Public Welfare began in 1734 when the Common Council recognized the need to care for the indigent.  Gradually the Workhouse, the Almshouse, and Bellevue Hospital were erected.  The city purchased Blackwell's Island in 1828 as the site of a penitentiary and lunatic asylum.  Ward's Island, acquired in 1850, provided a "poor farm," where impoverished New Yorkers worked off their sentences for the crime of being poor.

In 1860, with a tidal wave of immigrants pouring into New York Harbor, the Department of Charities and Corrections was formed.  It oversaw the operations of the institutions on the three islands that now included the almshouse, a children's and an adult hospital, an enlarged lunatic asylum, a workhouse, and an infants hospital and nurseries.  The Department was also in charge of the Soldier's Home, several trade schools, the Inebriate Asylum, hospitals for "incurables" and epileptics, and a penitentiary.

On June 2, 1867, the New York Dispatch reported that the city had appropriated $100,000 "for purchasing a site and erecting a building for the use of the Department of Public Charities and Correction."  The figure would translate to $2 million in 2023.  The northwest corner of Third Avenue and 11th Street was acquired and the architectural firm of Renwick & Sands was commissioned to design an administration building on the site.  The project was handled directly by James Renwick, Jr., who had designed the city's Charity Hospital on Roosevelt Island in 1858.

Construction was begun in 1868 and completed in 1869.  Designed in the relatively new Second Empire style, the two-story structure was entered both on Third Avenue and on East 11th Street.  (The side entrance was used by the poor applying for public assistance.)  The first floor, faced in "patent building blocks in two tints" according to the building permit, featured Corinthian pilasters and elliptically arched windows under substantial lintels.  The top floor took the form of a steep, elaborate mansard straight from Paris, with ornate volutes at the sides of the openings, and intricately carved pediments.  Lacy iron cresting finished the design.

from the collection of the New York Public Library

Not everyone was pleased with Renwick's design.  The New York Times decried "the cumbrous style of the roof," and advised, "with one or two more stories it would be a handsome structure instead of the costly looking barn one might mistake it for at first sight."

The interiors were trimmed in black walnut, and boasted handsome details like polished granite columns.  Meeting rooms and the offices of the various sub-departments engulfed most of the building.  The wide scope of the organization's responsibilities was hinted at in the minutes of the Commissioners' meeting of November 12, 1868 that included:

It was ordered that proposals be obtained for furnishing 1,500 tons of coal for the out-door poor during the coming winter.

It was ordered that Keepers on duty at the Tombs Prison shall not leave the prison without the consent previously obtained of the Warden, or, in his absence, of the Clerk.

And on July 18, 1873, The City Record reported that the Department was taking bids for supplying "about 120 Hogs on Blackwell's Island," and for 600 barrels of flour.

Behind the headquarters building was a stable for housing its "sick wagons."  The Department came under fire after Theodore Schimper suffered an accident at the public baths on East Third Street in September 1879.  The New York Herald called the case "of a peculiarly distressing character."  The article said word was received at

...the Charities and Correction Building, at Eleventh street and Third avenue, to send a sick wagon.  Mr. Blake, who was presiding, did so, but the vehicle had to call for two sick women.  When the driver reached the bath, he found that it would not be safe to put Mr. Schimper with them, so he drove to the hospital, where he reported the case, and the Warden at once despatched [sic] one of his ambulances.

Four hours after his accident, Theodore Schimper finally arrived at Bellevue Hospital, where he soon died.

from Illustrated Guide to New York City, 1889 (copyright expired)

As Thanksgiving neared in 1889, The New York Times reported on the startling increase in citizens living on public charity.  "Ten years ago the number was about 10,000, and it has grown with the population of the city," said the article.  "Many people unable to secure work cause themselves to be committed [to the almshouse] and afterward escape."  Despite the numbers, the Department of Charities and Corrections was prepared to supply the poor with Thanksgiving poultry.  That year it purchased and distributed 14,485 pounds of chicken and 3,975 pounds of turkey.

A reporter from The Evening World spent the morning of May 3, 1888 with Superintendent Blake in the cavernous interviewing room where applicants sought relief.  He noted the room was "remarkable particularly for its height."  Around the room were benches, filled with an array of people.

The settees about the room were occupied by men, women and children, clean and unclean, respectable and otherwise, sick, lame, blind, in tears or smiles, of various nationalities and of all degrees of poverty.  They were waiting their turn to be brought before the Superintendent to make known their wants.

The reporter described one-by-one the long line of applicants, starting with "an aged tramp."  He explained, "There was no mistaking the fact that he was a tramp.  His hair and beard were almost white, and his rags hung about his thin form...A torn and soiled broad-brimmed hat sat on his head and his extensive feet were inclosed [sic] in apologies for shoes."

"I want to go to the island," he told the superintendent, referring to the almshouse.

"Have you any home or friends?"


"Any money?"


"He thanked the Superintendent when he was told that he was a fitting candidate for the almshouse," said the article.

Several of the requests were heart-rending.  A woman with an 18-year-old son suffering with "brain fever" asked that he be admitted to a hospital.  "Her request is granted."  Another woman explained, "My husband, sir, has deserted me.  I have no friends or a home, and what's worse, no money.  I have a boy seven years old and a baby girl.  Can't we get a place to sleep and something to eat?"

After asking a few details about he husband, the superintendent said, "Don't you worry one bit, madam, you and your children will be taken care of."

The desperate condition of some indigent New Yorkers was evidenced in one man's plea on January 26, 1895 to be sent back to his native Colorado.  The New-York Tribune quoted him, "I can starve to death easier and with more comfort in Colorado than in New-York.  Send me there, and I won't bother you again."  The article said, "The board sent the pauper alien home," adding somewhat coldly, "New-York has enough resident paupers of its own without calling in the poor of other lands, and the act of returning the impoverished Westerner was purely one of economy."

The fact was, however, that the Department of Charities and Corrections, was over-stretched.  Each day 700 applicants "representing every hue and shade of poverty and distress" arrived at the East 11th Street door.  The New-York Tribune said, "This winter has brought some 30,000 or 40,000 men, women and children face to face with starvation."

In 1902 renovations were made to the building to accommodate the Children's Court.  But the aging structure was already over-taxed.  On June 4, 1909 a letter of protest "against the inadequate surroundings" was sent to Mayor George B. McClellan by the president of the Children's Society.  John D. Linsday said in part that the atmosphere was at times "almost unbearable," and called the conditions "shameful."

The city sold 66-72 Third Avenue in 1917.  The mansard roof was lopped off, the interiors gutted, and James Renwick, Jr.'s once-proud structure converted to a garage, with yawning vehicle bays installed where the entrances had been.

image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

The vandalized Department of Charities and Corrections Building survived until 1989 when owner Charles Re leased the property to Loew's Theater Management.  On September 17, The New York Times reported, "A Loew's spokesman said demolition will begin this month to replace the building with a seven-screen movie complex."

image via has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

Saturday, August 26, 2023

The 1907 Van Beuren Building - 71 Fifth Avenue


On February 29, 1788, German-born merchant Henry Springer purchased the former farm of Dutch settler Elias Brevoort as a summer home.  In 1832 a new park, Union Square, was created on the land as the city edged northward.  While Springer's daughter and son-in-law, James and Eliza Fonderden, continued to live in the old Dutch farmhouse, their daughter Mary and her husband Michael Murray Van Beuren moved into a newly-built house at 29 West 14th Street.

Michael Van Beuren (his surname was variously spelled Van Beuren, Van Buren, and Vanburen) managed the Springler real estate holdings brilliantly.  By 1893, the properties--many of them stores along 14th Street--were garnering the family $1 million in rents, more than 33 times that much in 2023.

In 1847 Richard Kip Haight completed his massive brick-faced mansion that stood on Van Beuren property at the southeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 15th Street.  The house was being operated as the Hotel Hanover in 1898 when it was severely damaged by fire.

Called the Hanover Hotel, the former mansion at Fifth Avenue and 15th Street was the scene of a spectacular blaze in 1898.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

On April 28, 1906, the Real Estate Record & Guide reported that the Van Beuren estate had hired architect Charles Volz to design an 11-story loft building on the site that would cost $325,000 to construct.  The article noted, "One building will be demolished."

Completed the following year, the building's two-story rusticated limestone base upheld nine floors of beige brick.  Volz had decorated his otherwise Renaissance Revival structure with Beaux Arts elements at the top two floors.  At the tenth, ornate cartouches trail ribbons and flowers, and at the eleventh floor, carved bunches of leaves and bellflowers fill the piers between the openings.  Decorative double bands of terra cotta defined each floor.

The upper floors filled with garment manufacturers, among the earliest being the related B. Stern & Company; Stern, Heineman & Herff; and S. Stern & Company.  The latter was described by the Record & Guide in June 1917 as "one of the largest manufacturers of children's headwear, coats and dresses." 

Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide, December 19, 1908 (copyright expired)

Occupant Morris Voss was at the wheel of his own automobile on September 30, 1914.  The wealthy lace importer was out for an afternoon drive in Central Park when things went horribly wrong.  As he turned off Fifth Avenue into the park at 102nd Street, "three men walked in front of the car," as reported by the New-York Tribune.  Two of them jumped clear, but 17-year-old Leo Chester "became confused and was unable to get out of the way."  Voss ran over the teen, fracturing his skull.  He died without regaining consciousness.  Morris Voss was arrested and charged with homicide.

Other garment firms in the building were Wolff & Co., which leased the sixth floor in 1916; and Goodman, Cohen & Co., which landed a lucrative Government contract during World War I.  An advertisement in The Seventh Regiment Gazette in August 1918 touted "regulation O.D. Army shirts."

Goodman, Cohen & Co. was among the first of the men's shirt makers in the building, but after the war several others moved in.  Two of them, Cohen, Endel Co. and the Liondale Shirt Company, took floors in 1921.

The district was thrown into upheaval the following year when the shirtmakers' union went on strike.  Labor disputes in the first half of the 20th century were often violent, and this one was no different.  On August 3, 1922, the New York Herald reported that at 6:00 the previous evening, when 14th Street and Fifth Avenue was "thronged with homegoing workers...a crowd of about thirty striking shirtmakers saw fit to attack about the same number of strike breakers who had taken their jobs.  A riot ensued which brought out the police reserves."

Not all of the angry mob remained on 14th Street.  The article noted, "A week ago workers in the shirt manufacturing establishment of Cohen & Goodman [sic], 71 Fifth avenue...struck.  Cohen & Goodman put strike breakers to work and the strikers began picketing.  To protect the strike breakers, Cohen & Goodman engaged the Dominick Reilly Detective Agency."

William Dipoali, who worked for the Dominick Reilly Detective Agency, was posted at the Fifth Avenue entrance to 71 Fifth Avenue.  Three strikers tried to get past him to attack the strike breakers and it did not go well.  The New-York Tribune reported, "One of the strikers drew a black-jack and aimed a blow at the detective.  The detective drew his revolver and fired one shot."  Eighteen-year-old Samuel Epstein was shot in the leg.  He and 23-year-old Max Berkowitz were arrested for felonious assault, while their accomplice got away.  Epstein was taken to Bellevue Hospital and William Dipoali went home to Yonkers "with a very sore skull."

Six months later, a worker for a second floor furrier became a hero of sorts.  When not at work, May Durrsee was an amateur vocalist and sang in the choir of the Church of St. John the Evangelist on First Avenue at 51st Street.  She was alone in the shop on the afternoon of February 3, 1923 when 20-year-old Samuel Silverman walked in and asked to have a sample of fur matched.  

As May turned away, Silverman grabbed a $450 fur coat (closer to $7,700 today) and bolted.  The feisty clerk was on his heels.  The Morning Telegraph reported, "bringing into use all the high notes at her command [she] was one jump behind.  Passers-by joined in the chase."

Seeing the commotion, Detectives Gillman and Lambert, who were in a patrol car, "overtook Silverman, who still had the coat."  The would-be thief confessed to the crime at the police station.

As the Garment District moved northward past 34th Street, apparel firms in the building were being replaced by other types of tenants.  In 1924 the Dunn Pen Company was here; and by the end of the decade A. A. Vantine & Co., Inc., importers of high-end accessories like silver incense burners; and Bruns, Kimball & Company, dealers in motorboat parts and supplies had spaces.  The perfume and cosmetics firm Joubert Cie, Inc. operated from 71 Fifth Avenue in the 1930s.

Although one boys' and men's garment maker, Joseph H. Cohen & Sons remained at least through 1943, by the 1960s there were no longer any apparel firms in the Van Beuren Building.  Instead, it was populated by varied tenants like the Oxford Book Company, Inc. and the New York Capital for Progress Fund, Inc., and by the early 1970s, Whitehall Systems, Inc. 

By then, the ground floor store was occupied by the Washington Furniture Warehouse, which became a branch of the Wucker Furniture Company headquartered in Harlem around 1971.  On August 11, 1972, The New York Times reported that a Federal indictment named it and the two other Wucker stores on charges of "conducting a scheme to defraud low-income consumers by using deceptive advertising fraudulent sales practices and concealed payment arrangements."  The indictment accused the stores of using "bait and switch" tactics by advertising attractive sales "with no intention of selling any of the advertised items."  Just over two weeks later, on August 29, the newspaper reported that the Wucker family had pleaded guilty.

The store space became home to another furniture dealer, J. J. Peoples Ethan Allen, which dealt in "early American" pieces.  Its owner, Van DeWald was a frustrated man in the winter of 1982-83.  DeWald acquired a burglar alarm system from the Wells Fargo company.  Activated by noise, the system triggered an alarm at the store and automatically alerted police.  Initially, there was a string of false alarms.  Finally, Captain McCabe of the 13th Precinct informed DeWald that the police "could not continue to respond to the automatic alarm system until the problem was solved."

But just after the problem was solved, burglaries began.  On January 7, 1983, The New York Times began an article saying, "In eight days during the Christmas holidays, a merchant on lower Fifth Avenue said, he reported eight burglaries at his furniture store, including three in one day and one in mid-afternoon."  In one incident alone, the thieves stole $3,000 worth of clocks from a curio cabinet.

While Captain McCabe explained that patrols had been increased around the store, DeWald was not convinced.  "I am enough of a New Yorker to be realistic about the constraints of manpower and priorities," he told a New York Times reporter, "but when it comes to these types of repeated deliberate attacks, has it come to the point that we merchants are on our own?"

The Ethan Allen furniture store was supplanted by a Pier One Imports branch in 1991.  It remained into the early 2000s.  

Happily, Charles Volz's dignified Van Beuren Building has not been defaced by modern storefronts, and its appearance is little changed after 115 years.

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

Friday, August 25, 2023

The 1964 Franklin National Bank - 410 Madison Avenue


Arthur Thomas Roth, the chairman of the Mineola, Long Island-based Franklin National Bank, 
was familiarly known as "Mr. Long Island" for his deep involvement in the economic growth of Long Island following World War II.  He had been involved in banking there since 1926.  Roth had begun his career at the age of 17 as a messenger with the Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company, and joined the Franklin National Bank in 1934 as a cashier.

The banker was described by Edward Cowan of The New York Times on January 25, 1964 as a "bitter opponent of the invasion of Long Island by New York City banks."  Roth said that the urban banks marauding into his territory were impeding his expansion on Long Island.  Therefore, said Cowan, Roth "is mounting a counter-invasion."

While insisting there was no "retaliatory motive," the banker announced he would be opening 25 Franklin National Bank branches in New York City within the next five years.  The New York Times reported he intended to open the first three on May 11, one of them being 410 Madison Avenue at the northwest corner of 48th Street.

Roth was a self-avowed aficionado of "Colonial craftsmanship and history."  At a time when sleek, glass curtain buildings were the rage, Roth directed the architectural firm of Eggers & Higgins to design 410 Madison Avenue in the neo-Georgian style.  He told the press the bank could have put up a glass and steel skyscraper, "but then we would have looked like everybody else.  This way, people will know we're different the minute they see our buildings."

Indeed, the bank was a Midtown anachronism.  Nearly two decades later, on October 31, 1982, The New York Times said, "When it was about to open in 1964, the Franklin National Bank building at 410 Madison Avenue, at 48th Street, was regarded as a suburban curiosity."

Eggers & Higgins's seven-story building was faced in Flemish bond red brick and trimmed in marble.  The ground floor was dominated by vast, multi-paned arched windows.  The colonial style entrance featured a delicately-leaded transom.  It sat within a marble frame surmounted by broken-pediment with a carved marble pineapple in front of a large fan light.  Above the four-story mid-section, a two-story mansard with Georgian style dormers sat behind a marble balustrade.

The interiors, too, had a colonial flavor.  Roth insisted that "old time hand techniques" were used.  Interior plasterwork, like cornices, were hand-formed on site.  Interior designer Helen O'Connell worked with the architects.  She took inspiration from Arthur and Genevieve Roth's personal collection of Chippendale and other 18th century American furniture.  The offices and meeting rooms were paneled in hardwood and reflected a 1960's take on colonial domestic interiors.

The comfortable furnishings suggested colonial designs.  Franklin National Bank, 1964.

Arthur T. Roth's aggressive expansion into New York City was part of his undoing.  Four years after the 410 Madison Avenue branch opened, he was under fire for growing loan losses and declining stock prices.  Some critics accused him of overextended the bank by aggressively pushing into the New York City real estate market.  In July 1968 the board of directors removed him from his position as CEO, and two years later he resigned.

Ironically, the timing of his leaving was fortuitous for him.  In June 1974 the Franklin National Bank announced losses of $63.6 million in the first five months of the year.  Simultaneously, as reported by The New York Times, "a former supervisor in the bank and an independent securities trader had pleaded guilty to participating in a stock swindle that used as much as $2.1 million of the banks funds."  Mired in what the newspaper later described as "an international scandal," Franklin National Bank closed in 1974.

The Colonial Williamsburg-ready building stood empty in October 1982, when it was sold and then offered for lease as offices.  Leasing agents Weatherall Green & Smith called the building "very elegant," and promised that the interior would be returned "to its original condition" and the hardwood paneling retained.

The Bank of China purchased the property in 1986 as its U.S. headquarters.  It operated from the building through 2018, and on March 20, 2019 The Real Deal reported that JPMorgan Chase, which had already moved in, was negotiating a purchase "for more than $100 million."  As it turned out, JPMorgan Chase Bank N.A. paid $115 million for the property.

Despite its sometimes turbulent history, Eggers and Higgins's refined Midtown bank building reposes unperturbed, a colonial anomaly among the skyscrapers.

photographs by the author
many thanks to reader Andrew Cronson for requesting this post
no permission to reuse the content of this blog has been granted to 

Thursday, August 24, 2023

The 1869 Alfred S. Seer House - 37 Charles Street

In 1868 James S. Bearnes, who lived in Brooklyn, purchased most of the vacant block front on the north side of Charles Street between West Fourth Street and Factory Street (later renamed Waverly Place).  He constructed two groups of houses on the plots, one (and probably both) of them designed by a
 fellow Brooklynite, architect Peter L. P. Tostevin.

Completed in 1869, their Italianate design included high stone stoops that rose to arched entrances under Renaissance-inspired pediments supported by scrolled brackets.  Each three-story house received its own pressed metal cornice.

Alfred S. Seer purchased 49 Charles Street (renumbered 37 in 1936).  He was the head of the A. S. Seer Theatrical Printing and Engraving Company on Union Square.  The firm specialized in work like playbills and handbills.  He and his family lived here for a year before moving to 19 Perry Street, and leasing the house to the George H. Stout family.

An editor and journalist, George Stout likely knew Alfred Seer professionally.  The Stouts' had two grown sons living with them.  Oliver B. Stout was a reporter with the New York Daily Transcript, and George H. Stout Jr. was a clerk. 

The Stouts rented the house through 1877, after which the Seer family moved back in and remained into the 1880s.  The nature of Seer's business was highlighted in October 1887 when he sued the well-known actor, comedian and singer Tony Hart.  Hart had been a partner with Edward Harrigan in the hugely popular comedy team Harrigan & Hart until 1885.

Alfred S. Seer strayed from theatrical work to produce this poster for inventor Thomas Alva Edison around 1878.  from the collection of the Library of Congress

On October 7, 1887, The New York Times reported that Seer, "the theatrical printer" had sued "to collect a bill from Tony Hart and his wife."  He claimed that in the fall of 1885 the Harts produced the play Buttons and he had done their printing.  The article said, "but the enterprise was a failure, and in January , 1886 it was given up in disgust."  Of Seer's $2,773.63 bill (nearly $90,000 in 2023), only $640 had been paid.

The New York Times reported, "Tony made no defense, as he doesn't fear a judgment, for the mournful reason that he has no property and never expects to have any."  And, indeed, Seer never recovered his loss.  Tony Hart was already suffering physical and mental problems associated with tertiary syphilis.  He died impoverished in a mental institution at the age of 36 in 1891.

Seer and his wife moved to the fashionable Bayard apartment house on Broadway at 54th Street in the early 1890s.  Seer carried on business in his office as normal on February 27, 1896.  Early that afternoon he walked out of his private office, spoke to his manager and a stock clerk, then entered a coat room.  A moment later, workers heard a pistol shot.  The 55-year-old had inexplicably committed suicide.

He had sold the Charles Street house to Mary A. Allaire.  Boarding here in 1894 was was William Virtue, a 32-year-old stenographer.  Despite his surname, however, the Allaires' tenant was not virtuous.

On February 6, 1894, Virtue traveled to Springfield, Massachusetts.  Also on the train was traveling salesman H. C. Barnum.  At the Springfield train station, Barnum left his trunk in the baggage room overnight.  Early the next morning, Virtue presented a check for the trunk and had it delivered to his hotel room, where he was registered as H. C. Boyd of Boston.  Detectives later surmised he "knew of the valuable contents of the trunk, and followed Barnum from New York when he set out on his trip."

Indeed, the contents were valuable.  Barnum worked for the New York City jewelry firm of Schaefer & Douglas.  Inside the trunk was $15,000 in jewels--worth more than half a million in 2023 dollars.  At his hotel room, Virtue forced open the trunk, removed the gems, and packed them in a smaller package.  He "then sent them by express to Worchester [Massachusetts]," said The Press.  "He did not call for the baggage, but must have come direct to New York, intending to have the box and its valuable contents forwarded to him here."

But investigators easily tracked the trunk and then the package, which was recovered at the Worcester express office.  On February 11, 1894, The Press reported, "Detectives [in New York] were delegated to look out for the thief.  They located him at No. 49 Charles street yesterday afternoon, and took him to headquarters."

The Allaire estate sold the Charles Street house in 1911.  By 1930 it had been converted to apartments.  Its stoop was removed and the molded lintels shaved flat.

Photographed in 1941, the house's Victorian personality had been stripped away.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

The configuration lasted for half a century.  Then, a restoration was completed in 2019 that brought the former Seer house back to a single family home.  The architectural firm of Acheson Doyle & Partners deftly reproduced the stoop, entrance, and lintels based on surviving examples along the row.

While not an exact reproduction of the surviving examples along the row, the replacement entrance, along with the lintels, stoop and period-appropriate railings, create a striking restoration.

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