Saturday, September 30, 2023

The 1885 Nos. 928 and 930 Second Avenue


photograph by Ted Leather

In May 1867 New York City passed the nation's first housing reform code, the New York Tenement House Act.  In response to the often deplorable conditions suffered by impoverished tenants, the city now regulated sanitation, ventilation and room size.  And so, when plans were filed for two flat buildings at 928 and 930 Second Avenue in April 1884, The Board on Plans for Light and Ventilation of New Tenement-Houses carefully reviewed them.  On May 7 the "plumbing and drainage for the new buildings" passed muster.

Completed in 1885, each of the identical structures was 25-feet-wide and five stories tall.  Above the ground floor commercial spaces, they were clad in red brick and trimmed in sandstone.  Stone bandcourses above the second and fourth floors visually divided the upper floors into three sections.  The handsome neo-Grec design included incised carvings in the lintels of the second and fourth floors, and gracefully scalloped lintels at the third.  Most impressive, however, were the ambitious pressed metal cornices, their mid-sections adorned with swags and large fans, and topped by decorative hoods.

John Kuhlenan opened a saloon in 928 Second Avenue.  It was taken over by 1893 by the Blau & Co. wine saloon, run by Julius G. and Moritz Blau.  At the time, the apartments were rented to a variety of middle-class occupants, including Dederick Goebelsmann and Edward Muller, both of whom were bakers; Henry Silverman, a harness maker; and engineer Thomas F. Hennessey.

The tenants of 930 Second Avenue in 1893 held similar positions.  Levi Singerman and Lawrence McCann were clerks; Edward Sann worked as a guard; John Edelstein was a barber; William T. Keyes was a clerk; and John J. McEvoy was a mason.  The store was home to Gertrude Schlosser's millinery shop.

Leo Reiss, who drove a wagon for George Ringler's brewery, lived at 928 Second Avenue when he was arrested on October 1, 1895.  He drove his wagon along the tracks of the Third Avenue Cable Car directly in front of a cable car.  The Sun reported he "continued on the track, walking his team slowly, despite the remonstrances of the conductor and gripman."  In addition to inconveniencing the passengers, the cable car was pulling a mail car.  

The 30-year-old was arrested for "having blockaded the United States mail service."  The prosecutor wanted to have him held for a Federal grand jury, but the magistrate was sympathetic.  According to The Evening Post, he "denied the motion, on the ground that Reiss was drunk, and also that he was ignorant that a mail-car was attached to the passenger car."  He got off with a $5 fine.

The saloon at 928 Second Avenue was taken over by Nadel & Feit in 1901.  The excise, or liquor, license was in Joseph  Feit's name.  In the meantime, Gertrude Schlosser's hat shop next door had become John D. Ahlf's "butter, cheese and eggs store" by 1898.

A tragic story played out in 930 Second Avenue in 1899.  Fannie Mickelbank caught a cold that developed into pneumonia, and on November 28 she was transported to Roosevelt Hospital.  The Evening Post reported that her condition "made her so delirious and violent that she had to be strapped to her cot."  A nurse was "in constant attendance" by her bed.

But around midnight on November 30 the nurse "had occasion to leave the room for a few moments," according to The Morning Telegraph.  Fannie somehow broke free of the leather straps.  The nurse returned just in time to see her patient rushing to the window.  "It took her but a moment to open it and leap out," said the article.  Fannie plummeted four floors to the ground and died two hours later.

Another tragic story was that of Benjamin Langfritz, who lived at 928 Second Avenue in 1912.  Langfritz worked at the Independent Ice Company and, according to the New York Herald, "was in the habit of spending his Sundays fishing in [Jamaica] bay."  At 10:00 on the morning of March 24, he rented a boat at Hoob's Hotel and went fishing.  But around 2:30 a violent storm swept over Jamaica Bay.  When Langfritz failed to return, Christian Hoob and two employees searched for him.  The New York Herald reported, "They found his overturned boat in Hasset Creek, but after returning to the spot with grappling hooks and dragging the channel, they were unable to find the body."

More than three weeks later, on April 15, oysterman Henry Reinhardt was "tonging" the bay for shellfish.  The Daily Long Island Farmer reported that Benjamin Langfritz's body "was brought up by the tongs."

Charles Mundy, who lived at 928 Second Avenue in 1913, worked on a "diving scow."  He was in the cabin on the morning of December 14 when two men came on deck, identifying themselves as detectives.  They demanded to know where certain stolen goods were that had been taken from the pier the night before.

Mundy said he knew nothing about the stolen cargo, and invited them inside to investigate.  The Evening Telegram reported, "As soon as the men were well inside the cabin, one of them struck Mundy on the jaw, sending him with a crash against the wall."  Before he could recover, the second man hit him with the butt of his revolver, knocking him out.  When Mundy regained consciousness, he was bound to a chair, gagged and blindfolded.  The thieves went through his pockets, removing $150 in cash, a gold watch and chain, two gold penknives, and his key ring.  The newspaper added, "They did not overlook even his gold sleeve links."

After the crooks left, it took Mundy nearly an hour to chew through his handkerchief gag.  His cries alerted Roger Collins, who was working in another part of the barge.  At the Fourth Avenue station house, he gave a detailed description of the fake detectives.

In the first years of the 20th century New York City businessmen were terrorized by the Black Hand, an Italian-American extortion group also known as La Mano Nera.  By 1915 Frank Razza operated a barber shop in 930 Second Avenue.  On the morning of March 7 that year, Joe Pitia and Paul Sanszoni arrived at the shop to open up.  The New-York Tribune reported, "they found a bomb leaning against the door.  The fuse had been lighted, but the machine failed to explode."

The bomb was about ten inches long encased in a sheet iron box bound with wire.  When Razza arrived, he carefully placed the device in water and took it to the Second Branch Detective Bureau.  Razza and, indeed, the upstairs residents had narrowly escaped disaster.  Owen Eagen, the Inspector of Combustibles, announced that the bomb "was more powerful than either of the bombs found in St. Patrick's Cathedral."

Following the enactment of Prohibition, saloon owners like Nadel & Feit were tasked with legally disposing of its stock.  On July 22, 1920, Joe Mancuso arrived at the saloon and presented a permit to remove five barrels of alcohol.  Coincidentally, just as he finished loading them onto his truck, two Prohibition agents arrived on the scene.  They examined the permit and declared it a forgery.  Mancuso bolted across the street, got in a waiting automobile and escaped.

Prohibition, of course, ended the long tradition of a tavern at 928 Second Avenue.  At mid-century it was home to a restaurant, Annette Le Petit Veau.

The two buildings were sold and resold over the decades, but always remained under a single owner.  The second half of the 20th century saw the What Not Bargain Shop in 930, described by New York on $5 & $10 A Day in 1969 as one of the "rock-bottom-priced places which both buy, sell and exchange used furniture."  By the early 1970s, Samuel Narefsky Antiques occupied the space.  The store specialized in vintage hardware like "handles, hinges, pulls, knobs, key-plates, sconces" and such, according to New York Magazine on September 25, 1972.

By then, the ground floor of 928 was home to Knickers restaurant and bar.  One of the bartenders there in 1972 was somewhat unusual.  Dale R. Lind was an ordained Lutheran clergyman.  The New York Times reported on August 16 that year, "Acting with approval of local authorities of the Lutheran Church in America, Mr. Lind has forsaken traditional parish duties for what he likes to call a 'ministry of presence.'  From his post behind the bar he helps people through their lover's quarrels and vocational problems, shares their joys and lets some lonely New Yorkers know that someone cares about them."

The buildings as they appeared in 2014.  image via Google Streetview

Knickers was replaced by Sip Sak, a Thai restaurant in the early 2000s.  When it opened, the two vintage apartment buildings showed their age.  A 20th century coat of white paint was dirty and peeling, and one of the striking cornice hoods was tagged with graffiti.  A renovation of the buildings in 2017 repaired the facade, and removed the old paint from the stonework.

many thanks to reader Ted Leather for requesting this post. has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

1 comment:

  1. Sip Sak is Turkish not Thai & Mee Noodle as shown is out of business