Tuesday, October 31, 2023

The Cliffside - 307 West 93rd Street


In 1898, when Joseph and J. Arthur Pinchbeck commissioned the architectural firm of Neville & Bagge to design a six-story apartment building on the north side of West 93rd Street between Riverside Drive and West End Avenue, there were no other structures on the block.  An advertisement for the newly-completed Cliffside the following year boasted, "A magnificent view of the Hudson River and the Palisades...House stands alone and has open sides and rear."

Costing $52,000 to construct, or about $1.89 million in 2023, the structure was a marriage of the Romanesque Revival and Renaissance Revival styles.  The rough cut stonework, heavy arched openings, and medieval carvings of the first and second stories were Romanesque Revival.  The brick and stone upper floors were decorated with carved panels inspired by the Italian Renaissance.

While the eight-room apartments had gas lighting, an upgrade was available for a cost.  An advertisement in March 1899 noted, "electric light from street service if desired."  Residents would also enjoy elevator service "until 1 A. M."  Rents ranged from $1,200 to $1,300 per year, around $4,000 per month on the high end today.

Ella Grace Larom, an operatic contralto and voice instructor, was an early tenant.  While many voice coaches used their apartments as their studios, the highly successful Madame Larom did not.  She had a studio in Carnegie Hall and another in Brooklyn.

Among the singer's neighbors was 37-year-old bachelor Isaac M. Hirsch.  A salesman for the National Sponge Company on William Street, he was described by The Evening World as "a heavy man, weighing over 200 pounds."

On the morning of January 25, 1904, Hirsch overslept.  He had an appointment at 8:30 and did not wake up until after 7:00.  The Evening World said he "dressed hurriedly, bolted his breakfast and made the long uphill run to the station."  The elevated station was on 93rd Street and Columbus Avenue, "a considerable distance," according to The New York Times.  

As he neared the station, the express train was pulling in.  Hirsch "went up the stairs two at a time," said The Evening World.  Just as he was about to board the train, he fell backward onto the platform dead.  The New York Times noted, "An ambulance surgeon gave as his opinion that death was due to the bursting of a blood vessel in the brain, caused by the unusual exertion."  Hirsch's funeral was held in his apartment on January 27.

Given that he was closely related to Oliver Hazard Payne, a founder of the Standard Oil Company, it is not surprising that resident H. R. Payne was president of the Union Tank Line Company, the pipeline of the Standard Oil Company.  For some reason, he and his wife were not pleased with a romance that blossomed between their son, Ralph Romaine Payne and Mildred Louise Brown in 1912 (despite The New York Press's calling Mildred "a society girl").  

Mildred was 19 years old and Ralph was 23.  Both sets of parents forbade their marriage.  And so the two took matters in their own hands.  On the evening of December 29 Mildred told her mother she was going for a walk.  "Instead she went to the Hotel Manhattan, where she was met by her fiancĂ©," explained The New York Press.  Also waiting at the hotel were two friends, Hazel Guild and Lyman J. Spualding.

"The four were whirled to the home of the Rev. W. R. Ecker...where Payne and Miss Brown were married," said the article.  That was the easy part.  Now the newlyweds had to break the news to their parents.  "The pair then went to Brooklyn, where forgiveness was begged from Mrs. Brown," said The New York Press.  Emma L. Brown not only forgave them, but accepted them into her home.

It took a bit more to win over Payne's parents, but on January 6, 1913, Ralph told a reporter that "all had been smoothed over and that they had received the parental blessing."  The visit of a reporter from The New York Times to the Cliffside apartment suggested that Paynes had accepted the situation more than they had blessed it.  Ralph's mother said, "she was not at the wedding, but insisted that it was not an elopement."

In 1948 the Romanesque structure was given an Art Moderne entrance.

Another highly-visible couple in the Cliffside at the time were Joseph M. Price and his activist wife, Miriam Sutro Price.  The couple were married in 1894.  While Price was president of the Improved Mailing Case Company, he was best known for his role in politics.  He was a key organizer of the Fusion Party and was highly involved in successfully electing John Purroy Mitchel mayor of New York in 1913, thereby defeating Tammany Hall.

A graduate of Hunter College, Miriam Sutro Price was passionately involved in civic issues.  She pushed for outdoor spaces for Upper West Side children, and would eventually sit on the executive committee of the National Board of Review of the Motion Picture Industry, serve as president of the Public Education Association, sit on the board of the Manhattan Trade School for Girls, and be a trustee of the Society for Ethical Culture.  The Prices would remain in their Cliffside apartment at least through 1919.

Artist Katharine Underhill and her sister Dr. Dorothy Underhill lived here by 1916.  The Underhills' summer home was in South Ashfield, Massachusetts.

Another well-respected resident was Joseph Parker Stone who shared an apartment with his widowed father.  A graduate of Stevens Institute, the engineer had spent years in South America where, according to the New-York Tribune, he "built many bridges and installed the first elevators in Chile." He was now associated with the Lindeteves-Stokvis firm.  In February 1919 the 47-year-old was in South Bend, Indiana on business when he contracted pneumonia.  He died there on February 26.

Alice Edmonds was the sister of opera diva Alma Gluck.  In 1923, the Edmondses took in Chilean aviator Amilio Kresst Detusschsens and his wife as boarders.  Detusschsens was temporarily in New York while "taking a special flying course at Langley Field," explained The Morning Telegraph.

On November 1, 1923, the Edmondses' maid, 26-year-old Amelia Nesbit "suddenly left."  Later, Amilio Detusschsens discovered that a purse with $108 he had secreted under a mattress was missing.  Police were waiting in the Edmonds apartment on November 6 when Amelia arrived to receive her pay.  

Grace La Rue began her career in a tent show.  By the time she and her newest husband, actor Hale Hamilton, moved into the Cliffside, she had had an astounding career that ranged from vaudeville to Broadway.  She had sung opera and made a recording with Enrico Caruso, and appeared on stage with stars like Al Jolson.

Grace La Rue, from the collection of the National Portrait Gallery.

In 1919 she made her first motion picture appearance in the silent film That's Good opposite Hale Hamilton.  The couple married on May 29, 1920.

On January 3, 1929, Grace parked her new Nash Coupe in front of the building.  When she returned later, the $2,250 vehicle was gone.  On March 2, the Biddeford [Maine] Daily Journal reported that police had "uncovered an interstate traffic in stolen automobiles," which included Grace's car.  The New Jersey-based criminal syndicate "took orders for particular brands of used cars wanted...and then dispatched one of their men to New York to steal the desired kind of car."  Grace La Rue's Nash was found in Jersey City, in the possession of the new "owner."

A terrifying incident took place here later that year.  On March 15, real estate broker Richard Dolan was leaving the building along with Catherine Kennedy, another resident.  As they reached the foyer, "a man suddenly confronted him and fired three shots, two of them taking effect."  The 33-year-old Dolan died on site.  Patrick Walsh was arrested "some distance from the scene" by Patrolman William Ryan after a pedestrian told him he had trailed the gunman from the apartment building, according to the Long Island Daily Press.

The days of sprawling apartments, maids and expensive cars came to an end shortly after the building was sold in 1943.  A renovation completed in 1948 resulted in 14 and 16 single-room-occupancy rooms per floor.  

Today there are studios and small apartments in the building.  None of the 1899 interior appointments survive.  Although the masonry of the first floor and basement has been painted, and an entrance dating to the 1940s remodeling replaces the original, the Cliffside retains much of its architectural integrity.

photographs by the author
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Monday, October 30, 2023

The Lost 1817 Nos. 16 to 19 State Street

Just a sliver of 16 State Street appears at the right.  To the far left can be seen the rear of 7 Bowling Green, at the southeast corner of State Street.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

In the first decades of the new republic, lower Broadway, Bowling Green, and State Street were the most refined residential streets in Manhattan.  The mansions of State Street faced Battery Park, which afforded vistas of the harbor and cooling breezes.  Mornings and afternoons saw well-dressed society members promenading in Battery Park.

On March 23, 1816, an advertisement appeared in The Evening Post that read:

House and Lot at the Battery.  That elegant House and Lot No. 19 State-street is offered for sale.  The House and appurtenances thereunto belonging will be completed by the first of May next.  There are many conveniences belonging to the House and for beauty and variety of prospect the situation is perhaps unsurpassed by any other in the United States.

The nearly completed brick-faced mansion was 28-feet-wide and three-and-a-half stories tall above an English basement.  It was one of four identical, Federal style residences going up.  Atop the stoops, their elegant marble framed entrances reflected the financial and social status of the families who would occupy them.  Their leaded glass sidelights and dramatic fanlights were hallmarks of the Federal style.  The windows wore paneled lintels and two dormers distinguished the peaked roofs.

An advertisement for 18 State Street next door boasted its being built "of the best materials...and in the most elegant and workmanlike manner."  It noted, "On the rear of the lot is a convenient brick stable and coach house, opening onto a commodious street or alley."

A watercolor executed around 1848 shows the walled garden between 19 State Street and 7 Bowling Green.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

No. 16 State Street became home to the Nathaniel Gardiner family.  They were looking to replace a servant in May 1826, their ad reading, "Waiter--A colored man as waiter is wanted at No. 16 State street."  (Waiters were polished, dignified servants who served in the dining and drawing rooms.)

In November that year the Gardiners welcomed a son, Abraham S.  Sadly, the little boy died a month before his first birthday, on October 2, 1827.

Living next door was William Irving and his wife, the former Julia Paulding.  Born on August 15, 1766, he was elected to Congress in 1814 and served until March 3, 1819.  William's younger brother and business partner was author Washington Irving.  William and Julia had five children, the youngest of whom, Henry Ogden, was ten years old when the family moved into their new home.

William Irving (original source unknown)

Irving would not enjoy his handsome home for long.  He died on November 9, 1821.  Two months later, Irving's estate sold the house, noting it "is replete with every convenience, faithfully built, and fashionable and well finished in every part."  The announcement noted, "the Stable is fire proof, and has ample room for carriages and horses."

Thomas Bloodgood sold 18 State Street to J. Phillips Phoenix in 1821.  Like Irving, he had served in Congress.  In July 1883 the New England Historical and Genealogical Register would recall, "Mr. J. Phillips Phoenix was for several terms the efficient representative in congress of a district in this city, comprising a cultivated and intelligent constituency."  He and his wife Mary Whitney, had seven children.  In reflecting on Stephen Whitney Phoenix's birth in the house on May 25, 1839, the New England Historical and Genealogical Register mentioned that the residence sat within the "aristocratic and fashionable quarter of Bowling Green and the Battery."

The Phillips's next door neighbors at 19 State Street were the Robert Maitlands.  Robert's wife, Elizabeth Sproat Lenox, was the daughter of James and Elizabeth Sproat Lenox.  

Robert Maitland, from the collection of the New-York Historical Society

Mary Sproat Lenox Maitland, from the collection of the New York Public Library

Born in 1768, Maitland was the head of the Robert Maitland Company, a highly successful mercantile business.  In his 1864 The Old Merchants of New York, historian Joseph Alfred Scoville recalled the "famous society" which "called themselves the 'House of Lords.'"  He noted, "The society held their meetings at [Joseph] Baker's city tavern No. 4 Wall street, corner of New."  The group included Robert Maitland, Gulian Verplanck, Robert Lenox (Mary's brother), Preserved Fish, and John Wesley Jarvis.

Robert and Mary had two children, Jennet Lenox, born in 1817, and Robert Lenox, born the following year.  (Two others, Agnes and Harriet, had died in infancy.)  Robert L. Maitland would eventually join his father's firm as a junior partner and go on to establish a reputation equal to his father's.

Robert Maitland died at the family's country home in Westchester County on October 29, 1846.  The State Street house became home to Mary Townsend Nicoll, the widow of Edward H. Nicoll.  She died here on April 5, 1849 at the age of 60.

At the time of Mary Nicoll's death, the millionaires of Lower Manhattan were migrating north to exclusive enclaves like St. John's Park, the Bond Street neighborhood, and Washington Square.  By 1851, 16 State Street was being operated as a high end boarding house, run by Elizabeth B. Atkins, the widow of Benjamin Atkins.  She accepted only a few select boarders.  That year they were flour and grain merchant Thomas E. Burns; Antoine Cokino, another merchant; and attorney John J. Tyler.

The invasion of commerce into the once-refined block was perhaps best exemplified in 1857, when the Stafford Olive Tar Co. took over the lower floors of 16 State Street.

The Stafford Olive Tar Co. slathered the facade of 16 State Street with its advertising.  Appletons' Hand-Book Advertiser, 1857 (copyright expired)

An advertisement in the New-York Dispatch in 1857 read:

To Disinfect A Sick Room, place a table spoonful of J. R. Stafford's Olive Tar in a saucer over a bowl of hot water [and] the room will be soon filled with the delightful blended Aroma of the Olive and Pine, revitalizing the sick and preventing the spread of Disease.  Remember this when Small Pox, Scarlet, or other infection Fevers or Diseases prevail.  Olive Tar 50 cents a Bottle by the Stafford Olive Tar Co., 16 State street, east side of Battery, and by all Druggists.

Then, with the outbreak of Civil War in 1861, all four houses were taken over by the Union.  No. 16 became the New York City headquarters of certain U.S. Navy departments, and 17 through 19 were occupied by the U.S. Army's Quartermasters Department.  Various military figures occupied the upper floors of all four houses.

from the collection of the New York Public Library

On July 25, 1864, 17 State Street was the scene of the court-martial of General Francis B. Spinola.  According to The New York Times, he was charged with various offenses, including "mustering into the service of the United States sailors owing allegiance to, and in the service of, a foreign power."  More pointedly, he was accused of kidnapping troops and sailors.  Five months earlier the newspaper had noted, "During Gen. Spinola's administration, when 'runners' and the kidnapping of negroes were rife, over four hundred colored men were mustered into the service of the United States; since his removal there has only been one."

Following the war, the houses returned to private ownership, each being operated as a boarding house.  In 1873, New York City saw a resurgence of yellow fever.  On June 22, the New York Herald reported, "Considerable excitement has been occasioned among the residents of the lower part of State street by the death of a young man from that terrible contagion, the yellow fever, and the illness of three others with symptoms of the disease."

Sixteen-year-old John Ennis, who lived at 16 State Street, contracted the disease on Tuesday June 13 and died on Friday.  The day before his death, his brother exhibited severe symptoms.  The New York Herald said the Health Department authorities went so far "as to seize upon every article of furniture in the place, carting it away and burning it outside the city limits."  The house was quarantined, and on June 22 John's brother was "in a very low condition."

The article added, "Two of the neighbors were also attacked with the symptoms of this terrible malady.  One of the parties resides at 18 State street, and the other in the house adjoining the one in which young Ennis died."  In 17 State Street a Mrs. Lydon, who was 25 years old, and her sister had both contracted the disease.  The New York Herald reported on June 22, "Mrs. Lydon was confined last night and died shortly after.  The other patient was very low and her recovery was considered doubtful."

Four months later, 16 State Street became the German Emigrants' House.  The New York Herald reported on October 29, 1873 that it would be formally opened and dedicated two days later.  The ceremonies were to include "Addresses in English and German by distinguished speakers."

Surprisingly, 17 State Street was returned to a single family house in 1875 when it was purchased by Dr. William L. Shine.  In addition to his private practice, he was the official surgeon and claims adjuster of the Metropolitan Elevated Railway.  During the Civil War he had served as surgeon of the 69th Regiment.  The Evening Post later described him as a "skillful surgeon," but added, "He had an uncontrollable temper, which frequently involved him in affrays, and his habits were irregular."

Indeed, on September 11, 1878, The New York Times titled an article, "Dr. Shine Again In Court," and reported on his being charged with assault and battery on John Noonan.  The latter worked aboard the steamship City of Washington and boarded at 19 State Street.  Noonan had come to Dr. Shine for treatment and owed him $5 (about $151 in 2023).  The seaman was not as quick to pay his bill as his physician would like.

On the night of September 10, as the City of Washington pulled into port, Shine was waiting on the dock.  Noonan told authorities:

He says, "I'm looking for you for some time.  You owe me $5, and I want it."  I said, "I ain't got any money at present," when Shine said, "You lie, you got paid today, you ___ ___ little snoozer; you've been sending me off long enough."

Noonan claimed that Shine then jabbed him "right in the neck" with his umbrella.  "I said to him, 'Shine, I'll fix you for this.  I'll get the law.'  He then took a revolver out of his pocket, and holding on to the butt-end smashed me on the head."  Several witnesses appeared in court to support Noonan's account.

As often as Shine's name appeared in newsprint for his expert treatment of patients, it appeared in reports of his unprofessional and violent encounters, often in saloons.  On November 12, 1881, for instance, The New York Times reported, "Dr. William L. Shine, of No. 17 State-street, who was recently charged with cutting William H. Crummie...in a fight in a First Ward Bar-room, was again before Justice Kilbreth, in the Tombs Court, yesterday."

Both Shine's residency at 17 State Street and his medical career came to an end in October 1883 when he was declared insane.  He was sent to the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum and then moved to Ward's Island in August 1884.  He died there at the age of 47 on February 16, 1885.

The former mansions were demolished in 1899.  In the background can be seen the Produce Exchangefrom the collection of the New York Public Library

Against all odds, the beleaguered relics of an elegant period along State Street survived until 1899, when they were demolished to make way for the United States Customs House, designed by Cass Gilbert.

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Saturday, October 28, 2023

The Rev. Washington Roosevelt House - 354 West 30th Street


In 1851 Reverend Washington Roosevelt and his family lived at 234 West 30th Street (later renumbered 354).   He and his wife, the former Jane Maria Young, had a daughter, Mary Eliza.  The son of Elbert and Jane Curtenius Roosevelt, Washington was born in Pelham, New York in November 1802.  He graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont in 1831 and married Jane the following year.  On May 6, 1849, he was installed as pastor of the North Presbyterian Church on 32nd Street near Ninth Avenue.

Their Anglo-Italianate style home was one of a row of recently completed houses.  Two bays wide, its entrance with the rusticated brownstone ground floor sat atop a short stoop.  The two upper floors were clad in brick and trimmed in brownstone, and a handsome cast metal cornice capped the design.

Tragically, Mary Eliza died on August 13, 1851, just three days before her ninth birthday.  Four years later Rev. Roosevelt resigned his position at the North Church.
At the time of Roosevelt’s resignation, Dr. John Gallison Sewall lived nearby at 224 West 30th Street.  Born in 1822, he graduated from Harvard University in 1843, and from Harvard Medical School in 1847.  In 1855, he and his wife moved into the former Roosevelt house.  Two years earlier, at the age of 30, Sewall had married Joanna Winslow Gannett.  Their first son, Frank, had died in infancy in 1854, but three other children would be born in the house: William Gibbons in 1856, John in 1858, and Katharine White in 1863.
As was common, in 1857 the Sewall’s took in a boarder.  His surname was amazingly similar to theirs.  Walter D. Sewell, who was a clerk on South Street, would remain with the family until 1861.
On the night of October 26, 1858, the Sewall household was awakened by frantic knocking at the door.  What the New York Herald deemed, “One of the most horrible and bloody tragedies ever enacted” had taken place across the street at 217 West 30th Street.  Living there were “a wealthy retired lumber merchant,” Francis Gouldy, his pregnant wife, Jane, their six children, and two servants.  The children ranged in age from Catherine, who was still a baby, to 19-year-old Francis A. Gouldy.
Francis, who was called Frank, caused upheaval within the family.  According to the New York Herald, he was “a young man of unsteady habits, and often caused his father much annoyance in consequence of his wild and extravagant course of living.  He was in the habit of staying out late at nights, contrary to the express desire of his parents, and when hard pushed for money would not scruple to use dishonest means to obtain the same.”  It all came to a head that night when Francis discovered his son had stolen a bank book from his desk and withdrawn $10 from his bank account (about $350 today).  He sat in the parlor awaiting his son’s return.
Frank arrived back home at about 10:00.  The New York Evening Post reported that Jane Gouldy heard “some unpleasant words pass between the two, and finally heard a heavy fall on the floor.”  She feared that Frank may have struck his father.  Much worse, he had attacked him with a hatchet.  He then entered his mother’s room and hit her on the head with the weapon.  The Evening Post reported, “She screamed and sprang up, and he repeated the blow twice, when she fell heavily to the floor.”  Frank passed by the baby’s crib, and moved into his two brothers’ room where he used the hatchet on them, and then headed up to the third floor.  

By now the entire household was awake.  The two servant girls were standing in the hallway.  “He immediately attacked them with the same fatal hatchet, prostrating each with a frightful blow upon the head.”  His sister Mary, who was 16 years old, peered into the dark hallway and, thinking Frank was an intruder, locked herself in her bedroom, saving herself.  Frank calmly went into his room, put on his slippers and morning gown, and laid on the bed.
Mary, whose bedroom faced the rear yard, opened her window and screamed, “Murder!”  Frank, hearing the sounds of Officers Morehouse and Hull breaking into the front door, placed a “three-shooter, which was heavily loaded” to his head and fired.  He was killed instantly.  Dr. Sewall arrived at a grisly scene.  Francis Gouldy was dead on the scene.  The others were taken to a hospital where one-by-one almost all died over the next week.
In 1866, John G. Sewall’s posted office hours were 8 to 10 a.m. and “after 6 p.m.”  The other hours he spent visiting patients at their homes.  His practice was augmented in 1867 when he became one of three medical examiners of the Union Mutual Life Insurance Company.
Dr. John Gallison Sewall died on January 18, 1874 at the age of 52.  His funeral was held in the parlor two days later.  Joanna remained here for a few years,  She took in a boarder in 1874, Mary Isabel Norcott, who taught in the Girls’ Department of Grammar School No. 46, far to the north on St. Nicholas Avenue at 156th Street.

Joanna's next door neighbor at 346 West 30th Street at the time was Dr. Michael Donnelly.  He was apparently renting that house, and in 1878 moved into the former Sewall residence where he remained at least through 1883.

By the late 1890's, 354 West 30th Street was home to the Kennedy family.  Roderick Kennedy listed his profession simply as "supervisor."  The family was still here in April 1901 when William Kennedy, presumably a son, reported a "trifling" fire in the house.

Living here in 1905 was the family of William Hubler, the captain of the steam lighter (a barge-like vessel used to transport goods to and from large cargo ships) the Clarence.  On January 25, Hubler and his crew of six left port during a storm.  According to The New York Press, "The Clarence started for Brooklyn from Bayonne when the blizzard was at its worst."  The vessel never made it to Brooklyn.  Three days later, "With only the jagged end of a broken mast showing above the water, the missing steam lighter Clarence was found wrecked in the bay, off the Brooklyn shore opposite Erie Basin," reported by the newspaper.  It noted that Hubler "left a widow and two children."

The rustication of the first floor survived as late as 1941.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

The house was operated as a rooming house throughout most of the 20th century.  A renovation completed in 1966 resulted in a duplex apartment in the cellar and first floor, and one apartment each on the upper stories.  It was most likely at this time that the first floor window was widened and the rustication smoothed over.

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

Friday, October 27, 2023

Groceries, Beer, and Adulterated Baking Powder -- 982 Second Avenue


photo by Ted Leather

The Turtle Bay section of Manhattan got its name from Turtle Bay Farm, a 40-acre land grant given to two Englishmen by the Dutch colonial governor of New Amsterdam in 1639.  Once an area of summer homes of wealthy New Yorkers, it saw tremendous change following the end of the Civil War.  By the mid 1860s, modest dwellings and rows of flat buildings had been erected to house workers in the gritty businesses built to take advantage of the riverfront.  Immigrants found jobs in breweries, cigar factories, gasworks, slaughterhouses and cattle pens, and piers.  At one point there were 18 acres of slaughterhouses (or abattoirs) along First Avenue alone.

Among the flat and store buildings was 982 Second Avenue at the southeast corner of 52nd Street.  Completed around 1866, it was four stories tall and clad in red brick above the storefront, which was likely cast iron.  Its unpresuming Italianate design included molded brownstone lintels and a simple cornice upheld by a row of modest corbels.

In 1867 the store was occupied by John E. Meyer's grocery.  Upstairs were respectable, blue collar tenants like William Ward, a builder; and William Jones, who was a seaman. Another German, Kaufman Baer, took over the grocery store in 1873.  Five years later, he sold it to Richard and Herman Seekamp.  It was the second Seekamp Brothers grocery, the other being a few blocks south at 106 Second Avenue.

The working class tenants of 982 Second Avenue often struggled to maintain a livelihood.  Teenaged children left school to help with their families' finances.  On October 24, 1878, for instance, a situation wanted advertisement in the New York Herald read, "982 2d Av--Young girl as first class laundress in private family; city references."

The less privileged New Yorkers also had to deal with unscrupulous merchants, who sometimes mixed other ingredients into their products.  Some, for instance, diluted milk and then added fillers and coloring agents--like plaster of Paris and molasses--to make the resulting product look and taste like wholesome milk.  The indefensible practice prompted the passage of the State Board of Health's Adulteration Law.

Unfortunately for Turtle Bay residents, they had one such merchant operating among them.  On December 14, 1882, The Sanitary Engineer reported that Herman Seekamp had been arrested by state investigators "for selling cream of tartar which was adulterated with ground gypsum."  Cream of tartar was, essentially, what is known as baking powder today.  The article explained, "The adulteration...amounted to from 37 per cent to 92 per cent of terra alba or ground gypsum."

Significant change to the corner store came in 1886 when John W. Holt took over the lease and converted the grocery to a saloon.  Interestingly, he and his family did not move into one of the apartments above the tavern, but lived two doors away at 986 Second Avenue.  In 1890 Holt negotiated with the Peter Doelger Brewery and gave the firm a chattel mortgage on the store.  While he continued operating his saloon, it was now controlled by the brewery, which dictated that only Doelger products could be sold here.

The Turtle Bay neighborhood had been greatly German and Irish when 982 Second Avenue was built.  The gradual influx of Italians was reflected in 1895 when Gaetano Gardiulo received a permit to operate a stand on the sidewalk out front.  It allowed him to sell "newspapers, periodicals, fruit and soda-water."

In 1898 the saloon became O'Reilly & Lavelle, run by Thomas O'Reilly and Dominick Lavelle.  Three years later, after Lavelle dropped out and O'Reilly brought his brother James into the business, it was renamed O'Reilly & O'Reilly.  Outside, the fruit stand was being operated by Italian immigrant Antonio Barbarbera in 1901.

As John W. Holt had done, in 1904 O'Reilly & O'Reilly negotiated a chattel mortgage with a brewery.  They were now obligated to sell only Lion Brewery beers and ales.

Not all of the upstairs tenants came and went about their business quietly.  On the morning of October 1, 1909, Milton Levy entered the fish store of Peter Chinchino at 115th Street and Third Avenue.  The New York Call reported that, according to Chinchino, Levy, "started in to wreck the place.  He broke dishes, threw fish on the floor and was smashing an electric light when Policeman Hargrove interfered."

Facing a charge of disorderly conduct, Milton Levy pleaded with Magistrate O'Connell that he had never been arrested before and asked for leniency.  The New York Call reported, "He was about to escape with a $2 fine when one of the court officers remembered his face and said the man had been in custody before."  O'Connell was not happy with being lied to.  After he "lectured him," he sent Levy to the workhouse.

By 1911 the saloon had been converted to a wine store.  On May 25 that year, the American Meat Trade and Retail Butchers Journal commented, "'Those who known a good wine know Endlich, Feit & Co., of 982 Second avenue,' is a saying peculiarly true in this instance.  Many of the affairs recently given by the socially inclined in the meat trade were catered to by Endlich, Feit & Co., with long necked, dusty bottles of grape.  In the central section of Manhattan they are well known, and their fame is spreading."

But Prohibition put an end to the long tradition of beer, ale and wine within 982 Second Avenue.  In 1921 the ground floor was home to M. Lieberman's furniture store.  An advertisement in January that year touted, "Special Sale--Great reduction on all kinds of furniture, carpets, oilcloths, baby carriages, trunks &c."

By the second half of the century, change was coming to the Turtle Bay neighborhood as modern, high-rise apartment buildings replaced the old flat buildings and lured upper-middle-class residents.  On March 5, 1964, the New York Post reported on singer Mark Plant's new "antiquery," named Push Cart East.  It survived into the early 1970s, replaced by the vintage clothing store, Classic Clothes.  The space was home to two restaurants before, as had been the case in 1867, it once again became a grocery store.   Upstairs are a total of 14 apartments.

many thanks to reader Ted Leather for requesting this post.
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Thursday, October 26, 2023

The 1929 Cone Export Co. Building - 57-59 Worth Street


During the second half of the 19th century, the district known today as Tribeca filled with handsome loft and store buildings designed for the dry goods trade.  Faced in marble, cast iron, or sandstone, they almost always featured a cast iron storefront.  A noticeable exception, however, was the six-story building at 57-59 Worth Street, at the northwest corner of Church Street.  Occupied by the Cone Export and Commission Company, its architect had apparently not aspired to commercial beauty.  The utilitarian, brick-faced factory and store might have been described as uninspired.

In 1927 the building at 57-59 Worth Street was prepared for demolition.  from the collection of the New-York Historical Society.

In 1927 the Cone Export Company demolished its old building and hired architect Edward I. Shire to design a modern replacement.  If its predecessor had not been "an ornament to the street," in the vernacular of architectural critics, Shire's new design would correct that.  In an era of Art Deco jazziness, the architect looked to the Italian Renaissance for inspiration.  

As the nine-story building neared completion on June 23, 1928, The Evening Post called it the "latest improvement for the wholesale dry goods district," saying, "It has been designed in the early Florentine Renaissance period style of architecture by Edward I. Shire."   A two-story rusticated base upheld an unadorned, six-story midsection.  Each set of paired openings on the top floor sat within a slightly recessed arch, emphasized by a stone eyebrow.  They, along with the ornamental corbel table that supported the cornice, harkened to 16th century Italy.

The Evening Post noted, "The stories will be unusually high, providing excellent light and ventilation, and the top floor will have a clear height of about twenty-two feet, allowing for a mezzanine story if desired."  The building was opened on February 1, 1929, but even before construction was completed, it had been  nearly fully rented.  The Cone Export Company would occupy the basement through third floors.  Among the tenants were A. S. Haight & Co., which rented the fourth floor; Ely & Walker Dry goods which took the fifth; and Chatham Manufacturing Company, which signed a lease for the sixth.  

Photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The Cone Export Company was the selling arm of the Proximity Mfg. Co. of Greensboro, North Carolina.  On October 14, 1920, Mill News explained, "It is through this department that Proximity and White Oak denims are sold all over the world."  The firm was founded by Caesar Cone and operated three cotton mills, textile factories, and print works there.

A. S. Haight & Co. manufactured underwear.  In 1932 the firm hired Rogers Meyer, a 24-year-old graduate of the University of Virginia as a traveling salesman.  Meyer was progressive minded.  At a time when most salesmen took trains to their clients, The New York Sun said he "made frequent trips to the Middle West and North West...using airplanes as a means of transportation whenever possible."  That preference ended tragically when the plane he was on crashed into the San Francisco Bay in February 1937.  The 29-year-old left a widow and 19-month-old baby girl.

Working for the Chatham Manufacturing Company at the time was 27-year-old Curtiss Howard, the firm's assistant advertising manager.  In 1942, following America's entry into World War II, he left his job to join the Coast Guard even though, he explained later, "His only previous seafaring experience had been confined to yachting in Long Island Sound."  He would return to New York a war hero.

On December 14, 1944, the Navy announced that Lt. Howard had been the navigator of the cutter Eastwind off the coast of Greenland.  The vessel located the German warship Externsteine "caught fast in the ice."  After what The New York Sun called "a few salvoes from the Eastwind's guns," the German crew surrendered.  Using the Externsteine's own mines, the American crew blasted the ship free.  

Lt. Curtiss Howard boarded the Externsteine and supervised its 700 mile voyage to Reykjavik.  The New York Sun reported that, according to the Third Naval district headquarters, "he was the first American officer in this war, so far as they knew, who had been placed in command of a captured enemy ship." 

On July 5, 1956, The New York Times announced, "The American Telephone and Telegraph Company has leased the entire building at 59 Worth Street from Cone Mills, Inc., which recently moved to 1440 Broadway."  The firm occupied the property for six years before it was sold to the New York  Law School in 1962.  Renovations completed the following year transformed the former offices to classrooms, a law library, lounges, and other school-related facilities.

The New York Law School was chartered in 1891 by a group of Columbia Law School faculty members.  Within a year, it had became the second largest law school in the country.

Events within the new home of the New York Law School often reflected the changing times and the issues of the day.  On April 11, 1979, Judge Bruce McM. Wright of Criminal Court released Jerome Singleton, charged with attempted murder, without bail.  The New York Times said the decision "has created a furor" and said, "The judge, who is black, has accused the Police Department of racism."

On April 19, The New York Times reported, "Fourteen speakers at a crowded news conference held at Judge Wright's alma mater, the New York Law School, at 57 Worth Street, praised the judge for following the Constitution and only using bail to insure a defendant's presence for trial."

In 1982, the New York Law School implemented an innovative, ten-week course for teenagers.  On April 4, The New York Times reported, "students at Eastern District High School in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn have been studying divorce law, child-custody rights, tenants' rights and abortion in a social studies class called 'Citizen and the Law.'  Attendance is high, and interest keen."

photograph by Jim Henderson

A bizarre incident occurred here in 1986.  Martin Sostre was described by The New York Times as "a national symbol of prisoners' rights in the 1960's and 70's."  During his 20-year prison term, which ended in 1975, he became a Black Muslim and diligently studied law.  While incarcerated, said the newspaper, he "won a series of court battles that established inmates' rights to practice religion, receive uncensored mail and obtain certain minimum conditions in solitary confinement."

In 1984 Sostre was accused of attempted murder when he shot a tenant in the Washington heights building where he worked as assistant manager.  He was on the run for two years before an attorney spotted the 63-year-old activist pouring over legal tomes in the library of the New York Law School at 8:00 on the evening of May 22.  The lawyer quietly notified police, who arrived and arrested Sostre.

Edward I. Shire's handsome Italian commercial palazzo remains essentially unchanged as it nears the century mark.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2023

The 1852 Nassau Swinsen House - 66 Morton Street


In 1714, Queen Anne bestowed Trinity Church with an expansive tract of land.  Known as the Trinity Farm, it stretched north along the Hudson River from Duane Street in the city to what would become Christopher Street in Greenwich Village.  Around 1825 Trinity Church began developing the land into building lots. 

In 1852, the Trustees of Trinity Church erected a handsome, Italianate style residence at 66 Morton Street.  To take advantage of the breezes from the nearby Hudson River, its architect created an unusual, full-height faceted bay.  Its windows opened to the east and west, affording refreshing airflow.  Faced in red brick, the house rose four stories above a brownstone clad English basement.  The openings originally wore molded brownstone architrave frames.

The house was leased to Nassau Swinsen, who operated it as a boarding house.  An advertisement in September 1853 offered:

Boarding--Gentlemen and their wives can obtain rooms with board at six and eight dollars per week, or single gentlemen at the same price with two in a room by applying at No. 66 Morton street, corner of Hudson, in a very quiet place, and with an American family.  Cars and stages pass every five minutes.

The posted rents would translate to between $117 and $313 in 2023.  

At the time, Eliza Swinsen, presumably a relative, ran another high-end boarding house steps away on Hudson Street.  In 1856, she took over the operation of 66 Morton Street.  Also moving into the house was her daughter, Eliza J.  She became a teacher around 1858, and would work at Primary School No. 24 on Horatio Street for years.

A few of Eliza Swinsen's boarders would stay for years.  The Hodgson family, for instance, moved in around 1856 and would remain at least a decade.  William P. Hodgson ran a coal business at 368 West Street.  

In 1863, Congress passed a conscription act, creating the first war-time draft in United States history.  It provided a loophole for the well-to-do in that exemptions could be purchased for $300--about $7,000 today--or they could pay for a substitute.  The Hodgsons chose not to risk sending their son off to the battlefront.  On September 4, 1864, The New York Times published a list of the "names of Patriotic Gentlemen who have furnished substitutes in advance of the draft."  Included was Thomas Hodgson, who did not supply a profession.

Around 1873, Charles H. Webb took over the lease of 66 Morton Street.  The family lived here for about a year, then sub-let the house to Sarah A. Taylor, the widow of Isaac Taylor.  Living with her were her two adult sons.  Isaac was a clerk, and Hugh M. Taylor was a plumber.  As was common, Sarah took in one boarder at a time.

On July 12, 1887, the Webb estate sold the leasehold of 66 Morton Street to Francis Caragher and his wife Mary for $15,000 (about $475,000 in 2023 terms).  A "truckman," Francis was the head of Francis Caragher's Sons, which specialized in transporting goods for produce merchants.  The firm operated from 49-51 Downing Street, a building Caragher had erected in 1879.  It was one of several Greenwich Village properties he owned.

Francis Caragher died in 1893, but the Caragher family would remain in the house for decades and, like Sarah Taylor, they took in a boarder.

Living with the family in 1909 was Dr. Edwin Zimmerman.  Five years earlier, real estate agent Charles C. Hickok had begun lobbying to have Seventh Avenue, which began at 11th Street, extended south to Varick Street.  The proposal would include the extension of the Seventh Avenue subway.  Among Hickok's vocal supporters was Dr. Zimmerman, who was also president of the Greenwich Village Public Committee.  On June 26, 1909, The New York Times reported on a "meeting at 66 Morton Street, called by Dr. Edwin Zimmerman...at which [City Controller Metz] was the principal speaker."  It noted that the meeting "was held for the purpose of rallying forces for the fight for the Subway extension."

A less upstanding tenant was Louis Bernstein, who lived here by 1921.  On January 28, 1922, the 22-year-old was sentenced for shoplifting.  He did not perform the crime himself, however.  The Evening World reported he had been running a Fagin-like operation, and was "convicted of receiving during the last six months articles valued at $8,000 from a gang of boys he employed to steal from the stores."

In 1923 the Caragher estate leased the property to Elin Heins "for rooming purposes," according to The Sun and The Globe.  Within the next decade, the exterior was modernized.  The stoop was removed and the entrance lowered to the basement, and the Victorian detailing of the openings were shaved flat.

The house in 1941 had lost its stoop and carved details.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

In 1957, the 28-year-old fledgling poet Maurice Kenny moved into 66 Morton Street.  In his 2018 autobiography Angry Rain, he describes his room as "not much larger than six by ten feet," and says, "I was a tenacious young poet with a head start on success."  Before long, while going through the incoming mail on the hall table, he discovered that another tenant was author Willard Motley.  His 1947 novel Knock on Any Door had won critical acclaim and was made into the 1949 motion picture of the same title.  The two became close friends.  Kenny writes, "Within two years of our meeting, I was living and working in his house on the outskirts of Mexico City, while he tried to write his fourth novel."  Maurice Kenny would go on to be inducted into the New York Writers Hall of Fame in 2014, and Motley was inducted into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame.

In 1969 Mary Kaplan purchased 66 Morton Street, returning it to a private residence.  She had the stoop and entranceway meticulously refabricated.  Astoundingly, given the vandalism that had occurred to the outside, much of the 1852 interior detailing had survived.

Sumptuously-carved marble mantles and rope molding are among the surviving interior details.  image via 6sqft.com

While Kaplan owned it, the unusual house became a favorite for Hollywood location scouts.  It was the home of Harrison Ford's character in the 1988 Working Girl, the residence of Matthew Broderick's character in the 1998 The Night We Never Met, and in 2000 was the home of Winona Ryder's character in Autumn in New York.

In 2015 Kaplan sold 66 Morton Street to jewelry designer David Yurman and his wife Sybil for $17 million.  His ownership would be short-lived, and he put it back on the market in 2017, selling it in August the following year.

many thanks to reader and blogger Jason Kessler for suggesting this post
photographs by the author
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