Friday, October 20, 2023

The 1882 Minot, Hooper & Co. Building - 51-53 Leonard Street


On January 29, 1881, The Real Estate Record reported that the opening of the Franklin Street elevated train station had led to increased rents and a scarcity of loft space in the "domestic dry-goods business in the fine buildings it now occupies in Leonard and Worth Streets and the adjacent territory."  The article noted that the situation was prompting the erection of new structures within the district.  Among those joining the trend was the drygoods firm of Minot, Hooper & Co.

The article said, "Minot, Hooper & Co., who now own the store they occupy at Nos. 51 and 53 Leonard street, are to build a store at No. 45."   Having seen the plans, the writer said, "we predict that this corner store will be recognized as one of the handsomest dry goods stores in this city."  The firm had hired Jarvis Morgan Slade to design the building.  And while he was at it, he was commissioned to simultaneously remodel 51-53 Leonard Street, which Minot, Hooper & Co. had erected in 1867.

The remodeling was completed in the fall of 1882.  Slade had retained much of the 1867 Italianate appearance of the building while adding modern touches like the neo-Grec style incised decorations on the sandstone piers.  Each of the five floors above the cast iron storefront was separated by a prominent intermediate cornice, and the two buildings were defined by paneled pilasters.

While the Record & Guide had predicted that 45 Leonard Street would be the star of the block, it changed its mind as the renovations to 51-53 Leonard Street were completed.  Here, J. Morgan Slade's engineers had solved the problem of gases and odors associated with indoor plumbing.  On September 2, 1882, the journal gave the head of Minot, Hooper & Co. all the credit, saying:

Mr. Nathan Hobart, in the erection of the stores Nos. 51 and 53 Leonard street, has done a work which should entitle him to the gratitude of all who expect to occupy places of business in this city, for he has solved the vexed problems of adequate plumbing and perfect ventilation...Of course, this has cost Mr. Hobart a good deal of money, but now that the work has been accomplished, other store builders can profit by his experience.

In November 1882, Minot, Hooper & Co. advertised available "sales-rooms and offices" in 51-53 Leonard Street, saying "this building has been accordance with plans furnished by the architect, Mr. J. Morgan Slade."  The ad noted:

Special Attention is called to the top floor, which can be reached by the Otis Elevator in about twenty seconds.  This room, in addition to two large skylights, has windows on every side, thus securing a flood of light, with unlimited fresh air, while it is free from the common annoyance caused by reflection from surrounding buildings all of which it overlooks.

In a "special note" on November 18, 1882, the Record & Guide agreed, saying "Probably the most perfect business offices and rooms in the city are those offered to rent by Minot, Hooper & Co., No. 53 Leonard Street.  The advertisement does not overstate the desirable character of these offices.  Their sanitary arrangements are a model to all builders."

The remodeled building was so satisfactory, in fact, that Minot, Hooper & Co. did not move to their new structure down the block, but remained at 51-53 Leonard Street for years to come.

Tenants here during the 1880s and 1890s included the Lorraine Manufacturing Co., makers of "fine dress goods, flannels, and shirtings;" Amy & Co., dry goods commission merchants; and Edward T. Steel & Co., whose list of goods might cause some head scratching today.  An advertisement in January 1898 called the firm "manufacturers of fancy and piece dyed worsteds for men's wear, clay diagonals, clay mixtures, coatings, serges, trouserings, worsted cheviots, &c."

Linens manufacturer J. A. Ludlow was in the building at the turn of the century.  The firm got a sizable contract in 1907 to furnish the table and bed linens for an elegant new ocean liner.  In June 1908, The Master, Mate and Pilot reported that J. A. Ludlow had outfitted the "new Fall River Liner Commonwealth."  The New York Architect explained that the firm supplied the "table cloths, napkins, bed sheets, pillow slips, bed spreads, and hand, glass and kitchen towels forming the Steamer Commonwealth's equipment,"  It added, "The patterns on the table damask were made especially for this steamer and are held for the exclusive use of the New England Navigation Company."

An advertisement highlighted the table and bed linens for the Commonwealth.   The New York Architect, July 1908 (copyright expired)

Other drygoods firms here in the pre-World War I years were T. Russell Dawson & Co., which took space in December 1903; the handkerchief manufacturers Howland & Wheaton Company, which leased additional space in 1904 "owing to the increase in their business," according to The New York Times on May 22; and the John M. Harris & Co., "selling agents of worsteds and woolens."

W. M. Austin & Co. occupied space in the building starting around 1909.  Dry Goods Economist, August 1, 1914 (copyright expired)

The structure continued to house drygoods firms in the years following World War I.  By 1921, W. M. Austin & Co. had become Austin, Woodbury Co., while still dealing in "fine cotton goods."  Engel-Upmann & Co. moved into the building upon its establishment in 1919, and E. O. Barnard Co., shirtings merchants, was here well into the 1920s.

The Haberdasher and The Clothier and Furnisher, June 1926

During the Depression years, space was taken by the Downtown Textile Workers Committee, a industry political group.  On October 31, 1933, during the mayoral campaign, members gathered to hear an address by Dr. William Jay Schieffelin, chairman of the Committee of One Thousand.  The New York Sun said he "asserted that the one clear issue in the campaign is whether the city shall be governed by a political machine.  The people are behind the candidacy of Mr. LaGuardia, he said."

The columned cast iron storefront was relatively intact in 1941.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

The garment and textile industries moved northward as midcentury neared.  In the 1980s and early 1990s, 51-53 Leonard Street was home to Gaffney-Kroese Electric Supply Co.  But an unexpected holdout was Friedman & Distillator, which opened in 1923 selling fabric to milliners.  It was still in the building in April 1993 when its customers were largely lampshade makers.

The Tribeca renaissance of the late 20th century was slow to arrive at 51-53 Leonard Street.  In 2002 the upper floors were converted to residential spaces.  The top floor, which was highly touted in the 1882 advertisement, became part of a 3,287-square-foot triplex apartment.  Holger Bartel, publisher of Travelzoo, sold the space in February 2018 for $8.9 million.

Although the cast iron storefront has been radically altered, the upper floors of J. Morgan Slade's 1882 renovation are beautifully intact.

photographs by the author
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