Thursday, November 30, 2023

The Building Behind the Billboard -- William Van Alen's 421 Seventh Avenue

image via

The Childs Unique Dairy Company was established in 1898 by brothers Samuel S. and William Childs to "establish and operate restaurants in New York City and elsewhere."  Their Childs Restaurants were among the first dining chains in the United States.  The firm's phenomenal success was such that before the end of World War I a sister business, Childs Real Estate Company, was established to erect the buildings in which the restaurants would be housed.

In 1926, the Child's Real Estate Company hired architect William Van Alen to design a 14-story and penthouse office building at the northeast corner of Seventh Avenue and 33rd Street.  Although he was a partner in Severance and Van Alen (which would begin designing the Chrysler Building a year later), he took this project on independently.  It was not the first time he had worked with Childs, nor would it be the last.  In 1919 he had designed a building for the restauranteurs a few blocks away at 377 Fifth Avenue.

Van Alen's cautious Art Deco design was nearly devoid of ornamentation.  The steel-frame construction allowed for as much glass as masonry in the upper floors.  Along with the restaurant at ground floor were several stores.  Tenants and their visitors entered under a handsome Art Deco screen on 33rd Street.

image vis the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

The site across the street from the Hotel Pennsylvania and across the avenue from Pennsylvania Station would guarantee a steady stream of customers to the Childs Restaurant.  And the plans were given an enormous boost when, on May 26, 1926, the city's Transit Commission approved a proposal between the Childs and the Interborough Rapid Transit Company to include "an approach to the Pennsylvania Station of the Seventh Avenue Subway through the premises."

The building was completed in 1927, and the offices filled with a wide variety of tenants.  Among the earliest were the Cutler Realty Co., the New York offices of the National Highway Users Conference, the Diamond Die Company of America, and the National Radio Associates.  An interesting tenant in 1928 was CoMo Modes, Inc.  An offshoot of CoMo Modes Dresses, it followed the Tupperware or Fuller Brush model of selling by employing housewives to do its marketing.  A large advertisement in the Hornell, New York Evening Tribune-Times in December 1928 began:

A New York Chain Apparel Organization seeks responsible women of culture and tact, to act as their "Exclusive Agency" in various communities throughout the United States, to sell from their own home parlor, popular priced dresses of exceptional merit and style.  A portion of one room is all the space required.

But the most visible tenant arrived around 1942--the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee.  With the outbreak of the Cold War following World War II, a perceived threat from the Communist Party arose in America, known as the Red Scare.  In 1938, the House Un-American Activities Committee was formed to investigate "alleged disloyalty and rebel activities" on the part of private citizens.  The Emergency Civil Liberties Committee was organized to oppose the Committee's work.  And it did not go unnoticed in Washington.  The Congressional Record of September 24, 1942 noted, "Headquarters for the national office of this front to abolish the House Committee on Un-American Activities is situated at 421-7th Avenue, New York."

The Childs Real Estate Company sold 421 Seventh Avenue in 1945 to Arnold Gumowitz, but retained the lease for its restaurant.  The upper floors continued to house real estate, doctors', and various other offices (J. Gerberg & Co., Inc., which had branches in London and Montreal, sold South African exports, for instance).  And the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee continued to be a thorn in the side of Congress.

The Emergency Civil Liberties committee produced radio programs, and advertised on college campuses.  Barnard Bulletin, April 23, 1956.

During a Congressional Committee session titled "Community Training Operations" on February 5, 1960, Representative Gordon H. Scherer told the Committee, "I wish further to state that the investigators of our committee have visited the headquarters of Youth Against the House Un-American Activities Committee at 421 Seventh Avenue, New York City, and find that they occupy the same rooms and use the same staff as the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee."

In the 1960s, the focus of the ECLU had expanded beyond its opposition to the House Un-American Activities Committee.  The Barnard Bulletin began an article on January 19, 1968 saying "'Uncompromising support' of the Bill of Rights is the aim of the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee.  It handles test cases, gives legal counsel, and tries to educate citizens in the 'freedom of conscience and expression' guaranteed by the Bill of Rights."  The article explained that representatives were on hand at anti-war rallies to ensure that arrested protestors were afforded their rights.  It added, "Student protesters aren't the only concern of the ECLC.  In the wake of the Newark riots it has been running an information service for Negroes and Puerto Ricans.  It is involved in several test cases of civil liberties in the armed forces."

In 1980 an immense billboard that wraps the corner was erected over the third through eighth floors.  Along with today's garish conglomeration of signage and awnings on the ground and second floors, it greatly obscures Van Alen's design.

By 1985 the offices of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership were here.  In 2017 the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation operated from the building.

A much different tenant was the Houdini Museum of New York, which was opened by David Rockwell in 2012.  On October 26, 2014, Julie Besonen of The New York Times wrote, "Housed on the third floor of an office building that has seen better days, the museum, at 421 Seventh avenue, is open daily and embedded in a magic shop that also serves as headquarters for Fantasma, a manufacturer of trick cards, coins and wands, remote-control spiders, crawling hands, vanishing silks and multiplying soap bubbles."

A stand-off as contentious as that between the HUAC and the ECLC--or possibly more so--started in 2020 when the state declared the Penn Station district "blighted" and billionaire real estate mogul Steve Roth's Vornado Realty and the Empire State Development Corp proposed demolishing blocks of property around Penn Station and erecting office towers.  The New York Post reported, "At least 200 people will lose their homes and 9,000 employees will be out of work if the project goes ahead."

One person standing in the way was Arnold Gumowitz.  Now 92 years old, Dana Kennedy from The New York Post wrote on July 24, 2021 that he "doesn't want to sell the 15-story structure that he bought 43 years ago.  It's where he runs his commercial real estate empire, and where he still comes to work with his son every day."

image via

At the time of the article, Gumowitz had just seen the plans for an 80-story tower on the site of 421 Seventh Avenue. He told Kennedy, "This is a generational piece of property.  This is also a piece of real New York.  I also hate to see this area become another impersonal Hudson Yards with nothing but tall buildings and no sunlight."  He and his son hired attorneys specializing in eminent domain threats in hopes to stave off demolition.  And so New York City awaits the outcome.

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

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

The Gottlieb Building - 32 East 58th Street (611 Madison Avenue)


In 1875, as the city expanded further northward in the post-Civil War years, builder and real estate developer Linus Scudder erected a row of five upscale brownstone-faced residences on the southeast corner of 58th Street and Madison Avenue.  Because of its corner location, 32 East 58th Street was the plum property with an extra wall of light and ventilation.  Four stories tall above a high English basement, its high-stooped design was, most likely, similar to other Italianate residences being erected throughout the city.

It became home to the William H. Falconer family.  Born in New York City in 1831, Falconer had an impressive American pedigree.  He was descended from Pierre Fauconier, who arrived in New York in 1705 as secretary to Lords Bellemont and Cornberry, Colonial Governors of New York.  His great-grandfather, John Falconier, was a captain on George Washington's staff.

Falconer had been in the real estate business since 1853.  On June 19, 1873, he married Margaret C. McLean (the certificate of marriage read "Maggie").  His 31-year-old bride was his third wife.  A son, Bruce McLean Falconer, would be born in 1880.

Although the neighborhood in general was still exclusive--Cornelius Vanderbilt had begun construction of his magnificent mansion a block to the west in 1878--at the time of the baby's birth, Madison Avenue was changing.  Already, shops were slowly invading the wide avenue.  

No. 32 East 58th Street was sold in November 1881.  The purchaser, Dora Reid, did not remain especially long.  On April 23, 1885, an advertisement in the New York Evening Post announced that the house would be sold at action, describing the...

...handsome 4-story high-stoop brown-stone dwelling...finely decorated, every modern improvement, handsome chandeliers, gas fixtures, fine pier mirrors, and cornices go with the house.

(The "cornices" were the decorative coverings, often gilded, from behind which the window draperies hung.)

W. B. Reid paid $29,000 at the auction, or about $911,000 in 2023 terms.  By 1888 the residence was being operated as a high-end boarding house.  Two advertisements in 1888 offered:

A handsome second floor, excellent board.  Jewish family.  32 East 58th st., corner Madison av.

Beautiful back parlor and other rooms, excellent board.  32 East 58th st., corner Madison av.

Commerce finally arrived at 32 East 58th Street in 1890 when the basement level was leased to a society dressmaker, Mademoiselle Bangnos.  On December 15 that year she advertised for "Waist Hands--Wanted, first-class waist hands."  

Albert I. Sire purchased 32 East 58th Street in March 1892.  The property values along Madison Avenue had skyrocketed by now.  The $45,000 he paid would translate to just under $1.5 million today.  He was the first to make significant alterations to the structure, removing the stoop and converting the upper floors to a "five-story brick flat," as described by The New York Times.

The store continued to house a women's apparel shop through, at least, 1897.  That year J. Juran advertised, "Tailors wanted--first class tailors only, on ladies' jackets and waists."

At the turn of the century, the florist shop of Owen McDonald occupied the space.  Necessary to the lavish decors of well-to-do New Yorkers at the time were palms and ferns.  On December 2, 1902, P. McDonald (presumably a son of Owen) was making deliveries when he became an innocent victim of a runaway horse.  The New York Times reported, "A delivery horse of Arnold, Constable & Co. was left unhitched at Thirty-fourth Street and Fifth Avenue...and ran away toward Broadway."  At the corner of Sixth Avenue, it knocked down 19-year-old Nellie Keegan, then galloped across Broadway onto the sidewalk.  "It broke the $500 plateglass window in the tobacco shop of Charles Schlesinger, and before it left the sidewalk ran over Henry Ward."

Owen's wagon was directly in the path of the panicked animal.  It "dashed against" the wagon, said the article, "with an assortment of potted plants."  Owen was thrown to the pavement, but unlike Nellie Keegan and Henry Ward, he was not severely injured.

On March 1, 1906, Albert I. Sire leased the florist shop to Myer (often spelled Meyer) Gotlieb for a term of five-and-a-half years.  As it turned out, Gotlieb's residency would be much longer.  

In 1910 Gotlieb received two permits from the city, one to "place a drop awning" over the entrance, and the other to "to place and keep a storm door."  That year, the four other houses along Linus Scudder's 1875 row were combined by the architectural firm of Hooper & Greene and given a neo-Federal front.  The transformation may have inspired Gotlieb.  In May 1914, he purchased 32 East 58th Street.  One month later, the Record & Guide reported that he had hired the architectural firm of Gronenberg & Leuchtag to do $10,000 in sweeping renovations. 

Perhaps inspired by Frederick Junius Sterner, who was transforming outdated brownstones into Mediterranean fantasies, the architects gave the building a thick coating of stucco, added romantic pseudo-balconies with red clay tile roofs, and inset classical plaques into facade (the drawings identify them as marble).  Gotlieb's florist store received a plate glass front and round bronze marquee over the corner entrance.  An artist's studio was erected on the roof, with vast, slanted windows that admitted northern light.

photo by Wurts Brothers from the collection of the New York Public Library.

Myer Gotlieb moved his family into an apartment above the store.  Living with him and his wife Sadie Vera, were their daughter Sadie and her husband Maximilian Stark.  The family had a live-in Irish maid.  On October 3, 1915, Raymond Otto Stark was born in the apartment.  Ray Stark would grow up to be one of the most renowned film producers and talent agents of the 20th century.

Occupying the rooftop studio was British-born artist Marguerite Kirmse.  The New York Herald remarked on March 15, 1915 that she "has been established here five years" and had "become known as a painter of animals, particularly dogs."  In April that year, with the outbreak of war in Europe,  her sister Elizabeth Persis Esperance Kirmse arrived from Paris and moved in with Marguerite.  She, too, was well-known for her animal paintings.

Marguerite Kirmse's The Hound

The article described the artists' studio, making special note of "a window extending the whole length of the north side," and adding, "The walls and a couple of easels held paintings of dogs and horses."  The Kirmse sisters were not fly-by-night pet portrait artists.  The article said, "Among the dogs which Miss Persis Kirmse has painted are Baron Zuylen's Italian Lupino, Princess Vasailiska's chien loup Prince, Princess Murat's Boston bull Rummy, Prince Duleep Singh's Bibs, Marshesa Pieri Nerli's Borzoi Boris, Lady Alabaster's collie Ming and a Pekingese and French bulldog for the Duca and Duchessa du Camastra."  Marguerite Kirmse's patrons were no less impressive.

On February 10, 1916, the Musical Courier reported, "Richard Epstein, who has been touring the United States this season with Geraldine Farrar, announces his removal to 32 East Fifty-eighth street, New York."  Born in 1869 in Zagreb, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Epstein's father Julius had also been an esteemed musician and professor of piano at the Vienna Conservatory.  (Richard, too, would teach piano at the Vienna Conservatory before beginning his concert career.

New-York Tribune, October 15, 1916 (copyright expired)

Living here in 1919 was Clara Dorores Machain Lopp, described by the New York Herald as "a wealthy South American."  Mrs. Lopp had married Joaquin J. Cueto of Buenos Aires in 1887, with whom she had a daughter, Sophia Cueto.  Just before the turn of the century, deciding that Sophia should have a Parisian education, she left Cueto behind and moved to France with her daughter.  Included in Sophia's curriculum were dance lessons, taught by George Washington Lopp.

When Clara and Sophia relocated to New York City, Lopp followed "and began to woo her ardently," as reported by the New York Herald.  According to the article, Clara asserted, "One afternoon he invited her to the law office of [Daniel] O'Reilly, and when she arrived there with her daughter, Sophia, he and the lawyer announced that they had instituted a suit for divorce against Mr. Cueto, who had been served with the papers in this city, and that after a trial Justice Page had granted her a decree."  

O'Reilly produced what he explained was the judicial order dissolving the marriage.  George Lopp told her it ordered that "the expenses should be paid by the woman."  The New York Herald related, "Not being able to speak, read or write English, Mrs. Lopp states, she was easily duped into believing the two men."  Clara paid O'Reilly $2,000 for his services, and that same day and she and Lopp were married.

The three returned to Paris where Clara took out an eight-year lease on an apartment on the Rue la Boetie.  Lopp added to the household by bringing along his two teenaged daughters.  Now in 1919, according to Clara, not only had she "paid all of the bills for maintaining the household and supported Lopp's two daughters," but "his attitude toward her was one of cruelty."  The breaking point came in May 1918 when Clara discovered that the "divorce" was a sham, as was her marriage.

She moved to New York and into 32 East 58th Street.  On October 8, 1919, she recounted her ordeal before Justice Hendricks of the State Supreme Court.  The New York Herald reported, "Upon the statement of Mrs. Lopp that the dancing teacher is still occupying the Paris home, Justice Hendricks signed an order permitting service of the paper in the annulment action by mail."

Under the coat of beige paint, according to Gronenberg & Leuchtag's plans, the plaques of ancient charioteers and warriors are marble.

In the spring of 1922, the neighborhood had been terrorized by a slippery cat burglar.  The New York Herald explained that the nickname "The Phantom Burglar," was "the fancy cognomen being due to the celerity with which the individual loses himself after looting."  On the night of April 12, one of the female residents of 32 East 58th Street "heard a crunching sound" at the street door and "phoned to the apartments of Dr. Ralph Kramer and Archibald Speyer."  She had chosen the right neighbors to notify.

"The doctor sallied forth with an automatic, while Speyer grabbed a Winchester," said the article.  "They tiptoed to the door and waited until the door burst open."

Dr. Kramer demanded, "Hands up, and be quick about it!"

The burglar, William Fonner, raise his hands, but insisted it was all a mistake.  "I came here to see a doctor." 

Kramer responded, "That's all right, you're seeing one now."

Patrolman Keller arrived and arrested the 31-year-old.  He was identified in a "crooks' lineup" the following morning.  "The police produced a record of arrests for crimes which they say belongs to Fonner," reported the New York Herald.

Five months after the attempted break-in, Richard Epstein died at the Lenox Hill Hospital.  Still a native of Austria, he left an estate of $11,723.63 (about a quarter of a million in today's dollars).   His widow, Elisabeth and two children, all of whom lived in Vienna, shared equally in his estate, since he left no will.

In 1928 Meyer Gotlieb again renovated the building.  He hired architect Joseph D. Weiss to transform the artist studio to a two-story penthouse.   The northern bay was removed to provide a balcony for the somewhat boxy new residential space.

image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

The Gotlieb flower shop left in 1937, the year that Franz and Klaus Perls opened a branch of their European art gallery in the space.  The Perls Gallery would exhibit the works of contemporary French artists for years.  In December 1938, for example, an exhibition opened which The Sun described as containing "a number of examples of, for the most part, well known French artists of the day."  Included were works by Charles Dufresne, Olga Scharaoff, Jean Eve, Camille Bourbois, Jean Dufy, Laurincin, Maurice Utrillo, and others.  The gallery survived at least through 1944, followed by Galerie Herve of Paris, and the Griffin Gallery in the 1960s.  

A colorful resident of 32 East 58th Street, here by the late 1950s, was Nicholas Alexander de Transehe.  Born in Russia in 1887, he had served as a czarist naval officer.  He relocated to New York city in 1923 and three years later helped Admiral Richard E. Byrd plot his transpolar flight.  Following World War II, De Transehe worked for the C.I.A. as a Soviet expert.  As if his resume were not impressive enough, he was also an inventor.  He died of cancer of the liver on January 6, 1961 while still living here.

For more than a decade beginning in 1993, the former Gotlieb florist shop space was home to Agatha, a jewelry store.  At some point the first and second floors were refaced and the store space broken into three.

The end of the line for the building seemed to be near on April 16, 2014 when The Real Deal reported, "A new round of permits are on file for 611 Madison, where a new structure will soon replace an existing seven-story townhouse."  The article noted, "No projected completion date has been announced as of yet, a demolition date has not been nailed down and renderings have yet to surface."

At least for now, the quirky and somewhat charming survivor hangs on.

photographs by the author
many thanks to historian Anthony Bellov for prompting this post
no permission to reuse the content of this blog has been granted to 

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Thomas Ball's 1876 Daniel Webster Statue - Central Park


Gordon W. Burnham was described by The New York Times as "one of the most widely known millionaires of this city."  On July 25, 1874, he sent a letter to Henry G. Stebbins, the president of the Department of Public Parks, which said in part:

I respectfully offer for the Central Park a bronze statue of Daniel Webster of colossal size, with an appropriate granite pedestal, the whole work to be executed by the best artist in a manner altogether worthy the grandeur of the subject and the conspicuous position it is designed to occupy at the lower entrance to the mall...I trust that my offer to place this statue on the site proposed will meet the speedy acceptance of your department, in order that the work may be duly completed by the fourth of July, 1876--the Centennial of American Independence.

In reproducing the letter, the New York Herald called the proposed artwork, "A most appropriate memorial to the Great Statesmen."  Webster was highly respected by New Yorkers.  Born in New Hampshire in 1782, he served in both Congress and the House of Representatives, earning a reputation as one of the country's preeminent orators.  He served as Secretary of State twice, under Presidents John Tyler and Millard Fillmore.  Webster died in 1852.

The New York Times reported, "This very handsome offer of Mr. Burnham's...will, no doubt, be meet with speedy acceptance and approbation of the Commissioners."  That presumption proved to be overly-optimistic.  

New Yorkers, shocked to read a few days later that the Parks Commissioners had refused Burnham's offer, fired off letters of protest to newspapers.  One, who signed his letter "Citizen," criticized the commissioners for filling the park with monuments to foreigners, yet not one American.  He pointed out that "statues of Shakespeare, Walter Scott, Humboldt and others occupy prominent positions on the Mall and by the main entrance."  He angrily suggested that had Burnham offered a statue of "Robert Burns, or the late Prince Consort, or even Queen Victoria," it would have been "obsequiously" accepted.

In the meantime, not expecting that his offer would be refused, Burnham had commissioned Thomas Ball to begin work on the Webster statue.  Born in Charlestown, Massachusetts, the sculptor was currently working in Florence, Italy.

No doubt as a reaction to the vociferous public backlash and the donor's significant financial outlay, a compromise was found.  The statue would sit in Central Park, but not on the Mall as Burnham hoped.  

Appleton & Company's 1876 Proceedings of the Inauguration of the Statue of Daniel Webster explained that the anticipated unveiling date of July 4, 1876 was derailed by "delays and disappointments."  The 14-foot bronze, which stands on a 20-foot-tall pedestal, was unveiled on November 25, 1876 near the 72nd Street and Fifth Avenue entrance to the park "in the presence of several thousand spectators," according to the New York Herald.  The newspaper said,

Mr. Webster is represented as standing erect, dressed in the old fashioned dress coat, which fully exposes the outline of the figure.  The whole monument, including the pedestal, weighs over 125 tons, and cost over $30,000.  The pedestal is of Quincy granite, and contains one single block weighing thirty-three tons.

Bronze letters affixed to the front of the pedestal read:

Liberty and Union
Now and Forever
One and Inseparable 
Daniel Webster

Burnham celebrated that evening with a lavish reception at his Fifth Avenue mansion.  Among the guests were Governor Samuel J. Tilden; two former governors; and socialites and industrialists with surnames like Dodge, Phelps, Kingsland, Depew, and Roosevelt.  And a month later, on December 27, Burnham was honored with a testimonial from the City Council for the gift.  According to the New York Herald, "The testimonial required ten days' labor, at a cost of $250, and has been richly framed in gold, set off by crimson velvet."

stereoscope photograph by Augustus Hepp, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

As is often the case, the high critical appraisal of the Webster statue dimmed with the passage of years.  On May 28, 1890, the critic from the Evening World described the base as "an ugly pedestal of gray, unpolished granite."  On June 27, 1912, The New York Times reported that "seven pounds of dynamite were found buried in a sand heap near the statue of Daniel Webster."  The article explained, "It must have been placed there by laborers working on the aqueduct."  Happily, it was found before an accident occurred.  But the article brusquely commented, "If the stuff had exploded it might have destroyed the Webster statue.  Nobody would have shed tears about that."

On November 28, 1943, The New York Times reported  that Commissioner Robert Moses felt the Webster statue, "replete with cutaway coat, hand tucked in the waistcoat, handy tombstone to hold top coat, beetling brow, unpressed pants" and "horrific" base, was one of the worst statues in the city.  The passage of years did not warm critics' feelings.  Writing in The New York Times on September 15, 1974, architectural journalist Ada Louise Huxtable said, "until you've seen a really bad base, like the awkward highrise of the equally awkward Daniel Webster in Central Park (whose pomposity affords a certain delight), you may not be aware of the difference this can make."

The Webster statue was conserved in 1963, but the result offended The New York Times journalist Grace Glueck who wrote on April 17, 1987, "we have Thomas Ball's tastelessly patinated figure of Daniel Webster, an out-of-scale [artwork] 34 feet in height and resembling a wooden Indian, towering over the 72d Street Transverse."

It was not the quality of the sculpture that angered protestors in 2020, but Webster's political stance in 1850.  While he called slavery a "great moral, social, and political evil," he aggressively attempted to keep the Union intact.  To that end, he supported the Compromise of 1850 that included the Fugitive Slave Act, which allowed for the return of escaped slaves across state lines.  In June 2020 the base was defaced with spray painted graffiti.

Despite its somewhat rocky reputation, Thomas Ball's larger-than-life memorial to Daniel Webster stands defiantly in the park, greatly overlooked by the throngs of visitors who pass by.

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

Monday, November 27, 2023

The Lost Houses at 11 and 13 East Eighth Street


from the collection of the Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, New York University Archives.

In 1832 the Board of Aldermen changed the name of the stretch of West 8th Street between Fourth and Sixth Avenues to Clinton Place in honor of former Governor De Witt Clinton.  Within two years plots along Clinton Place were being developed.  Among the earliest homes to be erected were the fine Greek Revival townhouses at 53 and 55, just east of Fifth Avenue and two blocks north of Washington Square.

Three-and-a-half stories tall, the houses were faced in red brick above their brownstone basements.  Mirror images, they shared a single stone stoop.  Elegant urns perched upon the stoop newels, and the side-by-side entrances sat within a single portico supported by Ionic columns.  Typical of the Greek Revival style, their attic levels were significantly shorter than the lower floors, with squat windows that peeked through the fascia.

The western house, 53 Clinton Place, was briefly home to two business partners and their families.  Horace W. Goodwin and James Fitch, here in 1839, were in the dry goods business at 53 Beaver Street.  

The following year Alma Floyd Post moved in with at least two of her sons.  Alma and her husband Joel Post, who died in 1835, had six children.  Living with Alma were Wright Eli Post, who was a freshman at New York University that year (conveniently nearby on Washington Square); and commission merchant Edward Wright Post.

Alma's next door neighbors were Henry Augustus Coit and his wife, the former Sarah Lloyd Borland.  Born in 1800, Henry relocated to Cuba as a young man where he made a fortune in the sugar business with his partner Moses Taylor.  Sarah, who came from a wealthy Boston family, was considerably younger.  When they were married in 1837, Coit was 37 and his bride was still in her teens.

This miniature of Henry Augustus Coit was painted by John Wood Dodge the year before the Coits married.  from the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Coits maintained two country homes--one in Saratoga Springs and the other in Dobbs Ferry.  As did all the residents along Clinton Place, the Coits had a domestic staff.  In 1852, Sarah sought a laundress "to go in the country, who is fully competent as such, and to take charge of a small dairy too.  Must be well recommended."  Three years later she advertised, "Cook Wanted--One who thoroughly understands her business, and can bring unexceptional recommendations, may apply at 55 Clinton place.  A Protestant preferred."  (The term "unexceptional," unlike its denotation today, meant without blemish.)

Like most socialites, with the onset of Civil War Sarah Coit offered what support she could.  Moved by the thousands of wounded soldiers, Dr. Henry Whitney Bellows conceived the idea of the United States Sanitary Commission.  It provided both spiritual and physical assistance to wounded Union troops.  On February 15, 1864, in reporting on the Metropolitan Fair "for the benefit of the United States Sanitary Commission," the New-York Tribune mentioned that Sarah Coit sat on the Executive Committee with the likes of Mrs. John Jacob Astor, Mrs. August Belmont, and Mrs. Alexander Hamilton.

On November 1, 1868, Henry A. Coit died " his residence in Clinton place," according to the New York Herald.  The term suggests a heart attack.  Interestingly, his funeral was not held in the house, as would have been expected, but in the Church of the Ascension on Fifth Avenue.  Sarah would remain in the Clinton Place house for at least two more decades.

In the meantime, the extended Schell family had moved into 53 Clinton Place in 1845.  Augustus Shell was a lawyer.  Born in 1812 in Rhinebeck, New York, he was married to Anna Mott Fox.  Sharing the house was Augustus's brother Richard, who was a banker, and his wife the former Elizabeth Lott Jerome; his unmarried sister Julia Christiana; and his widowed mother Elizabeth Hughes Schell.  (Another brother, Edward Schell, lived at 20 University Place.)

Augustus Schell as he appeared in 1865.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

The house was the scene of two funerals in 1851.  Julia Christiana died on October 24, and twelve days later George L. Lott suffered a fatal heart attack.  The New York Evening Telegram reported, "The friends of the family, and of his brother-in-law, Richard Schell, are respectfully invited to attend his funeral, from No. 53 Clinton-place (8th st.)."  (The exact relationship between Elizabeth Lott Jerome and George L. Lott is cloudy.)

Elizabeth Jerome Schell was one of four daughters of the massively wealthy Leonard Jerome.  Her sister, Jeanette (known as Jennie) would marry Lord Randolph Churchill in 1874 and become mother to Sir Winston Churchill.  

The wealth and social prominence of Augustus Schell was reflected in "a splendid entertainment" he hosted on August 5, 1853 in honor of "the Hon. James Buchanan, Minister to England."  Four years before the guest of honor would become President, "about fifty or sixty invited guests" filed into the Clinton Place house.  Among them were August Belmont, who was currently Charge d'Affaires to the Hague; Secretary of Legation to England Daniel E. Sickles; Minister to Spain Pierre Soule; Minister to Russia Thomas H. Seymour; and Secretary of Legation to Russia R. A. Erving.  The article pronounced, "It was a brilliant affair."

Augustus Schell's intimacy with Buchanan paid off.  Upon his taking office, President James Buchanan appointed Schell the collector of the Port of New York.  Richard, too, became involved in politics and in 1858 was elected to the New York State Senate, and in 1874 he was elected to Congress.

But before that happened, around 1865, Augustus and Anna Schell had moved to 9 West 34th Street and Edward Schell and his wife, the former Jane Lambertson Heartt, moved into the Clinton Place residence.  

(On March 28, 1884, the New-York Tribune ran a four-word article:  "Augustus Schell died yesterday."  Childless, he divided his massive fortune mostly among Anna and his brothers.  She received $200,000, about $6 million in 2023; and Robert and Edward each received $400,000.  His nieces and nephews were given handsome inheritances, as well.)

Edward Schell Portraits of the President of the [Saint Nicholas] Society, 1914, (copyright expired)

Edward Schell was born in Rhinebeck on November 7, 1819.  He and Jane had two children, Edward Heartt and Mary Emily.  In 1854, he became a trustee of the Manhattan Savings Institution, and in 1876 was made its president.   By now, he was also a director in the Butchers' and Drovers' Bank, the Citizens' Bank, the Union Trust Company, the Third National Bank, the Citizens' Insurance Company, and the Manhattan Life Insurance Company.  He had become a warden of the Church of the Ascension during the Civil War.

Jane Lamberson Heartt Schell died in the house on April 20, 1880.  Edward and Mary Emily were still living with their father at the time.

On December 22, 1893, Edward Schell became "seriously ill," according to The Sun.  He died at week later, on December 23 at the age of 74.  His funeral was held in the Church of the Ascension on December 27.  Among the mourners in the church were some of the wealthiest and most influential men of the day, including Cornelius Vanderbilt, Chauncey M. Depew, Robert Stuyvesant, George G. De Witt, and Gordon Norrie.

At the time of Schell's death, the Richard Watson Gilder family had lived at 55 Clinton Place for at least two years.  Gilder and his wife, Helena de Kay, had four children, Rodman de Kay, George Colman de Kay, Helena Francesca de Kay, and Janet Rosamond de Kay Gilder.  The family's country house was in the Berkshire mountains.

Richard Watson Gilder, (original source unknown)

On March 12, 1893, The World wrote, "Many Americans know more about Richard Watson Gilder than they do about Grover Cleveland, because they have read more of the products of his brain."  A poet and journalist, Gilder was the editor-in-chief of Century Magazine.  The article noted, "Mr. Gilder lives in an old-fashioned house at No. 55 Clinton place.  He enjoys his life, entertains and knows all sorts of people, and does not entirely disdain the fashionable set."  

Helena was an artist and illustrator, and a founder of the Art Students League and the Society of American Artists.  She had met her husband in 1872 in the offices of Scribner's Monthly.  They became engaged in 1874 and were married on June 3 that year.  She was the subject of several love poems written by Gilder, and she illustrated several of his books.  

The Gilders posed for this photograph around the time of their wedding.  from the collection of the Library of Congress.

At the turn of the century, the name of Clinton Place was returned to Eighth Street, and 53 and 55 Clinton Place became 11 and 13 East 8th Street.  While the Gilders would continue to live in their home at least through 1903, commerce had caught up with the house next door by 1899 when C. Cypres, "manufacturer of seal caps and gloves," moved into the renovated building.  By 1906, the former Gilder residence was renovated for business on the lower floors, with rented rooms above.  Living in one of them in 1906 was artist E. O. Rosales, whose work was exhibited at the National Academy of Design that year.

In 1917 Sidney K. Powell opened an antiques shop in the lower level of 11 East 8th Street.  A notice The Quill on November 1 read:

This is to announce the opening of my antique shop at Number 11 East Eighth Street, New York City.  Here one may find many "Down East," New England and other early American pieces.  Odd tables, chests of drawers, old china, candlesticks, old pewter, Godey pictures and many chairs, including Windsors, Hitchcocks, and fiddlebacks.

Within two years the shop had relocated to 17 East 8th Street, and Edith Haynes Thompson and A. K. Dresser moved their shop into the space.  

The Quill, December 1919 (copyright expired)

By 1925, A. K. Dresser was running the shop alone.  An advertisement that year listed "Early American pine and maple furniture, Sandwich glass, hooked rugs, pewter, etc.  Some fine old maps."  The space would continue to house antiques shops for years--the Hodge Podge Shop antiques in 1927, and Louise Middleton Chapman's store selling "glass and small articles for gifts," by 1931.

Next door, the Nayan Shop occupied the lower level of 13 East 8th Street in 1921.  As Christmas approached that year, an advertisement suggested gifts of "hand-dyeing [sic] Novelties, Negligees, Antiques."

Like 11 East 8th Street, the upper floors of No. 13 held rented rooms.  In January 1926, fledgling writer Thomas Wolfe rented the attic floor apartment--once home to Alma Post's servants--for $35 a month.  According to Richard Kostelanetz in his 2003 SoHo--The Rise and Fall of an Artists' Colony, he shared the space "with his paramour, the theater designer Aline Bernstein."

Thomas Wolfe, 1920, from Yackety Yack, the Student Yearbook of the University of North Carolina.

Author David Herbert Donald, in his Look Homeward, A Life of Thomas Wolfe, writes:

The building had been badly neglected.  The bottom floor was occupied by a dingy tailor shop and the two main floors, which had obviously been used as workrooms, were empty and dilapidated, with rubbish covering the floor and coils of electrical wiring hanging from the ceiling.  But at the top there was an enormous studio or loft that ran the entire length of the house.

Aline Bernstein, from the collection of the New York Public Library

Ross Wetzsteon, in his 2002 book Republic of Dreams, Greenwich Village: The American Bohemia, 1919-1960, notes, "in this cherished setting Tom began the novel he would eventually call Look Homeward, Angel...and Tom and Aline embarked on the most tender and most brutal of all the legendary Village love affairs."

At the time, the end of the line was on the horizon for the two venerable houses and many of their neighbors.  They were demolished in 1935 to make way for a five-story apartment building.  It was, in turn, torn down for the 1955 Brevoort apartment house, designed by Boak & Raad.

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

Saturday, November 25, 2023

The Peter Weimar Saloon Building- 275 Bleecker Street


In 1818 a house was first assessed on Herring Street, at what would later become 
263 Bleecker Street (renumbered 275 in 1868).  The property was owned by Gardiner Jones and his wife Sarah Herring, whose family's sprawling Herring farm, as surveyed in 1794, spread east from Christopher Street to the Bowery.  The commodious Federal style residence was 23-feet wide and three-and-a-half stories tall.  Its peaked roof would have been punctured by one or two prim dormers.

The Joneses never lived in the house.  It was home to the Charles Oakley family in 1819.  He listed his profession as merchant in 1810 when he married Margaret Roome.  But it was his real estate dealings for which he would be remembered.  By the 1830's Oakley had become perhaps the most prolific developer in Greenwich Village.  Charles Oakley was among a group of businessmen who petitioned the Common Council in 1829 to change the name of Herring Street to Bleecker Street.

By 1833, the ground floor had been converted for commercial use, home to Apothecaries' Hall, a drugstore run by British-born Edward L. Cotton.  Patrons came here for years to purchase remedies like Gibney's Teeter & Ringworm Destroyer.  An advertisement in January 1836 promised that it was "the only certain and permanent cure for Tetter, Ringworm, and Salt Rheum.  During the last year, hundreds with joy would testify to the great efficacy of this truly valuable remedy."

On August 21, 1842, Cotton advertised two other miraculous products in the New York Herald.  One was Sharon Springs White Sulphur Water, which cured "all rheumatic, cutaneous and dyspeptic complaints, sore eyes, debility, erysipelas, scrofula, liver complaint, affection of the kidney, &c."  The other was Parr's Life Pills.  The ad boasted:

The value of this medicine in bilious complaints, blotches on the skin, cholera morbus, dysentery, faintings, foul breath, heart burn, headache, inflammation, indigestion, langour, liver complaints, piles, scrofula, and numerous other diseases, may be judged when it is known that the sale in Europe has increased to the enormous amount of 30,000 boxes weekly.

In the late 1840s, Cotton had added Dr. A. La Roy's Anti-Venereal Protector and the Washington Elixir to his offerings.  As with so many patent medicines of the period, an ad promised that either would cure a nearly endless list of complaints.

After being a neighborhood staple for around two decades, Apothecary Hall was replaced sometime before 1850 by the Ninth Ward Hat Company.  Men's headwear was not only sold in the shop, but manufactured here.

The American Advertiser, 1850 (copyright expired)

In the meantime, two families lived on the upper floors.  In 1851 they included George Detmer, who did not list a profession, suggesting he may have been retired; and Cornelia L. Barnes, who taught in the Girls Department of Ward School No. 25 on Greenwich Avenue.

The house-and-store was purchased by Peter Weimar in 1863.  He converted the ground floor to a saloon and took in boarders upstairs.  That year his tenants were Peter Wintrich, a shoemaker; John P. Meineke, a tailor; and John Frances, who ran an eatinghouse downtown at 2 Cedar Street.

It appears that Weimar converted either the second floor or the saloon's back room to a meeting space in 1870.  An advertisement in the New York Dispatch on April 3 read:

Lodge-room to Let--The newly fitted and elegantly furnished rooms No. 275 Bleecker street.  Rent only $200 per annum for two meetings per month.

The posted rent would translate to $385 per month in 2023.

The venture worked, and on January 28, 1872 a notice appeared in the New York Herald that read, "The members of Palestine Encampment are hereby summoned to meet at Eureka Lodge Rooms, 275 Bleecker street, on Sunday, 28th instant, at half-past twelve o'clock sharp, to attend the funeral of our late brother, Edward Wright."

Late in 1874, Weimar closed his saloon and sold out.  The auction listing on December 1 included "one splendid Counter 28 feet, a quantity of Chairs, round and square Tables, Ale Pumps; large lot of Glassware, French plate Mirrors, fine Pictures; also Wines and Liquors, &c."  The space would not be devoid of a saloon for long, however.

In the spring of 1876, Peter Weimar embarked on a massive renovation project.  He hired architect Thomas J. Drummond to completely remodel the property.  Drummond's plans, filed on April 21, called for the attic to be raised to a full story at a cost of $1,500 (about $42,500 today).  The resultant four-story building was capped with a modern Italianate cornice and the upper story windows given architrave frames.  (It may have been at this time that a brick front was applied, however the diamond shaped Arts and Crafts style tiles seen in later photographs would have been added around the turn of the century.)

In 1941 a constellation of Arts & Crafts tiles decorated the facade.  A fruit and vegetable store occupied the ground floor.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

The commercial space once again became a saloon, run by George Gamberg in 1876.  It was taken over by Herman Hellmers in 1879, and by Frederick Busch in 1897.  Busch and his family lived in one of the upper floor apartments.  There were three other families living in the building that year.

The Busch family would live and run their business here for decades.  An announcement in the New-York Tribune on October 27, 1904 noted "To-Night: Meeting at Busch's Hall, No. 275 Bleecker-st."  Then, on July 31, 1920, the Record & Guide reported that Elizabeth Busch had purchased the building from Anna K. Fricke.  

The Busch family's decision to buy the property coincided with the onset of Prohibition and the resultant closing of Busch's Hall.  The commercial space, home to a saloon since the Civil War, was operated as a fruit and vegetable store by the Depression years.

The third quarter of the 20th century saw the restaurant Wild Mushrooms in the store.  It was replaced by the Italian restaurant Cucina Stagionale by the mid-1980s.  David's Teas, the first American branch of the Canadian company, moved in around 2011.  It is again occupied by a restaurant today, while upstairs there are four apartments.

The clapboards of the frame building can be seen at the rear of the top floor.

At some point the storefront was modernized and the brick facade covered with a stucco-like substance that hides most of the decorative tiles.  

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