Thursday, December 28, 2023

Isaac Duckworth's Cast Iron 39 Worth Street


Only months apart, architect Isaac F. Duckworth received commissions from James Smith and Philo Laos Mills to design side-by-side, five-story store-and-loft buildings at 39 and 41 Worth Street, respectively.  For both, Duckworth turned to Daniel D. Badger's Architectural Iron Works to cast his facades.

Ground was broken for 39 Worth Street on March 1, 1862 and construction was completed on January 28, 1863.  The Superintendent of Building's Semi-Annual Report to the Board of Aldermen described it as a "first-class storehouse."  Duckworth's commercial take on the Italianate style included Corinthian pilasters between each of the upper floor openings, and prominent intermediate cornices defined each floor.  The gently rounded upper corners of the windows drew on the emerging Second Empire style.  Duckworth crowned the building with a robust cornice composed of a corbel table, paneled fascia, and large and small foliate brackets.

The area was rapidly becoming Manhattan's dry goods district.  Among the early tenants of 39 Worth Street was E. Waitzhelder & Co., "commission merchants and dealers in dry goods and cottons."  The New York Herald called the company "old and reputable," adding "The firm have a cotton factory in Philadelphia which cost them about $100,000."  That figure would translate to about $2.75 million in 2023.

The Financial Panic of 1873 devastated banks and businesses, and E. Waitzhelder & Co. was not an exception.  On November 27, 1875, the New York Herald reported that the firm's failure had "created a great deal of excitement in the Cotton Exchange" the previous day.  

Importantly, the article noted that E. Waitzhelder & Co. "have made an assignment to Abraham Backer."  He was a partner in the cotton commission firm of Backer & Cohen, which was also in 39 Worth Street.  That firm survived the depression and would remain in the building for years.  Backer's personal fortune survived as well.  When the Jersey City Finance Committee secretly sold off large amounts of city bonds in 1880, The New York Times reported "Mr. Backer, a capitalist, at No. 39 Worth-street...took $400,000 of the issue."  The amount would equal about $11.8 million today.

Although freight elevators were being installed in commercial buildings in the last quarter of the 19th century, that was not the case at 39 Worth Street.  Tenants used a "hatchway"--an open shaft outfitted with a pulley system by which crates and bundles were hoisted up and down.  It was a dangerous process which resulted in tragedy in 1882.  

Fourteen-year-old James Sullivan lived on Bayard Street in the impoverished Five Points district.  Like most teen boys of needy families, he dropped out of school to work.  The New York Times reported on January 6 that he "fell through the hatchway of the building No. 39 Worth-street, from the third to the first floor, yesterday, and was killed."

By now, Abraham Backer had established a second firm in the building, Arkwright Mills, A. Backer & Co.  The company's mills in Manayunk, Pennsylvania manufactured "ginghams and checks."  Also here by 1886 were the New York buying office of I. Epstein & Bro., and importers Lipman & Co.  

I. Epstein & Bro. was a Savannah-based firm established in 1854.  The Industries of Savannah described it as "an example of the better class of business houses doing business out of Savannah, and will compare well with any similar concern elsewhere located."

The list of items Lipman & Co. imported was exhausting, including "linen and jute goods, burlaps, sackings, and yarns, Aberdeen, French elastic, pelissier, military, double warp and other clothiers' canvases," according to the New York Stock Exchange Historical Review in 1886.  Established in 1840 in Dundee, Scotland, the firm now had branches in Germany, Ireland, England, Chicago, Minneapolis and New York.

One tenant decidedly not in the dry goods trade in 1886 was George M. Jacocks & Co.  Among the items it marketed was the Rubber Marking Pen, for labeling crates and mail.

The American Stationery, April 15, 1886 (copyright expired)

The Persian and East India Co. occupied the store space in 1888.  That year it advertised "Holiday Presents Extraordinary," including exotic "Rugs, table-cloths, tea-cloths, antique arms, antique shawls, portieres, draperies, benares-ware, armor, tea gowns."  The advertisement said the items were available "at the Bungalow of the Persian and East India Co."

William E. Harrop did business from 39 Worth Street in 1890.  That fall he traveled to Syracuse, New York on business, staying at the Leland Hotel there.  The Leland was described by The New York Times as "the largest hotel in Central New-York."  On October 16, the newspaper began an article saying, "What proved to be the most disastrous fire that has visited Syracuse for many years was discovered in the Leland Hotel at 12:30 o'clock this morning."  The journalist, who was writing the article at 2:00 a.m., said "the fire is still burning fiercely...The hotel is entirely destroyed."

Twenty-five persons perished, and among them was William E. Harrop.  The Morning Telegram explained, "he was coming down from the fourth floor on the fire escape when the rope broke and he fell.  He died at St. Joseph's hospital at 4 o'clock."

By the early 1890s, the massive Carl A. Evertz company operated from at least one floor of 39 Worth Street.  In 1894 it employed 25 men, 11 teenaged boys, 49 women, 45 teen girls, and one "child who cannot read or write English."  The staff worked 59 hours throughout the week and another 9 hours on Saturdays.

Carl A. Evertz was born in Germany in 1856 and came to New York as a boy.  His firm manufactured "sample books, sample cards, and card cases."  Like most successful immigrants, he had not forgotten his roots.  He was for years the president of the Frederick Gluech Quartet Club, was a member of the Arion Singing Society (a German-language singing group), a member of the German-American Municipal League, and president of the German Hospital Society.

The first decade of the 20th century continued to see dry goods firms occupy the building, including Edward Scheitlin Co., dealers in hosiery, underwear and gloves; the Worchester Woolen Mills Company, which manufactured "uniform cloths;"  the dry goods commission merchants Textile Commission Company; and Nathan & Greer.
Dry Goods Economist, December 23, 1911 (copyright expired)

The post-World War I years saw Henry C. Kelley Co., dealers in rope and cord; Haslin Mills, which advertised its Spring 1920 line of "clever cotton fabrics for dresses and costumes;" and H. Wertheim, cotton fabrics, in the building.

Wertheim was stopped on the street in September 1924 by a reporter from The Sun.  Each day, the newspaper's "Inquiring Reporter" asked five random persons a question.  Wertheim was asked, "Has prohibition accomplished what its advocates claimed for it?"  His answer left no question as to his stance.  "Why don't the advocates of prohibition, who claimed so much, go out and acknowledge frankly that it was a gigantic mistake and modify the law?" 

Morris and Edward E. Scher took a loft in 1935 for their newly formed Scher Textiles, Inc.  The brothers had been brought to America from Russia by their parents as children.

In 1938 the ground floor store space became home to the Weeping Willow Tea Room.  It was possibly at this time that the the Daniel Badger storefront, which would have had fluted iron columns, was replaced with a masonry front with a vast window.

The building continued to house textile firms for decades.  Slowly, beginning in the third quarter of the 20th century, the Tribeca neighborhood saw change, as artists and shops took over the vintage loft structures.  In 2002, 39 Worth Street was converted to residential above the store space.

photographs by the author
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1 comment:

  1. We have a similar Daniel D. Badger cast iron front building in Mobile: