On April 29, 1859, the New York Herald titled an article "New Buildings in New York," and listed the "over five millions of dollars worth of new buildings going up." Included were the five-story "store at 65 and 67 Worth street, corner of Church," and another next door at 69 Worth Street, both being erected by "Mr. Wyman." Samuel Wyman, who was a dry goods merchant in Philadelphia, was investing in the building boom as the neighborhood we now know as Tribeca transformed from residential to commercial. The New York Herald described the buildings as having "white marble fronts," saying they would be "first class in every way."
Wyman's architect designed the two structures to appear seamlessly as one. Stacked quoins divided the corner building into three vertical sections on Church Street. The same configuration on Worth Street was achieved by disguising 69 Worth Street as the eastern-most section. Above cast iron storefronts, which originally included Corinthian columns, each floor was defined by an intermediate cornice. The openings sat within dignified architrave frames.
The buildings was within the rapidly developing dry goods district. Among the earliest tenants of the corner building was Bostwick, Sabin & Clark, operated by Jonas Clark, George D. Sabin, and Oliver N. Bostwick. On September 14, 1865, Vincent Colyer presented a report on "The Reception and Care of the Soldiers Returning From the War." It included a listing of donations from individuals and firms. Bostwick, Sabin & Clark's donation reflected the somber side of the war. The firm had provided "mourning drapery."
Also in the building at the time was Terrell, Jennings & Co., dry goods importers. More than a century before electronic and digital payment methods, business was done in cash or check. On August 15, 1865, assistant bookkeeper Henry H. Van Amburgh "made up a package of $1,000 in bank notes, and $1,303.20 in checks," according to his testimony later, and was just about to hand it to a messenger to take to the Metropolitan Bank, when his boss, bookkeeper James M. Sweeney, Jr., intervened. Amburgh said "Sweeney told him that he ought not to send so many bills," and took the package.
The New York Times reported, "a few days afterward, Sweeney disappeared from the city and...it was found that the $1,100 in bank notes had not been deposited in the bank." A review of the books discovered that he had also absconded with another $2,000 in cash. (The total would translate to about $57,500 in 2023.) Relentless detectives tracked him down in Philadelphia where he was arrested, returned to New York, and charged with defrauding the firm.
The dogged determination of detectives had been even more vividly evidenced next door at 69 Worth Street four years earlier. On the night of November 17, 1860, Fishers & Co., lace importers, "was visited by burglars," said the New York Times, "and robbed of laces valued in the aggregate of $4,000." Although a careful investigation of the scene "afforded no clue by which the identity of the offenders could be established," Sergeant Dickson and Officers Farley and Eustace would not give up.
Store-by-store interviews about any suspicious persons loitering in the neighborhood prior to the burglary finally provided descriptions that matched "two well-known burglars," George Smith and John Campbell. After a few days investigation, they were tracked to a boarding house on Sullivan Street where the landlady showed them "two apparently well-filled trunks" that they had brought with them. The officers returned to the station house to get a search warrant to open the trunks, but when they returned the next day, the men had fled.
Weeks later, wrote The New York Times, "An untiring search resulted in tracing Campbell to Albany, whither he had taken the laces for the purpose of disposing of them." Officer Farley additionally learned that a man known for receiving stolen goods had also traveled to Albany. But Farley was as well-known to that man as he was to the officer, and both crooks fled. The cat-and-mouse game continued with the officers tracking the trunks to Yonkers, then to a boarding house on Bleecker Street. Finally, after two months of tenacious investigation, the officers seized the trunks in the Bleecker Street house in January 1861. "Upon breaking them open, it was found that they contained about $2,600 worth of laces, all of which have been since identified by Messrs. Fishers &, Co. as belonging to them, the burglars having neglected to remove the trademarks," said The New York Times.
Another tenant of 69 Worth Street, wholesale shoe dealers Bell & Wheelock, had a dishonest employee in 1864. A member of the firm went to Captain Jourdan of the 6th Precinct in March that year, complaining that "that for several months past large quantities of their goods had disappeared, in some mysterious manner, from time to time," reported The New York Times. He added that he suspected a porter, John Farlow.
Jourdan and an officer named Golden staked out the premises for several nights until early morning. Farlow, they knew, had keys to both the building and the safe. Finally, on the night of March 29, Farley left the store with a bulky package. Golden followed him for a few blocks, then confronted him. When the package was opened at the station house, it revealed 28 pairs of ladies' shoes. Farlow explained that he had "express permission" to take the goods and that he had never stolen an article in his life. Captain Jourdan sent for one of the members of Bell & Wheelock, who contradicted Farlow's story.
Cornered, John Farlow admitted that he had stolen the goods, and, in fact, "about three times each week, since June last, he had stolen goods from his employers." Most of them he sold to a boot and shoe dealer on the Bowery. A search of Farlow's home revealed that he was not alone in the caper. There, "ten pairs of fine ladies' gaiters" were found. Farlow's wife, Hannah, admitted that for a "long time past," she had visited her husband at the store, and taken shoes back home. Farlow would then go out at night to dispose of them. The husband and wife team were held in the Tombs for trial.
In the late 1880s, the wholesale dry goods firm of J. T. Low & Co. occupied space in 65-67 Worth Street. Its principal, Joseph T. Low, was described by The Sun as "well known and respected in the trade, and is said to be a millionaire." On the evening of September 6, 1888, Low and his wife boarded a stage in front of the Union League Club. Seated opposite them "was a handsome brunette dressed in becoming black," according to The Evening World. As the Lows discussed whether they should dine at Delmonico's or at the Brunswick (either restaurant as high end as the other), the woman stood up and "planted the heel of her dainty boot savagely upon [Low's] foot." Low cross his leg, to ensure that his foot was not encroaching on the woman's space, "when he was favored with a sharp kick on his shin from the woman in black, who then got up and deliberately spat in his face."
When Low made an angry remark, she began beating him with her silk umbrella. Low had the coach driver stop, and left the stage, only to realize the woman was now "venting her wrath" on his wife, "belaboring her unmercifully with the umbrella." A policeman interrupted the affray, at which time the woman accused Low of insulting her by touching her knees and feet. At the station house she identified herself as Harriet E. Stafford.
Low initially intended to press charges, but then it was ascertained that Harriett Stafford was, in fact, Harriet E. Coffin, a Cincinnati heiress "whose uncalled-for attack on another gentleman in Boston last winter gave her unenviable notoriety," according to The Evening World. Low told a reporter he no longer intended to prosecute. "I do think, however, that a woman afflicted as she is should be cared for. She will kill somebody yet, if she is allowed to run at large."
Indeed, the wealthy woman's conduct was notorious and she had been ejected from the same stage coach line, the Fifth Avenue Stage Company, earlier "for creating a disturbance." Four days after she attacked the Lows, the New-York Tribune reported that the other tenants in the Elberon Flats where she lived, "are considerably alarmed for their own safety in consequence of the close proximity of that eccentric and wealthy person."
Thirty-nine-year-old Richard Whitehouse was the principal of White's Express Company in 69 Worth Street in 1885. Described by The New York Times as owning "considerable property" in Brooklyn, he had a wife a two children there. On the morning of June 9, he left home for the office, after having been up most of the night tending to his sick mother-in-law. He complained to his wife of a severe headache and nausea.
After a few hours in the office, he rode in one of the express wagons uptown at 10:00. At 8th and Mercer Streets, he became very sick, had the wagon stop and, after vomiting, went into a saloon for brandy. Not feeling any better, he told the wagon driver to telegraph the office that he was too sick to return to work and, after visiting a drugstore, was going straight home. He walked away and was never seen again.
Three days later, a search party had found no trace of him. "The only explanation of his absence his friends make is that he was overcome by sickness," wrote The New York Times, "and becoming unconscious was taken charge of by some stranger who might have found him. But whether this person was an evil-disposed or a charitable one is a matter of much anxious discussion." Indeed, anxious discussion was called for, since Whitehouse had had $1,000 in cash, a valuable watch and chain, and other jewelry on him. Press coverage of the case stopped on June 11, suggesting that Whitehouse was eventually found, but leaving the details frustratingly arcane.
Both buildings continued to house tenants mostly involved in the dry goods industry. The B.V.D Company, for instance, occupied space in the corner building in the first decade of the 20th century. An ad in 1911 urged, "Whether you walk or work, stay in town or go away, lounge or even dance in 'stuffy' rooms, keep cool and comfortable in Loose fitting B. V. D. Coat Cut Undershirts, Knee Length Drawers and Union Suits."
In 1928 the architectural firm of Delano & Aldrich joined the two buildings internally. It was almost assuredly at this time that the cast iron storefront columns were encased in stone piers.
The storefront was modernized in the 1928 renovation. image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.
The combined structures were leased by Wellington-Sears Company, founded in 1845 in Boston. Originally selling cotton textiles, by now it dealt in household, upholstery, and industrial fabrics. On March 6, 1950, Wellington-Sears Company purchased the building, only to sell it and move to 111 West 40th Street seven years later.
In the succeeding decades the building housed various offices, like the national headquarters of the Camp Fire Girls, and the city's Health Department offices in the 1970s.
A renovation begun in 2016 resurrected the storefront and converted the upper floors to apartments, six each on the second through fifth floors, and one on the new sixth floor, unseen from the street.
photographs by the author
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