In 1860, John Mack began construction of a five-story, marble faced loft and store building at 85 Franklin Street in the neighborhood that was transforming into the new dry goods district. A manufacturer and wholesale merchant of ruches (the ruffles or pleats used in the making of fine women's apparel), he would use a portion of the new 24-foot-wide building, completed in 1862, for his own firm, while leasing unused space.
Not long after his building was completed, John Mack was appointed a Commissioner of Internal Revenue. The building now housed not only his ruches business, but his Commissioner's office. A notice in The New York Times advised that his office was "open daily for the transaction of business from 9 a.m. to 1 pm., noting, "Distillers, Brewers, and Coal Oil Distillers, within the said district, are requested to apply to the Collector for forms and books to be kept by them in accordance with the above law."
In 1863, the Conscription Act was passed, initiating a draft to swell the ranks of Union soldiers. Potential draftees could avoid the draft by paying a fee or by paying someone to take their place. On August 23, 1863, an announcement in The New York Times notified drafted soldiers in the Fourth District who "prefer giving the money instead of their services," that they could pay their "$300 commutation fee" at Mack's office here.
Leasing space from Mack in 1866 were Strouse, Rowe & Co., makers and dealers in "clothing and goods for men's wear;" and the recently formed commission firm of Neuss & Hesslein, which moved into the building in February that year.
E. M. Drake and Jabe O. King organized the linen thread importing firm King & Drake on January 1, 1870, and moved into 85 Franklin Street. It was not long before King became the victim of a serious accusation. He was charged by the Society for the Prevention of Gambling with patronizing "Beers' and Chamberlain's gambling houses." On the stand in court on July 9, King asserted that he was being confused with another merchant, Joseph L. King. When the latter was confronted, he testified he was being mistaken for Jabe O. King. It appears that the stand-off resulted in neither man being convicted.
At the turn of the century, the tenants of 85 Franklin Street were linen importers Freund & Foise & Co.; two suspender makers, Berman Bros. and C. S Smith; the neckwear manufacturer Meyer & Faingloss; and C. Onnstein, makers of umbrellas.
On December 17, 1903, fire broke out in the basement. The New York Herald reported, "To save adjoining buildings filled with valuable and inflammable merchandise, the firemen ran pipes through adjacent windows. In the rush of this assault two large windows were smashed above [Battalion Chief Thomas] Larkin and his men and the falling glass cut the scalp of the chief and dazed him for a moment. It also cut the hands of Fireman James Andrews and George Cunnigham." The wounded fire fighters were treated at the Hudson Street Hospital. All of the tenants suffered losses, either by fire or water, and the damage to the building was estimated at $10,000 (about $343,000 in 2023).
A tragic story played out in the summer of 1907. Shortly after he arrived in New York, a young German immigrant named S. Menmark found work in the leather firm of Eisenstack & Lippschitz. He started work on July 31. The next morning he started to cross Broadway at Franklin Street on the way to work just as a trolley headed towards him. The New York Times reported, "He had time to step from its path, but seemed to be dazed and did not heed the warning shouted by a hundred men and women. He was killed."
The manager of Eisenstack & Lippschitz, Abe Gilman, went to the Leonard Street Police Station and identified Menmark's body. He told police, "the boy had only recently arrived in this country and was unused to the busy streets here."
In 1935, 85 Franklin Street was purchased by the Campe Corporation, underwear manufacturers. The firm hired architect Thomas White Lamb to make overwhelming changes to the building. The top three floors were lopped off, and the cast iron storefront and marble facade of the second floor removed. The now two-story structure was given an Art Moderne facade of cast stone, corrugated metal panels, and expanses of glass.
Lamb left no hint of the early Victorian, marble structure in his Art Modern design. Stylized metal letters spell out CAMPE above the doorway. image via the NYC Dept. of Records & Information Services.
Campe Corporation moved uptown around 1945. The following year, on August 26, 1946, The New York Sun reported that the newly-formed National Cancer Foundation had established its headquarters here. The article said the organization was "designed to press for Government aid in the fight against cancer and to provide a new hospital for those suffering in the last stages of disease and who find it difficult to enter other hospitals."
Spokesperson Jay Pearlmutter explained the "first major step" of the foundation would be the establishment of Hope Institute, which he described as "a new type of private room hospital for the care of those in the last stages of the disease who at present have no place to turn."
By the mid 1960s, the building was home to Del Electronics Corp. The 21st century saw Maurice Arlos Fine Art here by 2002, and the florist Elan Flowers in the building in 2015.
Because 85 Franklin Street sits within a historic district, when a second significant change to the now-distressed property was proposed in 2018, the Landmarks Preservation Commission became involved. The plans submitted by studioMDA included adding five floors and restoring, while slightly altering, Thomas Lamb's existing 1935 design.
When completed, the renovated structure will hold residential units above a ground floor gallery.
photographs by the author
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