Wednesday, January 31, 2024

The 1903 Le Grand L. Benedict Residence - 125 East 56th Street


Simon and Rosina Weil had lived in the three-story, high-stooped house at 125 East 56th Street since around 1877 when they sold it to Le Grand L. Benedict in September 1901.  By then its architecture was decidedly out of fashion.  

Benedict and his wife, the former Sarah C. Blaine, demolished the vintage house and hired architect J. H. de Sibour to design its replacement.  His plans, filed in April 1902, projected the construction cost of the "five story brick and stone dwelling" at $40,000 (about $1.4 million by 2024 terms).  Completed early in 1903, the 20-foot-wide house was faced in red brick above a rusticated limestone base.  Its Colonial Revival design invoked refined 18th century townhouses of Philadelphia or Boston.  French windows on the second floor, or piano nobile, were fronted by faux balconies with waist-high iron railings.  The splayed lintels of the third floor and layered keystones of the fourth carried on the colonial motif.  The top floor took the form of a tall, single-slated mansard with three pedimented dormers behind a stone balustrade. 

The Architectural Review April 1905 (copyright expired)

Born in 1855, Benedict (whose first name was sometimes spelled LeGrand) could claim an old American pedigree.  According to The New York Times, he was "a descendant of a family that came to New England in 1600."  He was the son of banker and railroad mogul James H. Benedict.  Le Grand and Sarah had two children, Margaret De Witt and Le Grand, Jr.  The family's summer home, The Nooke, was in Cedarhurst, Long Island.

The Benedicts' home was completed in time for Margaret's debut.  On December 22, 1903, The Sun reported, "Mrs. Le Grand Benedict of 125 East Fifty-sixth street, gave a tea yesterday afternoon at which she presented her daughter, Miss Margaret Benedict, to society...Afterward there was a dinner and the guests went together to Sherry's for the Gorham Bacon dance."  Notable among the three young ladies who assisted in the receiving line was Miss Uling Harper.

The Architectural Review April 1905 (copyright expired)

Uling Harper was the daughter of J. Henry Harper, a partner in the publishing house of Harper Brothers.  On March 12, 1905, The New York Times reported, "On Tuesday, Miss Urling Harper...will be married to Le Grand Benedict, Jr., the son of Mr. and Mrs. Le Grand Lockwood Benedict of 125 East Fifty-sixth Street."  The article noted that because the Harper family was in mourning, "the wedding will be quiet."  Following the ceremony in the Constable Chapel of the Church of Incarnation, the newlyweds made their home with the Benedicts.

In April 1907, the Benedicts sold 125 East 56th Street to Robert Curtis Ogden and his wife, the former Ellen Elizabeth Lewis.  Ogden was born in Philadelphia on June 20, 1836.  His father relocated the family to New York in 1852 and founded the clothing firm of Devlin & Co., of which Robert became a partner.  He and Ellen were married on March 1, 1860.

This portrait of Robert C Ogden was painted by Thomas Eakins.

The couple moved to Philadelphia in 1885 when Ogden became a partner of John Wanamaker.  Then, in 1896, he took charge of the Wanamaker Department Store's New York City branch.  

Robert and Ellen had two married daughters, Margaret and Julia Tredwell.  (A son, Robert G. Ogden, died in 1875 at the age of two.)  Margaret's husband was Alexander Purves, and they lived in Hampton, Virginia.  Julia and her husband, Dr. George Waldo Crary, lived in the East 56th Street house.  The Ogden country home was in Kennebunkport, Maine.

The Architectural Review April 1905 (copyright expired)

Robert Ogden had served in the Civil War, and had visited the South for Devlin & Co. in 1861.  His experience there left a lasting impression.  A good friend of Samuel C. Armstrong, who founded the Hampton Institute of Virginia, Ogden involved himself in education in the South, particularly for Blacks.  He headed the Southern Education Board and was president of the Conference for Education in the South.  Additionally, he provided significant funding to Booker T. Washington and sat on the Governing Board of the Tuskegee Institute.  An author, as well, among his works was Getting and Keeping a Business Position.

On November 19, 1909, Ellen became ill.  The New York Times remarked, "Before that, for some months, she had been in feeble health."  Her condition worsened into pneumonia, and on November 24, the newspaper said that her condition "was said last night to be so serious that she might not live until morning."  She lingered until December 3.  In reporting her death, the New York Observer noted, 

Mrs. Ogden took an active interest in her husband's work for education in the South.  She generally accompanied the annual parties of educators he has taken to that field every year since 1901, and was a familiar figure at the numerous educational conference and meetings in which Mr. Ogden has taken a conspicuous part in the later years of her life.

Robert Ogden's Philadelphia friend, George E. Tilge was returning home from Europe with his wife in December, 1910 when he fell ill on board the ocean liner.  The ship docked in New York on December 6, The New York Times reporting that Tilge "was in ill health when he left the ship, and went to Mr. Ogden's house."  The unexpected house guest died in the East 56th Street house two weeks later on December 18.

Robert Curtis Ogden was in Kennebunkport, Maine on August 6, 1913, when he died at the age of 77.  His estate was reported by The New York Times as being "more than $2,000,000."  (The figure would translate to about $61 million today.)  Margaret inherited both homes.  Interestingly, the will forbade the daughters to sell Ogden's horses.  It directed, "When they become unfit for use they are to be given to friends who will care for them in the country and provide them with a comfortable death."

The Architectural Review April 1905 (copyright expired)

Six years later, in March 1919, the Ogden estate sold 125 East 56th Street to Charles Kerkow, "who will use it for his own occupancy," according to the Record & Guide.  But despite Kerkow's assertion, he quickly converted the mansion to apartments.  Only six months later, on September 24, the New-York Tribune reported that Mrs. Mary E. Green had taken an apartment in the house.

The apartments were extremely high-end.  An advertisement for a duplex on December 24, 1922, described it as "unusually decorated and furnished; living room, with balconies, beamed ceiling, cathedral windows, log fire; adjoining a terraced library, 34 feet long, 18 feet high, opening into a sunken garden; breakfast room, bedroom, bath."

Among the residents in 1921 were broker Laurence Craufourd and his wife.  The couple's 27-year-old maid, Jeanne Cunningham, disappeared that year along with $5,000 in jewels.  As it turned out, the Craufourds were not the only victims of the young woman.  Following her arrest in July, she told a heart-breaking story.

A year earlier, Jeanne had met Charles B. Adams in Central Park and "after a flirtation," according to the New York Herald, he got her a job as a maid in his mother's home.  Mrs. Adams fired her after a few weeks.  Adams convinced Cunningham "on the promise that he would marry her" to steal from her employers.  She began a pattern of taking a job, pocketing valuables and leaving that position to repeat the crime at her next position.  She turned over more than $50,000 in loot to her lover.  Cunningham was crestfallen when she read in the newspapers that Adams had married a society girl.  She not only fingered the man who pushed her into criminal activity, but picked him out of a lineup.  She told him, "I know you double crossed me.  Sorry I had to do this, but I've made a clean breast of it."

Living here at the same time was Mrs. H. E. Aitken.   She was summering in Long Island in 1922, when she went to luncheon at the Glenwood Lodge near Roslyn with businessman H. D. Connick.  Afterward, she realized she had lost three rings worth $16,000.  The New York Herald reported on July 6, "Mrs. Aitken thought she left the rings in the wash room of the lodge.  The manager of the lodge said that perhaps a hundred women had been in the wash room between the departure of Mrs. Aiken and her escort after luncheon and their return two hours later."  It does not appear that the rings were ever recovered.

The apartments continued to be home to affluent residents throughout the World War II years.  In 1967 the lower three floors were converted to offices.  The two apartments per floor on the top two survived until 1996, when the building was renovated to office space throughout.  Today the Shanghai Commercial Bank occupies the former Benedict residence.  The house remains extraordinarily intact outwardly, an astounding remnant of the residential block in 1903.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Charles E. Birge's 1910 148 West 72nd Street


In the first decade of the 20th century, Theodore Offerman and his wife lived in the high-stoop brownstone house at 148 West 72nd Street.  It was one of a row of five designed by Thom & Wilson in 1885.  And it would be one of the first along West 72nd Street to fall victim to commerce.
In 1909, West 72nd Street was, for the most part, still an exclusive residential enclave.  But change was on the horizon and that year developer F. A. Elliott demolished the 20-foot-wide house and hired architect Charles E. Birge to design a store and studio building on the site.  His plans, filed in February 1910, called for a “7-story brick and stone store and dwelling” to cost $50,000—just under $1.4 million in 2024.  Before construction began, the height of the top two floors were changed to the equivalent of one-a-half stories each.  That reduced the number of floors in the finished building to five.
The studio building trend was sweeping Manhattan at the time, with living-and-studio spaces designed with the needs of resident artists in mind.  The expanded height of the two top floors had to do not only with the northern light which now flooded into the upper studios—so important to artists—but with the fact that they were designed as spacious duplex apartments.  Faced in beige brick and trimmed in marble, the building was a commercial take on the Renaissance Revival style.  The windows of the two top floors took the form of arcades, an engaged Corinthian column separating the openings.
Ironically, it was not visual but musical artists who filled the building.  Among the earliest was Herbert Witherspoon, an operatic bass who sang with the Metropolitan Opera Company, gave personal recitals and tours, and taught voice.  In its December 1915 issue The Opera Magazine announced, “Mr. Witherspoon accepts a limited number of pupils at his studio, 148 West 72nd Street.”
Herbert Witherspoon, from the collection of the Library of Congress
Also teaching voice here at the time were J. Bertram Fox and Franklin Riker.  Fox’s advertisements in 1916 noted he taught singing “in all the branches,” and Riker’s advertisement in Musical Courier in August that year noted, “teaching Wednesdays and Saturdays at studio, 148 West Seventy-second street.”
Newspapers nationwide picked up the story of Herbert Witherspoon’s marriage on June 20, 1916.  The Sunday Oregonian wrote, “The marriage of Florence Hinkle to Herbert Witherspoon naturally is the topic far and wide.  The soprano is one of the greatest artists that this country has ever produced and is as widely loved as she is known…Mr. and Mrs. Witherspoon will be ‘at home’ after the first of November at 148 West Seventy-second street, New York City.”  The article mentioned, “Mr. Witherspoon has been fulfilling many professional duties, having taught an immense class as well as sung in concert, oratorio, and at the Metropolitan Opera House for the past few years.”
Florence Hinkle, from the collection of the Library of Congress

In 1918, L. J. Phillips & Co., real estate agents, moved into the two-story commercial space.  Organized in 1873, it was among the first real estate offices on the Upper West Side, opening at Ninth (later Columbus) Avenue and 70th Street in 1886.
The studios continued to attract musicians.  In the post-World War I years Louis Stillman, “teacher of piano literature,” and Laura E. Morrill, singing teacher, were occupants.  A new type of tenant arrived in 1926.  On July 21, the New York Evening Post reported that the “seven-room duplex apartment on the fourth and fifth floors” had been leased to the Cater-Waddell School of Stage Dancing “for a long term of years."
J. Phillips & Co. purchased its own building in 1930 and left the offices it had occupied for 12 years.  Musicians continued to live upstairs throughout the Depression years.  On February 18, 1938, The Times of Munster, Indiana reported that resident Lydia A. C. Van Gilder, “who sang with the New York Metropolitan and St. Louis Municipal Opera,” was “to marry again.”  And yet change was again occurring along West 72nd Street.
The studios that had been home to opera stars and piano teachers were one-by-one being transformed into offices.  In 1935 the Silver King Trading Co. was here, urging newspaper readers to raise fox and minx “at home spare time” for profit.  The company would remain at the address through (at least) 1948.
The building was photographed by Lloyd Acker in May 1937.  from the collection of the Office for Metropolitan History
While the block experienced a significant decline after mid-century, a renaissance took root in the third quarter.  On November 20, 1976, The New York Times columnist Francis X. Clines described the block as “the vivid 72d Street corridor of small retailers crossing Broadway that offers all manner of things required or craved by West Siders who make their costly rounds among well-stocked produce bins, toney boutiques, aromatic snack bars—life’s boulevard of hard and soft wares.”
Among those trendy shops was the newly-opened The Biblophile, a bookstore in 148 West 72nd Street operated by Laura Bruning.  Francis X. Clines said, “One emphasis at the store will be drama, because she feels there is a valuable community of theater professionals.  Another will be her personal favorite, religion-philosophy from her California years.”
By the early 1990’s, the second-floor space was home to a beauty salon that touted “beautiful innovations.”  The well-rounded salon offered, “hairweaving, French lacing, wigs, braiding, hairpieces, relaxers, cutting for males and females.”

A renovation completed in 1994 resulted in a store on the ground floor, offices on the second, and a total of six apartments abov
e, some duplexes.
photographs by the author
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Monday, January 29, 2024

The Lost George Wood Mansion - 45 Fifth Avenue


The Wood mansion (right) was starkly different than its neighbors on the block.  image from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York.

Born in Burlington, New Jersey in 1789, attorney George Wood rose to become the head of the bar in that state.  So respected were his skills, that the story was often repeated of the time Daniel Webster met another eminent lawyer in Washington who told him he was in the city "to argue a case in the Supreme Court of the United States."  

Webster is said to have asked, "Who is on the other side?"

"A sleepy-looking fellow from New Jersey, by the name of Wood," was the reply.

"Ah!" said Webster, "my advice to you is that you shall not wake him up.  Better let him sleep until your case has been argued!"

Wood relocated to New York City around 1828.  The New York Herald later recalled, "His fame soon became wide-spread, and, although distinguished as an advocate, yet his greatest reputation was due to his pre-eminent ability in the argument of questions of law before the bench."

Wood and his wife had two sons, Frederick (who was also a lawyer), and George K. Wood, a physician.  Their daughters were Catharine, Anna, Mary, Julia and Louisa.  

Around 1854, Wood began construction of a double-wide mansion on the east side of Fifth Avenue, just north of 11th Street.  A vacant lot on the corner served as the family's garden (at least for now), and its private carriage house was located conveniently to the rear at 11 East 11th Street.

The brownstone-fronted, Italianate style residence was three-stories tall above a rusticated basement level.  On either side of the centered entrance, floor-to-ceiling windows were fronted by lacy cast iron balconies.  Their permanent metal hoods helped shield expensive draperies and upholstery inside from damaging sunlight.  The stone lintels of the third floor extended beyond the window to accommodate frilly carved ornaments.

Wood was outspoken in his views of contentious issues like slavery, often exposing his inherent racism.  On April 4, 1854, in a long letter to The New York Times, he warned of the work of abolitionists.  "This class of people, with this morbid conscience, will not be satisfied unless they have freed all the negroes in the South, and ruined the population, both black and white."  Sounding much a recent politician, he said "African slavery has its evils, but it has its good effects."  Four years later, as the Civil War loomed near, he warned, "Experience has shown that the black race, accustomed to slavery, will not work when free, especially in a climate which relaxes and enervates the faculties, and renders them indolent."

In July 1855, Wood lashed out in another lengthy letter to The New York Times concerning Maine's recently passed law "for the Prevention of Intemperance, Pauperism and Crime."  Foreshadowing the argument against Prohibition that would sweep the nation decades later, he said in part, "To abolish the entire use of all kinds of liquors except hard cider, raised in the rural going too far in a Constitutional Government.  It is legislating against the many."

Around 1858, George Wood suffered a stroke.  For two years, according to the New-York Tribune, he suffered "from paralysis."  On the night of March 17, 1860, said the newspaper, he "awoke complaining of pain in his arm.  His wife endeavored to assuage his suffering by rubbing the affected arm.  He then said that he felt a cold sweat on his forehead, and in a very brief time after that expired."

Despite his sometimes controversial social stances--easily seen today as repugnant--he was remembered for his brilliant legal work.  On March 24, 1860, the New York Dispatch wrote, "The Bar of our city declared the simple truth when they said that in the death of Mr. Wood they had been deprived of one of their most distinguished ornaments, who, by a rare union of dignity and urbanity, was greatly endeared to them."

Following private services in the drawing rooms of 45 Fifth Avenue, Wood's funeral was held at the Reformed Dutch Church on Lafayette Place.  Among the mourners were Civil War General Winfield Scott, U. S. District Attorney James J. Roosevelt, and "a number of distinguished citizens," according to the New York Herald.

Wood's significant estate included extensive real estate holdings.  His wife received the Fifth Avenue house and the "lot corner of Fifth-avenue and Eleventh-street," as well as six houses in Brooklyn.  George K. Wood received property in Uvalde, Texas; Frederick was bequeathed his father's law library, and numerous properties in Brooklyn.  His wife and six children received equal shares in a 340-acre property in Minnesota, a 30-acre farm in Rye, New York, and 36 more houses in Brooklyn.

At the time of George Wood's death, Frederick and George K. were still living with their mother.  The family remained at 45 Fifth Avenue until 1866.  It was apparently at this time that the Lenox family, which owned large amounts of property in the neighborhood, purchased the house.  That year it was leased to the Clinton Gilbert family.  

As a United States gauger, Gilbert worked for the Customs Department overseeing the importation of alcohol.  It was a job that would end his life five years later.  A group of approximately 30 officials, including Gilbert, embarked on a raid on an "illicit distillery" being operated in Brooklyn.  As they entered the alley, they were fired upon.  Gilbert was shot and died the following day.

By then, the Gilbert family had been gone from 45 Fifth Avenue for three years.  It was now home to journalist and politician Benjamin Wood (not related to the previous Wood family) and his wife Ellen Walsh.  The editor and publisher of the New York Daily News, he had served in the United States Congress from 1861 to 1865, and in the Senate from 1866 to 1867.  

Benjamin Wood, from the collection of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

His relationship with Ellen had begun in scandal.  Coming to New York as a teen, she changed her name to Ida Mayfield, claiming to be the daughter of a wealthy sugar plantation owner.  In 1857, at the age of 19, she propositioned the 37-year-0ld married man in a reportedly lurid letter, and became his mistress.  They married in 1867 following the death of Wood's wife.

The Woods remained at 45 Fifth Avenue until 1872.  (Following Benjamin Wood's death in 1900, Ida Mayfield Wood briefly ran the New York Daily News before selling it in 1901.  In 1907, she withdrew about $1 million in cash--equal to about $32 million in 2024--and took a two-room suite at the Herald Square Hotel.  She lived there as a recluse with her two sisters, not even allowing the maid to enter, until her death in March 1932.)

Ferdinand F. Knaufft and his wife, the former Eliza C. T. Hart, moved into 45 Fifth Avenue following the Woods.  The couple had five children, Henrietta, Anna Augusta, Mary Louis, Frederick Ferdinand, and Wilhelmina Gertrude, the youngest of which (Gertrude) was eight years old in 1873 when the family took possession of the house.

The family operated the residence as an upscale boarding house.  An advertisement in the Evening Post on September 14, 1874, offered, "Superior accommodations, consisting of one or two entire floors in the spacious double house 45 Fifth avenue.  Private table only."  The renting of two floors of a three-story house did not leave a great amount of space for the family of seven.  The caveat "private table only" meant that no outside guests were accommodated at dinner.

By the early 1880s, 45 Fifth Avenue was home to the H. Van Rensselaer Kennedy family.  Kennedy was a nephew of Henrietta A. Lenox (the daughter of Robert Lenox), who currently owned the mansion.  The Kennedys were part of a family enclave--Robert L. Kennedy lived at 99 Fifth Avenue, Rachel L. Kennedy was at 41, and Mary L. Kennedy lived around the corner at 10 East 11th Street.  

Henrietta A. Lenox died on July 6, 1886 at the age of 80, leaving a massive estate of $10 million, according to The Sun (the figure would translate to about $321 million today).  Although the Kennedys were still living here, in November 1886 her estate transferred title to "the house and lot at 45 Fifth Avenue" to Mary L. and J. Fisher Scheafe.   The Scheafes converted the mansion to high-end apartments.  An advertisement on April 5, 1890 offered, "Desirable unfurnished flat, 8 rooms, to let, 45 Fifth Avenue, $1,600 per year."  The rent would translate to about $4,500 per month today.

Among the select tenants in the late 1890s was Harriet B. Mills, the wealthy widow of author John Cruger Mills, who died in Saratoga in 1889; and Adele Ronalds-Reglid and her husband Charles Franklyn Reglid.

Adele was the widow of Thomas Lorillard Ronalds and was "connected by marriage with Catharine Lorillard Wolfe, the Conklins, and other well-known New York Families," according to The New York Times.  The newspaper said she owned "considerable real estate in this city, besides valuable out-of-town property."  On August 16, 1894, Adele "created a great deal of talk" when she married Charles Reglid, "owing to the great difference in their ages," said The New York Times.  An actor and the son of a grocer, Reglid was 40 years younger than Adele.  The newspaper said he "received a gift from his wife of $75,000 at the time of their marriage, on condition that he would not use it in speculation."

Adele Ronalds-Reglid died in their apartment on June 2, 1900.  Two days later, The New York Times reported, "It was said at the residence yesterday that Mr. Reglid was too prostrated to see any one other than his intimate friends."

The lower Fifth Avenue neighborhood changed in the early years of the 20th century as the old, aristocratic families moved northward.  Yet the tenor of 45 Fifth Avenue remained upscale.  The affluent family of Cyrus W. Field lived here in 1902, and in 1908 James D. Layng, Jr. had a large apartment in the building.  A lawyer, he was the son of railroad mogul James D. Layng.

Resident Charlotte Louisa Wilkins, the widow of Martin Gilbert Wilkins lived here by 1913.  She was a descendant of Lewis Morris, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and Colonel Nicholas Fish.  Charlotte had a house guest in the winter of 1913.  Louisa Morris Livingston of Albany, was introduced to society there on December 6.  The New York Times noted, "She will come to New York later, and will be with her aunt, Mrs. M. G. Wilkins, 45 Fifth Avenue."  The article noted, "Miss Livingston is a cousin of the Countess de Laugier Villars and of Mrs. Geralyn Redmond."

In 1914, a seven-room and bath apartment here was listed at $1,250, or about $3,150 per month in today's terms.  

On January 2, 1922, Charlotte Louisa Wilkins died in her apartment.  At the time of her passing, the end of the line for the venerable George Wood mansion was nearing.  On August 1, 1925, the Record & Guide reported, "The building located at 45 Fifth Avenue is being razed and on its site the Forty-five Fifth Avenue Corporation will erect a 16 story apartment costing approximately $500,000."  That building, designed by Sugarman & Berger, survives.

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Saturday, January 27, 2024

The 1856 Geagan-Reed House - 419 West 22nd Street


In 1856 William H. Smith, Daniel Townsend, and John Lane partnered to erect three matching houses at 295 through 299 West 22nd Street, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues.  Smith listed his profession as a builder, and his partners identified themselves as masons.  They would more likely be termed contractors today.  

The speculative homes were completed within the year.  Each of the 16-feet, 8-inch wide residences was intended for upper-middle-class families.  Their Anglo-Italianate design placed the impressive, arched entrances above short stoops.  Above the rusticated brownstone basement and first floors were three stories of red brick.  Each house had its own unpretentious bracketed cornice.

It is unclear who originally occupied 295 West 22nd Street (renumbered 419 in 1864), since "name refused" accompanied the address in city directories until 1859.  That year William Y. Clark and his family lived here.  He been appointed a public notary by the state governor in 1840, a position he still held.

Like many families, the Clarks took in a boarder.  Living with them in 1865 was Jonathan Waters.  The young man's residency would be cut short when his name was pulled in the Civil War draft lottery on March 17, 1865.

John Cowles, a clothing merchant, moved his family into the house in 1871.  They, too, accepted boarders.  Their advertisement on January 10, 1875 read:

A private family, living in own house, having more room than required, will let, to gentlemen and wives or single gentlemen, handsomely furnished rooms, with all conveniences and first class board.

That the Cowles did not accept unmarried women testified to the respectability of the household.  The morals of single women living on their own were highly suspect.

John Cowles sold 419 West 22nd Street to Dr. William H. Scott in February 1878.  The family moved into the house three months later.

Born in 1801 in Philadelphia, Scott had originally been in the wholesale "small wares" business there, selling "buttons, needles, pins, tapes" and similar items.  He sold the business in 1837 to pursue a career in medicine.  Scott graduated from the Jefferson Medical College in 1841, but four years later was induced by his brother-in-law to become a partner in his importing business, James A. Stewart & Co. in New York.  He retired from the business the year he purchased 419 West 22nd Street.

Dr. William H. Scott died at the age of 82 on November 6, 1883.  His funeral was held in the parlor three days later.

The following year, in February, William Scott, Jr. sold the 22nd Street house to Charles H. and Adelaide L. Butler for $14,500 (about $415,000 in 2024 money).  

Apparently renting a room from the Butlers in 1884 was 19-year-old Victor Dayton.  He and two others broke into the house of Joseph Farrington at 19 West 11th Street early on the morning of March 7, 1884.  When family members were awakened, two of the burglars escaped but Dayton found himself trapped.  The New-York Daily Tribune reported that he "was found curled up under the bed of an old blind man in an upper chamber."  The teen was held on $1,500 bail awaiting trial.

It seems the Butlers made renovations to the house, but soon lost it in foreclosure.  It was sold at auction on May 5, 1885.  The announcement described it as being "well built" and containing "modern improvements...having been recently thoroughly overhauled."

The property was purchased by Lansing Zabriskie, who resold it in March 1887 to John Geagan and his wife Mary for $15,000.  Geagan was a builder and owned several Manhattan properties.  Within weeks of receiving title to the house, he filed plans for installing a new dumbwaiter, listing himself as both contractor and architect.  (It may have been at this time that the exquisite stained glass fanlight was placed over the entrance doors.)

The Geagans entertained sumptuously.  On May 15, 1888, for instance, The Evening Telegram reported, "Mrs. Gegan [sic], No. 419 West Twenty-second street, gave a reception last evening.  One hundred guests were present.  Mazzetti served."  (Louis F. Mazzetti was a society caterer, called by The New York Times "a master of the mysteries of the cuisine.")

John Geagan died at the age of 62 in the West 22nd Street house on September 7, 1893.  Somewhat surprisingly, his funeral was not held in the parlor, but at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle on 59th Street and Columbus Avenue.

Mary E. Geagan sold 419 West 22nd Street in 1895 to Mary A. and William W. McLaughlin.  They quickly resold it to Julia Gwinea in December for $20,000 (about $720,000 in 2024 terms).  The new owner operated it as a boarding house.

Living here in June 1902 were Thomas F. Crawford and his bride.  He was the shipping clerk of the wholesale grocery firm Francis H. Leggett & Co.  It may have been his newly-married position that prompted him to make a rash decision.  On June 17, he and two of the company's drivers were arrested.  The New York Sun reported, "Crawford, without entering on his books barrels of sugar that were received, turned them over to the drivers, who in turn gave them to Jacob Fried of 60 Hester street, also arrested."

That night, said the article, "a pretty young woman went into the Leonard street station and asked Sergt. Holse to be allowed to speak with Crawford.  When she was told that this was impossible, she broke down and began to cry.  She said that Crawford had married her fourteen days ago."

In a somewhat bizarre turn of events, around 1905 William J. A. and Mary E. Reed took title to 419 West 22nd Street.  William was in the printing business.  The couple, who had a son William N. P. Reed, were apparently somehow related to Mary E. Geagan, who now returned to her old home.  In 1909 Mary E. Reed issued a $1.00 "life lease" to Mary E. Geagan.

Boarding with the family in 1909 was Irish immigrant Mollie O'Connell.  She applied to the city for a job as Hospital Clerk that year, but was rejected "for non-citizenship."

After living in the West 22nd Street house for more than three decades, Mary E. Geagan died in 1920.  

Boarding with the Reeds at the time was Adele Mortimer Woodward.  Born in 1866 in Rutherford Park, New Jersey, she had taught French at the Wadleigh High School since 1897.  During the St. Louis Exposition in 1904 she sat on the international jury on awards for both the French and Italian Governments.   Never married, she died here at the age 55 on June 11, 1921.

Following Mary E. Reed's death, William J. A. Reed and his son continued to live in the 22nd Street house.  Unwilling to retire, Reed was known in the printing industry as "The Deacon."  

In February 1941, the "Big Six" Typographical Union held a dinner in honor of printers who had been members of the union for more than half a century.  The American Labor World reported, "'The Deacon,' was the oldest working printer present."   Within months of the dinner Reed was dead.

The house was soon foreclosed upon and sold by the bank in 1943 to Charles Farrugla.  It was converted in 1951 to apartments and furnished rooms and a fifth floor, nearly unseen from the street, was added.  In an effort to modernize the vintage structure, the lintels were shaved off, the brick painted, and the rustication of the first floor covered over and painted white.

That configuration lasted until a renovation completed in 1978 resulted in one apartment per floor in the first through third, with a duplex in the fourth and fifth.   More recently, the facade has been restored.  The paint was carefully removed, the lintels refabricated, and the first floor returned to its 1856 appearance.

photographs by the author
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Friday, January 26, 2024

J. Morgan Slade's 1883 86-88 Franklin Street


On December 1, 1880, James O'Donohue sold the "two-story brick factory building and two-story frame shop in rear" at 88 Franklin Street to Isaac W. Howe and William P. Draper.  The sale came at a time when the transformation of the Tribeca neighborhood from residential to commercial was nearly complete.  Almost three months later, on January 31, 1881, the men (who lived in Nahant, Massachusetts) purchased the "four-story brick warehouse" next door at 86 Franklin. 

On April 23, 1881, The Real Estate Record reported, "Isaac W. Howe and William P. Draper will build a first class store in Franklin st," saying it would be six-stories high and come "from the designs of J. M. Slade."  The article continued, "It will have an iron front and all the modern improvements...The cost is $55,000."  Coupled with the $80,500 Howe and Draper had spent on the real estate, their total outlay would came to about $4 million in 2024 terms.

Early in the building's construction, tragedy hit.  On September 8, 1881, The New York Times reported, "Thomas H. Close, a carpenter, 46 years of age...fell from the sixth floor of the new building No. 88 Franklin-street to the cellar yesterday, and was instantly killed."

Completed in 1883, the 50-foot-wide cast iron structure was handsome and regimented.  Jarvis Morgan Slade had blended elements of Second Empire (in the gently arched openings, for instance), with the geometric lines of the currently popular neo-Grec, and whimsical elements of Queen Anne, seen, for instance, in the pencil-thin columns connected to the facade by decorative plates.

Two of the main selling points of cast iron facades were the quickness with which they were erected, and their fireproof qualities.  The remains of gutted interiors often smoldered behind intact cast iron fronts.  Surprisingly, therefore, after fire broke out on the top floor of 86-88 Franklin Street in 1895, the galvanized iron cornice had to be replaced and some of the sixth floor ironwork required repairing.

Among the early tenants was Bamberger, Oppenheimer & Co., manufacturers of umbrellas and parasols.  Founded by Herman Bamberger and Max Oppenheimer in 1868, New York's Great Industries said in 1884, "few have developed a larger and more widespread trade."

Also in the building were Manning & Co., selling agents for woolen manufacturers; and Loew & Schoenfeld, importers of embroideries.  The latter was a rather small operation, employing just six women who worked 54 hours per week in 1895.

Theodore Vogler was the proprietor of Vogler's Brooklyn and New York Express.  Somewhat surprisingly, he personally drove one of the firm's wagons into Manhattan on the afternoon of January 16, 1893 with a load of packages, one of which was destined for 86-88 Franklin Street.  Vogler pulled his wagon to the curb and took the parcel inside.  The Evening World reported, "he reappeared in time to see a short, stockily built man grab a package from the wagon and start to run away."

Vogler gave chase and, as he nearly closed the gap between them, the crook dropped the package and attacked.  The article said, "Vogler struck out full force striking the thief on the head, felling him to the sidewalk.  The man lay motionless, and blood began oozing from his mouth and ears."  He had not regained consciousness when he was removed to Chambers Street Hospital.  

Theodore Vogler went to the Leonard Street Police Station, explained what had happened, and turned himself in.  The police knew the victim, who had been in the Tombs just two weeks earlier charged with "attempting to rob a huckster's cart."  Several of Vogler's friends pleaded unsuccessfully with Justice Simms to release him on bail.  He was held in the Tombs "to await the result of injuries" on the man, which The Evening World described as a "fracture of the skulls, which, in all probability, will result fatally."

The turn of the century saw another umbrella maker, Worman, Simons & Co., in the building.  In 1901 it employed 10 men and 30 women who worked 57 hours a week.  Also here was the New York branch of the San Francisco-based shirt and overalls manufacturer, Neustadter Brothers.  

The Neustadter Brothers space was in the rear of 86-88 Franklin Street at a 90-degree angle to the rear of 273-275 Church Street.  Neustadter Brothers, expectedly, had several female employees.  One view from its windows looked directly into the washroom of A. Shrimpton & Co. in the Church Street building.  "Persons using it could be seen by the Neustadter hands through the open windows," said The New York Times on August 9, 1903, "and the latter's operatives thought a screen for the window would be about the right thing."  Rather than simply asking A. Shrimpton & Co. to erect the screen, the Neustadter Brothers manager, a Mr. Fischer, filed a complaint with the Factory Inspection Bureau.  It launched what The New York Times called a "merry washroom war."

"An Inspector was sent to Shrimpton's, and when the purport of his visit was made known, Mr. Schrimpton, Sr. was very angry."  He complied with the order to erect a screen, but placed a sign on it that read, "This is private property.  Look the other way."

Now it was Fischer who was angered, and he complained to the Factory Inspection Bureau a second time.  The New York Times reported, "Mr. Shrimpton was even more annoyed than at the outset, so he placed on the screen a large colored lithograph bearing the inscription: "Don't chew the rag."

The conflict escalated.  Fischer employed a photographer to take images of the "offensive ornamentation on the screen" and sent it off to the Factory Inspection Bureau with a third complaint.  The New York Times reported, "Meanwhile the neighbors were awakening to the fact that a lively controversy was on, and eagerly awaited developments, which followed in quick succession."  

Fischer insisted he had no personal feelings against Shrimpton, but would not back down even if it meant going to court.  "On the other hand, Mr. Shrimpton frankly admits that he is out for satisfaction, and that Mr. Fischer can secure peace only by making an apology for going to the authorities instead of first appealing to Mr. Shrimpton's sense of the eternal fitness of things."  The New York Times reported that he had "collected a large assortment of suggestive lithographs," and had placed a sign over the window near the screen that read "Watch this space for new attractions."

The building continued to attract tenants in the apparel and textile industries through mid-century.  M. H. Oppenheimer & Co., cotton converters, was here in the post-World War I years; and after World War II Multitex Corporation, "cotton and linen manufacturers" and "importers and exporters of textiles," operated from the building.

The last quarter of the 20th century, however, saw major change in Tribeca, as lofts became residences and stores were converted to restaurants, galleries, and theaters.  In 1978 the Islene Pinder Balinese American Dance Theater opened in 86-88 Franklin Street.  The New York Times explained on June 11, 1983 that it "draws on the traditions of Bali and modern dance."  

A renovation completed in 2001 resulted in one apartment each on the upper floors.   It was possibly at this time that the pediment atop the cornice was refaced.

Dune opened in the ground floor space.  The New York Times reported on June 28 that year that the store "sells an exclusive line of  furniture and textiles by contemporary designers."  It was replaced in 2012 by Aire Ancient Baths.

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Thursday, January 25, 2024

The Altered Robert Jacques House - 228 West 13th Street


By 1847, attorney Robert Jacques and his family lived in the brick-faced house at 160 West 13th Street (renumbered 228 in 1868).  It was offered for sale in April 1855, after which it was briefly home to Bridget Miner, the widow of Phillip Miner, who possibly operated a boarding house.

A rental advertisement for the nine-room house in March 1870 said it contained "all the modern improvements," suggesting a recent renovation.  The asking rent was $1,300 per year, or around $2,215 a month in 2024 money.

The first tenant was Albert Rich, who owned a fancy goods and millinery business on Sixth Avenue.  Rich left at the expiration of his lease in March 1873, and the house was advertised again at the same rent.  For some reason each of the subsequent tenants stayed only through the term of their one-year leases.  Following Albert Rich were William Kay, a carpenter or builder; then Francis Bateman; William Raymond, a clerk;  and Richard Gorney, who listed his profession as "agent."

In the mid-1880's Mary Mulvany, the widow of Owen Mulvany, was listed here.  She, too, almost doubtlessly ran a boarding house.  Martin A. Metzener purchased 228 West 13th Street in November 1899 for $4,500--the equivalent of $145,000 today.  But he appears to have overextended himself.   Six months later, on May 15, 1900, auctioneer Peter F. Meyer placed an advertisement in The New York Times that announced the auction of the "3-story and basement brick dwelling, with lot."

It briefly became home to architect Francis S. Swales.  Born in 1878, he would soon leave to study at the Atelier Jean-Louis Pascal and the Ecole de Beaux-Arts in Paris.  In 1906 he set up his architectural practice in London.

As had been the case with its tenants, 228 West 13th Street would see a rapid turnover of owners.  By 1905, it was owned by J. J. Bush, who sued the city for $65 in damages caused by a burst water main on October 28 that year.

Soon afterward, Bush sold the house to Alta H. Denam.  She received a violation on February 7, 1906 for not having a fire escape--clear evidence that the house was now considered a "tenement" by the city.  The dizzying transfers of title continued.  Alta Denam quickly sold the house to Karl Shafer who resold it in May 1906.

The double-height artist loft of 1926 flooded the interior with northern light. image via

At the time, Greenwich Village was becoming Manhattan's artist colony and before long, vintage houses were being transformed to artists' studios.  In 1926, the third floor of 228 West 13th Street was raised to full height and a fourth floor studio, faced in glass to catch the northern light, was added.  It was probably at this time that the charming Early American style door with its iron strap hinges was installed. 

Around mid-century casement windows were added, along with modernist-inspired fire escapes at the second and third floors.  There are nine apartments in the vintage building today.

photographs by the author has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog