Saturday, January 20, 2024

Isaac F. Duckworth's 1868 58 White Street


Samuel and Abraham Wood had been partners in their real estate development business for years when when they purchased an old building at 58 White Street in 1866 as the site of a modern loft and store structure.  The project caused them problems almost from the start.  In court years later, a nephew, Samuel A. Wood, would testify that "Mr. Alexander" had initially prepared the plans.  (He was likely referring to architect Charles A. Alexander.)  But the final plans, he said were submitted and accepted by "I. F. Duckworth."

"What was done with the plans of Mr. Alexander?" he was asked.

"They were rejected, and he afterwards sued Samuel and Abraham Wood."

Duckworth was prolific in the neighborhood known today as Tribeca, often utilizing the new cast iron façade technology.  But for 58 White Street, the material would appear only in the Corinthian columned storefront.  The upper floors were clad in white marble.  He carried the design of the paneled side piers to the second floor, where their diamond motif was copied into the spandrels below the windows.  The diamonds changed to circles at the second floor, and alternated again on the fourth and fifth.  Duckworth's Second Empire design placed engaged columns between the segmentally arched openings.  Prominent intermediate cornices defined each floor, and a complex terminal cornice of brackets and dentils supported a triangular pediment that announced the date that construction began.

The Alexander-Wood law suit would not be the last litigation over 58 White Street.  Abraham Wood died intestate in 1868, just as construction of the building was completed.  In 1873, the extended Wood family crowded into court to argue over his 50 percent of the property.  (The case was settled in November 1879 when Samuel Wood paid Abraham's estate $30,000 for the share, about $908,000 in 2024.)

In the meantime, Fisk, Clark & Flagg had moved into the ground floor space in 1868.  Catering to the carriage trade, the haberdashery offered high-end items like "kid and dogskin gloves," "patent pantaloon drawers," "Russian braces [i.e. suspenders]," and "neck dressings."

The upper floors were leased to textile and apparel firms, like Thorne, Carroll & Co., a "jobbing house" for "hosiery, gloves, underwear, &c."  Among its employees was E. Haight, who was hired as the firm's bookkeeper in 1869.  On his way to work in October 1879, he stopped into the store of M. A. Dauphin at 319 Broadway and spent $2 on two tickets in the Louisiana State Lottery Company.  The drawing was scheduled for October 14 and the Brooklyn Daily Eagle said "without paying special attention to numbers on them, Mr. Haight slipped them cautiously into his pocketbook."

When the numbers were telegraphed from Louisiana on  the morning of October 15, Haight discovered he had won half of the second prize of $10,000.  The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported, "A reporter called yesterday at Thorne, Carroll & Co.'s store at 58 White street, and [found] Mr. Haight all beaming with smiles behind a labyrinth of open boxes."  Although the prize would equal just over $150,000 today, Haight intended to be sensible.  "Although a bachelor, he thought that be would find good use for this timely gift."

Cloak makers Wronkow & Finn occupied space here by 1883.  The firm engaged in the common practice of "home work"  or "piece work," by which independent workers received patterns and fabrics, constructed the garments in their homes, and were paid by the piece.   It was a mutually beneficial arrangement.  Firms required less rented square footage, for instance, and sewers had the flexibility to care for their small children at home.

David Lichenstein, who lived on Henry Street in the impoverished Lower East Side, was one of Wronkow & Finn's home workers.  But management became suspicious that he was "stealing remnants of cloth and cloak trimmings," reported The New York Times on August 22, 1883.  "In several instances he took more cloth and trimmings away from his employers' store than he returned," said the article.  A detective followed Lichenstein, who discovered he was selling fabric and trimmings "to street peddlers for about one-third their value."  He was arrested and held on $500 bail.

At the time, among improvements that had been made to 58 White Street was the installation of an elevator--a marked improvement over the hoist.  (Hoists were the open shaftways through which freight was hoisted up and down by pulleys.)  But 19th century elevators did not come with the safety features regulated by law today and that proved tragic on September 15, 1884.  The Brighton Cloak and Suit Company, headed by Morris Finn, occupied several floors in the building.  The following day, The Evening Post reported, "Charles Gillen, a fourteen-year-old messenger boy employed by the Brighton Cloak Company at No. 58 White Street, fell through the elevator well to the floor below yesterday and was instantly killed."

Four months later, the Brighton Cloak and Suit Company would suffer misfortune again.  On January 12, 1885, The New York Times reported, "A fire started yesterday morning in the subcellar of the six-story building No. 58 White-street., occupied by Morris Finn's Brighton Cloak and Suit Company, and the smoke was so dense as to alarm the foreman of Hook and Lauder Company No. 8. who sent out a third alarm."  Brighton Cloak Company used the basement for storage.  Although firefighters were able to confine the blaze to the cellar and basement, estimates of the damage to the firm's stock was between $5,000 and $6,000 (around $188,000 on the higher end today).  Less than two weeks later, Hannigan & Bouillon, a store on Grand Street, announced a "Great Sale," explaining it had purchased Brighton Cloak and Suit Company's "entire stock of cloaks saved from the fire of January 11, at 25 cents on the dollar."

It may have been the fire that prompted the Brighton Cloak and Suit Company to leave 58 White Street in 1886.  It was replaced by the newly-founded Blumenthal & Erdman, which leased four floors.  The firm manufactured and imported "embroideries, laces, etc."   In 1888, Illustrated New York wrote, "in their spacious salesroom can always be found a full and carefully-selected assortment of the latest novelties and most desirable styles in this department of trade."

Linen importer Leopold Pinkus & Co. operated from the building in the early 1890s.  In 1892, business troubles resulted in the firm's owing a European supplier, Jaffe Bros. & Co., a large amount of money.  So much was owed, in fact, that in October Leopold Pinkus was informed John Henry Luis, a representative of Jaffe Bros. & Co., was on his way to New York "to adjust the account due by Mr. Pinkus to his firm," as reported by The World.  Jaffe Bros. & Co. was the not only creditor breathing down Pinkus's neck.  He owed tens of thousands to other firms. 

Before Luis landed in New York, Pinkus was gone.  On October 18, 1893, The World reported, "it was alleged that Mr. Pinkus disappeared from his office Oct. 11, that he had not been there since and that his house at No. 319 West Eighty-seventh street was closed and creditors could not find him."  On October 17, a judge attached the assets of Leopold Pinkus & Co.

Another tenant in the 1890s was Charles Falkenberg, shirt makers.  In 1895, the firm employed 122 men, four boys under 18 years old, three women, and four teenaged girls.  They worked 51 hours per week.  Another shirtmaker, J. Sternglanz & Co., moved into the building on February 1, 1897.  It would remain at least through 1903.

No. 58 White Street continued to house textile and apparel firms in the post-World War I years.  In 1919, Dezell & Cunningham, dealers in "white goods, wash goods and silk and cotton fabrics," was here.  And in 1923, the newly-formed Ferdinand Sichel opened his cotton goods converting and importing business in the building.

One tenant distinctly not in the dry goods business was Jungmann & Company, which moved in around 1923.  The firm dealt in chemicals and drugs.

Drug & chemical Markets Buyers' Guide-Book, 1925

Dezell & Cunningham was still in the building in 1929, sharing the address with Gribbon & Co., importers of cotton handkerchiefs; and the Rindeman-Salinger Company, which dealt in cotton and linen ticking.

The Tribeca renaissance arrived at 58 White street by the 1960s, when the Abraham Ellis Foundation, Inc. had its offices here.  Around 2015 the Jane Lombard Gallery opened in the ground floor space.  Each of the upper floors, where workers once toiled over sewing machines, now contains one sprawling apartment.

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

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