Thursday, January 4, 2024

The 1852 Janes, Beebe & Co. Building - 356 Broadway


On January 14, 1850, the estate of Charles Graham advertised the "five-story brick building and stable" at 356 Broadway for sale.  (The stable was accessed by the carriage path known as Benson Street which ran behind the property.)  The ad mentioned, "The arranged for a first class boarding house.  It is leased until 1853."  The property was purchased by Peter Lorillard II whose massive fortune had was made in the tobacco company founded by his father and uncles.

Although the lease of the boarding house did not expire until 1853, Lorillard apparently negotiated a deal.  On May 16, 1852, the New York Herald reported, "The dwelling house 356 Broadway, has been taken down.  The owner, Peter Lorillard, intends erecting a fine store...It will be five stories high, with a brown stone front."  Lorillard anticipated construction, which cost him $20,000 (or about $781,000 in 2024) to be completed in August that year.  The article noted, "Davis & Co. are the architects."

Davis & Co. designed the loft-and-store building in the new Second Empire style.  The architects treated the storefront almost exactly as the second through fourth floors--foregoing the ubiquitous cast iron fronts that were gaining popularity in the district.  The segmentally arched openings were separated by engaged columns and flanked by square pilasters.  Each of the upper floors was defined by a molded intermediate cornice.

It was the fifth floor that stole the show.  A slate-shingled mansard, it was dominated by a single, elaborate French dormer.    Fussy volutes terminated in stone urns, copies of those that perched on either side of the fourth floor cornice.  The dormer sprouted a dramatic, pointed finial.

image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

Months before construction was completed, Lorillard  leased the building to Janes, Beebe & Co., makers of ornamental ironwork.  The foundry was located in the Bronx.  The Broadway store offered patrons a glimpse at the firm's vast array of items, ranging from garden fountains, urns and statues; to "kitchen furniture" like ranges; to gazebos, and even household items like umbrella stands.

In the Broadway showroom, patrons browsed through a sample of statues of animals and people, fountains, and household items.  Janes, Beebe & Co. catalogue, 1858 (copyright expired)  

Janes, Beebe & Co. subleased space in the building to auction house George W. Lord & Co.  The firm seems to have specialized in the sale of books, and on December 2, 1853 began a seven-day sale of more than 20,000 volumes of  "choice English books."  In 1854, the firm was reorganized as Jordan & Norton.  It continued with its specialty, advertising an auction sale of "a large collection of miscellaneous books, old and new" on September 20 that year.

Jordan & Norton's residency would be short.  It was replaced the following year by the music publisher F. J. Huntington.  In addition to sacred music, the firm published the periodical the Pioneer.

The wide array of items designed and manufactured by Janes, Beebe & Co. was evidenced in the announcement of its new 1857 line.  Along with fountains, animals, vases, and statuary "suitable for public parks, private grounds and conservatories," it offered complete garden houses, and "settees, chairs, horse mangers and hay racks, feed troughs for swine and poultry, garden-bordering, &c. &c."

This "summer house" came with an ornamental fountain.  Janes, Beebe & Co. catalogue, 1858 (copyright expired)

Examples garden furniture appeared in the firm's catalogue.  Janes, Beebe & Co. catalogue, 1858 (copyright expired)

In 1858, Janes, Beebe & Co. erected the first documented cast iron fountain in Savannah, Georgia.  (A copy of the fountain was made in 1876 to be exhibited in the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia.)

The copy of the Savannah fountain on display at the Philadelphia Exhibition.

The completion of the laying of the Atlantic Telegraph Cable was celebrated with "public rejoicings" in New York City and in London on September 1, 1858.  Businesses were closed and, in preparation for a torchlight parade, the buildings along Broadway were "illuminated."  (The term referred to elaborate decorations.)  The Common Council's Detailed Report of the Proceedings included the various decorations, noting:

From the gilded eagle that ornaments the fourth story of the establishment No. 356 Broadway, streamers hung.  From the first floor a temporary balcony projected with a front of canvass [sic], rows of upright muskets with candles stuck in the barrels, and the couplet,
"The Cable with its peaceful tricks
Makes of muskets candlesticks."

An advertisement in 1859 said in part, "A fountain on the lawn, or a few vases filled with flowering plants, properly disposed, form one of the most attractive features of villa decoration.  These articles, possessing all the beauty of finely-wrought marble, are now made of cast-iron, and at prices which enable all persons of taste to gratify desires for this kind of ornamentation."  It went on to say there were over 30 sizes and styles of garden vases, ranging from $2 to $24.  (The most expensive would translate to about $925 today.)

Shortly afterward, Janes, Beebe & Co. was reorganized as Janes, Fowler, Kirkland & Co.  In February 1860, the firm obtained what was perhaps its most prestigious commission, the construction of the cast iron dome over the U. S. Capitol Building in Washington.  

The Horticulturist Advertiser, January, 1860 (copyright expired)

On December 18, 1863, tragedy struck.  The New York Times reported that between 10:00 and 11:00 that night a police officer "discovered a fire on the first floor...The flames spread throughout the building with great rapidity and in a short time the entire building was destroyed."  

The top three floors were occupied by E. S. Higgins & Co., which suffered losses equal to $1.4 million in today's money.  While the interiors were gutted, Davis & Co.'s stone facade survived.  The Lorillard estate renovated the ruined structure, however none of the tenants, including Janes, Fowler, Kirtland & Co., returned.

The repaired building became home to "notions and hosiery" dealers Butler, Pitkin & Co. and dry goods jobbers David Valentine & Co.  

Evening Post, March 5, 1868 (copyright expired)

Working for Butler, Pitkin & Co. in 1868 was 16-year-old William H. Ralston.  The teen was sent to the Mechanics' and Traders' Bank on May 26 that year to make a deposit.  A month later the bank records showed a shortage of $350 (a significant $7,430 in 2024 terms).  Suspected of the crime by George D. Pitkin, Ralston turned himself in to police on July 1.  The New York Times reported that he told them "he had spent the money."

David Valentine & Co. failed in 1874, while Butler, Pitkin & Co. remained in the building at least through 1881.  Around 1893, C. Bruno & Son moved into 356 Broadway.  The firm made and imported musical instruments.  

In 1894 C. Bruno & Sons held interviews for a highly specific position.  An advertisement in The World on March 7, 1894, read:

Wanted, three experienced mandolin makers; none but first-class workmen need apply.  Call March 8, at 2:30 P.M., 356 Broadway upstairs.

Catherine Lorillard Wolfe had inherited 356 Broadway around 1886.  In 1897 she hired the architectural firm of Snook & Sons to do interior alterations, including the addition of an elevator.

C. Bruno & Son would remain at 356 Broadway at least through 1912.  In 1916 Puck & Mack Company operated from the building.  The firm dealt in "files, tools and general hardware."  Its success was such that in 1920 it purchased the building at 452 Broadway and left No. 356.

The ground floor became a restaurant in 1929, run by the 359 Broadway Restaurant Corporation.  By 1941 it had been replaced by an office furniture store.

The Tribeca neighborhood saw significant change in the last quarter of the century, as loft buildings were converted to residential use and storefronts became cafes and galleries.  For years the ground floor of 356 Broadway was home to B. K. Sweeney's restaurant and bar, and in 1984 the upper floors were converted to 18 residential condominiums.  It was most likely at this time that the magnificent mansard was violated, its French dormer replaced with a utilitarian row of windows.

photographs by the author
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