Saturday, February 10, 2024

The 1866 75-77 Leonard Street


On January 3, 1863, a "Mr. Alger" began construction of a commercial building on the site of two vintage houses at 75 and 77 Leonard Street.  (One of them, 75 Leonard street, had been home to the Spanish Consul-General Thomas Stoughton in the 1820s.)  It was most likely the ongoing Civil War, which depleted the North of its construction crews, that derailed Alger's project.

Following the war's end on April 12, 1865, Union soldiers returned to New York and construction in the city resumed.  That year Herman D. Alrich took over Alger's project.  His architect designed the store and loft building in a commercial take on the Italianate style.  The cast iron storefront with fluted Corinthian columns was flanked by rusticated stone piers.  Above a stone cornice, the four upper floors were faced in marble, the second story windows fronted by blind balustrades.  Each floor was defined by an intermediate cornice, and the openings of the second through third floors wore architrave frames, paneled lintels, and molded cornices.

Completed in 1866, the building filled with tenants involved in the dry goods industry.  Among the first were Petrie & Co., commission merchants, here in 1866; and dry goods importers Buckley, Sheldon & Co. by 1867.

The Chronicle, September 22, 1866 (copyright expired)

Buckley, Sheldon & Co. had an interesting contract with the Department of the Interior to supply dry goods--possibly items like blankets and textiles--to Native Americans.  In 1866, it was paid $8,146.55 by the Government for goods "fulfilling treaties with the Blackfoot nation" during the previous year.  (The amount would translate to about $155,000 in 2024.)

William Lottimer & Co. took space by 1871.  Like its neighbors in the building, the firm was listed as "importers and commission merchants in dry goods."  It was the scene of a sensational and potentially fatal robbery on July 20, 1875.  The New York Herald reported that a 17-year-old named James Murphy "entered the store of William Lottimer & Co., Nos. 75 and 77 Leonard street, and stole a box containing handkerchiefs of the value of $50.  Just as he was leaving the premises, with the property secreted under his coat, he was stopped by William J. Andrews, a foreman employed by the firm, and ordered to stand and deliver."

Murphy stepped back a few feet, then "with an oath," flung the box at Andrews, hitting him on the head, and ran.  William Andrews pursued the teen toward Elm Street (today's Lafayette Street).  Just as he was closing in, Murphy drew a revolver and fired.  His aim was off and the bullet struck the dashboard of an express wagon.  On Elm Street Police Officer Francis Caddell joined in the chase, and then the situation became dire.  The New York Herald reported:

The desperado again turned on his pursuers and snapped at the officer his revolver, which missed fire.  Murphy instantly recocked his pistol and halted the officer, who was unarmed, within ten feet of the desperado, who held him under his aim ready to fire if he advanced another step.  In a moment, Officer John Raleigh, of the Sixth precinct, who had heard of the fight, came up in rear of Caddell, and, springing upon Murphy, presented a six-shooter and persuaded the thief and would-be murderer to surrender.

The two officers subdued and disarmed the teenager, who was "marched to Captain Lowery's station house."  He was charged with grand larceny and felonious assault.  As it turned out, William Andrews had confronted a dangerous and seasoned criminal.  The newspaper related, "Murphy is a pal of 'Scotchy' Lavell's, the noted thief and ex-convict, and has served a term in the Penitentiary."

On October 8, 1876, The Evening Post reported on the death of William Lottimer.  The article mentioned, "Mr. Lottimer was one of the oldest and most respected merchants of this city."

In the late 1880s, tenants included the New York offices of the National Suspender Co., makers of silk suspenders; the dry goods firm of Clifford C. Cassidy; and importers Herman Bernheim, Son & Co.  

When not involved in his business here,  Clifford C. Cassidy was involved with the 22nd Regiment of the National Guard.  On August 5, 1888, the New-York Tribune said, "First Sergeant Clifford C. Cassidy, of Company H. 22d Regiment, though a strict disciplinarian when in soldier clothes, is regarded by the men of the company as one of the most genial of men when off duty."

Four years after that article, on August 15, 1892, Cassidy and his troops were called into action to quell an uprising of railroad workers in Buffalo.  Earlier that year the state legislature had passed a law reducing railroad employees' hours and increasing their wages.  Three railroads refused to comply, and on August 12 switchmen in the Buffalo railyard went on strike.  Before long, things turned violent and railroad cars were set ablaze.

The governor called out the New York State Guard.  The soldiers quickly realized they faced deadly opposition.  The tracks were mined and an unmanned train loaded with explosives steamed through the Buffalo train station on August 15.  It detonated, injuring three soldiers.  

As the confrontation escalated, a striker named Michael Broderick was shot and killed on August 25.  On November 4, Cassidy, who was by now a lieutenant, received word he had been charged with murder.  The Sun explained that Cassidy "was in command of a squad, and gave the order to fire which was followed by the death of Broderick from a bullet wound."  The Evening World reported, "The announcement last night unnerved the Lieutenant somewhat.  He immediately placed himself in the hands of the military authorities and will act throughout on their advice."  

A reporter who visited his Leonard Street office was told that Cassidy intended to leave for Buffalo to face the charges immediately.  "He will not wait for an officer to come on after him," said The Evening World.  A friend of Cassidy told the reporter, "This is a sad and unfortunate affair.  Lieutenant Cassidy and all his friends believe that there is not an atom of evidence on which to base a charge."  Nevertheless, the proceedings dragged for a year before the charges were dropped.  (In the meantime, possibly as a show of support, Cassidy was promoted.)  Finally, on November 16, 1893, The Sun reported, "A despatch [sic] from Buffalo announces that Capt. Clifford C. Cassidy of the Twenty-second Regiment, who was indicted for the killing of young Broderick in the railroad strike of 1892, will not be tried."

In 1905, Harry H. Simon and and Abraham L. Liebovitz, partners in the shirt making firm of S. Liebovitz & Sons, purchased 75-77 Leonard Street for $169,000 (about $5.8 million in 2024).  The firm, which was started by Simon Liebovitz, a street peddler on the Lower East Side, now employed thousands of workers in five factories in as many states.  The new owners immediately made a well-needed improvement--the installation of toilets.  Three years later, they replaced interior stairs and installed an elevator.

S. Liebovitz & Sons leased unneeded space in the building.  Among their tenants over the next few years were Danford, Clark & Co., manufacturers' selling agents; the Peerless Picture Hanger Company; and Wood & Hare, manufacturer's reps.

Among the items made by S. Liebovitz & Sons in the Leonard Street location were high-end silk shirts.  After the garments were finished, they were sent out for cleaning and pressing.  In March 1914, the firm sent 200 dozen silk shirts to the Excellent Laundry Company on Howard Street.  But before they could be cleaned and pressed, on March 19 they disappeared.

Little by little, detectives tracked down portions of the goods, some in surprising locations.  David Goldstein and Harry Bayer both operated musical instrument shops, and both were found selling the stolen merchandise.  The Sun said they "found profit in selling $5 shirts for $1.25 each."  The detectives also arrested John Menching, an expressman, who had four trunks of the shirts on his truck.  All three men were charged with receiving stolen goods.  The Sun said the detectives "have not yet any clue to the burglars."

Like Buckley, Sheldon & Co. half a century earlier, S. Liebovitz & Sons obtained a large government contract with the outbreak of World War I.  The firm supplied army uniform shirts throughout the conflict.

It may have been that army contract that inspired S. Liebovitz & Sons to branch into military type garments for general consumption.  By 1927, according to Cotton magazine, the firm was "operating nearly a half hundred scattered factories" throughout the country.  In August that year, it introduced a "new coat for men and juveniles" trademarked "Aero-Jack."  Cotton said the aviator type jacket "is made from aerosuede, a new fabric said to be controlled by the Liebovitz company, who claim it 'sheds water like a duck and stops cold wind like a wall.'"

An advertisement for the Aero-Jack jacket included an endorsement by aviator Clarence D. Chamberlin.  Dry Goods Merchants Trade Journal, September, 1927

S. Liebovitz & Sons remained in the building at least through the Depression years.  As the Tribeca renaissance transformed the neighborhood in the third quarter of the 20th century, the building saw a starkly different type of tenant.  By 1985 the Samaya Foundation occupied space.  A non-profit educational and cultural organization, its goal are "making the wisdom and compassion of Tibetan culture accessible to westerners," according to its website.

For about a decade, the space was scene of exhibitions and concerts.  On March 3, 1985, for instance, The New York Times reported, "Terry Riley, who is often considered the founding father of minimalist music, will present 'The Medicine Wheel' and 'The Song of the Emerald Runner'--two extended works for piano, sitar, tabla and voice."

A renovation completed in 1995 resulted in apartments on the upper floors.

photographs by the author
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