Saturday, May 18, 2024

The 1887 Neo-Grec 351 Sixth Avenue


Henry W. Hoops arrived in New York from his native Germany in 1851 at the age of 26.  He became a prominent confectioner and ice cream dealer, was active in politics, and dealt in Manhattan and Brooklyn real estate.  In 1877, he completed construction of a four-story store and flat building at 47 Sixth Avenue (renumbered 351 Sixth Avenue in 1925) in Greenwich Village.

The building was faced in stone above a cast iron storefront.  Its French neo-Grec design differed from the garden variety neo-Grec style in its especially beefy lintels.  Carved with incised foliate designs typical of the style, they were supported by geometric brackets.  Matching brackets upheld the sills.  A prominent metal cornice with panels that matched the lintels completed the handsome design.

Hoops went to the additional expense of custom matching the cornice panels with the lintel carvings.

The shop became home to George Quimby, Jr.'s hardware store, while the three apartments upstairs were home to middle-class professionals.  In 1878, they were William Peppler, a baker; Richard Plunkett, a clerk; and the family of Edward Wilkins.  Wilkins was an officer in the Customs House and his son John worked as a clerk.

Richard Plunkett, who "lived in moderate style," according to The New York Times, had worked in the office of W. & J. Sloane & Co. since 1868.  He had most likely gotten his job through the influence of family members, since The New York Times noted "some of his relatives are valued employes [sic] of the firm."  On October 8, 1878, the 32-year-old "disappeared."  The New York Times reported, "the Messrs. Sloane were surprised by the discovery that he had forged their firm name as the indorsement of a check for $1,500."  (It was a substantial amount, equal to about $47,300 in 2024.)  Further examination of the books revealed he had embezzled cash totaling $6,000.

After hiding out for more than a month, Plunkett was arrested in his apartment on the evening of November 23.  His former employers assumed "that he has been corrupted by bad companions," and told a reporter, "he will be treated as leniently as the law will permit."  To that end, Plunkett agreed to a deal.  He pleaded guilty to the forgery and was sentenced to two years in prison.

The Edward Wilkin family was still living here in 1880.  Edward was described by The Sun as being "of portly build and fine appearance."  He left the apartment at around 7:30 on the evening of December 5, that year.  An hour later, Police Officer William Mulcahy drove "four suspicious looking loungers away from the mouth of the alley" at Clinton Place (later East 8th Street) near Fifth Avenue.  After walking his post, he saw the gang had returned.  "It was then that he noticed something lying on the pavement of the alley," reported The Sun.

It was Edward Wilkin.  He was "stripped of most of his clothing, and without his watch and money."  The Sun said "he was unconscious and presented a pitiable sight."  The article continued, "His coat and overcoat were missing, and his vest and shirt were drawn up about the upper part of his body so that his naked back touched the cold stones."  Wilkin's wife said he always carried his gold watch and chain and "probably had not less than $200."  Two of the crooks were quickly arrested.  At midnight Wilkin was still unconscious in the New York Hospital.

In 1890, Henry Hoops leased the building for five years to George Schmidt.  He moved his family into one of the apartments and around the same time he leased the store to Gustav Pietsch.  Pietsch converted it for his bakery business and he and his wife, Dora, lived in the rear.

In November 1892, the Schmidts' child fell ill, "suffering from a scrofulous complaint," according to The Evening World.  They called F. E. Hemscher, a German physician recently arrived in New York.  According to Hemscher, until three months earlier he had been assistant surgeon with the German Army's 17th Regiment Infantry.  He practiced what was known as the "Baunscheidt system."  It involved "pricking the affected or diseased part with needles" and rubbing the raw surfaces with various oils.

The newspaper reported, "The boy rapidly grew worse, and the attention of Henry Loring, agent of the County Medical Society, was called to the matter by the parents."  Hemscher was arrested for practicing medicine without a license.  He told the court that an attorney had advised him "that as long as he did not make his patients worse he could go on practicing."  The Evening World reported, "Hemscher says he did not make them worse, and was surprised to find himself in a police court."

The devastating economic depression known as the Panic of 1893 prompted The Evening World to raise funds for the poor.  An article on January 25, 1894 asked for donations so "those out of work may tide the present storm."  It listed previous donors, including Gustav Pietsch.  His bakery was apparently doing well despite the overall economic conditions.  This $100 donation would equal more than $3,600 today.

Later that year, on April 10, Dora Pietsch hired a servant girl from Theresa Bienhusse's employment agency.  The World reported, "That day the girl went to bed sick, and Mrs. Piepach [sic] went around to Mrs. Bienhusse and asked for another servant."  The meeting did not go well.  

The next day, The Evening World reported that Theresa Bienhusse had been arrested for assault after Dora Pietsch complained to police "that she was thrown downstairs during an altercation with Mrs. Bienhusse yesterday, and that her right ankle was sprained."  Although Theresa Bienhusse pleaded not guilty, saying that Dora "fell down stairs from sheer excitement," the jury found her guilty.

The actual bakery portion of Pietsch's operation was in the basement.  Living on the top floor in 1895 was the family of John A. Walsh, a letter carrier.  He and his wife Mary had two small children, six-year-old Mary and 15-month-old Willie.  The second floor was occupied by the John McDonald family and Mrs. McDonald's brother, Policeman Thomas O'Shea.

At 5:30 on the morning of January 30, Walsh left for work, leaving his wife and children asleep.  In the meantime, Gustav Pietsch was at work in the basement, preparing the morning's baking.  A dumbwaiter shaft ran from the basement to the top floor.  At about 6:30, a fire broke out in the basement and "shot quickly to the top story," according to The Evening World.  

Hearing a roar, Mrs. McDonald opened the dumbwaiter door, causing a backdraft.  The New York Times reported, "the flames shot out and drove her back.  She screamed, and alarmed the people in the house."  Thomas O'Shea rushed down the stairs shouting, "Fire!" and ran onto the street to send in an alarm.

In the meantime, Mary Walsh was awakened by the commotion.  She approached the dumbwaiter just as the build-up of heat and pressure caused it to explode.  "The flames struck Mrs. Walsh in the face, setting her nightdress on fire and burning her badly."  The room was quickly engulfed in flames.  Mary grabbed her children, one under each arm, and headed to the window and the ice-covered fire escape.  To get there, she had to plunge through the flames.  

The Evening World reported that the barefoot mother made it down one floor on the fire escape, then stopped.  Both she and the children were in horrific shape. 

From the children the night clothes had been burned and the flesh peeled from their bodies as the mother stood on the ladder," said the article.  "Her hair had been burned from her head, her face and arms were black from the flames, and there was a deep, ugly mark across her shoulders, where a falling beam struck her as she ran through the fiery room.

Alfred Pitcher, who lived around the corner on West Fourth Street, had heard the explosion.  He made it to the rear yard just as the exhausted woman was about to throw her children to the snowbank below.  Pitcher called out for her to wait, climbed to the top of an outhouse, then yelled, "Now!"  Mary Walsh tossed the infant to Pitcher, who passed him to another neighbor.  He then climbed the fire escape, retrieved the other child, and helped Mary down.

The Evening World reported, "Meanwhile the other families in the house had been aroused and were making a made rush for the street."  The article said, "All of the people, with the exception of Mrs. Pietsch, were out of the house when the firemen arrived."  A fire fighter rescued Dora Pietsch who "was so frightened she stood in her rooms and cried."

An ambulance transported Mary Walsh and her children to the New York Hospital.  The Evening World reported, "The surgeon thought that the two children would die, but the woman might recover."  

The Evening World reported, "The flames were quickly extinguished.  The firemen couldn't say exactly how they started.  It might have been that the baker's ovens had been overheated."  

Twelve days later, on February 11, The Sun reported, "Mary Walsh, 6 years old, who, before being rescued by her mother, Mrs. John A. Walsh, was burned by a fire at her home, at 47 Sixth avenue...died in the New York Hospital yesterday."

Henry Hoops suffered the equivalent of $94,000 damages to his building.  (His tenants, of course, lost nearly everything.)  He made repairs, which were completed within a few months.

Henry Hoops died in 1914, 14 years after the title to the Sixth Avenue building was transferred to his son, Henry Jr.

In the years after World War I, the former bakery was a restaurant/nightclub.  With Prohibition in full swing, at midnight on Saturday December 30, 1923, Mayor John Francis Hyland and his wife made "a tour of Greenwich Village," as reported by The New York Times, which said, "They did not leave their automobile on their inspection of the Village."  Following the "tour," police made four arrests.  Among them was Charles B. Walters who was arrested at 47 Sixth Avenue, "charged with possessing a flask of whisky."

In 1929, four years after the address was changed, 351 Sixth Avenue was renovated by architect Ferdinand Savignano.  There were now seven apartments in the upper floors.  Living here in 1935 was mural artist Herman E. Zimmerman.  He did several Works Progress Administration murals, including the 1938 Chemistry & Industry for the main post office at Wilmington, Delaware; and Construction on the Miami Erie Canal in the Tipp City, Ohio main post office.

The Daniel Reeve store was still in the building in 1941.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

The ground floor shop became a Daniel Reeves grocery store.  The extensive chain had 297 stores in the New York City area in the 1920s.  By 1941, when it merged with Safeway, Inc. there were 408 Daniel Reeves grocery stores.

In the late 1950s and into the 1960s, the ground floor was occupied by the Fugazy Travel Bureau, Inc., and in the 1970s by the Pier 16 housewares store.

While the storefront has been gently altered, its 1877 cast iron piers are intact.  And, despite a serious fire in 1895, the upper floors are unchanged after nearly 150 years.

photographs by the author
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1 comment:

  1. I was pleased to see this particular post, as I'm a big fan of what I continue to refer to as Eastlake buildings. I just recently did a self-pub effort on the subject, and had a photo of this one, taken decades ago, missing the address. So now I'll be ready for the Second Edition. The date seems rather late for the style. (btw, I'd be happy to send a copy, if interested: