Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Lincoln's Ghost, A Smuggling Dressmaker, and German Propagandists - 1153 Broadway

The formal opening of the elegant Madison Square Park in 1847 prompted residential development within the surrounding blocks.  Around 1849 or shortly thereafter construction began on No. 1153 Broadway near the southwest corner of 27th Street.   The three-story Italianate-style house-and-store was an ample 24 feet wide.  It was completed by 1851 when Joseph Oatwell listed both his residence and his business here.

Oatwell was described in directories as a "marble cutter," a term which diminished his artistic skills.  His stone carving operation was further up Broadway, at the corner of 35th Street.  The store at No. 1153, his "warerooms," showcased examples of Joseph Oatwell & Son's work, mostly marble mantels.

Respected within the industry, he had been a delegate from New York City to the State Convention of Mechanics in Utica in 1835.  And in 1840, while still located on Sullivan Street, his workers' expert artistry received a silver medal at the American Institute's annual exhibition for "the best chimney piece."

Oatwell had barely set up his operation in the new building when he was sued by a supplier, Dietz, Dietz & Weed.  The problem was that Oatwell had given the firm two promissory notes, totaling $504, or about $16,500 in today's money.  But when his creditors grew impatient for their funds, they took him to court on February 9, 1852.  Oatwell countered that they "had taken them at usurious interest."  The jury was unmoved and ruled for the plaintiffs.

The size of his stone cutting and carving facility was evidenced in 1853 when he offered space for lease there.  "Room to let, with steam power--A good room, 35 by 40 feet, suitable for some light manufacturing business."  Mid-19th century work conditions were reflected in his adding "not extra hazardous."  Those interested were told to inquire a Joseph Oatwell & Son, 1,153 Broadway.

By the spring of 1856 it seems Joseph Oakley was ready to retire.  An auction in the store was held on March 27 to liquidate the stock.  Auctioneers Pells & Co. described the broad range of marbles used in the finished mantels.  "Sale of Marble Mantels by auction...at the warerooms of Mr. J. Oatwell, 1,153 Broadway, comprising mantels of Italian statuary, ordinary, veined and sienna, Spanish orocatel, black and gold, Lisbon, American statuary and mosaic marbles."  (The term "statuary marble" referred to high-quality stone like Carrara.)   The announcement added "Many of the mantels are modern designs, and all well executed."

Joseph Oatwell died upstate in Hughsonville, New York seven years later. on February 14, 1863.  His obituary noted simply, "for many years a resident of New-York City."

At the time, wealthy New Yorkers exhibited their culture and refinement by filling their homes with European paintings and sculptures.  Art dealers haunted the auction houses of France and Italy where they purchased artwork--some good, some not--for clients many of whom were more interested in quantity than quality.  For most collectors, the very concept of "American art" was laughable.

But in November 1869 a bold move was made by daguerreotypist Abraham Bogardus when he opened the Bogardus' American Fine Art Gallery.  Bogardus had taken over the entire building at No. 1153.  At its opening Bogardus not only presented American oil paintings; but examples of his photography--an almost entirely new field of art.  Many of the artists were there for the private viewing on the evening of November 15.

The New York Times reported the following day, "The gallery is not a very extensive one, but it contains already about one hundred paintings by native artists."  After mentioning many of the artists and paintings, it focused on three works.  "The most noticeable are William Hart's 'Sylvan Scene, Maine,' and Van Elten's 'Autumn in the Shawangunk Mountains.'  De Haas' 'West Hampton Beach' is also worth of attention, though not one of his best pictures."

Art critics were taken with Maurice Frederick Hendrik de Haas's Westhampton Beach, executed in 1868.
The correspondent from the Rockland County Journal was perhaps more impressed.  He wrote on December 4 "The gallery is laid out in a very tasteful manner and the pictures are well arranged.  The room is well lighted from above by a large skylight, and the artists cannot reasonable complain about their pictures being hung in a poor light."  He, too, picked out William Hart's Sylvan Scene, Maine, "which was painted in his peculiar dreamy style."

Then the writer digressed as he spent as much column space describing the party as he had the artwork.  "In one of the upper rooms tables were loaded with flowers, fruit and all the delicacies of the season.  The most fastidious could find something here to suit his exquisite tastes either in the eating or drinking line.  The punch and the segars were indeed choice and excellent and ample justice was done to both; but they were not in any way used to excess, for the party dispersed about eleven o'clock amid much good feeling and tobacco smoke."

Although neither critic mentioned Bogardus's photography--it may be that that branch of the gallery was not ready yet--it was a major part of the business.  On September 1, 1871 The Photographer's Friend described:  "The first floor is fitted up in superb style.  The front portion is devoted to photographic specimens, stereoscopic views, chromos, engravings, carved goods, artists' fine materials, frames and velvet passepartouts.  On this floor the orders are all received.  Adjoining this salesroom on the same floor is a 'Fine Art Gallery,' filled with the choicest oil paintings by celebrated artists, all framed with elegance and good taste."

The writer was shocked at the prices for some of the paintings.  "Some of these masterpieces are valued at three thousand dollars."  (It was understandable sticker-shock, equal to more than $62,000 today.)

On the second floor were the artists' work rooms where photographs and prints were matted and framed.  The sky-lit third floor held the "operating and printing rooms," and Bogardus's private office.   The extensive operation required a staff of about 20.  The Photographer's Friend ended its article saying "The place has an air of cheerfulness and thrift."
Bogardus produced this rather severe looking selfie.  original source unknown

The same year that Abraham Bogardus opened the Broadway gallery he was called upon by P. T. Barnum to help in a law suit against spirit photographer William H. Mumler.   Mumler repeatedly produced double-exposure photographs of a living sitter with the phantom form of a deceased relative looming behind.  But for Barnum he went too far when he publicized a photograph of former First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln with the ghost of her martyred husband.

Mumler's photograph of Mary Todd Lincoln with the dead President was a sensation - from the collection of the Allen County [Illinois] Public Library

Barnum hired Bogardus to fabricate a portrait of him with the ghost of Abraham Lincoln.  The resulting image was produced in court as evidence.  Although Mumler was not found guilty, it was the end of his career and he died nearly penniless.

Bogardus's image of Barnum and Lincoln -- original source unknown

Bogardus's Fine Art Gallery was gone by 1877 when No. 1153 was owned by "Madam" Eliza Rallings as her upscale dressmaking shop.  She was described by The New York Times as "a fashionable milliner and dress-maker."

Eliza had an secret enemy, possibly a competing dressmaker, who successfully managed to cause her intense grief early in 1878.  Like most modistes, in order to supply expensive gowns to Manhattan's socialites Eliza sailed to Europe to study the newest fashions and, in some cases, bring back items.
As she neared New York harbor on the White Star steamship Adriatic in March, customs agents were waiting.  The Times reported on March 13 that Special Treasury Agent Brackett had "received private information recently" that Eliza "intended to smuggle a large quantity of valuable goods, partly on orders for her customers and partly for sale in her shop."

When her two large "Saratoga trunks" were taken off the ship, she swore a declaration that they contained mostly personal effects, and named a few articles liable to duty.  She was no doubt shocked when, just as her trunks were about to be taken to the Broadway shop, they were seized by Customs officials.

"The scene in the seizure room of the Custom-house yesterday would have driven an average woman mad," said The Times.  The writer was astonished that Eliza had managed to stuff all the items into the two trunks at all.  "In the first place, there were 24 Spring bonnets, evidently of the newest Paris designs.  Certainly nothing like some of them was ever seen in this country before."  There were also "a variety of cloaks and other outer garments" and the writer could not resist mentioning that "One mantilla was perfectly gorgeous."

Then came the dressing gowns, the dresses, the underwear and the rolls of expensive fabrics.  "To give any notion of the style of these dresses would require columns of space," noted article.  The large box of trimmings "alone might turn a town full of women green with envy."  The newspaper estimated the retail valued at upwards of $10,000; more than a quarter of a million dollars today.

While Eliza was hit with $3,500 invoice, her true punishment was worse.  Officials said the goods "will probably b e kept in store a year, until the principal articles are out of fashion."

The bad publicity and the financial loss may have been responsible for Madam Ralling's closing her shop.  The following year she leased the building to J. G. Johnson for $2,500 per year for his furniture store.

Eliza sold No. 1153 to shoe manufacturer and retailer Henry J. Mahrenholz around 1889.  His store offered fashionable men's footwear at prices around $375 a pair today.  Around the time of his opening the Broadway store, Mahrenholz's name became more well-known for his personal problems than his shoes.

The Evening World, December 6, 1889 (copyright expired)
Mahrenholz was a devout Roman Catholic.  His children were educated at Catholic schools, and to ensure his family's sanctified interment, he had purchased several burial plots in the Roman Catholic Calvary Cemetery.  By now four of them held the remains of his first wife and three children.

In the spring of 1889 his daughter, Carrie, "a young lady accomplished and personally attractive," according to The New York Times, fell ill and died.  Her death came so abruptly that there was no time to summon a priest to administer the Last Rites.

Mahrenholz notified an undertaker.  When he learned that Carried had not received the sacraments, he mentioned that there might be a problem getting a permit of burial from the Catholic Church.  Indeed, the Church refused to allow the girl's body to be interred.

Mahrenholz went to Father Ducy of St. Leo's Church the following day; but he was at first avoided, left waiting for "an unreasonably long time," and finally told "you must accept that answer."  Mahrenholz was understandably infuriated.  "My daughter was a spotless as the Virgin Mary, and I should be an inhuman father if I did not feel indignant and incensed at this outrage." 

Carrie received a Protestant funeral and her body was cremated.  Her father went further, telling the managers of the crematorium he wanted all the bodies in the family plot in Calvary to be disinterred and cremated.  He publicly renounced the Pope and the Catholic Church saying the incident "illustrated a narrow, bigoted spirit."

The matter may have ended there if Vicar General Thomas Scott Preston had not tried to discredit Mahrenholz.  He told reporters that Mahrenholz's assertion that he had purchased the Calvary plots was patently untrue, saying "not one foot of ground was ever sold in it from the time it was opened until this day."

Now dishonor had been added to insult and cruelty and Mahrenholz fired back.  "I should have let this matter rest if the Vicar General had not made this public attempt to force a lie down my throat," he responded in his own mini press conference on June 3, 1889.  "He has assailed my veracity and I am ready to meet him with documentary evidence."

With that he produced the contract, dated September 6, 1869, proving his purchase.  "I will leave it to any unprejudiced man as to who is the liar in this controversy."

Henry Mahrenholz was still at No. 1153 Broadway when he was called for jury duty in 1895.  The case involved the death of Bridget Malone on July 25 that year.  The woman was attempting to board a Third Avenue cable car when she fell backwards, hitting her head on the pavement.  Conductor Robert Lawless was on trial for her death.

Mahrenholz was as outspoken in his opinions now as he had been six years earlier.  When Lawless was called to testify in his own defense, he blamed the motorman for the accident.  He claimed he had rung the bell signalling a passenger wanted to board, and when it did not stop, he rang three more times.  The car was still moving when Bridget fell.

Mahrenholz interrupted the court proceedings with his own take.  "You conductors ring too quick, anyhow.  The motorman can't understand you."

Lawless's attorney, H. W. Mayer, asked for Mahrenholz's removal from the jury.  It was a lucky break for the defendant.  The jury ruled that Bridget Malone's death was accidental and Lawless was released.

By 1899 both No. 1151 and 1153 Broadway were owned by Emma A. Hopkins.  The store in No. 1153 was being leased to the floral shop of J. H. Small & Sons.  It was run by John H. Small and John H. Small, Jr., who also had a branch in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and another in Washington DC.

The Washington Times, March 29, 1902 (copyright expired)

The flowers and plants sold by J. H. Small & Sons came from their greenhouses outside Washington.  John H. Small, a pioneer in floral decoration, opened his first store in Washington DC in the 1870s.  John Jr. continued operating all three shops after Small died on February 14, 1909 at the age of 84.

Interestingly, when Emma A. Hopkins died in January 1913, her will demanded that the two Broadway properties be held in trust during the lifetime of her 38-year old son.  She directed that the income from the buildings go to her two grandsons.  This meant that neither building could be sold while J. J. Hopkins was still alive.

In August 1914 Dr. Bernard Dernberg arrived in New York City and within a few days had established the headquarters of the benignly named German Red Cross in the upper floors of No. 1153 Broadway.  The offices were, however, much more malignant.

The war in Europe had erupted two months earlier and before long newspaper reporters and Government officials were closely watching Dernberg's activities and those of other Germans, including Dr. Karl Fuehr and Captain Ewald Hecker.   Eventually the "German Red Cross" was exposed as a propaganda office and German military fund-raising organization.

On July 15, 1918 The New York Times revealed "The whole German propaganda which was put into operation before the European war was a month old, and the purpose of which was to debauch public opinion in the United States in favor of Germany and Austria-Hungary, is one the eve of being exposed."  Deputy Attorney General Alfred L. Becker told reporters "The headquarters of the propaganda machine were at 1,153 Broadway, in the offices of the German Red Cross Commission.

Dernberg had been deported after his attempts to "justify the murder of the passengers on the Lusitania."  In the meantime the German Red Cross had collected an estimated $1,985,000 towards the German war effort.

By then J. H. Small & Son was gone.  In 1916 the Estate of Emma A. Hopkins leased the building to Max Schwarz.  in April that year he commissioned architect Alfred Freeman to do $7,000 in renovations, including the installation of "new fronts" to the store.

In 1920 the telephone had become an essential fixture in offices, hotels and most residences.  To keep up, the New York Telephone Company opened five employment offices in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx, one of which was at No. 1153.  An advertisement on June 12, 1920 was enticing:

Girls Wanted--$15.00 a week to start.  Permanent work.  Regular increases with many opportunities to soon reach earnings of $85 to $100 a month.  Positions open in several departments.  No experience required.

The $15 weekly wages would be equal a yearly salary of a little over $9,500 today.

Emma Hopkins had wanted the side-by-side buildings to remain in her estate for the benefit of her grandsons, and assumed the provisions in her will would ensure that.  She had also assumed, however, that her son would pay the taxes.  He did not.

By December 1938 when the buildings were auctioned off the unpaid taxes had amounted to more than $1.5 million in today's dollars.  The new owner converted the ground floor space to a restaurant, with offices on the upper stories.

The Fifth Avenue neighborhood had suffered by mid-century, with tawdry, small businesses taking the one-upscale shops and offices.  One of the offices in No. 1153 was home to the publishers of the Business Guide at mid-century.  Its advertisements in 1953 touted "Buy from manufacturers, wholesalers, branded merchandise; thousands of items; mail order, direct selling, personal use."

Another tenants was the Broadway Mercantile Corp., importers and wholesalers of cheap novelty items.  In October 1956 it hawked "money-making Christmas Items" like the "fully automatic top squeeze cigarette lighters for $5 a dozen; "teen-age jewelry" at $5 per dozen; and photo ID bracelets for the same price.  "Here is a Real Buy!" screamed an ad in Billboard on October 13, 1956.  "Men's Billfolds.  Smooth Redwood, Tanwood, Alligator and Black Leather."  Those, too, sold for $5 per dozen.

photo via Commercial Observer, July 21, 2015

The remainder of the 20th century was unkind to the embattled little building.  By turn of the century the storefront had been mostly obliterated and garish, clashing vinyl awnings vied for attention.  But the burgeoning, trendy Nomad neighborhood would soon put an end to flashy stores.  The office building build in 1991 directly next door was renovated to the boutique Broadway Plaza Hotel in 2016.

A substantial renovation of No. 1153 began around the same time, completed in 2017.   The frame of the 1916 cast iron storefront has reappeared and the upper stories retain their domestic appearance of 170 years ago.

photograph by the author

Monday, March 19, 2018

The 1910 Wm. Erdmann Mansion - 15 West 68th Street

On New Year's Day, 1899, the banking firm of Asiel & Co., announced that Louis S. Frankenheimer had retired and Siegfried S. Prince and William Erdmann had been admitted as partners.  The two young men joined ranks with two respected. well-known bankers--Elias Asiel and Maurice Seligmann.

In 1909 Erdmann and his wife, the former Julie Price, purchased the property at No. 15 West 68th Street, just steps from Central Park, and hired Buchman & Fox to design a residence that would reflect their substantial wealth.   Best remembered for their handsome commercial buildings, the architects were also responsible for lavish townhouses, like the ebullient Albert Rosenblum mansion at No. 5 East 73rd Street and the Julius S. Ulhman house at No. 24 East 81st; both completed in 1902.

The 68th Street block between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue was lined with speculative brick and brownstone rowhouses typical of the Upper West Side.  But for the Erdmanns Buchman & Fox designed a limestone-faced Beaux Arts confection that would have been more at home on the opposite side of the park.

Completed in 1910, it rose five stories.  A carved cartouche above the double-doored entranced announced the address.  A full-width stone balcony with lavish French-style railings fronted the second floor, or piano nobile (the entertainment level where the drawing room, library and dining room were located).   The French doors were capped by a cornice and triangular pediment overflowing with a cartouche surrounded by oak leaves.  Carved fish-scales spilled over the elaborate keystone.

A narrower but no less extravagant balcony fronted the fourth floor; while a third sat behind a stone balustrade atop the heavy, stone-bracketed cornice.  The top floor took the shape of a slate-shingled mansard with copper-clad dormers.

The couples' names appeared in print most often not because of costly entertainments, but for their numerous philanthropic works.  The year they moved into the 68th Street mansion, for instance, Julie established "perpetual beds" in the Mount Sinai Hospital in honor of her parents, Edward A. and Bertha R. Price.  And when Dayton, Ohio was devastated by the Great Flood of 1913, prompting New Yorkers like Andrew Carnegie to donate $10,000 to relief, William Erdmann joined the New York Stock Exchange's relief committee.

Julie also made news through her athleticism.  The Erdmanns, like many wealthy Jewish families, summered in Deal, New Jersey where they were members of the Hollywood Golf Club.  Julie was an accomplished golfer and routinely played in the invitational tournament for women at the Deal Golf and Country Club.

A recurring house guest at No. 15 West 68th Street was Leila Marie Koerber, better known by her stage name of Marie Dressler.  According to her biographer, Matthew Kennedy, in his 1999 Marie Dressler: A Biography, when she was in New York, "During the workweek she stayed at 15 West 68th Street near Central Park...The neighborhood and building were stately and dignified, with 'no less than three gentlemen of color in livery on guard around the portals.'"

William and Julie would have three children, William Price, Elizabeth Price, and Martin 2d (named after William's brother, the somewhat reclusive bachelor whose remarkable mansion at No. 57 East 55th Street survives today as the Friar's Club).   Tragically, William died in the house at the age of 17 in the house on March 9, 1922.

The relatively rare instances of the Erdmann's names appearing in society columns was, perhaps, due in part to their religion.  Jewish families were not readily accepted into mainstream society; and so when Elizabeth's debutante supper and dance was held in the Louis XVI ballroom of the Park Lane Hotel on December 24, 1927, the prominent names of Manhattan society were notably absent from the guest list.  Instead it was composed of other wealthy Jewish families like Guggenheim, Hellman, Koehler and Klee.

Nevertheless, the Erdmanns maintained a social presence.   On October 27, 1932, for instance, they hosted a luncheon at the fashionable White Sulphur Springs Casino in West Virginia.  That was, incidentally, the year that Martin graduated from Dartmouth College.

William Erdmann died on August 25, 1936 at the age of 61.  His passing received only a two line obituary in The New York Times.   The following year his brother, Martin, died, leaving a more than $5 million estate, much of which went to Julie.

By 1941 she had left the house she and William had built three decades earlier.  That year the mansion was converted to apartments.

In 2009 Upper West Side residents were concerned when news broke that the owner of the Erdmann house, Fine Times, intended to lease it to a European real estate company, Armonia, as "a residential club for the extremely wealthy."  After reconverting the mansion to a single-family home, it would be run more or less as a time share for the super-rich time.  Saki Knafo, writing in The New York Times on April 17, explained the firm would "charge members of the exclusive club at least several thousand dollars and, perhaps, as much as $50,000 a week to stay in the house for short times.  Membership would be restricted to people of a minimum net worth...A live-in residence manager and possibly a butler would cater to their needs."

Fortunately, much of the fabric of Buchman & Fox's original interiors survives.  Above are the dining room and entrance hall.  photos via Curbed New York
According to the Department of Buildings, however, the return to a one-family residence was not completed until 2017.  Thankfully, the 1941 conversion left much of the interior detailing intact.   The renovated 15,000 square foot home was offered as a rental in March that year for $100,000 per month.

photographs by the author

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Lost Wm. Walton Mansion - 326 Pearl Street

A stone wall and gate lead to the extensive gardens behind the mansion which lead to the river's edge.  The Magazine of American History, January 1878 (copyright expired)

Captain William Walton had amassed a significant fortune by the early years of the 1700's.  A merchant, he owned and built the ships that carried his goods.  He and his wife, the former Mary Santford, had two sons, William and Jacob.

The Captain was all business, caring little for society.  But, according to an unnamed historian in 1872, "His sons, Jacob and William, on the contrary, were very dashing young men, whose visits were greatly courted by the ladies of the period."  The family's "notorious" wealth was due, in part, to Captain Walton's having relieved the Spanish Government of Florida from a sizable debt, "and they repaid the debt by giving him a practical monopoly of trade with their West India Islands and the port of St. Augustine."

The leading families of New York encouraged a romantic alliance between their daughters and either of Walton's sons.  Jacob married Maria Beekman, the daughter of Gerard Beekman  in 1726, and William married Cornelia Beekman, Maria's niece, on January 27, 1731.

William Walton from the collection of the New-York Historical Society

Following their father's death, the brothers carried on business together until Jacob's death in 1749.  Three years later William began construction on what would be the most palatial residence in the city.   Sometime prior to 1726 his father had purchased what a newspaper described as "a large toft of ground on the present Pearl street, but known at the time of his purchase as the Swallow Field, which extended from Franklin-square down to the river."  Now William chose it as the site of his new home.  In his 1902 New York: Old & New, historian Rufus Rockwell Wilson commented "We are told that when...Walton selected the site for it people wondered why he designed to build so far out of town, for at that time there was only one building on the south side of Pearl Street between Peck Slip and Cherry, and only four or five in the neighborhood of Franklin Square."

Cornelia Beekman Walton - from the collection of the New-York Historical Society
At the time there was no Franklin Square; and Pearl Street was known as Queen Street.  But the undeveloped land would be transformed into ample gardens, lawns and orchards.

Because Walton imported the building materials--the yellow bricks came from Holland and the carved woodwork from England, for instance--the project took about five years to complete.  When finished, William and Cornelia Walton had a Georgian palace that could easily hold its own with its London counterparts.

The house originally had the address of No. 156 Queen Street.  Historian John Fanning Watson, in his 1846 Annals and Occurrences of New York City, pointed out that it was "intended to show the best style of English construction, and of course, as marking a set purpose of avoiding the former Dutch style."

Rufus Rockwell Wilson described, "Set in ample gardens, which then ran down to the East River, with no intervening streets, the Walton house was fifty feet wide, with three stories and an attic, above which was a tiled and slightly sloping roof, encircled by two rows of balustrades."

Within the pediment over the imposing columned portico was the coat of arms of the Walton family.  Wilson went on, "there were spacious drawing-rooms on each side of the wide mahogany staircase.  Some of the rooms were panelled in oak, and the walls of others were hung with stamped and heavily gilded leather, while porcelain tiles set with flowers and birds adorned all of the fireplaces."

Decades later The New York Times wrote "After the building came the furnishing, which was all that boundless means and great good taste could make it.  Gilding, ormolu, molding, rare Spanish-American woods for panels, wainscots and stair-cases of mahogany, carved chimney-pieces in the style of Grinling Gibbons from London, tapestries, damasks, and carpets from France, marbles from Italy, were amassed slowly during several years."

A sketch in Valentine's Manual of 1857 depicted the "Sitting Room" (copyright expired)
The view from Cornelia's dressing room looked out over the garden to the East River where sailing vessels glided passed.  The Times later described the garden being "finely laid out in sections of vegetable, flower, and rose beds; also a large conservatory, Summer houses, grape arbors, and graveled walks.  There were cherry, peach, apricot and quince trees in abundance.  The shrubbery was luxuriant.

Charles Hemstreet wrote in his 1902 When Old New York Was Young that "the main rooms were furnished with silk damask and green worsted curtains, mahogany card-tables and dining-tables, and chairs with damask seats; walnut gilt-framed looking-glasses and a large number of framed prints."

The Georgian woodwork of the entrance hall was sumptuous.  Valentine's Manual of 1857 (copyright expired)
William Walton was not only one of the most prominent businessmen of the city, but was "soon looked upon as fitted for political honors," according to The Magazine of American History in 1878.  In 1752 he was elected to the General Assembly (a post he held until 1759).  In 1756 Governor Hardy recommended him as "a suitable person" to take a seat in his Majesty's Council and he remained on the Council until his death in 1768.

In the meantime the mansion was the scene of glittering dinners, dances and receptions.  Historian Isaac J. Greenwood recalled in 1878 that it was "where fashion and power gathered in their pomp and pride."    The famous New York historian Martha J. Lamb said Walton "was genial, full of brilliance, and a master of the arts of politeness.  Dinners were his hobby, and he gathered about his table from time to time such of the celebrities of the Old World as, officially or in the pursuit of pleasure, visited the New."

One of the nost notable entertainments came when the British officers returned to New York from Canada following the end of the French and Indian War in 1763.  The New York Times, decades later, wrote "The lavish profusion of his cellars and larder, and particularly the gorgeous display of his gold and silver plate, astonished those who had the fortune to be invited."

The Walton mansion came into play when the colonists opposed the Stamp Act, passed in November 1765.  They complained that they were unable to afford the tax, and it would ruin many a merchant.  But the officers who had been entertained in the Walton house had taken home stories; The New York Times saying "it became the topic of universal comment in fashionable circles."  The English Ministry took note, "and the house of Mr. Walton [was] quoted in Parliament as proof of the great wealth of the colonial merchants, and their perfect ability to pay the stamp tax."

from the History of the City of New York by Martha J. Lamb, 1921 (copyright expired)
The repeal of the Stamp Act in the spring of 1766 prompted another grand display.   On December 14, 1872 The Times recounted "Oxen were feasted whole and distributed to whoever chose to partake; bells were rung, cannon were fired, and the whole City gave itself up to an intoxication of self-gratulation.  Mr. Walton, now quite an old man, threw open his house to everybody throughout the day; cold meats, port and sherry and strong waters were on the sideboard, and every one was free to feast to his heart's content.  In the evening he gave a grand dinner to the principal merchants and the leading English officials, at which there was a grand reconciliation."

William Walton died in the house in July 1768 at the age of 63, leaving the mansion to Jacob's son, confusingly also named William Walton.  Cornelia remained in the house until her death in May 1786 at 78 years old.  The New York Packet reported that she died "after a tedious illness which she supported with an unshaken fortitude and truly Christian resignation to her last moments.  Indeed she laboured under a complication of disorders, but the dropsy being the most prevalent, terminated her scene of existence, which exhibited a perfect pattern of patience under all the calamities and trials incident to mortality."

Like his uncle and father, William had married into a wealthy, established family.  His wife was Mary de Lancey, daughter of James de Lancey.  The couple would have three sons, William, James, and Jacob, and a daughter, Anne.  Mary died in 1767 leaving William to raise the children alone.  He was a founder of the Chamber of Commerce in 1768, was its treasurer in 1771, its vice-president in 1772, and its president from 1774 to 1775.  He helped incorporate the Marine Society in 1770, formed to assist the widows and children of ship masters. 

Although William was among the Committee of Correspondence in May 1774 that would become the First Continental Congress, he preferred to stay neutral in the growing conflict between the Colony and Britain.   When war broke out he packed up his valuables, closed the mansion and took his family to their country estate in New Jersey.  It was a move that angered both the British and the patriots.  According to Lamb, "he was too marked a man to be left in peace, and was compelled to return to the city when it was occupied by the British."

William remained in the house throughout the war, spending much of his focus and money on the relief of the poor.  The vestry of Trinity Church recorded in 1779 that "he was unceasing in his efforts to soften the miseries of the confinement to which the American prisoners were subjected."

For three years, from 1784 to 1787, he leased the house to the newly-formed Bank of New York, which took the address of No. 67 St. George's Square.   After the bank moved to No. 11 Hanover Square, William Walton returned to the Pearl Street mansion.

He died on August 18, 1796 at the age of 65.  It started a rather rapid-fire change of ownership within the family.  Walton's eldest son, William, inherited the family mansion.  The Times said of him simply, "he took no part in public life, and died without issue in 1806, being succeeded by his brother, James De Lancey Walton, who never married, leaving the property to the youngest brother, Jacob, who had gone off to sea during the Revolution.  A career navy man, he achieved the rank of Rear Admiral in 1840.  He never lived in the mansion, but leased it as a "genteel boarding-house."

In 1821 Goodrich's Picture of New York described the Walton House under the heading of "Principal Hotels" as "kept by S. Backus.  Prices $1 per day, $5 per week, $260 per year."  The $5 weekly room charge would be an affordable $110 today.

But by 1839 things were already on the decline, as reflected in the rates.  An advertisement in the Morning Herald on June 12, 1839 offered:

Board--At the Walton Mansion House, No. 326 Pearl street, Franklin Square, at $3.50 per week.--The location is central, and it is one of the most pleasant summer resorts in this city.  Young men doing business down town, or gentlemen and their wives, will find at the above place a confortable home--Rooms to let at the above house without board.  Also, a splendid Hall for masonic, odd fellows and other lodges, referees, committees, musical parties, &c.

The "splendid hall" was the former Walton family ballroom where Cornelia Beekman Walton had presided over sumptuous entertainments.   As the once verdant area around the mansion became increasingly commercial, tourists and businessmen were lured away to new, modern hotels like the Astor House and the St. Nicholas Hotel.  The Times said years later "it became a common boarding-house, going continually lower and lower in the scale."

The decline in patronage was reflected in the continued lowering of the room rates.  J.. Fowler & Son, who charged $3.50 a week in 1839, lowered the price by a full dollar in 1843.   Their announcement in August that year said in part that "the proprietors having reduced the prices of Boarding to 50 cents per day, or two dollars fifty cents per week."  The Fowlers put a positive spin on the outdated accommodations, saying "The above house needs no comments as it is one of the most airy and spacious premises in the city, having a large yard with a fine spring of water, with every other requisite to make it comfortable."

Problems came when Mrs. Leah Jacobs arrived in town from Liverpool with her sister and two sons on January 3, 1847.  They went to the Walton Mansion House with their luggage for an overnight stay.  After breakfast the following morning, Mrs. Jacobs asked for her bill.  The cost of two meals and the overnight lodging came to $14.25--about $430 in today's dollars.

The New York Herald reported "This was rather more of a good thing than the lady expected; she therefore remonstrated but the payment of the bill was strenuously insisted upon by the person who presented it."  When she refused to pay, the bar keeper "assaulted the lady, and pushing her into the room, detained and imprisoned her, using threats and abusive language, telling her that they should be imprisoned as non-residents, if the amount was not forthcoming."  The world-wise Mrs. Jacobs was not intimidated and sent her son to find a policeman.  A hearing was held on January 18, after which the Mayor revoked and cancelled the Fowlers' license to run a boarding house.

The following proprietor remodeled the exterior.  The update included the removal of the rooftop balustrades, and the portico and installing shopfronts on the ground floor.

from The History of the City of New York, 1859 (copyright expired)

In reporting on a small fire that was discovered in the building at 2:30 in the morning on November 8, 1850, The New York Herald noted it was "speedily extinguished by the inmates and the police," and added "This house is remarkable for its massive proportions, being built in the old English style, before the revolutionary war."

A much more disastrous fire would rage through the building three years later.  On December 10, 1853 at around 1:00 in the afternoon it broke out in the Harper Brothers publishing building on the opposite side of Pearl Street.  The flammable materials inside--printing inks, paper, and camphene for cleaning the rollers, for instance--caused it to spread rapidly.

The fire raged throughout the afternoon, engulfing the other buildings along the block, then jumping across Pearl Street to the Walton Mansion House.   When the inferno was finally extinguished, 16 buildings had been consumed and losses were estimated at more than $23 million dollars today.  A sub-headline in The New York Herald the following day read "The Old Walton House Destroyed."

In reporting on the loss, the newspaper noted "Until very lately, when its front was altered for an emigrant boarding house, the portal was in fine keeping with the style of architecture which, in the day it was built, distinguished the English patricians from the plebeians.  The armorial bearing of the Walton family, supported by two fluted columns in front, were until a few years ago, preserved; but at last the insignia of royalty fell before the advance of republicanism, and the royal emblem of the aristocratic Waltons gave place to the sign of an emigrant boarding house keeper."

The article lamented "For the last few years this once famous place has been used as an emigrant boarding house, and its stately halls, once trod by those in whose veins flowed 'the blood of all the Howards,' have resounded with the revelry of noisy foreigners, and been darkened by the democratic smoke of huge Dutch tobacco pipes."

Although all of the major newspapers deemed it a total loss, when the ashes cooled it was found that the outer walls were intact and that the solid beams and flooring had survived the inferno.  Despite the severe damage, it was repaired and a fourth floor added.  It re-opened as The Old Walton House; although no more illustrious than it had been before the fire.

In 1871 The New York Times imagined that the humiliated old mansion would soon be destroyed.  On March 22 it wrote "In all probability but a short time will elapse before one of the most venerable of our ancient landmarks will be demolished."  While reminiscing on its glory days, the article also described its present condition.  "There are two second-hand stores on the street floor, and rag cellars underneath.  A dingy sign on the second story front reads: 'The Old Walton House.'  There is an extensive cheap boarding-house, occupying most of the upper front and rear rooms, while in the rear extension are a number of tenants."

Rather surprisingly, the former mansion was still owned by a Walton.  When Admiral Jacob Walton died in 1844 it was inherited by his eldest son, the Rev. William Walton.  He died in 1869 and it passed to his brother, Dr. Charles Johnston Walton, who still owned it at the time of The Times article.

The following year it appeared that the newspaper's predication was about to come true.  On December 14, 1872 The New York Times reported that Dr. Walton "is desirous of selling it, for the house is now a reproach and a nuisance, bringing the merest trifle as rent, and the ground is suitable for a large factory.  Its end is close at hand."

But the end was not all that close at hand.  It was not until November 13, 1881 that its sale and impending demolition were announced.    The Evening World noted that it would be razed "that a good building might be put up in its stead;" one which The Times described as a "large building for stores and factories."  The article added that with the disappearance of the Walton mansion, "we shall have lost nearly all buildings, except one or two churches, whose erection preceded the Revolutionary war."

The brick factory building erected by James Callery on the site of the Walton mansion survives as apartments today.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The 1905 Hotel Broztell - 3-7 East 27th Street

The first years of the 20th century saw a flurry of residential hotels being constructed throughout the city.  Their similar brick-and-stone Beaux Arts facades were intended to attract moneyed residents and to imply respectability and prosperity.

On July 1, 1903 The New York Times reported that real estate operators Campbell & Clement and purchased the "three four-story buildings" at Nos. 3 to 7 East 27th Street.  "The buyers will erect a twelve-story apartment hotel on the site."  Under the name of the Argyle Realty Co., they commissioned William H. Birkmire to design the structure.

The old buildings were demolished that year, and then things ground to a halt.  On January 9, 1904 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide noted "The Argyle Realty Co's plot at 3, 5, and 7 continues vacant, though plans were filed some time ago and the excavations dug."  Then, five months later on May 7 the journal reported that work was "suspended."

The long delay may have had to do with the Argyle Realty Co.'s cooperative meetings with other hotel developers in the immediate neighborhood.  Progress on three other residential hotels planned on the East 27th Street block had also stopped.

It may have been explained by The New York Times on March 20, 1904 in an article entitled "Solving A Problem With Inside Lots."  It explained that the "struggle for the greatest amount of light and air with the least sacrifice of space" had been solved by the "closely allied" developers who agreed to give up square footage.  "Thus a large T-shaped court will be created, the benefits of which will be shared by three of the buildings."

The dotted lines show the property lines.  The T-shaped light court was shared by the Broztell, the block-through Prince George Hotel to the right, and the Latham Hotel directly behind.  The New York Times, March 20, 1904 (copyright expired)
Originally called the Argyle Hotel, it was the Hotel Broztell by the time of its completion in 1905.  Birkmire's design toned down much of the gushing carved ornament seen on similar hotels.  The rusticated limestone base was punctured by four expansive arched openings, including the entrance with its glass and metal marquee.

The Official Hotel Red Book & Directory, 1903 (copyright expired)
Metal-framed angled bays in the mid-section not only added dimension to the facade, but caught wafting breezes during the summer months.  Baroque parapets rose on either side of the cornice.

From its opening the Broztell saw a surprising array of residents and guests.  Mrs. Leslie Carter was considered "the American Sarah Bernhardt."   On July 15, 1906, the day after her marriage to actor William H. Payne, her 26-year old son Leslie Dudley Carter, gave a dinner in a private room in the hotel.  The guest list included many theatrical figures, including actors Jack Devereaux and William Courtenay, theatrical manager W. J. Dun, and Norma Munro.  Norma was the daughter of wealthy publisher George Munro and lavishly backed theaters and productions.  She was also the closest friend of Mrs. Leslie Carter.

The actress and her new husband were not at the affair, so she missed out on a shocking announcement.  "After the dinner it was reported along Broadway that in the course of the evening young Mr. Carter had announced at it his engagement to marry Miss Munro," reported The New York Times.  It quoted him as saying "Mother doesn't know a word about it and it will be a deuce of a surprise to her."

While the patronage of theatrical types would have made some other hotels socially distasteful; the Broztell's eclectic mix of guests successfully co-existed.  Madeline Howard lived here in September 1907, for instance, when she went on a drive to Coney Island with Austrian Counts Frank and Felix Hoyas in their hired limousine.  (It ended horribly when the chauffeur, traveling at a "whirlwind speed," crashed in the surrey, seriously injuring its occupants.)  And on November 17, 1909 The Times reported "The Princess Lillian de la Pointe registered at the Hotel Broztell from Paris, en route to Chicago."

An electric sign perched above the glass marquee in 1906.  Note the tightly-pleated fabric inside the arched entrance.  The lamps and areaway fencing were removed in 1914 by City orders as "encroachments."  photo by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

In October 1910 Pittsburgh steel tycoon Alexander R. Peacock purchased the Hotel Broztell for $750,000--about $19.5 million today.  Like his partner, Andrew Carnegie, Peacock was born in Scotland and, also like Carnegie, was an art collector and millionaire.

Under Peacock's ownership the Broztell became exclusively transient.  In July 1912 Silk magazine noted "A hotel that has become very popular with the silk and ribbon buyers during their semi-annual visits to the New York silk market in August and February, is the Broztell on Twenty-seventh street near Fifth avenue...It is an ideal place to lunch, the dining rooms being cool and attractive."  The hotel's 250 rooms at the time (each "with bath and shower") went from $2 to $6 per day--just over $50 for the cheapest.

All hotels dealt with the occasional and unfortunate press coverage of deaths and suicides.  But the Broztell seems to have had more than its fair share.  Among the earliest was that of Mrs. Blanche Carson, the wealthy widow of Dr. Edward Carson.  The Evening World described her as "one of the most prominent clubwomen in San Francisco."  She arrived in New York following an extensive trip through Europe on Monday, March 18, 1912.  Like other wealthy dowagers, she did not travel lightly.  It took five steamer trunks to accommodate her wardrobe and jewelry.

As she passed through Customs, she declared nothing dutiable.  In fact, she had been patronizing the shops of European jewelers and in addition to the $20,000 in jewels she had left with, she had $12,000 in new jewelry.  And she was caught.  After admitting her guilt she was released on $2,000 bail awaiting a hearing.

The 55-year old took an eighth floor room in the Broztell and considered her fate.  The San Francisco Call said "There was no one in [New York] to whom she could appeal for friendly guidance."  And The Evening World described her as being "overwhelmed by the disgrace."

At around 4:00 on the morning of March 19 she untied the 25-foot long rope from one of her trunks, tied one end around the radiator and the other around her neck.  About four hours later a tenant of the Knickerbocker Apartments on Fifth Avenue looked out his window to see "the body, clad in a blue dressing down, swinging on the wall of the Broztell."

Equally tragic and bizarre was the death of Dr. Solomon Fishel the following year.  The 43-year old physician was internationally known for his work with infant incubators.  On Saturday, October 18, 1913 he married Anna Winter.  At 11:30 that night, following a wedding dinner, the newlyweds arrived at the Broztell where they had booked rooms for three weeks before leaving for San Francisco.

At 4:00 in the morning Fischel woke his bride, complaining of stomach pains.  Dr. Maurice M. Berger arrived.  "For two hours the doctor worked with his patient, but at 6:10 Dr. Fishel died," reported The Times the following day.  Fischel had been married less than 10 hours.

The Broztell flexed its wartime patriotism with special military rates.  New-York Tribune, April 7, 1918, (copyright expired)
In 1920 60-year old Samuel Angrnai, the secretary of the Swedish Consulate, lived at No. 60 East 124th Street.  But like many despondent persons, he preferred not to end his life at home.  He checked in to the Broztell on November 28 where he was found the following morning suffering an overdose of morphine.  He left two notes, one to an undertaker and the other explaining his actions, saying "he had grieved much over the death of his daughter last April," according to The Times.

The hotel was popular among buyers.  This ad calls it "headquarters for Carpet Men." Price's Carpet and Rug News, December, 1921 (copyright expired) 

A similar tragedy occurred on August 18, 1921.  Robert Rosenfeld, a Madison Avenue apparel manufacturer, lived in Great Neck, Long Island.  He visited David Bell, a buyer from Cleveland, in his Broztell room that day.  When Bell realized he had a conflicting appointment, he asked Rosenfeld to wait and he would be back shortly.  Rosenfeld agreed.

When Bell returned he found Rosenfeld dead.  The New York Herald reported "A glass containing cyanide of potassium in solution was on the table."  He left a sealed note addressed to his wife.

But perhaps no suicide in the Broztell Hotel drew more attention than that of author Frederic Van Rensselaer Dey, whose prolific works included the famous Nick Carter detective stories.   Dey was close friends with high-ranking police officials, including Commissioner Joseph Faurot.  Faurot's tales of crime-fighting provided Dey with fodder for his weekly fiction.

By by the early 1920's the days of pulp fiction were waning.  In 1919 The Atlanta Constitution published his The Lady of the Night Wind in daily installments; but The New York Times deemed it "somewhat cheap and dime novelish."  Concerned that his long literary career was drying up, he checked into the Broztell on April 25, 1922 as J. W. Dayer of Nyack, New York.

After being in his room for a while, he returned to the lobby with sealed notes and asked manager Frank Pierce to have them delivered the following morning.  One was addressed to Commissioner Faurot, and another was to Ormond G. Smith, president of the publishing firm Street & Smith.

Upon opening the note, Smith rushed to the Broztell.  Dey's room was forced open and he was found with a gunshot wound to the head.  His note to Faurot read:

Dear Old Joe:  Please forgive me.  Be good to and help Hattie, my wife.  I can't stand the gaff, Joe, so I am going out.  Everything has gone to smash and me with it.  Goodby [sic] and God bless you.  V.R.D.

When Alexander R. Peacock died in 1928, Prohibition had been in effect for eight years.  The law not only dealt a heavy blow to hotels and restaurants, it put many of them out of business and their employees out of work.  Some, like the Hotel Broztell, struggled to survive by surreptitiously side-stepping the issue.   It was an especially gutsy move on the part of Broztell's management, since Prohibition Headquarters was located on the same street, just two blocks away at Nos. 45-47 West 27th Street.

Suspicious that alcohol was being sold here, on April 17, 1931 undercover agents staked out the hotel.  The following day The Times reported "Louis Kaufman and Murray Fogel were arrested in an automobile parked in front of the Hotel Broztell in East Twenty-seventh Street when...they were about to make a delivery of liquor in the hotel."  The agents seized two cases of scotch and one and a half cases of rye.

The third floor balcony was originally fronted by stone balustrades.
On February 9, 1934 Columbia University purchased the Broztell at an auction sale.  It sold it just two years later, on April 7, 1936 for $350,000.  In reporting on the sale, The New York Times said "The new owner will modernize the structure and install new furniture."  That new owner, Latham Hotel Realty Corp., went well beyond new furniture.  It connected the Broztell and the Latham Hotel on East 28th Street internally.   In 1941 the ground floor was altered by architect Sampson Gray to create a storefront.

The Broztell Hotel limped along, eventually becoming a welfare hotel, until it was purchased by Urs B. Jakob in 1992.  Once again separated from the Latham Hotel, it was renamed the Gershwin.  On February 20, 1994 Alan S. Oser, writing in The Times noted that Jakob "is gradually converting it to a dormitory-style hostelry.  Sixty-five of the 164 room are run as dormitories, usually with four beds to a room.  The charge is $17 a bed per night."  To attract his targeted audience, Jakob installed Pop Art sculptures in the lobby and created small lounges "to help young international travelers get to know each other."

Jakob owned a soup can signed by Andy Warhol which became his inspiration for a party on what would have been the artist's 67th birthday in August 1995.  The event attracted 250 guests from as far away as Nice, France, the home of painter, author and star of several Warhol movies, Ultra Violet.  The following year, in March, a memorial service for playwright, director and producer Anthony Ingrassia was held in the hotel.

In December 2014 a $20 million, year-long renovation was completed by Triumph Hotels.  Included was a name change from the Gershwin to the Evelyn, in honor of the colorful actress Evelyn Nesbit, the love interest of architect Stanford White.  Crain's New York Business, on December 16, said the name switch "is meant to reflect the evolution of the hip neighborhood in which the hotel is located."

Triumph Hotels's CFO, Ronny Apfel, concurred, adding "We needed to bring the hotel up to the standards of NoMad."  The upgrades were reflected in the room rates, which started at $400 per night.  The Evelyn was given a 21st century face lift with giant illuminated tear drops that cascaded down the 1905 facade.

The well-known tear drops are gone now, giving the Evelyn a less edgy appearance.  The vibrant history that has played out within its walls far outshines the statley Beaux Arts design on the outside.

photographs by the author

Friday, March 16, 2018

G & W Youngs' 1869 No. 47 Walker Street

Originally, a stylish mansard roof graced the now-abrupt cornice.

In 1866 Eugene Pottier & Co. was located at No. 58 Walker Street, between Church Street and Broadway.  Pottier described his operation in directories as "Importers and Manufacturers of French Artificial Flowers and Feathers; also, all kinds of Leaves and Materials for Flower Makers."   That year he laid plans to erect his own substantial commercial structure down the block, at No. 47.

He hired G & W Youngs to design his new building.  Brothers George and William Youngs had been in business at least since 1846 when they were hired by the City to build a "Tower for a Fire-alarm Bell."  For Pottier's project, they turned to the Italianate style--somewhat expected for loft buildings in the area.  By now cast iron facades had been utilized for nearly two decades and had proven to be both relatively inexpensive, fireproof, and quick to install.

Construction on the nearly 40-foot wide edifice began in 1867 and was completed two years later.  The Pottier building's cast iron front, while stereotypical, was handsome.  Above the storefront with its Corinthian columns, each of the nearly identical floors of arched openings grew slightly less high, visually grounding the structure.  Perhaps its most charming feature was the mansard which sat above the attractive cast cornice, giving the building fashionable French touch.

Although No. 47 was not technically completed until 1869; Pottier began accepting tenants in 1868.  Griffin, Henderson & Co., described as "importers and wholesale dealers of Fancy Goods, Notions, Hosiery and Furnishing Goods," was among his first.

The firm was already operating from the building in April that year when an employee headed to a Hudson River pier with a box to be sent to Missouri.  It never made it to the boat.  An advertisement in The New York Herald offered a $25 reward (worth about $420 today) for the return of "A zinc case, marked Massey & Keet, Springfield Mo."

S. F. Johnson was also in the building in 1868.  He apparently enjoyed a brisk ride, for in October he was looking for a "stylish, active, first class saddle horse" and advertised that "for such will pay a fair price."  He warned con artists that he knew his horses.  "Unless answering this description please don't reply."

Nineteenth century merchants and factory operators were often plagued with sneak thieves within their staffs.  Such was the case with Henry A. Merrill, who ran his dry goods business in No. 47.  On December 13, 1869 he discovered that $200 worth of "sewing silk" was missing.  It was no small pilferage, being the equivalent of nearly $3,500 today.   He quickly discovered the culprit, a clerk named John F. Drawbridge.

The day after the theft Drawbridge was arrested.  Under questioning the clerk gave up the name of his
cohort.  He had sold the goods to Morris Phillips who ran a store on the Lower East Side.  Henry Merrill had him jailed as well.

In the meantime, it appears that Eugene Pottier had a close companion named Flora in his artificial flower factory.  But around 12:30 on the afternoon of November 30, 1870 Flora strayed.  An advertisement in The New York Herald on December 1 offered a $5 reward for her return.  "Lost--A White Spitz Slut, named Flora, in Canal street, near Mercer...The above reward will be paid to any one returning the same to E. Pottier, 47 Walker street."

Pottier remained in business until 1874 when he leased the building to Ellen Schmidt.  Her long-term lease totaled a jaw-dropping $30,000.

It is unclear which business was the victim of a daring theft on February 1, 1875.  In the years before snow removal, drays were replaced by horse-drawn sleighs for deliveries in the winter. That morning an expressman pulled up at No. 47 Walker Street and loaded four cases of hosiery and gloves, valued at $3,000, into the vehicle.   Before he headed off to the pier, the driver went back into the building to get his shipping receipts.

The New York Times reported "During his absence, some unknown thief jumped on the sleigh and drove off with the goods in the direction of Grand and Varick streets, and made his escape."  The newspaper described the markings on each case and noted "The sleigh was a track body on runners, and was painted red."  Unfortunately the article added "No clue to the thief has been obtained."

At the time James Hazley ran a successful linen business at No. 89 Mercer Street.  The son of a well-to-do merchant of Belfast, Ireland, he had a college education and was considered a "fine linguist."  He and his wife had two children, but following her death things began to fall apart for the young immigrant.

His business fell off  until he was forced to close; and he sent his children back to Ireland to live with their grandparents.  The New York Herald later explained that "he met with reverses and retired from the business with very little money."  Hazley found employment as a salesman with the dry goods firm of Max Weil & Co., here at No. 47.  But understandably, the loss of his wife, his business, his children and his fortune still weighed heavily on him.

Around October 1878 he rented a third floor room in the boarding house of a Mrs. Bougher at No. 69 Macdougal Street.  He came and went to work every day, but, as reported in the Herald, "had become morose, and was frequently heard to say that he was tired of life."

On Tuesday evening, February 18, 1879 Hazley had dinner with the family as usual at 6:00.  Afterward he went up to his room.  Two days later The New York Herald reported "That was the last seen of him alive, for yesterday morning his dead body was found upon the floor.  The carpet was saturated with blood.  The suicide's throat was gashed from ear to ear, the jugular vein and the windpipe being severed."   The article said that the "blood stained razor, by which the deed had been done," was still clutched in the 39-year old's hand.

As the century drew to a close, the tenant list of No. 47 remained mostly dry goods and apparel firms.  In 1882 the newly-formed Weicker & Reis moved in.  Three years later New York's Great Industries called the firm a "responsible and strictly first-class importing house" and explained "The goods in which they are primarily interested, are laces, embroideries, lace curtains and lace novelties."  The article noted "Messrs. Welcker & Ries occupy extensive and commodious premises, at No. 47 Walker street, which are taxed to their utmost limit."

New York's Great Industries did not ignore another tenant--Malcolm H. Smith, manufacturer of hoop-skirts and bustles.  The firm had been in the building about seven years.  The book noted that Smith made "as many as fifty varieties of hoop-skirts and bustles alone" and said "Constant attention is payed to the ever varying demands of fashion, and new designs in both bustles and skirts are brought out each season, carefully adapted to the requirements of the latest mode of drapery."

Also operating from No. 47 by 1887 were furrier S. F. & A. Rothschild (which Fur Trade Review said "offers buyers a good selection of fine garments"); underwear and hosiery dealers Rosendorf & Co.; J. S. Lesser & Co., "dealers in lace curtains and handkerchiefs;" buttons and dress trimmings firm Felix S. Klotz & Co.; and leather goods manufacturer M. Jacobowsky.   They would soon all have to find new accommodations.

At around 7:00 on the night of April 26, 1888 the business on the upper floors were all closed and their employees had gone home.   Workers in the first and second floors heard what sounded like an explosion, but disregarded it and went on about their business.  Before long smoke was seen pouring from the fifth and sixth floor windows.  The New York Times reported that soon, "second and third alarms were sent out, and a large force of firemen were soon at work."  Two hours later everything above the second floor was gutted and the mansard level was gone.  Damage to the structure was estimated at half a million dollars today.

Architects and builders J. W. Clark & Co. was given the contract to restore the damage.  The $8,000 project fell short of replacing the mansard roof, sadly diminishing its architectural charm.

Despite its losses, Rosendorf & Co. moved back into the remodeled building.  The firm would be shaken by tragedy later that year.  Among its employees was 28-year old salesman Philip Baer who had worked for the firm since he was in his teens.  He lived with his wife and three children in "a comfortably furnished flat" far north at No. 313 East 121th Street.  The young couple's children ranged from 16 months to six years old.

On the morning of November 8 Baer told his wife he would be home early so take her to the Lexington Avenue Opera House where there was to be a ball. The Evening World reported that as evening approached, she had her servants prepare a light dinner "for him to eat as soon as he arrived home, and she had laid his evening suit out on their bed, so that it would not take him long to get ready for the ball."  But he did not come home.

Although he had intended to leave work early, he was in fact a little late.  He rushed to the elevated railroad station at Canal and Allen Streets.  Just as he reached the platform, the train began to move away.   The Evening World reported "As he rushed for the train the gates were slammed in his face."  Witnesses said he held on to a bar connected to the car and pleaded "Let me on, conductor.  Will you, please?  I'm in an awful hurry."

The conductor responded "Get off.  You can't get on.  It's against the rules to open the gate."

Nevertheless, Baer clung on.  The Times reported "He pleaded with the guard to open the gate and let him on, but the guard was obdurate and refused.  Baer still held on to the gate and was dragged along to the north end of the platform, where his legs were caught between the moving car and the projecting railing and were terribly crushed."  Unbelievably, Baer did not leg to.  He was dragged another 50 feet beyond the end of the platform before he lost his grip and fell 30 feet to the pavement below.  He died instantly.

A detective named Reap went to the Baer apartment to notify the widow.  He said, "She was dressed with the children, in the hall, waiting for him."  The New York Times dramatically reported "The news of his death fell like a shroud over the wife.  The suit which Mr. Baer expected to wear to the ball will be on his body in its coffin, and will be buried with his remains on Sunday."

Another apparel firm in the building at the time was Brownold & Co., makers of children's clothing.  A small operation, it employed just a dozen men who worked 48 hours per week; surprising at a time when many garment factory employees worked as much as 60 hours.  Nevertheless, the company faced labor problems in the summer of 1890.

On August 6 The Evening World reported that "The troubles between the cloakmakers and the contractors have assumed a very serious aspect."  That morning strikes had broken out in seven shops throughout the city and the Cloakmakers Union had submitted a list of demands to apparel firms, including Brownold & Co.

"The list was received with feelings of anger and disgust, for the contractors claim that the demands are so unreasonable and exorbitant that rather than accede to them they wll retire from business," said the article.

In fact, firms like Brownold & Co. had a point.  They pointed out that for a garment which the sold wholesale for 75 cents, the union wanted its operators to receive 60 cents, the finishers 30 cents and the pressers 12 cents--a total of $1.02 on top of the cost of materials.

Brownold & Co. responded by firing the union employees.  The Evening World predicted doom.  "There is much trouble ahead and the atmosphere of the cloak trade is beginning to resound with rumors of impending troubles."   But the labor problems were somehow ironed out and Brownold & Co. was in operation at least through 1898.

In 1905 the Brooklyn-based firm of D. & E. L. Mayer signed a $6,000, two-year lease for the entire building.  The rent would be equivalent to about $6,700 per month today.  The firm manufactured men's neckwear and would actually remain in the building until 1913.

George Bell had purchased No. 47 decades earlier and in 1916 his estate discovered that when Eugene Pottier had constructed it, someone had made a error.  No. 49 Walker had gone up simultaneously; but it overstepped the property line.  It was not an issue until Daniel P. Morse attempted to purchase No. 49 in March 1916.  In preparing the title, surveyors discovered that eight inches of the building sat on the plot of No. 47.   The Bell estate sold the sliver to Morse for about $2,500.

Following World War I apparel firms had mostly left No. 47.  It became home to the pharmaceutical firm the Panama Drug Company by 1923 when a disturbing shortage was uncovered by Prohibition agents.  In checking the company's inventory, agent Edward Crabbe found that 150 gallons of alcohol supposed to have been used in making products like cough syrup were missing.

Panama Drug Company's lawyer, E. Paul Yaselli, was a former Assistant United State Attorney who had gone into practice for himself.   He met with Crabbe and another agent, Joseph King to discuss the problem.  His solution was to give the Crabbe $200 "with the understanding that Crabbe would make a favorable report" on the shortage.  That did not happen.  Instead Yaselli was indicted by a Federal Grand Jury for bribing a Government agent.

The attorney had an excuse.  "At the time of his arrest Yaselli stoutly denied that he had paid the money as a bribe," reported The Times on April 3, 1923.  "He admitted making the payment, but claimed that the money was extorted from him by the two agents."

By the early 1930s the building housed two publishing firms, the Socialist Cooperative Publishing Association and the New York Evening Enquirer newspaper.

Among the periodicals published by the Social Cooperative Publishing Association was the German-language labor newspaper Volksseitung, described by The New York Times as "one of the oldest radical papers in the country.  It had been established as a daily newspaper in 1878 and in 1932 employed 30 workers at No. 47 Walker Street.  It was endorsed by the American and German Socialist Parties.

New York Evening Enquirer scored a scoop in 1935 when former mayor James J. Walker chose it to announce that he would not be seeking reelection.  He sent a letter to its publisher, William Griffin, from Vichy, France to dispel rumors of his impending campaign.  In it he said in part "Killing good stories is not my idea of a good time--but this one is a bit different" and explained "It has been a long, tedious and sometimes discouraging struggle, involving the self-sacrifice of those near me, to regain the fair measure of health I possess, and my purpose is to retain it as long as possible."

During World War II women took factory jobs as male employees went to Europe to fight.   One of them was Belle Calloun who was hired to work at the Lincoln Wire Company in the fall of 1942.  Starting out with no skills, the 29-year old Queens resident achieved the position of chief wire machine operator within eight months.   She received a national honor on May 25, 1943 which most today would view as racist and demeaning.

The New York Times announced that she "has been selected as 'Miss Negro War Worker'" and reported she would "receive a $25 War Bond at the Negro Freedom Rally show at Madison Square Garden on June 7."  The article explained that her selection was based in part on her perfect attendance and her membership in the labor-management committee of the factory.

Following the end of the war, Faben Products, Inc. moved in.  It was a reincarnation of Frank Krupp's All-Nu Products which had manufactured lead soldiers until the Government impounded all shipment of lead following the attack on Pearl Harbor.   Krupp no longer made the metal soldiers and now the firm produced toys like the cowboys and cowgirls mounted on horses and bucking broncos.

This galloping cowboy was made by Faben Products, Inc.
Early in 1976 the Walker Street building once again became home to a newspaper.  The Chinese-language The World Journal printed its first issue on February 12.  Its arrival did not sit well with other Asian newspapers.  The publishers of The China Times, The China Tribune and The United Journal lodged a protest with the Nationalist Government of Taiwan for allowing Tih-wu Wang to publish in New York.  Wang said in an editorial in the first issue that The World Journal was "intended to serve the interests of the Chinese people and their community."  Interestingly, before the paper was printed it was edited in Taipei, then negatives were flown in every day.

The newspaper was soon forced to find new quarters, however.  In 1979 a conversion of the building to residential space above the ground floor was begun.   Completed in 1981 it resulted in two apartments per floor.  In 2015 the Alexander and Bonin Gallery moved into the ground floor space.

While a coat of white paint has erased the abuse of the 20th century, one cannot help but lament the loss of the stately mansard roof.

photographs by the author