Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Often-Remodeled Mansion With an Impressive Past --11 East 61st Street



Susan Sullivan and her husband, John, made a good team in the 1870s.  John Sullivan was a well-known builder and his wife operated as a real estate developer.  It was Susan, apparently, who was the wheeler and dealer in the projects.

In 1876 Susan completed an upscale brownstone-fronted house at No. 11 East 61st Street, just off Central Park.  The Sullivans' investment reflected the increasingly high-end tone of the neighborhood, just north of Millionaire's Row.  Designed by the prolific John G. Prague, the house cost $25,000 to build.  Coupled with the $26,000 price for the 25-foot wide lot, the total outlay would be equal to nearly $1.2 million today.

No records or photographs survive to hint at the original appearance of the four-story structure.  Most likely it was in the Italianate style, with a high brownstone stoop.  Wealthy merchant William F. King would change that as the turn of the century approached.

King purchased the house in 1883.  He was associated with Calhoun, Robbins & Co., and was the founder and first president of the New York Merchants' Association.  King was later described by J. Hampton Dougherty as "A genial, affable, straight-forward, manly, energetic nature, a good-humored vital personality, yet with a touch of the feminine that is explained by his possession of that rare masculine endowment, the faculty of intuition."

William F. King, photo from "In Memory of William F. King" 1909, (copyright expired
By the early 1890s the high-stooped brownstone houses of a generation earlier were decidedly out of fashion.  As millionaires abandoned Fifth Avenue below 59th Street, forced northward by the advance of hotels, office buildings and stores, they razed or completed remodeled the vintage houses into modern residences.

Around 1895 King and his wife hired mansion architect C. P. H. Gilbert to completely redesign No. 11 East 61st Street.  The stoop was removed and a three-story bowed bay added.   The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide deemed the changes "elegant."  Oddly enough, the Kings almost immediately sold their remodeled home.

On November 12, 1895 Pauline Whitney, the daughter of former Secretary of the Navy, William C. Whitney, married Almeric Hugh Paget, grandson of the first Marquis of Anglesey and son of Lord Alfred Paget.  The wedding took place in St. Thomas Church.  The guests included not only the cream of New York society, including the Vanderbilts, Rhinelanders, and Sloanes; but the Mayor and the President-elect, Grover Cleveland and his wife.

Fifth Avenue was overwhelmed with gawkers.  The Times reported “The crowd extended fully a block up and down the street, and lined along the curb as if some great procession were soon to pass by.  Most of the women appeared to be of the class that loves to read the so-called society papers.”

Less than two months later William F. King sold No. 11 to Paget for "about $150,000," or just under $4.5 million in today's dollars.  The social standing of the newlyweds was evidenced when even the Chicago Tribune mentioned the purchase on January 2, 1897.   In reporting the sale the Record & Guide noted "The house has long been considered one of the finest of its size in New York."

The Pagets were not totally content with the newly-done renovations.  On February 5 architects McKim, Mead & White filed plans for further alterations.  They included the raising of the roof one-half story and adding a "new laundry under extension" to the rear.  The extension allowed for increasing the size of the dining room.  Typical of Stanford White's modus operandi, mantels and other architectural elements were imported from Europe.

Apparently also included in the $10,000 worth of changes was the columned portico.   Although the plans do not specifically mention that detail, McKim, Mead & White often documented their work in photographs, and one such photo depicts the classical portico.

McKim, Mead & White documented its work in this photo. Both flanking houses retain their 1870s flavor.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New YorkPaul

Construction was completed and the house ready to receive guests by the end of the year.  On December 12, 1897 the New-York Tribune reported "Mrs. Almeric Hugh Paget gave her first formal reception since her marriage two years ago in her new home, No. 11 East Sixty-first-st., on Tuesday afternoon last."

Crowds jammed the streets around the Whitney mansion on the day of the wedding.  photo by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Pauline wasted no time in catching up on her entertaining.  Three days later she held a dinner party, the guest list of which reading like a Who's Who of Manhattan society--the Henry T. Sloanes, the M. Orme Wilsons, the Edmund L. Baylies, and on and on.

Pauline's brother, Payne Whitney, was attending Yale University at the time.  A few weeks later she held a dinner dance for him, and invited some of the most eligible unmarried women in New York.  Society watchers across the country took notice.  The Saint Paul Globe reported on the affair the following morning, January 9, 1898.

Socialites were expected to lavish their guests with expensive "favors" and since Payne was a member of Yale's varsity rowing crew, Pauline's gifts followed that theme.  The article mentioned "Among other favors given out were satin opera glass bags and gold lorgnettes for the young women.  For the men there were four-leaved clover charms, monocles, tiny crossed oar pins on boutonnieres, and oars about five feet long instead of wands."

The house in 1922.  To the right is the mansion of John T. Pratt, completed in 1915.  from the collection of the New York Public Library.

Just before Payne Whitney married Helen Hay on February 6, 1902, the Pagets moved permanently to London.   When Payne and his bride returned from their honeymoon in August, the Washington DC Evening Star reported that they "have leased the Almeric Hugh Paget house, 11 East 61st street, New York city, and will take possession within a month or so."

The need to rent his sister's home was understandable.  One of the couple's wedding gifts was a marble and granite mansion at No. 972 Fifth Avenue, designed by Stanford White.  It would not be completed until 1906.

No. 11 was next purchased by John Teele Pratt, son of oil tycoon and partner of John D. Rockefeller, Charles Pratt.  The established tradition of remodeling the house continued. 

In 1910 he and his wife, the former Ruth Baker, had commissioned architect Charles A. Platt to design their neo-Georgian summer home, The Manor, on their 55-acre estate in Glen Cove, Long Island.

They brought him back in 1912 to remodel the interiors of No. 11 East 62nd Street.  Charles Platt's plans, filed in March that year, included new windows and the rearranging of interior walls.

John T. Pratt in 1919.  Ruth Pratt would go on to become the first female member of Congress elected from New York.  photograph from the collection of the Library of Congress.

Perhaps because of their large family--the Pratts had six children--they did not stay at No. 11 for long.  In May 1914 John purchased the two 25-foot wide houses next door--Nos. 7 and 9 East 61st Street--and once again hired Charles A. Platt.  He was instructed to replace them with what the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide assumed would be "a high-class residence."

Construction on their $200,000 mansion (in the neighborhood of $4.87 million today) was completed by the end of 1915.  The Pratts leased No. 11 to the wealthy widow, Mary L. Flagler.  Despite her marriage to Judge Robert W. Bingham on November 16, 1916, she renewed her lease the following year.


On March 17, 1917 the Record & Guide reported on rumors that Pratt had sold No. 11.  "The holding price is about $250,000," said the article.  "It is understood that the buyer will occupy the residence."

Before long the rumors were confirmed.  Thomas Suffern Tailer was known popularly as "Tommy" and professionally as T. Suffern Tailor.  His divorce from Maude Lorrilard, the daughter of immensely wealthy Pierre Lorrilard, in 1902 had caused social vibrations across the country.  They had one child, Lorrilard Suffern Tailer.

The New York Times described Tailer as "a bit original in his ideas, dresses oddly, but denier cri; is very tall, smooth-faced, and wears glasses.  He is a man of unusual reading, and is also a lover of all kinds of out-of-door sports."

By the time Tailer purchased the 61st Street house he was remarried to the former Harriet Stewart and they had two children, Thomas Jr. and Betty.  Their former home had been squarely within the old mansion district at No. 21 West 51st Street.

Unlike their predecessors at No. 11, the Tailers did not renovate.  But like the others, their movements were closely followed by society columns nationwide.  On January 25, 1919 the Chicago Tribune noted that they would be giving a dinner party that night.

Lorillard Tailer was a young man by now, and in December that year the Tailers hosted a dinner dance in the house for him.  Many of Manhattan's wealthiest debutantes, possible romantic matches, were invited.  Among the 60 or so guests, according to the New-York Tribune, "were Miss Grace Vanderbilt, Miss Cornelia Vanderbilt, Miss Louise Vanderbilt Schieffelin, Miss Emily Sloane Hammond, Miss Renee Carhart, Miss Betty Jackson, Miss Constance Jennings, Miss Helen Moran, [and] Miss Mary Strange."

Four months later it was Lorillard who hosted a dinner in the house.  His close friend, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr., would be marrying Rachel Littleton on April 29, 1920.  Lorillard was asked to be an usher.   On April 10 he gave a dinner and dance for the couple and the bridal party.  Not unexpectedly, the young guests represented Manhattan's most socially elite families.

Exactly one week later Harriet gave an important dinner.  Close friend Helen Keeney, who lived in San Francisco, was to marry Dr. George Bolling Lee on April 21, 1920.  Harriett's dinner was the high-society version of a bachelorette party, with only female guests.

The Tailers' involvement in the event went further.  On April 22 The Sun reported that the wedding took place "in the drawing room of Mr. and Mrs. T. Suffern Tailer's house...As Mrs. Kenney has no home in New York Mr. and Mrs. Tailer, close friends of her and her daughter, offered theirs."

It was a significant affair.  Dr. Lee was the great great grandson of Martha Dandridge Custis, wife of George Washington.  Within the old gold locket worn by the bride was a piece of lace from Martha Washington's wedding dress.  Serving as the groom's best man was his brother, Colonel Robert E. Lee of Virginia.

Harriet holds her hat as T. Suffern Tailer takes to the wheel of his runabout.  from the collection of the Library of Congress

The next marriage-related entertainment in the Tailer mansion was the "bachelor dance" given by Lorillard on April 1, 1921 five days before his wedding to Catherine Harding in St. Bartholomew's Church.   His ushers, including Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr., Robert R. Livingston and A. J. Drexel Biddle, Jr., joined other wealthy young men in the Tailer dining room.

The The New York Herald noted "During the dinner a band of colored musicians played.  Mr. Tailer presented to the men of his bridal party silver cigarette boxes, the covers of which were engraved with a polo scene."

The following year, on March 12, 1922, The New York Herald reported on the rumor that T. Suffern Tailor intended to sell "his beautiful residence at 11 East Sixty-first street to Herman Goldman, the lawyer."  The rumor was only partly correct.  On April 5 the newspaper cleared up the mystery.  "Mr. Edward Barber, son of Mr. James Barber of the Barber Steamship company, also of Englewood, N. J., has bought the house of Mr. T. Suffern Tailer."

In reporting the sale, the Record & Guide got the history of the home inexcusably confused.  "The house, which was designed by the late Stanford White, was built by the Marquis of Queensberry."  The article made note of the high-toned character of the block.  "The new owner of the Tailer house will have as his neighbors, besides Mr. Pratt, Pembroke Jones, Moses Taylor Pyne, Charles Sabin and Frederick Watruss."

The Barbers' summer home was in Easthampton.  When they returned for the winter season that fall, they were forced to take rooms in the Ambassador Hotel.  They, too, had initiated changes in the 62nd Street house.  The New York Herald they would remain in the hotel "while improvements are being made at their house, which was the former home of Mr. and Mrs. T. Suffern Tailer."'

How far-reaching those renovations were is unclear.  But the Barbers sold the house within months to Elbridge Stratton, who hired the architectural firm of Delano & Aldrich to the most substantial alteration since C. P. H. Gilbert's massive re-do three decades earlier.

The front was removed and replaced by a neo-Federal facade.  The red brick was laid in Flemish bond, imitating the house's early 19th century prototypes.  The entrance was centered within a stone enframement of engaged Doric columns upholding an entablature decorated with carved scallop shells.  The splayed lintels of the upper windows were discretely executed in brick rather than the more expected stone; and the fifth floor sat back from a balustraded brick cornice.

The Strattons, too, did not stay long in the house.  By 1926 the family of Henry Cooke Cushing, III was living here.  Cushing was married to Cathleen Vanderbilt, the daughter of playboy millionaire Reginald Vanderbilt and his wife, the former Cathleen Neilson.  The Cushings had married in 1923 and had one son, Harry Cooke Cushing, IV.

The connection of the house to the Whitney family in was reestablished in 1927 when it was purchased by Charles Shipman Payson.   His wife, Joan, was daughter of Payne Whitney.   She now lived in the same house her newlywed parents had leased in 1902.

Despite Charles's highly-regarded legal career and Joan's well-known art collection, it was baseball for which the couple would be best remembered.  Ardent fans, the Paysons were outraged when the New York Giants moved to San Francisco in 1957.  Joan sold her stock in the club and set out to establish a new New York team.  She was co-founder of the New York Mets and the first American woman to own a major-league team without inheriting it.  Following her death in 1975, Charles inherited the team.

But by then the Paysons had been gone from East 61st Street for years.  They leased the house following World War II to the Soviet Government as an annex to its Consulate next door in the former Pratt mansion.   Soviets were forced by the U.S. Government to close its Consulate in 1948.  The house was sold to the 29 Club, a professional and social club of businessmen.

The club disbanded in 1964 and the former mansion was purchased by Joseph I. Lubin, a wealthy accountant and real estate investor.  Lubin purchased the house as a gift to Syracuse University.  Originally called the Syracuse University House, it was renamed the Lubin House in 1965.

The following year the university purchased the former Henry Batterman mansion at No. 15.  A subsequent alteration of the houses by architect Richard Hayden and his firm Swanke, Hayden & Connell, resulted in an internally-joined facility.  Floors were removed from No. 15 and rebuilt on a matching level with those of No. 11.


Another renovation in 2001 focused on the infrastructure of No. 11 and the restoration of its surviving details.   Few homes in Manhattan can claim as many significant alterations, remodeling and personalities as the remarkable No. 11 East 61st Street.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Original Empire State Building - 640 Broadway



In 1839 John Mason died in his stylish mansion on the southeast corner of Broadway and Bleecker Street.  Known as the "father of the Chemical" bank, a founder of the New York and Harlem Railroad, and a large Manhattan landowner, he was one of the city's wealthiest citizens.  His daughter, Mary Mason Jones, would rule as a queen of New York society.

As the turn of the century approached, the fine brick mansions along this section of Broadway had been replaced by commercial buildings.  On the site of the Mason house stood a six-story brick and stone structure that stretched the length of the block to Crosby Street.   The building was owned by Benjamin Lichtenstein and its ground floor was home to the Empire State Bank.  Manufacturers, mostly involved in the apparel business, filled the lofts above.

On November 6, 1895, The Sun reported somewhat poetically, "A flaming bulletin in the vapor-laden sky attracted the election crowds to the neighborhood of Bleecker street and Broadway last night."  Many in the throng mistook the red glow for election night bonfires, but it was catastrophically not so.

No. 640 Broadway was ablaze.  The fire burned so furiously that firefighters were unable to save it  The following morning The Sun reported "The fire had burned to the ground all of this bank's building except the Broadway wall and a part of the Bleecker street wall.  This left the vault exposed, but it was well guarded by the flames that still burned around it and the walls above that threatened to fall at any minute."

The Empire Bank building on November 6, 1895 as seen from the Crosby Street end.  The Clothier and Furnisher (copyright expired)

The building was a total loss, estimated by The Clothier and Furnisher to be "fully $1,000,000."  By the end of the month investigators had labeled the blaze "incendiary," or arson.

The devastating loss was too much for the already shaky Empire State Bank.  It applied to the Supreme Court for dissolution on February 18, 1896.  The New York Times explained "The premises of the Empire State Bank at 640 Broadway were burned on Nov. 5, 1895, and in consequence of the poor business done by the bank for the past few years the Directors and stockholders decided not to continue the business."

Lichtenstein immediately moved to rebuild.  He commissioned the well-known firm of DeLemos & Cordes to design the building and construction commenced before the end of the year.  Completed in 1897, the nine-story loft structure filled the old site and, in honor of his previous long-term tenant, was given the name The Empire State Building.

Although the new building would be admittedly industrial, DeLemos & Cordes gave it the smart appearance appropriate to its Broadway address.  The facade of buff brick trimmed with stone was ornamented neo-Classical touches--cartouches and round windows fitted within arches, for instance.  A handsome detail were the two broken pediments above the corner openings of the seventh floor.  They included stone finials which, from the street, echoed the classical busts within the pediments over drawing room doorways of some English manor houses.

Among Lichenstein's first tenants was L. Tanenbaum & Bro., real estate operators.  The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reminded its readers on January 30, 1897 "Mr. Tanenbaum has for years made a specialty of the sale, rental and appraisal of property in the mercantile district, and with great success."  The journal added "The new office is well located and is supplied with up-to-date fittings and furnishings."

1897 was a mayoral election year and a passionate group of Republican businessmen formed the Commercial Men's Tracy Club to back their nominee, Civil War general and former Secretary of the Navy Benjamin F. Tracy.  They established their headquarters on the ground floor of the Empire State Building where they meet weekly prior to the election.

As the day neared, fervor rose.  On October 22 the candidate addressed a standing-room-only crowd.  The New York Times wrote "The assembly room on the ground floor was filled to the doors.  About 400 people were present and a large number were refused admittance."

Tracy was running against former Brooklyn mayor and educator Seth Low.  Millionaire attorney and United States Senator Chauncey Depew opened with remarks that would spark outrage today, saying in part "The world would not come to an end if Seth Low died.  There are others."

The nominee lightened the mood by turning to humor.  "Mr. Low is a good man.  He will give us the best government he knows how.  But he doesn't know how."

In the end, both candidates were trounced by Robert Anderson Van Wyck.

Henry Supp was a successful general commission merchant.  When No. 640 Broadway opened he moved his offices here.  Young and unmarried, he lived with his parents on West 90th Street.  Following the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898, he joined the 71st Regiment and fought in Cuba where he was among the troops who charged up San Juan Hill.

His neglect of his business, while laudably patriotic, took its toll.  The New York Times said on July 1, 1899 that "he had not prospered since he went a-soldiering."  His financial reversals made him do the unthinkable.

Supp's sweetheart was the windowed Josephine Bennett who lived with her sister and brother-in-law at No. 6 111th Street.  The couple was to be married in August 1899.   He called on her on May 15 and the following day she noticed a brooch set with pearls and diamonds was missing.  No one in the family, of course, wanted to suspect her fiance.

When Supp returned from a business trip to Philadelphia on Thursday, June 29, he went to see Josephine again.  When the hour became late, the family made a bed for him on the sofa.  After he left the next morning, Josephine realized the $200 ring that she had left on the parlor mantel was gone.

The brokenhearted woman knew "that none but Supp could have taken it," and she had him arrested.  He admitted to police that he had taken both items of jewelry.  We can assume that the engagement was called off.

A news item that was, perhaps, even more shocking than the Supp case appeared in the papers in the spring of 1901.   The New York Times reported "Consternation was caused in the main hallway of the Empire State Building, 640 Broadway, yesterday noon by the appearance of a nude man on the staircase."

The bizarre incident started when a man entered the elevator; but as it started to rise he told the operator he changed his mind and did not want to go upstairs after all.  The conductor brought the elevator back to the ground floor where the man got out and frantically started disrobing; tossing his clothing around the lobby.


Policeman Hatch was called and he tried to persuade the man to put on some of his clothing that was scattered about the hallway.  Instead the "wildly excited" man attacked.  The Times reported "Hatch subdued him after a fierce struggle, and as an ambulance came from St. Vincent's Hospital, succeeded in getting some garments adjusted on his body."

Robert Birmingham fell unconscious in the ambulance.  The 43-year old was from Noank, Connecticut and told doctors he had had a similar attack about two years earlier.   At the hospital he was diagnosed with catalepsy and hysteria.

In the meantime, the upper floors were filled with a variety of manufacturers, like H. Goldfarm, makers of ladies' hats; J. Levin & Co., skirt manufacturers; and the Crescent Trimmed Hat Company.  George Reis & Brother moved in in 1904.  The firm manufactured woven labels and tapes.  Their 5,000 square foot factory filled an entire floor.

Crescent Trimmed Hat Company was among the largest of the tenants, occupying the sixth through eighth floor.  At 2:30 on the afternoon of March 22, 1905 the factory was in full operation when a fire broke out in a pile of hat boxes on the sixth floor where 66 young women worked.

Firefighters from the station at 155 Mercer Street quickly arrived.   Their efforts were temporarily hampered by terrified shop girls.  The New-York Tribune reported "On the sixth floor they were stopped by the stampede of panic stricken girls from the upper floors.  Patrolman Dorn of the Mulberry-st. station helped them drag a score of fainting women out of the crush."  In total more than 300 women worked in the top three floors.

Another policeman helped save hysterical women on the lower floors.  "Patrolman McCabe worked like a Trojan on the fifth floor.  When he had got all the women safely out his blouse was torn and his helmet entirely demolished.  There were no fire escapes and most of the women would have been cut off on the stairways if it had not been for the work of the policemen."

A boy employed by the Newell-Putnam Manufacturing Company on the fifth floor tripped in the stairwell.  The Sun reported "The crowd trampled on him and he was dragged out half conscious and taken to St. Vincent's Hospital."  He had sustained severe internal injuries.

"The fire gutted the three top floors of the Empire State Building," said The Sun the following day.  The loss was estimated at $50,000, just under $1.5 million today.  "The flood of water ruined nearly every office in the building."


On February 4, 1906 the New-York Tribune displayed an example of G. Reis & Brother's embroidered lettering and suggested "bridal trousseau initials can be stitched on all towels and tablecloths."  (copyright expired)

The Empire State Building was quickly repaired.  George Reis & Brother continued on here, joined by J. Abrahams & Co., importers, the Royal Worcester Corset Company, and real estate operators L. Tanenbaum, Strauss & Co., Inc.

The price of the Adjusto Dowager corset would be equal to about $83 today.  New-York Tribune, May 5, 1907 (copyright expired)
The Royal Worcester Corset Company marketed its Adjusto Dowager model as "the best for stout women" and promised that in the "Twinkling of an Eye" it "reduced the hips and abdomen with perfect comfort; lengthens the waist, making the stylish outline from a stout figure."  The unique feature of the Adjusto Dowager was that straps on the front made it adjustable without help from another person.

By 1909 the Kolovitz Millinery Company occupied the second floor, directly above Regeman's Drugstore.  For the third time in less than 15 years fire broke out in the building, this time on the second floor.  The firm used flammable components such as feathers and artificial flowers in manufacturing its fashionable headwear.  Somehow a pile began smoldering, causing a serious smoke condition.

The New-York Tribune reported "Two hundred girls employed in the upper flors, who were just about ready to quit work for the day, became wildly excited as the smoke from the finery swept out and up the staircases and elevator shafts."

Tony Sarino, the elevator operator, ran the cab repeatedly up and down through the smoke, bringing as many girls to safety as he could.  Seventy-five young women, not willing to wait, crowded down the fire escapes.   The Sun noted "Several girls collapsed after reaching the street."

The Tribune's headline announced a shocking detail "Girls Kissed The Hero" and reported "When all were safe the girls surrounded 'Tony' Sarino and three of them kissed him, much to the confusion of 'Tony,' who said he had only done his duty."

 Undaunted, George Reis & Brother remained in the building.  New tenants in 1910 were Aaron Cohen & Co. and H. Jackson, both dry goods jobbers.   The ground floor drugstore was replaced by Walter J. Vogt's novelty store by 1914.

Vogt's manger was Bernard Behrendt.  Late on the afternoon of June 16 that year he suffered frightening chest pains in the store.  His wife came from their home on West 106th Street and by 9:00 he felt well enough to walk the few blocks to the taxicab stand.

Mrs. Behrendt cautioned the driver that her husband was ill and to drive slowly.  Behrendt leaned his head on his wife's shoulder and closed his eyes.  When the cab reached their house the driver and Mrs. Behrendt realized he was dead.

Leather businesses like Campbell Perkins Co. and F. Gonzales & Co. were in the building by 1919.  There were 90 other small companies in the building that year when, almost unbelievably, the building was the scene of yet another devastating fire.  This time it resulted in dramatically heroic rescues.

Charles U. Schwartz and his 18-yer old secretary, Clara Friedman, were trapped on the top floor on the afternoon of May 20.   As fire and smoke filled the office, they climbed out onto a ledge.  Crowds on the street shouted to the firemen who were fighting the flames from the roof of an adjoining building.

"Several firemen lowered themselves to the roof of the Empire State Building with ropes and crawling to the edge of the roof let down a rope which Mr. Schwartz tied beneath Miss Friedman's shoulders," reported The Sun.  The fire fighters then hauled her up to the roof.  They then repeated the procedure for Schwartz.

In the meantime, policeman Leo Carey found Herman Schein, a fur buyer, overcome by smoke inside, and then stumbled over the unconscious body of 16-year old Edna Schlinger.  The officer carried them both to safety.   Minutes later Fire Lieutenant John A. Coffey emerged with 18-year old Gertrude Hillman.  He had found her lying unconscious across a table on the ninth floor.  Firefighter August Gruben soon carried Mary Mighton out of the smokey building.

Despite its infamous history with fires, the once-again repaired building filled with tenants.  In 1920 there were 70 firms in the building, at least seven of which were in the silk trade.  Alpine Lining Co. made "cotton, mohair and silk pocketings and sleeves," and Luxenberg & Friedlander manufactured men's and youth's clothing.  The ground floor store was home to the Fulton Phonograph Company.

Then, on October 7, 1921 The New York Herald's headline read "Hundreds In Peril In Broadway Blaze.  Young Women Crowd Escapes or Flee by Elevators at Bleecker Street."  Fire had broken out in the fifth floor offices of the Arrow Leather Goods Company.

The newspaper reported "Thick clouds of smoke were emitted from the windows, adding to the hysteria of the young women."  Once again an elevator operator was hailed as a hero.  The Evening World said scores of workers were unable to get to the fire escapes and "jammed the halls on the Broadway side." William Brahm, "with the elevator shaft choking with smoke, ran his car up and down, carrying a capacity crowd at every trip."  And once again the newspapers reported on the heroic efforts of the fire fighters who carried dazed or unconscious victims from the building.

A different type of terror came on November 29, 1927.  The Solvent Sales Company was on the eighth floor and Harry Minkoff was going about his routine.  Then at around 3:45 things became anything but normal when he was faced with a sawed-off shotgun.  The New York Times reported "The door swung violently open and three men stalked into the room, each carrying the stubby weapon of Chicago gangdom."

One of the thugs commanded "No noise now, and nobody will get hurt.  Get in the inner room, all of you."  He looked at the young stenographer, Mauri Nathan, and barked "That means you, too, girlie."

While one man remained in the outer office, the other two bound the hands and feet of the employees with picture wire.  Once again, Mauri was warned to keep quiet while the men's pockets were searched.

The robbers took $325 in cash, a diamond ring valued at $1,500 and a diamond scarfpin worth $125 from the employees.  The unlucky customers lost a total of $564.  The victims were warned not to move until the bandits were out of the building.  They made off with a haul equal to about $34,700 today.

The Empire State Building was sold in September 1929, a month before the Stock Market Crash.  It would be perhaps the last time No. 640 Broadway was referred to by that name.  In 1930 construction started on the iconic skyscraper on Fifth Avenue and 34th Street that absconded with the title.

In 1937 the Broadway store space was home to Sidney Ellenberg's luncheonette.  It was taken over by 1946 by the two-story Downing Town Sportswear store and factory.  That year police were plagued with a wave of safecracking and loft burglaries in lower Manhattan.

Police suspected five East Side gang members.  They were spotted on Saturday night, November 16, in an automobile.  Detectives followed them to a Bowery saloon, but after the men left the cops lost them.

Then, shortly after midnight, they were spotted leaving the cellar of No. 640 Broadway.  The detectives closed in.  Speaking in language straight from a gangster movie, one of the suspects growled "We're on our way to a coffee pot, and all of a sudden you guys shove pistols in our faces."

Near the Crosby Street entrance the detectives found 53 bolts of expansive gabardine cloth belonging to Downing Town Sportswear.  Using forensics surprising for the day, a detective noted that the crystal was missing from the wristwatch of one of the suspects.  It was found inside the crime scene.  And footprints on the wrapping paper of the fabrics was matched to the shoes of three of the burglars.

By now the blocks of Broadway just above Houston Street were becoming shoddy.  Firms like National leased space in No. 640 Broadway in 1950.  That year it advertised in Popular Mechanics "Sell dress fabrics to friends, neighbors.  Stylish, beautiful materials.  Year round profits.  No experience needed."

But a decided change was soon to come to the building.  The 1960s saw political and social upheaval across America and it landed squarely in the former factory spaces of No. 640.   In 1965 the offices of the May 2nd Movement were here.    The group, which took its name from the date of its first public protest against the war in Vietnam, provided legal counseling to those seeking to avoid the draft.

The New York Times mentioned the "movement's cluttered office in a shabby loft building at 640 Broadway" on October 18, 1965, when it explained "it holds that the struggle in Vietnam is between the American 'imperialists' and a 'freedom movement of the oppressed people.'"

In 1971 the building housed the offices of the Law Commune, which counted among its clients the antiwar activist and member of the Chicago Seven, Abbie Hoffman.  The firm successfully defended the Black Panthers on December 10 that year.  The group had been charged with 156 counts of bombing, arson, attempted murder and other crimes and the eight-month case cost the Government $1.5 million.  New York Magazine reported "Two hours later they were up in the Law Commune office at 640 Broadway, swigging the Asti Spumante from the bottle amid what one of them called 'a warm goo' of hugs and tears."


Two members of the Law Commune, Carol Lefcourt and Veronika Kraft broke away and formed the "downtown sisterhood" branch of Bellamy, Blank, Goodman, Kelly, Ross & Stanley in 1973.  The all-female legal firm announced it would take on "nonprofit cases to challenge discrimination against women, while operating a private practice to pay the bills."

Surprisingly, their former client, Abbie Hoffman, was living in the building when he was indicted on September 5, 1973 on charges of "possession and sale of cocaine valued at $500,000."  The building was by no means residential, and it can only be assumed he had found sanctuary here at the time of the Law Commune's tenancy.

The Broadway elevation of the long, skinny structure is only as wide as was John Mason's mansion.

As the 20th century became the 21st, the now-trendy Noho district filled with shops, restaurants and loft apartments.  In 2006 the basement level of No. 640 Broadway was home to Nom de Guerre, described by Fodor's New York City as a "hipster hideaway" with "racks filled with vintage T-shirts, military-inspired jacket and pants, limited-edition sneakers, and haute-street denim."

The following year the upper stories were converted to living-working quarters with just two and three apartments per floor.

The architects' renderings, submitted to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, explained the intended restoration. via ny.curbed.com January 23, 2015

The building was purchased by Winhaven Group in 2012 for $32.5 million.  Although the lower floors had been greatly altered and the original entrance on Broadway vandalized; preservation architects Joe Levine and Bill Higgins of Higgens Quesebarth & Partners hoped to recreate the historic entrance during a 2015 rehabilitation.  The careful restoration included bringing back the EMPIRE STATE BUILDING carved into the entablature above the entrance.

photographs by the author

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Vestiges of Style - The Queen Anne Group at West End Ave and 102nd Street


The houses as they appeared in February 1893.  The corner house, No. 858 West End Ave., was the showpiece.  Real Estate Record, February 11, 1893, copyright expired

Like several architectural firms at the end of the 19th century Schneider & Herter sometimes operated as its own real estate brokers.  Such was that case when architects Ernest W. Schneider and Henry Herter joined forces with John Fish and Eugene Schultz to form Schneider & Co.  The development firm had a built-in design team in Schneider & Herter.

The alliance began construction of a grouping of four upscale homes at the southeast corner of West End Avenue and 102nd Street in May 1892.   By now the Upper West Side's architectural personality had taken shape.  Sparked by the imaginative minds of architects like Clarence True and Rafael Guastavino, blocks of delightful, picturesque houses sprouted gargoyles, turrets and dog-legged stoops.  They stood in stark contrast to the more regimented, traditional rowhouses elsewhere in the city.

Schneider & Herter joined the trend with gusto.  Three of the four houses, Nos. 854 through 858 West End Avenue pretended at first glance to be a single massive mansion.  No. 254 West 102nd Street, around the corner, not only stood on its own architecturally, but was slightly separated from the corner house by what the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide described as a "yard running from front to rear."  That arrangement gave both houses an additional wall of windows and light.

The West End Avenue houses have lost their stoops.  The entrance to the corner mansion survives on the side.
Construction of the Queen Anne-style houses was completed in April 1893.  The two 17-foot wide houses at Nos. 854 and 856 West End Avenue were near copies inside and out.  Above  high dog-legged stone stoops with newels carved with lions' heads, their entrances were deeply recessed.  At the parlor and third floor levels of No. 856 the architects added chunky Romanesque Revival arches.  Colorful stained glass filled the transoms of the parlor windows.  Both houses terminated in an attic floor brimming with Flemish Renaissance touches, a nod to the city's Dutch roots and a favorite motif along the Upper West Side.

Stealing the spotlight was the corner house, No. 858 West End Avenue.  Despite its address, its entrance was centered in the 72-foot long 102nd Street side.  A corner tower dominated the design and provided an additional full-height corner room.  It bell-shaped cap, often referred to as a pepper-pot, culminated in a tall, decorative finial.

The step-sister of the group, No. 254 West 102nd Street, rose in stepped, angled bays like a wedding cake.  Its third floor was distinguished by a single Romanesque Revival arch that not only provided a flood of sunlight inside, but access to the ample balcony.  The sparse development of the immediate area was reflected in the Record & Guide's mention that the projecting bays of No. 254 "overlook the River and Palisades."  Atop the cornice rose an ornate, quirky pediment perhaps more expected on a 23rd Street store.

The abundant balconies throughout the group was noteworthy and innovative.  In describing the second floor balcony off a bedroom of the corner house, a critic noted it "may be occupied on a summer's morning or evening, and from which a good view of the Hudson River and Palisades is obtained.  This method of utilizing the balcony should be more generally adopted."


Schneider & Co. lavished the interiors with expensive materials and amenities.  All were trimmed in hardwoods and the fireplace mantels were faced either in onyx or marble.  The Record & Guide noted "They have openings of fret-work in horse-shoe shape to divide the music-rooms from the parlors and some of the bedrooms above."  The tiled-floor bathrooms had seven-foot high tile wainscoting and nickel-plated fixtures on the porcelain tubs and sinks.

Within the corner house, the parlor level consisted of "a reception room, with windows overlooking the avenue and street, and with a mantel, mirror and fireplace with Mexican onyx facings and tiles; a large dining-room with a similar mantel, including a sideboard, etc.; a library and smoking room and a butler's pantry, with a new feature in the shape of a compartment for warming plates.  One the same floor as the house is entered, there appears a vestibule, a foyer hall with a recess containing a terra cotta mantel and mirror, and two conversation seats."

The second floor contained three bedrooms, two dressing "saloons" and a bath.  There were four bedrooms and a bath on the third floor.  The Record & Guide pointed out "the attic consists of a tower, for a children's nursery or lookout."

In all of the houses, the basement level contained a billiard room with built in sideboards and handsome mantels, the kitchen, laundry, dumb water, and servants' rear stairs.

Unfortunately for Schneider & Co., the expensive homes were completed at the onset of the Financial Panic of 1893--a serious economic depression that resulted in the closing of 500 banks and the failure of 15,000 businesses.  While No. 856 sold that year, the remainder of the group sat vacant.

Finally in 1895 the three unsold houses were divided among Schneider & Co. investors.  Eventually, of course, the economy improved and one-by-one the residences were sold.  No. 854 became home to attorney and sometimes architect Edward Miehling and wife, the former Pauline Eickhoff.

Living with the couple was Pauline's parents.  Anthony Eickhoff was the most interesting and accomplished among the family.  Born in Lippstadt, Westphalia, he had fled to America during the German Revolution of 1846.  After living in New Orleans for two years, he moved to St. Louis at the age of 21 where he founded the St. Louis Zeitung, and later became editor of Dubuque's The Nordwestliche Demokrat and then  German-language newspaper in Louisville, Kentucky.

After moving to New York in 1852 he became editor of Die Abendpost, then from 1854 to 1856 of the New Yorker Staats-Zeitung.  He joined the Union Army and served as commissary-general for New York troops; was elected to the State Legislature in 1863; and in 1873 was appointed Coroner.  Three years later he was elected to United States Congress.

Eickhoff's amazing career was hardly over.  From 1891 to 1896 he was Fire Commissioner.  At the time the family moved into the West End Avenue house the elderly man was still active, serving as auditor for the Fire Department.  He still managed to find the time to write a book on German immigration entitled The German in America.  He died in the West End Avenue house in November 1901 at the age of 74, ending a brilliant and remarkable career.

The Miehling family would continued to live in the house until December 1907 when it was sold to Israel Lebowitz, a real estate operator.  He quickly sold it to Frederick W. Stephenson.

Stephenson and his wife, Linda, had a daughter, also named Linda, and son, F. Kenneth.  While Stephenson stayed home attending to business in the winter of 1914, his family went off to the fashionable Florida resort "colony" of Belleair.   The Sun predicted "a lively and brilliant season at the hotel as well as among the cottage colony," that season and listed among "the earliest arrivals" the Stephensons.

Daughter Linda was a young woman by now and later that year she bought a Chalmers automobile, a purchase that reflected the affluence of the family.  The opening price for a 1914 Chalmers was $2,000, or around $49,500 today.

Linda Stephenson's new car may have looked much like this 1914 model.  (copyright expired)
It was the older Linda Stephenson who seems to have been the most socially and politically active in the family.  Her name appeared in newspapers as she rallied for issues like the Prohibition.  In August 1918 she was among the list of women who petitioned the governor to "take a definite and open stand for prohibition" and to emphasize "his opposition to the liquor traffic and the use of intoxicants."

Above the brutalized basement level of No. 856, stained glass and other elements survive (including the entrance transom).  Someone thought that painting the brownstone brown would be a good idea. 

In the meantime the other houses in the group were home to well-to-do families.  Next door, No. 856 was home to the family of Solomon Katz, a dealer in laces at No. 19 West 21st Street.  Although the family was not on a financial or social par with Fifth Avenue society, protocols were followed.  On November 19, 1911, for instance, The New York Times society column noted "Miss Irene Katz...whose engagement to Normal L. Strauss of this city was announced several weeks ago, will be at home on Thanksgiving Day from 4 until 6."


The massive corner house had a rocky beginning, owner-wise.  In 1898 it was sold in foreclosure to J. Johnson.  After he died just two years later owing $28,873 on the property (more than $850,000 today), it was operated as an upscale boarding house for a few years.  Among the well-heeled boarders living here prior to 1908 were  W. A. Boyd, secretary of the Chicago-based McLeod Company; Colonel F. C. Loveland and his wife; and Margaret A. Klein, originally from Walterboro, South Carolina and head of The Educational Alliance.


In November 1908 No. 858 finally got a long-term owner in Frederick Bertuch and his wife, Minnie.  Bertuch, who was born in Offenbach, German, was in the "pulp" business.  The childless couple maintained a country home in Babylon, New York.  It was described by the industry journal Paper as "one of the show places of Long Island."

In 1912 Frederick Bertuch & Co. was dissolved and Bertuch essentially retired.  He did, however, remain a "special partner" in the successor firm founded by his former partner, Johannes Andersen.

The Bertuchs hired contractors to repair their roof in 1919.  Whatever the problem was it was serious enough that it could not wait until summer.   On the morning after Christmas Day 40-year old William Proder was among the workers high above West End Avenue.   He lost his footing and fell to the sidewalk.  His death was instantaneous.

Frederick Bertuch seems to have been obsessed with how to distribute his estate following his death.   He executed his will on May 26, 1915, then amended it three times, adding and removing beneficiaries and causes.  A few of his decisions seemed capricious and questionable.

The original will, for instance, left money to certain employees of his firm.  In February 1921 he revoked those bequests.  At the same time he added funds to maintain a bread line at the Bowery Mission and Young Men's Home.  Perhaps most disturbing was the direction that Morris Gintzler, one of his executors, chloroform all of his horses "to ensure that they will not be cruelly treated."  Luckily for the animals, Bertuch reversed that decision in his final codicil.

Bertuch died in the summer of 1922.  Minnie received $10,000 outright, the "use of his household goods, works of art and other contents of the Bertuch homes in West End Avenue and in Babylon."  The will directed that following Minnie's death the houses were to be sold.   The $1 million estate was spread among worthy recipients.   Columbia University received $100,000, $50,000 went to Cooper Union, and another $50,000 to the Children's Aid Society, for instance.

Minnie remained in the corner mansion until her death in April 1928.

In the meantime, the West 102nd Street house had been a boarding house since, at least, the turn of the century.  Its respectable boarders included two unmarried school teachers in the first years of the century, and, in 1911, Henry Cohn who started the Jacob Wechsler Hat Company "to manufacture ladies' and misses' straw and felt hats" that year with three partners.

Shortly after Minnie Bertuch's death, all four of the houses were being operated as multi-family structures.  The Stephenson family left No. 854 in 1920, after which rented rooms were advertised.  In 1938 it was converted to what The New York Times described as "a modern apartment house" saying, "The building was a private dwelling and now contains apartments of one and one-half to two and one-half rooms."

The same year that the Stephensons left West End Avenue the Katz family moved out of No. 856.  Occupants living here in the 1920s and '30s had German surnames--Gabriel Hamburger, Jacob Meyer Horn, and Goldie Abramowitz, among them.  In 1937 a conversion by architect Walter Katz resulted in two apartments per floor.  The former Bertuch mansion contains eight apartments today; while No. 254 West 102nd Street was reconverted to a single family residence around 2007.

No. 254 West 102nd Street retains its crooked stoop.

Although beleaguered, Schneider & Herter's Queen Anne group still manages to command attention.  The houses are a reminder of a time when West End Avenue drew well-to-do homeowners and architects rejected convention.

photographs by the author

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Lost Col. William Barbour Mansion - 11-13 West 53rd Street



photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

When the four-story brownstone rowhouses at Nos. 11 and 13 West 53rd Street were built Manhattan's wealthiest citizens were still, for the most part, several blocks to the south.  At 23- and 20-feet wide, respectively, the residences were nonetheless fashionable.

In the 1870s and early '80s No. 13 was the home of Harriet and James Hubert McVicker.   James had been the proprietor of McVicker's Theatre in Chicago.  Harriet's actress daughter by a previous marriage, Mary Frances, married the internationally-famous Shakespearean actor Edwin Booth on June 2, 1869.   Mary Frances Booth died in the 53rd Street house on November 13, 1881.

In the meantime, William Barbour was amassing a fortune.  Born in New York City on September 9, 1847 to Thomas and Sarah Elizabeth Barbour, he was educated in a private school in Paterson, New Jersey, where his family had relocated when he was still a child.

Their move made sense since Paterson was the center of the area's textile mills.  The family's connection to the industry went back to Ireland there John Barbour established a flax spinning mill in 1768, and a linen thread manufacturing factory in 1784.  William's father immigrated to the United States around 1840.  He and his brother, Robert, founded the Barbour Flax-Spinning Company in Paterson soon afterward.

After graduating high school, William was sent to Europe for three years to "acquire a familiarity with the languages of the old world," as explained by Nelson's Biographical Cyclopedia of New Jersey in 1913.  He joined the family firm upon his return and also became active in politics.

Colonel William Barbour in 1899 The Successful American (copyright expired)

Beginning in 1884 he was a delegate to every National Republican Convention.  He became close personal friends with William McKinley.  Following John W. Griggs election as Governor of New Jersey in 1896, Barbour was appointed a member of his personal staff, earning him the title Colonel.

On November 8, 1883, he had married Julia Adelaide Sprague.  The couple would have four sons: Thomas, Robert, William Warren, and Fritz Krupp (he was named after the famous Prussian gun maker, but preferred the Anglicized "Frederick").

As the turn of the century approached, Barbour was involved in a staggering number of businesses.  He was president of the Linen Thread Company, the Barbour Brothers Company, the Paterson Central Electric Railway and the Trust Company of America; and was a director in 13 others.  While still firmly ensconced in New Jersey (the family had a mansion in Paterson and a summer home in Monmouth Beach), Barbour began planning a Manhattan residence as well.

In the first week of March 1901 he purchased No. 11 West 53rd Street from Henry D. McAleenan, and No. 13 from Mrs. W. J. Jarrett.  Barbour paid $100,000 for No. 11 and $80,000 for the slightly narrower No. 13.  In reporting on the sale, the Real Estate Record & Guide noted "it is said [he] will erect a handsome dwelling."

Before the end of the month mansion architect C. P. H. Gilbert was working on the design.   On March 30 the Record & Guide noted "the front will be of light buff limestone, and will have an electric elevator and all modern appliances.  Work will start immediately."

The New-York Tribune added "The plans call for a complete house in every respect, and will have an electric plant, elevators, etc."  The inclusion of the electrical plant meant that the Barbour family would not have to depend on the routinely unreliable service from commercial electricity suppliers.

Gilbert's plans projected the construction cost at $95,000.  Including what Barbour had already spent on the properties, the total cost would be equivalent to about $7.86 million today.

Construction would not be completed until 1903--the delay due in part to the plasterers' union strike in October 1902 as the finishing interior touches were being done.  Gilbert had produced a princely five-and-a-half story residence with restrained Beaux Arts elements like the third story stone-and-iron balconies, the fourth floor cornice and the regal balustrade topped by stone urns along the roofline.


The ground floors of American basement plan homes were never intended for entertaining.  Here was a reception room where guests would leave their cloaks and hats.  Off the grand "main hall" in the Barbour house was the billiard room, and to the rear were the kitchen and servants' dining room.  Guests would immediately be shown to the second floor, or piano nobile.  Here was the library, the drawing room and the dining room.

The full width of the third floor overlooking 53rd Street contained the bedroom and sitting room of William and Adelaide.  To the rear were two smaller bedrooms.  Additional bedrooms were on the fourth floor.   The fifth floor contained six servants bedrooms and the "attic" floor, hidden behind the balustrade, contained was was termed the "servant's dormitory." It was outfitted for two additional servants.

C. P. H. Gilbert turned his attention to interior details as well, designing the mahogany case for the pipe organ in the second floor hall, for instance.  Pipe organs were de rigueur in turn-of-the-century mansions.  While most millionaires hired professional organists, a few like Frank Woolworth, enjoyed playing the instruments.

The Barbour mansion, like the neighboring homes, was filled with costly antiques and artwork.  Medieval tapestries, French antiques, and marble and bronze sculptures decorated the rooms.   In the main hallway, for instance, hung four 18th century portraits while Italian and Flemish Renaissance furniture lined the walls.

Equally impressive was the grand piano which sat in the main hall.  The Steinway Brothers-manufactured instrument was housed in a magnificent case, designed by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema.  It was commissioned by millionaire Henry G. Marquand and purchased by William Barbour at the Marquand estate sale in 1903.  In a letter to Marquand Sir Edward J. Poynter, President of the Royal Academy, said "I have no hesitation in saying that it is the most beautiful piece of work, both for the design and the workmanship, that I ever saw.  In fact, I do not believe that anything has ever been done equal to it."

The Lawrence Alma-Tadema piano.  The lower photo shows the panel above the keyboard, painted by Sir Edward Poynter.  from the "Descriptive Catalogue" of the Barbour estate sale, 1923 (copyright expired)

The Barbours' eldest son, Thomas, was enrolled at Harvard when the family moved into the house.   He would see little of the mansion.  He graduated in 1906 and married Rosamond Pierce that same year.   He received his doctorate in 1910 and joined the Harvard faculty the following year.

William Barbour normally appeared in the press because of business or political reasons.  But on January 10, 1905 The New York Times ran the headline "William Barbour in Court--Arrested for Platform Spitting."  Even some well-bred gentlemen chewed tobacco; but public expectorating was a crime and a grave breach of demeanor much decried by ladies.

Why Barbour was taking public transportation that day is puzzling; however he was seen "spitting on the platform" of the Sixth Avenue Elevated Railroad at Franklin Street by Patrolman Ruppert of the Health Squad.   When he was hauled into the Tombs Police Court, he was recognized by Magistrate Flammer who asked him how he came to be arrested.

"I don't suppose a similar thing ever happened to me before," he said to the judge.  "I am president of a company that makes millions of handkerchiefs a year, and yet I came downtown this morning without one in my pocket."

The judge responded light-heartedly, "Ever hear about a shoemaker's wife going barefooted?"  He discharged Barbour without a fine.
 
A year later he was back in court.  When he left the 53rd Street house on January 27, 1906 he was on the way to the Pennsylvania Ferry to catch a train for Cincinnati.  And he was running late.  In the limousine with him were Thomas and Rosamond, who were visiting.  Speeding down the Manhattan streets at 20 miles per hour, Barbour's chauffeur, Harry Wilson, only made it about 20 blocks.

He was stopped by Traffic Squad patrolman Duane on Fifth Avenue around 33rd Street and arrested.  Barbour paid his chauffeur's $100 bail (about $2,750 today) but, according to a newspaper "Col. Barbour lost his train owing to the delay."

In August 1905 St. Thomas's Church on the corner of 53rd Street and Fifth Avenue had been destroyed by fire.  Its replacement was delayed when the entire building fund was donated to the victims of the San Francisco earthquake the following year.  But in the summer of 1910 construction was well underway and blasting for the foundations were shaking the surrounding mansions.

Things got worse on September 7.  After what The Times called "an unusually heavy blast" was set off.   Massive rocks flew into the sky and fell on the palatial residences of 53rd Street.  The newspaper reported "A shower of stones, some as big as paving blocks, fell on some of the best houses in the neighborhood of Fifth Avenue and Fifty-third Street at 5 o'clock."

A big rock rose gracefully in the air and buried itself in the roof of a three-story extension in the rear of the residence of William A. Kissam at 9 West Fifty-third Street.  Another was hurled across the street, through a window and into the drawing room of Mrs. Eben Wright."   At the Barbour mansion and at those of his neighbors E. Parmelee Prentice and Benjamin Stern windows were shattered and glassware was broken.

The Barbour family, like all their neighbors other than the Wrights, were still out of town for the summer.  Only a small staff of servants was in the mansion.

While her husband conducted his many businesses, Adelaide busied herself with social and charitable involvements.  A descendant of Thomas Warren, who arrived in America on the Mayflower, she was a member of the Hugenot Society, the Colony Club, and the Society of Mayflower Descendants.  She opened the house for charitable events like the meetings of the Nursery and Child's Hospital Sewing Class.

On March 1, 1917 Barbour told his wife he did not feel well, but attributed it to indigestion.  He went off to his office at No. 96 Franklin Street where employees noticed "he was not in his usual good health."  His chauffeur picked him up at around 4:00.  When he realized Barbour's condition seemed serious, he sped to the New York Hospital.  Before he got there his employer was dead of a heart attack.

His funeral was held in the Central Presbyterian Church on Madison Avenue at 57th Street three days later.  According to the New-York Tribune, his estate was valued at between $10 and $20 million--about 20 times that amount by today's calculations.

The State of New York quickly took $200,000 in estate taxes; but the Barbour lawyers were just as quick to challenge that.  The legal description of a state resident was "any person who shall have dwelt in New York State the great part of twelve consecutive months" prior to his death.  The State pointed out that Barbour had spent 235 days in New York and 130 in New Jersey.

The estate's lawyer's argued that the wording merely created a "disputable presumption" and that he was a New Jersey resident.  Surprisingly enough, New York State lost the case and had to refund the $200,000.

Adelaide stayed on in the 53rd Street mansion with sons Frederick and William, even as other wealthy homeowners moved northward.   In October 1919 Frederick became engaged to Helen A. Carrere, the daughter of Louis Sidney Carrere and nephew of the famed architect John M. Carrere of Carrere & Hastings.  Frederick had graduated from Princeton three years earlier.

The couple's wedding in St. James's Church on Madison Avenue on February 17, 1920 was highly covered in the society columns.  Thomas served as his brother's bet man, and Robert and William were ushers.  Among Helen's bridesmaids was her unmarried sister, Elizabeth.  The Sun reported that the newlyweds would live in the Barbour mansion.

The following year, on September 25, The New York Herald reported "Another engagement that calls for more than perfunctory notice is that of Miss Elizabeth C. Carrere to Mr. William Warren Barbour.  Their marriage, which is to be an incident of the winter, will form a double bond between their respective families."  Already in-laws, the two were about to become spouses.  Their December 1 wedding, like that of their siblings, took place in St. James's Church. 

Adelaide continued her social routine.  On January 5, 1922 she hosted the meeting of the Women's Memorial Roosevelt Association in the house.  The Evening World reported "Thirty-one States were represented.  There was a delegate from China."

In the spring of 1923 she was taken to St. Luke's Hospital where she died at the age of 65 on May 9.  Her sons wasted little time in disposing of the 53rd Street mansion and its contents.  On November 13 an "unrestricted public sale" was held inside the house.

The day-long auction saw strangers led from one floor to another.  A 17th century French Gobelin tapestry "The Death of Hasdrubal" brought $1,000, and an 18th century portrait of Lady Cauldwell by Francis Coates was sold for $1,075--more than $15,000 today.  The highest price paid was $2,600 for the Alma-Tadema piano.  It was purchased by Martin Beck for his soon-to-open Martin Beck Theatre.

photograph from Notable New Yorkers (copyright expired)

John D. Rockefeller, Jr. was at the time buying up all the available property on the block bounded by 53rd and 54th Street blocks and Fifth and Sixth Avenues.  He added the Barbour house to his acquisitions and by the end of 1925 owned every building on 54th Street other than Nos. 18 and 26.  In 1929 he leased the Barbour mansion to the Western Universities Club of New York as its clubhouse.  Its lease would be short-lived.

On December 2, 1931 The New York Times announced the the "five-story building" would become the home of the Museum of Modern Art by May 1.   The Museum had leased space at No. 730 Fifth Avenue since its opening several years earlier.

The formal opening came on May 3, 1932.  The initial exhibition consisted of murals by American painters and photographers as well as the collection willed to the museum by Lizzie Bliss, one of its founders.

Only five years later the Museum of Modern Art announced its intentions to demolish the Barbour mansion to make way for its new home.  It was razed in 1939 and replaced by the International Style building designed by Philip L. Goodwin and Edward Durell Stone.

photograph by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

many thanks to reader Sharon Parkinson for requesting this post

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The John C. Hashegan House - 186 Prince Street



In 1826 the newly-formed real estate development firm of Mills & Ryerson purchased the land at the corner of Prince and Sullivan Streets.  They erected four houses--two facing Prince and two on Sullivan Street--but oddly enough left the corner plot empty.

It was not until around 1830 that Henry Hopper began construction of a Federal-style house on the lot.  Two-and-a-half stories tall, it was faced in red Flemish bond brick and trimmed in brownstone.  The attic floor would have had tall dormers and a short stone stoop would have risen to the entrance.

If Henry Hopper, who made his living as a cartman, ever lived in the house it is unclear how long.  But by the first years of the 1840s it was home to the Hallenbeck family.

Hallenbeck was involved in a disturbing incident on June 26, 1841.  The New-York Tribune reported three days later "As Mr. Hallenbeck, who resides at 129 Sullivan street, was returning to the city on Saturday evening last, on the Bloomingdale road [known as Broadway today], about 5 miles from the city, he accidentally run over a child, which was lying in the road."

Hallenbeck stopped and "paid every attention to the little sufferer."   The little girl, Mary McGillen, belong to a local Irish immigrant family.  Rather surprisingly to modern readers, although Hallenbck supposed that the child "could not survive long," he left after deciding she was being well taken care of.

On Monday morning he went to the Coroner's office and told his story.  He was surprised to hear that the accident had not been reported to the Coroner, since he was certain the girl had to be dead by now.  An investigation showed that Alderman Bradhurst had already held an inquest, without the Coroner's presence.  The conclusion was that "The jury found that she came to her death by being run over by a carriage, unknown to this jury."

The reporter for the New-York Tribune was irate--apparently to the point of destroying his grammar skills.  "Had Ald. Bradhurst taken the trouble to make the necessary inquires who the gentleman was that run over the child, or had he even sent for the Coroner himself, the public would have had before them the whole of the particular in relation to this affair, as the Coroner or his deputy was at his office, and could have been found at any moment."

Before 1850 John Christopher Hashagen and his family moved into the house.  He transformed the parlor floor for his grocery store and extended the building to the rear.

Hashagen was born in Hanover, Germany on August 31, 1814 and was married to the former Friederike Charlotte Meredith.  The couple had five children, including Caroline who was born in the house in 1850.  The family lived above the store.

The extension was apparently used for the meetings of Hashagen's club.  On July 15, 1851 The New York Herald announced "The Old Tops of the Eighth ward will go on their next annual chowder excursion, to Sheep's Head Bay, on next Wednesday, the 16th of July.  They will start at 4  o'clock, A. M., from their headquarters, John C. Hashagen's, corner of Prince and Sullivan streets, with Kipp & Brown's splendid six horse stage."

The use of the stage made the chowder excursion doubly pleasurable for the men.  Coaching in the mid-19th century was a fashionable pastime for upscale groups.  The Herald added that "N. B. Reuben drives."

It would appear that a relative or friend of the Hashagen family from their homeland was staying here in the spring of 1854.  An advertisement in The New York Herald on March 10 read "A respectable young girl, lately arrived from Germany, wishes to obtain a situation in a genteel American or German family.  She would like to go as chambermaid of seamstress.  Has a good knowledge of the French language.  Satisfactory references as to respectability."

A similar advertisement appeared 11 years later.  On November 14, 1865 the same newspaper ran the ad "Wanted--By a respectable German girl, a situation as waitress or chambermaid in a private family."  The girl used the address of the side entrance leading upstairs, No. 186 Prince Street.


The following year Hashagen raised the attic level to a full third floor; and in 1869 added a fourth floor and an up-to-date Italianate cornice.  Interestingly, in both renovations the Federal-style paneled lentils were reproduced, providing an architectural cohesiveness.

In 1870 Caroline, who was known as Carrie, married John A. Meredith.   Carried was 19 years old and her groom was 28.  Tragedy visited the young couple on July, 18, 1873 when their one-year old son, Walter Hashagen Meredith, died "of cholera infantum."  The now-rare disease attacked young children, most often in congested neighborhoods and during periods of high heat and humidity.

The heart-breaking funeral of the toddler was held in the Hashagen's Prince Street house the following Sunday afternoon.

John Hashagen's business apparently flourished.  In 1876 he rented space in H. F. Kahrens's stable on No. 209 Sullivan Street for his horses.  The $1,019 lease would equate to more than $23,000 today.  The need for a team of horses, most likely for delivery purpose, might reflected Hashagen's change in businesses.   By 1882 he was listed as "furniture" rather than the grocery business.

On August 3, 1880 a society journalist for The New York Times gushed on about a new and fashionable resort, Richfield Springs, New York.  The writer insisted that there "shoddyism" was unknown.  "The 20 or more hotels and boarding-houses have accommodations for between 2,000 and 3,000 strangers, and they are all full to overflowing, mainly with New-Yorkers," she said.  "A striking feature of the attendance is the high social standing of the visitors."

John and Friederike Hashagen had come far from the day they stepped off the steamer from Germany.  Among the guests at the Park Place Hotel, where "the ladies dress richly but sensibly" were the Hashagens.

The couple's elevated status no doubt contributed to their leaving the Prince Street building they had called home for three decades.  In 1883 J. Kroeger paid $75 for his excise license, allowing him to transform John Hashagen's former grocery store into a saloon.

The building was owned by J. Rennan in 1886, when he constructed a "two-story brick storage" building a block away at the corner of Prince Street and South Fifth Avenue (later renamed West Broadway).

As the neighborhood filled with immigrants by the turn of the century, No. 186 Prince Street became a rooming house.  The tenant list was made up of mostly Italian surnames, like that of Paola Alfieri who died in her room on February 19, 1903 at the age of 64.

Unfortunately, while the majority of the new Italian-Americans were hard-working, blue collar citizens; their reputations were stained by the violence and criminal activities of others.  In the first years of the 20th century violent anarchist groups like La Mano Nera (or the Black Hand) and syndicates like the Mafia and Comorra wielded power and terror throughout most of the century.

On June 24, 1927 at around 4:00 in the afternoon, a five-alarm fire raged in the Bishop Warehouse Company Building on Greenwich Street.  The New York Times reported that it "tied up traffic and darkened the financial district with heavy clouds of black smoke, causing a million dollar loss."

Investigators soon determined that it was deliberately set "to conceal the theft of a huge quantities of drugs and liquors."  Federal agents tracked the gangsters to No. 186 Prince Street.  Twenty-eight year old Alexander Psaki and 30-year old John Courmalis were arrested and held on $50,000 bail each.

Assistant U. S. District Attorney Carl E. Newton maintained "the men had been members of a gang which had taken goods from the warehouse which would probably amount to a million dollars."  This, he said, was just the last in a long string of "systematic thefts."

The one constant in New York City neighborhoods is change.  In the second half of the century the Little Italy neighborhood took on the influence of the now-trendy Soho district.

Writing in The New York Times on February 11, 1965 Philip H. Dougherty reported on the city's discotheques, of which there were currently 15.  "A proper discotheque, as it was introduced in France," he explained, is a dark, intimate boite de nuit where the music is supplied by hi-fi stereophonic sound systems tended by a disk jockey.

And residents of No. 186 Prince Street had come up with a clever way to capitalize on the craze.  Dougherty described Killer Joe Piro as "by appointment, dancing master to the jet set."  He partnered with disk jockey, Slim Hyatt, "a tall, 35-year-old, thin-faced and soft-spoken Panamanian" and a group called the Porpoise--all living in the Prince Street building--to turn any "home club or hotel into a discotheque."

Dougherty referred to their partnership as "discotheque-to-take-out."  For $50 an hour they would supply the turntables, speakers, and records.  By the time of the article the Williams Club had used the group's services three times.  Its manager said "The people just didn't want to go home."

The Soho-like atmosphere seemed assured when the Prince Street Gallery opened in October 1974.  But it eventually moved on.  The ground floor space where John Hashagen sold groceries, J. Kroeger ran his saloon, and contemporary art was sold is now a corner newsstand where neighbor can purchase their Lotto tickets.


Hashagen's 1850s storefront was long ago obliterated; but the upper floors are little changed since his last alteration in 1869.

photographs by the author

Friday, August 25, 2017

The 1887 Church of the Redeemer - 239-241 E 62nd Street



In 1850 German immigrants were settling in two distinct areas of Manhattan--the crowded Lower East Side and the developing Yorkville neighborhood to the north.   Slightly to the south of Yorkville was the estate of Adam Tredwell (sometimes spelled Treadwell).

Tredwell died in 1852 and his "farm" was soon divided into lots.  An 1868 agreement among property owners set standards for construction and disallowed undesirable businesses (like slaughterhouses and breweries).  The area also attracted German-speaking citizens; but these were not the working class settlers filling jobs in Yorkville's cigar factories and such.

The Presbytery of New York recognized the need for a new church to serve the growing population.  In 1886 construction started on the modest brick and stone Church of the Redeemer.  The Presbytery had commissioned architect Samuel A. Warner, who had just completed work on its tiny Victorian Gothic mission house at No. 420 West 57th Street.  The Church of the Redeemer would share many of its architectural elements, on a larger scale.

Completed at a cost of $20,000--about $521,000 today--the 50-foot wide structure was designed with rigid symmetry.  The central portion projected slightly and rose to a peaked gable a story higher than the flanking sections.  The simple but handsome entrance portico was supported by buttresses; its sharply angled gable pierced with an eye-catching oriel.  An especially attractive rose window dominated the upper section.

The German-language congregation worshiped here until the turn of the century.  Typical of Presbyterian groups at the time, the Church of the Redeemer was active in outreach to the poor.  As late as 1900 The New York Charities Directory noted its "mission and relief work, among tenement houses."

But by the time of that listing the Church of the Redeemer was leasing the main building to another German congregation, the Bethlehem Lutheran Church.  Finally, on May 22, 1901 The New York Times reported "The Presbytery of New York has sold the church property 241 East Sixty-second Street to the present tenants, the Lutheran Church Society."

Bethlehem Lutheran Church quickly turned the building over to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Matthew.  But they, too, would not stay long.

When this photograph was taken in 1905, the German Lutheran Bethlehem Church worshiped here.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

In the years just prior to the outbreak of World War I the neighborhood saw a new wave of immigrants, the Hungarians.  In February 1913 the Church of St. Matthew sold the building to the Home of Christian Hungarian Sick Benevolent Society.  The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide noted "The buyer will remodel the present building and use it for its own purposes."

Those purposes were a bit more secular.  The church was remodeled into was described as a "meeting room."  The activities here were now starkly different.  On January 14, 1914, for instance, The Times reported "The Hungarian-American A. C. will hold its second annual wrestling tournament on Jan 23 and 24 at the clubhouse, 239 East Sixty-second Street."

Immigrant communities formed sports groups aimed to keep boys off the streets and out of pool rooms and saloons.  The Times noted "Among the clubs entered are the Boys' Club, Bronx Church House, Scandinavian-American Athletic League, Greek-America, German-American, and several branches of the W M. C. A."

Later that year, in April, the Christian Hungarian Society hired architect I. Leitersdorfer to fire-proof the "one-story brick meeting room."  The cost of the project was $400, nearly $10,000 by today's standards.

But like its predecessors, the Hungarians would soon leave.  On January 23, 1919 the New-York Tribune announced that the Christian Hungarian Sick Benevolent Societies of New York had sold the property to Philip Leone for $40,000; only slightly more in relative terms than the original construction cost.

Just a year earlier the Rev. Philip Leone had founded the Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of Peace.  Born in Italy, he was ordained there in 1903 and came to the United States shortly afterward.  Interestingly, he founded the Church of Our Lady of Peace before becoming officially affiliated with the Archdiocese of New York in 1919, according to The New York Times later.

Rev. Leone also organized the first branch of the Italian Holy Name Society and the first Italian chapter of the Catholic Daughters of America.

Now that his Italian-speaking congregation had a building, it immediately laid plans to restore the sanctuary to a house of worship.  Architect Thomas J. Duff completed plans "for alterations and extensions" late in 1920.  Construction, costing $30,000, began early in 1921.

 The result was a jewel-box interior of white plastered walls decorated with delicate gold stenciling and frescoes. 

photographed by Steven Thomas Moy on June 14, 2013, via oldchurchnyc.typepad.com

Rev. Leone served as pastor of the Italian congregation until his death in 1945.  The Church of Our Lady of Peace continued to serve its parishioners as generations were baptized, married and their funerals held in the familiar sanctuary.

Then, on July 31, 2015 ABC News reported "A nearly century old Catholic church on the Upper East Side held its final mass Friday afternoon."  Congregants had been caught off guard by the New York Archdiocese's decision to close 112 churches in a cost-cutting consolidation.

Even as Father Bartholomew Daly offered Communion for the last time, parishioners were hopeful.  An appeal had already been sent directly to the Vatican, pleading for papal intervention.   Five volumes of documents outlined the congregation's history, its mission and its importance to the community.

The church was locked and the congregation officially merged with St. John the Evangelist on East 55th Street.  But many recalcitrant parishioners refused to give up the fight.  Mass was held outside Our Lady of Peace and every day for two years they gathered on the steps, despite rain or snow, to light candles and pray.  Petitions, letters, and fundraisers sought to pressure Catholic officials to reopen their church.  A group called the Friends of Our Lady of Peace hired attorneys and appealed the closing.

Finally, two years after sending their appeal to the Vatican, the congregation got a response.  Despite gathering 4,000 signatures of support and $500,000 to prove that the church was financially self-sufficient, the Vatican's Congregation of the Clergy ruled in favor of the New York Archdiocese.

In January 2017 representatives of the congregation announce plans to appeal.  But it was all too late.  Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan had been working on his own plans.  Under his direction the Archdiocese leased the building to the Coptic Orthodox Church, an ancient Egyptian-based Christian denomination.

The New York Times reported on March 5, "The lease is the first stage of a plan to transform the church into the Coptic Church's New York cathedral, an idea that both Cardinal Dolan and Coptic leaders say Pope Francis has blessed."


And so the little brick church, having served German Presbyterians, German Lutherans, Hungarian Christians, and Italian Catholics, enters its newest chapter.  In the meantime, other than a paint job, little has changed outwardly to the Samuel A. Warner's charming structure.

photographs by the author