Monday, December 18, 2017

The Lost Wm. B. Leeds Mansion - 987 Fifth Avenue

photo from Fifth Avenue New York City, 1911 (copyright expired)
William W. and Thomas M. Hall were prolific developers at the turn of the last century.  At a time when millionaires were lining Fifth Avenue across from Central Park with lavish palaces, the brothers joined the trend with speculative residences that held their own among the custom-designed mansions.

In 1899 they purchased the plot at 987 Fifth Avenue, just south of 80th Street, and commissioned the firm of Welch, Smith & Provot to design an opulent townhouse.  The $86,000 purchase price of the lot was evidence of the exclusive nature of the neighborhood.  It would equal about $2.6 million today.

In the meantime, a remarkable story had played out in the Midwest.  William B. Leeds was born in Indiana in 1856.  The New-York Tribune would later say of him, "His parents were poor and he made his first business venture in a very humble role--that of florist in his native town of Richmond."   In 1883, following his marriage to Jeanette Irene Gaar, the daughter of a Richmond banker, he was given a job with the Pennsylvania Railroad by a relative of his new wife.

In an astonishing Horatio Alger-worthy story, while working as a train conductor Leeds met and became friends with Daniel G. Reid who had a similar job on the railroad.   Within a few years the two young men left the railroad, pooled their savings, and purchased the controlling interest in a small tin plate mill in Richmond.  Energetic, ambitious and resourceful, they grew their business, acquiring more and more mills until they had formed the American Tin Plate Company which dominated the industry.

In 1901, the partners sold their corporation to the United States Steel Company for $46 million (about $1.3 billion today).   Leeds and Reid both returned to the railroads--now as controlling owners and executives of several lines.

Like his partner, William B. Leeds moved to New York City.  He had obtained a divorce in 1900 and, as reported by the New-York Tribune, "soon after Mr. Leeds married Mrs. Nannie May Stewart Worthing, also of Richmond, who had obtained a divorce from her husband, George Worthington."  The implication of extra-marital dalliance was clear.  His son by his first marriage, Rudolph, was sent off to the exclusive Phillips Andover Academy in Massachusetts.

Now William shopped for a new home, what The Virginia Enterprise deemed on April 19, 1901 "a gift for his bride."  That gift was No. 987 Fifth Avenue.   In March he paid W. W. & T. M. Hall $260,000 for the new mansion--more than $7.5 million in today's dollars.   The architects had produced a five story bowed-front confection of brick and limestone.  Its Beaux Arts facade was frosted with fussy French inspired decorations--broken pediments, garlanded cartouches, and iron window railings.  A stone balcony with wrought iron railings girded the fifth floor.  It along with the heavy bracketed cornice and crown-like balustrade gave the mansion a somewhat top-heavy appearance.

Rather surprising to some society columnists, Nonnie (familiarly known as Nancy) managed to slip into fashionable circles rather quickly.   On December 10, 1903 The Saint Paul Globe rather meanly wrote "Another member has been admitted to the ultra-fashionable set.  The newest 'arrival' is Mrs. William B. Leeds, the wife of the tinplate millionaire.  Mrs. Leeds forced her entry through the Long Island set, and, thanks to the Belmont family, she was introduced to every one worth while...Two years ago the second Mrs. Leeds did not exist for the New York set.  When Mr. and Mrs. Leeds settled in the house in No. 987 Fifth avenue, her neighbors said: 'Who, pray, is Mrs. Leeds, anyway?'

Nonnie "Nancy" Leeds - original source unknown

The catty columnist continued, "But Mrs. Leeds did not unbend and the neighbors saw a correctly gowned and graceful young woman going to and from her splendid victoria.  In Palm Beach last spring she put forth her claim as candidate for the right set.  Her husband is said to be worth $30,000,000 and this was her passport."

The neighbors included Hugh A. Murray (left), William J. Curtis next door, and the twin mansions of brothers Irving and Horace Brokaw.  from Fifth Avenue New York City, 1911 (copyright expired)

Nancy entertained lavishly in her new home and in the summer estate William leased on Long Island.  Her charm won over socially important women like Mrs. George Gould, Mrs. Henry H. Flagler and Mrs. Perry Belmont.  The Saint Paul Globe said "soon Mrs. Leeds was seen motoring with Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt Jr., and coaching with the Whitneys."

The Indianapolis Journal described her as "petite, with very delicate features.  She dresses remarkably well, prefers tints rather than colors, and is an extremely dainty figure in organdie or any light fabrics."

While Nancy was busy edging her way into high society, her husband focused on spending money.  On February 10, 1902 he launched his new 261-foot yacht the Norma, named for Nonnie.  The vessel, which cost him $500,000, had electric lighting and heating, and telegraph.

The Evening World reported that each of the vessel's eight state rooms had its own bath.  "A very elegant library extends the full width of the ship.  Galley, pantry, dining-room and smoking-room are situated in the main deck-house.  The women's sitting room is on the shade deck."  Leeds "elegant quarters" included a private office, state-room and bath.

Even though Leeds already owned a country home in Lakewood, New Jersey, in February 1902 he paid Thomas F. Young $200,000 for 400-acres near Theodore Roosevelt's Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay, Long Island.  The Evening World reported "Mr. Leeds intends to build a large country place in the fashionable colony."  

The Music Room is pictured above.  Below is the Dining Room with its stained glass windows, beamed ceiling and highly unusual marble mantel.  photographer unknown from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

In the meantime, young Reginald had managed to spark a news story that was reported across the country.  In the fall of 1902 both William and Nancy were ill.  While she rested in the Fifth Avenue mansion, William went to Hot Springs, Arkansas late in September to recuperate.

Sixteen-year old Rudolph read with interest the reports on the ongoing coup in Columbia.  In mid September he slipped away from his prep school "to help General Uribe-Uribe overthrow the government there," according to the Iowa newspaper the Evening Times-Republican.

The teen managed to get to Colon, where he purchased a ticket for Panama.  But by now his father had learned of his adventure.  Leeds contacted the American Consul General at Panama, H. A. Gudger, who was waiting when the train arrived.

"So when Mr. Leeds, full of martial enthusiasm, left the train and approached the first native who looked like a rebel, asking to be directed to the nearest camp, he was promptly captured by Mr. Gudger."  Reginald was packed onto the next steamship to New York.

William's masculine library (above) was a contrast to Nancy's very French "salon."   photographer unknown from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Reginald had a new half brother at the time.  William B. Leeds, Jr. was born on September 19, 1902.  Nancy redid one room of the mansion into a "playroom," a boy-cave that would make even an Astor or Vanderbilt child envious.

One end of little William's playroom shows shelves for toys which, when carefully put away, could be hidden behind curtains.    photographer unknown from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
A large staff of servants meant that motherhood did not interrupt Nancy's social calendar.   In February 1903 she took a risk which was sure to make the social columns when she planned a benefit "winter garden party" on Lincoln's Birthday at the Lakewood estate.  The New-York Tribune, on February 8, asked "What will happen in the event that a blizzard should chance to come, is of course a question, but the plan is to have a corps of young women in summer gowns and shade hats serve at tea tables among the trees on the lawn, while other summery young ladies wander about among the throng selling home-made candy, cake and valentines, and fancy and useful articles."
That summer, while the Oyster Bay house was being constructed, the Leeds summered in fashionable Saratoga.  The Indianapolis Journal noted that Nancy "has already made many friends at Saratoga...among her friends are Mrs. Sydney Smith, Mrs. Miller and Mrs. Oliver H. P. Belmont."

William Leeds was operated on for appendicitis that year.  He seemed to have come through the procedure with no problems; but then on December 3, 1905 The New York Times reported that he "is suffering from partial paralysis as a result of an operation for appendicitis performed two years ago."  The newspaper insisted, however, that "his condition was not serious and he was not even confined to his bed."  Leeds recovered, but it was obvious that the paralysis was not a result of his operation, but a stroke.

William and Nancy continued to broaden their social horizons, including buying the former Frederick W. Vanderbilt cottage, Rough Point, in Newport for half a million dollars.  But Leeds's health problems continued.  Towards the end of 1906 he suffered another stroke which again resulted in partial paralysis.  He traveled to Paris to consult a specialist.  (While her husband recuperated, Nancy went shopping, spending $340,000 on pearls at the Paris jewelry shop of Bernard Citroen.)

After about a year in France, the Leeds returned to New York in November 1907.  Two weeks later William suffered yet another stroke.  Once again his condition was downplayed in the press.  The New-York Tribune, on November 24, assured "The physicians who attended Mr. Leeds said that quiet and rest for a few days would put him in shape again."

William, Nancy and little William returned to Paris.  On the morning of June 23, 1908 the 52-year old died in their suite in the Hotel Ritz.  The New-York Tribune mentioned "Intimate friends in Paris to-day estimated his wealth at $35,000,000.

Four days later a funeral was held in Holy Trinity Church, "the American Church in Paris," according to the New-York Tribune.  The newspaper noted "Many prominent Americans were present."

On July 1 Leeds's casket was taken aboard the German steamship Kronprinz Wilhelm.  It arrived in New York on July 7 and the following afternoon a second funeral was held in the Fifth Avenue mansion.

William B. Leeds A National Register of the Society, Sons of the American Revolution, 1902 (copyright expired)

William's will left nearly his entire estate to Nancy and William, Jr.  Rudolph, now 22 years old and married, received $1 million--a relative sliver of the total which prompted The Richmond Palladium to opine "It would surprise none of Mr. Leeds' friends if the proceedings for probate were followed by a spirited contest."

But Rudolph accepted his father's decision, saying "The will of my father has been read and I am perfectly familiar with its contents.  The provisions of this will are entirely satisfactory to me."

Following her period of mourning, Nancy resumed her social life.  She sent William Jr. to the New Jersey estate where he attended the Montclair Academy.  He was reportedly surrounded by a staff of 20 servants and was escorted everywhere by two private detectives.   The six-year old had his own chauffeur and footman.

Nancy spent less and less time at No. 987 Fifth Avenue.  On January 1, 1911 The Sun reported "Mrs. William B. Leeds now has a home in London.  Few American hostesses have entertained so elaborately as she since the end of her period of mourning allowed her to give parties.  She has been welcomed there with a cordiality that indicates that she will probably find it to her taste to live there permanently."

Later that year, in July, The Sun mentioned that Rough Point "has been closed most of the time."  But it was rumored that Nancy would make a brief appearance in Newport.  "The expectation is now that Mrs. William B. Leeds will spend a few weeks at the resort.  She has a home in London and has taken a place in Scotland."

By the time of that article Nancy had sold No. 987 to Walter Lewisohn.  In reporting on the sale the Record & Guide pointed out that the Leeds had spent about $70,000 in "interior decorations and alterations."  The New York Times added "Although the house was magnificently fitted up by the Halls, Mr. Leeds added a marble hall and staircase and refitted the interior."  Included in the $350,000 sale price was "a portion of the furniture collected abroad by Mr. Leeds," said the Record & Guide.

photographer unknown, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

As a side note, Nancy married Prince Christopher of Greece in 1920, becoming Princess Anastasia of Greece and Denmark.  While visiting his mother the following year William met the 17-year old Princess Xenia of Greece.  Within 24 hours they were engaged, causing Nancy to weep for three days and nights, according to reports.

Walter Lewisohn and his wife, the former Selma Kraus, had one son, Walter, Jr.  Lewisohn was 31 years old when he purchased No. 987.  The Yale-educated broker was also vice-president and director of the Salt Lake Copper Co., an officer in the Tennessee Copper Co. and the Lewisohn Exploration & Mining Co., and a partner in the firm of banking firm Lewisohn Brothers.

The Lewisohns maintained a summer estate new Eatontown, New Jersey.  Selma's entertainments in the Fifth Avenue house were often grand, like the dance and supper she gave on Tuesday, January 27, 1914.

The entrance hall (above) and the first floor landing   photographer unknown from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Walter and Selma were drawn into a murder investigation in 1920.  They had dinner with Joseph Bowne Elwell and Selma's sister, Viola Kraus, on June 10 at the Ritz-Carlton Roof, then attended the midnight show at the New Amsterdam Theatre.  After the show everyone went their separate ways.

The following morning Elwell was found in the front hall of his home with a bullet hole in his head.  On June 14 the Lewisohns, Viola and her estranged husband were taken to the Elwell house for questioning.  The were released without suspicion; however the taint of the investigation remained for years.  The case was  never solved.

Shortly afterward Lewisohn suffered heavy losses in the stock market.  It was all too much for him to handle and on May 22, 1923 Selma committed him to the Blythewood Sanitarium for the Insane in Greenwich, Connecticut.

With her income gone and the Lewisohn fortune greatly depleted, Selma took to the operatic concert stage as Mme. Marie Selma.  She sold No. 987 to Elizabeth Carmichael in 1920 for $375,000.   Carmichael leased the furnished house to wealthy tenants like Colonel John F. Daniell, charging $40,000 a year.  But following the Stock Market crash, she lost it in foreclosure to the Franklin Savings Bank in May 1933.

After it sat vacant for more than five years, the bank sold the mansion in December 1939.  Writing in The New York Times, Lee E. Cooper said the old residence "has joined the long list of fine old Manhattan homes which are marked for early demolition."  But it received a reprieve of sorts, instead being converted to three- and four-room apartments within the year.

By the time No. 987 was sold again in 1959 the balustrade was gone and a sixth floor had appeared, set back on the roof.  Rather surprisingly it survived for nearly a decade.  Then, on January 31, 1968 The Times announced that the three old mansions at Nos. 985, 986 and 987 Fifth Avenue had been purchased by developer Bernard Spitzer.

Within the year the once elegant homes were gone, replaced by the 25-story 985 Fifth Avenue.  Among the building's most visible residents was the builder's son, New York Governor Eliot Spitzer.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The John & Hannah Burrows House - 112 West 17th Street

Originally a stone stoop led to the parlor floor.  Very close inspection reveals the scares of the openings just above the  storefront awnings.
On November 30, 1850 auctioneer A. J. Bleecker advertised the "private sale" of the property at No. 82 West 17th Street.   Included was "The Front and Rear House and Lot Ground."  Back buildings were common at the time.  Sometimes they were a small stable or shop; but in this case it was a two story wooden house with a brick basement.

Bleecker's announcement described the newly-constructed main house as "built of brick, 3 stories high, with basement and counter cellar, finished in good style, with marble mantels in parlor, &c."  It featured an attractive convenience--running water--described as "Croton water throughout."  Bleecker noted that the houses had been custom-built, stressing "both built by the owner."

The red brick main house, designed in the lately popular Greek Revival style, was trimmed in brownstone.  Its no-nonsense wooden cornice included a simple fascia board and blocky brackets.

The property did not sell until March the following year, bringing $6,000 at auction, just under $195,000 today.  It became home to John and Hannah Burrows, a respectable middle-aged couple.

Upon her husband's death in 1857, Hannah rented rooms for income.  Her advertisement on January 18, 1858 read "A widow lady, having more room than she needs, can accommodate a gentleman and lady with a neatly furnished back parlor; board for the lady; no other boarders taken."  Why Hannah offered to feed the woman but not the man is puzzling.

Her first boarder was "Miss Tice" who was possibly a school teacher.  She moved in at a time when New York City was plagued with a rash of burglaries.  And not long afterward, in May 1857, she became a victim.

Two months later, on July 25, The New York Herald wrote "Since the arrest of Cancemi, the Italian burglar and murderer, persons who have lost property within the last few months, have been besieging the property clerk of the Police Commissioner with description of their lost property and applications to see if any of it is among the articles found in Cancemi's possession."  Among those besiegers was Miss Tice.   Her list of expensive-sounding stolen goods was identified as Lot No. 56:

Miss Tice, 82 West Seventeenth street, lost about two months since: Red crape shawl, white [crepe shawl], silk velvet cloak, set of furs, tan colored silk dress, black silk basque, 3 mantillas, plain and figured; figured silk dress, 8 lockets, one with a likeness and chain; 7 breastpins, 3 pair earrings, 2 bracelets, cameo.

Hannah Burrows was 62 years old in 1858 and it appears she needed help now that she was taking in more boarders.  An advertisement in The New York Herald on January 26 that year sought "A girl to cook, wash and iron...must be cleanly and active."  Hannah offered wages of between $4 or $5, presumably depending on experience.  It was acceptable pay for an unskilled girl, equal to about $150 a week on the higher end.

The following year another widow, Mrs. Bloodgood, had taken rooms in the house.  On December 2 she suffered an emotional loss when she dropped her pocketbook in an Eighth Avenue street car.  Inside were a pair of gold earrings, $1.65 in change and "an old American silver dollar."  She placed a plea for their return in The New York Herald offering a $5 reward.  "The Pocketbook and silver dollar were the gifts of a deceased husband," she explained.

Hannah rented the rear house to black families.  There were four families living in the two-story building in 1861.  That fall a horrific accident occurred.

Peter Johnson and his wife lived in the second floor.  She was about 40-years old and severely afflicted with rheumatism.  Alone on the evening of September 30 between 8:00 and 9:00, she was carrying a lit kerosene lamp when she fell.  The New York Herald reported "One of the occupants of the lower part of the house heard Mrs. Johnson scream murder, and ran upstairs.  On entering the room witnessed [her] on the floor, in one blaze of fire, and the flames at the same time rushing out of the bedroom."

The unfortunate woman had already burned to death.  Fire fighters extinguished the blaze, but all the families were essentially wiped out.  The article said "The greater part of their household effects were destroyed by fire and water."  Saying the house was owned by "Mrs. Burroughs" [sic], the newspaper put the damaged to the little building at $500.  Hannah's losses were covered by insurance; but sadly "The tenants were not insured."

Hannah continued to hire young girls to help with the chores.  In August that year she advertised for "A smart, tidy girl to do general housework; must be a good washer and ironer, willing and obliging."  She made certain that applicants did not intrude into the marble manteled parlors.  "Apply at 82 West 17th st.; basement door."

In 1868 West 17th Street was renumbered, and Hannah Burrow's house became No. 112.  She died there on the morning of May 18 that year at the age of 72.  Her funeral was held in the nearby home of her daughter, who was married to John Roberts, Jr., at No. 205 West 18th Street.

The new owners continued to rent rooms, and like Hannah Burrows, were particular in their boarders.  An advertisement in The New York Herald on April 24, 1872 was clear;  "Desirable rooms--three, private house, gas and water, to a good party, without children."  And two years later a similar ad listed "Four cosey unfurnished rooms, on second floor, to a gentleman and wife; house private; no children; water, gas and closets; excellent neighborhood; rent $18."  The rent would equal a little over $390 per month today.

By around 1880 the house became the property of George D. Pitzipio and his wife, the former Adriene Owens.  The Pitzipio family was well-to-do and owned several other buildings throughout the city.  Adriene was the great-granddaughter of Lt. Jonathan Owens, earning her a membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution.

By now Sixth Avenue was a major shopping thoroughfare and the Pitzipios converted the basement level of No. 112 to a shop.  They leased it to George Meylan whose jewelry store lured female shoppers from the retail emporiums on the avenue.  But on Friday evening, March 9, 1888 it attracted a far different group.

Meylan was out and his wife was running the store when four men entered.  The New York Times reported "One of the men engaged Mrs. Meylan in conversation about repairing a clock, while the others remained outside.  When the man came out of the store, the others quickly tied the knob of the store to the railing and then smashed the window."

The crooks had only enough time to grab a single gold watch before being frightened away by passersby who heard Mrs. Meylan's screams.  Someone cut the rope and, with the thieves still in sight, the feisty Mrs. Meylan ran after them.  Undaunted by the breach of feminine decorum, she flew into a saloon on Seventh Avenue and 25th Street where they had disappeared.  By now she was accompanied by a policeman who arrested all four.

Mrs. Meylan was, as it turned out, lucky.  The police identified Willliam (alias "Mule") McGuire, John Redmond, Jame Donohue, and John Thompson as members of the "Rocky Road Gang."

The jewelry store was gone by 1891 when Madame R. Antoinette ran her dressmaking shop here.  Promising good wages, she was looking for a "skirt hand, one able to drape" that year.

In 1893 Madame Antoinette moved her business far north to West 124th Street.  The space was taken by another dressmaker, Madame Marie.  (Dressmakers, no matter how American, quite often gave themselves the fashionable French form of address.)   In May 1897 as the summer season was about to begin, she promised "Every description summer gowns; Paris designs exclusively; moderate prices; short notice."

In the meantime, the Pitzipios leased rooms in the upper floors to a less respectable grade of tenant than Hannah Burrows would have tolerated.  Perhaps the most colorful was Kate Kiernan who lived here by 1902.  Now 56 years old, she was well known to law enforcement on the Bowery.  The New-York Tribune later said of her "She first appeared there when a pretty girl of fifteen, and at once took her place at Suicide Hall, the Fleabag and the other dives."

In the week following Christmas 1902 Father Van Rensselaer of the nearby Church of St. Francis Xavier was at his wits' end.  He complained to the West 30th Street police station of "the practice of dilapidated women entering the church early in the morning and remaining there most of the day."  He told police that some of them begged among the crowds of shoppers on Sixth Avenue, "and made the church their headquarters."

In addition, according to The New-York Tribune, the "pastor asserted they littered the floor with the crumbs of their luncheons, and were uncleanly."  On December 30 Officer Neal Brown went to the church and arrested three women, including Kate Kiernan.

At the station house 70-year old Ann Cox told Sergeant Sweeney that she was homeless.  But when she mentioned that she had been born in County Donegal, Ireland, his eyes widened.  Not only was that the county where he had been born, but it was also the birthplace of Officer Brown.

As Kate listened, the sergeant chastised the arresting officer.  "What do you mean by arresting a girl from your own county, Brown?"  The policeman replied "Really, I didn't know her birthplace, sergeant."

The Tribune reported "Kate Kiernan proudly informed Sergeant Sweeney that she, too, was born in Donegal."

In a somewhat tragic sidenote, Kate Kiernan came to a gruesome end on December 26, 1915.  She was back on the Bowery, at the Tub of Blood Saloon, where, according to the Tribune, she often went.  The newspaper ran the headline "Belle of Old Bowery Killed by Trolley Car" and began the article saying "Faint echoes of the days when the Bowery was gayer than it has been for many years were aroused in the rum-ridden breasts of those who used to frequent McGurk's Suicide Hall, the Fleabag Saloon, and other notorious dives when the mangled body of Kate Kiernan, once gayest of the gay in the life of the district, was extricated from the tracks of a Madison Avenue car at Second Street and the Bowery last night.  The woman did not hear the warning bell."

Before then tailor Harry Feinberg had taken over the store space.  He advertised himself as "ladies' tailor and furrier; moderate prices."  But when he was arrested on August 29, 1906, he was less eager to disclose his profession.

It seems that Feinberg also had a nefarious side when it came to making money.  On that night William Cohen of Brooklyn was walking up Broadway near 29th Street when a gang of men attacked him.  He was knocked to the ground and the thugs began going through his pockets.  As he struggled, his watch was snatched from his pocket and a stickpin pulled from his tie.

His calls for help alerted Patrolman Landis who arrived just in time to see one of the thieves rushing away.  The New-York Tribune reported "He followed with a hundred men at his heels.  The cry 'Stop thief!' was raised and the crowd grew."  Calling the civilians "a large crowd, fresh from the theatres," the newspaper said they finally cornered him in a cafe on 29th Street near Broadway.

It was Harry Feinberg.   Although he admitted his address, he was creative in hiding his business.  "When captured the prisoner said...that he is a pugilist, and is known in pugilistic circles as 'Harvey Fern.'"

George Pitzipio died around 1886.  Following Adrienne's death in 1913, No. 112 was passed to Demetrius G. O. Pitzipio and his wife, Evelyn.   The couple converted the old house to a "tenant factory."  In doing so they installed an iron fire escape on the front of the building.

The Pitzipios' handsome iron fire escapes have a rather French feel.

Demetrius was gone, fighting for the U.S. Navy in 1917.  In his absence Evelyn received a notice from the Department of Buildings ordering that an interior stairway be extended to the roof as a means of escaping fire.   When Demetrius was called to testify in September 1918 as to why the violations were not corrected, the Board of Appeals seems to have been patriotically moved to excuse him.  Citing the facts that he had been serving his country, and that the building was "fireproof" and had fire escapes, the Board dismissed the violations.

When Selmar Pfieffer purchased No. 112 in July 1920, the front building was described as a three-story brick loft and store, and the rear structure as a two-story frame shop.  But it would not remain that way for long.

Pfieffer appears to have returned the building to rented rooms.  That year's census showed 30-year old actor Richard E. Cramer living here with his 32-year old wife, Hilda.  Hilda's occupation was listed as "Keeper--Lodging House."  A lodging house was the lowest form of rented accommodations where beds or cots were available by the night for a few cents.  Cramer's theatrical career finally took off and around 1928 he and Hilda moved to Hollywood where he became a familiar face as a supporting actor in Westerns.

In 1931 No. 112 was returned to factory space with a store on the ground level.  As the Chelsea neighborhood experienced a rebirth, so did that shop.  In 1988 it was home to the Chelsea Ceramics Gallery where children attended weekly classes and "let their imaginations roam free," according to co-owner Joy JanSan.

By 1994 the space was home to the Alley Cat Gallery, which also staged intimate theatrical productions.  Currently the shops on either side of the entrance contain Pippin Vintage Jewelry and Pippin Home.  Although the brick has been painted, the stoop long ago removed, and modern storefronts installed; it is not difficult to imagine the house as it appeared in 1850 when the block was lined with similar comfortable dwellings.

photographs by the author

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Audubon Terrace Complex - Broadway and 155th Street

The complex as it appeared around 1926  In the foreground facing Broadway are the Museum of the American Indian to the left, and the American Geographical Society  .  photo by Brown Brothers from the collection of the New York Public Library
Arabella Huntington was one of the most colorful and certainly among the wealthiest women in America in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  The long-time mistress of the married and much older  millionaire Collis P. Huntington (she was 19 when they met, he was 44), she bore a son on March 10, 1870.  He was said to be the son of her "husband," John Worsham (in fact he had a wife, Annette, back home in Richmond, Virginia).  Worsham returned to Richmond in 1871 and New York society whispered that Archer Milton Worsham was Huntington's child.

Following Elizabeth Huntington's death from cancer in 1883 Arabella and Collis were married.   Archer, 12 years old at the time of the marriage, took on the railroad tycoon's surname.   While Huntington was known as being uncouth, uneducated and, according to newspapers, "ruthless" and "scrupulously dishonest," Arabella had been educated in private schools, spoke French, and was refined in her speech and manners.

While many American millionaires collected paintings and statuary because it was expected, not because they understood good art from bad; Arabella studied art history and filled their mansion at No. 2 East 57th Street with masterworks by artists including Anthony Van Dyck, Frans Hals, Theodore Rousseau. and Joshua Reynolds.   And when she toured the museums and galleries of Europe, she took young Archer along.  He developed a love for art and architecture that became his passion.

Although Huntington attempted to interest Archer in the railroad business, the young man was focused on art and culture.  When his step-father died on August 13, 1900, the 28-year old found himself suddenly a multimillionaire, with him all the money and time he needed to devote to the arts.

Archer M. Huntington's portrait, by Jose Maria Lopez Mezquita, in in the collection of The Hispanic Museum & Library

In 1904 he embarked on a momentous project.  Enlisting the talents of his architect cousin, Charles Pratt Huntington, he announced on November 25 that he would be erecting a museum building for the Hispanic Society.  Huntington had organized the group, along with four other trustees, just three months earlier.

In announcing the project, the Record & Guide called it "Archer M. Huntington's Princely Gift," and said "Its object is to collect and preserve books, original manuscript, maps, coins and object of art of ancient Spain, especially those connected with its relation to the discover and early history of both North and South America."

The site was Audubon Park, north of the city on 155th Street, just west of Broadway, and across from Trinity Cemetery.  The limestone clad Italian Renaissance-style structure, said the Record & Guide, "will be five stories in height, three being below ground."  The construction cost, estimated at $200,000, rose to $350,000 before completion--making Huntington's total expenditure including the land and endowment around $32 million in today's dollars.

Charles P. Huntington released this rendering in November 1904.  Real Estate Record & Guide, November 26, 1904 (copyright expired)

The Record & Guide reported "The main floor of the building will contain a large reading-room, balconies and a decorative frieze in Moravian tile representing that portion of Spain's history relating to the Americas...The main hall, which will be in marble, will be lighted by a glass dome."  The article added "The terrace will be of brick and marble with a central motive in Moravian tile.  In the large reading room there are to be three tablets representing different periods of the Spanish conquest."  Huntington's personal collection formed the initial core of the collection.

Archer Huntington had only started.  On August 4, 1906 the Record & Guide announced that Charles P. Huntington had drawn plans for the American Numismatic and Archeological Society Building adjoining the Hispanic Society of America museum.  The announcement said the projected structure would be "of handsome design, 3 stories high, with a tile roof and will cost about $55,000."  Huntington was president of the American Numismatic and Archeological Society, and the museum would house its "large collection of coins, medals and tokens" which the Record & Guide touted was "in many respects the most complete and valuable display in the world."

The New York Times reported "The architecture will be of the classic Greek style, the facade being adorned with a spacious porch, Ionic columns supporting a cornice and balustrade.  The main floor and the second floor will be devoted to the library, the meeting halls and exhibition galleries."

An early postcard shows the free-standing Hispanic Museum and the newly-completed American Geographical Society.

When that museum was completed, the two Huntingtons started work on a third building to be home to The American Geographical Society.  The oldest institution of its kind in America, it had been founded in 1851 and incorporated in 1854.  Charles P. Huntington designed the three-story limestone building in the Italian Renaissance style, blending it harmoniously into the rapidly developing complex.

While the American Geographical Society building rose, Dona Manuela de Laverrerie de Barril, the wife of the Spanish Consul General, proposed to Archer Huntington that a Spanish Roman Catholic Church be included in the complex.  The Church of Our Lady of Esperanza would be the second Spanish language Catholic church in New York City.  Once again Charles P. Huntington put pen to paper, designing an Italian Renaissance church facing 156th Street.

On April 16, 1911 The Sun reported not only on the new church, but on the complex in general.  "The dedication to-day of the Spanish Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of Hope brings to notice one of the most handsome groups of buildings in Greater New York, if not in the State.  It was formerly a high class private residential neighborhood known as Audubon Park, on the very ground where the battle of Fort Washington was fought.  The buildings, of which there are four, in the opinion of experts, are the best examples of architecture of the Renaissance type in America."

A stone staircase cascaded to the road level.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
The newspaper hinted that the complex was not yet complete.  Charles Huntington, it said "will have charge of all future buildings that may be erected on the ground of what was formerly Audubon Park."

And indeed, on June 4, 1916 The New York Times announced "Ground will be broken this week for the artistic building to be known as the Museum of the American Indian on the northwest corner of Broadway and 155th Street.  It will be an important and interesting addition to the block, which, under the careful guidance of Archer M. Huntington, has been developed into a distinctive art and educational centre."

Once again Archer Huntington had donated the costs and Charles Huntington had designed the edifice.  The Times remarked "It will be practically a duplicate of the American Geographical Society building on the adjoining 156th Street corner."

Archer was a trustee of the American Indian Museum, founded by George G. Heye whom The Times called "an ardent student and collector of Indian remains."  So passionate was he that his personal collection of "everything interesting bearing on the history and life of the American aborigines represented in their numerous tribes," had amounted to over 500,000 items.  "It is the largest private collection of its kind in the world," said the newspaper.

Charles P. Huntington's 1916 rendering shows empty land to the rear and includes the earlier American Geographical Society building at right.  The New York Times, June 4, 1916 (copyright expired)

Heye announced "We hope to make the American Indian Museum a great center for the exhibition and study of the early history and archaeology of our country.  It will endeavor to cover its special and individual field in a very thorough manner, being limited solely to America, but embracing both hemispheres, surely a field of study and investigation sufficiently large for the efforts of any single organization."

Archer M. Huntington's vision was almost complete, but it would be finished without Charles Pratt Huntington, who died in 1919.  Archer donated the land and endowments to the Academy of Arts and Letters.  The building was designed by William Mitchell Kendall of McKim, Mead & White.

McKim, Mead & White released its rendering of the courtyard facade in 1921.  The New York Time, July 31, 1921 (copyright expired)

On October 30, 1921 The New York Herald explained "With the laying of the cornerstone of the new home of the Academy of Arts and Letters by Marshal Foch on November 19 will come to fruition the drams of Charles Dudley Warner, Mark Twain, Stedman, McKim, La Farge, Saint Gaudens and MacDowell, who, through the National Institute of Arts and Letters, laid the foundation of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1904.

"The structure in the dedication of which Marsha Foch figures as a delegate of the French Academy, will provide a permanent domicile for what Prof. William Milligan Sloane, present o the academy, styles 'the nation's council of literature and art.'"

Architect William Rutherford Mead explained that Kendall had designed the building in the Italian Renaissance style to conform with the existing complex.  There were two entrances, one in the courtyard and the other opening onto 155th Street.  "The facades of Indian limestone and Italian in style are arranged to conform in certain principal lines to the adjoining Numismatic Museum."

The 155th Street facade of the Academy of Arts and Letters
Included in the building was a large library, a meeting room that could seat 50 members, and a large exhibition room conveniently connected to a kitchen for receptions and dinners.  Novelist and playwright Hamlin Garland idealistically told reporters that the "American Academy of Arts and Letters will be proud to be of service either in war or in peace.  It can be counted on to support every movement for elevating our ideals of living, for preserving the beauties of nature and for upholding the permanent standards of art."

On August 11, 1922 the National Sculpture Society announced that Archer Huntington had offered it the use of the undeveloped courtyard lawn opposite the Academy building for "a free out-of-door exhibition of sculpture" to be held the following May.  The exhibition committee had originally intended to use Central Park, but Emil Fuchs explained "The buildings upon the Huntington block will offer a beautiful architectural background to the exhibition and the amount of ground available is so great that it will enable the committee to enlarge its original plan."

He added "The only conditions which Mr. Huntington made for the holding of the exhibition was that it should be the best that American art can produce in sculpture."

The exhibition was monumental, described by The New York Times as "the largest exhibition of sculpture ever held in America" and including more than 800 works.  Landscape artists were commissioned to transform the grounds to best display them.  Among the esteemed artists whose work was displayed was Anna Vaughn Hyatt whose masterful statue of Joan of Arc had been unveiled in Riverside Park in 1915.  The Times described her as among "the twelve greatest living American women" and "one of the foremost women artists in the world."

Huntington and Hyatt worked closely together "for several months," according to a reporter, on the arrangements for the exhibition.  The relationship between Hyatt and Huntington went from artistic to romantic.   Huntington divorced his wife, Helen, and married Anna on March 10, 1923 in her West 12th Street studio, less than two months before the exhibition opened.

The final piece in Huntington's complex, the American Academy building, would fill the lawn where the exhibition was staged.  On November 9, 1938 The Times reported "The American Academy of Art and Letters has received funds to erect a new building facing 156th Street, directly behind the present Academy building.  Completed in 1930, it was designed by Cass Gilbert (a member of the Academy).  It not only followed the Italian Renaissance theme of its predecessors, Gilbert produced a near copy of the McKim, Mead & White building it faced.  Bronze entrance doors executed by sculptor Herbert Adams depicted allegories of Painting, Sculpture, Inspiration and Drama.  Inside were a 730-seat auditorium and an art gallery.

The 1924, while designing an addition to the Church of Our Lady of Esperanza, McKim, Mead & White made over Charles P. Huntington's facade.  The flight of steps was removed and the entrance lowered to 156th Street.  The remodeled front took on a more somber, early Italian Romanesque personality.

The remodeled facade had little to do with the neighboring structures.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

In 1927 Anna Hyatt Huntington's heroic bronze statue "El Cid" was unveiled in the complex courtyard, directly in front of the entrance to the Hispanic Museum.  Nine years later, in November, the hall of the American Academy of Arts and Letters was the scene of an exhibition of her works.  More than 170 pieces of sculpture were assembled as a tribute to the artist.  The New York Times remarked "This is announced as the first comprehensive exhibition of work by the only woman sculptor on the membership roll of the Academy."

The neighborhood around the Audubon Terrace complex declined in the second half of the 20th century.   Diminished patronage of the museums was perhaps first evidenced in April 1963 when the American Academy of Arts and Letters auctioned off a collection of 435 items, described by the Library of Congress as "a discriminating assemblage of letters penned by most of the major 19th-century American and British authors."   The letters had been collected and donated by Archer M. Huntington.

A surprising discovery in the storeroom of the Hispanic Society of America in 1986 revealed a 13th-century ivory carving of the Virgin and Child.  Purchased by Archer Huntington decades earlier, it had been dismissed by the trustees because it was French, not Spanish.  When the associate curator of medieval art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art heard of it, he arranged to see it.

"When I first saw it, it was quite dirty," Charles T. Little told a reporters.  "But beneath this veil of dirt was a magnificent piece of the 13th century.  I recognized it as a masterpiece."  Saying that in two decades he had only once seen an ivory or its quality, he estimated that it "would be worth hundred of thousands of dollars."

The Society, however (unlike the Academy of Arts and Letters), refused to part with the relic because it had been part of Huntington's original bequest.  So a long-term trade was worked out between the museums.  The Virgin and Child is now displayed in the Met's Tapestry Hall; and the Hispanic Museum received a silver gilt repouss√© plate from Portugal, dating to about 1500.

By the turn of the century few New Yorkers knew about the magnificent collections available in Audubon Terrace.  Samuel Sachs II, director of the Frick Collection called the Hispanic Society of America "one of the great well-kept secrets of New York," in 2003.  While the Frick received about 257,000 visitors a year, the Hispanic Society saw only 20,000.  Margaret Connors McQuade, the Society's assistant curator, explained it frankly:  "People are afraid to come up here."

A decade earlier the Society's director, Theodore Beardsley, more offensive.  When asked by ArtNews magazine why he did not promote the museum's world class collection more enthusiastically to the local community, he cited the residents' "low level of culture."

The openings of the former Museum of the American Indian facing the courtyard have been bricked up.

The Society held on, although the American Geographical Society left Audubon Terrace in 1971 (its building now used by Boricua College), and the Museum of the American Indian relocated to the old Customs House on the Battery in 1993.  When the American Numismatic Society moved to Lower Manhattan in 2004 its building was absorbed by the American Academy of Arts and Letters.   The Hispanic Society of American remained, despite its toying with the idea of relocating in 2006.

And although Felicia R. Lee, writing in The New York Times on November 11, 2011 painted a dismal picture, calling its the Audubon Terrace court "a scruffy plaza," the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Hispanic Society hold on, hoping that the current resurgence of the neighborhood will restore Archer M. Huntington's magnificent vision--once deemed one of the best architectural complexes in America.

non-credited photographs by the author
many thanks to reader Phyllis Winchester for suggesting this post

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Home to a Compassionate Doctor and an Activist Lawyer -- 323 West 22nd St.

The Chelsea area was undergoing the first signs of real development in 1835 when Nicholas and Sarah Ludlam purchased a substantial stretch of property on West 22nd Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, from Clement C. Moore.  Moore had a grand vision for the newly-forming residential neighborhood on what had been his family's summer estate.  The deed for the land included the provision that before May 1, 1836 the Ludlams erect at least one substantial residence measuring 37-1/2 feet wide.  In other words, a mansion.

The couple complied by building their own residence at No. 333 West 22nd Street.  It was most likely identical to the house next door, erected almost simultaneously for Joseph Tucker with the same deed requirements.   The remaining plots sat undeveloped for several years.  Finally, in 1843, Moore relented and allowed the Ludlams to divide the property into five 22-1/2 foot wide building lots; while still insisting the homes be upscale.

The first to be built was No. 323, completed in 1843.   Faced in red brick above a brownstone English basement, the residence was three bays wide.  Handsome floor-to-ceiling parlor windows and a brownstone Greek Revival entrance distinguished the first floor.  The Greek motif was carried on in the Greek key designs incorporated in the stoop railings.  A prim, dentiled cornice completed the design.

Clement Moore's grand vision of an exclusive neighborhood never panned out.  By the mid-1850s No. 323 was being operated as a respectable boarding house.  An advertisement on November 13, 1859 offered "A pleasant suit of rooms, front, to let, with board; also a handsome back parlor for one or two gentlemen.  Dinner at six o'clock if desired."

The "suit of rooms" reflected the upright and relatively well-do-to status of the boarders.  Another advertisement that year offered an unfurnished suite of rooms that included a "reception room."

Susan M. Cassidy took out a $3,000 mortgage on No. 323 in 1876.  She continued to accept boarders, like George Endicott's family.  George was enrolled in the Introductory Class of New York City College in 1877 and '78.

Following Susan's death her estate sold the house at auction in June 1895.   James W. Elgar paid $16,500, or about $487,000 by today's terms.  Despite the steep price tag, Elgar's boarders were not as financially well-off as those in the house a few decades earlier.

An exception was Dr. James Arthur Campbell.  He moved in with his wife, Marie, and their only son, James, Jr., around this time.  Campbell had been a well-known physician in the neighborhood for years.  He operated his medical practice from the house as well.  The family owned a summer estate in Morristown, New Jersey.

Campbell was born in County Derry, Ireland, one of nine children.  He studied medicine in London, Paris and Dublin and received his medical degree in 1889 at the Royal University of Ireland.  Shortly after arriving in the United States he opened his medical office in Chelsea.  The erudite physician spoke five languages, including a South African dialect.

More typical of the boarders at the time was Maggie A. Bennett.  She remained in the house into the new century, receiving $300 a year from the city for her deceased husband's police pension (about $8,850 today).   Another widow, Elsie Unger, died in her room on November 3, 1912.  The funeral for the 76-year old widow of Henry Unger was held in house the following Monday.

James Arthur Campbell, Jr., suffered financial embarrassment when he filed for bankruptcy in August 1919.  A few years later his father moved his office to the Hotel Chelsea.  On June 25, 1927 Dr. Campbell died in the New York Hospital at the age of 65.

Campbell's earlier decision to live and work in the 22nd Street boarding house was, perhaps, explained by the The New York Times which wrote "He was greatly beloved in the neighborhood, where it was said of him yesterday that he never aspired to have wealthy clientele, preferring to help the poor."

The year before Dr. Campbell's death a studio was added to the rooftop of No. 323.   While many studio additions of the 1910s and '20s were clumsy encroachments; this was rather elegant and sat back from the roof line, avoiding upsetting the proportions of the 19th century architecture.

The studio concept reflected a change in the tenants in No. 323, who were increasingly more artistic and politically liberal.  By 1920 Julius Wolf was living here.  That year he was the Social-Labor Party's candidate for President.

On August 22, 1927 thousands of New Yorkers protested the executions of anarchists Nichola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti.   In reporting on several of the many arrests, The New York Times reported "The men were represented in court by Miss Carol King, attorney for the Sacco-Vanzetti Emergency Committee."

The activist lawyer lived at No. 323 West 22nd Street.  The Times would later note "She was active in the founding of the United States divisions of the International Labor Defense and the International Juridical Association, and later of the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Commission, the American Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born, and the Civil Rights Congress."

Similar-minded residents in the 22nd Street house were Sylvia and Sol H. Cohn.  They lived here in the 1930s and '40s, listed as members of the Communist Party.  Interestingly, Carol King was never a member of the Communist Party; but she fervently defended the right of free speech and the oppressed, most notably "cases involving what she considered improper interpretation or oppressive application of the immigration and naturalization laws."  She routinely represented labor unions in court.

The Times vividly portrayed her saying "A short, stocky woman of great energy, Mrs. King cared little for fashionable appearance, and was easily identifiable for her heavy, horn-rimmed glasses and her short, unruly dark hair.  She earned professional respect for her brilliant mind and her last-ditch fighting spirit."

The feisty 56-year old still lived at No. 323 when she died in Beth Israel Hospital following an extended illness on January 22, 1952.

In the last quarter of the 20th century the Chelsea neighborhood was rediscovered.  The Eighth and Ninth Avenue district which had recently become seedy and crime-ridden, now saw the influx of young professionals.  In 2009 No. 323 was reconverted to a single family home; one of the best preserved of Nicholas and Sarah Ludlum's handsome row.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The 1860 Bliss, Wheelock & Kelly Bldg - 390 Broadway

Although the architect's name has been lost, the corbel table and cornice of No. 390 are remarkably similar to those of No. 388 to the left, designed by King & Kellum the same year

By the 1830s the residential nature of Broadway just below Canal Street was eroding.  James Stone and his son, Henry, ran their business from No. 390 Broadway, between White and Walker Streets, at least by 1837 and into the 1840s.   James listed himself as "plumber and engineer," but his advertisements better reveal his advanced skills.

Three separate ads in the Morning Herald on April 17, 1839 displayed the variety of items he devised and manufactured.  "Force pumps for deep wells," "Pumps, water closets and baths," and "garden engines & syringes."

The old building became the property of  Dr. Alexander McWhorter Bruen and his wife, Sarah Louisa, before 1859.  Sarah (who went by her middle name) was the daughter of Judge William Jay and granddaughter of Chief Justice John Jay.

That year they demolished it to be replaced by a modern commercial structure.   While the name of the architect has been lost, the original appearance of the building's Italianate design fell in line with the other buildings on the block, all constructed within a few years of one another.

Completed in 1860, four stories of stone sat above a cast iron storefront base. While other Italianate buildings featured tall arches, the architect inserted three sets of arched window frames into square headed openings at the second through fourth floors.  It was an ingenious and attractive way of preserving the arch motif while stepping away from the norm.

An 1864 print reveals the unusual window treatment of No. 390 (center) as compared to its neighbors.  print by Thomas Bonar from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
The large dry goods establishment of Bliss, Wheelock & Kelly had operated from No. 388 Broadway.   Upon completion of No. 390 the firm merely moved next door.  The move came during trouble times, when tensions between the North and South were worsening.  Bliss, Wheelock & Kelly did a large trade in the South and the anti-slavery stance of its management caught the attention of the Atlanta newspaper, the Southern Confederacy.

On February 16, 1860 the newspaper's editor and owner, James Pinokney Hambleton, listed the firm on its Black List, saying in part "From the best and most reliable information, we present to the Southern people the names of wholesale mercantile firms of New-York, which are...enemies to our institutions.  We do this for the reason that we know no Southern merchant will expend the money that he has obtained from Southern slaveholders in building up and enriching a class of men who are stabbing at the vitals of this section."

Despite the boycott by some Southern clients, Bliss, Wheelock & Kelly continued to thrive.  On April 26, 1861, for instance, the California newspaper the Sacramento Daily Union reported that the firm had purchased at auction "the entire stock of the dry goods house of De Forest, Armstrong & Co.," which had failed.  "It was sold in one lump for $460,000 and paid for on the spot," said the article.  The massive bid, equaling about $12.9 million today, and outdid that of massive department store owner Alexander T. Stewart.

Exactly one week earlier the staff of Bliss, Wheelock & Kelly had been diminished by one when long-time employee George Tyler Burroughs was sworn into the Union Army.  The 28-year old, who had worked in the woolen department, marched off with the 71st Regiment, New York State Militia; but was almost immediately hospitalized with a case of dysentery.

According to the website, when he learned that his company was marching to the front, he "climbed out the window and caught up with his company--he was reprimanded but was allowed to remain."  Burroughs saw action in Manassas, Virginia in June, and at Sudley Springs and the Battle of Bull Run.

Only three months after he enlisted, he Burroughs was mustered out of service on July 31 and resumed his duties at Bliss, Wheelock & Kelly.  It would be a short-lived return.  On November 17 The New York Times reported that he had accepted the appointment of Quartermaster of the 43rd Regiment New-York Volunteers and on the previous afternoon he had been "presented with a beautiful sword, in testimony of the regard and esteem he is held in by his fellow clerks" at Bliss, Wheelock & Kelly.

Following the war No. 390 filled with dry goods and apparel-related firms, like furrier Leopold Haas who was here by 1869, and Isaac T. Myers, "importers of pearl buttons and fancy goods," at around the same time.

Myers lured potential customers by placing a glass showcase filled with examples of his "fancy goods" on the sidewalk in front of his store.  It was a tempting target for a gang of four teens on January 24, 1871.  According to The New York Times the following day, they smashed the glass "with evident intent to steal the fans, albums, pocket-books, and other articles, valued at $100, there exposed for show."

But Myers was quick to react.  "Scarcely had Mr. Myers made his appearance than the gang ran off."  All, that is, except for 19-year old Peter Maxwell who was nabbed by the angry proprietor.  The delinquent, who lived on Mulberry Street in the infamously impoverished and crime-ridden Five Points district, was arrested and held for trial.

While the gang did not make off with any goods that day, Myers was no as lucky on Saturday, August 28, 1875.   That afternoon a messenger was given a package to deliver just to Adriance, Robbins & Co., at No. 341 Broadway, only a little over two blocks to the south.  In it were "pearl buttons and combs valued at $75" (nearly $1,700 in today's dollars), according to the firm.

The following week The New York Times reported "While on his way there he met a stranger who claimed to be in the employ of [Adriance, Robbins & Co.], and the too confiding porter handed him the package.  Of course, nothing has since been seen of the stranger of the goods."

Interestingly, Adriance, Robbins & Co. soon moved to No. 390 Broadway.  Unfortunately it would not be a long-term stay.  In January 1878 the dry goods jobbers went under.  The auction of its entire stock later that month, including Irish linens, woolen goods and laces, was attended by "mostly peddlers and City retail merchants, doing business in a very small way," according to The Times.  The newspaper was shocked at the petty prices the goods brought, totaling $5,000.

Briggs, Entz & Co., described by Illustrated Boston in 1889 as "the famous English cloth manufacturers" (they were, in fact, importers), had been in the building at least since 1876.  It was headed by Benjamin L. Briggs, John F. Briggs and J. William Entz.  The firm's high-end fabrics were "standards with leading jobbers and high-class clothiers," according to the periodical.

The dry goods store of Cornell & Amerman was on the ground floor of the building in 1882 when enterprising thieves devised a clever plan.  The firm stored stock in the basement, the windows of which faced Cortlandt Alley to the rear.  Those windows were protected by heavy iron bars.  But the bars were spaced widely enough to allow bolts of fabric to pass through.

Somehow one crook managed to hide in the basement on September 4.  Under cover of night, his confederates broke two of the window panes and, using a "stout wire" hoisted bundles of cambric fabric out.   But in the middle of the heist a policeman entered the alley on his nightly rounds.  When he reached the rear of No. 390, he found one bolt of fabric on the pavement.  The Times reported "The thieves must have been surprised at their work by the approach of the policeman, and in their flight dropped one of the pieces in the street."  The inside man apparently escaped out the Broadway entrance.

Within months, after having been in business since 1849, Cornell & Amerman would dissolve.  Following George V. Amerman's death in 1883, Albert Cornell retired.

Dr. Alexander Bruen died in 1886 at the age of 78.  It seems that a question of ownership arose and in April 1888  Louisa was pressed to prove her rights to the title to No. 390.  Luckily she possessed a declaration dated April 22, 1867 which asserted that the "premises are the joint property of said Louisa J. and Alexander M. Bruen."

In February 1889 the Fire Department ordered the building temporarily vacated, saying "the premises 390 Broadway [are] not to be used for habitation or business" until fire escapes were installed.  Simon Bernstein, a principal with Caroline Adler and Morris Perlstein in the cloak and suit manufacturers, Bernstein, Adler & Co., was not impressed.

But, however, he discovered that the New York City Fire Department was a force to be reckoned with.  When investigators realized the firm was still operating within the building, Bernstein was arrested in August that year for contempt of court.

Somewhat ironically, seven months later the factory Bernstein, Adler & Co. suffered damage by fire--but it was in the building next door.  The fire broke out in No. 392 Broadway around 7:00 on the evening of March 4, 1890.  Like all the buildings in the neighborhood, it was filled with flammable materials.  As one newspaper put it the following day, "'Fire in the dry goods district' is an alarm that puts the Fire Department on its mettle."

Before long the entire building was engulfed.  According to The New York Times, "Its double walls prevented the fire from extending to the adjoining buildings," but nevertheless Bernstein, Adler & Co. "suffered severely by water."

At the time the game and toy manufacturer Selchow & Righter operated its wholesale store from the building.  Founded in 1867 as E. G. Shelchow & Co., its factory was in Bay Shore, Long Island.  Among the firm's best selling games was Parcheesi, which they had trademarked in 1874. 

Parcheesi was a top money-maker for Selchow & Righter.  (copyright expired)

Along with board games, Selchow & Righter manufactured cast iron toys and banks--items which would make any child-safety-minded mother cringe today.  As Christmas approached in 1898 the Home Furnishing Review pictured a cast iron toy safe, a miniature iron stove and a toy grocer's scales as examples of the firm's offerings.  "Selchow & Righter are American manufacturers, and make goods that cannot be equaled for their prices, either at home or abroad," said the article.  "Some of their games are most interesting and novel, and will appeal immediately to Young America, which is the judge and jury, as well as the court of final resort."

The Home Furnishing Review, December 1898 (copyright expired)

At the time of the article D. W. Shoyer & Co., knit goods commission house; musical instrument dealer M. E. Schoening; and W. Schwensen, cords and tassels, occupied the upper floors.  (William Schwenen, incidentally, had been arrested three years earlier for receiving $20,000 worth of stolen silks from William Steinborn, alias "Billy Balls," and John Lyons.)

Just after midnight on October 22, 1899 fire broke out in the basement.  The Times reported "The extreme depth of the structure and the fact that the fire was in the centre made the work of the firemen difficult and hazardous."  Not long after a third alarm was turned in the first floor collapsed.  Fire Chief Croker called the blaze "a most stubborn one" which took about two hours to control.   When it was finally extinguished, the building was deemed "destroyed" and the damages were estimated at, at least, $125,000, more than $3.75 million today.

While the newspapers may have thought the building was a total loss, Louisa Bruen disagreed.  She hired the respected architectural firm of Jardine, Kent & Jardine to refurbish the burned out shell.  The stone facade had survived the blaze and the architects' renovations did little to alter it.

The new tenants were nearly all involved in clothing manufacturing.  Friedman Bros. & Bisco made shirtwaists; Manheim & Schwartz manufactured shirts, for instance.  But two, Frederick A. Van Dyke and Gross Brothers, were far different.  The Evening World described Van Dyke as "a millionaire real estate dealer."  Gross Brothers were wholesale grocers.

The sons of those two firms brought humiliation to their families in the summer of 1903.  Van Dyke's 21-year old son, also named Frederick, and Henry A, Gross, Jr., were in Central Park on June 4 when wealthy socialite Mrs. Edward Hagaman Hall strolled in with her eight-year old daughter, Ethel, and her nurse, Rebecca Meloney.

Mrs. Hall, whom The Evening World described as "a tall, fine-looking woman," left Ethel and the nurse sitting on a park bench and headed off on a stroll.  She had gone only a short distance before Ethel ran up saying "Oh, Mamma, two men are hugging Rebecca, and she is awfully frightened."

The newspaper reported "Mrs. Hall said that she hurried back to the bench and found the two young men embracing Rebecca with great fervor despite her struggles and protestations."  Telling a court later that she was "justly indignant," Mrs. Hall kept her cool and pretended to engage Van Dyke and Gross in conversation until she could flag down a passing policeman.

Policeman Quin arrested the young men, whose wealthy fathers quickly posted bail.  But they were brought back before Magistrate Crane that same afternoon.  "They were represented by a lawyer," said the article, "who spoke for them and denied the charges.  They were both so nervous that they could not utter a syllable."

The judge listened to the testimonies of the nurse, the little girl and Mrs. Hall.  Shockingly today, while Rebecca Meloney "was positive in her identification," Crane scoffed at their complaint.

"It take no stock in women's identifications, and will have to discharge these young men.  Many an innocent man has been sent to State prison upon rash identification of women, and I don't propose that anything of the kind shall happen in my court."

Mrs. Hall stormed out with her daughter and the nurse claiming there was no justice to be had.  "The way things are conducted every Tom, Dick and Harry that comes along can hug or insult a woman with impunity.  It's a perfect outrage."

Louisa Bruen died on November 5, 1905.  She was interred in the burial ground on the Jay Estate in Rye, New York, where her husband had also been buried.  The Broadway building remained in the family.

Following World War I No. 390 saw a variety of tenants, including the National Dress Suit Case Co. and office furniture dealers Quick & McKenna. 

New-York Tribune, November 19, 1919 (copyright expired)
Quick & McKenna remained in the building well into the 1920s, as did Gross Brothers.  They shared the address with a wide variety of tenants including A. Irizzarry Co. and Jacinto Sala, Inc., both importers of chemicals and drugs; leather merchants Sala Guillo & Co. and Raper & Pleasso; and International Imports and Export Co., "general merchandise."

Adrian L. Quick, president of Quick & McKenna, and his wife Aline, lived comfortably in their White Plains, New York, estate named Gedney Farm.  But domestic tranquility crumbled in the early years of the 1920s.  By 1926 Aline had had enough.  She won a decree of separation and $125 a month alimony after charging Quick with "cruelty and excessive drinking."  Her husband explained away his heavy use of alcohol, saying "all of the marital trouble was caused by his wife's extreme extravagance."

As the 20th century progressed, the Broadway building continued to house textile and garment firms, including Wolf, Ain & Co. which took a floor in 1931, textile dealer Jacob A. Fortunoff, Inc. which moved in in 1939, and Supertex, manufacturers of mattress covers, which leased a floor the following year.

Textile firms still filled the building in July 1962 when fire swept through on the night of the 12th.  It had broken out around 8:00 in the third floor offices of Fursyn, Inc., dealers of synthetic furs and fibers.  The blaze burned out of control for three and a half hours, causing the fifth floor to collapse and destroying the roof.  When the fire was finally extinguished 16 fire fighters had been injured and one was still missing.

Tragically, the body of 38-year old Fireman John C. Farragher was discovered in the ruins the following morning.  Eighty firefighters had joined in the search for the father of three.

It was around this time that the Bruen family's ownership finally ended.  Alexander and Louisa Bruen's daughter, Alexandra Louisa, had married Rear Admiral George E. Ide.  It was their son, architect and aviation pioneer John Jay Ide, who sold the property.

As was the case in 1899, No. 390 was reconstructed and filled again with textile companies.  And through it all the wonderful triple arched windows within the square openings have survived.