Monday, May 22, 2017

The Lost Church of St. Gabriel - 310 East 37th Street

photograph from the collection of the New York Public Library
In 1859 the Kips Bay district around East 37th Street was anything but enchanting.  Hard-working immigrants, mostly Irish, moved into the sparsely developed area.  That year Archbishop John Hughes established a new parish, the Church of St. Gabriel, and assigned an Irish-born priest, Rev. William H. Clowry, to head and organize it.

Nearly half a century later, in 1902, the United States Catholic Historical Society recalled in its Historical Records and Studies, 'it was mainly a parish of wooden shanties."  Aside from about five brick houses on 37th Street, east of Second Avenue, "there were only empty lots, a stoneyard, and the future site, at First Avenue, of the car barns, stables and repair shops of the old Belt-Line surface car service."

The writer was specific regarding two addresses.  "East of No. 305, on the north side of Thirty-seventh Street, stood the big shanty of the good Catholic, Billy Jones; east of that and farther back from the street, stood the humble shanty of another good Catholic, Mrs. Ward, afterwards Mrs. Brady, or vice versa."

A wealthy Catholic, Henry J. Anderson, donated eight building lots on East 37th Street, between First and Second Avenue for St. Gabriel's.  The generous gift was valued at $25,000, more than three-quarters of a million dollars today.

Rev. Clowry recognized that the impoverished immigrant children needed education perhaps more than religious training, and set out first to establish a school.  The the first schoolhouse--for girls--was completed before the end of 1859.  Historical Records and Studies was astounded, in retrospect, at its immediate success.  "The number of girls in attendance was eight hundred.  Eight hundred!...Think of the neighborhood as it was in those days, and then say if this was not a magnificent act of faith."

The following summer the boys' school was opened.  Corralling those street toughs into a classroom was most likely an arduous struggle.  The Historical Records and Studies remarked that a nearby field was where "bellicose boys arbitrated their differences by means of fisticuffs, while directly opposite and east of where the church now stands was the stone-yard battlefield, which beheld some bloody struggles between the Thirty-sixth Streeters and the Thirty-eighth and Thirty-ninth Streeters."

Two Brothers of the Christian Schools were assigned as teachers in the boys' school; but records were unclear as to the number of pupils.  Although one church historian felt that the success of the girls' school might have prompted parents to send their sons; he recognized that boys went off to work at an early age rather than attend classes.

The first floor of the boys' school doubled as a chapel.  The 1,500-member congregation worshiped here for five years; unable to start construction on a permanent church because of the Civil War.  The cornerstone was finally laid in 1864.  The church had commissioned architect Henry Engelbert to design the structure.  Engelbert was a favorite of the Catholic Church at the time and, in fact, would be called in to handle the restorations of Old St. Patrick's Cathedral on Mulberry Street following a devastating fire.

Engelbert turned to "the Gothic architecture of the thirteenth century."   He faced the front in brownstone, while the sides were of red brick.  The congregation, accustomed to living in the barest of conditions, would have been awed at their new place of worship.

The Catholic Churches of New York City, 1878, (copyright expired)

Completed in 1865 the church was 68 feet wide and stretched back 138 feet.  A tower and spire rose 168 feet above the unpaved road.  The interiors were meant to inspire both reverence and wonder. 

Eighteen slender clustered columns upheld the fan-groined ceiling.  The church could accommodate 2,000 persons.  "The chancel is finished in the richest style of ornamentation," said The Catholic Churches of New York City, "and possesses a new feature in the shape of two arches--the interior one twenty feet wide, and the exterior one thirty, so that the large altar can be seen from every part of the church."

The double arch of the chancel was an innovation.  Note the overlaid Gothic tracery on the ceiling of the arch.  The marble memorial alter was installed in 1885. The Catholic Church in the United States of America, 1914 (copyright expired)

The chancel featured a large painting of the Annunciation, by Italian artist Giuseppe Mazolini.  It was a copy of Baroque artist Guido Reni's original in the Quirinal Chapel in Rome.  Two side altars, "elaborately finished," were dedicated to the Blessed Virgin and to St. Joseph.

A faithful copy of The Annunciation to Mary adorned the altar area.  the Museum of the Louvre

The dedication of the $80,000 church was held on November 12, 1865.  Not only was Archbishop John McCloskey on hand, but a "long line of clergymen" that included the Bishop Lynch of Charleston.  The crowd was so large that not everyone could get in; others could not afford the $1 entrance fee for the service.  Nevertheless, The New York Times said "not a seat could be found, while the aisles were crowded almost to suffocation."

Rev. Clowry's emphasis on education continued, prompting The New York Herald to remark on July 11, 1879 that since his founding of the parish he had devoted "all his energies to the education of the children of his parish, and with such success that the schools under the charge of the Sisters of Charity and the Christian Brothers are in a most flourishing condition, teaching over sixteen hundred pupils."

By the time of the article the church membership had swollen to 12,000, at least on paper.  A collection was begun in 1879 among the members as the 13th anniversary of Clowry's ordination approached.  On July 10 a "very handsome testimonial" was given to the priest that included the presentation of a check for $1,204.50.

Rev. Clowry died around midnight on June 11, 1884.  His impressive funeral service was held in the Church of St. Gabriel on June 14.  Assisting were several priests, seven monsignors, two bishops and Archbishop Michael Corrigan.  Immediately afterward, his body was interred in a grave between the church the the rectory.

The organ loft sat above the main entrance.  photograph from the collection of the New York Public Library

Monsignor John M. Farley was among those celebrating the funeral mass.  He was Secretary to Cardinal McCloskey, a particularly elevated position in the Catholic Church.  The following week he was replaced and assigned as pastor of St. Gabriel's.  While some may have viewed the change as a demotion of sorts, it in no way diminished his station in the Church and he was elevated to papal chamberlain that same year.

The much-devoted followers of the late priest quickly laid plans for a memorial to him.  On July 6, 1884 The New York Times noted "It is stated that in place of the erection of a monument over his grave, between the church and rectory, many of the congregation would much prefer to contribute for a memorial altar of marble to replace the present high altar in the church."

That new altar was dedicated in November 1885.  Replacing an altar was no simple task because of the sacred aspects of both pieces.  On Friday the 27th The Times reported "The ceremony was begun Wednesday evening by the exposition and veneration of the relics, the recitation of the divine office, and by the vigil which was kept up all night by the members of the Young Men's Sodality.  The mystical function was continued at 8 o'clock yesterday by the 10 A. M. Archbishop Corrigan celebrated a solemn pontifical mass."  Once again the chancel was filled with bishops, monsignors, and various other priests.

The magnificent fan vaulting can be seen in this view of the gallery.  photograph from the collection of the New York Public Library

The Church of St. Gabriel was, of course, repeatedly the scene of Irish funerals.  Some, however, stood out.

One was that of James Brennan, a policeman shot by gangster Henry Carlton, alias "Handsome Harry."  The Evening World ran a headline on October 30, 1888 that read "At Their Comrade's Bier--Martyred Policeman Brennan Sadly Laid at Rest."  In Victorian prose the article described (perhaps in too much detail) "the policeman who had closed a white record by death in the discharge of his duty lay calmly sleeping in his coffin.  The wounds made by two of the three bullets which Carlton sent hissing into his head were concealed by neat pieces of white court-plaster."

Ranks of policemen, four abreast, had marched ahead of the hearse.  As the casket was placed on the black catafalque before the altar, the front pews filled with blue uniforms while "the rest of the church was crowded with men and women."

General Thomas Fancis Bourke was among the best known of the fighters for Irish independence, known as the Fenian Movement.  His funeral on November 13, 1889, understandably drew considerable attention.

Calling him "the Irish agitator," The New York Times reported "A large crowd attended the funeral services, composed mainly of colaboraters [sic] in the cause so dear to the dead man and for which he gave up the best years of his life.  The floral offerings from the various societies of which he was a member were exquisite and numerous."

The church was packed with representatives from the heavily-Irish New York Police Department, politicians, the Irish Volunteers of the National Guard, several judges, and military officers.

But no funeral was so emotionally-charged or widely reported than that of 13-year old Mary Cunningham.  The girl lived in a tenement across from the church, at No. 315 East 37th Street, with her widowed mother.   The New-York Tribune described her as "a pupil at St. Gabriel's School, and was considered a good child.  She had considerable taste for music, and took lessons in the piano from a daughter of Police-Sergeant Hatton."

Around 8:30 on the morning of May 30, 1896, Mary's mother left the apartment "telling her daughter to remain in care of the house and to do certain work around the rooms," according to the Tribune.  Because it was Memorial Day, most of the other tenants were out enjoying the holiday.

Mrs. Cunningham returned at around 2:30.  She was surprised when Mary did not come out to meet her.  When she walked into a bedroom, she found Mary on the floor with her head beneath the bed.  "Pulling her into view she was horrified to discover that there was a towel tied around her neck and that her eyes were black and blue as if she had received a severe beating.  The tongue protruded from the mouth and was black and swollen."

Mrs. Cunningham ran screaming into the hallway.  By the time police arrived, she had understandably become hysterical.  Investigators noted that "The condition of the room and of the girl's clothing indicated that a struggle had taken place."  The New-York Tribune added "The police believe that an attempt was made to assault the girl, and that she was murdered because of her resistance."

While the search for Mary's murderer went on, her funeral was held in the Church of St. Gabriel on June 2.  The New York Times reported "The crowds of people left scarcely room in the street for the undertakers' assistants to carry the white casket of the strangled girl across the street from her St. Gabriel's Church, and even the roofs of the neighborhood were weighted with a great number of curious people."

The pathos of the girls' murder and the poignancy of her mother's grief (the newspaper said she "almost hysterical, kept close to the casket, wailing and weeping."  The emotional funeral drew throngs.  "So great was the crowd that pressed toward the entrance to the church that to guard life the police were obliged to use all their strength to keep the mob back."

Eight boys acted as pall bearers, each wearing a white band on his right arm.  They escorted the hearse to the 34th Street Ferry to be transported to the cemetery.

An innocent man almost paid dearly for Mary's death.  An Italian delivery boy, Joseph Ferrone, told police he witnessed Edward McCormack "bending over the body of Mary Cunningham" when he was delivering ice to the building.  It was a serious accusation.  A guilty verdict would result in McCormack's being hanged.

New Yorkers were convinced that the murderer had been found until they read the shocking report on June 26 that Ferrone admitted he made up his story to garner attention.  His attorney asked the court to be lenient.  Assistant District Attorney O'Hare was less inclined to go easy on the boy.  "The bail should be very high.  This young scamp deserves to be hanged," he told the judge.

When Judge Cowing reminded Ferrone's attorney that a man might have been executed, O'Hare chimed in.  "This is a most vicious scoundrel.  The young pirate caused a man to be kept in prison, and he was on the brink of being indicted for murder for the perjury of this boy."

Ferrone's bail was finally set at $2,500--almost $73,000 today.  The murderer of Mary Cunningham was never found.

In the meantime, John Murphy Farley's career within the Catholic Church continued to rise.  In 1891 he became Vicar General for the Archdiocese, and was raised to the rank of domestic prelate in 1892.  On November 18, 1895 he was appointed Auxiliary Bishop by Pope Leo XIII.

All the while he continued to lead St. Gabriel's congregation.  On Christmas Day 1897 The Sun reported that he had modernized the sanctuary with electric lighting.  "The confessionals are all supplied with the incandescent bulbs, beautiful effects are produced by electric bulbs in the arch of the apse, and the stations of the cross are illumined by concealed lights."  The article stressed that candles would continue to serve their religious roles--for processions, altar lights, and vigil candles, for instance.

In the fall of 1902 the Vatican announced that John Farley had been made Archbishop of New York, succeeding Michael Corrigan.   His assistant at the Church of St. Gabriel was Patrick Joseph Hayes, who would follow in his footsteps by becoming Archbishop of New York following Farley's death in 1918.

By the time of the Great Depression, the Kips Bay neighborhood around the Church of St. Gabriel was no longer the shantytown it had been in 1859.  The city embarked on a massive engineering project in October 1936--the Queens Midtown Tunnel.   Three years later the Work's Progress Administration's New York City Guide remarked "The entire block on which the church stands is scheduled to be razed to make way for an approach to the Queens Midtown Tunnel."

By the time the book was published, the last mass in the church had already been celebrated.  On January 16, 1939 The New York Times reported "With an overflow congregation of 2,500 persons in attendance" the final service had taken place.  A choir of 75 voices "composed of present and former residents of the parish" had been specially brought together for the event.  The article noted Rev. Thaddeus W. Tierney wanted this to be a "joyful rather than sad" service.  "But even as Father Tierney spoke scores of men and women throughout the church were seen weeping."

photograph from the collection of the New York Public Library
The church, the school, and the neighboring tenement buildings were demolished later that year.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Leon M. Hirsch House - 15 East 94th St

Doubling as architects and developers, Robert N. Cleverdon and Joseph Putzel began construction of nearly the entire northern blockfront of East 94th Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues in 1892.  Designed as two projects--one group of five houses, the other of six--the Romanesque Revival residence were aimed at the upper class.  Plans projected the building costs to be $20,000 each; more than half a million dollars today.

The more easterly row, Nos. 15 through 25, were designed in an A-B-C-C-B-A pattern.  The two end homes strayed from the strictly Romanesque Revival style with striking results.  While the other homes displayed the expected squat or beefy columns with complex medieval capitals, the parlor levels of the end houses were formal and classical.  Four stately, fluted Doric columns upheld a purely Greek entablature.  The Doric order reappeared at the top level in a dramatic and visually stunning loggia.

An intricate dentiled cornice runs below the pressed frieze. Swirling carvings on either end of the frieze below the loggia were up-to-date takes on the Romanesque.

The second floor was dominated by a projecting bay.  The shape of the oversized, triangular pediments of the little flanking openings, too, balked at the Romanesque; while conceding to the style in the carved decorations.  Below the cast metal cornice, which upheld an unusual and decorative arcade-like parapet, was a frieze of neo-Classical wreaths and garlands.

The rolling, foliate brackets at the base of the bay--serving no purpose than to be visually appealing--are a charming detail.

Leon M. Hirsch purchased No. 15 in the spring of 1895, a few months after its completion.  He paid $39,000--a little over $1.1 million today.   The house would be an active one--Hirsch and his wife, the former Sarah Strauss, had six children.

Leon Hirsch was 55-years old at the time.  He had come to New York from his native Paris when he was 7 years old.  An enterprising youth, he started his own business at the age of 17 when he noticed an opportunity hiding in plain sight.

Shoe manufacturers provided retailers with samples to be used by their "drummers"--the men who stood on the sidewalk in front of the stores to lure customers inside.  When the season was over and new styles appeared, the samples were returned.  Unable to sell them as new, the makers discarded them.  The teen recognized that the practice was not only as a pitiable waste; but a splendid business opportunity.

Hirsch began buying the nearly-new samples at absurdly low prices.  The manufacturers were, of course, eager to get rid of them with at least some cash return.  He then resold the shoes, prompting The New York Times to later note "He then made a more or less secure corner of the sample shoe market in New York for some time, and his business grew."

His business not only grew, but made Hirsch rich.  By the time he purchased the 94th Street house, he was also heavily investing in real estate.

The first major event in the house was the wedding of daughter Aline to Dr. Henry Spitzer in January 1899.  The social stature to which the boy who resold shoe samples had climbed was evidenced by the wedding being covered by the New-York Tribune.  The article noted that Aline's lace veil was "held in place by a diamond ornament, a gift from the bridegroom."

In January 1909 Hirsch caught a cold traveling between the house and his shoe store in the Centre Market on the Lower East Side.  On the 29th it developed into pneumonia and he died at the age of 65 just five days later on February 3.

Financially, his death could not have come at a more inopportune time for Sarah.  His estate, all of which was left to her, was tied up in what The New York Times called "large property holdings."  But the devastating effects of the Financial Panic of 1907, considered one of the three worst depressions since the end of the Civil War, were still being felt nationwide.  There was still a $20,000 mortgage on the 94th Street house and the real estate environment made liquidating the Hirsch holdings impossible.

Sarah kept up appearances, while she gleaned the income from the properties.  In November 1913 daughter Nannette was married to the well-to-do lawyer Jacob Newman in the Hotel Gotham.   Sarah's brother, Charles Straus gave the bride away.  He was president of the Board of Water Supply of the City of New York.  No one in the ballroom that afternoon would suspect that Sarah was struggling.

Society weddings were expensive events.  One week after Nannette's, Sarah announced the engagement of Gladys on December 7, with the wedding to be held in June 1914.   It may have been the cause of the family's selling of Leon's art collection.

On January 23, 1914 the American Art Galleries announced the upcoming "unrestricted Public Sale" of the "private collection of valuable paintings by the Old Masters and early English painters formed by the late Leon Hirsch."

Then on March 29 Charles Straus, as executor of Hirsch's estate, petitioned the courts "for leave to place a second mortgage of $15,000" on the 94th street house.  Straus was frank in describing his sister's financial plight and explained that all efforts to liquidate the Hirsch real estate were fruitless.

The wedding of Gladys to William W. Silberman was held in the house on June 6.  Charles Strauss once again stood in for the bride's father in giving her away.  This would be the last social event Sarah would preside over here.  She died on December 4 that year.

The family leased the house to Dr. Antonio M. Crispin, finally selling it to him in October of 1920. 
Born in Havana, Cuba in 1871, he had come to New York at the age of 7.  When just 20 years old he received his medical degree from the Bellevue Medical School.

He and his wife, Dorothy, had two daughters and one son.  By the time he moved into the former Hirsch house, he was head surgeon of the French, Columbus and Broad Street Hospitals.  Nationally-recognized, he wrote technical articles in periodicals like The Literary Digest, the Monthly Cyclopedia and Medical Bulletin, and The American Journal of Surgery. He co-founded the Spanish-American Medical Society in New York, and served as its president.

The couple's unmarried daughter, Maria, was still living with her parents as late as 1934 when she was listed as a member of the Association of Private School Teachers.

After being retired for several years, Crispin moved to Boonton, New Jersey around 1939.  The house was sold and in February 1940 a conversion to apartments--two per floor--was completed.  Other than removing the stoop and moving the entrance to the basement level, the renovations left the facade mostly untouched.

Other than the expected updates, like replacement windows, the Hirsch house looks little different than it did in February 1940 when the stoop was taken away.  Its one-time twin at No. 25 East 94th Street has been radically altered; leaving No. 15 to display Cleverdon & Putzel's surprising and engaging blend of two totally unrelated historical styles.

photographs by the author

Friday, May 19, 2017

Cleverdon & Putzel's 1896 No. 20 Bond Street

The area around Broadway, Lafayette Place and Great Jones Street was an aristocratic enclave in the 1820s and '30s.  But Bond Street outshone its neighbors in several cases in terms of elegant mansions.  One of these was the marble-fronted residence of Knowles Taylor at No. 20 Bond Street, erected in 1824.

In 1830 Taylor moved to No. 8 Bond Street, and No. 20 became home to Judge John Duer, “one of the most eminent of New York jurists,” according to Valentine’s Manual of the City of New York.  Duer would become Chief Justice of the Superior Court in 1857 and was the editor of Duer’s Reports.  His stay at No. 20, like Taylor’s, would not be especially long.  He moved to No. 97 St. Mark’s Place in 1838.

The next wealthy owner of the house was Maria Banyer, the widow of Goldsborough Banyer and a daughter of Chief Justice John Jay.  Shortly after moving in, she held a meeting of ten ladies in the house in the fall of 1839.  The women founded the “Colored Home” that afternoon.  For years it would stand on East 65th Street, just off Fifth Avenue.  Maria lived in the mansion until her death at the age of 75 on Friday night, November 21, 1856.

On March 26, 1857 A. S. Hope paid $17,000 for the “marble-front three-story dwelling.”  He had to pay separately--an other $9,325--for the rear lot, facing Great Jones Street, on which the private stable stood.  Although the neighborhood was already seeing change (Bond Street had the largest concentration of dental offices in the city in the 1850s), it still retained its mostly upscale distinction; reflected in the combined price of approximately $735,000 in today's dollars.

Like the owners before him, Hope filled the house with expensive furnishings and artwork.  On December 14, 1862, when he prepared to leave New York City, he placed an advertisement in The New York Herald offering his “magnificent rosewood seven octave piano” for $240; less than half the $500 he had paid for it only five months earlier.  He described it as having “carved legs and mouldings, overstrung bass, of superior tone and finish, made by one of the best makers.”

Hope would be among the last homeowners to enjoy Bond Street as an exclusive residential enclave.  Following the end of the Civil War wealthy citizens moved northward as commerce continued to inch into the area.  Finally, in November 1880 architect G. F. Pendleton filed plans for owner E. P. Dickie to convert the mansion for business.  The marble front was “altered” and all the interior walls removed, replaced with “girders and columns instead.”

Dickie held on to the property until 1894, leasing to businesses.  That year the massive project to connect Elm Street to the south with Lafayette Place, creating Lafayette Street, began.  The new thoroughfare would cut directly through the Bond Street block, suddenly making No. 20 a corner property.

In April 1894 the prolific real estate brother team of Henry and Samuel Corn purchased No. 20 for $41,000.  It may have been the coming Elm Street project that prompted them to have second thoughts; or it may have been the astounding profit offered.  Just days later they resold the property to Weil & Mayer for $100,000.  The firm, headed by Siegfried Mayer, announced its intentions of erecting “a seven-story brick business building on the site.”

On December 14, 1895 the Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide commented on the firm.  “Weil & Mayer, the well-known real estate investors and operators, are, or were a year or so ago, the most extensive owners of flat and tenement property, and were credited with the ownership of 130 such buildings.”  But now they were disposing of their tenement holdings “at reasonable prices and giving their attention to investments in business property.”

Such was the case with No. 20 Bond Street.  The firm commissioned Cleverdon & Putzel to design a modern loft and store building to replace the marble mansion.  As if playing with children’s building blocks, the architects stacked disparate styles one atop another in one- and two-story sections.

The midsection explodes in a dizzying feast of carved designs.
The two story cast iron base was less exciting than most.  A shop window was flanked by two double-doored entrances—one to the store and the other to the upper stories.  The second floor held a dignified row of tall six-over-six windows, most likely fronting a showroom.

The restrained stone-faced third floor supported an exotic two-story Moorish Revival section that dizzied the passerby with swirling arabesques, engaged columns and an ornate cornice.  The sedately Romanesque Revival uppermost section was clad in brick and trimmed in stone.  Four openings on each level visually connected to form tall arches.  The overall design was unified by the repeated use of elaborately carved cornices and friezes.

The rounded portion of the cast cornice originally supported a decorative flag pole.
Weil & Mayer quickly sold their “modern store and business building,” as described the Record & Guide on March 14, 1896.   Their apparent profit was slim.  Having paid $100,000 for the property, they now sold it for “something more than $100,000.”

The building was resold in January 1898 for $125,000, prompting the Record & Guide to say the sale “speaks well for values in that neighborhood.”

In 1899 the building was home to an unlikely tenant: The Protective League of Salt Water Fishermen.  That year it adopted a platform to “protect the gamefish of the Hudson River between Bedlow’s Island and Tarrytown Light.”  At the time striped bass and other fish were being netted for use in fertilizing plants.

The group added two more issues to its crusade the following year.  The New York Times described the environmental “follies” saying “fishing waters are rapidly becoming spoiled by sewage and depopulated through the rapacity of the net and mossbunker fishermen and the unreasoning desire of some men to take home fingerlings, which are of no earthly use, except as food for domestic cats.”

Also in the building was Alfred McKenna & Co., manufacturers of “hat frames.”  Among its employees in 1902 was German-immigrant Max Alexander, a 53-year old salesman.  On the evening of October 23 that year Alexander left work and went uptown to his club, the German language Aschenbroedel Verein on East 86th Street.

The following day The Evening World reported that the big card room was crowded “with members engaged in games of cards, the favorite ‘scat’ and pinochle.  The atmosphere was smoke-laden, but the players were happy.  So was the rotund Alexander.”

As Alexander’s game went on beer glasses were replenished, each time with a fresh papier-mâché coaster printed with a German slogan.   Players recalled later that “the mottoes had more fascination for him than the game.”

One player commented “Max is sentimental tonight.”
Another replied, “He is really dreaming over those mottoes, wine, women and good living.”

Alexander’s response was surprisingly philosophical and dark.  “Yes, but in the midst of life we are in death.  We can’t always hope to live for their enjoyment.”

The portly man won the next hand and pounded the table so vigorously “that the beer glasses and motto discs fairly jumped from the board,” according to The Evening World.   His score for that game set a record at the club.  The cards were dealt for a new game.

Alexander’s friends waited for him to play his hand.  He sat with his head slightly back, his eyes only partially opened.  Becoming impatient, they raised their voices, “Your play, Max; hurry up!”

The Evening World wrote “Alexander’s head hung forward limply. He was dead.”  Somewhat dramatically the newspaper reported “Beneath his glass of beer was the disc bearing the motto: ‘Gesundheit is besser wie krankheit.”  Health is better than sickness.

Alfred McKenna & Co. would remain in the building making hat frames for years.  Other millinery and apparel firms here were Henry Kastner, neckwear maker in 1906; Rosenberg & Daseuer, manufacturers “of flowers and fancy feathers,” who moved here from No. 40 East 9th Street in 1915; and William Berkowits who took the second floor in 1916 for his hat frame factory.

Through the 1920s No. 20 Bond Street continued to house apparel and millinery firms.  In 1921 Perl & Patrino, Inc. was still here, making children’s hats; and in 1924 the Beaver Shirt Company leased the sixth floor.

But by 1939 when the building was sold, then resold within two weeks, the neighborhood was in decline.  The property was assessed at just $29,000, almost half of which was the value of the land. 

But as Manhattan neighborhoods do, the gritty Noho area rebounded.  In 1993 the building was converted to “joint living and work quarters for artists.”   Today, while partially obscured by grime and a fire escape, Cleverdon & Putzel’s eccentric façade is little changed.  Even the 19th century entrance doors survive on the eastern side.

photographs by the author

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Victorian Stable to Sleek Boutique -- 1122 Madison Avenue

Russo Brothers moved into the renovated stable in 1914.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

In the second half of the 19th century Newport, Rhode Island, saw the rise of magnificent palaces, known as "cottages."   Most of the opulent residences served their affluent owners only during the glittering summer season.  In September and October those millionaires migrated back to New York City.

The King family, however, was different.  While Edward King and his wife, the former Mary Augusta Leroy, maintained a fine home in New York, they listed Newport, where Edward had been born, as their permanent address.  Their villa, designed by Richard Upjohn and completed in 1846, was the town's grandest at the time.  Edward was repeatedly listed as the largest payer of property taxes in Newport.

When Edward died in 1875, The New York Times noted "He was well known in all the leading business centres of the country.  He amassed a fortune in the tea and silk trade in China, and was one of the most active business men of the day...He owned considerable real estate in New-York."

King's estate was estimated at about $5 million--more than $110 million today.  Mary, somewhat surprisingly, continued wheeling and dealing in Manhattan real estate.  Among the properties she owned were Nos. 1116 through 1122 Madison Avenue between 83rd and 84th Streets.  No. 1122 Madison was among her less impressive properties, a 35-foot wide "private stable."

The last quarter of the century saw a drastic change in the neighborhood just a block east of Central Park.  Carriage houses, for the most part, were being constructed on the opposite side of Park Avenue, farther away from the new, upscale homes.  Mary had the old stables converted to a commercial building.  The second floor windows and loft opening were dressed up with bracketed cornices, and a decorative balustrade with urn-like finials perched above the roof line.

Mary diligently kept the little store building up to date.  In October 1898 she hired architect Edward Smith to remove the old extension in the rear and rebuild the back wall.  Then in 1901 she commissioned architects Bannister & Schell to design new show windows.  The $2,000 renovations resulted in up-to-date "arcade windows," the modern innovation that recessed the store entrance between deep, glass-fronted display spaces.  It was most likely at this time that the first floor was divided into two shops.

Austin Finegan moved his real estate business into half of the renovated structure.  He stayed here for several years.  On Election Day in 1902 the address was leased by the city as a polling space.

Mary A. King died in her Fifth Avenue mansion on May 3, 1905.  Her real estate holdings were distributed mostly between the two surviving of her seven children.   The Madison Avenue store went to Edith R. King, the widow of her son, Leroy.

Around 1910 Frederick W. Cohn was the first of a string of tenants involved in the electrical contracting business.  In 1911 he was appointed secretary of the new Consolidated Building Trades Employers' Association.

Cohn was followed by Russo Brothers, electricians, who signed a lease in May of 1914.  They renewed the contract in 1922.  One year earlier another tradition was begun when the Margolis Antiques Shop moved into the other half.

New-York Tribune, October 30, 1921 (copyright expired)
Ethel King sold No. 1122 Madison Avenue to the 27 East Eighty-Third Street Corp. in 1921.  The firm converted the second floor to "non-housekeeping apartments."  The Department of Buildings included a stark warning in its Certificate of Occupancy:

Cooking in more than Two of the apartments will render this building liable to immediate vacation by the Tenement House Department

The Margolis Shop remained here at least through 1928.  The tradition was continued by Frank Lustig Antiques in the 1960s, Frank Silberman's Art & Ends antiques shop in the 1970s, and Pascoe and Solomon, Inc., dealers in art pottery beginning around 1979.

In 1937 Russo Brothers had erected a large awning.  photo from the collection of the New York Public Library

The former stables-turned-store received a significant make-over before the first Halston Heritage store opened in 2013.   But the intimate proportions of the little hold-out may be gone before long.  Real estate listings tout that 11-stories of air rights are available.

photo via streeteasy

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The 1826 Nack-Ballantine House - 47 Barrow Street

The bucolic nature of Greenwich Village would be upset after New York City doctors, in 1825, recognized the first signs of a terrifying disease--cholera.  Only two years earlier citizens had endured an epidemic of yellow fever.  At that time many residents with the means to do so fled north to Greenwich Village.  Now an even greater threat loomed.

Speculators rushed to erect housing for the fugitives.  The New York Evening Post described the hysteria saying "The roads, in all directions, were lined with well-filled stagecoaches, livery coaches, private vehicles and equestrians, all panic-struck, fleeing the city, as we may suppose the inhabitant of Pompeii fled when the red lava showered down upon their houses."

Reason Street, which ran roughly east-west from Washington Place to the Hudson River, had been named in honor of Thomas Paine and his The Age of Reason, first published in 1794.  Here, between Bleecker and Bedford Streets, Charles Oakley built three brick houses in 1826 (Nos. 47, 49 and 51).  He would add four more along the block in 1828.

No. 47 Reason Street, like its neighbors, was two and a half stories tall with a brick front.  A single dormer punched through the pitched roof.   The Flemish bond brickwork and simple fascia board below the cornice were expected in the late Federal style house.  But its 21-foot width, handsome iron railings and fencing, and elegant entrance marked it as the home of a financially-comfortable family.

The first residents of the row had all participated in their construction.  No. 47 became home to mason Jacob Naugle.  Exactly how long he remained here in unclear.

By the time the house was completed, the name of Reason Street had been widely bastardized to Raisin Street.  But it was not this unflattering usage that prompted Trinity Church to lobby hard for a name change.  Thomas Paine's challenges to the Bible and his promotion of deism in favor of Christianity in The Age of Reason was rebuked by the church.  (Even Theodore Roosevelt, more than a century later, would call Paine a "filthy little atheist.")

Trinity Church had a new name in mind:  Barrow Street.  Thomas Barrow, who died in 1825, had been a wealthy vestryman.  An artist, he created an engraving of the ruins of Trinity Church following its destruction by fire in 1776.   In 1828 Reason Street became Barrow Street.

As Jacob Naugle and his neighbors (who included Charles Oakley) came and went, they were somewhat impeded by the old public well and pump that had been in place long before the houses.  The problem was that it sat directly in the middle of the road.  Oakley corrected the situation by petitioning the Common Council in May 1829 "to remove the Pump from the Well now standing in the Centre of the carriage way of Barrow (late Reason Street) and which was placed there before the Street was ceded to this Corporation."  The Council agreed, saying "the Well in its present location is an Obstruction to the Street and a Public Nuisance."

By the early 1850s the family of James Nack had moved from No. 229 Church Street to 47 Barrow.   Nack worked in the County Clerk's Office as a "First Searcher," earning $700 a year in 1853 (about $23,000 today).  But his civil service job was not what he was noted for.

In 1829 Samuel Kettell had written of Nack, "His poetry is quite respectable, but the most remarkable fact concerning it, is that the author is deaf and dumb.  He lost the faculty of speech and hearing, by disease at an early age.  His writings show that he has as nice a perception of the harmonies of verse, as those in whom the senses are perfect."

Nack was, in fact, the first deaf author to be published in the United States.  His first volume, The Legend of the Rocks and Other Poems, was published when he was 18, in 1827.   He married in 1838 and the couple had three daughters.  The youngest, Anna Virginia, tragically died of a "concussion of the brain," on June 14, 1845.

Nack was a widower by the time he and his two daughters, Mary Janette and Evelina, moved into the Barrow Street house.  They were joined by Nack's two spinster sisters, Sarah and Elizabeth, who would have been in charge of running the household.

On the night of Saturday, February 14, 1857 Elizabeth died five days after her 66th birthday.  Her funeral was held in the house on the morning of the 17th.   Four years later, on October 4, 1861, Sarah died.  Her funeral, too, was held in the parlor.

A little over a month later the family had a more joyous event.  On November 7 Evelina was married to William A. Ballantine.  A lawyer, the groom was a member of Morris & Ballantine with offices nearby at No. 52 Grove Street.

James Nack may have given No. 47 Barrow Street to the newlyweds.  They moved in, while Nack and Mary Janette moved to No. 38 Grove Street.  Tragedy continued to follow the poet and after what was described as a "long illness," Mary Janette died there on February 27, 1864 at the age of 21.

The Ballantines, too, suffered heartbreak.  On August 7, 1862 their first child, William Frederick, was born.  The following year the family was summering in Highland Mills, New York.  There, just three days before his first birthday, little William died.  He was brought back to Manhattan where, once again, a funeral was held in the Barrow Street house.

Around six years later another child, Evelyn, was born.  The family left by the last decade of the 19th century, but retained possession of the house.  Before then they had updated it by raising the attic level to a full third floor and adding fashionable cornices above the window lintels.

In 1891 Wright Holcomb was leasing No. 47 Barrow Street.  A lawyer with offices at 49-51 Chambers Street, he was better known as a Tammany Democrat.  That year the 48-year old was elected to the State Assembly.

Wright Holcomb in 1893.  The University Magazine, December 1893 (copyright expired)
The University Magazine lavished the politician with praise.  "His law office in this city is, as might be supposed, a bee hive of industry and activity.  He comes of the best American stock, being directly descended, on his maternal side, from Gov. Wm. Bradford, of Plymouth Colony and on the paternal side from English stock which emigrated from Old to New England early in the 18th century."

The Evening World agreed, saying on January 21, 1891 "Mr. Holcomb is an earnest, fluent speaker, who will add greatly to the strength in debate of the majority."

A block to the east, at No. 15 Barrow Street, lived Alderman Mead.  Following a meeting in Webster Hall that ran late into the early morning hours of June 17, 1891, Mead arrived home to find a stranger standing in front of his house.  The Sun reported "He took a good look at the man, who didn't seem to be at all put out by it, and then entered the house.  As he entered the hallway he saw another man half way up the stairs with a bundle in his arms."

Surprised, the burglar dropped the bundle and hit the floor with one leap.  Although Mead attempted to get out of his way, the "man ran plump at him, struck him in the chest, and then slipped out into the street and escaped."   Mead found another bundle on the second floor.  Both of them contained articles of his clothing.

Two days earlier, on Sunday morning, while Holcomb was in Washington, a burglar had broken into his house and taken a suit of clothes.  Caught following the Mead break-in, the thief, who turned out to be a homeless man, was captured.  "In his pocket were a lot of letters and railroad passes, and also a pocketbook with Mr. Holomb's name on it," said the newspaper.

Redmond Porter explained he had gained entrance to No. 47 Barrow by breaking a window in a vacant house on Commerce Street, going into the backyard, climbing over a shed, then opening a window to Holcomb's bedroom.

Over the next two decades William and Evelina Ballantine leased the house to a series of tenants--Catherine Burch after Wright Holcomb, Harry J. Quinn in 1908, Allen D. Orr in 1910, M. H. Franey in 1915, and in November 1918 to artist Ruth Murchison.

Murchison was know for her portrayals of peasant and servant women--often wearing traditional Dutch costumes.  In describing her "several versions of a peculiarly unbeautiful Vollendamer maid" at the Goupil Galleries in January 1916 an art critic for The International Studio was a bit unkind.  "In spite of a somewhat postery appearance, the canvases are distinctly interesting in colour and design, even if somewhat crude."

Ruth Murchison created this November 18, 1914 cover for Punch magazine
and this one for Treasures magazine (copyrights expired)
Ruth also ran a charming Greenwich Village store she called The Little Shop Around the Corner.  Here she sold homemade decorative goods.

Following William Ballantine's death, Evelina transferred the title to No. 47 Barrow Street to Evelyn.  Around 75 years after her poet grandfather purchased it, Evelyn sold the house in 1920 to Florence Hemsley Wood, the widow of prominent architect William Halsey Wood.

Florence had been born into a well-to-do Pennsylvania family and was educated in private schools.  In 1889 she married Wood, who was well known for his ecclesiastical architecture.  The couple had three children, including Emily, who still lived with her mother.  In 1915 the Woman's Who's Who of America had noted that Florence was "interested and active in societies and activities of [the] Protestant Episcopal Church.  Favors woman suffrage."

A year after purchasing the house, Florence made what was perhaps a surprising revelation.  "Mrs. William Halsey Wood of 47 Barrow street yesterday announced the marriage of her daughter, Miss Emily Hemsley Wood, to Mr. Wilson Ashley Burrows," reported The New York Herald on May 9, 1921.  The groom had served as Sergeant-Major under Major Fiorello H. La Guardia during the war.

Florence's lack of public fuss over the engagement and wedding may have been due to the splashy announcement of Emily's first engagement, on June 21, 1914.  Her marriage to Robert William Harris never came to be.

Florence Wood sold the house in 1927 to "an investor," who resold it in 1933 to "a Mr. Prout," according to The New York Times.  Although Prout announced his intentions to live in the house, he leased it to John Howard Lawson in 1935.

Throughout the rest of the 20th century until today, the picturesque structure has remained a single-family home.  Except for the renovations of the 1880s and the later addition of exterior shutters, it is a well-preserved reminder of a time when carriages had to circumvent a public well in the middle of the street.

photographs by the author

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The 1883 Henry B. Hebert House - 152 West 73rd Street

Real estate speculator George J. Hamilton took full advantage of the flurry of development that was quickly changing the Upper West Side from hinterlands to vibrant suburb in the early 1880s.  In 1882 he began work on a new project--five upscale brownstone-fronted homes on the south side of West 73rd Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues.

Hamilton commissioned architect Martin V. B. Ferdon to design the residences.  Completed the following year, their architrave openings went a step further than the norm with carved cornices and robust brackets.  Ferdon gave a nod to the newly-arrived Queen Anne style with sunbursts included in three of the five cast metal cornices (Nos. 146, 150 and 154).

But it was the entrances where the architect made his statement.  Heavy geometric newels flanked the steps, which were protected by solid wing walls.  They led to imperious columned stone porticoes that projected beyond the porch.  Incised and deep relief carvings, anthemion motifs and intricate capitals combined to present daunting introductions to what lay within.

Carved decoration originally spilled down the now blank wing walls.  Note the low walls that protect the areaway to the English basement.

At a cost to build of $22,000 each (about $537,000 today), the 20-foot wide residences were intended for well-to-do homeowners.   No. 152 sat empty until April 1885 when Hamilton sold it to Henry B Hebert and his wife, the former Emma Louise Clark, for $30,000.   As was customary, the title was put in Emma's name.

Hebert was a prominent grain merchant, partner in H. B. Hebert & Co. at No. 81 New Street, and president of the Produce Exchange.   He was active in the Church of the Divine Paternity, serving as a Sunday School superintendent for years.

Henry and Emma had seven children--Elizabeth, Grace, Jane, Letitia, Emma, Henry, and Kate.  The prominence of the Hebert family was evidenced when Emma Maria was married to Edward Banks Keeler in the Church of the Divine Paternity on November 1, 1888.  Following the ceremony, guests were invited to the "large reception" in the 73rd Street house.  The New-York Tribune reported "Among the guests present were Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Carnegie, Mr. and Mrs. Horatio St. John, Mrs. J. F. de Navarro A. F. de Navarro, General and Mrs. Clinton B. Fisk" and other notable names in Manhattan society and industry.

Six years later Letitia was married.  The New York Times reported on April 5, 1894 "A large number of society people attended the wedding of Miss Letitia Blanchard Herbert [sic] and Byron Wightman Green, Jr., at the Church of the Divine Paternity yesterday afternoon."  As had been the case with Emma's reception, some of the most recognized names in New York City were guests in the house afterward.  Among them were Helen Miller Gould and her brother Frank, children of multi-millionaire industrialist Jay Gould.

By the time Henry and Emma announced Grace's engagement to George Sudders of Philadelphia on November 1, 1895, Hebert's focus was as much on the proposed project to expand the Erie Canal as on his business.  By the turn of the century he accepted the post of the Chairman of the Canal Committee of New-York.

Rather unexpectedly, as their children married and left the expansive house, the Heberts rented spare bedrooms.  In 1899 Luis Marx, Cuban tobacco grower, listed No. 152 as his New York address and the Louvre Hotel as his Havana residence.  Marx also represented the Cuban tobacco growers in Washington as "Special Commissioner."

A year later the widowed Abram E. Bamberger and his two children were here.  A merchant with the Cotton Commission, Bamberter was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1854, but was educated in New York City public schools and the College of the City of New York.   His wife, the, the former Fannie Einstein, had died on June 9, 1890.  Son Lewis was 16 years old in 1900, and Alice, was attending Barnard College.

Looking like a broken, ancient ruin, the portico is stained green by moss growing in the porous brownstone.
 In the meantime, the Hebert family continued to shrink as one-by-one the children married.  On April 15, 1903 Martin Stenson Hebert was wed to Anna Townsend Burnett in a socially-significant ceremony in the Church of the Incarnation.   The reception was held at Sherry's.

Henry's successful work in lobbying for legislation to improve the Erie Canal contributed to his high esteem among New York's citizenry.  Ellsworth Loftus wrote to the Editor of The New York Times on August 6, 1904 suggesting he be considered for Governor, calling him "of the highest character, warm hearted and broad minded, yet of the greatest caution and method, of good executive ability and a true and loyal Democrat, he is the ideal candidate."

In August 1909 Henry and Emma sold the house to "Dr. Van Riempst," as recorded by the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide.   Title to the house, assessed at $25,000--just under $675,000 today--was put in the name of Jessie Shoepkens Van Riempst.  Abram Bamberger moved to the Ansonia Hotel, and the Heberts moved to No. 64 West 92nd Street, where Henry died on September 6, 1914.

If the Theodore Van Reimpst family lived in the West 73rd Street house, it was not for long.  In May 1914 Jessie leased the house to Edward J. Ware.  A well-respected doctor, Ware's wife, Carrie Barlow Ware, had died on March 17, 1906.   He had a daughter, Katherine, and two sons, Edward Richmond and Barlow.  The family had a summer home in Bridgehampton.

Ware came from a wealthy family and was born in a mansion on Fifth Avenue at 38th Street (replaced by Stanford White's magnificent Tiffany & Co. building).  He graduated from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1885.

The young doctor's work on the Upper West Side began in 1888 when he was appointed the position of physician of The Children's Fold.  An orphanage of sorts for impoverished children, the Fold had one main objective--to train orphaned or unwanted children to be servants.

Their formal education was, rather astonishingly today, ignored by the city.  The Fold's 1889 report explained "The rapid growth of population on the west side has overfilled the public schools and left hundreds of children to receive such education as they best may...In the meantime the Fold children are excluded."

The report credited Dr. Edward J. Ware with the children's overall good health, saying he "gives unrequited and constant attention."

By the time he moved into the 73rd Street house he was one of the staff of surgeons for the Bloomingdale Clinic and a member of the New York Academy of Medicine.  His club memberships included the Old Settlers Club and the Harvard Club.

In 1916, with World War I raging in Europe, young Edward was stationed in the Military Training Camp in Plattsburgh, New York.  Army documents listed his West 73rd Street address and his profession as "student."

On September 29, 1918 Ware died suddenly in the house.  His funeral was held in St. Michael's Church on Amsterdam Avenue where he had been a vestryman for many years.

The Jessie Van Riempst wasted no time in leasing Ware's office.   Two weeks after his funeral an advertisement appeared in the New-York Tribune.

New-York Tribune, October 18, 1918 (copyright expired)

Above the doctor's office, the main house as leased to Mrs. Helen M. Webb.  She was regularly listed in Club Women of New York, and was a member of the Legislative League, an organization of early feminists.  The League not only had fought for women's right to vote, but for equitable divorce and inheritance laws, and equal pay for women and men.  Helen was followed in the house in May 1932 by Mrs. M. Gallati.

By 1936 much had changed along the block of West 73rd Street.  With the Great Depression, the once-fashionable residences were being operated as rooming houses.  Jessie Van Riempst followed suit and in 1936 was slapped with a "multiple dwelling violation" by the Department of Buildings.

Now widowed, Jessie died in 1939.  Her estate sold the 73rd Street house to an investor.  While it continued to be operated as rented rooms, it somehow escaped the overall external brutalization suffered by the rest of the 1883 row.

In 2002, when it was converted from an SRO to a "Class A Multiple Dwelling," it alone still retained its marvelous stoop and portico.  Despite owners' apparent indifference to the severe damage of weathering which has created a near haunted house appearance, the Hebert house still exudes the haughty attitude of a once-proud dowager.

photographs by the author