Saturday, December 9, 2017

James Swan's 1854 "Steam Factory" - 159-161 Mercer Street


The aggressive lintels, cast iron storefront and ambitious cornice were added following a devastating fire in 1874.

James Swan was a pioneer in the commercializing the Mercer Street block between West Houston and Prince Streets.  In 1854 he erected a factory building on the site of the two houses at Nos. 131 and 133; the same year that construction was completed on the new Firemen's Hall next door at Nos, 127-129.

Simultaneously the firm of McNab, Carr & Co. was formed.  The fledgling brassworks that moved into Swan's building would eventually become a substantial manufacturer of "all kinds of brass cocks, plumbers' brass work, globe valves, gauge cocks, steam whistles and water gauges also wrought iron pipe and fittings and plumbers' and gas fitters's tool," according to Illustrated New York in 1888.

McNab, Carr & Co. advertised in Debow's Review in 1857.  (copyright expired)
McNab, Carr & Co. was fully operating in the building in 1855 and the following year was advertising for additional help.  An advertisement in the New-York Daily Tribune sought "A good brass cock maker."  The high quality of the firm's products was reflected in its submissions to the 1857 exhibition of the American Institute.  McNab, Carr & Co., received awards for the "second best gauge cocks," the "best stop valves," and "the best panel of brass ware."

McNab, Carr & Co. shared the building with two other tenants.  The machine shop of M. Baragwanath was not so successful, however.  On October 4, 1857 an auction was held in the building of "a large quantity of machinery, tools, &c."  The equipment from the failed business, consisting in part of cutting engines, fly wheels, belting, and drills was deemed by the auctioneer "worthy of the attention" of machinists.

Also in the building was the surgical and dental instrument factory of H. Hernstein, and the "steam-fitting and plumbing factory" of E. V. Haughwout & Co.  The three plants were able to operate because of a steam plant to the rear of the building which was highly-touted.

An 1858 advertisement in the American Medical Gazette and Journal of Health placed by H. Hernstein boasted that his "extensive stock of Surgical, Dental and other instruments...is constantly being replenished and added to from his Steam Factory, Nos. 131 and 133 Mercer Street."


Working in one of the factories that same year was William Booker, a knife grinder.  On the morning of November 4, 1859 he stopped in Meschutt's coffee saloon--apparently the pre-Civil War version of a Starbucks--only to be involved in what The New York Herald called "a desperate affray."

Booker had no sooner entered the place when George F. Finnegan and George W. Hill "began jeering him."  The pair was described by the newspaper as "reputed gamblers."  The New-York Daily Tribune added more information on Finnegan, calling him a "professional gambler" who had recently "committed a rape upon a ballet dancer."

According to Booker, before he knew what was happening, Finnegan "proceeded to blows, threw him upon the floor, pounded him with his fists, and also with a pistol."  While Booker lay on the floor, Finnegan shot his gun, the bullet lodging into the floor by Booker's head.

Hearing "the row" a passing police officer rushed into the saloon and arrested the two attackers.   News of their arrest quickly spread reached the gamblers' cronies.  The Herald reported "There was quite a representation of the fancy and gambling fraternity in court to hear the result of the examination."

William Booker was understandably late for work.

In 1859 McNab, Carr & Co. moved out when it opened its expansive factory in New Jersey.   By now E. V. Haughwout & Co. had either purchased the building or had leased it.  On November 13 that year it advertised available space in the building, noting as always, "with steam power."

A new tenant in the spring of 1860 was F. Ashley, whose factory produced his patented "screw egg beaters and churns."  By 1862 Krantz & Schnmidt, makers of "instruments," and George H. Pages gas fixtures foundry were here; and by March 1865 Howe & Bouvier, scale makers had moved in.


The Financial Panic of 1869--sparked when Jay Gould and James Fisk attempted to corner the gold market--may have been the reason that "several shops" were available in the building in April 1870.  As had been the case for nearly two decades, the advertisement touted "with steam power."

One worker in the building that year was German immigrant Jacob Schaffer.  On the same block, at No. 141 Mercer Street, was a boarding house run by Barbara Ordner.  He apparently offended the feisty proprietor on August 13, for she was taken to the Jefferson Market Courthouse "for breaking a lager beer glass over the head of Jacob Schaffer...and injuring him severely."

Nos. 131-133 Mercer Street was owned and managed by Strouse Brothers by now.  On October 20, 1870 Seligman Strouse was cited for an "unsafe rear wall."  Three years later Strouse Brothers received citations for not having fire escapes.

In the meantime the empty factory spaces had filled.  In 1871 Otto Loehr's photographic apparatus and camera box business was in the building.  Around the same time the woodworking shop of Kern, Werle & Barth moved in.

Herman Barth worked for Kern, Werle & Barth in 1873.  The 19-year old was involved in a devastating accident on July 7.  The New York Herald reported that "while at work in the sawmill" he "had two fingers and the thumb of the left hand cut off."

The Fire Department's citation of no fire escapes in 1873 was of little consequence on September 23 the following year.  There was no one in the building at 1:45 in the morning when fire broke out.

Kern, Werle & Barth's saw mill had been taken over by Otto Schlee.  The second floor was occupied by picture frame and looking glass manufacturers Sigler Brothers, the third by Otto Loehr.  A rear building was occupied by Jacob Sauter's "French millinery box factory" and David Glein's wood turning business.

The fire started in the boiler room below Schlee's saw mill.  The New York Times remarked "Owing to the inflammable nature of the contents of the building the flames spread rapidly and soon enveloped the building in the rear, which was almost completely gutted."

The fact that Firemen's Hall was next door no doubt saved the building from complete destruction.  Strouse Brothers estimated the damage at $12,000, more than a quarter of a million by today's terms.

The 20-year old factory received a modern make-over as part of the repairs.  A new cast iron storefront by Ayers & McCandless Iron Works, was installed, which featured thin, paneled pilasters with Corinthian capitals.  The foundry was most likely responsible for the bold cast iron lintels and the ambitious new cornice, as well.

The new, modern cornice would have been equally at home atop a Broadway retail store.

 Undeterred, Otto Loehr was still in the building in 1881 when he received two awards from the American Institute--one honorable mention for his photographic dark tent, and another for his "stereoscopic camera box."

Sharp's Publishing Co. moved into the renovated building.  The firm produced periodicals like the 34-page monthly, the American Milliner and Dressmaker.  Fashion-minded ladies could subscribe for $1.50 a year.  Pettengill's Newspaper Directory described the magazine in 1878, saying in part "It is one of the neatest publications of this kind.  It is thorough in the execution of its illustrations, in its descriptions of styles, and in its literary department."

The presence of the fashion magazine was evidence of the arrival of garment and millinery manufacturers in the Mercer Street area.  By 1880 a major tenant in Nos. 131-133 was A Reves & Son, apparel makers.  The firm was doing well that year, advertising in June for "operators on gingham suits and ulsters; none but good hands;" and again in November for a "first-class operator on fine dolmans; high price paid; none but good hand need apply."  The latter advertisement hinted at the no-nonsense environment of the shop:  "Come ready to work."

Sharing the building that year was Bernstein & Co., "chenille makers," and Robert Cunningham, a dealer in feathers.  Feathers, along with ribbons and artificial flowers, were an important element in ladies' hats.

Cunningham was the focus of a possible insurance fraud investigation in 1883.  On the morning of Friday, June 8, according to his wife, "he put on his best clothes before leaving home for business."  After spending a few hours at his Mercer Street office, he headed home.  Around 11:30 a man jumped from the rear of the Hamilton Ferry boat which was headed to Brooklyn where Cunningham lived.

The Sun reported that one witness "saw him go overboard, and with several others saw the man struggle for a time in the swift current and finally go down."  A boat was dispatched, but only a man's hat was recovered.  In the lining was a piece of paper that read "Robert Cunningham.  148 Fourteenth street.  South Brooklyn."

There seemed to be no reason why Cunningham would have killed himself.  The Sun noted "His business was prosperous, he had a comfortable income, and his domestic relations were happy."  He did, however, have a $25,000 life insurance policy; motive enough in 1883.

The insurance company put private detective Robert Pinkerton on the case. While a sign on the door of Cunningham's Mercer Street business read "Closed on account of the death of Robert Cunningham," Pinkerton began to suspect that the feather merchant was far from dead.

He told reporters that, for one thing, there was only one eye witness.  And, as reported by The Sun, "His struggle in the water was so short and he sank so quickly that many who ran to look when the cry of 'Man overboard!' was raised did not see him."   And his son admitted that he "frequently heard his father speak in condemnation of suicide."

Pinkerton suspected the suicide was a hoax.  He suggested to the press that "a hat had been thrown overboard and that then a false cry of 'Man overboard!' had been raised."

But Cunningham had, indeed, died.  His body was carried by the currents and found later in the East River.  That did not end the legal drama, however.  The insurance companies argued with the family's attorneys as to whether it was suicide or accident.  And the Union Ferry Company was censured by a jury for its life saving procedures (it had taken over 20 minutes to launch a life boat).  In the end, the family received none of the insurance benefits.  Because it was proved that Cunningham had paid the premiums with company money, the funds went its creditors.

In the spring of 1886 Mercer Street was renumbered.  Nos. 131-133 received its new address of Nos. 159-161.


At the turn of the century the J. S. Plummer & Co., dealers in "importers of straw goods," was leasing the entire building from Stouse Brothers.  The company was headed by brothers Charles and Walter Burr.

The firm was founded in 1861 by Jerome S. Plummer.  A family operation, Charles entered the firm when he married Plummer's daughter, Carrie.  Walter followed suit by marrying Carrie's sister, Florence.  When Jerome Plummer died in 1895, the Burr brothers took over the business.

Walter (top) and Charles Burr were young, handsome and wealthy in 1902 when these photos were taken.  from New York the Metropolis, 1902, copyright expired.

In the summer of 1905 Charles's family, like all moneyed New Yorkers, had left the city.  And like most wealthy businessmen who remained to conduct buiness, he was staying at his club, the exclusive Union League Club.  The cost and bother of keeping a city house staffed and maintained for a single occupant made little sense.

Charles attended an outing of the Mystic Shriners at College Point in the middle of June.  The New York Times reported "He ate heartily of clams and fish."  The following day he fell ill.  The clams which Burr heartily ate were tainted and he died at the Union League Club the following Monday night.

Walter Burr continued on with the business, renewing the lease "for a long term" on the Mercer Street building the following year.

J. S. Plummer & Co. was gone by 1921 when Jacob Kaufman manufactured leather bags in the building.  It continued to house a variety of manufacturers past mid-century, while the Mercer Street block was experiencing a decided decline.  Nos. 159-161 Mercer Street was, like most of its neighbors, bedraggled and abused by the early 1960s when the first signs of renaissance appeared.

Abstract Expressionist painter and sculptor Gene Vass and his wife, apparel designer Joan, moved into the vacant top floor factory loft in the building at that time.  They, like other pioneering Soho artists, actors and intellectuals, were in fact violating building department laws.

It was here that Joan Vass held her first fashion shows.  They were not glamorous accommodations.  Buyers could reach the space only by a freight elevator. 

The upper floors would not be legalized until 1995 when they were deemed by the Department of Buildings as joint living and working quarters for artists.  Before then the Cast Iron Gallery had opened at street level.  The gallery not only showcased contemporary art, but provided events.  On November 23, 1991, for instance, it hosted a "Storybook Hour, with the Japanese children's book illustrator and author Shomei Yoh."  The gallery tempted participants by noting "Japanese rice cookies and Japanese yogurt will be served."

In 2006 the Cast Iron Gallery was replaced by the boutique, Nave.  That retailer was replaced in 2010 by Marni, still in the space today.

photographs by the author

Friday, December 8, 2017

Dorothy Caruso's Skinny Studio - 143 east 62nd Street



The line of brick along the side elevation the depth of the 1929 forward extension of the facade.
In 1868 the 62nd Street block between Lexington and Third Avenues saw a flurry of construction.  Formerly open and rural, the plots were sold to builders and contractors that year and rows of brownstone-fronted rowhouses soon followed.  One house, No. 143, stood out--not because of any architectural significance, but because of its unusual proportions.  At just 12.5 feet wide, it was a nearly half as wide as the common townhouse.

Built by Anna and Warren P. Crandall, who owned several other properties in the neighborhood, the skinny house seems to have been a dollhouse version of its neighbors.  They described it in an advertisement on April 16, 1871.  "A nice little brown stone house, 143 East Sixty-second street, near Lexington avenue...Modern improvements; rent $1,400."  The rent would be equal to about $2,400 a month today.

Later that year, in October, the Crandalls sold several parcels to real estate operator John Murphy , including No. 143.  By the 1890s it was home to Charles H. Liebert and his wife, Charlotte.  The German-born attorney was active in the German community, taking a box at the annual German Charity Ball in the Waldorf-Astoria, for example; and was highly involved in the New York Athletic Club.

The Lieberts moved down the block to No. 234 East 62nd Street at around the turn of the century.  Their former house became the home and office of Dr. John Slocum.   He was a fixture on the 62nd Street block for more than two decades, finally selling the house around 1928 to another physician and neighbor, Dr. Robert H. Fowler.

Fowler, whose summer estate was in Syosset, Long Island, lived and operated his "private hospital" steps away at No. 153.  His purchase was purely an investment and he remodeled the old house by removing the stoop and extending the front forward to the property line.  His architect gave the old house a Mediterranean make-over with a diapered brick facade and slate mansard.

On May 25, 1929 The New York Times noted that "Romeyn Park Benjamin leased from Dr. Robert H. Fowler the four-story American basement dwelling."  Benjamin's sister, Dorothy, was the widow of famed operatic tenor, Enrico Caruso.  He was the general manager of her newly-formed business endeavor, the Dorothy Caruso Reproducing Studio.

The following week the newspaper reported "Without the fanfare of a formal opening or any activity which would distinguish her studio from a normal place of business, Mrs. Enrico Caruso...made her debut yesterday as a business woman."

Although busy "arranging the rooms, fretting over workmen's delay in making installations" and other preparations, Dorothy paused to answer the reporter's questions.  She flatly admitted she "was not in the business for fun, but for money."  Hers was a remarkable venture--making personal recordings.

"Mrs. Caruso's business is the making of individual phonograph records, which instantly reproduce and perpetuate on aluminum anything from a greeting to a sales letter, as she explained it," said the article.  Dorothy was careful to distinguish her services from those which had made her husband's music available in families' living rooms.


"This is the first time my name has ever been connected with any business.  Our business will not compete with the phonograph record companies.  We shall make only personal records for customers."

The ground floor contained a reception area and the two recording studios.  The Times said "The walls of the studios are hung with heavy stuffs which serve the double purpose of decoration and sound absorption."  On the second floor were individual rooms where customers could hear the finished products on phonographs before approving them.

Dorothy seemed determined to make it on her own.  The only reminder of her famous husband was a life-size bronze bust of the tenor just inside the entrance.

Later that year The American Exporter explained the process saying "A blank Speak-O-Phone record is placed on the metal disk of specially processed aluminum, on which a personal record can be made in a few minutes."  The magazine promised that it was "possible for anyone to make personal phonograph records...for no more than the cost of an ordinary record."

Dorothy Caruso's ambitious venture did not last especially long; at least not on East 62nd Street.  It was soon the studio of artist and photographer George M. Kessler.   Kessler's photography had been well-received over the years, being exhibited as early as 1921.  But it was possibly the Great Depression that ruined his business.  On August 15, 1934 he filed for bankruptcy.

The next change to No. 143 came in May 1950 when it was purchased by real estate operator Michael Charles Berg, who went professionally by his initials, for his offices.  Berg commissioned Samuel A. Hertz to update the building.  While the architect renovated the interior spaces for Berg's offices, he did little to the striking exterior other than replacing a doorway with a wide shop window.

On June 13, 1950, one month after Berg purchased the building and before alterations were begun, Wurts Bros. snapped this photograph from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

In reporting on the renovations on December 10, 1950, The New York Times remarked on the building's extreme narrowness.  "In these days of tall buildings which take up whole blocks, the four-story brick town house at 143 East Sixty-second Street offers a striking contrast because of the tiny plot it occupies."  Reminding readers that it "was occupied for more than a quarter of a century by Dr. John Slocum as his residence and office," the newspaper said "It stands as one of the narrowest structures in the borough." 

Berg's $35,000 in renovations (more in the neighborhood of $350,000 today), resulted in a store at ground level, Berg's offices on the second floor, and apartments above.

Berg was well-known for his remodeling and reconditioning of vintage houses, starting around 1925; but he had a much more colorful past.  He was celebrated world-wide as a trick cyclist.

While growing up on the Lower East Side, he loved his bicycle.  In 1900, at the age of 14, he joined a circus and, according to The New York Times decades later, "soon developed sufficient skill to establish his own act, which toured the world and gave command performances before royalty."

His nephew, Leo Feinberg explained "With his partner on his shoulders, he would race down a ladder on a unicycle, straight toward the audience.  As a rule, the spectators, certain that the pair would crash onto them, would attempt to scatter."  But at the very last second, Berg would turn sharply away.  Berg and his partner, Al Berman, took the cycling act all over the globe with the Keith-Orpheum vaudeville group.

Berg's business dealings at No. 143 would be far less thrilling, but most likely more financially rewarding.

M. C. Berg sold the building to Mildred Bernstein in February 1959 "for investment."  She leased the store to Ted and Nancy Price, who had run their custom furniture store, the Barn at Ben Robyn, in Huntington, Long Island.  But the winter of 1958 had been severe and prompted the couple to reconsider their remote location.   They opened in the 62nd Street location in September.

The Prices marketed their "furniture, furnishings and gifts" as "Jamaican Originals;" but it was a misleading description.  While the reproduction furniture was crafted in the Caribbean using Jamaican mahogany, it was in fact detailed reproductions of American and European 18th century designs.

On September 26, 1959 The New York Times remarked on several of the pieces displayed, including a $1,200 highboy and a $450 lowboy copied originals in museums.  "An end table with a bombe front, just high enough to nestle under the arm of a sofa is $350.  A miniature chest, copied from an old Chippendale spice cabinet, is eight inches high and ten inches long.  It is lined in gay printed wallpaper and has four little drawers."

The Barn at Ben Robyn remained in the space until 1965 when it became home to Tender Buttons.  The unique shop had begun the year before when Diana Epstein, an editor for Funk & Wagnall's Encyclopedia, purchased a defunct button store.   An antique restorer, Millicent Saffro, dropped in to buy a button and was fascinated by the still disorganized hoard.  The two women became partners.

Epstein and Safro massed an inventory of millions of vintage buttons.  Together they wrote Buttons, published in 1991, and Epstein published A Collector's Guide to Buttons and The Button Book.

Diana Epstein died in 1998, but more than half a century after opening the shop here, Millicent Saffro continues selling buttons--some rare, some not, but all mesmerizing for the button crowd.


After nearly a century and a half of colorful history, the skinny little house is a charming presence steps away from the clamor of Lexington Avenue.

photographs by the author

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The 1848 Richard Dongan House - 234 West 10th Street



The wooden gate to the left hides the "horsewalk" which provided access to the stables in the rear.
Development of the Amos Street block between Hudson and Herring (later renamed Bleecker) Streets was well underway in the early 1830s.   Richard Dongan's family were already landowners in the area; decades later New York City historian Henry Browne noted that land on Greenwich Street "north from West Tenth, (formerly Amos Street) [was] purchased by old Richard Amos the gardener, from the Earl of Northumberland."

The younger Dongan purchased the plot at No. 130 Amos Street around 1838; but while construction continued on the block, it would be a decade before he built his house.  Unlike its earlier, Federal-style neighbors, the Dongan house was designed in the newly popular Greek Revival style.  Completed in 1848, it was three stories tall above a brick-faced basement level.  In place of a peaked roof with dormers, the squat attic level was a full floor high below a slightly sloping roof.  The simple treatment of the single door entrance, with its transom to admit light and the two simple pilasters, marked this as the home of a working class family.

The shared horsewalk between the Dongan house and its neighbor to the east led to the rear yards where both house had wooden stables.   Although Amos Street formally became West 10th Street in 1857, William Dongan still used the Amos Street address in 1859 when directories listed him as a "cartman."

By the end of the Civil War No. 234 West 10th Street was home to the Russell family.  H. Russell operated a coal yard and seems to have used the stable for storing his delivery wagons and horses.  He seems to have wearied of running the business by 1868.  On June 4 he advertised "Coal business--the stock, fixtures and lease of a Coal Yard for sale or a partner taken."

That same year he upgraded the backyard stable by, apparently, tearing it down and starting over.   In October he offered "To second hand lumber dealers--buildings on 234 West Tenth street for sale."

Within the year the Russell family was gone from West 10th Street.  The new owner, M. S. Hewitt, may have gotten the entire contents of the stable building in the deal.  On November 21, 1869 he advertised in The New York Herald, "For sale cheap--One dirt wagon, four trucks and some good work Horses, all in good order."

In would appear that he was successful in selling only the dirt wagon.   Nearly a year later, in September, he offered "For sale--fourteen horses and four trucks."

Hewitt seems to have been a bachelor, living in the 10th Street house alone.  He was a member of the Antioch Baptist Church at the corner of Bleecker and Morton streets, and of the Washington Lodge at No. 275 Bleecker Street.  The young man would not enjoy his new house for long.  He died suddenly on Friday, July 28, 1871 at just 35 years old.   Presumably because he had no immediate family, his funeral was not held in the house, as would have been otherwise expected, but at the Antioch Baptist Church.


By the last decade of the 19th century No. 234 was being operated as a boarding house.  Blue collar renters, not always model residents, came and went.

One shady character who claimed to live here was Frank Rodgers.  He found himself in jail just after midnight on July 7, 1893 after being caught in Union Square "rifling the pockets of a sleeping man," according to The New York Times.

Police were not as interested in his robbing the homeless man, but with the fact that he closely resembled the description of "Jack the Shearer" alias "Jack the Clipper."   That apparently fetish-driven fiend had been terrorizing women, cutting off locks of their hair and fleeing away.

The newspaper said "The man answers closely the descriptions given of the man who cut the hair of Miss Agnes O'Neill of 129 West Forty-eighth Street and of Miss Caroline Clundt of Williamsburg."  The article added "When arrested he had in his pockets a razor, a patent hair clipper, and a sharp silver-plated table knife without a handle."

Rodgers explained in the Jefferson Market Police Court the following morning that he was a paperhanger and lived at No. 234 West 10th Street.  And he "was merely holding the razor, hair cutter, and knife for a friend, a barber who is soon going into business."  He was unable to give his barber friend's name.

Following up on the alibi, a reporter knocked on the door of No. 234.  No one had heard of Frank Rodgers.  The boarding house proprietress did say, "There was a paperhanger there two months ago calling himself Frank Higgins, who was ejected for non-payment of rent."

Another boarder who found himself behind bars was "Garry" Hendrickson.  His crime, while not intentional, was tragic.  On the evening of May 10, 1900 he was driving what the New-York Tribune described as "an immense truck drawn by two heavy horses" along Worth Street.

Two little girls, 10-year old Rachel Lyons and her 4-year old sister, Mamie, were heading home to No. 3 Baxter Street from playing in Mulberry Bend Park.   Just as they stepped into the street, Hendrickson's rig came rumbling along.

The Tribune reported "In trying to save her sister Rachel fell, and the front wheel ran over her left thigh, smashing the bones to fragments.  The younger child held on to her sister's hand."  Hendrickson was alerted by the cries of the little girls and the shouts of the pedestrians.  He yanked the reins, halting the heavy vehicle just before the back wheel crushed their heads.

Nevertheless, Rachel was critically wounded.  The doctors at the Hudson Street Hospital said "her life was in great danger," according to the newspaper.  Hendrickson was arrested and jailed.  He claimed he had not even the children before hearing them cry out.

A life-long resident of Greenwich Village at the time was Joseph J. Fitzhenry.  In March 1912 he leased No. 234, returning it to a single-family home.  He was the president of the trucking company J. J. Fitzhenry, Inc, and partner with August F. Groll in the Consolidated Tungsten Lamp Co.  Both firms were located at No. 125 Greenwich Street.

Half a century earlier, in 1865, a group of neighborhood boys formed the Tough Club.  The New-York Tribune pointed out that "tough" meant "strong and not rowdy."  Membership was not terminated by age or success.  And in 1907 there were still three original members.  "Three of the boys are still left of that Munchausen crowd--Simon M. Sharp, who is four years older than Mark Twain, but says he feels four years younger; Andrew Bell, who has kept his youth by selling flour on the Produce Exchange, and John Hopkins," said the Tribune on December 26, 1907.

Fitzhenry was president of the club by then, and every year it hosted a Christmas party for the less fortunate Greenwich Village children.  That Christmas there were about 350 in attendance, who were fed ice cream and given toys, including "games, and Teddy bears, and dolls that could sit up and speak."

The Tribune noted that the older boys were not interested in singing Christmas carols.  "Being real New Yorkers, they sang 'Harrigan, That's Me,' and 'School Days.'"

Among the youths who received special guidance and help from Joseph Fitzhenry was Frank Rowan, whose father was a personal friend.   During the summer of 1914 Fitzhenry gave the teen money "to make a fresh start."   Rowan repaid him with treachery.

On Thursday evening, August 20 the family went out.  When they returned to find the house burglarized.  The Evening World said "Mr. Fitzhenry reported to the police that night that jewelry and clothing worth $300 were missing when he returned."  An investigation provided witnesses who had seen Rowan entering the house.

A week later The Evening World explained "Rowan recently became acquainted with Edith Dupont of No. 83 Perry street and paid her much attention.  He had need of rather more money than had been given to him."   Unable to find the teen, but aware of his interest in Edith, detectives tailed her.  When Rowan met her at Glen Island Park, they pounced.

"She was overcome with humiliation when the young man was arrested," said The World, "and convinced the police she did not know he was not a proper person to have as a friend."

Joseph J Fitzhenry left West 10th Street in 1916, when he rented a house on Fourth Avenue.  No. 234 was leased to a succession of residents, including M. Delaney in 1919, and Mary V. Doyle the following year.  The widow of John Doyle, her funeral was held in the house in May 1920.

No. 234 had been owned by one real estate firm then another for many years.  In June 1928 it was sold by the V. Green Company to the Morwin Corporation.  It seemed to be the end of the line for the venerable little house.  The Times advised "The buyers will demolish the present structure and erect a six-story elevator apartment house."

Something, possibly the advent of the Great Depression, upset those ambitious plans.  And by now the charm of Greenwich Village's winding street and vintage architecture was attracting a new demographic--moneyed professional families.

No. 234 survived and became home to attorney Norman W. Wassman and his wife, the former Emilie Pleydell.  Wassman, a 1919 graduated of the University of Michigan, worked in the legal firm of E. B. Sanford at No. 165 Broadway.  The corporate counsel of the American News Company, he was an unsuccessful candidate for Justice of the Municipal Court in 1929.

Emilie was the daughter of Arthur C. and Ella Miller Pleydell.  The New York Times called Arthur an "internationally known authority on taxation."  For more than two decades he had been secretary of the New York Tax Reform Association.  Pleydell died on May 30, 1932 and his funeral was held in the his daughter's West 10th Street house on June 2.

The significant change from the time when cartmen stabled their wagons and horses in the rear yard to now was evidenced not only by Wassman's membership in the pricey Downtown Athletic Club; but in Emilie's expensive wardrobe.  One of her French couturier dresses, a gold lame gown by the House of Lanvin, is displayed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Following a long illness, Normal Wassman died in St. Vincent's Hospital at the age of 56 on January 8, 1952.  Emilie left the house shortly afterward, and it became home to William J. and Nan C. Sowerwine by 1954.

Throughout the rest of the century the house escaped being converted to apartments.  When it sold in November 1988 for $960,000, it was described as having three bedrooms, two baths, four fireplaces and a den.

A renovation in 2003 resulted in what Home and Garden TV watchers call an "open floor plan."  While a few period details remain, there is little left inside that Richard Dongan or even Emilie Wassman would recognize.   Outside is a different story.  The charming brick house retains its 1848 character; an important piece of the architectural crazy quilt of periods and styles along the block.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

"The Westminster," 108 West 17th Street



By 1881 the 17th Street block between Sixth and Seventh Avenues was no longer quiet residential neighborhood it had been in the 1850s.   Lavish retail emporiums had already begun transforming Sixth Avenue to New York's major shopping thoroughfare, and three years earlier the Sixth Avenue El had been extended this far north.    

The widowed Ann Simpson lived in the little, two-story 25-foot wide brick house at No. 108 West 17th Street.  On November 7 that year she sold it to developer Christopher Mooney for $12,000, or about $291,000 today.   Mooney saw potential in the changing neighborhood and was already in the process of constructing a five-story tenement nearby at No. 215 West 16th Street.

Within two weeks Mooney's architect, C. F. Ridder, Jr., filed plans to replace the old house with a "five story brown stone tenement" to cost $12,000--exactly the amount Mooney had paid for the property.  Ridder was busy at the time designing tenements, commercial and industrial buildings like the two-story No. 831 Washington Street completed the same year.

The speed of construction of No 108 was blinding by today's standards and was completed within six months.  The paint was barely dry before Mooney sold the 25-foot wide building to Charles L. Ritzmann on April 26, 1882.  The $35,000 sales price grossed him an $11,000 profit, a tidy $266,000 in today's dollars.

Ridder had created an up-to-the-minute neo-Grec apartment house.  Its handsome design and amenities prompted the Real Estate Record & Guide to called it a "stone front flat" rather than a tenement--a significant step up in the minds of real estate operators and potential tenants.  Above the centered entrance at sidewalk level four identical floors of neat, architrave-framed openings featured molded cornices upheld by decorative carved brackets.  A complex cast iron cornice completed the design.

Despite its attractive appearance, the site--steps away from bustling Sixth Avenue and its noisy train, and six blocks below 23rd Street's theaters and music halls--prevented No. 108 from anything near what could be called "upscale."  And the attention the initial tenants sometimes drew was not always the most desirable.

Such was the case on February 17, 1887 when Dr. Alexander J. Peet was called to the apartment of an unnamed "lady" who expressed extreme alarm at the wild actions of her gentleman caller.   Peet was the physician of actor James B. Radcliff, who had recently appeared as Jonathan Wild in the play Jack Sheppard at Koster & Bial's music hall at the corner of Sixth Avenue and 23rd Street.   When Peet arrived at the apartment, he recognized his patient as Radcliff. 

The doctor quickly immediately why the woman had been alarmed. According to The New York Times the following day, "Radcliff began to abuse him, and when he attempted to assault the doctor the latter threw himself on a lounge and parried his blows with his feet."  At one point the actor broke a chair over the doctor's shoulders.  Finally Peet was able to overpower his assailant and police were called.

The following morning in the Jefferson Market Police Court Radcliff said he "had not the slightest recollection of what happened when the doctor came."  The Times reported "In fact, he was surprised when he woke up and found himself in a cell in the West Thirtieth-street station house."  The actor explained, "He could not take liquor without its having a speedy and disastrous effect on him, and calling on a lady friend in the evening, he drank 'a little gin and a little beer.'"

His excuse did not impress Justice Murray who imposed $300 bail awaiting trial--a significant $13,000 today.  The money was supplied by the son of the proprietor of Poole's Theatre where the actor was scheduled to appear the following week.

Charles Ritzmann sold the building in June that year to T. Johnson for the exact amount he had spent for it five years earlier.  The transaction was evidence that while property values were stable, they were not improving.

Adelaide Gerehorne was the janitress of the building in 1895.  With the position came a small apartment, most likely in the basement.  Described by The Sun as a "stout, colored woman," Adelaide took her job seriously, and she was not pleased when 31-year old Grace Walden visited the building in mid-March that year and "created a disturbance."

Already irritated by the woman's previous alcohol-charged display, Adelaide reached the end of her patience a few nights later.  According to The Sun's report, Walden ("a handsome, diamonded young white woman") had "dined well" with a gray-haired man of about 50, then arrived at No. 108 to call on a friend.

"After ringing her friend's bell last night and getting no response, she rang all the bells in the house.  She gave the bell of the janitress a few extra rings."  It was an ill-advised move.  Adelaide "came out in a hurry" and ordered the pair to leave.  Grace Walden had no intention of leaving nor taking orders from a custodian and attempted to push her way in.  Adelaide pushed back, landing Grace on the pavement.  A knock-down, drag-out fight then ensued.

The Sun said the "scrap, confined mostly to hair-pulling and screaming, drew a crowd last night in front of the apartment house at 108 West Seventeenth street...But for the arrival of Policeman John McDonald of the West Thirtieth street station, there is no telling how the battle might have ended."  The onlookers appear to have reveled in the female brawl; the newspaper said it was accompanied by "screams and yells from the crowd."

The well-dressed Grace Walden, born in Charleston, South Carolina, was dumbfounded when it was not Adelaide, but she who was locked up on the charge of disorderly conduct.  "Mrs. Walden fell to the floor and uttered screams which were heard half a block away," reported The Sun.

A. B. Dazzi traveled to Europe in 1897, returning on the French steamship La Normandie on January 17, 1898.  As he attempted to pass through customs, a gold brooch with rubies and emeralds was discovered hidden in his clothing.  He was detained and accused of smuggling.

Dazzi insisted he had bought the $200 pin--worth nearly $6,000 in today's dollars--for his wife.  The story was suspect, given the couple's humble lifestyle, and did not explain away why he had hidden the jewelry.  He was held at $1,500 bail awaiting examination.

Later that year, on October 1, Adelaide Gerehorne smelled lighting gas coming from the apartment of a new tenant.   A Mrs. De La Motte had moved in two weeks earlier.  The 35-year old suffered from rheumatism which made walking difficult.   Adelaide entered the apartment to find her unconscious in the middle of the room.  The Times reported "The gas chandelier hanging from the centre of the ceiling had been broken off and lay at the woman's feet."  Doctors at New York Hospital were not optimistic, saying she "might die."

By the time Sarah Ballin purchased the building in December 1900, it had been christened "The Westminster."  The marketing ploy perhaps attempted to give the address a more well-to-do sound.  It nevertheless continued to be home to middle-class tenants like the widow Doretta Wohltman, who received her husband's Police Department pension of $300 a year.

Shortly after Morris Jacoby bought the property in 1910 he hired architect Oscar Lewinson to make substantial renovations to the ground floor--installing stores on either side of the entrance at a cost of $1,500.

George Martin lived in the building in 1912 when he was involved in a bizarre and tragic incident at his workplace.  He was an elevator operator in the Nemo Building at No. 120 East 16th Street.  Following a heavy rainstorm on the night of July 21 he and three other employees went to the roof with the building's super, Thomas Halley, to unclog a drain pipe that was causing water to back up.

Among them was 55-year old porter Robert Kinsela.  He waded into the 16-inch deep water, found the clogged pipe, and thrust his arm in to the shoulder.  As soon as he cleared the obstruction the large volume of water rushed down the pipe.  The Times reported "the suction held his arm as in a vise.  He was thrown forward and his head went under water."

Martin and his co-workers rushed to help, but they could not free his arm.  "Neither could they force the unfortunate man's head above water without breaking his neck," explained the article.  They struggled for 15 minutes before the water drained enough that the suction abated and his arm was freed.  By then it was too late and the father of nine was dead.

Following the end of World War I the department stores had all abandoned Sixth Avenue and the neighborhood became increasingly industrial.  In 1921 there were 75 people living in No. 108, which the Los Angeles Herald described as "mostly Greeks and Spaniards."

The California newspaper was reporting on an unspeakable tragedy that had occurred early on the morning of November 14.  While the tenants were asleep, fire broke out.  It swept through the building with unbelievable swiftness.

"So much progress had the fire made before it was discovered and so rapidly did it spread that several of the victims were burned in their beds without a chance for life," said the article.  The employees of the post office branch across the street spotted the flames and sounded an alarm which woke many of the occupants.  Panic and terror followed.

When fire fighters arrived 25-year old Benjamin Diaz was clinging to a third floor window sill.  Before a ladder could reach him he lost his grip, crushing his skull on the sidewalk.  When the blaze was extinguished the building had been gutted.  Ten occupants were dead--two of them children.  Another would not survive much longer.  The Los Angeles Herald reported "Fireman Patrick Foley risked his life when he plunged through the flames to rescue an unidentified woman who was so badly burned that she is now dying in Bellevue."  In addition the newspaper said that "Thirty persons were burned or injured in the mad scramble" to escape.

The then-unidentified woman was Mrs. Esporie Inonas.  On June 20 the following year Fireman Foley and Lt. George Foster were awarded medals of heroism for the courage "at great personal risk" in pulling her from the inferno.

The stone facade survived the blaze and the interior was reconstructed.

During the winter of 1926 the city was plagued with a serious outbreak of influenza and pneumonia.  The crisis spawned an outbreak of what Dr. S. Dana Hubbard, head of the Health Department's Bureau of Illegal Practice, called a rash of "full-fledged quacks."  On March 26 Hubbard estimated there were approximately 1,500 such "doctors" in the city and told reporters "Some of them have been bold enough to treat such diseases, and this is undoubtedly the most dangerous practice to which a quack could resort."

One victim was Mrs. Emilia Valez who lived at No. 108 West 17th Street.  She took her 10-year old son, Francis, to Maurice S. O'Connor who took an x-ray and "promised to cure him for $180."  Emilia took her Francis to see the 24-year old "doctor" twice a week for three months.  In fact, when O'Connor appeared in court on March 26 it was revealed that he was a clerk and interpreter.   Emilia could hardly have afforded the fees she had paid--nearly $2,500 today--for the worthless treatments.

Later that year the building got a new tenant, Charles Edward Rogers, alias Dennis Lindsey.  He had lived there a few months when he faced a judge on August 19, 1926 for burglarizing the rooms of two other tenants, John Prodler and William Sturges.  When arrested he had the pawn tickets for $500 worth of jewelry taken from Prowdler's apartment.  Sturges claimed he had stolen $160 in cash from his rooms.

Rogers came up with a bizarre defense.  He claimed he had been a Sergeant in the Scots Guards and came to America upon his discharge a few months earlier.  His reason to come was "to learn for himself the merits of prohibition."

He claimed that back home he was accustomed to drinking two quarts of liquor a day.   Hearing reports of the evils of Prohibition, he said he determined to find out if it were "as bad as reported."  After months without liquor, according to Rogers, he had three drinks on the night of August 18.  They made him "go balmy."

His next recollection was being arrested and charged with burglary.  Unfortunately for his extraordinary alibi, the facts did not support it.  The British Consulate said there was no record of his service.

Writer Allan Stuart was a resident here in 1936 at a time when disturbing developments were taking place in Europe.  Adolph Hitler had risen to power in Germany three years earlier, but the growing threat was not widely recognized by many Americans.  Like many artists and writers, Stuart was a member of the Communist Party.  The group was more in tune with the danger.

For the second time that year Stuart and other party members staged a riotous protest on a German ocean liner on August 21, 1936.   Dressed in evening clothes and pretended to be among the 1,000 guests bidding good-bye to the 800 passengers on the Bremen, they began handing out anti-Nazi fliers and yelling "Hitler must be kept out of Spain."

In what The Times called "a wild melee" the protestors "fought with pier police and members of the crew, trading blows with fists and swinging deck chairs."  A "riot call" brought 70 policemen, four patrol cars and an emergency squad of eight officers.  Stuart was among 12 protestors arrested.

At their trial which began a week later, the defense attorney, Joseph Tauber, questioned the Bremer's captain, who admitted he was a member of the Nazi Party and "owed allegiance to Hitler."   Tauber warned the court "Hitler is planning a world war."

The judge disagreed.  At the sentencing on August 31 he stressed "The question involved in the demonstration does not concern the United States, it concerns only Germany and Spain."  His short-sightedness would prove itself within a few years.  In the meantime, he insisted "This kind of a demonstration must be stopped.  If it is condoned, what is coming next?"  Stuart was sentenced to five days in jail.


The 17th Street block and the neighborhood in general suffered substantial decline during mid-century.  But in the last quarter of the century the revival of Chelsea reached No. 108.  In 1978-79 a renovation resulted in two apartments per floor.  Architecturally unsympathetic storefronts were patched on at some point.  But other than a coat of paint and replacement windows, the upper floors where several startling stories and one horrific tragedy played out, are little changed.

photographs by the author

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Goodhue's Masterful Church of the Intercession - Broadway and 155th Street




When the city-loathing John James Audubon completed his home--actually a working farm--at what would become Riverside Drive and 156th Street in 1842, the estate was surrounded by woodlands, creeks and a small waterfall.    That same year Trinity Church purchased land abutting the Audubon property with the intention of establishing a chapel in the "far upper part of the city."

Audubon's house sat within a woodlands setting.  watercolor by William Rickarby Miller, 1857.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Other than Audubon, whose home was year-round, the area was dotted mostly with summer estates around the tiny village of Carmansville.  Trinity's venture may have had another goal in mind.  Trinity Churchyard at the opposite end of Manhattan was nearly filled.  Within a year the new Trinity Church Cemetery had its first burial.  Despite its remoteness, the cemetery would eventually be the final resting place of an eclectic collection of millionaires, writers and the famous (and not so famous)--including nearly two dozen Astors, Clement Clarke Moore, and John James Audubon himself.

Trinity Church was less urgent in erecting the chapel.  In 1846 Audubon and neighbor John R. Morewood were instrumental in forming the parish of the Church of the Intercession, which initially held services in Morewood's parlor.  The following year a quaint Victorian Gothic style frame structure was completed.  It was replaced in 1872 by a more substantial, stone building at what would become 158th Street and Broadway.

The Church of the Intercession suffered financial problems in the last years of the 19th century; and in 1903 its wealthy and socially prominent pastor Rev. L. H. Schwab resigned "on account of ill-health," according to The Successful American.  Things would soon turn around for the congregation.

On October 27, 1903 The New York Times announced that the vestry of the Church of the Intercession had offered the job to the Rev. Milo H. Gates.  Although he had been ordained by Bishop Potter only three years earlier, he had made a significant reputation for himself, having served as rector of the Church of the Ascension in New York, and was currently the rector of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Cohasset, Massachusetts.

Five years after receiving its highly popular pastor, Intercession was taken over by Trinity Corporation, making it the sixth of Trinity's chapels in Manhattan and earning it its new name, the Chapel of the Intercession.  Immediately Trinity's vestry laid plans for a magnificent new chapel building.

Trinity announced that the current Chapel of the Intercession was "old, out of repair, and regarded as wholly inadequate for the rapidly growing needs of that section of the city."  Their choice of sites surprised some and annoyed many.

On April 15, 1909 The Times explained "Just inside the gate of Trinity Cemetery, at Amsterdam Avenue and 154th Street, there is a plot several hundred feet square which has never been laid off in burial lots, but is now used as a lawn.  This is practically the only unoccupied space in the cemetery, and lends itself, in the opinion of the Vestry, admirably to the plans under consideration."  The article said that attendance at the chapel's services had greatly increased since the arrival of Rev. Gates, making "the almost dilapidated condition of the present chapel-house" unfeasible.

Trinity Church commissioned Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson, widely known for its neo-Gothic architecture, to design the building.  The project was taken on solely by partner Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue and he would later consider it his crowning work.

On Thursday October 24, 1912 the impressive cornerstone laying ceremonies took place.  The American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society magazine reported "A procession of lay and clerical officials, preceded by the chapel choir and trumpeters, marched from the old church at Broadway and 158th Street to the site of the new building."  Several hundred members of the congregation witnessed the event, including Elisha Audubon, daughter of the artist and naturalist.  Somewhat appropriately, the rear of the new building nearly abutted Audubon's grave site.

The contents of the first cornerstone had been placed inside the second.  Now both were placed into the latest cornerstone, along with a current Bible and "several religious publications."

Goodhue had designed a building of cathedral-like proportions.  The American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society reported "Its length will be 200 feet; the breadth of the west front including porches, 70 feet; and the total inside width, 57 feet.  The chancel, one of the largest in New York, will be 51x37 feet in size.  The inside height will be 81 feet."

The American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society magazine published this rendering, based on Goodhue's drawings, at the time of the cornerstone laying.  (copyright expired)

While construction continued, Rev. Gate embarked on his own project for the new building.  On September 14, 1913 The Sun reported "When the great Chapel of the Intercession on Washington Heights, which many believe will be the finest example of ecclesiastical art and architecture in New York, if not in the country, begins in a few months to approach completion visitors will probably find its altar the most absorbing within the whole edifice."  While the article admitted there was nothing out of the ordinary in terms of its dimensions and general design, it explained "its sides will be concealed beneath a rich bronze vine whose tendrils will grip a mass of relics from every part of the world."

Years earlier Gates had come across a little mountain church in northern Spain.  Worked into its altar were bits of ruined sculpture, "relics of the days of the Moors," said the article.  Gates was inspired to make the new chapel's altar a reliquary as well.  "Friends were notified and leaders in archaeological work, heads of great churches, scholars and enthusiasts in a half dozen countries volunteered their services."

The result was that 1,563 stones were worked into the altar's design--some of them making current day readers wonder about their acquisition.  Included, for instance, are a chip of stone from Jericho, one from Mount Sinai, a piece of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, and a small chunk of Canterbury Cathedral.

Goodhue's plan created a complex of related structures and a medieval cloister.  The Brickbuilder, April 1914 (copyright expired

The massive church was completed in 1914.  Goodhue had worked in the English Perpendicular style on the main building, taking historic liberties by using pointed Gothic windows along the sides.  The often-acerbic critic Montgomery Schuyler, writing in The Brickbuilder, excused him, saying "Mr. Goodhue, as all students of his work know, does not at all aspire to the praise of a purist."  Schuyler gave the architect his highest praise when he concluded "It suffices to note the evident fact that the new church is one of the most interesting examples of ecclesiastical architecture in New York, or for that matter in the United States."

Goodhue departed from the style of the church proper by designing the rectory in neo-Tudor.

Rev. Milo Hudson Gates was considered, according to The Living Church later, "an authority on ecclesiastical architecture."  He later published the Architecture of the Chapel of the IntercessionThe New York Times later noted "In its crypt he caused to be established a columbarium, which was believed to be the first provision made in any church for the ashes of communicants who have been cremated."

The venerable tombstones of Trinity Cemetery provide a backdrop to the church, including that of James John Audubon, directly behind the rectory (bottom).
The charismatic Rev. Milo Gates was involved with the neighborhood youth.  He established classes within the church complex where girls learned domestic skills, like cooking.  And in 1910 he stumbled across the gave of Clement Clarke Moore while wandering through the cemetery.  He later said "When I was a youngster I used to 'speak pieces.'  Especially proficient was I in dashing off 'The Night Before Christmas.'  I was always fond of if, and wondered about the man who wrote it."

Delighted at having found the poet's grave, he led 50 Sunday school children that Christmas morning to decorate Moore's grave.  By the time the new chapel was nearing completion the event had become a tradition.  On Christmas Eve 1913 the Arizona Republican noted "They will leave the new church at 9:30 o'clock, with banners and trumpeters, and will march, singing Christmas carols, to the grave, where they lay their great wreath."

But Gates had a stern, unbending side as well.  He lashed out against Mary Baker Eddy, founder of the Christian Science Church, in his sermon on March 26, 1916.  Saying she "thought she was writing a Key to the Scriptures," he said she "had not the vaguest idea of what the Scriptures consisted."

The Brickbuilder, April 1914 (copyright expired

And when Dora Russell, the wife of Bertrand Russell, published her book The Right to Be Happy in 1927, Gates took to his pulpit to "assail" her, as worded by The New York Times.  "The trouble with New York is that too many people here have an unfounded pride in their position, said the Rev. Dr. Milo H. Gates yesterday in a sermon attacking Mrs. Bertrand Russell's book...on the ground that it assumes for men and women rights which they do not have," reported the newspaper.

Saying that Mrs. Russell offered "an utterly false and a dangerous solution," he blasted "In the present generation our so-called best families do not own their positions.  They merely chanced to inherit these positions from grandfathers who arrived before the poor immigrant of the present day.  But that gives them no right to be unfair."

Rev. Gates held some convictions which went counter to mainstream church teachings.  He sought to revive the cult of saints among Protestants, and the revival of ancient customs such as the Rogation Days.  He also fervently believed that the Apocrypha be included in the Bible.  The excluded chapters, like the Book of Jasher, were not considered scriptural by the Roman Catholic and Episcopal Churches.  Even Martin Luther had deemed them "not considered equal to the Holy Scriptures, but are useful and good to read."  Gates strongly disagreed.

He repeatedly brought up the subject in his sermons, including the one on May 2, 1927 when he pressed for restoring the Apocrypha to the Bible.  He no doubt shocked some parishioners when he called the Bible "mutilated" and "a disgrace to Protestantism."

Separating the church from the rectory and related buildings was the cloister, the center of which is seen above The Brickbuilder, April 1914 (copyright expired
Surrounding the cloister garden are peaceful, Gothic style arcades.
Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue died on April 23, 1924.  The New York Times wrote "Considering [the Chapel of the Intercession] his best designed church, the architect requested that he be buried in the Chapel."  Four years later, on Sunday March 24, 1929 a tomb and memorial was unveiled in the sanctuary of the Chapel of the Intercession.  Within it were the architect's ashes.

The memorial, designed by Lee Lawrie, followed the style of his building, taking the form of a medieval church tomb.  The New York Times described "The memorial is in the form of a tomb and bears his recumbent figure...On it is this inscription: 'Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, 1869-1924.  This tomb is the affectionate token of his friends.  His great architectural creations that beautify the land are his monuments."

Some of Goodhue's designs, including Intercession, are depicted in the frieze above the tomb --photo by Bertogandara

Later that year Rev. Gates was appointed Dean of St. John the Divine Cathedral.  Under his leadership the membership of the Chapel of the Intercession had grown to 3,500--more than any other of Trinity's chapels.  He was succeeded as vicar of the Chapel of the Intercession by the Rev. Dr. Frederic S. Fleming.  It was the first of a rather rapid turnover of vicars.  Fleming was made rector of Trinity Church in 1932, replaced at the Chapel of the Intercession by Wallace J. Gardner, who was succeeded by the Rev. S. Tagart Steele, Jr. in 1937.

Through it all the Christmas tradition at Clement Clarke Moore's grave went on, growing ever larger each year.  On December 25, 1931 The Times reported "Upper Broadway traffic halted last evening just after dusk while about 500 men, women and children carrying lanterns marched over 155th Street, after attending services at the Chapel of the Intercession, to enter Trinity Cemetery, where the throng crowded down the sloping paths of the graveyard to pay homage at the graves of Clement C. Moore, author of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas,' and Alfred Tennyson Dickens, son of Charles Dickens."


Rev. Milo Hudson Gates died on November 27, 1939.  Three years later, on June 14, 1942 The Living Church reported "A bronze memorial tablet, marking the graves of the late Very Rev. Dr. Milo Hudson Gates and Mrs. Gates in the Chapel of the Intercession...was dedicated on May 24th, by the vicar of the Intercession, Rev. Dr. S. Tagart Steele, jr.  The memorial, designed by Miss Louise H. Southwick, consists of a circle with a cross patee, surcharged with the Gates coat of arms."

The celebration of the 31st anniversary of the building's consecration on June 9, 1946 had one especially noteworthy feature.  The New York Times reported the service "included the first official ringing in that chapel of a bell cast in 1700 and presented to Trinity Parish in 1704 by the Bishop of London."

When the 50th anniversary of the consecration was held on June 6, 1965, it was in a much changed neighborhood.  From a district of summer estates and then the homes of the well-to-do, Washington Heights held a diverse ethnic and economic population.  The once all-white neighborhood filled with blacks and Hispanics, giving the congregation a highly diverse personality.

The diversity of the congregation is evidenced in this photograph from its website.  via http://www.intercessionnyc.org/

After nearly seven decades as a chapel of Trinity Church, the parish regained its independence in 1976.  For the first time since 1908 it was again the Church of the Intercession.  The magnificent structure, designated a New York City landmark in 1966, was included on the National Register of Historic Places on July 24, 1980.  Today services are celebrated in both English and Spanish.

non-credited photographs by the author

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Lost Henry Hudson Memorial - Riverside Drive at 72nd Street


A lush flower bed surrounded the lamppost memorial by the time this photo was taken.  To the far right is the Angie Booth mansion at No. 4 Riverside Dr., and the massive Charles Schwab chateau just beyond it.  photo from the collection of the Library of Congress.

In 1905, with the the 300th anniversary of Henry Hudson's discovery of the Hudson River and the 100th anniversary of Robert Fulton's successful steamboat nearing, a group of industrialists including Andrew Carnegie and J. Pierpont Morgan conceived of a massive Hudson-Fulton Celebration.  The two-week event would be held from September 25 to October 9, 1909 and was, in reality, less a celebration of Hudson and Fulton as it was an international marketing ploy to promote New York City as a major metropolis.

Scores of committees were formed to plan parades, events, and spectacles.   Social, political and recreational groups joined in the fervor.  Not to be left out was the Colonial Dames of America.  On February 28, 1909 The New York Times noted that the organization "will hold a large exhibit of the relics of Robert Fulton during the coming Hudson-Fulton Celebration, in September and October, in the new building of the New York Historical Society."  The Colonial Dames asked anyone willing to loan artifacts to notify the Relic Committee.

Their Fulton exhibition would pale in comparison to their efforts to honor Henry Hudson, however.  The Colonial Dames had commissioned sculptor Allen G. Newman to design a bronze memorial to the explorer.   Born in New York City in 1875, Newman had studied under renowned sculptor John Quincy Adams Ward from 1897 to 1901.  Nearly all his commissions were memorials; but this one would be like no other.

Newman created what Edgar R. Harlan in the 1915 Annals of Iowa called a "colossal bronze sculptured electric light standard."   The monument, perhaps unexpectedly, took the form of a street lamp.  Sitting on a granite base two feet tall, the bronze shaft rose 16 feet to the milk glass globe that nested in delicate bronze garlands.  The cost of the memorial-lamp was $7,500; more than $200,000 today.

The unveiling took place at noon on September 30, 1909.  The New-York Tribune reported "There was a great fanfare of trumpets, a little woman in a pongee suit pulled a cord and ran from under, the Stars and Stripes came down, the Dutch colors followed, and the tall bronze and granite shaft erected at 72d street and Riverside Drive by the Colonial Dames of America, in commemoration of the discovery of the Hudson River stood revealed."

The choir of women from the Old First Presbyterian Church was accompanied by a small orchestra.  They sang a 300-year old Dutch anthem in Dutch, and American patriotic airs like "America" and "God of our Fathers."

The Tribune pointed out that "Ten policemen were detailed to look out for the crowds, but were not needed, for the only rampageous individual in the landscape was a large bulldog, led by a small boy.  He--the dog--wanted to assist in the unveiling, but was gently persuaded away."

Newman had designed a three-sided base to the shaft.  On one a bas-relief of Hudson's ship the Half-Moon was depicted approaching the shores of the New World.  The Tribune described "two Indians, kneeling on the banks, peer out at the ship."  (The New-York Observer was less politically correct, saying it "pictured in low relief [is] the Red Man's surprise at the rigging of the Dutchman's craft.")

The immense size of the memorial is evidenced by the two men leaning on its base.  A. B. Bogart snapped this photograph shortly after the unveiling.  from the collection of the New York Public Library.

The other two sides bore inscriptions.  One depicted the seal of the East India Company, under which was written "To commemorate the discovery of the Hudson River by Henry Hudson, in the year 1609."  On the last was the seal of the Colonial Dames and the words "Presented to the city of New York by the Colonial Dames of America, 1909."

Newman incorporated maritime iconography into the work.  Three fearsome-looking fish creatures framed the base, and the bottom of the shaft was formed by three intricate seahorses.

The location overlooking the Hudson River was, of course, appropriate.  Earlier that summer the great Henry Hudson Bridge had been opened.  Accepting the memorial for the city, Patrick McGowan noted that its light "will shine on the mariners as they sail up and down the Hudson."
Newman's handsome granite base was visible during its earliest years.  But by around 1912, when this photo was shot, at least one of the seahorses had been decapitated and the bronze garlands below the globe had been vandalized.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Manhattan statues and monuments suffered vandalism at mid-century, as chunks of bronze were sawed or pried off for their scrap value.  But the Henry Hudson memorial seems to have been a much earlier target.  Before World War I photographs show pieces missing from the seahorses and the loss of the dainty garlands around the globe.

And then at some point, with little apparent notice or public concern, the unique monument disappeared.  It may have fallen victim to Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1942 program to scrap bronze statues and recycle their metal into weapons of war.  He told reporters on August 7 that many bronze memorials "would serve a more useful purpose if junked."

The vacant spot where the Henry Hudson memorial had stood was filled in 1996 with the bronze statue of Eleanor Roosevelt; the first New York City statue to an American-born woman.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

1890 Twins -- 112 and 114 East 95th Street




On June 29, 1889 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that architects Flemer & Koehler were working on "eight three-story and basement stone front dwellings" for developer Edward T. Smith.  The announcement explained that six of the houses would be on Park Avenue and two around the corner on 94th Street.

Whether the publication simply got the facts wrong, or if Smith modified his project is unclear.  But the completed row on Park Avenue consisted of only five, and the other two were on 95th Street (on the block with the quaint nickname "Goat Hill").  The mirror image houses at Nos. 112 and 114 East 95th Street  stood distinctly apart from their Renaissance Revival siblings.

Although Flemer & Koehler started out with a Renaissance Revival canvas--rigid symmetry, rough cut stone at the basement and parlor levels, and paneled pilasters, for instance--they lavished it with extraordinary Queen Anne decorations; notably at the upper floors.  Here the openings were framed with cream-colored terra cotta tiles.  Each exhibiting a single leaf, their alternating large and small sizes mimicked quoins.  The three bays of the second and third floors were unified by a single terra cotta cornice.  The homes were crowned by pressed metal cornices with interesting friezes of regimented rows of protruding bosses.



The construction cost of each house was $14,000--in the neighborhood of $377,000 today.   They were both purchased by Peter Wilkens as investment properties.  It was most likely scandal and subsequent business problems which forced Wilkens to relinquish title.

He was the owner of the Hotel Princess on Lexington Avenue at 25th Street.  In April 1895 the hotel was raided and, according to The Evening World, "men and women were found there and arrested."  The Parkhurst Society, led by reformer clergyman Charles Henry Parkhurst, battled Wilkens in the State Supreme Court, claiming he was running a disorderly house (the polite term for a brothel).   On April 17 the newspaper announced "Parkhurst Men Win" and reported that Wilkens's excise license had been revoked.

Charming details appear in the stylized capitals of the entrance pilasters.  A detailed basket of fruit is flanked by two impish creature faces.

Wilkens sold No, 112 to Charlotte Lambrecht on May 5, 1896, taking an apparent loss.  The $14,000 price equaled Edward Smith's original outlay; making it most likely about half of what Wilkens had paid.  The following year, in October, he transferred title to No. 114 to his daughter, Meta Wilkens.

Charlotte Lambrecht quickly resold the No. 112 to Rachel Geiger, who, in turn, sold it to Max J. Ullman and his wife Sarah.   The couple had two daughters, Ruth Elizabeth and Leonora May.  Unlike the wives of many well-do-to businessmen, Sarah had her own career.  She was a graduate of Normal College (later Hunter College) and taught school for years.

Born on November 27, 1854, Max had started out in business with his father, Jacob, as a member of J. Ullman & Son at No. 17 Park Place.  In 1901 he and his brothers Nathan and Louis formed the Ullman Mfg, Co.   The firm manufactured and sold "pictures, frames, art novelties, &c. &c."  Its offices were in Manhattan and the factory was in West Virginia factory.   Max was also a founder of the Ullman Company, a Brooklyn-based printing firm.

Both Max and Sarah were active within the Jewish community.  He had been secretary of the Young Men's Hebrew Association as early as 1892; and Sarah was a long-time member of the New York Council of Jewish Women.

Max died at the age of 62 on August 28, 1917.   Although she retained possession of the 95th Street house, Sarah almost immediately left it.  On October 31 The Sun reported that she had leased it to Cyril Crimmins, the son of millionaire John D. Crimmins.

Of the ten children of the devoutly Roman Catholic tycoon, Cyril was perhaps the most colorful.  A member of the Fencers' Club and an avid yachtsman, his name routinely appeared in the newspapers for his sporting activities.  But a month before he signed the lease on the 95th Street house, it was more shocking news that drew society's attention.

On September 1 The Evening World reported "Cyril Crimmins, son of John D. Crimmins, has married Miss Kathryn Daly, one of the original attractions of the Ziegeld Midnight Frolic."  The wedding had been kept secret for a week.  Dalliances with showgirls, while not infrequent among society's young men, were disapproved of; but marriages with them were scandalous.  John D. Crimmins's opinion of the match was evidenced in The Evening World's mention "A member of the Crimmins household admitted that Mr. Crimmins did not attend the wedding."

The newspaper described the new Mrs. Crimmins as "a popular favorite on account of her looks and her dancing" and noted that she "has been one of the 'sweeties' in the present Frolic and took part in several of the more important episodes."

It appears that Cyril and his bride hoped to mend relations with his father.  The following day The Sun reported that the couple was "spending their honeymoon in the White Mountains, and according to an announcement from Boston last night they intend later to visit Mr. Crimmins's father at his country home, Firewood-on-the-Sound, at Noroton, Conn."

Just two months later John D. Crimmins was dead.  Cyril, along with six of his siblings, was at his bedside on November 9 when the 73-year old died of pneumonia.

Despite John D. Crimmins's misgivings, the marriage of Cyril and Kathryn was a successful one and they continued to play a significant part in society both in Manhattan and at their summer estate, Glenbreekin Farm, near Firewood-on-the-Sound in Noroton.

While the striking stone newels appear to be vintage, they are actually meticulous reproductions.

In the meantime, Meta Wilkens had originally leased No. 114, finally selling it on February 13, 1901 to Charles Wanninger.  A member of the New York Zoological Society, the well-to-do Wanninger and his wife, Sophie, had two daughters, Rita and Vera, and a son, Curt.

The family remained in the house until shortly after Rita's marriage to Kurt Richard Berger in St. James Lutheran Church in 1918.  Like Sarah Ullman had done, her parents retained possession of the house, but began leasing it the following year.

John F. O'Brien moved in in 1919 and would remain until 1922.  A corporate attorney, he was best known for his politics.  On May 21, 1918 the New-York Tribune had noted that he "is one of the veteran political leaders of the state."  He had served for four years as Secretary of State.

In October 1922 Charles Wanninger leased No. 114 to Dr. Henry Beller.  By now Sarah Ullman had sold the house next door to another physician, Dr. Eugene F. Du Bois.  As the Du Bois children grew up, the doctor began leasing the house in 1931.

His first tenants were George C. Barclay and his wife, the former Elizabeth Weed Moore.  In 1936 he leased it to Arthur B. Borden, and by 1942 to Dr. James R. Lincoln.  That year Lincoln's widowed mother died in the house while visiting from her home in Wareham, Massachusetts.

Eugene Du Bois, Jr. was a Lieutenant in the United States Naval Reserves.  Following his wedding to Carol Johnson Mali, the couple moved into No. 112.  Their daughter Caroline was born in March 1945.

In 1949 Dr. Du Bois leased the house to William J. Slocum and his wife, Ann.  They were a highly visible couple--journalist William Slocum was the writer of The New York Mirror column, "Bill Slocum Everywhere," and his wife, who went professionally by her maiden name Ann Gillis, was a radio and television producer of news and special events for the National Broadcasting Company.

Ann's "manner and competence," according to The New York Times, appealed to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and he recruited her to supervise his radio "Fireside Chats" during the Great Depression.  When Queen Elizabeth II visited the United States and Canada in 1957, Ann was in charge of the monarch's televised appearances.

In 1956 Dr. Du Bois sold No. 112.  Tragically, Ann Gillis died in the house the following year, on December 16, at the age of 44.  In reporting on her death, The New York Times mentioned "During the last two decades she had been the originator of many programs emanating from the White House and involving Cabinet members and other Government officials."

After owning the house next door for more than three decades, Charles Wanninger died on June 10, 1935 at the age of 81.  The following year the new owner was slapped with a violation from the Department of Buildings for operating an illegal "multiple dwelling."  It was sold in 1946 to Irene K. Neff as her private home.


It was possibly their narrow widths, just 15.5 feet, that prevented either house from being converted to apartments in the second half of the 20th century.  In 2009 a joint restoration of their facades was initiated by Azor Contracting.  By now both were slathered in layers of paint, which was cautiously stripped away to reveal the remarkable tiles and the contrast of materials and colors.  The meticulous restoration included the stoop newels which had become so eroded that tax photographs had to be referenced to replicate them.

The 2009 renovation included replacing the lost interior elements with elegant replacements.  photo via corcoran.com

The remarkable Queen Anne twins today appear much as they did in 1890 when Goat Hill was seeing a flurry of development.

photographs by the author