Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Lost Wm. Walton Mansion - 326 Pearl Street

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 17, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photographs by the author

Friday, March 16, 2018

G & W Youngs' 1869 No. 47 Walker Street

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photographs by the author

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Max Richter House - 22 East 94th Street

Perhaps Benjamin A. Williams understood that Andrew Carnegie's intentions to build a massive home engulfing the Fifth Avenue blockfront between 90th and 91st Street would create a fashionable new neighborhood (and subsequently higher property values).  At the time the established mansion district was still blocks to the south.

In 1899, the same year that Carnegie's architects Babb, Cook & Willard filed plans, Williams commissioned the firm of Van Vleck and Goldsmith to design four high-end rowhouses at Nos. 18 through 24 East 94th Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenues.  The plans, filed on April 21, called for "four 5-story brick and limestone or marble private houses" to cost $120,000--about $850,000 each today.

The row was completed in December 1900.  Each of the Beaux Arts residences was individually designed; yet common elements unified them as a group.  No. 22, like No. 18, was fully-faced in limestone, while the other two were clad in red brick.  Each had a rusticated stone base and matching French ironwork.

On February 23, 1901 Williams sold No. 22 to Maximilian Richter, Jr., known as Max.  A wealthy silk merchant, he and his wife, Reba, were best known for their support of political, social and educational causes.  Reba was a member of the Council of Jewish Woman and Max was actively involved in Democratic politics.

Four years after moving into the mansion Max invested $80,000 in the Joseph and Leo Skolny's clothing firm, J. Skolny & Co.  Essentially a loan, the five-and-a-half year venture earned him the title of "special partner."  But serious discord erupted on January 5, 1909 when Richter lured sales manager L. E. Remington and credit manager David M. Sinclair away to form a competing firm, L. E. Remington & Co.

The Skolny brothers were understandably outraged at what appeared to them and the clothing industry in general as treachery.   Their suit against Richter ended in a bitter court case which The New York Times on February 6, 1910 said was "was bitterly fought."

Richter contended that as a special partner, he was not bound by the law that prohibited general partners from being "interested in two rival businesses."  Supreme Court Justice O'Gorman did not agree.   He ruled in favor of the brothers, much to the delight of other apparel merchants.  The Times reported "The office of J. Skolny & Co. was decorated yesterday with floral offerings sent in honor of their victory."

Despite that unfortunate press, the Richters continued their comfortable lifestyles.  On September 22, 1912, for instance, The New York Times reported that the couple, along with daughter Helen, had checked into the ultra-fashionable Carlton Hotel in London.

Reba was among the supporters of the Bezalel School, established in Palestine in 1906.   A trade school of sorts, it focused on teaching "carpet weaving, tapestry, filigree work, wood carving, copper work, ivory carving, beaten metal work, lace embroidery," as well as drawing, painting and sculpture.  She was among the wealthy patronesses of the first American exhibition of the school's arts and crafts, which took place in Madison Square Garden in January 1914.

In reporting on the exhibition The New York Times noted its goal was "to lift the poverty-sunken Jews in Palestine from dependence and beggary,"

Max relaxed by taking advantage of his home's proximity to Central Park where he rode horses.  He was a member of the Early Risers Riding Club and enjoyed early morning rides with other well-to-do men.  The group also worked to improve the bridle paths of the city's parks, and add to them.

Helen graduated from Byrn Mawr in 1913.  She was married on the afternoon of March 30, 1916 to Maximilian Elser, Jr.  The wedding took place in the Society for Ethical Culture on the corner of Central Park West and 64th Street.

Elser had graduated from Cornell University in 1907.  A week before the wedding he had been made manager of the newly-formed Metropolitan Musical Bureau, organized, according to The Music Magazine, to "manage concert engagements of Metropolitan Opera singers and other artists prominent in the concert field."  He was also active in theater and produced more than a dozen Broadway plays that year alone.

In 1928 Elser, by now president and owner of the Metropolitan Newspaper Service, scored a coup when he signed a contract with Famous Books and Plays and Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. to run the illustrated series "Tarzan of the Apes."

In the meantime Max Richter expanded his business interests.  As the Pal Mall Realty Corporation, in 1921 he and partner Lawrence S. Rolognino purchased the old Vogel Brothers building at the southwest corner of Eighth Avenue and 42nd Street.  They constructed the motion picture theater and business building, the Times Theater, on the site.  (It was replaced by the Port Authority Bus Terminal later.)

Max was a member of the National Democratic Club and a fervent Woodrow Wilson supporter.  In the spring of 1922 he contributed to the Woodrow Wilson Foundation; then decided that was not enough.  On May 7 The Times reported that he "increased a previous contribution of $100 to $250."

Reba shared her husband's support of Wilsonian principles, including the League of Nations.  On February 8, 1927 she hosted a meeting of the League of Nations Non-Partisan Association of Greater New York in the 94th Street house.   The featured speaker that afternoon was former Ambassador to Italy, Robert Underwood Johnson.

Both Max and Reba were initial members of the Lenox Hill Democratic Club, organized in 1934.  The Times explained it was "an outgrowth of the recent election and was formed as a permanent organization of Democrats who are dissatisfied with the elements at present in control of the Democratic party in New York City."  When the President's mother, Sara Ann Delano Roosevelt, visited the new clubhouse at No. 116 East 79th Street on February 17 that year, the Richters were there to greet her.

Reba continued to be actively involved in educational and political issues.  By 1937 she was a member of the League for Political Education.  But like her husband, she took time out for less serious outlets.  She was a member of the American Delphinium Society, as well.

Max Richter died on December 5, 1945.  His will reflected his and Reba's tradition of support of education.   He left $50,000 (more than $685,000 today) to the Byrn Mawr College to establish a trust, "to be known as the Maximilian and Reba E. Richter Scholarship Fund," and $25,000 for an identically-named trust at the University of Michigan.

In addition Max's will established the Richter Foundation, its substantial funds to be assigned to "colleges and universities that met high standards."   Reba carefully chose the beneficiaries.  Among them, in 1948, was Brandeis University.  She established an annual financial commitment to fund that university's first assured professorial salary, known as the Max Richter Professor of American Studies.

On March 29, 1951 The New York Times announced that Reba had sold No. 22, and mentioned it was "the first change of ownership of the property in more than fifty years."  The Richter's long ownership of the residence had allowed it to survive the decades of the 1920s through 1940s when many of the Upper East Side private mansions were either razed or converted to apartments.

Interior details survive after more than 117 years.  photos via
The Richter house remained a private home, with little change until, in 2009, an elevator was added.  Two years later it was gently updated, the owners carefully preserving the historic interiors.  It was recently sold for around $10.8 million.  It and the other homes of the 1900 row survive as a slice of turn-of-the-century domestic elegance preserved nearly as if in amber.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

R. S. Townsend's 1882 Hell's Kitchen Flats at 360 West 51st Street

Ralph Samuel Townsend was just 27 years old when he received the commission to design a flat building for Joseph S. Pruden in 1881.  Townsend was the son of a builder, also named Ralph Townsend, and he had only recently opened his architectural office.

The project was an interesting one.  The Hell's Kitchen neighborhood where the site was located was notoriously crime-ridden and dangerous.  But developers (most significantly the Striker family which had owned much of the land since the 17th century) were currently replacing scores of dilapidated wooden "shanties" with brick tenements.

On September 11, 1880 Pruden had purchased the two two-story wooden houses at Nos. 360 and 362 West 51st Street.  He paid Elizabeth Solomon the equivalent of $216,000 today.  He widened the plot by purchasing three more feet of land, a "portion of two-story frame stable," as described in the title, on December 4.

Townsend filed the plans in February 1881.  Despite the gritty neighborhood, the five story flat building would be targeted to middle-class families, with just two apartments per floor--one on either side of the central stair hall.  The architect faced the five-story structure in red brick and trimmed it in beige sandstone.  Its neo-Grec design played out in prim symmetry and, originally, the lintels which held hands by thin bandcourses were adorned with incised carvings.  

The carved decorations were shaved flat in the 20th century; but one example somehow survived (lower center).
Townsend gave the facade a splash of color with Queen Anne style terra cotta tiles at the second and third floors.  A cast iron cornice ran along the roofline.  The completed structure cost Pruden $28,000--a surprising $645,000 in today's dollars given the marginal neighborhood.

While some of their neighbors may have led lives of crime, the residents of No. 360 seem to have been law-abiding and respectable.  John J. Finn, for instance, was appointed a City Surveyor on November 14, 1899.   Finn was well-known by now throughout the city.

When a young man he enlisted in Company K, 11th New York Volunteers on April 19, 1861 "in response to President Lincoln's first call for troops," according to The Evening World.  He participated in the battles of Bull Run, McCloud's Mill, Blackburn's Ford and Brick House.  He was also involved in the defense of Newport News against the Confederate fleet, headed by the ironclad Merrimac.

Following the war he returned to the printing business, while also giving much time to the volunteer fire department.   He was a force within organized labor, a fact that most likely resulted in his City Surveyor position.  When he died on November 18, 1900 The Evening World called him "one of the best known of the men identified with the active life of New York during the past forty years."

Another tenant visible in the labor movement was William J. Matthews.  He lived here in 1901 when he was elected to the Citizens' Union Party.

It was about that time that Dr Warren Chamberlain McFarland and his wife moved in.   The physician was financially comfortable enough to be one of the original founders of the Sanitary Engineering Company in 1904; but he was perhaps best known for being related to Abby and Daniel McFarland.

Daniel, Dr. McFarland's uncle, had duped Abby Sage into marrying him in 1857 when she was just 19 years old.  Abby was well educated and an aspiring writer.  Daniel, who was 38, told her he was a well-to-do, prominent lawyer.  He was not.  Instead he was a violent drunk who immediately began pawning Abby's jewelry.

It came to a head in 1867 when Abby left McFarland.  She took a room on West Washington Place, as did Albert Deane Richardson, who had lived in the same boarding house as the McFarlands.   Abby was seen publicly with Richardson and rumors of their romantic involvement infuriated McFarland.  The month after Abby obtained a divorced on the grounds of "drunkenness, extreme cruelty, and failure to support a wife," Daniel McFarland walked into Richardon's office on November 25, 1869 and shot him.

Richardson lingered, mortally wounded, as Abby rushed to his side.  On November 30 the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher visited his deathbed where he married the couple.  Richardson died two days later.

Dr. McFarland was called to the witness stand at least twice during the lurid, five-week long trial proceedings.  His testimonies were published across the country.  While there was no question that Daniel McFarland had murdered Richardson, the Victorian press greatly focused on Abby's indiscretions.

On April 15, 1870 the Memphis Daily Appeal reported on Dr. McFarland's testimony.  He said that he had gone to the West Washington Place boarding house where his aunt "occupied a room connecting with one occupied by Richardson," and that he had "remonstrated with her."  He testified that in another conversation "she said she only wanted money to make her an elegant woman" and "all she wanted was money to gather around her the literary elite of New York."

Newspapers nationwide, religious leaders and society at large blamed Abby's adultery for driving her husband mad.   The jury deliberated for less than two hours before proclaiming Daniel McFarland not guilty.

The first decades of the 20th century continued to see the tenant list filled with mostly Irish names.  Like John J. Finn and William Matthews, Joseph H. Byrne was involved in the labor movement and interested in politics.  He was here in 1908 when he was elected Vice President of the Independence League Party.

Three decades after its completion, the estate of Joseph S. Pruden sold the building on May 11, 1912.  The change in ownership did not affect its operation and No. 360 continued to be home to hard-working, middle class families.

In 1925 Harry Moore narrowly escaped death in while performing his work as a longshoreman.  On February 27 Moore was the foreman of the gang of eight men loading freight onto the steamer Lenape at the Hudson River Pier 36.  He was on deck, directing the men as barrels of chemicals were lowered on a sling to the hold.

Suddenly he heard his men "coughing and calling for aid," and smelled noxious fumes rising from the cargo hold.  He called seven other laborers and led them below deck.  By now the shouts of the men had become moans.

Somehow one of the drums of deadly cyanide acid had broken, releasing deadly gases into the compartment.  Moore and the other men tried valiantly to pull the men out, but they too were quickly overcome.  Another gang was sent in and, according to The New York Times the following day, "After some work they succeeded in bringing all the stricken men to the deck."  Harry Moore one of the two most seriously affected.  He and another man were taken to St. Vincent's Hospital where "hope was held out for their recovery."

The carvings of the entranceway hint at the lost overall ornamentation.
Another tenant to experience a narrow escape was 23-year old James Lee who lived here during the Depression years.  On September 5, 1934 he and six friends, including Arnold Kramer, crammed into Kramer's automobile of Arnold Kramer and headed off on a drive in the country.   The outing would end in tragedy.

In Port Chester, New York, the car was involved in a horrific crash with a truck driven by Fred Bosies.  All six of the passengers were injured; Lee suffering a broken leg and cut.  But Arnold Kramer did not survive the accident.  Bosies was arrested on a technical charge of homicide.

The Hell's Kitchen neighborhood still retained its tainted reputation at mid-century.  But the residents of No. 360 brought no bad press to the address.  Not, that is, until January 4, 1952.

Eugene Conden was 21 years old when, "swaggering and cursing," according to police, he entered the Economy Sandwich Shop on Seventh Avenue between 40th and 41st Street at around 4:30 in the morning.  He pulled out a pistol and ordered the customers, the night manager and the counterman to line up against the wall.   Just then 62-year old Sam Klein strode in and, unaware of what was happening, called to the kitchen "Give me a Western on white."

Conden turned to Klein and said "This is a stick-up."

The man was incredulous.  "Are you kidding?"

To prove that he was not kidding, Conden shot him in the foot and demanded his wallet.  When Klein did not move fast enough, Conden fired another shot at his foot.  He then gathered the $41.50 in the cash register and ran out.

Klein was removed to St. Clare's Hospital.  And that's where karma took over.

Patrolman John D. Ritchie came across a man sprawled on the sidewalk at 46th Street and Broadway and, unable to arouse the apparent drunk, called an ambulance.   Ritchie accompanied him to St. Clare's Hospital where he was placed in the bed next to Sam Klein.

Klein was answering the questions of three detectives when his attention was suddenly drawn to the bed next to him.  He heard the patient mumble to Officer Ritchie, "I shot a man in the foot."  It took Ritchie and the three detectives to restrain Klein when he realized that his assailant was feet away from him.   Conden was arrested on charges of robbery and illegal possession of a weapon.

A typical floor plan today.  The "railroad" layout originally had three bedrooms.  The front bedroom, next to the living room, was no doubt the dining room in 1882.  via

Surprisingly, the spacious apartments were never broken up.  They retain their 1882 layouts, with understandable tweaks for 21st century residents.  And other than the regrettable loss of the 19th century incised decorations, Townsend's handsome flat building--constructed when development in Hell's Kitchen was a risky gamble--is essentially intact.

photographs by the author

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Second Church of Christ, Scientist - Central Park West and 68th Street

In 1896 August Zinsser moved into his new home at Nos. 12-14 West 68th Street.   The Queen Anne style mansion sat sideways, its northern end facing the street.  A sprawling lot, more than 100 feet deep, fronted the entrance and provided sweeping views of Central Park.  But two years later Zinsser sold his sybaritic front yard, retaining enough property to provide for a wide, shady courtyard.

The Sun, on June 23, 1898 said that Zinsser had "made a very advantageous offer of the property, because he much preferred a church to an apartment house as a neighbor, and had set a special church bargain price on the plot."  In doing so, he sparked a brief but vicious feud.

The Church of Christ, Scientist was conceived by Mary Baker Eddy in 1866.  Her novel approach to theology focused on the spiritual and deprecated the material.  It quickly grew despite detractors who dubbed it a cult--mainly because of Eddy's conviction that illness should be healed through faith rather than man-made medicine.

In 1888 Mrs. Augusta E. Stetson organized the First Church of Christ, Scientist in New York City.  Its first minister, she was an ambitious and somewhat power-hungry figure.   She was most likely less than enthusiastic when a high-ranking member, Mrs. Laura Lathrop, broke off in 1891 to form the Second Church of Christ, Scientist.

The Second Church of Christ, Scientist had about 500 members and was worshiping in the Scottish Rite Hall on Madison Avenue and 29th Street when it began shopping for a site for a permanent church.   August Zinsser's plot seemed perfect, especially when, as reported by The Sun, they learned "that the First Church was about to build on Morningside Heights/"   That site was far enough away to geographical competition and conflict.

The Second Church signed an option of the 68th Street corner on May 13 and immediately began fund raising for the necessary $68,000.  But Augusta Stetson seems determined to throw a wrench into Laura Lathrop's plans.  The Sun, on June 23 1898, reported "Between the First and Second Churches of Christ, Scientist, of this city there has developed a certain lack of harmony." 

The day after the Second Church made its announcement, two men appeared at Zinsser's house and "said that if Mr. Zinser [sic] would break the option they would purchase the property without delay."  The men, of course, represented the First Church, and they threatened "that if Mr. Zinser [sic] did not prefer their offer to that of the Second Church they would build within two blocks of his site."

When the Second Church did not back down, the First Church raised the ante.  It purchased the corner of Central Park West and 65th Street fro David H. McAlpin, just three blocks south, and announced it would build its new structure there.

The battle of wills continued.  On June 4, 1898 The New York Times announced that the Second Church had sealed the deal with Zinsser.  The move prompted the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide to comment "Central Park West has become a favorite location for churches."  And when The Sun reported on June 23 that ground would be broken that day for construction of the Second Church building, it added "The next move of the First Church people is awaited with interest.  If they persist in their intention to build at Sixty-sixth [sic] street there will be something very like competition between two bodies to which the mere thought of competition is constitutionally abhorrent."

Eventually it was Augusta Stetson who blinked, purchasing a plot on Central Park West and 96th Street, a much less confrontational location nearly 30 blocks to the north.

The Second Church of Christ, Scientist hired architect Frederick R. Comstock to design its building.  His plans called for a "one-story marble church, to seat 1,000 people."  The projected cost, $100,000, would be equivalent to nearly $2.9 million today.

The construction site would become the scene of what was believed to be a miracle at the cornerstone laying ceremony on Easter Sunday, April 15, 1900.   Laura Lathrop's son, John Carroll Lathrop, explained that stone masons working on the cornerstone had been told "that the legal title of the church, 'New York Second Church of Christ, Scientist,' should be engraved in raised letters on the block."

The 10-ton granite block arrived on the site about three days before the ceremony.  "About the same time," said Lathrop, "a letter arrived from Mrs. Eddy, in which she said she had noticed in the papers that the name the congregation had assumed was not logically correct, that it ought to be Second Church of Christ, Scientist, of New York City.'"  In a panic, trustees contacted the contractors, who said, of course, that the changed could not possibly be made in time.

"Almost in despair, we broke the box open when, lo! the inscription which met our astonished eyes was just the one declared the correct one by our beloved leader.  The contractor insisted that his orders had been in accord with our instructions and he looks upon the incident to-day as a miracle."

The church was completed in the spring of 1901 and in his remarks during the dedication ceremony on April 7, Lathrop reiterated the story of the cornerstone miracle.  It was passed on to astonished readers by newspapers city-wide.  The New-York Tribune noted the story "attracted wide-spread attention, particularly in religious circles."

That wide-spread attention prompted further investigation and two days later the church was forced to make the uncomfortable admission that "No miracle was wrought, nor do we say that any marvelous change occurred."  While, indeed, the contractor had followed his instructions, but what the trustees did not know was that when the name of the church was changed earlier, the revision was passed on to the contractor.

The Zinsser mansion, seen to the rear, now faced the back wall of the church.  Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide, September 15, 1900 (copyright expired)

Comstock's chaste marble and granite structure successfully avoided churchy architecture which would have suggested well-established religions--Jewish, Roman Catholic or Protestant.  Instead it drew from several historic styles and presented a stately presence with the front and side elevations being near matches.  The vast stained glass window on the 68th Street side was mimicked on Central Park West where it sat imperially above the paired entrances.  The nearly-square edifice was crowned by a striking copper-clad dome.

The giant dome provided a flood of light into the sanctuary.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

John Carroll Lathrop would be back in the newspapers a year later.  He had first studied healing with his mother, and then attended Mary Baker Eddy's class in 1898.  He was called to the home of Mr. and Mrs. John Quimby when their seven-year old daughter Esther was seriously ill with diphtheria.  Lathrop used his training of faith and prayer in his attempts to cure the little girl.  But she died on October 19, 1902.

The Coroner was brutally frank in his report, which said her death was the result of the "culpable negligence of her parents John Quimby and Georgianna Quimby also a certain so-called 'healer' named John Carroll Lathrop, in failing to provide proper medical care and attendance."  All three were charged with manslaughter by neglect.

Outside the courtroom on October 23 Laura Lathrop said the publicity of the case "gives us a chance to tell our belief and that sets people to thinking.  Once the people get to thinking they buy our books and the result is that they are converted to Christian science."

The Second Church viewed Lathrop's legal problems as good publicity.  photo from the collection of the Longyear Museum
The Church rallied around him and promised to pay for his defense.  John L Roberts told reporters "The charge of manslaughter cannot be maintained because no material act was performed which could result in manslaughter according to the legal definition of that term.  The Lord will provide funds for Mr. Lathrop's defense and Christ Science will benefit by the notoriety given our Church."

Joining those who reviled the Church of Christ, Science, was The New York Times, which unapologetically admitted so in replying to a letter to the editor on November 24, 1903.  That letter complained that an article regarding Mrs. W. D. Baldwin was inaccurate.  The newspaper's rebuttal included "It is hardly necessary--and, if necessary, quite useless--for us to assure Mrs. Baldwin that our detestation of Christian Science, deep as it is, would never lead us into intentional misstatement."

The total cost of the Second Church of Christ, Scientist's land and building seems to have surpassed the $168,000 originally published.  When Mary Baker Eddy died in 1910, she left the church $175,000 "to pay indebtedness which may exist at the time of my decease upon the church edifice."  To make sure she had not over estimated that debt, her will directed that if the amount needed was less than the $175,000, the bequest would be limited to the lower figure.

In 1917 the growing membership necessitated an enlarged sanctuary.  In July the esteemed architect Grosvenor Atterbury was hired to make alterations  His plans consisted of "redecorating the interior of the church and making partition changes to increase seating capacity."

The officials of the church may have raised religious eyebrows in 1920 when they met on March 13 and resolved to boycott the Christian Science Monitor.  Insisting that it and other periodicals and pamphlets were "not published in accordance with the mother church manual," they deemed them "spurious and unauthorized."

Seven decades after dedicating its marble church, the congregation considered selling it to developers "who would replace the imposing structure with an apartment tower and a smaller chapel," as reported by Leslie Maitland in The New York Times on May 13, 1982.  Faced with a dwindling membership and resultant financial pressures, the church had been debating the issue for about four years.

The prospect sparked a neighborhood group to push the Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate the structure an individual landmark.  The Church pushed back by opposing designation.  Its attorney Douglas W. Hawes claimed that "preventing a church body from exercising its freedom to handle church business in the way it sees fit violates the First Amendment to the Constitution."

Arlene Simon, chairman of the local committee, responded "The destruction of this church would be a terrible, terrible loss to the community."

Also not immune to smaller membership and reduced finances was the First Church of Christ, Scientist.  The salvation of the Second Church structure came through an ironic joining of forces.  The two congregations, once bitter rivals, merged in 2003.  Second Church retained its building and the First Church kept its name.  The magnificent First Church building was saved at the eleventh hour by locals, spearheaded by LandmarkWest!, from being converted to apartments.  In 2018 the Children's Museum of Manhattan purchased the structure for its new home.

photographs by the author