Friday, November 24, 2017

John W. Southack's 1865 394 Broadway




The mansard roof was added later in the century.
John W. Southack had garnered a fortune through his furniture business by the outbreak of Civil War.  When the Leland brothers opened their magnificent Metropolitan Hotel in 1852, for instance, he received the $50,000 contract to furnish it.  The Carrollton, Ohio newspaper the Carroll Free Press reported on April 9 that year that "All of the parlor furniture will be of rosewood, covered with brocatelle, and superbly carved."  That single deal would be worth about $1.6 million today.

Despite the ongoing war, Southack began construction of an elegant new business building at No. 394 Broadway, between White and Walker Streets, in 1864 to replace two old buildings he had purchased seven years earlier.  Completed the following year, the five-story store and loft building was clad in white marble above the cast iron base.  The Italianate design included two-story sperm candle arches (so called because the thin engaged columns resembled the candles made from the oil of sperm whales) paneled spandrels, and a carved marble cornice.

George A. Davis & Co. advertised on the building's facade (second from left) in this 1864 print by Thomas Bonar.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York


Southack constructed the building as an investment, keeping his own business at Nos. 194-196 Broadway to the south.  Among his initial tenants was George A. Davis & Co., manufacturers and jobbers of men's and boys' clothing.  The firm moved in even before the final construction details were complete.   In the summer of 1864 the firm advertised: "Wanted--A lad from 15 to 19 years of age, in a wholesale house; must be a fair writer, correct at figures, and have good references; a German preferred."

That same year the company contributed $100 to the U.S. Sanitary Commission's Metropolitan Fair.  The fair was held to provide clothing and "men's furnishings goods" for the war effort.  The generous donation would equal a little over $1,500 today.

The high quality of the goods sold by George A. Davis & Co. was evidenced when what The New York Times called "a swindling gang" stole a coat from the store in May 1866.  Its wholesale value would be equal to about $315 today.

Another of the initial occupants was the Magnolia Oil Company, which had its offices here by the summer of 1865.  While its name brings to mind a fragrant floral oil in pretty bottles; it was in fact a recently-organized petroleum firm getting in on the oil discovered in Pennsylvania.   A similar firm, the Cleveland Cherry Valley Oil Company, was organized that year.  Its prospectus described the oil wells being drilled on its Cherry Valley farm, and noted "The adjoining farm is owned by the Magnolia Oil Company, of New York, who are likewise developing their property."

George A. Davis & Co. continued to hire.  On June 30, 1865 it was looking for a "competent stockkeeper for a wholesale clothing house" and noted, "none others need apply."  The following month an advertisement appeared for "An intelligent and reliable youth, from 15 to 21 years old; must be correct at figures and attentive to business."  (Apparently the lad hired the year before did not work out.)

George A. Davis & Co. moved to No. 26 Park Place in 1868, around the time that Strasburger & Nuhn moved in to No. 394 Broadway.   Strasburger & Nuhn was an importer of "toys, china ware and German fancy goods."

The German-born partners seem to have employed mostly German immigrants.  One of them was George Fritz, whose brother, John, arrived in New York in the fall of 1868.  John found employment in a commission house on Broadway and lived in a boarding house at No. 40 East 4th Street in the neighborhood known as Kleindeutschland, or "Little Germany."

On the morning of January 21, 1869 a policeman arrived at Strasberger & Nuhn, asking for George Fritz.  He carried a letter written in German by John Fritz.  The news was devastating--the note explained that John no longer wanted to live, and George was informed that his brother was dead.

At around 11:00 on the night before Police Officer Edwards passed John on Astor Place near Lafayette Place.  A few seconds later he heard a gunshot and ran back.  He found John dead on the sidewalk.  At the morgue the letter to his brother was found in his pocket.

John had left work at 8:00 in good spirits.  But when he arrived home he found a letter waiting for him from Germany.  Its contents, according to investigators, "gave him great uneasiness and depression of spirits."  He may have received word that a sweetheart had a change of heart.  He tidied up his room, neatly packed his effects in his trunks, and in his letter to George said he would find $500 in one of them (more than $9,000 today).

A change in management resulted in a name change to Strasburger, Fritz & Pfeiffer in 1870 and then just Strasburger & Pfeiffer the next year.   Run by Oscar Strasburger and George F. Pfeiffer, the firm touted its variety of toys as Christmas approached in 1871.  Buyers were invited to view "Our Holiday Exhibition" of German, French and English toys.  The ad insisted the display "will surpass anything of the kind ever exhibited in this country."

The store offered everything from musical instruments to druggists' sundries to masks.  New-York Tribune, September 30, 1872 (copyright expired)
The New York Times was not above disguising advertisements as news in the 1870s.  On Christmas Eve 1873 it reported "So long as their holiday exhibition lasts, Strasburger & Co., of No. 394 Broadway, will sell their unsurpassed stock of toys and general holiday goods at retail.  They have some of the best toys in the City on sale."

Strasburger & Pfeiffer remained in the Broadway building until 1885 when the firm dissolved.

A year earlier corset manufacturers Joseph Beckel & Co. had moved in.  The firm was headed by Joseph Beckel who had been a partner in Beckel Bros., opticians, as early as 1852.  In 1867 he had made a dramatic change in professions by founding his present firm.  By now it operated three factories, in Brussels, in Germany, and in New Haven, Connecticut.  The American factory alone employed upwards of 250 workers.

In 1884, the year the firm moved to No. 394 Broadway, New York's Great Industries wrote "Their New York establishment is unusually eligible and central in location, being situated in the best wholesale section of Broadway, the premises of large size, thirty feet by one hundred and seventy-five feet in dimensions, and wherein is displayed the largest ad most complete stock of fine corsets to be found in the metropolis."

The Evening World, October 11, 1905, (copyright expired)

Beckel's son, Benjamin, was a partner in the firm; as was Isaac Strauss.  The firm's catch-line was "Choosing the right corset is the first step towards a perfect fitting gown."

There can be no question that one of the firm's corsets was beneath the wedding gown of Joseph Beckel's daughter in 1898.  Wealthy American mothers could achieve no greater social success than seeing their daughters married to nobility.  On December 6, 1898 The Sun ran the headline "Great Names Yoked" and explained "The marriage of Martha Washington Beckel to the Baron Burkard von Muenchausen took place at 5 o'clock yesterday afternoon at the residence of the bride's father, 50 West Sixty-ninth street."

The article described Martha as "the daughter of Joseph Beckel, a wealthy corset manufacturer" and Muenchausen as "the owner of large estates near Hanover, Germany, and traces his descent from the famous Baron Karl Friedrich Hieronymus Muenchausen, the untruthful."  It added that Martha's "baptismal name suggests the opposite pole of veracity."

The two had met in Germany a year earlier.  The ceremony in the Beckel mansion was peppered with titles.  "The Baron was attended by his brother, Rembrandt Muenchausen, who acted as best man, and the Baron von Schmidt, who was head usher."  The marriage received newspaper coverage nationwide.

In the meantime, another garment company in the building was besieged by labor problems.  In the summer of 1890 workers at the Mercantile Cloak Company went on strike.  Things turned ugly when replacement workers attempted to enter the building on July 2.  The Evening World reported "When their employees appeared and tried to enter the shop, they were pummeled by the strikers, who forbade them with vehement gesticulations to enter.  Some were frightened away by the crowd and escaped unmolested."

They may have been the wiser of the group.  "Those who persisted were seized and hustled away by force.  There were quite a number of these, and in a few minutes Broadway for two blocks was the scene of a dozen running fights with one helpless man in each case the centre of a fighting cyclone of enraged men."  It took 17 policemen to subdue what threatened to become an all-out riot.

The firm had been founded in 1881 by Isaac S. Plaut as Plaut & Goldsmith.  It was reorganized in 1887, about the time it moved into the Broadway building, as the Mercantile Cloak Company.   The successful firm did about half a million in sales that year.  But Plaut's string of bad investments and his addition to gambling took its toll.

Three months after the affray between union and non-union workers, the Mercantile Cloak Company failed.  Although Isaac S. Plaut owned the  Hotel Vendome at Broadway and 41st Street as well, his gambling and investment losses were enormous.  An unidentified friend told a reporter from The Evening World on October 28, "The only trouble was that he indulged his sporting tastes too much.  About a year ago he was worth $100,000, but he has 'blown in' all that and much more in the 'street' and elsewhere.  He must have lost at least $150,000 in speculation."  The New York Times chimed in saying "Mr. Plaut's sporting proclivities are well-known to the trade."

In January 1895 the estate of J. W. Southack commissioned architect M. C. Merritt to do $2,000 worth of renovations that included "new water closets" and a structure on the roof to hold a 1,500-gallon water tank.  It was apparently at this time the stylish mansard floor was added.

Two years later, on November 13, the entire building was nearly lost in a spectacular fire.  At the time M. Weil & Sons ran its linens and "white goods" store in the ground floor.  There were just three other tenants in the building--the factory of the Consolidated Manhattan Suspender Company was on the second; shirt dealers Lehman & Koenig on the third; and the Standard Cloak and Suit Company on the remaining three floors.

The fire broke out on the fourth floor and traveled quickly up the freight elevator shaft.  All three of the topmost floors were gutted and the lower floors were heavily damaged by water.  The total cost of the blaze was estimated the following day at $40,000--nearly $1.2 million today.

M. C. Merritt was brought back by the Southack estate to handle the repairs.  Not surprisingly, this time a "fire-proof shaft for freight elevator," costing $8,750, was included in the plans.

Among the new tenants in the restored building was the Standard Waist Co.  The waist, or shirt waist, was the most popular item of apparel for 1890s and early 20th century women.

An 1899 fashion plate gave five examples of shirtwaists. (copyright expired)
Although the Broadway neighborhood was changing, No. 394 continued to attract tenants involved in the textile or garment industries throughout the first years of the 20th century.   In 1900 A. Schaap & Sons, wholesale clothing and commission merchants signed a lease.  When Shaw Bros. moved in the week of February 7, 1904, The New York Times mentioned that the building was within the "linen district."  Shaw Bros. imported linens from Scotland, Ireland and Germany--both as yard goods and as finished items, like hemstitched napkins.

In 1912 Leban, Milner & Co. took the second floor.  But change was on the horizon.  In 1914 the Frank Tourist Co., what today would be termed a travel agency, was in the building.  The office specialized in vacation tours.  That year it offered tours to the White Mountains, Yellowstone Park, Glacier National Park, and Lakes George and Champlain, among many others.  A one-week tour the Adirondack Mountains cost $46; while a 27-day tour in California was $145.50.

After owning the property for 63 years, the Southack estate sold No. 364 to Abraham Schaap in March 1920 for $110,000, or about $1.3 million today.  Having been a tenant in the building for 20 years, by now A. Schaap & Sons had branched out into the auctioneer business--selling off the stocks of failed apparel firms or the overages of others. On June 24, 1921, for instance, a massive auction in the Broadway building offered 1,000 pieces of "art embroidery," 5,000 imported waists, and "3,000 yards of fine silks."

Schaap leased space in the building to similar firms, like J. Frenkel, auctioneer, who occupied the second in 1921.  Like A. Schaap & Sons Frenkel sold off surplus dry goods.

A. Schaap & Sons made a more dramatic move at diversification in 1933 when it placed the highest bid, $120,000, for all the assets of the bankrupt Brentano Book Stores at auction.  Irving Schaap told reporters on July 6 his company "is ready to put more money into further stabilizing the business if necessary."


Abraham Schaap died at the age of 86 in his Central Park West home on June 13, 1944.  His sons, Irving, Maurice and Joseph continued to operate the business.  At the time their tenants in No. 394 included shirt manufacturers Samuel Solow & Son, and Philip Marayonov & Son.

On January 7, 1957 The New York Times reported that A. Schaap & Sons had sold the building.  "Despite a change in the area from a clothing center to textiles and allied lines, the Schaap interests have remained at 394 Broadway, but now are liquidating their business.  This will be the last of the major clothing establishments to depart the section."

The following April Reiss Fabrics took the store space.  But if the Schaap brothers had intended to retire from business, they had soon changed their minds.  They were still operating from No. 394 in the 1960s, advertising "a complete stock of jobs and regular lines always on hand...Auction and commission merchants."

And other textile firms continued to scoff at the change in the neighborhood; occupying the upper floors of the marble-faced building well into the 1990s.

The Tribeca renaissance caught up No. 394 in the first years of the 21st century.  In what The New York Times called "hipster replacement," the store space was transferred to Moto in August 2008.  The newspaper said it "has a vaudevillian feel, complete with marble-topped tables, Edison bulbs and a rusty old bike handing above the front door."

The space became home to the interior design and home furnishings store, D'Apostrophe, by September 2013.   Although the storefront was long ago obliterated, the marble facade above is intact after one devastating fire and more than 150 years.

photographs by the author

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The 1896 St. Ann Building - 3-5 West 18th Street




On January 8, 1895 The New York Times reported on a rash of real estate buying and proposed commercial development within a single square-block.  "Real estate men and others have for more than two months past been trying to fathom the mystery of a series of purchases on Sixth Avenue and Eighteenth and Nineteenth Streets, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues."  The newspaper called the series of transactions "the largest ever had in the city" and placed the total at nearly $7 million, not including the value of the structures still to be built.

Most of the properties being gobbled up were old brownstone-fronted houses.   But one deal stood out.  "The St. Ann's Protestant Episcopal Church and rectory were bought by Mr. W. K. Everdell for $192,000," noted the article.  The church was no doubt persuaded to relocate by the windfall it received in the sale--nearly $5.7 million in today's dollars.

Everdell quickly resold the property to real estate developer Jacob Hirsh who commissioned the architectural firm of Cleverdon & Putzel to design a loft and store building.  Hirsch gave a nod to the site's history by naming the new structure, completed in 1896, the St. Ann Building.

By the end of the year construction on the eight-story building was far enough along that the architects had chosen the supplier for its opulent terra cotta decoration.  In reporting on December 14, 1895 that the Excelsior Terra Cotta Co. had received the contract, the Record & Guide noted that their "facilities are of the best."  The firm would have a substantial job in front of them.

Cleverdon & Putzel lavished what might have been a rather routine neo-Renaissance business building with sumptuous terra cotta detailing that drew inspiration from Art Nouveau and Moorish Revival styles.

The ground floor retail space and entrance rejected the customary as well.  At a time when the columns of most storefronts were still being cast in iron, the architects used polished granite and added stylized Ionic capitals that resembled spools of thread.  The entablature of the portico above the entrance to the upper floors was inscribed St. Ann, its projecting cornice embellished with snarling lions' heads.


A row of beefy, free-standing fluted columns fronted the windows of the third floor.  They supported an Art Nouveau-inspired freize of garlands and cornucopias.  The fourth through sixth floors featured three-story engaged columns with swirling lines and two-story columns with an intricate basket-weave design which flanked the arches.

Close inspection reveals that the designs within the Art Nouveau frieze are stylized cornucopias.

The windows of the two top floors were deeply recessed, giving the impression of loggias.  The eighth floor openings and columns were surrounded in a picture frame of intricate terrra cotta.  Above it all was an ornate pressed metal cornice.


Among the first tenants was the firm of William Beverley Harison, which moved in on February 1, 1897.  Publishers of educational books and magazines like The Great Round World--A History of Our Own Times for Boys and Girls, the firm operated its retail shop here.

The store sold not only textbooks, but other school supplies, like "Reading Charts, miscellaneous Reference Charts, Maps, Globes, Blackboards, and School Supplies."  Its opening announcement invited teachers and students "to call and refer to the shelves when in search of information; every convenience and assistance will be rendered them."  It also pointed out that all the books moved from the old store "more or less damaged by removal" would be on sale.

The Great Round World Quarterly presented current events to children, even the more gruesome.  This illustration from the April 1, 1897 issue depicts President McKinley receiving the widow of Dr. Ruiz "murdered in the Cuban prison."  (copyright expired)
William Beverley Harison remained in the building for years.  Its children's books did not present bunny rabbits and nursery rhymes.  An advertisement in The Kindergarten-Primary Magazine in January 1900, for instance, read:

This is to remind YOU that if you want to obtain the Reminiscences of Baroness von Bulow at the special price made to kindergartners, you much write the publisher at once for application blanks.

Sharing the building was another school book dealer, The Baker & Taylor Company.  Unlike William Beverley Harison, the company was "book jobbers," or distributors of "miscellaneous educational" books.  Its advertisements pointedly noted "We deal in nothing but books."

The Publishers' Weekly, December 17, 1898 (copyright expired)

The two-story store space was leased to the Mason & Hamlin piano and organ company as its showroom.   The firm would sell instruments until late in 1902.

Shoppers in 1902 could see this upright piano in the St. Ann Building showroom.  Harper's Weekly (copyright expired)
Another tenant in the upper floors involved in publishing was the National Temperance Society and Publishing House.  The group had moved in at least by 1899, printing pamphlets and holding its annual meetings and special lectures and events here.

On January 30, 1900, for instance, a reception for Bipin Chandra Pal was hosted by the National Temperance Society.  Pal was a journalist in India.  Born into a respectable family, his religious "opinions" conflicted with those of his parents and he was "obliged to leave college" in his teens and find work on his own.

He succeeded in editing several newspapers, and was currently working on "lecturing, preaching and writing an elaborate biography of the Empress of India," according to the New-York Tribune.  He was invited to speak at the society because he "understands the Indian temperance question in all its bearings and is outspoken against the local authorities for their administration o the liquor system in India."

In its November 1901 issue The National Advocate noted that the society had issued a "New Canteen Booklet."   Temperance supporters were currently fighting against the availability of liquor in military canteens.  The magazine urged "Every one who may have occasion to discus the canteen question needs this excellent booklet.  It contains enough information to convince any honest man of the iniquity of the canteen and of the advocacy of it both in the army and out of it."

The group was indefatigable in its efforts to stamp out drinking.  It was ignited into action in December 1901 when Albany announced the possibility of new legislature to allow the opening of saloons on Sunday.   An emergency meeting for delegates of about 75 of the "religious, social and temperance organizations" of greater New York was held here on December 2.

In the meantime the National Temperance Society continued to crank out publications.  On February 8, 1902 the Chicago newspaper The Epworth Herald reported that The National Temperance Almanac and Teetotaler's Year-Book for 1902 was out.  "It is packed full of facts for temperance workers."

The year 1904 saw a turn-around in the St. Ann Building tenants.  P. K. Wilson & Sons had moved its lace store into the former piano showrooms two years earlier.  Now the upper floors were home to lace and garment firms, including S. Baerlien, "lace curtains;" Samuel Berry, "silk petticoats;" "K. B. O'Hara, underwear manufacturers;" and George E. Evans, "importers of toilet articles."

Just before midnight on December 31, 1907, just when revelers on Fifth Avenue poised to celebrate the New Year, an automatic fire alarm went off in the P. K. Wilson & Sons store.  Hearing the loud gongs they crowded onto West 18th Street.  The New York Times reported "Hundreds of persons watched the firemen smash in a large plate-glass window when they found the front door inaccessible because of the heavy iron gates across it."

The fire had started in the cellar and although once inside the firefighters made relatively short work of it, the damage was extensive.  "Chief Binns estimated that the loss would reach $25,000, although he admitted that it might be much higher, as the cellar was filled with imported lace."  The damage would equal at least $660,000 today.

Like P. K. Wilson & Sons, several of the tenants remained for years.  S. Baerlein & Co. was still here at least in 1912 and George E. Evans was in the building in 1918.

Another industry was represented in the building starting in 1916 when The Madison Carpet Company leased the third and fifth floors.  They were joined by P. J. McMorrow carpets in 1922.

For years the Eugene Neumaiser & Co. lace curtain makers had operated from the building next door at Nos 7-9.  In 1923 the firm doubled its factory space by leasing space in the St. Ann Building.  In the mid 1920s until 1934 it was also home to the Kohn & Madden printing ink company.

Perhaps the first real sign that the trendy Chelsea neighborhood was overtaking the St. Ann Building came in 1976 when the Studio Workshop opened its pottery and jewelry making classes here.  But change became obvious when Caffe Roma opened in the spring of 1986.  On April 8 The New York Times called it "the most recent restaurant to tickle the tinsel tastes of the fashion crowd."

The former piano showroom changed personalities quickly in the last decades of the 20th century.  In 1989 it was home to One Club.  Ironically, considering that The National Temperance Society had called the building home, by 1993 the two story showroom became the microbrewery Zip City Brewery.   In March 1994 The Times food critique noted "This brew pub, which makes it own beer, also serves food, including a good hamburger."  The article recommended arriving at "an off hour" when the gleaming copper brewing kettles and "malty aroma"could be appreciated.  In the evening, it warned, the young crowd "turns Zip City into a high-decibel fraternity party."

In November 1997 the brewery became the Tap Room, serving beer "made the Austrian way."  It was the latest in the brew pubs of Salm Brau, a family owned Austrian company with similar pubs in Japan, Brazil, Indonesia and other locations.

The National Temperance Society would have been pleased in the summer of 2001 when City Bakery moved into the former brewery space.  More than just a bakery, the cafe, which is still there, was deemed by New York Magazine "a true original."


Through it all Cleverdon & Putzel's striking 1896 structure remained wonderfully intact and deserves a pause across the street and a long upward look.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Mohandas Gandhi Statue - Union Square Park




Only a few months after the Stock Market Crash, labor organizations, mostly Communist-led, set March 6, 1930 as International Unemployment Day.  Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators gathered in major cities around the world to protest unemployment.  In New York City thousands massed in Union Square park with violent results.

The New York Times reported on the "hundreds of policemen and detectives" who charged into the crowd with "nightsticks, blackjacks and bare fists."  The newspaper said "From all parts of the scene of battle came the screams of women and cries of men with bloody heads and faces."

This was just the latest in a long tradition of public assemblies in Union Square park that dated back to 1861--the day of the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter.  The park had became New York's unofficial spot for citizens' flexing their American rights to free expression.

Six days later and more than 7,800 miles away in India, Mohandras Karamchand Gandhi began leading peasants in a 24-day march known as the Salt March, or the Dandi March.  An act of nonviolent civil disobedience, it was a protest against the British Government's new "salt laws"--a system first of taxes, and then of outlawing the Indian people's producing salt from seawater.

The London-trained lawyer had been advocating nonviolent civil disobedience for years.   A brilliant community organizer, he took to wearing traditional Indian peasant clothing--sandals and a homespun cotton dhoti.   It was a symbolic and dramatic refusal to accept British rule.

The Salt March was instrumental in bringing about the British Government's negotiations with Gandhi, culminating in the March 1931 Gandhi-Irwin Pact.  The agreement traded the release of all political prisoners for the suspension of the civil disobedience movement.  Gandhi was invited to London to attend the Round Table Conference as the sole representative of India nationalists.

The conservative British opinion of Gandhi was exemplified by Winston Churchill who said in part "It is alarming and nauseating to see Mr. Gandhi, a seditious Middle Temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well known in the East, striding half-naked up the steps of the Vice-regal palace...to parley on equal terms with the representative of the King-Emperor."  In another speech Churchill called Gandhi a "Hindu Mussolini" and a dictator.

Gandhi, called "Mahatma," or "holy person," by his followers, was nevertheless a force which the British Government could not ignore.  A humble, genius thorn in its side, he continued to negotiate for Indian independence, and against the British proposed partitioning of the subcontinent.  Like Churchill, Archibald Wavell, the Viceroy and Governor-General of British India who worked directly with Gandhi, accused him of wanting to "overthrow British rule" in order to establish himself as a raj; and deemed him a "malignant, malevolent, exceedingly shrewd" politician.

Indian independence was finally reached on August 15, 1947.  It had tragic repercussions, however, with conflicting religious sects erupting into violence.  Gandhi countered with fasting and vocal protests against the barbarity.  His actions are credited by some with stopping the religious riots.

Four months later, on January 30, 1948, Gandhi prepared to address a prayer meeting.  He was in garden of the former Birla House with his grandnieces at 5:17 p.m. when Nathuram Godse rushed in, firing three bullets into his chest.  Carried into a bedroom, Gandhi died there within half an hour.

More than two million mourners participated in the five-mile, five-hour long funeral procession.  His body was carried on a military vehicle.  The engine was never turned on; instead it was hauled along by teams of 50 men pulling four heavy ropes.

Mohandras Gandhi's legacy went beyond Indian independence.  His nonviolent civil disobedience influence the civil rights and freedom movements world-wide.  The principles and strategies of leaders like the Rev. Martin Luther King were heavily impacted by Gandhi's.

On July 15, 1986 The New York Times reported "On the second of October in 1869, Mohandas K. Gandhi was born.  On the second of October in 1986, an eight-foot bronze likeness of the Mahatma is scheduled to be unveiled in Union Square."

The choice of Union Square as the statue's site was by no means casual.  Several other locations had been proposed, but the Gandhi Memorial International Foundation had rejected them all as inappropriate.  Gandhi's great-grandnephew, Yogesh K. Gandhi, was director of the foundation and he explained "Union Square has a history of free speech.  For me, union is identified with unity.  And also, thousands of people are passing by every day.  By seeing the statue, people get the inspiration of the philosophy of nonviolence.  And that is the idea."

Not everyone was as pleased with the choice.  The Union Square Park Community Coalition complained that it had not been consulted, and argued that all Union Square statues portrayed American heroes.  (The group apparently had forgotten about the statue of the Marquis de Lafayette on the eastern hem of the park.)

Henry J. Stern, Commissioner of Parks and Recreation, poo-pooed their reasoning.  "What would have happened if the Statue of Liberty were submitted to a community board?  They would have said it was too big, in too remote a place, and that it was foreign, to boot."

The project went ahead.  The main speaker at the unveiling ceremony was, appropriately, civil rights leader Bayard Rustin. 


The work of sculptor Kantilal Patel, the statue was co-sponsored by Mohan B. Murjani, chairman of the Murjani International apparel firm, who donated $100,000.   The Gandhi memorial depicts the leader in his traditional attire.  The naturalistic pose captures him mid-step, walking with a rustic staff.  A separate plaque reads in part "My optimism rests on my belief in the infinite possibilities of the individual to develop non-violence...In a gentle way you can shake the world."

In 2001 the statue was briefly removed when a water main was installed below the site.  The Parks Commission took advantage of the removal to conserve the work.  When it was reinstalled a year later, the fenced-in setting had been landscaped into a charming, natural setting known as the Gandhi Gardens.

Despite Gandhi's near religious standing in life, his statue suffered repeated humiliation.  When someone noticed that his eyeglasses had been stolen in August 2011, a Parks Department spokesperson said they disappeared every "once in a while."  Vandals cut away the spectacles from their earpieces, which remained in place.  The glasses were refashioned and replaced, once again.


The Gandhi memorial became one of the first of New York's "Talking Statues" when it received its interactive technology in August 2017.  By scanning the bar code on the blue sign on the fence into a cell phone, the visitor hears a narrative of of the statue and of Gandhi.

photographs by the author

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Orienta - 302 West 79th Street



Pretending to be stone, the rusticated piers framing the bowed bays are in reality, brick.

The residents and developers of the Upper West Side, more than anywhere else in the city, were quick to embrace the concept of apartment living.  In the last years of the 19th century mansions along the district's avenues, built only a decade or two earlier, were demolished for modern apartment buildings.

In 1904 developer Abraham M. Morgenroth was part of the trend.  That year he commissioned Schneider & Herter to design an upscale apartment building engulfing the buildings lots at Nos. 302 through 306 West 79th Street, between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive.

Architects Ernest B. W. Schneider and Henry Herter produced an eight story structure of red brick and limestone.   The tripartite design included a two-story stone base that supported five stories of red brick, followed by a rather spartan stone-and-brick upper floor.  The architects splashed the facade with exuberant Beaux Arts touches, like the French-inspired cartouche above the entrance and the swag-draped brackets of the second floor cornice.

Highly unusual were the five-story bowed and hooded bays.  They not only added dimension, but caught breezes on warm summer evenings.  Schneider & Herter saved their employer money by using stone-colored brick rather than stone to create the quoins and rusticated piers.  The bowed bays were crowned by carved angels holding shields.

The Orienta was completed in 1905 and had just four apartments per floor, ranging from suites of five to seven rooms.  The largest apartments included "extra servants' toilets," so the families did not have to share the bathrooms with the staff.  Morgenroth's advertising boasted "The trim throughout is of select hardwood, rubbed to a high polish."

Little significant change has taken place since this photograph was published in 1908.  Apartment Houses of the Metropolis, (copyright expired)

The well-heeled families who leased apartments in The Orienta would enjoy the latest in conveniences.  Because electrical service was still unreliable, there were both electric and gas lighting fixtures in the suites.  A 1905 advertisement noted "there are long distance telephones in all apartments.  The plumbing throughout is modern and sanitary and the kitchens are fitted with porcelain lined washtubs and sinks and glass lined refrigerators."  The parlors of each apartment included a gas-log fireplace.

Apartment Houses of the Metropolis, (copyright expired)

The lobby was meant to impress with marble wainscoting and "a commodious waiting room."  A description of the new building in The World's New York Apartment House Album made special note of the location.  "It is high, has perfect drainage, and because of its proximity to the Hudson, Riverside Drive and Central Park, enjoys the purest air."

For all these amenities residents would pay between $660 and $924 a year; more than $2,000 a month in today's dollars for the largest apartments.

The ground floor originally held a restaurant, tagged "Dining Room" for both residents and the public.  The ground floor doctor's office included a studio apartment.  Apartment Houses of the Metropolis, (copyright expired)

Apparently all the players in planning and designing The Orienta were well-pleased with the outcome.  Abraham M. Morgenroth took an apartment and Schneider & Herter listed its address here in 1905.

One of the first to move in was Eugene E. Christian, a fervent proponent of "the Pure Food cause."   The founder and principal in Christian's Natural Food Co., he would be called a food naturalist today.  His letter to the Seville Packing Company on November 10, 1905 was written from his apartment-office here.

The firm had sent him samples of its Nicelle Olive Oil for endorsement.  Christian told the company he had "tested your Nicelle brand of olive oil by both natural and chemical methods, and I find that it contains nothing but a pure ripe olive fat."  His findings no doubt pleased the firm's marketers.  He signed the letter "Eugene E. Christian, Naturalist and Food Expert."

Most residents, however, appeared in the press for purely social reasons, like Everett Jackson and his wife.  On April 1, 1906 The New York Times society page reported "Mrs. Everett Jackson gave her final at home for the season on Tuesday;" and two years later, on April 5, 1908, noted "Mr. and Mrs. Everett Jackson...will leave town this week for a ten days' trip to Atlantic City."

In 1908 Dr. George P. Long moved his practice from Long Island to The Orienta.  The ground floor doctor's office included an apartment with a separate entrance.  Dr. Long paid an annual rent of $840 for the space, or about $1,925 a month today.

Other moneyed residents at the time included manufacturer G. Irving Abendroth; Arthur Edmunds Jenks and his wife, the former Catherine Bonner; and E. M. Cravath and his wife.  Jenks was a partner in the Hanson-Jenks Co., perfumers.  The Cravaths summered on Long Island and were prominent in the horse set.  The New York Times included them among "the most exclusive element on Long Island" at the North Shore Horse Show at Piping Rock in 1909.

Sculpted marble angels hold the swagged cartouche.

While Cravath and his wife busied themselves with the horse shows, another resident was more interested in dogs.  J. Willoughby Mitchell was involved in the annual Monmouth County Kennel Club shows, participating as a Ring Steward in 1908.   His wife focused on more political issues, however.

An ardent feminist, on May 27, 1915 she hosted a "canvassing tea" for the Suffragist cause in the Hotel Belleclaire.  She was also an officer in the national organization of "Women of 1915."  Among the group's efforts that year was preparing for the Patriotic Ball to be held on January 24, 1916 in the Biltmore Hotel.  The goal was to raise funds to purchase "an aeroplane to present to the coast defense of New York."

A rather flamboyant resident styled himself as Comte Rene de Nannez.  He left The Orienta on the evening of July 15, 1914 dressed in evening clothes and wearing a monocle.  His cabbie, Archibald Rogers, took him to a French restaurant on 26th Street and when they arrived the Frenchman insisted that he join him for dinner.  When they arrived back at The Orienta, the count refused to pay the $9.10 fare, saying the dinner was more than enough to cover it.

Rogers had him arrested.  The New York Times reported that the prisoner "talked only French" but "the complainant had no trouble making himself understood."  Finally a French-speaking officer, Captain Bonnoil, arrived and was able to communicate with the prisoner.  The Times said "He said he had no occupation and lived on the income of his estates in France.  When searched enough money was found to more than pay Rogers."   The count was locked up, charged with intoxication and for refusing to pay his cab fare.

George Neubauer was also in a police station house that year; but he was on the more favorable side of the law.  Wanting to sub-let his apartment furnished, he showed it to George Krag on March 7.  As they walked through each room, Neubauer was puzzled when Krag "put down his hat and picked it up again more than seemed necessary," as reported by The Sun.

The mystery solved itself when at one point Neubauer's gold watch and chain, which had been on a bureau, fell out of the hat.  The 24-year old clerk had worked his scheme at least twice before; but this time he picked the wrong victim.  Neubauer "seized Krag" and dragged him out of the building and into police custody.

Among the more high-profile residences by 1921 was Leslie S. Petrie.  A director of the Chesapeake Western Railway he was more importantly the right-hand man to millionaire W. E. D. Stokes who lived nearby at the Ansonia Apartments where Petrie had his office.

In 1921 Helen Stokes left her husband, whom she said had an income of more than $500,000 a year--about $6.7 million today.  Petrie's name appeared in the papers as the messy court case dragged on as Helen sought to obtain "her dower rights" (the right to remain in her residence owned by Stokes).   But the case turned even more scurrilous when the divorce case became entangled with the nationally-publicized murder investigation of sportsman and gambler Joseph Bowne Elwell.

Elwell was found with a bullet wound in the head on June 11, 1920.  The absence of a weapon ruled out the possibility of suicide.   Keys found in Helen Stokes's bureau a year later were suspected to fit the locks of Elwell's home.  Suddenly Petrie, who had been testifying on his employer's behalf, found himself defending Helen.  On April 8, 1921 he testified that the keys fitted the door of the apartment of Edgar T. Wallace, not the Elwell home.

The murder case was never solved.

Another mystery revolved around 36-year old Albert Frazer, who spent the summer of 1929 in Europe.  He boarded the steamer Belgenland in Germany headed home in September.  When the ship docked on September 15, Frazer did not disembark.  A search of his cabin found him dead.

Morris Breitman lived in The Orienta in 1939.  The 43-year old had been the private chauffeur for a wealthy family for 17 years.  His fascination with automobiles took a dark turn that year.   Around 5:30 on the morning of November 7 a car was seen burning in front of No. 250 West 80th Street.  "Hardly had the firemen extinguished the blaze when they saw another car afire in the same block," reported The Times.

While they were trying to put out that fire, another ignited on West End Avenue north of 80th Street.  In rapid succession two more car fires broke out on West End Avenue and 80th Street.  One of the firefighters notified the police and patrol cars began to scour the neighborhood.  Before long Breitman was spotted entering a parked car.

According to police, in his possession were two books of safety matches, the covers of which matched one found in one of the burned automobiles.  The chauffeur admitted he "had had a few drinks."  Although he denied setting the fires, he was arrested and charged with arson.  There were no more car fires.

In 1959 The Orienta was renovated, resulting in five and six apartments per floor.  Still respectable, the tenant list was nevertheless now slightly more down-to-earth.  Among the residents was Julliard student Gerard Schwartz who paid $167 a month for a two-bedroom apartment.  Among his later accomplishments would be becoming the music director of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, and the music director of Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart festivals between 1982 and 2001.


The Orienta was converted to co-operative apartments in 1988.  Schneider & Herter's dignified exterior with its unusual rounded bays remains nearly unchanged.

photographs by the author

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Lost John H. Matthews House - 176 Riverside Drive

The Shingle style mansion was surrounded by a cast iron fence in the form of swirling, stylized vines.  The carriage house, on 90th Street, followed the architectural form.  photo by Dr. Martin Deschere from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

In October 1898 Thomas Cady's article entitled "New York's Riverside Park" appeared in Munsey's Magazine.   In it he mentioned that "The home of Mr. John H. Matthews, who made a solid fortune out of effervescent soda, is easily the most striking bit of architecture on the river front, it's ample porches and picturesque tile roofs distinguishing it from its more conventional neighbors."  Cady could not have been more spot-on.

Designed by the firm of Lamb & Rich, the free-standing residence was completed in 1891.  While other esteemed architects, like McKim, Mead & White, were designing sprawling Shingle style mansions on summer estates in Connecticut and Long Island, for instance; Hugh Lamb and Charles Alonzo Rich turned to the style for John Matthews's city house--a bold and unique move.

Drawing inspiration from English and early American architecture, the style reflected the recent interest in Colonial America.  The somber elements of 17th century buildings--plain, shingled surfaces, for instance--were reborn with vibrant and interesting shapes, angles and contrasting hues and materials.

The Cyrus Clark mansion sat on the opposite corner.  photographer unknown, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The New York Times reported "the house is said to have cost over $200,000," or more than $5.4 million today.   Matthews had purchased the plot at the northeast corner of Riverside Drive and 90th Street--about six and a third city lots--from Cyrus Clark, known as the "Father of the West Side," who had erected his own mansion at the opposite corner in 1888. 

Clad in brick, rough-cut stone and, of course, layered shingles, the Matthews mansion was dominated by a corner current with a conical cap.  An "American" porch extended the width of the Riverside Drive elevation, wrapping around the turret.  The profusion of balconies provided multiple spots for enjoying the river views and cooling breezes.   A shocking departure from "colonial" was Lamb & Rich's use of classical caryatids as supports in a second-floor bay.

The surprising caryatids can be seen above the porch.   World War I Liberty Loan posters are affixed to the unique iron fencing.  photographer unknown, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York


Known popularly as the Soda Water King, John H. Matthews had amassed a tremendous fortune by the time he began construction on his Riverside Drive house.  His grandfather, also named John Matthews, had come to American from England in 1832.  An inventor and "mechanical genius of rare ability" according to America's Successful Men of Affairs, he had patented machinery for manufacturing soda water.   John H. Matthews and his cousin, George, now headed the massively-successful firm.
 
While many other millionaires spent their free time in yachting and horse racing, Matthews had a less expected hobby, breeding bulldogs.  He served as the president of the Bulldog Club, as well.

C. H. Tate drew a charming depiction of the mansion for Munsey's Magazine in October 1898 (copyright expired)

On November 4, 1893 the Indianapolis News reported that the breed was now "in favor with fashion and considered beautiful" among socialites.  "These dogs are seen more and more on the 'avenue' each day.  Fashion has begun to set her mark on them, and the only difficulty is that they are hard to secure, and a long purse is needed."

The article mentioned the Matthews kennels "adjoining his chateaulike residence on Riverside Drive."   It noted that two of his dogs, Bathos and Dollie Tester "are splendid specimens of the highest breeding, and one or the other of them--more especially Dollie Tester--often accompanies Miss Matthews in her walks about the West Side."  The writer deemed Bathos "with hardly a doubt the best white English bulldog in America."

Matthews's prize-winning Bathos appears rather disinterested in this 1893 photo.  Indianapolis News, November 4, 1893 (copyright expired)
An unusual aspect of the Matthews mansion was that it adjoined the impressive private stable.  While the carriage houses of most wealthy New Yorkers were located several blocks away, some were placed on the grounds--but in those cases they gave wide berth to the mansion.  This arrangement proved nearly disastrous in the winter of 1896.

The coachman had just finished hitching up a team to a carriage on the evening of December 11.  He had left the stable for a few minutes when fire broke out in the hay loft.  The New York Times reported "He returned in time to get out the horses and a couple of carriages, but four carriages, all of the hay, and part of the interior woodwork were burned out."

Fire fighters arrived in time to keep the blaze from spreading to the mansion.  The chaos caused by fires provided opportunities for crooks and the article noted "About thirty policemen formed a line about to guard against thieving."  The blaze caused "about $5,000 damage and a great deal of excitement," according to The Times.   The loss would equal about $147,000 today.

When this photograph was snapped the land north of the Matthews mansion was undeveloped.  To the far right are the matching private stables.  Greater New York Illustrated, 1905 (copyright expired)

The family remained in the mansion until January 1905, when Matthews sold it to John B. Russell.  The price was kept quiet, however Russell's $210,000 mortgage (nearly $6 million today) gives a hint.  In reporting on the sale, the New-York Tribune called it "one of the 'show houses' in Riverside Drive."

John B. Russell was the president of the Russell Contracting Company.  The firm won large building contracts like the paving of the United States Naval Academy in 1903 and construction of a bridge in Oyster Bay, Long Island, in 1905.

In 1899 the porches and now-dead tree in the side yard were ivy-covered.  from the collection of the New York Public Library.

Although Russell and his wife, Grace, put nearly $100,000 into altering and remodeling the house, they would not remain in it especially long.  They listed the property for $500,000 in May 1910.  When The New York Times reported on May 20 that they had sold it "to a syndicate which would build a big apartment house" Grace was quick to deny the story.

And, indeed, the Times report was mere rumor.  The following month the Russells sold the house to real estate operator Franklin Pettit, who resold it within a week to Mrs. Mary B. Pell.  Pettit had looked to make a quick, substantial profit, offering it for $600,000; "but it is understood that Mrs. Pell obtained it for slightly over $500,000," explained The Times.

Mary Pell owned the Riverside Drive mansion next door to the former Matthews house and, according to the New-York Tribune on June 29, "purchased the property chiefly for the purpose of preventing the encroachment of an apartment house next to her."

Mary Pell owned the house next door with the unusual second floor balcony when she purchased the Matthews mansion.  Seen here in 1921 the ivy has been stripped away.   photo by Irving Underhill, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The wealthy widow died in her Riverside Drive residence on May 26, 1913.  Her will left generous bequests of $1 million each to Columbia University, Rutgers College and the Reformed Church of America. While real estate operators may have suspected that her death would signal the demolition of the two properties, they survived until late in 1921.

On November 5 that year The New York Herald reported that Harry Schiff had taken out a $1.15 million building loan for the construction of a 13-story apartment building.  That structure, completed in 1922 and designed by Schwartz & Gross, survives.

photo via streeteasy.com

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Ryder Henry House - No. 5 East 93rd Street




In 1891 construction began on six upscale residences on East 93rd Street, steps away from Central Park.  Designed by A. B. Ogden & Sons in the Renaissance Revival style, they were splashed with Romanesque Revival elements.   The builders were taking a gamble in placing the homes so far north.  At the time the only residence in the neighborhood was the Jacob Ruppert mansion across the street, which had stood in lonely isolation for nearly a decade.

The row was completed in 1892.  Each house was slightly different, yet designed to create a harmonious flow.  No. 5 greeted visitors with a broad brownstone stoop with sturdy wingwalls.  The steps widened as the western wall undulated away towards the sidewalk.

Four of the original row survive; No. 5 is the least altered, thanks to the Ryder family's nearly half century of occupancy.

Romanesque Revival made its appearance in the stubby columns flanking the entrance, and in the foliate carvings below the bowed bay above.  Both the parlor and second floors were faced in rough-cut stone.  Renaissance Revival took over in the pilasters and the carved frieze of the bay, before slightly conceding to Romanesque again in the arched upper floor windows.

The wainscoting, Romanesque newel and exquisite ceiling are original.  photo via Curbed New York

The house was sold to Isaac Hamburger and his wife, the former Fanny Levy.  Hamburger had come to New York in 1848 and established the tobacco firm of I. Hamburger & Co. in 1855.  Three years later the couple were married.  They had five children, three sons and two daughters.

By now Solomon and Benjamin had become partners in their father's firm.  And they were doing very well.  In 1890, "by the rise in Sumatra tobacco," according to the New-York Tribune, the company made $150,000--more than $4 million in profits by today's standards.

Both Isaac and Fanny were active in Jewish interests.  He was at one time the Supreme Grand Master in the District Grand Lodge No. 1 of the Independent Order Free Sons of Israel.  And Fanny, according to the United States Tobacco Journal years later, "was widely beloved for a lifetime of ardent devotion to her family and charitable work which was closely linked with her husband's extensive Masonic activity."

Wholesale tobacco was a family affair,.  Fanny's brother, David Levy, was head of the tobacco firm D. Levy & Son.  Trouble came in 1894 when that firm declared bankruptcy.  The failure was too much for David Levy, and he died shortly afterward.

Those troubles now spread to the Hamburger family.  Isaac had tried to help his brother-in-law financially and the unpaid loans lead in part to his own bankruptcy.  On March 1, 1895 the New-York Tribune reported that I. Hamburger & Co. "failed yesterday."  Although the Tribune reported that the "general depression in business" was thought to have been the principal cause; it added "The failure of D. Levy & Son, wholesale tobacco dealers a year ago is said to have been one of the causes of the assignment yesterday."

The Hamburgers managed to remain in the 93rd Street house for a while.  In 1896 a lien was filed against Isaac; and finally on May 12, 1898 it was sold in foreclosure to the mortgage holder, Louis Dannhauser for $43,615--nearly $1.3 million today.

The basement areaway is protected by low stone walls.  The architects created interest with the undulating lines of one of the stoop's wing walls.

Sixteen days later he sold the 21-foot wide house to Benjamin Lowenstein.  Like Hamburger, Lowenstein was a leader in Jewish causes.  He was also a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.   The Lowensteins had three daughters, Loretta, Emma and Carrie, and a son, Leo.

Benjamin had founded the Nassau Smelting & Refining Works with his brother, Moses.  Located on West 16th Street, it collected and reclaimed scrap metals--essentially an early recycling center.  But their business practices were sometimes shady.  The week before he purchased No. 5 East 93rd Street the Mongolia Metal Co. took out a full-page advertisement in Hardware magazine informing the trade that Benjamin and Moses had been found guilty of trade-mark infringement by stamping "Mongolia" on their bars of metal.  "BEWARE OF FRAUDULENT IMITATIONS" warned the ad.

Seven years later, on December 19, 1905, The New York Times ran the shocking story that Benjamin had been arraigned in the Tombs Court the day before "charged with grand larceny."  Lowenstein had conspired with a storekeeper's clerk for the Erie Railroad to falsify records concerning brass fittings in September 1904.

The Erie Railroad began closely inspecting the books in the first months of 1905, leading to Harry J. Ort's confession.  The fake numbers resulted in Lowenstein's pocketing an extra $1,270 in the deal.  Both men were held on $2,000 bail.  Unfortunately for Ort, his clerk's salary left him in less comfortable circumstances than his wealthy cohort.  The Times ended the article saying "Lowenstein sent his check for $2,000 to the City Chamberlain's Office and went back to his office, while Ort was locked up."

Loretta was the first of the sisters to marry.  Her wedding to Arthur Wallace in the Louis XVI Room of the St. Regis Hotel on November 25, 1909 was a glittering affair.  The Times reported "The wedding ceremony was held under a canopy of chrysanthemums, lilies, and palms, and at dinner after the reception in the marble banquet room the bride sat at a heart-shaped table strewn with white roses."

The family was back at the St. Regis for Carrie's marriage to Harry Groedel on February 21, 1918.   Emma, however, would never be married.  She died on January 2, 1923 while on a New Year's visit to Carrie's home in Newark, New Jersey.

The following year the Lowensteins moved to an apartment on West 110th Street.  No. 5 East 93rd Street became home to the Ryder Henry family.

A Baltimore native, Henry was relatively unknown in New York society at the time of his wedding in 1907.  The same could not be said of his bride, Louise Frelinghuysen Jackson, daughter of the wealthy William Henry Jackson and the former Mathilde Bruce Reynolds Jackson.  Her mother had been presented to Queen Victoria as a debutante.

The marriage took place in the Jackson mansion at No. 556 Madison Avenue, just off the corner of 56th Street.   The guest list that afternoon included names like Shepard, Livingston, and Van Rensselaer.

Henry's pedigree, nevertheless, could compete with his bride's.  He was a direct descendant of the 18th century governor or Maryland, John Henry.  His brother, Clement, married Louise's sister, Adelaide,  When the couple named a son Ryder Henry, it sowed the seeds of confusion in society columns years later.  Ryder's nephew was always referred to as Ryder Henry 2d as he earned social recognition.

Ryder and Louise would have two children.  Louise Frelinghuysen Henry was, obviously, named after her mother; while John Campbell Henry shared his name with his grandfather and great-great grandfather.

Louise's debutante luncheon on November 29, 1927 was far too large for the 93rd Street house to accommodate.  It was held in the Louis XVI ballroom and the Tapestry Room of the Park Lane Hotel.  Her mother scored a social coup when The Times led its listing of guests with nobility: the Countess Alexandrine von Beroldingen.  (Although born in New York City, she carried her ancestral German title, highly impressive to Manhattan socialites.)

The mother and daughter were soon hosting together.  The New York Times announced on November 13, 1928 "Mrs. Ryder Henry and Miss Louise Frelinghuysen Henry of 5 East Ninety-third Street will give a luncheon at the Park Lane on Nov,. 27 for Miss Alexandra Diodati Gardiner, debutante daughter of Mrs. Robert Alexander Gardiner."

The Henry family summered, most often, in Easthampton, and routinely appeared in the society pages rubbing shoulders with the elite.  Louise enjoyed a privileged upbringing, attending the exclusive Miss Nightingale's School, and then St. Timothy's School in Catonsville, Maryland.  As would be expected, she was now a member of the Junior League.

The heiress was, however, apparently in no great hurry to marry.  While other young women in her class often wed a year or two after their debuts, Louise's engagement to F. Douglass Clark was not announced until September 25, 1934. 

The wedding on November 28 that year drew headlines.  "Miss Louise Henry Wed in St. Jame's" announced The Times, with a sub-headline "Church is Massed in Blooms."  After a detailed description of the event, the guests, and the outfits, the article reported "The ceremony was followed by a reception at the home of the bride's parents, 5 East Ninety-third Street, which like the church was decorated with palms and chrysanthemums."

Four years later, after suffering an extended illness, Ryder Henry died on October 2, 1938.  He was buried in Cambridge, Maryland.

Louise and her son, who had attended the Berkshire School in Massachusetts, lived on in the house.  When World War II erupted, John Campbell Henry served with an Army anti-aircraft unit in Europe with the rank of lieutenant.  His impressive family background earned him memberships in the Colonial Lords of Manors, the Huguenot and St. Nicholas Societies.

His marriage to Margaret Riker Post on June 11, 1949 in the Church of the Incarnation was a significant social event.

The aging Louise was alone in the 93rd Street house and invited her spinster sister, Margaret Augusta Jackson, to live with her.  Margaret was proud of their lineal descent from French and Dutch settlers.  She had been a member of the Huguenot Society since 1893; serving as its secretary for three decades.  She also served as director general of the Daughters of the Holland Dames, and was a life member of the Colonial Dames of America.

Despite her advanced age, she seemed indefatigable.  She maintained her role as an officer in the Home Garden Society and a registrar of the Colonial Lords of the Manor.  For 35 years she served as secretary for the Society for the Relief of Poor Widows and Small Children.

But Louise would be alone again in 1952 after her 91-year old sister died in the house on January 14.  Nevertheless she remained here until her own death on April 24, 1965 at the age of 93.


The house became the "upper school" of the Columbia Grammar School.  The school was founded in 1764 in a one-room house by the Battery.  The lower school was housed a block away at Nos. 22-28 West 94th Street.

The mansion was returned to a single family home in 1998.  It was purchased in 2002 for $4.25 million by floral designer Lynn Jawitz who, according to Curbed New York, "set about sprucing it up with marble columns, a royal palace's worth of ornamental molding, and many different patterns of floor."

The Versailles-like parlor floor rooms (top) are Jawitz's creations.  photo via Curbed New York
Jawitz put redecorated mansion back on the market in 2011 for $24.5 million.   Perhaps her decorating scheme (resulting in what Curbed New York called a "medieval fairy tale townhouse") was a bit aggressive for buyers, and in 2014 the price was reduced to $20 million.

The Henry mansion is the last of the row to retain its original stoop (the stoop at No. 11 was recreated in 2011).  Outwardly it is little changed, thanks in a great part to the Henry family's four decade ownership.

non-credited photographs by the author

Friday, November 17, 2017

The 1828 Jacob Bogert House - 39 Barrow Street


photograph by the author

Charles Oakley was busy constructing houses along Reason Street (named in honor of Thomas Paine's 1794 The Age of Reason) in the mid 1820s.  In 1826 he completed Nos. 47 and 49 and in 1828 added Nos. 39 through 45.  Already locals had corrupted Reason to Raisin Street and that same year Reason Street was renamed Barrow Street.  Artist Thomas Barrow, who had depicted Trinity Church in 1807, received the honors.

It appears that Oakley made deals with craftsmen; for apparently they either invested in the project, or they received discounted prices on the houses in exchange for work.  As a result the new buildings became home to masons, carpenters and stone cutters--like carpenter Jacob Bogert who moved into No. 39.  (The stone cutter Abraham Bogert who also worked on the houses was most likely a relative.)

Three bays wide, his house was two and a half stories tall above a shallow basement level.  A brownstone stoop let to the narrow entrance, adorned only by a small transom.  The Flemish bond red brick was trimmed in plain brownstone lintels and sills.  The peaked roof would have been pierced by one or two dormers.

On November 3, 1854 Joseph G. Warner moved into No. 39 Barrow Street.  His timing was bad in terms of the State and City elections that year.  Exactly one week later he walked to the polls to vote.  The inspectors told him he was ineligible to vote, because he had just moved into the district.

Warner was not pleased.  The New York Times reported that he "remonstrated" with the inspector and insisted that his lawyer had assured him he "had a perfect right to vote," because he had lived in the state for a year and in the county for four months.  "The appeals of Mr. Warner made no impression upon the Inspectors," said the newspaper.

Furious, Warner headed to the Second District Police Office and complained to Justice Meech.  Warner had presented an interesting conundrum.  While, on one hand, he had just moved into the Fourth District; on the other the law declared it "a misdemeanor for Inspectors of Election to refuse the deposit of a legal ballot from a legal voter."

Because of Warner's complain, three inspectors were arrested.  On November 11, 1854 The Times noted they were awaiting a hearing.  "The punishment for this offence is left at the discretion of the Court; being imprisonment for one year, or a fine of not less than $250."  It was the first case of its kind and the newspaper was sure that the "inquiry will probably excite considerable interest among politicians and citizens generally."

The fiery Joseph G. Warner was gone from Barrow Street by 1861 when David Groesbeck was living here.  He worked in the Hall of Records as the First Auditor in the Metropolitan Police Department's Board of Finance.  In December 1863 he received a raise, bringing his salary up to $2,000 per year (just under $39,500 today).  But he was disgruntled about the back pay the city still owed him.

Since 1859 he had been performing "extra services," apparently what would be termed overtime today.   He had petitioned the Board of Aldermen for his back pay in February 1863, but that petition "was referred to the Committee on Finance."    Finally, on December 13 he received $2,460 which represented the "extra services rendered in the Auditing Bureau" during the years 1859 through 1862.

It may have been that sizable windfall--equal to more than a year's pay--that prompted Groesbeck to move.  Only four months later he sold everything in the house.  His advertisement on April 28, 1864 offered "Beds, bedding crockery, table linen, towels, looking glasses, pictures, mantel ornaments, &c., for sale cheap, in good order.  Second hand dealers need not apply."

It was most likely James D. McClelland, a lawyer, who raised the attic to a full third floor within the next few years.  The renovation was done prior to July 29, 1870 when an advertisement in The New York Herald offered "A second or third floor to let--unfurnished, in a private house, where there are no children."

On March 13, 1873 McClelland sold the house to Amos Jean and his wife, Rosina.  They paid $4,100 (or about $84,800 in today's dollars).  The couple took out a $3,000 mortgage to buy the property.  They continued to rent rooms, and on May 8, 1874 offered "furnished--large front room and pantry in a quiet house...also a small room; excellent neighborhood."

The designation of a "front room" was important to potential renters.  Unlike a "hall room," it would have a window and therefore light and ventilation.

When the Jeans sold No. 39 in January 1891, the buyer was, somewhat surprisingly, James D. McClelland, who now lived just two houses away at No. 43. He spent $6,500 to regain the house, which he leased to John F. Neilson, a City Marshal.  Just two months later a fire broke out in the house; but the damage was minor and Neilson continued to live here.

Neilson was involved with Tammany Hall politics, a fact that tainted his reputation in the eyes of some journalists.  After City Marshal Henry J. Spink was killed in a train accident in Sheepshead Bay in June 1893, Neilson was appointed to replace him.  The Evening World commented "Neilson held the same office before.  He is one of Police Justice 'Barney' Martin's henchmen in the Eighth District...Neilson will be attached to the Third District Civil Court, in the Jefferson Market building."

'Barney' Martin, was, incidentally, Justice Bernard F. Martin.  He had been partners with "Red" Leary and his wife, Kate, in a saloon, described by Abram C. Bernheim as "the resort of the most disreputable classes in the community."   And Tammany Biographies published by The New York Evening Post in 1894 added "'Red' Leary was the most notorious burglar in the country, and Kate probably the most famous pickpocket in the world."  The trio had lived together above the saloon.

Later that year, in November, Martin advertised "hall rooms, nicely furnished, $1.50."  The weekly rent would be equal to about $43 today.  Among those living here in 1896 was William McClelland, apparently the son of Neilson's landlord.  It is most likely no coincidence that the young McClelland landed a job as a clerk in the Third Judicial District Court--the same location where John F. Neilson served as City Marshall.

It is unclear when Neilson left the Barrow Street house.  On July 1, 1910 James D. McClelland (still living at No. 43 Barrow) sold the house to Bridget McDonald.   At least twice she leased the house--in August 1919 to Jane Herder, and in November 1921 to Catherine McCabe.

It was purchased by Marie Louise and Julius Goebel in 1936.  Immediately Marie Louise involved herself in neighborhood activities.  She opened what one newspaper described as her "100-year-old house and garden" for the Greenwich House Garden Tour in 1937, arranged by Mrs. J. G. Phelps Stokes.  She participated in the event every year until 1940.  In 1939 she installed a "studio for sculpturing" in the rear.

The following year Julius Goebel died.  A few months later, in April 1941, Marie Louise leased the house to Bertha Brainard; then sold it in 1945 to Ruth Neinson.

No. 39 has remained a single-family residence.  It sits on a block emblematic of Greenwich Village charm, perhaps best described by the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1969 when it said "The warm quality of brick creates an atmosphere for this street."

photograph by the author