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

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Lost Madam Restell Mansion - 657 Fifth Avenue

Lithographers Hatch & Co. depicted  a busy intersection of 5th Avenue and 52nd Street.  The artist erroneously placed the Roman Catholic Orphan Asylum in the background.  It, in fact, sat in the block south of the mansion, out of frame to the right.  collection of the New-York Historical Society
Ann Trow was born in Paineswick, Gloucestershire, England in 1812 to an impoverished family.  While still a girl she became a servant in a butcher's family, then married a tailor named Henry Somers.  The couple immigrated to New York where Somers, "a habitual drunkard," according to The New York Times decades later, died leaving Ann to raise their daughter alone.  She made her living as a seamstress, then married a struggling printer, Charles R. Lohman. 

At the time the plight of many poverty-stricken women who became pregnant was dismal at best.  Many newborns were abandoned by parents who either did not want them, or were unable to care for them.  Called by the New-York Tribune the "step-children of Nature," 78 percent perished.  Desperate women, too, died at the hands of clumsy abortionists.

Ann responded to the need, as well as to her own financial problems, by reinventing herself in 1836 as a midwife, Madam Restell.  While she did assist in births, her main income came from what The New York Times would call "the pill and powder business"--birth control.  Charles followed her lead, taking the name Dr. Mauriceau.  In 1840 they moved to No. 146 Greenwich Street.

Her advertisement in The New York Herald on October 10, 1842 reveals Ann's careful wording.  She thinly veiled birth control in medical and social terms.  It said in part:

"Preventative Powders," for married ladies, whose delicate or precarious health forbids a too rapid increase of family, will be sent by mail to any part of the United States.  Price $5 a package.

Birth control was both illegal and immoral in Victorian New York.  But private need outweighed public righteousness and the couple's business thrived.  The $5 package price would be about $155 today.  But, according to The Times, "their notoriety kept pace with their prosperity." 

Ann was tried for performing an abortion on Maria Bodine in the fall of 1847.  She was imprisoned on Blackwell's Island for a year.  \

Ann was depicted along with a baby-devouring demon.  National Police Gazette, March 13, 1847 (copyright expired)
While she was there, Charles remained busy.   In 1847 he published the ungainly-titled The Married Woman's Private Medical Companion, Embracing the Treatment of Menstruation, or Monthly Turns, During their Stoppage, Irregularity, or Entire Suppression, Pregnancy, and How it May be Determined.  Shockingly, it openly advocated birth control and abortion and pushed his "Portuguese Female Pills."  But like his wife, he was careful to present the pitch as medical help.  The pills would "undoubtedly, even produce miscarriage" when problems like the malformation of the pelvis made birth dangerous.  

In 1850 the Lohmans moved to a fine home on Chambers Street.  The Times later recalled "She there occupied a handsome house, sumptuously furnished, drove fast horses, kept many servants, and exhibited herself in public so boldly as to excite general disgust."

By 1863 the couple's wealth was so vast that they began construction on a lavish mansion at the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 52nd Street.  At the time there was little development--Fifth Avenue this far north would not be paved for nearly two decades.  The Lohmans' seemingly self-imposed isolation (their only neighbor was the Roman Catholic Orphan Asylum in the block directly to the south) may simply have been an issue of practicality.  No one in polite society would abide them as neighbors.

Completed in 1865, the massive brick and brownstone house diminished almost all of the mansions of Manhattan's wealthiest citizens.  A broad stone staircase led to the entrance portico.  Multiple balconies clung to the facade and the roof line was crowned with a regal balustrade with giant finials.  To the north was a sprawling walled garden.

The Times later described the house in unkind terms.  "It was furnished throughout in an extravagantly rich and vulgar style, the window shades, covered with gaudy flowers, making the house one of the most conspicuous on Fifth-avenue."

A gate in the side wall led to Ann's office.  An advertisement in The New York Herald on May 28, 1867 read "Madame Restelle--Professor of Midwifery over thirty years, guarantees immediate relief to every lady requiring medical or surgical treatments, from whatever cause.  Office No. 1 East Fifty-second street, first door from Fifth avenue."

At the same time, "Dr. A. M. Mauriceau" ran daily ads for "A great and Sure Remedy for Married Ladies" in the same newspaper.  They promised that the Portuguese Female Pills "always give immediate relief."

On August 23, 1871 The New York Times called the ads "these shameful notices" and claimed that "nearly $60,000 per annum is invested by this couple in advertising."  The newspaper sent two undercover reporters--a man and a woman--in an attempt to get damning evidence that Ann was an abortionist.  They explained their desperate situation; but Ann was wary.

"I can sell you some pills, but really we do no other business.  We have had so much trouble about these matters we don't take any more risks.  In all the six years that we have lived in this house there has never a stranger slept under the roof--none in fact but our own family," she told them.

The family members to whom Ann referred were her grandson, Charles R. Purdy, her granddaughter Caroline and her husband R. H. Shannon.  Ann's daughter had been married to a man named Purdy (a relative of Ann's attorney, Ambrose H. Purdy).  Following his death she married a policeman named Farrell against Ann's wishes.   Ann never truly reconciled with her daughter, refusing to recognize either her or her husband.  She adored her grandchildren, however, and convinced her daughter to transfer custody to her.

Ann allowed Caroline to visit her mother, but refused to allow her carriage to be seen in front of the house.  The Times said "Mrs. Farrell was visited by her daughter frequently, the latter blazing with diamonds, driving in the splendid carriage of her grandmother to the corner of Varick and Carmine streets, walking thence to the humble abode of her parents on Houston-street."   Ann was not heartless, nonetheless.  She paid for the Farrells' house and frequently took care of the past-due bills of their butcher, grocer and such.

As the mansions of New York's best families inched up Fifth Avenue, Ann attempted to sell the plots that made up her garden.  The Times said later "It is said that she made efforts to sell the lots adjoining her house on Fifth-avenue, but could find no purchaser who cared to build in her neighborhood."  Frustrated, she erected the Osborn apartment house on the site in 1876.    Two years later The Times said "The "Osborn" was for a long time an unproductive investment, and the aversion of Mme. Restell was so great that even when the rents were reduced 50 per cent, it was difficult to get tenants."

Charles R. Lohman died on January 5, 1877.  One year to the day later Ann found herself in deep trouble.  Anthony Comstock, the founder of the Society for the Suppression of Vice, was indefatigable in his crusade against perceived immorality.  On January 28, 1878 he visited Ann's office in disguise and became "convinced that she was still engaged in her nefarious practices," according to newspapers.   He made a complaint charging her "with selling and having in her possession certain instruments and medicines."

In reporting on her arrest, The Times mentioned the house.  "It is one of the finest in the City, and never fails to attract the attention of the passer-by, on account of its architectural beauty and magnificence."  The article added that Ann's fortune, estimated "to be not less than $1,500,000" was "entirely the proceeds of her criminal profession."  It, perhaps unintentionally, revealed the hypocrisy of Victorian morality.  "Her patrons are said to belong to belong to the very wealthiest families."

In fact, it appears that Ann Trow Lohman truly felt she was doing good (as did another of Comstock's targets, Margaret Sanger, who is positively viewed today as a pioneer in birth control.)  Ann pleaded with the Judge Kilbreth to be released on bail.  "She urged that she had several ladies belonging to good families under her charge; that they needed her personal care, and that her enforced absence would place them in great danger," reported The Times.

On February 27, 1878, the second day of the trial, Ann sat in the courtroom behind a veil.  She was forced to listen to Assistant District Attorney Herring's condemnations.  He said, for instance, that she had established "a maelstrom of hell" and organized "a business of such a nefarious character that it seems to have tainted the whole atmosphere with evil within the precinct."

Although Ann maintained a composed presence in court, she was seriously traumatized by the publicity and trial.  Caroline's husband told a reporter that "All day Sunday [March 31, 1878] she rambled restless about the house, talking pitifully about what she called the persecution she was undergoing."  He said she repeatedly wrung her hands, saying "What shall I do? What shall I do?" and "I have never injured anybody; why should they bring this trouble upon me?"   She went to bed at around 9:00 that evening, having said she could not bear to appear in court again the next day.

The following morning a chamber maid, Maggie McGrath, noticed the door of a bathroom on the second floor was open as she headed downstairs around 7:00.  She could see a nightdress thrown over a chair and assumed Ann was taking a bath.

Around an hour later, having had breakfast, Maggie went upstairs again.  She was surprised to see the door still open and the nightgown still on the chair.  The Lohman mansion had the latest in luxuries and conveniences, including the wood-encased bathtub with wooden folding doors for privacy.  According to The Times, when Ann did not respond to her voice, Maggie opened the doors, "uncovering a spectacle that curdled her blood and sent her screaming with horror from the room."

On April 2, 1878 the newspaper began its article entitled "End Of A Criminal Life" saying:

The notorious Mme. Restell is dead.  Having for nearly 40 years been before the public as a woman who was growing rich by the practice of a nefarious business; having once served an imprisonment for criminal malpractice; having ostentatiously flaunted her wealth before the community and made an attractive part of the finest avenue in the City odious by her constant presence, she yesterday, driven to desperation at last by the public opinion she had so long defied, came to a violent end by cutting her throat from ear to ear."

Ann was buried next to Charles in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Tarrytown.  The hurried funeral the following morning "was a private, unostentatious and unchristian as possible," according to The Times.  Ann had been placed in a simple rosewood coffin the night before and was placed in the reception room.  Just before the hearse arrived, the servants were called in for a last look at their mistress.  Ann's children and grandchildren followed them in a short line around the coffin.

There was no religious service and, according to The Times, "the casket was carried to the hearse and fastened in without any acknowledgement of a future life."

With the infamous Madam Restell gone, reputable families felt comfortable moving in to the neighborhood.  In 1882 the Vanderbilts completed construction on their massive mansions directly across the street.  Ann left her entire estate to her grandchildren, leaving her daughter with nothing.  They combined No. 657 Fifth Avenue with the Osborn in 1883, creating the Langham Hotel.  The family retained ownership until 1902.

The Lohman mansion and the Osborn Apartments were combined as the Langham Hotel.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

On July 15, 1911 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported on "Loft Buildings Among the Mansions," and noted that a "purely loft structure" was rising "on the site of the old Langham Hotel."  Completed in 1912, it survives.

The loft building on the site was completed in 1912.  Record & Guide, July 13, 1912 (copyright expired)

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The 1830's Van Orden House - 135 Reade Street

Simple brick brackets, now painted green, are all that remain of the wooden fascia board and cornice.
For years Reade Street, first mapped in 1761, represented New York City's northern boundary.  The block between West Broadway and Greenwich Street was part of the "Church Farm," granted to Trinity Church by Queen Anne.  Around 1800 the church began to offer house plots with 21-year leases.

Trinity's Income of the Church dated April 16, 1811 noted "One lot, No. 135 Reade street, New York...$74.00."   The designation of "lot" makes it unclear if a house had been erected there yet.  But if there were, it was gone by 1839 when the Van Orden family lived in the modest brick Greek Revival home there.

The extended Van Orden family was prominent in New York politics, visible in Whig meetings and conventions.  But it was Mrs. Van Orden's mother, Hannah Gouge, who was the remarkable occupant of No. 135 Reade Street.  Hannah was born on September 4, 1735.  By the time she moved in with her daughter and son-in-law, she was twice widowed.

She had married Edward McCollum on August 27, 1771.  In 1774, just before the outbreak of the Revolution, he enlisted in the state militia known as the Foresters.  According to Hannah later, he suffered horribly as a British prisoner.   His confinement, she said, caused "severe illness" and "at last had both of his feet frozen so badly as to render him a cripple for a long time, and compelled him to walk on crutches."   Edward McCollum died about 1788.  She then married Joseph Gouge, who died around 1800.

Hannah seems to have been financially stable.  She owned stock in the Mechanics' Bank in the City of New York in 1833, for instance.  But when Congress passed the Pension Act on July 4, 1836, she nevertheless sought to receive Edward's benefits.

Doubtlessly many people were astonished when the Government turned down the century-old widow's petition.  The succinct decision read "Her husband did not serve so long as six months."

It does not appear that she was willing to let the matter drop, however.  When President Martin Van Buren was in town in the summer of 1839 she went straight to the top.  On Saturday morning, July 6, Hannah boldly went to his hotel and asked for a meeting.

The Morning Herald did not hide its disdain of Van Buren, who was a member of the Democratic-Republican Party, and sarcastically referred to him both as "his Democratic Majesty" and "his Republican Highness."  The newspaper reported "His Majesty, who is particularly gallant to beau sexe; made some inquiry concerning this early visitor, and was informed that she was no less a personage than a venerable relic of the revolution, who had been presented to every President of the republic, not even excepting General Jackson, and that she was particularly anxious to have an audience of one who had so sedulously trod in the footsteps of his illustrious predecessor."

Van Buren escorted her into his parlor where he asked about her health and "her reminiscences of the times which tried men's souls."  Hannah explained that not only had her husband fought in the war, but "that she lost three gallant sons in that eventful struggle."

The newspaper explained to its readers, "Her name is Hannah Gouge, and she now resides at 135 Reade street, and although she has attained the extraordinary age of 104 years, yet she still retains the possession of all her faculties, and has a most perfect and vivid recollection of her visit to General Washington, and relates many anecdotes of him and his staff officers."

Although Hannah seems to have entranced the President, if her mission was to obtain the pension, she failed.

Astonishingly, Hannah Gouge lived on with the Van Orden family in the Reade Street house for another five years.  She died on Sunday evening, October 19, 1845 a month before her 110th birthday.  Her funeral was held in the house two days later.  Seemingly reporting the obvious, The New York Herald attributed her death to "old age."

By 1851 No. 135 was being operated as a boarding house.  One resident was seeking work that winter.  On Christmas Eve he placed an advertisement, signed merely T. C., in The New York Herald:  "A young man is desirous of obtaining a situation in a store; can work at painting and glazing, if required."

By 1860 it was a rooming house, no longer providing meals.  An advertisement offered "To Let--To one or two gentlemen, a furnished room, without board, with the privilege of a good fire."

Shoemaker Thomas Hayes leased a room in the house in 1871 when he was witness to a horrific crime on May 16.  At around 10:00 that night he heard a woman crying out "Murder--help!"  He rushed to his window and realized the screams were coming from next door, at No. 133.

William Rudd and his wife, Josephine, lived on the third story.  An argument turned to deadly violence.  Hayes testified in court later that year that just as he looked out his window, Rudd pushed Josephined out the window.  She "clung for a moment to the window sill, and then a man's head was put out and the woman's hold appeared to give way."  Josephine fell to her death.

By now the ground floor of No. 135 had been altered for business purposes.  In 1874 it was the editorial office of The Pythian Record.  Four years later, in January 1878, the lease-holder, J. McLachlan, leased the store space to G. A. Hendricks for a restaurant.  It would be the beginning of a long tradition of restaurants or saloons at ground level.

Hendricks did not remain long; but his improvements were significant.  An advertisement in The New York Herald in May that same year offered "For Sale--A lunch bakery and dining saloon; good brick oven, steam boiler, and every convenience for doing a large business."

The restaurant-saloon was run by Henry Doscher in 1897.  Before long he held the leasehold on the entire building.  For years he had a deal with Bernheimer & Schwartz, owners of the Lion Brewery, to sell only their beer and ale in his saloon.  The Doscher saloon remained in the building at least through 1906.

In the meantime, tenants still rented rooms in the upper floors, like 70-year old Henry Daenmaen who died on Christmas Day in 1902, and 38-year old Jacob Knott who was one of two dozen New Yorkers who died of the intense heat on a single day, June 7, 1908.

By 1917 Auguste Otte and his son, Rudolph, ran the restaurant.  While World War I raged, the Government enacted "Meatless Tuesdays" in an effort to conserve rations.  The slogan "Food Will Win the War" appeared on posters throughout the nation.   The Ottes apparently did not get the memo.

On March 10, 1918 the New-York Tribune reported "The Tuesday menu of Rudolph Otte, owner of a cafe and lunch counter at 135 Reade Street, was: 'Pork chops, steak, roast pork, roast beef, goulash, corned beef.'"  Otte and dozens of other proprietors had been called before Food Administrator Williams the day before.  "Otte confessed that he had never heard of meatless days and didn't know that this country was trying to save foodstuffs for the men at the front," said the article.

"What paper do you read?" asked Williams.

"The German Herold," said Otte.

"The German Herold prints the regulations.  Next."

In consequence, the Ottes' business was closed the following Tuesday and a sign hung on the door: Closed for the day for violation of the regulations of the United States food administration.

When Prohibition was enacted in 1920 it changed everything for the business at No. 135 Reade Street--or at least it was supposed to.  Policeman Carl Zipf took his job and the 18th Amendment seriously.  On April 14, 1921 he devised a sneaky scheme to root out bootleggers that involved wearing street clothes rather than his uniform.

The New-York Tribune reported "Pausing before the building at 135 Reade Street, which formerly housed a licensed saloon, he leaned against the wall, clutched himself at the second button of his single-breasted sack suit, and began to moan."  The porter, Leo Busch, heard the sounds of distress and came out to help.  Zipf "gasped a plea for a drink."  And when Busch returned with a glass of whisky, the officer "straightened up, and, placing a soft hand on Busch's shoulder, informed him he was under arrest."

Prosecuting Busch was not so simple as arresting him.  Zipf had to transport both his prisoner and the whiskey.  Busch was held in The Tombs and the whisky was transferred to a vial, labelled with the name of the defendant, and taken to No. 125 Worth Street where Prohibition chemists would analyze the liquid to determine whether it was or was not liquor.

The New-York Tribune, May 22, 1921 (copyright expired)

The New-York Tribune thinly veiled its contempt for the policeman's questionable methods.  It reported that after dropping off the vial, he "returns to his hunting preserve and presumable continues to look for more suckers to play Samaritan opposite his role of agent provocateur, and awaits the day of the Busch trial."

In 1945 the Episcopal Church sold No. 135 Reade Street to real estate operators John H. Borger, Inc.  At the time the property was assessed at $28,000--about $375,000 today.  Prohibition had ended 12 years earlier and the ground floor returned to its long tradition of housing a tavern.

In the 1970's it was home to Morgan's Grill, and by 1986 McGovern's Tavern was here.  The New York Times described McGovern's that year as a "longtime TriBeCa handout where truckers sidle up to the bar beside young urban pioneers" and noted it "predates the arts-and-trends crowd."

In 2003 the space became the Reade Street Pub.  Miraculously surviving more than 175 years of progress, the building's cornice was lost decades ago, replaced by a brick parapet; cast metal lintels were installed over the brownstone originals; and the 19th century storefront has been remodeled numerous times.  Nevertheless, the Van Orden house where a feisty 109-year old widow once lived, still retains much of its domestic appearance.

photographs by the author