Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Country Charm Amid Bridge Traffic -- No. 313 East 58th Street

In the 18th century the area near the East River around what would become 58th Street was lonely.  Travelers using the Eastern Post Road could stop at the inn called The Union Flag (the name of which referred, of course, to the British colors, not the later American union).  The tavern sat approximately where the approach to the Queensboro Bridge is today.

But the decade prior to the Civil War saw the beginnings of development as streets were laid out and building plots sold.  In 1856 builder and mason Hiram G. Disbrow began construction on his own modest home at what would later be numbered 313 East 58th Street.  Simultaneously Charles Shute Pell erected a similar house on the lot next door.

Disbrow's home was completed in 1857.   He had no doubt acted as his own architect and the two-story tall structure made no attempts at ostentation.  Described as "vernacular" in style today, it exhibited some elements of the Greek Revival style in the doorway and bracketed cornice, for instance.  The parlor openings were, in fact, French doors.  They were less practical as access to the wooden porch than for adding ventilation into the house during hot summer months.

Disbrow was a partner with George Whitefield in the building firm of Disbrow & Whitefield.  A daughter, Emma, was born to him and his wife, Catherine on February 20, 1860.  By the time the toddler tragically died on March 30, 1862, the family had moved to No. 165 East 50th Street.

An interesting side note is that in 1899 the aging Hiram G. Disbrow patented an invention far afield from the building business.  His "reversible tie" was described as having "sides of different color or material."  For the price of one tie, the customer would get two.

In the mid-1890s James Jordan, "dealer in window-shades, and carpets, &c." lived in No. 313.  His next door neighbor, at No. 311, was the Prussian-born merchant Mathias Down.  Down had owned that house since 1877 and now his grandson, Herman Weiden, lived there as well.

Down died before 1920 and at some point Weiden purchased No. 311 as well.   By now not only had apartment buildings closed in around the houses; but the massive Queensboro Bridge had wiped out much of the old neighborhood.  Its approach was mere yards from the properties.

The end of the line for the quaint anachronisms seemed near in April 1928.  On April 28 real estate operator and builder Milton Barkin, of Samuel Barkin & Sons, purchased Nos. 311 and 313 "from the Weiden estate," as reported in the newspapers (Herman Weiden was, incidentally, very much alive).  The New York Times reported on September 13 the firm's intention to build "a nine-story apartment house at 311-313 East Fifty-eighth Street."

The two 1857 houses as they appeared in March 1928.  from the collection of the New York Public Library.

But something happened with the ambitious project.  The Weidens never relinquished title to No. 311 and No. 313 was purchased as the headquarters for the Humane Society of New York.   Mae Colbert Liotta, executive secretary and assistant to the president of the Society, lived in the upper portion of the house with her widowed mother, Margaret Colbert. 

Large fund raising events for the Humane Society of New York rarely took place from the house (the benefit dinner and dance at the Waldorf-Astoria in 1935, for instance, lured patrons with names like Morgan, Dodge, Armour, and Roosevelt).  But it was the scene of one especially anticipated annual event--the Christmas party for children and their pets.

The event was no small affair, especially for pets and children.  On December 25, 1935 The New York Times reported "The party, which lasted an hour and a half, got underway with the playing of marches by members of the Kips Bay Boy Scouts, Troop 472, whose bugles and drums attracted a crowd to the Christmas tree erected at the front door of the society's building.

"Pets were brought in their best regalia, some with yellow ribbons and furbished leather harness.  One woman carried her cat in a crate usually used to ship oranges."

One man that year even brought his two white mice.  The Santa Claus was ready for more expected pets like dogs and cats, and his sack was filled with gifts of collars, blankets, leashes and food.  The mice sent workers scurrying.  "They received pieces of cheese and crackers," said the article.

A second Santa suit, right down to the long white beard, was worn by Paddy Reilly who made a special appearance.  He was the mascot terrier of the Society and lived in the house.  He received two loving cups during that event.  One was for saving the life of a woman in Jamaica Bay.  He barked until a passing boater heard him and plucked her from the water.  The other was from "an admirer" who was impressed with Paddy's help in raising $3,600 that year.   He routinely strolled the city streets with a money cup on his back "seeking aid for dumb animals," as described by The Times.

Two years later Paddy Reilly would add a special honor to his growing collection of medals "for his bravery and devotion."   Artist Helen Stotesbury visited the 58th Street headquarters where the terrier sat for his oil portrait.  Stotesbury was the daughter of Brigadier General Louis W. Stotesbury, president of the Humane Society.  She proclaimed Paddy "the best subject she ever had."  The portrait was sold to benefit the organization at the dog's 17th birthday party the following week.

A woman approaches the porch with her dog.  Those who could not afford to pay a veterinarian were welcome at the Society's free clinic.  photo via

Margaret Colbert died on October 22, 1938.  As had been the practice in the house in the 19th century, her funeral was held here several days later.

Mae Colbert Liotta continued to live on the second floor.  She threw herself into the Society's work, organizing and heading its street displays, free clinic, courses in animal care and other activities.  On December 13, 1943, for instance, she announced through the newspapers that anyone who called at the 58th Street house that day with a horse and wagon would be given a free horse blanket.

Exactly one week later Mae was working on the upcoming Christmas Party at her desk when she was seized with a heart attack.  She died later that afternoon at Flower Fifth Avenue Hospital at the age of 53.

The Humane Society of New York continued to operate from the house for three more decades.  In 1952 when the State passed the Metcalf-Hatch Animal Research Bill, authorizing the "turning over of stray dogs and cats to laboratories and institutions for experiments," it was the scene of dissent.  The New York Times reported on February 13 "The 100-year old green-and-white clapboard cottage at 313 East Fifty-eighth Street, housing the Humane Society of New York was the scene of a protest meeting yesterday."

The Humane Society of New York moved to its new headquarters in 1974.  The East 58th Street building was purchased by Paul Steindler and his wife, Aja.  Steindler had fled his native Czechoslovakia during the 1945 Communist takeover.  He was at that time an Olympic wrestler and Aja was the world ice skating champion.  By now the couple had given up athletics to become restaurateurs.

Thankfully, No. 313 had been named a New York City landmark in 1970.  While designation did not protect the interior details, it safeguarded the exterior. 

The New York Times food critic Craig Claiborne explained on September 8, 1976 "[Steindler] has gutted the building and excavated a basement.  When it is transformed into a restaurant, tentatively named Paul's Landmark, it will have an inner dining room with a seating capacity of 85, plus a patio."

Considering using the word "landmark" in the name was ironic since Steindler wiped out the interior architectural history of the structure.  Instead, the restaurant was named The Czech Pavillion.  A 1979 advertisement touted "Classic Czech cooking...Charming...Townhouse Atmosphere" and offered "Enjoy piano music of the Old World nightly in the Skylight Room."

Although the building was still owned by the Steindlers, in 1981 The Czech Pavillion became Le Club, described by a newspaper as "the disco for New York's power elite."  In 1989 the club's director, Patrick Shield reminded a New York Magazine reporter that "party animals like F. Ross Johnson, Donald Trump, Ronald O. Perelman, Henry Kravis, and Saul Steinberg" haunted Le Club "three and four nights a week, with the most magnificent girls.  They were swinging."

When Le Club moved out late in 1996, Aja Steindler (Paul had died in 1983) leased the house to Rocco Ancarola, owner of Cafe Boom in Soho.  He announced plans to open a new restaurant, Two Rooms, with a formal dining room on the ground floor and cafe and lounge on the second.  That project lasted only until spring of 1999.

Now it became The Landmark Club, "a restaurant, not a club."  The owner, Shamsher Wadud who also operated the restaurant Nirvana, was quick to point out to food critic Florence Fabricant "Only the exterior of the building, built in the 1850s as a residence, is a city landmark."

Finally, in 2010 artist John Ransom Phillips purchased the 154-year old house as his residence and studio for around $4.7 million.  Ironically it was the absence of the 19th century interior elements that attracted him.   Joyce Cohen, writing in The New York Times on November 19, 2010 explained "When Mr. Phillips saw the former dance floor, with two skylights--one of them with 16 glass panels in a vaulted ceiling--he began to see possibilities."

In 1970 Adolf K. Placzek of the Columbia University's Avery Arrchitectural Library perfectly described Hiram G. Disbrow's charming residence as "a little gem of human proportion."  Against all odds it, along with the Pell house next door, survives on the busy street, mostly ignored by the motorists intent on accessing the Queensboro Bridge. 

photographs by the author

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Edwin R. A. Seligman House - No. 324 West 86th St.

In 1890, in one sweeping deal, millionaire William E. D. Stokes teamed with contractors Squire & Whipple to build 32 upscale homes--21 of them on West 86th Street and 11 on West 72nd.  The project was additionally unusual in that the residences were not in long, continuous rows; but splattered about in groups of four, two or even one.

Among these seems to have been No. 324 West 86th Street, between Riverside Drive and West End Avenue.  The prim four-story neo-Renaissance design of beige brick and stone was a restrained exception to the often more fanciful architecture of Upper West Side rowhouses.  But its proper demeanor was the perfect setting for its decidedly academic owner, Edwin Robert Anderson Seligman.

One of nine children born to millionaire bank and businessman Joseph Seligman, he had graduated from Columbia University in 1879, then studied throughout Europe--at the universities of Berlin, Geneva, Paris and Heidelberg.  He married Caroline Beer in 1888 and the couple would have three daughters and one son.

Seligman was appointed Professor of Political Economy and Finance at Columbia in 1891.  Among America's foremost minds in matters of economics, he was editor of the Political Science Quarterly, and wrote authoritative books including Essays in Taxation, The Shifting and Incidence of Taxation, Progressive Taxation, and Railway Tariffs.

The Seligman house was rarely the scene of glittering entertainments.  It was more often the scene of serious discussion.  Seligman was the president of the Tenement House Building Co. and chairman of the committee on education of the Educational Alliance.  His interests were not totally dry and academic, however.  He was also a member of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American School of Classical Studies at Rome, and the American Historical Society.

The Seligman children were raised in an atmosphere of privilege and sophistication.   Violet, who was born in 1900, went off to the exclusive Bryn Mawr women's college in the fall of 1917--the same year that a measles epidemic broke out nationwide.   Considered more of an annoyance today, measles was a dangerous disease, often worsening to broncho- or lobar-pneumonia.   That year the United State Army alone reported 47,573 cases among its troops; and 947 patients across the U.S. died.

In March 1918 Violet contracted the measles, which then complicated into pneumonia.  The 18-year old freshman died at the college in April.    

Afterward, life in the Seligman home was happily without incident until January 27, 1926.  Edwin had been ill for a few days, so he was resting in his bedroom that evening while Caroline and their youngest daughter had dinner.  Afterward, at around 7:30, Caroline went up to her bedroom "to prepare a table with gifts for her daughter's birthday celebration" which was the next day.

Among the gifts she went to gather up was a pricey pearl necklace.  When she opened her bureau drawer, she was panicked to see the necklace was gone.  She told investigators "Then I noticed that the bathroom widow was open, and I realized what had happened."

What had happened was that a gutsy burglar had climbed onto the roof of Edwin's study, which projected out in the rear, then pushed the bathroom window open and slipped in.  With Edwin in the bedroom next door, he rifled through Caroline's drawers, taking away her jewelry box with approximately $8,000 of jewelry (about $107,000 today), Edwin's watch, cash, and bank notes.

The Seligmans sold their home of nearly four decades to The New York Psychoanalytic Institute in the early 1930s.  For the academic year of 1933-34, the facility offered courses such as Psychoanalysis and Social Work, Psychoanalysis and the Law, and Psychoanalysis in Medicine.

The former Seligman house would never again be a residence.  In the mid-1940s it became home to the Young Men's Philanthropic League, headed by Jack Wasserman.  The group would remain here until moving to 18th Street in 1955.

Its continued use by various institutions had saved the structure from being replaced by the looming modern apartment buildings that now lined the block.  In the fall of 1976 a radically different group took over the house, the Siddha Yoga Dham of New York.

New York Magazine explained on March 28, 1977, "Siddha Yoga attempts to awaken the dormant kundalini (divine energy) in disciples through the grade of the Siddha guru."   The guru on West 86th Street was Baba Muktanda, described in the article as "the most charismatic, compelling guru to grace the West with his prescience."

Today the Siddha Ashram continues to operated here, part of the Syda Foundation.  In their 2000 book Spiritual Places In and Around New York City, authors Len Belzer and Emily Squires said "Over the years, we have visited the Siddha Ashram on West 86th Street where enthusiastic followers sang out chants, spoke of their beliefs, and meditated together, all in heavenly rooms with carpeted floors, flickering candles, and worshipful pictures of the Siddha lineage."

Very little has outwardly changed to No. 324 West 86th Street.  Only a discreet metal plaque near the stoop announces the presence of the Siddha Ashram.  The Seligman house is one of the two surviving mansions among the row of apartments.

photograph by the author

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Lost Pacific Hotel - 170-176 Greenwich Street

The opening announcement, on July 1, 1836, pictured the new building.  The side lot would soon be landscaped as a garden.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

By the first years of the 1830s New York City was attracting visitors from England and Europe.  John Jacob Astor realized that the sophisticated travelers would pay for first class accommodations, not easily found in the fledgling city.  On June 1, 1836 he opened his lavish Astor House, deemed by a London newspaper as a "model of architectural beauty and of massive grandeur, luxurious and elegant in its appointments."

The Astor House opened with great fanfare.  A much quieter inauguration occurred exactly one month later, on July 1,  when the Pacific Hotel opened its doors.   Equally, elegant, it was much more intimate than the massive Astor House.  Today it might be termed a boutique hotel.

The Pacific Hotel sat on the west side Greenwich Street, between Cortlandt and Dey Streets, on land previously owned by Eli Hart.   Hart was a prosperous flour merchant whose main building sat on Dey Street.  He sold the Greenwich Street property to a wealthy retired seafarer, Captain William J. Bunker.   Like Astor, Bunker was convinced there was a market for a "public house" in that section of the city.

He erected a Greek Revival style structure five stories tall that looked as much like a private mansion as a hotel.  Veteran hoteliers Benjamin Jessups and R. C. Nichols were brought on as the proprietors.  The location was well chosen, being a short walk to what was then New York's business center.  According to The New York Herald later, "The busy docks, a few steps from the hotel, marked the arrival and departure of the Hudson river fleet of steam and sailing craft."

The announcement of the hotel's opening promised:

The Parlors, Drawing Rooms, and Bed chambers are large, airy and well lighted and each one is furnished with a fire place.  Separate Parlors & a Dressing salon are fitting up for the convenience of Ladies...The Furniture is new and in the most modern style, the Beds and Bedding are also new and of the best description.

Hotels were traditionally favorite targets for thieves and con artists.   A theft that took place in the Pacific Hotel in February 1838 prompted a reporter from the Morning Herald to comment "It was as cool a robbery as we have heard of for some time."

William MacAlroy checked in, but, according to the newspaper "had hardly a dollar to bless himself with."   The next day he arose and went to the bar-room to have his boots shined.

When the bootblack was done, MacAlroy asked asked him to hand him his cloak so he could pay the 50 cents for his boot shine.

"Which is it?" asked the boy.

"That new blue cloth one with velvet collar."

When the boy handed MacAlroy the cloak he ran from the hotel, later selling it for $5.  The actual owner told police he had just purchased it for $50, more than $1,300 in today's dollars.  The thief was arrested, "made no defense," and was found guilty.

Hiram Cranston had worked as a clerk in the hotel since its opening.  In 1839 Captain Bunker promoted the 25-year old to proprietor.  Cranson placed ads in the New York papers for months promising potential clients he would "at all times endeavor to merit a liberal share of public patronage."

In 1842 the Pacific Hotel was visited by Dr. Griffin, described by the New-York Herald as an "agent of the Lyceum of Natural History in London, recently from Pernambuco."  In fact, his name was Lyman and he was an employee of the master promoter Phineas Taylor Barnum.

New York reporters had gotten wind of Dr. Griffin's arrival following articles published a few days earlier in the Philadelphia papers.  Griffin had stopped for a few days in a hotel there, and after paying his bill said to the landlord "If you will step to my room, I will permit you to see something that will surprise you."

The proprietor was shown the Feejee Mermaid, called by Barnum later "the most extraordinary curiosity in the world."  Barnum wrote in his autobiography, "He was so highly gratified and interested that he earnestly begged permission to introduce certain friends of his, including several editors, to view the wonderful specimen."

The scheme was well thought out.  Barnum wrote "Suffice it to say, that the plan worked admirably, and the Philadelphia press aided the press of New-York in awakening a wide-reaching and increasing curiosity to see the mermaid."

The Feejee Mermaid, reproduced from the Sunday Herald in the 1855 The Life of P. T. Barnum, Written by Himself (copyright expired)

No sooner had Lyman, still assuming the name of Dr. Griffin, checked into the Pacific Hotel than it was besieged with reporters.   The creature was a meticulous melding of monkey and fish and Barnum was not surprised that the journalists were all completely fooled.  "It was a work of art, the monkey and fish were so nicely conjoined that no human eye could detect the point where the junction was formed."

The articles written after the viewing at the Pacific Hotel fostered rabid public curiosity.   On August 11, 1842 the New-York Daily Tribune reported "The Mermaid caught near the Feejee Islands, and now exhibiting, for three days only, at Concert Hall, 406 Broadway, is creating a wonderful excitement, thousands daily visiting it.  A committee of scientific gentlemen yesterday examined it, and not only pronounced it genuine, but decidedly the greatest wonder of the world."

By 1846 the Abolitionist Movement was causing heated discussions throughout the North.  It may have been the social and political climate that caused Hiram Cranston to leave his post at the Pacific Hotel and move to Baltimore that year.  The New York Times later remembered "Mr. Cranston was well-known as an outspoken sympathizer with the extreme Southern people, and his known position made him an object of great offense to many of the Union men in this City."

In the summer of 1843 the Pacific Hotel became the monthly meeting place of a new organization, hard to conceptualize by Manhattan residents today--The Farmers' Club.  The New-York Daily Tribune was thrilled.  On May 30 it announced "We have long wanted such an associated in our City, the resort of such vast numbers of Farmers and others who appreciate improvements in Agriculture."

In reporting that the first meeting would be held on June 22, the newspaper opined "Many of our farmers, gardeners, &c. would gladly avail themselves of the opportunity of showing some of their choice productions," and suggested "a table adorned with a few forest flowers would have a fine effect."

The members apparently took the Tribune's suggestion, but forgot to bring any produce.  It did not escape the notice of the reporter from the American Agriculturist.  Following the first meeting the journal complained "Large bouquets of flowers were brought in by different members to adorn the room, but we saw neither fruits nor vegetables.  We hope each member will feel himself bound to supply this omission at the next monthly meeting."

Businesses in mid 19th century often paid to have endorsements, disguised as editorials or news articles, published in local papers. On February 15, 1845 one such blurb appeared in the New-York Daily Tribune.  It marked the intimate size of the hotel as a distinct asset with a tongue-in-cheek comment:

The great houses have their advantages, and it is but fair to consider those also of hotels in which the distance from the parlor to your private room is not over three blocks.

By the time Captain Bunker sold the hotel to another retired captain, Aaron Flowers, in 1859, he had enlarged the building with an extension to the north.    Flowers immediately leased the business to John Patten, who updated the interiors and furnishings.  An auction was held on December 12 that year to sell the entire contents of the hotel--not only the Brussels carpeting, lace curtains and furnishings; but the glassware, china, silverware, decanters and kitchen ware.  Patten was determined to make the hotel completely modern, even selling "one locomotive Steam Boiler, about eight horse power, with hot water tank for laundry purposes."

William J. Bunker's annex is included in Patten's advertisement, around 1865.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Under Patten's management the hotel continued to thrive.  In 1864 he bought the property from Flowers and announced "The Proprietor...feels truly thankful for the liberal patronage received, and will continue his rates at $1.75 per day."  Considering the upscale accommodations, the rates were extremely affordable, about $27.60 a night today.

During the Civil War the Pacific Hotel was, according to Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly, "patronized largely by officers of the army and navy, and famous for the dinners which the officers gave to their fellow officers and friends."  One such dinner got dangerously out of hand.

The magazine reported that the guests had been drinking and "an altercation arose between a popular actor...and one of the officers, in the course of which a blow was received and returned by the actor."  Other guests tried to intercede, but the actor's dignity had been bruised.  He insisted "on further satisfaction, and an adjournment in the lower end of the garden was proposed."

Pistols were obtained and a duel was held in the side garden of the hotel.  In retrospect, the hot-tempered actor might have rethought the wisdom of challenging a military man to a gunfight.  "The actor was wounded in the arm.  This ended the duel.  The wound was not a dangerous one; surgical skill was brought into requisition, and the actor went through his part that night with his arm in a sling."

Patten's son, John Patten, Jr. helped manage the hotel.  But when gold was discovered in the Black Hills in the Dakota Territory in 1874, the young man ached to find his fortune.  Apparently his father was against the idea; and John Jr. made an audacious proposal to a hotel guest.  He told Mrs. Joseph Kampe that if she would loan him $50--about $1,000 today--he would repay her $1,000 for every dollar when he returned.  Surprisingly, she agreed and young John Patten left New York on his questionable adventure.

John Patten, Sr. forged ahead without his son.  Intent on not letting his hotel become outdated, Patten again redecorated ten years after he purchased it.  In the fall of 1875 he advertised "Repainted and recarpeted complete; a most convenient family hotel for gentlemen whose business pursuits confine them to the lower part of the city."

A few months later a scourge of yellow fever swept through the streets of Savannah, Georgia.  On September 10, 1876 The New York Herald reported "The inhabitants of Savannah have been fleeing from it as fast as possible, the majority leaving it by railroad."  One of those fugitives was a long-time friend of Patten and a repeated guest of the hotel.  C. M. Symons arrived on September 4.

His description of conditions in Savannah touched on a tragic truth about epidemics: only those with money could escape.  The poor were left to suffer and, often, die.  He told Patten "There are not 1,000 white men left in the place.  Every one is running away that can afford to do so."

The next morning when Symons complained of "terrible chills," Patten told him to take a hot bath with mustard.  When he did not improve later that day, Patten sent for Dr. Farrington of the Astor House.  He brought in a second physician and they concurred it was nothing serious.

It was, however, quite serious.   When Symons's symptoms only worsened, the doctors returned.  Now they diagnosed yellow fever.   He was taken away to the Quarantine Hospital on Swinburne Island, just off Staten Island.  One of the men carrying the stretcher remarked to Patten, "I don't think he'll do more than live till we reach the hospital."  Symons died four days after he had checked in to the Pacific Hotel.

Yellow fever was not taken lightly by anyone.  The quarantine official removed everything from Symons's room--not only his baggage, but all the bedding and linens.  Patten had all the furniture re-varnished and the room was locked until considered safe.

John Patten was already embroiled in a long, heated battle with the Elevated Railroad Company.  The firm was erecting an elevated train up Greenwich Street.  Patten was not opposed to the project if it ran along the opposite side of the street; but the Elevated Railroad wanted to install a double track.   The western track would not only obstruct light and air to the Pacific Hotel, but the piers for the railroad would necessarily break into the hotel's vaults which extended halfway under Greenwich Street.

While he battled the firm in court, construction of the railroad continued.  Things became physical on March 30, 1876.  The hand-to-hand combat between Patten and the construction workers made news as far away as California.  San Francisco's Daily Alta California reported "Workmen engaged in sinking the pillars for the elevated railroad to-day were forcibly restrained by John Patten, proprietor of the Pacific Hotel, Greenwich-street, and several of his employes.  The workmen were removing flag stones from in front of the hotel when the attack was made.  A square of officers was called out and Patten and his employes were arrested."

Patten seemed to have achieved victory in May when Chief Justice Daily decided that "the ownership of real estate in this city extends to the middle of the adjoining street" and that the railroad company could not "take private property for a public use."  But the battle was not over.

Appeals and hearings continued, taxing Patten's physical and mental limitations.  The
Elevated Railroad Company had the last word, winning its case and proceeding with the second track. 

On Sunday evening, May 26, 1878 John Patten died in the Pacific Hotel.  The New York Times noted "The section of [elevated railroad] just in front of his house was completed on Sunday, the last rail being bolted just about the time of his death."

The irony was not lost on The New York Herald, either.  It reported "Mr. Patten said he would not live to see a train run over the new track, and he did not.  He died a few hours before it was opened for business."

Patten's executors placed the hotel and its contents on the market in November.  Advertising it as "fully and completely furnished; now is and has been for many years in successful operation," they touted "for sale at bargain."

There were no takers for the old hotel.  The Greenwich Street neighborhood had greatly changed since 1836 when Jessups and Nichols promoted the location as "undisturbed."  On February 18, 1879 The New York Herald announced the property would be sold at auction the following day.  "For more than forty years this house has been a favorite resort of the west side merchants, steamboat and steamship men and residents of New Jersey visiting the metropolis," noted the article.

The day after the auction the newspaper noted that few hotel men bothered to attend.  The Pacific Hotel was sold for $39,600, nearly $985,000 today, to James H. Harger, of Pontiac, Michigan.   But like the hoteliers who had stayed away, Harger was not interested in continuing the hotel.

In April the following year he sold the property to the newly-formed Steam Heating & Power Co. for $42,500.  The firm demolished the old hotel to built its Station B Steam Works.

But there was still one loose end in the story of the Pacific Hotel to be tied up, and that would not come until June 4, 1914.  That was when the now-widowed Mrs. Joseph Kampe who was living in Newburgh, New York, received word from John Patten, Jr. that he had returned to New York with his gold mining fortune.  He had the $50,000 he had promised her 40 years earlier.

The Los Angeles Herald remarked "She had forgotten the matter until she received the message today that told of the fortune that awaited her."

The site of the Pacific Hotel became part of the plaza surrounding the World Trade Towers in 1973.  Today it is part of the memorial park of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Seabury Tredwell House - 29 East 4th Street

photograph by "Tony" from the Wikipedia Takes Manhattan Project
East Fourth Street in 1832 saw the arrival of elegant red brick homes with marble trim as the street became part of the most fashionable residential section of the city, the Bond Street area.  That year Joseph Brewster built six upscale homes on the north side of East 4th Street, between Lafayette Place and Bowery.  He moved into one of them, at what was then No. 361.

Although the identify of the architect is unknown for certain, modern architectural historians recognize distinct similarities to the work of Menard Lafever.  While the exterior reflects the elements of the Federal style--the elegant, arched entrance with marble Gibbs surround, and the dormered attic floor, for instance), the interior transitioned to the newer Greek Revival style.  Here the costliest materials were used:  matching black-and-gold marble mantels in the parlor and dining rooms, exquisite plaster ceiling moldings, a richly carved entry hall newel post of acanthus leaves, and mahogany doors.  To maintain symmetry, so important in Greek Revival architecture, one such door in the parlor opened onto a brick wall, installed simply to balance a second door.

Mahogany pocket doors slide closed to separate the dining room and parlor.  Contemporary critics would have called the interior appointments "pure Greek."  photo via
The house was purchased for $18,000 (just over half a million dollars today) by Seabury Tredwell in 1835.  Comfortable after years of successful trade as a partner in Tredwell & Kissam, an importer of English marine hardware, he had retired that year at the age of 55 to live off his interest and investments.  

The Treadwell family was already large.  He and his wife, the former Eliza Parker (who was 17 years younger than he) had six children.  Moving in to help were four servants.  The same year the family moved in, another daughter, Sarah, was born.  Five years later, in 1840, the couples' eighth child, Gertrude was born in the second floor bedroom.

Like their wealthy neighbors, the, Tredwells filled the house with the best furnishings, patronizing the workshops of New York cabinetmakers such as Duncan Phyfe and Joseph Meeks.  Outside their windows the elite of New York society rode by in sleek carriages on their way to the theaters just a few blocks away on the Bowery.  A New York newspaper, in 1835, extolled "The elegance and beauty of this section cannot be surpassed in the country."

The heat of New York City summers also brought odors and, often, diseases.  Wealthy families escaped to summer residences and the Tredwells' was a sprawling 850 acre estate estate in Rumson, New Jersey.  

Seabury Tredwell was, reportedly, a stern, religious father, the namesake of his uncle, the first American Episcopal Bishop.  The children grew up in an environment of class and refinement.  A piano offered entertainment in the evenings.  

Elizabeth was the first of the children to leave the house.  She was married to Effingham Nichols in 1845.  Three years later Mary Adelaide married hardware merchant Charles Richard.  Samuel Lenox Tredwell would be the only other of the children to marry.

Seabury Tredwell died on the evening of March 7, 1865 at the age of 84.  His funeral was held in the parlor four days later, on Saturday afternoon.  

While interior design fashions had changed, they had not arrived at what was now No. 29 East 4th Street.  There were no alterations made to the East 4th Street house during his lifetime.  After his death, the family cautiously updated the parlor with the addition of a few up-to-date Victorian upholstered pieces.  Otherwise, as Gertrude would later repeat again and again, it was left "as papa wanted it."

The family added a modern parlor set sometime after 1865.  photo via
Eliza Tredwell died in 1882 and by the turn of the century only Gertrude and her sisters were left in the house.  It would appear that the Tredwell fortune was by this time drying up.  In an October 1906 letter to the The New York Times G. Ellsworth chided the editor for an apparent expose of the sisters' finances.  

As one of the oldest subscribers to your paper, I beg to insert this paragraph to contradict and absolutely deny the erroneous statements set forth in the columns of the daily Times of Saturday last respecting the surviving daughters of the late Seabury Tredwell.   Suffice it to say, despite the assertions made to the contrary, they are only in comfortable circumstances, and are practical, thoroughly good loyal citizens of the substantial old type of character handed down from generations back.

In quick succession the parlor saw the funerals of Gertrude's sisters:  Sarah died in 1906.  A year later Phebe fell down the staircase to her death, and in 1909 Gertrude's last sister Julia died leaving her alone in the last elegant home in the neighborhood.

The city outside the marble-arched entrance to Gertrude's home was no longer the enclave of the privileged.  Commerce had taken over.  The lower floors of once-proud residences not demolished were transformed into shops and warehouses.   Their marble stoops were removed, the interiors gutted.  Where hansoms and cabriolets once transported the wealthy, trucks now clattered.

Gertrude, however, remained isolated in her time capsule, keeping everything preserved.   Nothing was discarded.  Dresses and combs, books and letters, everything was kept intact and in place exactly as things were in 1835.  Despite her finances running low until she was nearly destitute towards the end of her life, Gertrude fought against the progress beyond her curtained windows.
In 1933, just short of a century after her father purchased the house, Gertrude Tredwell died upstairs in the same bed in which she was born in 1840.  She was 93 years old.

Gertrude died in this bed in 1933.  photo via

A cousin, George Chapman purchased the Tredwell house, recognizing its importance and the need to preserve it.  He opened it as a private house museum in 1936, supporting the cause with his own funds.   

Unfortunately house museums in the Depression were not greatly popular; and he did not have the resources to maintain the aging structure.  When he died in 1962 its condition was perilous.  Water had seeped into the brickwork causing the facade to buckle outward.  The chimney tilted dangerously to one side.  Inside the carpeting and fabrics were faded and worn.

That year The Decorators Club of New York City adopted the house as a pet project.  Scalamandre reproduced the draperies including painstakingly hand-making the heavy tassels.  The "Pompeiian" patterned carpeting was reproduced from a swatch cut from the parlor.  Yet the structural problems were more than the Decorators Club could tackle.

New York University architect Joseph Roberto was consulted and he took on the project in a nearly single-handed effort to save the building. 

One night during the restoration the house was broken into.  The thieves roamed throughout the building searching for valuables they could quickly resell.  They passed by the Tredwell silverware, the 19th century oil paintings and the mahogany knife boxes on the sideboard.  Luckily for posterity, in their ignorance they stole the workers hand tools--the only things of value they recognized.

Over nine years of structural restoration brought the house back.  Roberto's wife Carolyn, an interior designer, worked with the Decorators Club to restore the furniture and interior accessories.  As evidence of Gertrude Tredwell's careful preservation of her family's things, a volunteer one day was going through clothing in an upstairs bedroom.  Putting her hand into an evening cape, she pulled from the pocket the program from a play that had taken place in the late 1800s.   Like almost everything in the house it laid protected from time, never having been touched since that last Tredwell sister nestled it into her pocket after the theater nearly a century earlier.

In 1971 Joe Roberto received The Victorian Society of America's Preservation Award for his work on the Merchant's House.  He was consulted again in 1987 when the house was again threatened, this time by the intended razing of the three houses, long since seriously altered, at Nos. 31, 33 and 35.  Because the Tredwell House and No. 31 shared a party wall there was a genuine possibility of collapse.  Through Roberto's direction, enough of No. 31's interior wall was left to buttress No. 29  so that the old house came down without any damage to the Tredwell home.

It is often suggested that Henry James based his novel Washington Square on Gertrude Tredwell.  Whether or not that is true, when the 1949 film version, The Heiress, was in process the filmmakers toured the East 4th Street house extensively as research for the interior sets.

Today the Merchant House Museum is widely regarded as one of the finest surviving examples of early 19th Century residences both inside and out.  From the grand wrought iron basket newels on the marble stoop to the gloves and parasols in the bedrooms upstairs, the Tredwell residence is a remarkable treasure.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Stationery and Shoes - Nos. 150-152 Duane Street

Designed and constructed simultaneously, No. 148 Duane Street (to the left) appears to be an extension of the corner building.
On September 19, 1859 workers were busy constructing a modern loft building for dry goods merchants James Benkhard and Benjamin H. Hutton at Nos. 142-144 Duane Street.  The Tribeca neighborhood was just seeing real commercial development, and the rest of the block was still lined with houses dating to the 1810s, several already converted for business.

Disaster struck when a wall of the new building collapsed.  Four years later, on December 7, 1863 Benkhard and Hutton were in court answering a law suit charging them with "negligence or imprudence in the matter of their improvements" and alleging damages of $2,075.88.  They were found guilty.

Undaunted, Benkhard & Hutton forged on.  Their drygoods business was successful enough that they purchased the damaged properties and within months of the verdict had demolished them and begun construction on two impressive loft structures.  Completed in 1865, they were the last word in commercial architectural fashion.

The corner building at Nos. 150-152 Duane Street was nearly indistinguishable from No. 148.  Above cast iron storefronts, the five story structures were faced in sandstone and combined the Italianate style with the newly-emerging French Second Empire.  Each floor was defined by a stone cornice and featured segmentally-arched windows separated by dignified pilasters and corner quoins.

The side of the building, facing West Broadway, was as impressive as the front.  Here the buff-colored stone became the trim, contrasting with ruddy red brick.  The architect created a three-part design by flanking the central section with two slightly more ornate three-bay pavilions.  Stone quoins defined the three sections.

James Benkhard died on April 21, 1865, the same year the building was completed.  Hutton filled it with other dry goods firms, including Lindsay, Chittick & Co., dealers in imported fabrics and fancy goods.

The Commercial & Financial Chronicle, November 17, 1866 (copyright expired)

One of Hutton's early tenants seems to have gone out of business early in 1870.  An advertisement in The New York Herald on April 24 offered "For Sale Cheap--A number of blue cloth window shades, walnut top counters, office desks, &c.; all in fine order."

William S. Mount opened his new business in the building on September 20, 1876.  A stark departure from the dry goods firms, he dealt in "Turkish Goods."  American relations with the Ottoman Empire had been shaky at best until a treaty was signed in 1862.  By now merchants like Mount were importing an array of exotic goods.  Listed in his opening announcement were "Turkish rugs, Persian Rugs, embroidered table covers, neck ties; embroidered chair covers jackets; embroidered cushion covers, slippers, and a variety of other articles."

The following decade would continue to see a more diverse list of tenants.  In 1882 S. Moorhouse & Co., importers and wholesalers of "staple and fancy" groceries, was in the building; and around 1884 Edwin C. Burt & Co., makers of ladies' and children's fine shoes moved in from No. 93 Thomas Street.   It was the first sign of the neighborhood's change from the dry goods to shoe district.

Burt had started his career in his father's leather shop in Hartford, Connecticut, but came to New York in 1848 with his brother, James, to sell shoes and boots to the Southern and Western markets.  The Civil War put an end to Southern trade; so he turned from selling to manufacturing high-quality shoes.

Edwin C. Burt died in 1884 at the age of 66.  His business continued, as did his legacy of bad labor relations. 

In 1875, with the financial depression still ongoing, Burt had reduced the salary of his cutters from $24 per 10-hour week to $21 (about $475 a week in today's dollars).  The men walked out.  Rather than negotiate, Burt simply replaced them and told a reporter that "he had had no difficulty in obtaining all the men he required."

Burt & Co.'s stylish button-up shoe featured a scallop design along the closure (copyright expired)

In a case of deja vu workers walked off the job in February 1889 when Edwin C. Burt & Co. reduced their wages by as much about 25 percent.  The New York Times reported on the stand-off on February 26, writing "The members of the firm said that competition compelled them to make reductions, but the men declare that Burt's shoes always fetch a higher figure in the market than any other shoes and that the firm's business is as good as ever."

In addition to its fine quality shoe, Edwin C. Burt & Co. was known for its clever trade cards which it distributed to its retailers.  The colorful, eye-catching cards warned customers to check for the firm's stamp inside the shoe to make sure they were the real thing.

The trade cards were individually imprinted with the retailers' names.  (copyrights expired)

By 1898 Edwin C. Burt & Co. had moved to No. 92-98 Centre Street.  It declared bankruptcy that year.

In the meantime, by 1892 the Whiting Paper had taken over essentially all of the upper portion of Nos. 150-152 Duane Street.  The ground floor was occupied by the United States Express Co.

Whiting Paper boasted being the second largest paper manufacturing firm in the world (the first being in Aberdeen, Scotland).   William Whiting had organized the firm in 1865, with its paper mill in Massachusetts.  It manufactured "all kind of find writing and envelope papers."

The firm also rented the top two floors of the building next door, at No. 148 Duane Street.  It shared that building with wine and liquor importers Julius Wile Brothers & Co.; perfume manufacturer Rice Brothers & Tiffany; and J. L. Alboez, "dealer in atomizers."  Along with Whiting Paper Co., the stock or materials used in manufacturing by all the tenants were highly flammable.

On December 5, 1897 at 8:16 p.m. fire broke out on the third floor of No. 148 Duane Street.   It spread rapidly throughout the building and spread to Nos. 150-152.  It took firefighters two and a half hours to control the blaze, after which No. 148 was declared "destroyed" and the roof of Nos. 150-152 was heavily damaged.  Whiting Paper Co. had lost everything in No. 148 and the contents next door were damaged by smoke.

Both buildings were repaired and Whiting Paper took over all four upper floors of No. 148--now completely filling both buildings above the ground floor.  United States Express Company remained at street level in Nos. 150-152 and Jules Wile Brothers & Co. moved back into its store next door.

Disaster repeated itself on May 5, 1900 when fire broke out on the fifth floor of No. 148.  Before what firefighters described as "a stubborn blaze" was extinguished Whiting suffered about $5,000 in losses while the liquor store incurred $2,000 water damage.

Walden's Stationery and Printer, February 25, 1907 (copyright expired)
Once again Whiting Paper remained.  The year after the fire the firm employed 373 men, 10 boys between 16 and 18 years old, 9 below 16 years of age, and 25 females.

In 1907 Whiting Paper added a warehouse on White Street in response to "the steadily increasing business."  With the bulk of its storage gone from Duane Street, space opened up here for other firms.   The first was the newly-formed D. J. Allen Co., wholesale boot and shoe dealers, which opened for business on December 1, 1907.

Hoffman-Corr was a departure from the usual manufacturers in the neighborhood.  The Evening World, June 27, 1911 (copyright expired)

After decades of doing business at the corner of Duane and West Broadway, in June 1912 Whiting Paper Co. announced it had leased five floors in a building under construction at Seventh Avenue at 14th Street.  With the paper company's removal, Nos. 150-152 was taken over by shoe concerns.

In 1914 T. R. Emerson Shoe Co. moved in.  The firm maintained stockrooms in upper floors while operating its retail store at ground level.  Here "fashionable designs of women's footwear" could be seen.

M. B. Martine, Inc. took over the second floor in 1921 where, according to the Boot and Shoe Recorder, "they have more commodious quarters for their office, sample room and factory."  The company manufactured shoe accessories including "over-gaiters, buckles, and other shoe ornaments."

The building continued to house shoe firms throughout most of the 20th century.  In 1942 it was home to the M. J. Saks Shoe Company.

As was the case with many Tribeca loft buildings, Nos. 150-152 was renovated to for residential use above the ground floor in 1990.  Throughout its more than 150 year life, the impressive structure has been little changed externally.  A modern renovation of the storefronts resulted in vast expanses of plate glass; yet the surviving cast iron elements present a clear indication of the original appearance.

photographs by the author

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Henry Illoway House - 1113 Madison Avenue

In 1853 Rabbi Bernard Illowy and his wife, the former Katherine Gitel Schiff, immigrated with their two children, Henry and Nettie, from Kolin, Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) to the United States.

Bernard came from a long ling of religious scholars.  He was recognized for his exceptional oratory abilities, and many of his sermons and speeches were published.  He held a doctorate from the University of Budapest and was fluent in Italian, English, French and German, and was literate in Latin, Greek and Hebrew.  But because of his opposition to the Habsburg Empire he was forced to leave his homeland.

The Illowy family was living in St. Louis when a second son, Jacob, was born.  As the eldest son, Henry was expected to become a rabbi, too.  He accompanied his father to principal U.S. cities where the rabbi preached.  But in 1864, at the age of 17, Henry changed his mind and announced he wanted to study medicine.

By then the family had relocated to Cincinnati, where Rabbi Illowy died in an accident in 1871.  Henry continued his studies, receiving his medical degree from the Miami Medical College of Cincinnati, and later studied in Berlin and Vienna.  By the time Henry and his siblings moved to New York in 1894, they had changed the spelling of their name to Illoway.

Henry was a specialist in children's diseases, but he never turned his back on religious scholarship.  He regularly wrote on biblical and talmudic subjects and was a member of the ancient Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue, Congregation Shearith Israel.

Jacob, who married Gertrude Kahn around 1890, went into business, becoming a partner in the LaMuriel Cigar factory on Avenue A.  Nettie eventually became a recognized artist of oil landscapes and seascapes.

James McNamara and his wife, Evelyn had lived in the 20-foot wide brownstone rowhouse at No. 1113 Madison Avenue since 1894.  Living with them was their son, Joseph, who was a Commissioner of Deeds.  The French Second Empire dwelling had been on the cutting edge of architectural fashion when built.  Three bays wide, the high stoop led to the parlor floor where, almost certainly, the windows stretched nearly floor to ceiling.

The elegant mansard level, however, drew the most attention.  Shingled in slate tiles, it sat above an exceptionally handsome bracketed cornice.  Two shallow, arched dormers were stylishly framed; and the roof was crowned with lacy iron cresting.

Henry Illoway, who never married, purchased the house from McNamara in March 1903.  His $12,000 mortgage, a third of a million dollars in today's money, points to the still-upscale residential nature of the avenue.   Nettie, also unmarried, moved in with him.

Illoway was well-known and respected in the medical community by now.  He was a member of the American Medical Association, the Medical Society of the State of New York, the New York County Medical Society, the Academy of Medicine of New York and the Society of Medical Jurisprudence.  He opened his office in the house as well. 

In 1907, the same year that Henry was elected president of the East Side Physicians' Association, his brother died.  Jacob's widow and their daughter, Mariam Ruth, moved into the Madison Avenue house with Henry and Nettie.

While the upper floors of the brownstone were now filled with the extended Illoway family, Henry converted most of the basement level to a free clinic for poor children.

On December 12, 1916 Gertrude announced Miriam's engagement to Richard Illowy, who had recently arrived in New York from Buenos Aires.  An Argentine native, he had been an importer of dyes until the outbreak of World War I.  He now intended to establish a new business in New York.

In reporting the engagement, The New York Times addressed what must have been on many readers' minds.  "There is only one letter difference between her name and that of her fiance."  What the article did not note was that the spelling "Illoway" was new to the family and Rabbi Bernard Illowy had never accepted the added "a."

It may have been the almost certain familial relationship that quickly undid the wedding plans.  Ten days later Gertrude announced that the engagement had been called off.  The New York Times simply wrote "No reason was given yesterday by Miss Illoway's relatives for the annulment."

Miriam remained in the house with her mother and uncle until May 1929 when she married Edward Jonas Phillips.  Phillips traced his American roots to the early 18th century and an ancestor, Moses Seixas, was the warden of the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island.

In October 1931 Henry Illoway decided to take his first winter vacation and went to Florida.  He had only just arrived when he became ill and he headed home, arriving in early November.  He had developed uremia and died in the Madison Avenue house on January 15, 1932.  He was 84 years old.  At his bedside were Gertrude, Miriam, and Nettie, who had come from her home in Washington.  His funeral was held in the house on January 17.

Illoway bequeathed his "large library of Hebrew works and a trust fund" to the Jewish Theological Seminary.  The bulk of his estate was divided among Gertrude, Mariam and Nettie.  He was specific in the use of the $5,000 he left to his brother's other child, Bernard.  It was to be used to "establish him as a physician or in any other honorable profession."

By now the Madison Avenue neighborhood had changed.  Private homes which had given way to apartment buildings now had shops appearing at street level.  In February 1934 the A. Schultze Company, Inc. purchased No. 1113 Madison Avenue from the Illoway estate.  Interior decorators, the firm had been located on Lexington Avenue for more than half a century.  Now on February 3 The New York Times announced the firm's plans "to remodel the building and make a two-story showroom of the ground floor."

The stoop was removed and a modern storefront installed over the basement and parlor levels.  There were now two apartments on each of the upper floors.

By mid-century A. Schultz was gone, replaced by Scott Service, described by a newspaper as having "a group of workmen who will take care of practically anything that needs cleaning or repairing."

When the white brick apartment building replaced the four properties at Nos. 1115 through 1121 in 1963, the former Illoway home became the last holdout on the block from the elegant post-Civil War row.

Throughout the next decades the retail space would be home to a variety of businesses.  In 1978 The Larder opened; a gourmet take-out shop that offered delicacies, some of which New York Magazine deemed "too expensive."   In 1990 a Beau Brummel branch opened in the space; followed by Kimara Ahnert in 2010.

The storefront today wears a polished granite facade that apparently attempts to match the original brownstone.  The architectural details of the upper floor openings have been shaved flat.  But the glorious mansard and cornice--right down to the slate shingles and cresting--magically survive as if preserved in amber.

photographs by the author