Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The 1845 63 Barrow Street

In 1845 Catherine Cruger erected two houses, Nos. 61 and 63 Barrow Street, behind her store at the southeast corner of Bedford Street.  Unlike the earlier, Federal style homes along the block, they reflected the newer Greek Revival style.  Rather than a dormered attic, they had a full-height third floor.  While intended for a middle-class family, they boasted the floor-to-ceiling parlor windows expected in the residences of more affluent homeowners.  Nevertheless, the modest personality of the homes were expressed in its simple brownstone lintels and sills.

In the 1850's No. 63 was being leased by the Taft family.  Catharine A. Taft was a teacher in the Girls' Department of Primary School No. 18 on Waverley Place near Bank Street.  And by the early 1860's the William Henry Baldwin family lived at No. 63 Barrow Street.  Born on New Year's Eve 1824, Baldwin was married to the former Mary S. Stevenson.  The couple had seven children.

At the time the Baldwins moved into the Barrow Street house, the East Coast was plagued with a deadly disease, scarlatina, better known as scarlet fever.  The epidemic was so widespread that on April 1, 1868 Dr. Shrady, editor of the New York Medical Record, noted that the Metropolitan Health Board's latest report did not even bother to count the cases.  "Nothing is said of the great number of cases of scarlet fever, as it is so common a thing that nothing is thought of it."

In the spring of 1864 the Baldwins' three year old son, Harry Lincoln, contracted the disease.  It became complicated with diphtheria and he died in the house on May 8.   Perhaps due to the infectious nature of the disease, his funeral was rapidly held the next day, just past noon, in the parlor.

The Civil War had already been raging for three years at the time.  On March 3, 1863 Congress had enacted The Enrollment Act, sometimes called the Draft Act.   All male citizens eligible for military service were required to enroll.  Their names then were included in the highly unpopular draft lotteries.  On March 17, 1865 William H. Baldwin, Jr.'s name was one of those drawn to fight in the South.

By the time the Baldwin's youngest daughter, Emily Frances, died on June 29, 1869, they had moved to No. 291 West 4th Street.  Two years earlier, the owner (possibly still Catherine Cruger) sold all three of the properties.  An advertisement in The New York Herald on February 12, 1867 offered:

For Sale--Two Three Story Basement Cellar Philadelphia brick Houses, 61 and 63 Barrow street; $5000 each.  Corner store adjoining, $7,500--less if sold together.  Terms easy.

The price for the houses would be equivalent to about $82,600 today.  The new owners of No. 63 Barrow Street rented rooms, but stopped short of operating a boarding house.  An advertisement in The New York Herald on December 10, 1871 offered "Furnished rooms, for housekeeping, for gentleman and wife; also small Room, for one or two gentlemen, at $2.50 per week."

The difference in accommodations were reflected in the rent.  The $2.50 per week for that small room would be around $50 today.  But an apparently more spartan "furnished sleeping room" was available for a bargain $8 per month in 1873.  The advertisements through the years were nearly identical, with only the prices slightly changing.  A bedroom and adjoining room was offered "to gentlemen or for light housekeeping" in 1874 and "also a Room to a gentleman for $2 per week."  That advertisement noted that gas was included in the rent.

As the century drew to a close, No. 63 was home to a career woman, Elizabeth A. Lahey.  She had taken a job in John Van Orden's ladies' undergarment firm in 1882 at the age of just 14 years old.  In 1890 when the forewoman, Miss Hemme, was married, Elizabeth was promoted to assistant forewoman and "special fitter."  She was promoted again in 1893 when her employer's wife, Margaret, became too ill to work.

Elizabeth was dragged into the especially ugly divorce proceedings between the Van Ordens in 1896. and was called to the stand on May 16.  Her testimony made it unclear which of the two was more at fault.

She said in part that Margaret "never had anything but bad to say about him, stating he abused her, and very often she expressed herself as though she hated him, [and] his brother Jim she called a dirty loafer.  One Monday morning she came to me and said that Mr. Van Orden had been to a vile place the night before and on disreputable business; she expressed this in a very shameful way and too low for me to repeat."

"She would come down to the workroom and talk to me by the hour about Mr. Van Orden and sometimes would tell me the most indecent things about him...While she was around I have never heard Mr. Van Orden speak to or about Mrs. Van Orden in any but a respectful manner, and invariably considerate of others."

On December 1, 1909 Elizabeth transferred title to No. 63 Barrow Street to Fanny H. von Schmid.   Fanny's purchase was an investment and she immediately leased the house to Margaret Demuth.  Fanny retained possession for nearly two decades, selling it in July 1921 to artist Estella Case.

Case was followed in the house by Edward J. Condlon and his wife, the former Rosalie M. Freeman.  A financial reporter for The New York Times since 1927, he had started his career with the New York Commercial, later working for The Boston Evening Transcript, the Chicago Journal of Commerce and The United Press.

Condlon was not all business.  He was a member of the board of governors of the New York Financial Writers Association and, according to The Times, "He was one of the leading performers in the association's annual theatrical productions in 1938, 1939 1940 and 1941."

In July 1944 Condlon became ill and he died in the New York Hospital on August 5.  It is not clear how long Rosalie Condlon remained in the house; but it as sold to Mr. and Mrs. J. F. Bagster-Collins "of Cornwall, Connecticut" in December 1959.  In reporting on the sale The New York Times noted "They will occupy it."

The intimate proportions of the house--just 17 feet wide--are possibly what saved the charming brick house from being divided into apartments.  Still a single-family home, its brownstone trim has been painted white and understated ironwork replaces the original railings and fencing.  Nevertheless, Catherine Cruger's investment property looks much as it did nearly 175 years ago.

photographs by the author

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Pitiable Neglect - The West 96th Street Substation 11

Sadly some of the carved limestone ornamentation has been stripped off.

At a meeting of the West End Association on Tuesday, November 12, 1901 several representatives reported on the status of issues that concerned or affected Upper West Side residents.  On the list were the still-delayed paving of 72nd Street, the completion of the tiny Empire Park at Broadway and 63rd Street, and the "endeavor to improve the Circle at 8th av and 59th st, with a view to insuring the safety of the public using the same."

One of the most pressing problems was public transportation.  The Upper West Side's population had multiplied several times in recent decades and residents faced problems getting around.  The West End Association's Subway Special Committee reported on their meeting with the contractor for the Rapid Transit Subway Construction Co.  "He promised to complete portions now open before opening between 71st and 80th st, and satisfied the committee that he is doing all in his power to push work."

The Rapid Transit Subway Construction Co. was founded in 1900 by August Belmont, Jr. and Andrew Onderdonk.  It would later be renamed the Interborough Rapid Transit, or the IRT.   Creating tunnels, laying track, manufacturing the trains, and constructing stations was a massive undertaking.  In addition, the subterranean tracks would need electricity to power the trains along.

Powerhouses and substations with colossal generators had to be constructed.  The substations, which transformed the electric current generated at the main power plants, were generally located near passenger stations.   They were subsequently designed to meld into the residential or business blocks.  On October 23, 1904 The Sun noted "The substation buildings from which the electric current is served to the third rail are architecturally beautiful.  One of them might be taken almost for the home of a wealthy citizen whose fancy turned toward the heavy and impressive."

A year after the West Side Association meeting the subway was nearing 96th Street.  Even as the massive main power plant was still being constructed, plans were laid for the substation just west of Broadway on 96th Street.  On October 11, 1902 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that plans had been filed for "a 3-sty electric power station for the West Side branch of the subway, to be built at Nos. 264 and 266 West 96th Street, at a cost of $55,000."  That price tag would amount to more than $1.5 million today.

The architectural firm of Van Vleck & Hunter had received the commission to design Substation 11.  They produced a handsome Beaux Arts structure faced in limestone.  The carved ornamentation, dormered mansard roof. and two-story metal-framed bays created a striking structure that could hold its own among handsome civic buildings like firehouses and libraries.

photo from The Street Railway Journal, October 8, 1904
Despite its Parisian-inspired facade, the interior of Substation 11 was a no-nonsense cavernous space of gigantic transformers, switchboards and "rotaries."

photo from The Street Railway Journal, October 8, 1904

The new IRT subway solved the problem of transportation on the Upper West Side.  At least temporarily.  As the district continued to grow, so did passenger complaints.  An article in the Record & Guide entitled "Subway Deficiencies" on February 3, 1906 sounds remarkably modern.  It said in part, "The delays are constant, and are sometimes prolonged almost beyond endurance.  Instead of traveling to the City Hall in less than twenty minutes, the residents of the upper West Side and Harlem find that it frequently takes them forty minutes, and many of them believe that they can average much better time on the Ninth avenue elevated expresses."

Passengers would be frustrated until the opening of the Eighth Avenue subway line on Central Park West alleviated much of the congestion.

The 1906 dilemma exemplified the never-ending challenges facing the subway.  Subsequently, constant improvements in technology and efficiency would eventually result in both the main power plant and Substation 11 becoming obsolete.

On June 12, 1940 the Interborough Rapid Transit was acquired by the city to be merged into the Metropolitan Transit Authority.  IRT properties, including the 96th Street substation, were transferred to the city.  No longer needed, it would eventually become abandoned.

In June 1991 the city's Division of Real Property attempted to sell the property.  In an unusual offering, it joined with the owners of two adjacent properties--No. 268 where the Salvation Army operated a thrift store, and No. 270 partially occupied by NAACP offices.  "The properties have more value as an assemblage than they do individually," explained planning director Margo Moehring to a New York Times reporter.  The minimum bid for the package was $6.2 million.

It was a valiant effort; or so it seemed.  But when there were no bids, Substation 11 was boarded up and essentially forgotten.  Weather and vandalism took their toll.  The first of the public complaints began around 2003 when multiple calls to the Department of Buildings reported a dangerous, unlit sidewalk shed which had been in place for years.

The concerns worsened as time passed.  In the summer of 2014 there were reports that the plywood over the windows was missing and pigeons were roosting inside; and in October 2015 journalist Emily Frost reported on the "growing homeless encampment" that had formed under the sidewalk shed.

In June 2017 a local resident complained "the entrance door is wide open" and voiced concerns that the building's proximity to elementary school P.S. 75 made it "unsafe for children who are curious and may try to go into the property."

Around that time rumors circulated that Substation 11 was to be converted to housing.  In the meantime Van Vleck & Hunter's once imposing Beaux Arts structure continues to decay.  Although its striking limestone carvings and mansard roof speak of its former industrial elegance, it has become a neighborhood eyesore.

photographs by the author

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Lost "Waddell Castle" - Fifth Avenue and 37th Street

Alexander Jackson Davis created this rendering in 1844.  The romantic Gothic villa sat in the countryside at the time. Fifth Avenue Old and New, 1924

William Coventry Henry Waddell was born at No. 53 Wall Street on May 28, 1802 to ship master Captain Henry Waddell and Eliza Martin Daubeney (William added the "Henry" to his name, for some reason, later in life).   His education was interrupted at the age of 18 when his father died and he entered business as a clerk.

Waddell's acumen led to his becoming secretary of the Pacific Insurance Company in 1827.  But his career would truly take off when Andrew Jackson appointed Martin Van Buren as Secretary of State two years later.  Waddell was intimate friends with Lucas Elmendorf, who in turn was a close friend of Van Buren.  Elmendorf managed to procure the position of Financial Agent within the State Department for Waddell--a position that earned him the third highest salary within the Department.

He was in charge of the finances of the State Department, but perhaps more importantly was the confidential messenger between the Department and the President.  The 28-year old Waddell and the 62-year old President formed a close bond.  Historian John W. Jordan, in his 1911 Colonial and Revolutionary Families of Pennsylvania remarked "The entire confidence which the President seemed to give to his young friend let to many long informal talks, and laid the basis for the continuing friendship which never failed to manifest itself whenever opportunity occurred."

William Coventry Henry Waddell -- original source unknown

One such opportunity was the vacancy of the United States Marshalship of New York in 1831.  Waddell went directly to the President's office and asked for the job (one of the most lucrative positions in the Government), which he was granted.  

Waddell and his wife, the former Julia Ann Cobb, had a daughter, Susan Alice.  The family, along with Waddell's widowed mother, Eliza, moved into the former mansion of Benjamin De Forest at No. 27 Bond Street.  Following Eliza's death in 1835, they relocated to Parsippany, New Jersey, where Julia had grown up.  She died there on June 20, 1841.

The following year Waddell married Charlotte Augusta Southwick, whose former husband, William McMurray, had died in 1839, just a few months after their marriage.  Waddell commissioned architect Alexander Jackson Davis to design a "suburban villa" in Manhattan on land he and Charlotte had chosen north of the city, part of the former Robert Murray country estate, known as Murray Hill.  Located between what would now be Fifth and Sixth Avenues, between 37th and 38th Streets, the site was described by the Real Estate Record & Guide decades later: "The avenue was little more than a common road, with old farm fences visible on every side."

The Gothic Revival mansion was similar to the country villa Davis had designed in 1838 for New York Mayor William Paulding, the Knoll (known today as Lyndhurst) near Tarrytown, New York.   Its crenelated octagonal towers, pointed Gothic arches, square-headed drip moldings, and leaded glass oriels created a charming and romantic site for New Yorkers taking a country drive.

A contemporary visitor wrote "The Grounds...were beautifully shaded with oaks and elms, many of which were a century old.  Large green houses, extensive grape arbors, acre of fruit trees and well cultivated gardens made the place a favorite point for strangers to visit; and the castle with its lofty towers overlooking the Hudson, and with its heavy en-garniture of ivy and roses, was known far and wide as the most stately mansion between the Harlem and the Sea."

The picturesque architecture did not diminish the grandeur of the mansion.  A sweeping stone staircase led to the entrance.  Large common rooms led off the reception hall.   Here, according to historian Henry Collins Brown in 1918, "occurred a succession of brilliant entertainments."

The ground floor held the "public" areas--such as the drawing room, dining room, and library.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

And John W. Jordan stressed, "But this residence, while admired and famed for it beauty and environment, will be chiefly remembered, if remembered at all, for the fact that Mrs. Coventry Waddell there established and long maintained a unique center which has been repeatedly characterized as the first American Salon."

In his 1924 book Fifth Avenue Old and New, 1824-1924, Henry Collins Brown noted "This quaint, gothic-looking structure was in its day, the centre of social life in high society.  Thackery speaks of his experiences there which seem to have been unusually pleasant."

If William M. Thackery found his experiences unusually pleasant, it was due to his hostess, Charlotte.  She was described by The New York World in 1891 as "a woman of the very highest cultivation and of the most charming manner.  The younger society leaders of today know her only by tradition as it were, but the chapter in which her triumphs are recorded, is one of the very brightest in the social history of the metropolis."

Charlotte Augusta Southwick Waddell from the collection of the New York Public Library

Chauncey M. Depew lamented upon her death in 1891 "The one thing which New York lacks to make it a metropolis is some house with a hostess of refinement and culture, where for one evening in the week, all that is eminent in literature, journalism, the law, pulpit, medicine, science and art in its various forms of expression, with pencil, brush, chisel, voice, the instrument or on the stage, could meet on an equal footing under her hospitable roof.  Mr. Coventry Waddell did that in her time; no one does it now."

Before the era of Caroline Schermerhorn Astor and Mamie Fish, Charlotte Waddell held sway as the queen of Manhattan society.  John W. Jordan wrote "No record is to be found which treats of the social history of New York City in the nineteenth century as a whole, and which does not pay its tribute to this Salon and its hostess."

Waddell's pride in his new home was evidenced when he had it included in the background of his family portrait in 1852 by Mary Pillsbury Weston.  Pictured with William and Charlotte are their three children, William, Anne and Ida; while Susan Alice, his daughter with Julia, reclines on the grass.  from the collection of the New-York Historical Society

The Waddells may have had second thoughts about the remote location.  An advertisement in The New York Herald on June 9 might have referred to the mansion. "To Let or For Sale--A new two story brick Cottage House."  The ad boasted the "handsome garden and shrubbery in front, walks flagged and curbed, brick cistern, &c. &c.  The house is finished in the best manner, with marble mantels, stained glass skylight, blinds or shutters to each window, &c. &c. and admirably adapted to the use of a small family.  Apply to W. C. H. Waddell, 16 Wall st."  On the other hand, the "Cottage House" in the ad may have an investment property, a client's home, or even the Parisipanny residence.

If there were any concerns they were soon dismissed as the house became a center of social activity.  The couple were also highly visible in Newport society.  When Charlotte made her appearance at "the last great ball of the season" in 1848, she stole the show.  On September 2 The New York Herald reported:

Mrs. Coventry Waddel, of New York, a very agacante beauty made her appearance as the Belle of 1848, in a magnificent dress of rose colored satin...This elegant costume set off to advantage the truly English complexion of this charming lady, who looked even fairer and more blooming than ever.  One of the most elegant costumes, and the lady herself presented the most exquisite complexion in the room.  The grain de beauté near her lips, is a very great attraction to other lips.

The Waddell mansion would create New York City history of sorts during a fancy dress ball in 1846.  A year earlier the Municipal Police Act created what would be the New York City Police Department.   Prominent attorney James G. Gerard embarked on a lobbying effort to create military-type uniforms which would signify rank, based loosely on the London model.  Henry Collins Brown explained that at the time the officers "were dressed for the most part like tatterdemalions."

from the collection of the New York Public Library

Faced with opposition, Gerard took a bold step.  He arrived at the Waddell mansion for Charlotte's ball "in a costume that illustrated his idea--blue coat, brass buttons, helmet and club," said Brown.  "So convincing was his demonstration that the Common Council shortly afterwards adopted the idea, which is substantially the uniform worn today."

The days of salons and balls would come to an abrupt end when William Coventry Waddell was wiped out in the Financial Panic of 1857.  While some newspapers diplomatically said he "suffered reversals," The New York Times was more pointed, saying the depression "reduced him to poverty."

John W. Jordan explained that "he never financially recovered.  Murray Hill was sold and not long after torn down to furnish the site of the present Brick Church."

The Brick Church survived until 1937.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

In 1986 the 30-story mixed use skyscraper known as 420 Fifth Avenue was erected on the site of the Waddell mansion.
photo via structurae

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The 1922 I. Townsend Burden House - 115 E 70th Street

At the turn of the last century massive fortunes from silver, gold and copper were being made in the Far West.  Yet finding suitable husbands for their daughters was a challenge for the wives of those new millionaires.   East Coast socialites saw the girls as nouveau riche and uncultured. 

Dennis Sheedy was one of the wealthiest men in Denver, Colorado.  His wife prepared well in advance, sending her two daughters, Florence and Marie, to cultured convent schools and taking them on extensive trips to Europe.  Starting ib 1910, as the girls reached marriageable ages, the family spent extended periods in New York City. 

Marie caught the eye of millionaire Robert L. Livingston and the sweethearts were married in Denver on February 15, 1911.   Among the guests was the 36-year old bachelor, Isaiah Townsend Burden, Jr.

The Burden family had been involved in iron manufacturing since Henry Burden founded the Burden Iron Works in Troy, New York.   After Henry's death in 1871, the enormous operation was run by Isaiah's uncle, James A. Burden, and father, I. Townsend Burden, Sr.

I. Townsend Burden, Jr. was one of the most eligible bachelors in the country.  An example of his family's prodigious wealth took place in 1870.  When newly-elected President Ulysses S. Grant was to visit their Newport mansion, Fairlawn, on Bellevue Avenue, Burden, Sr. had architect Richard Morris Hunt add a ballroom to the house for the occasion.

Soon after the wedding of Robert and Marie, newspapers spread the word that I. Townsend Burden, Jr. had proposed to Florence and the wedding was to take place soon.  All involved parties flew into damage control (society engagements were not properly announced by gossip columns, but by the prospective brides' families).

Florence sent out telegrams to the periodicals saying "There is not a word of truth in the report that I am engaged to I Townsend Burden, Jr., of New York."  She expressed her family's "appreciation of Mr. Burden's courtesy in coming so far to attend my sister Marie's wedding," and even hinted "Indeed, I have good reason to believe that Mr. Burden left his heart in the East."

Burden chimed in saying "I am more than sorry that Miss Sheedy has been embarrassed by the report...She and I are the best of friends, but there is no foundation for a report that we are engaged."  And his mother insisted she had never heard of the rumor until reading it in the paper.

Protests aside, the couple was married in the Sheedy mansion in Denver on June 17.  The problem of Florence's being Catholic and her groom's being Protestant was set to rest by a four-word telegram from the Vatican.  "Holy Father blesses marriage."   The wedding gifts for two of the richest young people in the country reflected their social positions.  Three armed detectives had stood 24-hour guard for a week prior to the wedding.

The Sheedy's gave the couple a $10,000 touring car and a check for $100,000, and a $50,000 string of pearls to the bride.  The Burdens provided a silver table service valued at $35,000 (more than $875,000 today).  Other gifts included a solid gold ink stand from Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt, an onyx and gold clock with matching candlesticks from George Gould, and a solid gold after-dinner coffee set, four solid gold candlesticks from D. W. Cutting, and two solid silver compotiers from Mrs. William W. Sloan.

At the time of the wedding the block of East 70th Street, between Lexington and Third Avenues, had changed from one of middle-class brownstone houses and stables, to a fashionable residential enclave.  It was perhaps best exemplified a decade later when millionaire Thomas W. Lamont erected his double-wide mansion at No. 107 East 70th Street

In April 1921 Burden purchased the two old brownstones at Nos. 113 and 115, just steps away from the Lamont house, from I. N. Phelps Stokes.  He paid a staggering $100,000 for the properties--nearly $1.4 million in today's dollars.  The New-York Tribune announced "Mr. Burden is to alter the houses into a single dwelling for his own occupancy."

But the Burdens changed their minds and demolished the old buildings.  On July 15 architect P. J. Murray filed plans for a "four-story home" to cost $75,000.   But, again, the Burdens seem to have rethought things.  When the house was completed on June 20, 1922, it had morphed to six stories.

Murray placed the brick-faced structure on a limestone base, visually grounding the tall building.  Additionally, by placing a heavy stone cornice between the fourth and fifth floors, he tricked the eye and to see a four-story house with attic floors rather than an awkwardly tall structure.

Murray's personal take on the neo-French classic style was highly appreciated by architecture critic Augusta Owen Patterson.  Writing in American Homes of To-Day in 1924, she gushed "Its success is determined largely by the perfection of its line and the exquisiteness of its ornament.  Its charm is the charm of symmetry and well considered spaces.  Its precision results in elegance.  Its reserve suggests all that one has ever known of the ritualism of French social custom."

The Burden mansion was a tempting target for "the Old Dutch House man," in 1927.  House burglar Adolph Gisterer, alias William Hauck, had been a thorn in the sides of police since the 1890s.  Police Inspector Coughlin told reporters that "in his long career [Gisterer] had stolen thousands of dollars' worth of jewelry and clothing from homes of well to do persons."

In 1922 he was sentenced to four years in prison after being convicted of burglarizing 20 homes.  Not long after his release the Burdens came home to find their bedrooms ransacked and clothing amounting to about $3,000 today missing.   On January 22, 1927 he was caught trying to climb through a small side window at Fifth Avenue and 71st Street.  He was subsequently charged not only with the Burden burglary; but a similar robbery of the home of T. J. Steinway at No. 128 East 64th Street a week earlier.

The Burdens' summers were spent, mostly, at Fairlawn, which I. Townsend had inherited from his father in 1913.  The Great Depression did not significantly affect their lifestyles, but the couple spent more time away from East 70th Street.  And on November 3, 1932 The Times announced that Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Pulitizer will return from Europe next week and will be at the Savoy-Plaza until going to their new home at 115 East Seventieth Street."  Four days earlier it had been announced the the Burdens had leased the mansion to the publisher.

The lease was a hint at things to come.  The title of the mansion was in Florence's name; so she was the owner of record when architect R. Barfort King was commissioned to transform it to apartments.  For some reason, while he preserved Murray's handsome facade, he fiddled with the top floor, changing the the neo-French classic dormers to copper-framed modern versions.

The modifications resulted in one sprawling apartment each on the ground and second floors, and two each on the floors above.  An advertisement promised that the apartments offered "the unique advantage of a Private House Neighborhood and Modern Living at the best.  The Suites have really Large Rooms, Woodburning Fireplaces and Completely Equipped Kitchens, Modern Bathrooms and unusual convenience and comfort." It added "Heated by Coal."

Floorplans of the top two floors were included in the brochure published by the Van Dam Management Co.

Among the tenants here in 1946 was theatrical producer and director Herman Shumlin.  By now he had produced and directed legendary Broadway hits like The Corn is Green, The Children's Hour, The Little Foxes, and Watch on the Rhine (he had also directed the 1943 motion picture version of Watch on the Rhine).  But Shumlin's long-standing political views placed him directly in the sights of Congress's Committee on Un-American Activities that year.

The Committee was founded in 1938 "to investigate alleged disloyalty and subversive activities on the part of private citizens, public employees, and those organizations suspected of having Communist ties."   A hysteria developed which resulted in nothing short of an Inquisition.

In March 1946 Shumlin was summoned to testify before the Committee as "a member of the executive board of the Joint Anti-Fasciest Refugee Committee."   The terrifying tactics of the group was apparent when Shumlin appeared on Thursday, April 4.

When asked to give his name and address, he said "May I have my lawyer present?"  He was told, "Give your name and address first."  Shumlin gave his name and business address.  When he was pressed for his residential address, he responded "May I have counsel present?"  The Chairman gave a disturbing response.  "I will advise you, Mr. Shumlin, if during the course of the examination there should arise any legal question that necessitates your getting legal advise before you answer it."

By 1952 Dr. Alfred V. Weisenthal and his wife lived in the building.  Born in Vienna in 1915, he was the Chief of the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital.  Following his wife's death, he remained here until his own death in August 1961.

The former mansion had seen better days by the turn of the century.  Much of the interior detailing had been lost in favor of stark modernity.   That mattered little when the house was gutted by a fire in 2006.

A pre-fire photo reveals that little was left of the Burdens' grand home.  photo via corcoran group

Reed Krakoff, the former executive creative director of Coach brand, had purchased the mansion a year earlier for $17 million.  Krakoff and his wife, Delphine, a French-born interior designer, had just embarked on a renovation to return the house to a single-family home.

photos via Curbed New York

The Krakoffs forged on, installing 18th century mantels and antique floorboards imported from Europe.   The couple sold the renovated mansion in 2014 for a jaw-dropping $51 million.

photographs by the author

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Art Deco 'Fur Land' Building - 155-163 West 29th Street

Close inspection of the long, low building reveals stylish Art Deco elements obscured by the grime and circus-like awnings.

By 1929, the West 29th Street neighborhood between Sixth and Seventh Avenues had been part of Manhattan's Fur District for years.   That year Fur Land Company, Inc. laid plans for its headquarters and wholesale store, at Nos. 155-163 West 29th Street.  But the Stock Market Crash on October 29 that year may have significantly scaled back those plans.
The firm commissioned the firm of Sugarman & Berger to design the structure.  Plans were filed on April 22, 1930 with the cost projected at $150,000, slightly over $2 million today.   Completed in March the following year, it was just three stories tall--standing in stark contrast to the soaring loft structures that had already risen along the block.

The architects sheathed the structure in white terra cotta tiles.  The offset entrance to the upper floors, wedged between storefronts, sat within an Aztec-inspired stair-stepped frame that smacked of grander examples found in buildings like the Chrysler Building.  A bandcourse of crisp zig-zags against rolling waves formed the base of the two-story grouped openings.  Here tiles gave the impression of fluting to the pilasters, which were capped by Art Deco capitals.  The pressed metal spandrals were surprisingly spartan.  A row of decorative tiles suggested a cornice.

The Fur Land Company leased a portion of the new building to A. Hollander & Sons, a "dyeing and fur dressing establishment."   The firm had been founded in 1889 by Austrian-born brothers Joseph and Adolph Hollander as Hollander Brothers.   A. Hollander & Son became the world's largest fur dressers and dyers listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

According to a family member, Jane Hollander, decades later in a letter to The New York Times, "the Hollanders specialized in making cheap furs look expensive, especially mink-dyed muskrat."   The company's fur cleaning process, involving sawdust and other agents, became a household word in the 1940s, "Hollanderizing."

Furs offered by department stores nationwide were marketed as Hollander-dyed.  The Pittsburgh Press, August 15, 1935
Not long after A. Hollander & Sons moved in, the firm suffered the loss of founder Adolph.  He died on September 29, 1932 at the age of 80.  His brother stayed on for another five years before retiring.  The company was still operating in the West 29th Street building in 1940 when he died while wintering in St. Petersburg, Florida with his wife.

The Depression dealt a severe blow to dealers in luxury goods, like furs.  Although it remained in the building, in 1934 the Fur Land Company leased it for "a discounted rent" of $24,000 a year, for ten years.  The ploy did not work and the building was lost in foreclosure.

Nevertheless, Fur Land forged on and on August 14, 1947 bought the building back from the City of New York.

The recovered economy following the end of World War II breathed new life into the fur industry.   The Fur Land Building continue to house furriers like Loran Furs, Inc., here by 1946, and National Coney Fur Institute.   But it was not the rebounded economy that could be credited for the unusual profits of Loran Furs.  Instead it was the fact that its partners, Nicholas Proscia and Max Davis, did not pay for many of the expensive goods they sold.

It all came to an end on January 25, 1950 when the FBI announced it had arrested them, along with American Express driver Thomas A. Carr.  The Bureau said the men were the "nucleus" of a "ring that over the last four years allegedly had stolen furs valued at $1,000,000."

Carr had been with American Express since 1917.  His route was within the Fur District and for years he manipulated shipping tickets and diverted shipments to Loran Furs, Inc.  American Express then paid out claims to the rightful customers or their insurance companies; but when that amount topped $1 million (more than ten times that much today), the firm brought in the FBI.

A six-month investigation pointed to Carr and he was put under surveillance.  After he delivered two marked cartons to Loran Furs, he was taken into custody outside.  Agents arrested Davis and Proscia in their offices.

The consumer's renewed ability to purchase furs resulted in high-end lifestyles for the furriers' executives.  Such was the case with Jack Posner, account representative for National Coney Fur.   He and his family live in the fashionable Eldorado Apartments at No. 300 Central Park West.   While their husbands stayed home to tend to business, well-to-do wives often went off to summer resorts or Europe.  And in 1954 Posner's wife, Margaret, and their 21-year old daughter, Elizabeth, left him behind as they sailed off to England.

The two boarded the Queen Elizabeth in Southampton on Wednesday, July 28 to return home.  The steamship stopped briefly in Cherbourg to board more passengers, then steamed on, bound for New York.  About nine hours after leaving port Elizabeth could not find her mother.

The ship's crew made what the Cunard Steamship Company said was a "fruitless search of the ship."  The Queen Elizabeth circled the area for about and hour and a half, and radioed other ships to be on the lookout for the woman.

On August 2 the ocean liner docked in New York.  Jack Posner met his daughter at the pier without her mother.

Sugarman & Berger's entrance smacked of those found in grand Art Deco structures like the Chrysler Building

There was at least one tenant in the building at the time who was not involved in the furrier business.  In April 152 Lester Leber left the Grey Advertising Agency to form his own agency under his own name with offices at Nos. 155-163 West 29th Street.

The Fur District remained in the neighborhood through the last decades of the 20th century.  Fur wholesaler Harry Bakel was still here in the late 1960s.

Today there is little or no trace of the furrier trade on the 29th Street block.  Garish shops vie for attention at street level, the Fur Land Building being no exception.  Sugarman & Berger's streamlined storefronts are long gone, replaced with metal roll-down gates surmounted by a carnival of vinyl awnings.  But the wonder Art Deco entrance survives essentially intact along with the upper floors.

photographs by the author

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Several Faces of 1 Broadway

Nothing of the current facade hints at its appearance in 1884. photograph by Gryffindor

Cyrus Field’s rise from an errand boy in A. T. Stewart’s dry goods emporium to one of the city’s wealthiest men was meteoric.  Years later the Daily Alta California would remind readers “His brother, David Dudley, was given a collegiate education; instead of a classical education Cyrus received $25 in cash and his father’s blessing.”
After working three years for $2 a week at Stewart’s, he took a job as a salesman for a paper manufacturer.  Before long he started his own business.  The California newspaper said “on the first day that he took possession of his new office he made the sanguine remark: ‘I shall make a fortune here in twenty years.’  Better than his word, he made his fortune in twelve years and retired, still in the prime of life, to enjoy the rest which he had never known since his boyhood.”  
The “prime of his life” was age 33 and Field left with a comfortable fortune of $250,000—between $6 and $10 million today.  But his retirement did not necessarily include "the rest" which the California journalist referred to.  He traveled with artist Frederick Church through Bogota, Guayaquil and Ecuador.   But he is best remembered for being the force behind the laying of the Transatlantic Cable in 1866.

Field was also the owner of the Evening Mail newspaper.  In 1881 he embarked on a project to erect a new headquarters building which would include additional floors of leased office space.   One by one he purchased the properties that composed the block front on Battery Place, between Broadway and Greenwich Street (today Trinity Place).  Included was the historic Washington Hotel at No. 1 Broadway, built in 1745 as the mansion of British Captain Archibald Kennedy. 

On November 17, 1881 The New York Times explained that Field "decided that six of the foremost architects of this City should enter into a competition in the drawing of plans for the immense office building which it is his intention to have erected on that ground."   The mere submission of a design would reap the architects $500; the winning architect would be awarded $5,000 (plus an additional $500 for relinquishing ownership of the designs to Field).

The designs were to be submitted anonymously, marked with a "motto," accompanied by a letter containing the architects' names which would be opened only after the choice had been made.  On November 1, the deadline, Field gathered up the plans, took this to his country home at Irvington-on-Hudson, and reviewed them with his wife.  The couple decided on Edward H. Kendall.

"Mr. Kendall's plan is to constructor a building that will in many of its details be a reminder of the old colonial days, and which will, to some extent, memorialize the building there standing and known to have been the head-quarters of Gen. Washington," said The Times.  "The architect has, therefore, produced plans for a building, the style of which he is pleased to distinguish as colonial."

The Broadway entrance, seen above, was mirrored on the Greenwich Street corner.  Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide, June 25, 1898 (copyright expired)
While Kendall's design did include Colonial Revival elements, it also drew substantially from the new Queen Anne style.  Faced in "Milwaukee brick," its brownstone trim was, according to The Times, "the same kind of stone used in the construction of Trinity Church."   From the two main entrances at the chamfered corners rounded stone staircases spilled to the sidewalk like cascades.  Both corners included five-story "turreted oriels."  
Even after Kendall filed his plans on June 23, 1882 it seems that he and Fields were still working out significant details.  Although Field had initially put a $500,000 cap on construction costs, Kendall's plans came to $900,000--nearly $20.5 million today.  And although the plans called for an 11-story building, The New York Times described 10 stories.

Even at that height it would be a marvel.  (In 1896 one writer called the building "the pioneer of the "Sky Scrapers.)  The Times called it "an artistic effort" and predicted it "cannot fail to attract the eye, and it is believed that the building will be one of the handsomest in the City."   
The entire tenth floor, said the newspaper, would be used by the Evening Mail for its "editorial, reportorial, and composing rooms," and, of course, Cyrus Fields's office.  The press rooms were located in the cellar, with windows at sidewalk level, at the western end of the building.  The Broadway side cellar space would hold the safe deposit vaults of the banking firm which had already signed a lease for the first floor space on that side.  Floors three through nine contained 19 rented offices each, which measured 17 by 18 feet.  The Times commented "The offices on the Battery-place front will command an unsurpassed view of the Battery Park and the harbor."

Named the Washington Building in homage to its venerable predecessor, it was in fact more popularly called the Field Building.  It was completed in 1884 and, as The Times predicted, stopped at 10 floors.  Also missing from the original plans was a "cupola, with a flag-staff and electric light," resulting in a blunt roofline,

Among the first tenants were the Manhattan Hay and Produce Exchange, as well as D'Orville's restaurant, which would be the scene of business meetings and dinners.  One example was the annual dinner and election of the Telegrapher' Mutual Benefit Association on November 19, 1884.   The millionaires in evening clothes had come from as far away as Chicago, Baltimore and Philadelphia.
The offices of the committee for erecting the Statue of Liberty moved in shortly after the building's completion.  The frustrating task of erecting a base and assembling the monument had been dragging on since 1876 when the arm was first displayed in Madison Square Park.  Part of the problem was that the United States had to pay for the pedestal.  Americans were still reeling from the Financial Panic of 1873 and there was tepid interest in donating to the project.

Periodicals were not quick to get behind it, either.  Harper's Weekly declared that France should have paid for the entire gift; and The New York Times said "no true patriot can countenance any such expenditures for bronze females in the present state of our finances."

But now the goal seemed within sight.  In August 1884 the Broadway entrance of the Washington Building was draped in French and American flags in anticipation of the cornerstone laying ceremonies of Richard Morris Hunt's pedestal on August 5.  A reception was held that morning from 10:00 to 1:00 and 3,000 invitations had been sent out for the ceremony.

Only a year after the Washington Building was completed, Edward H. Kendall got his way.  On July 18, 1885 The Record & Guide reported "Cyrus W. Field intends to add three stories to the Washington Building next year, to cost about $250,000.  The addition will contain a tower and other features, and will be a continuation of the original design, which was to make it an eleven-story building.  The architect will, of course, be E. H. Kendall."

Kendall eventually got his cupola and flagpole.  Piles of bricks sit in front of the remodeled building as workers pave Battery Place in 1886.  King's Handbook of New York 1890 (copyright expired)

The Record & Guide called the remodeled structure "undoubtedly one of the handsomest office structures in the world."  Not only did were the building's electric lights powered by its own dynamos in the basement, it had its own artesian well.  The Guide concluded "It is probably the first building to attract the foreigner who comes to our shores, and it stands out prominently, both on land and water, as one of the noblest buildings at the extreme southern boundary of Manhattan Island."
The Statue of Liberty Committee would not need offices after October 1886.  But the group went out with a bang--literally.   Previous to the monument's dedication on the afternoon of October 28, a procession came down Broadway to the Battery.  That night fireworks were set off from the Washington Building.

Cyrus Field had known Wall Street speculator James H. Hunting casually for years.  A wealthy jeweler in the 1850s, he had lost his business through bad investments.   By now he was considered "to be in moderate circumstances," as described by The New York Times.   His marriage had ended in divorce and "after this Hunting seemed to grow less and less prosperous."
Hunting routinely dropped into the offices of friends to ask for small loans.  Among those was Cyrus Field and on May 4, 1888 he was back.  He walked into Field's  office in the Washington Building asking him to lend him a few dollars.

Field reportedly replied, "Why, Jim, you know how this thing is; I have calls every day or two for money, and I can't lend you any to-day."  Hunting laughed at the good natured rejection, handed Fields a note and said, "Read this tonight."

The Times reported "Still laughing and in a perfectly cheerful manner, Mr. Hunting left the office.  His steps sounded along the hall for a moment, and then the report of a pistol was heard.  People rushed out of their offices and found Mr. Hunting dead."

Field opened the note which read:

Dear Will:  It seems almost impossible to succeed.  As a last favor, will you send my body to Madison, N. J., for burial as cheaply as possible, as I have no other friend but you.  Yours, Jim.
A string of tragedies would personally visit Cyrus Field beginning in 1891.  His beloved wife, Mary, died in their country home in November.  Only weeks later his son, Edward, went insane.  He not only brought about the failure of his brokerage firm, Field, Lindley, Weichers & Co., but "raided the strong box in which his father, Cyrus W. Field, kept his securities and left it empty of valuables," as reported by The Times on December 2.   The two events seriously affected Field, who was reported bedridden and while "not unconscious" all efforts "to arouse him were not successful."

And things got worse.  A partner in the ruined Field, Lindley, Weichers & Co. was Daniel Lindley, the husband of Cyrus's daughter Grace.  Now, stricken with "nervous prostration," Grace was taken to the Field mansion on Gramercy Park.  She died there on January 11 and her funeral was held in the mansion.  It was all too much for the 72 year old millionaire to handle.  He never recovered and died in the Irvington-on-Hudson house in July 1892.

The Broadway building was purchased by the Washington Building Co.   In January 1908 the firm hired Harry E. Donnell to so "extensive improvements."  Although the plans are vague, the updates were internal and most likely involved issues like plumbing and elevators.

Far more serious renovations would come after the International Mercantile Marine purchased by Washington Building in November 1919.  The organization paid $3 million--more in the neighborhood of $42.5 million today.  Only one week later it announced the structure "is to be transformed into a great white stone structure of classic dignity and proportion."

Architect Walter B. Chambers told reporters "The cupola and the side turret windows of the present structure will be removed, simplifying and strengthening the outline of the new elevation.  The interior will also be entirely remodeled in accordance with the most modern ideas."

The remarkable make-over was completed in August of 1922.  Astoundingly, the massive reconstruction of the building was executed without dispossessing the existing tenants--they were simply moved around as construction took place floor-by-floor.  

The entire first floor became the "great booking office" of the steamship company, as described by the Record & Guide.  "This office was designed to represent the latest idea in practical utility, with extensive counter space, a large waiting room for customers, a department devoted to the issuing of travelers' checks and an information bureau."  The Guide deemed the remodeled building "a beautiful harmonious structure, which few would recognize as the old Washington Building, known for two generations as the first skyscraper in Manhattan."

The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide, August 19, 1922 (copyright expired)

The design won the The Downtown League's "first [place] award for an altered building" in January 1922.  In announcing the award, the League said it "covered their beautiful building at 1 Broadway, formerly known as the 'Washington Building.'"

The International Mercantile Marine Company had barely opened its offices at 1 Broadway when it became involved in a sticky international problem--Prohibition.   Passengers on elegant steamships heading to New York from Europe expected wine with dinner and, perhaps, a cocktail in the evenings.  But Attorney General Daughtery ruled in October 1922 that "no ships may enter American waters with liquor aboard."

The ruling was immediately protested by the Cunard Line, the Anchor Lines, the United American Line and Red Star Line.  On October 12 the International Mercantile Marine Company joined the others in challenging the ruling.

The day before the ruling became effective passengers of the United American steamship Resolute "entered port singing lugubriously 'How Dry I Am,' the ship's bar having been closed at sea," reported the New-York Tribune. on October 13.  The Government was given a temporary restraining order by Judge Learned Hand until the United States Supreme Court could rule on the scope of the 18th Amendment with relation to international ships.

In 1992 Allstate T. F. I. acquired No. 1 Broadway in foreclosure.  Over the decades the stone facade had weathered and fragments have fallen away.  The firm initiated a $2.2 million facade restoration by architect Stephen Cohan, executed by C. & D. Restoration.  Interestingly, as damaged stone was removed, the original brick and brownstone facade was revealed underneath.  

Above the base, colorful terra cotta shield representing ports of call adorn the facade.  Elsewhere, limestone decorations carry on a marine theme--starfish and shells, for instance.   photograph by Gryffindor
Completed in 1995, the project was awarded the Lucy G. Moses Preservation Award by the New York Landmarks Conservancy.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The 1868 Judson & Leary Bldg - 56 Lispenard Street

photograph by the author

By the end of the 1860s the block of Lispenard Street between Broadway and Church Streets had seen the encroachment of commerce.   Decades later, in 1919, Henry Theodore Lutz described the block in his article, "Reminiscences of the Fifth Ward," in Valentine's Manual of Old New York.  His family moved into No. 56 Lispenard, he said, in 1861.  "The house was owned and the lower part occupied by a French jeweler, Mr. Victor Marchand.  Next door was Moon's stable, where the express wagons of Harndon's express were kept, and next to 58 was John Ireland's chop house, occupying 60 and 62."

Victor Marchand's house and shop would not last many more years.  On May 17, 1867 The New York Times remarked on what it called the "extraordinary transformation" of the neighborhood.  The newspaper attributed the construction boom to the "vast fortunes accumulated during the war by down-town traders."  Included in the long list of structures under construction was No. 56 Lispenard Street.

Construction had started in August of 1866.  The newspaper placed its cost at $25,000 (about $418,000 today) and identified its owner as Judson & Leary.  And there the mystery begins.

The arcane partners were possibly dry goods dealers or merely two businessmen dabbling in real estate.  The Landmarks Preservation Commission simply describes them saying "about whom nothing is known."  Equally puzzling is their architect of record, J. Van Riper.  If, indeed, Van Riper drew the plans for the structure, he most likely drew his inspiration entirely from style books.  His listed profession was not architect, but contractor; a partner in J. & J. Van Riper, "masons and builders."

The building was completed in 1868.  The four-story, brick-faced Italianate style structure was a humble bedfellow among its rather grand stone and cast iron neighbors.  The three floors above the cast iron storefront, manufactured in the foundry of Tice & Jacob's, appeared more domestic than commercial.   The bracketed cast metal cornice and the stone lintels could have as easily appeared on a middle-class house.

If Judson & Leary ever occupied their new building, they do not appear in directories and were most certainly gone by 1869 when the newly-formed Arnold & Banning moved in.   Listing itself as "dry goods and commission merchants," Arnold & Banning represented firms like the Connecticut-based Harmon, Baldwin & Foy.  For years Arnold & Banning would market that company's Madame Foy's Corset Skirt Supporter.

from The Phrenological Journal and Life Illustrated, August 1872 (copyright expired)

The first Arnold of Arnold & Banning was Edward Arnold, whose brother, Franklin, joined the firm in 1871.  Edward diversified his business interests when he became an officer in the Day Manufacturing Co around 1874.  Manufacturers and dealers in silk, the firm's offices and showrooms moved into No. 56 as well.  Its silk mills were in Paterson, New Jersey.

Edward and Franklin were not the only members of the Arnold family in the building.  At the time Pennsylvania was the site of America's first oil boom as "rock oil" was discovered throughout the state.  The machines of the Industrial Revolution had made petroleum highly valuable for purposes like lubrication.   Around 1866 the Shafer Farm Oil Co. was founded in Pennsylvania and by 1876 its offices were in No. 56 Lispenard Street.  Daniel S. Arnold was its treasurer.

The following decade the Arnolds and their various business were gone, replaced by apparel manufacturers.  M. Bouton made "cloaks" here as early as 1887; and E. Biesenthal & Co., owned by Edward Biesenthal and Morris Kirstein, manufactured wrappers.  Also known as "tea gowns," the ornate dressing gowns were made to be worn over petticoats.  Tailored to fit like a dress, women arising in the morning might even wear them to the breakfast table without risking her respectability.

Wrappers preserved a woman's respectability before getting fully dressed.  original source unknown (copyright expired)
In 1898 there were three tenants in the building--A. Schuler & Co., maker of shirtwaists; Nathan Schwenk (who had started his men's neckwear business the year before); and Louis Baerlein & Co., wholesale dealers in hosiery, "furnishing goods" and gloves.  Founded in 1870, Louis Baerlein & Co. moved here from No. 540 Broadway, several blocks to the north. 

In 1908 Samuel L. Abrams had been a partner with his father in the menswear company M. H. Abrams & Son at No. 38 Walker Street.  But there appears to have been some discontent within the family that year.  Men's Wear magazine noted on June 10 that he had left the company and his brother, Jacob, had taken his place.  The article said that Samuel had "started in business for himself at 56 Lispenard street."

S. L. Abrams manufactured men's pants and would remain in the building for decades.  It was joined by 1910 by dry goods jobbers L. Kleban & Co. and Schey & Co.   Apparel and textile related firms continued to lease space following World War I.  Sharing the building in 1918 with S. L. Abrams were The Washington Mills, jobbers of men's wear, and Morris L. Polansky, "silks, trims, and woolens."

By mid-century the nearly century-old building was suffering from age and neglect.  In 1962 Department of Building documents listed a store on the ground floor, but demanded that "above floors to remain vacant," most likely because of safety reasons.

The Tribeca renaissance made its first mark on the brick building in 1978 when Gibby Goldbas's Loft opened.  The tiny off-Broadway theater offered original stagings, like the double bill in January 1979.  Gibby Goldbas's own Ghosttown was followed by Stuart Sherman's 11th Spectacle.  Tickets were an affordable $2.50 each.

Three years later a renovation of the upper floors resulted in one spacious apartment on each.  As had been the case since 1868, the ground floor was home to a store.  In 2007 Custom Frame Factory, a discount art frame store, was in the space.

photograph via

The somewhat time-worn appearance of the exterior belies the upscale residential spaces inside.  Where once young immigrant girls sewed together women's tea dresses and men's pants, occupants live in much more comfortable surroundings.  And the great mystery of who built the structure remains unsolved.