Friday, February 5, 2016

The YMCA Int'l Office Bldg -- No. 40 East 23rd Street



Anthony and Mary Newell Tiemann lived in a fine four-story home at No 40 East 23rd Street facing fashionable Madison Square Park in the Civil War years.   Anthony Tiemann had founded the D. F. Tiemann & Company Paint & Color Works in 1804 with his brother, Julius William Tiemann, and Nicholas Stippel.  Originally its factory and laboratory were located nearby on 23rd Street and Fourth Avenue.  In 1832, as the neighborhood filled with mansions, the factory was moved uptown.  The Tiemanns’ son, Daniel, was elected Mayor of New York City in 1858.

On Tuesday, December 23, 1862 Anthony Tiemann died in the 23rd Street house.  Two years later, on December 29, Mary died here at the age of 78.  Her funeral was held in the residence on New Year’s Eve.

In 1869 the massive Young Men’s Christian Association building, designed by James Renwick, Jr., was erected at the corner of East 23rd Street and Fourth Avenue (later renamed Park Avenue South).  Only one home stood between the new structure and the former Tiemann house.

The Tiemann house is seen at far right, two doors from the YMCA building in 1869 -- Harper's Weekly (copyright expired)
The Association expanded and had outgrown its behemoth building by 1886.  The old Tiemann house had been leased to artists who enjoyed the unblocked northern light—among then Herman Fueschel and John C. Wiggins.   But by now had been razed for a modern office and store structure.

The five-story building that replaced the old home was faced in red brick on the upper three floors, with a two-story cast iron and glass storefront below.   Three-story piers accentuated the verticality of the 23-foot wide structure.  The cast metal lintels, spandrels and cornice kept costs low while providing a highly-attractive façade.

The Y.M.C.A.’s International Offices and Foreign Missions offices moved into the building in 1887.  The group administered branches in other countries. “The difference between the home and the foreign fields in our Association work is simply one of geography.  The principles remain the same,” it explained.

In 1892 the International Committee listed more than 36 foreign countries with Young Men’s Christian Association branches.  They could be found in such exotic locations as Madagascar, Tasmania, Hawaii and Syria.

The International Committee was put in charge of forming an “athletic league” in 1895.  The purpose, it announced, would be “to promote not the interest of mere sport or skill, but the best development of the body, because of the relations the body sustains to the man.”

The Athletic League went on to organize inter-association, international, State and district athletic and gymnastic competitions.  Trophies were provided as prizes for the contests.  The International Committee noted “Only those sports which are not antagonistic to rational physical training shall be used in competitions.”

In the meantime, the lower two floors were leased to commercial tenants.  In 1893 Ernest Knaufft’s art school was here; and the ground floor retail space was home to Schmitt Brothers, a popular furniture store.

The Sun, December 16, 1904 (copyright expired)

On March 25, 1898 Schmitt Brothers Furniture Company was acquired by Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company for the “Manufacture and sale of furniture, bric-a-brac, objects of art, interior woodwork, curtains, draperies, upholsteries, and other articles and materials for interior furnishing and decorating.”  The store, nevertheless, retained its well-recognized name.

On April 15 that same year the Young Men’s Christian Association offices moved from the 23rd Street building to new quarters in the Bancroft Building behind the Marble Collegiate Church.  Schmitt Brothers Furniture would stay on until 1913. 

When Schmitt Brothers moved out, the Hartford Lunch Co. leased the entire building at an aggregate rental of $100,000 for “a long term of years.”  The former furniture store was converted to a lunchroom and the four upper floors were rented to the Joint Board of Cloak and Skirt Makers’ Union “to be used as executive offices.”

Within three years the lunchroom had either moved on, or was simply sharing the ground floor space with the barber shop of Joe Cascio.  In either case, the barber found himself in court on October 23, 1916 in a bizarre case that riveted newspaper readers.

Louis Horowitz had sued Cascio for assault following a shampooing that went terribly wrong.  The Evening World reported that afternoon that Horowitz “charged that Cascio had inveigled, induced and lured him to submit to a ‘crude oil shampoo’ and instead of crude oil had applied carbolic acid to his scalp.”

According to the New-York Tribune, “The barber poured some dark liquid on his head and his hair began to sizzle.  The pain was so great he had to leave the chair and run to a nearby drug store for treatment.”

The World took up the account, reporting “In consequence, as Mr. Horowitz showed the court, a fine crop of burns and blisters had been raised on the surface where a fine growth of hair had been desired.”

In his own defense, Cascio pleaded that it was not his fault, “but that of a druggist from whom he had in all good faith bought what he had believe to be crude oil.”  The judge found no evidence of criminal intent and dismissed the complaint.

World War I caused a massive upheaval in the garment industry.  Fuel rationing orders from the Fuel Administrator resulted in factories being shut down.  In January 1918 the Joint Board of the Cloak and Skirt Makers’ Union was inundated with pleas from out-of-work members trying to find employment.  Louis Langer, Secretary of the Board explained to reporters “We have 50,000 members and about 40,000 of them have been idle most of the time for the last three months.  I have been answering calls all morning, but I haven’t been able to offer any encouragement.”

The Evening World reported on January 18 that “Without exception the leaders replied that the only thing to do was to act like good soldiers, accept the hardships as incidents of war and get among the best they could.”

Women were perhaps the most affected.  “Many of these workers are women whose men folks were sent away as soldiers under the Draft law, having waived or been refused exemption on the ground that the women were self-supporting.”

Following the war’s end, the Joint Board returned to fighting for fair treatment by the employers.  In 1921, after garment manufacturers violated the terms of a two-year old contract, the unions took action.   On the morning of November 13, 1921 a meeting of labor leaders was held in the offices here and a general strike of 50,000 women’s garment workers was called for the next day.   The strike crippled the industry and garnered national attention to the workers’ cause.

In the 1940s the ground floor space was home to P. Lewis & Co., a bookstore run by Dr. Phil Lewis.  Immediately above were the offices of the Citadel Press, a then-small publishing firm.  Lewis was one of the four partners in that firm.

On March 16, 1946 The New York Times noted that the building had been leased to the 40 East Twenty-Third Street Corporation “for occupancy as a wholesale book establishment” for a term of 21 years.   At least one office was rented to a non-book dealer, however.  In 1948 Universal Toy advertised its “Give Away & Slum Items,” including “grab bag items, cartoon books, comic books, joke novelties for carnivals, fairs, etc.”

In 1956 the Bizarre Book Service advertised in Popular Photographs as “specialists in out-of-print books,” and prompted collectors to write in for hard to find volumes.


In 2002 the second floor was converted for a driving school and the upper three floors became residential.  Although the storefront has been obliterated, the upper floors retain their striking mid-Victorian appearance.

photographs by the author

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Violence and Ice Cream -- No. 156 Spring Street





Spring Street, formerly a dirt road that led from the East Side to the Richmond Hill estate and Greenwich Village, saw rapid development in the second decade.  George Wragg had inherited a sizable property, including most of the southern side of the block of Spring Street between Wooster Street and Laurens Street (later renamed West Broadway).  In 1818 he started improving his plots with Federal-style homes.

Among them was No. 156, completed in 1819.  Three stories tall, a single dormer punctured its peaked roof.   Flemish-bond red brick was trimmed with simple brownstone sills and lintels.  The sparse decoration was reserved for the entrance, two steps above the sidewalk.  Here fluted Ionic columns stood before the wooden door enframement, carved to imitate stone blocks.  Above the doorway a transom with egg-and-dart framing allowed sunlight into the hallway.


Quite possibly the house was constructed with a shop on the street level; but certainly by the end of the Civil War one was there.  In 1869 Frederick Schuster operated his business here and he, like many other businessmen, was upset over the recent Presidential elections.

Civil War General Ulysses S. Grant was popular in the North and had defeated the Democrat Horatio Seymour with 52.7 percent of the popular vote.  But Schuster and his peers were outraged at perceived irregularities within Manhattan’s voting procedures.

In the spring of 1869 the New York Assembly was busy discussing issues as far-reaching as the Erie Canal extension, the construction of a new Capitol building, and building a sewer system for the rapidly growing population of Manhattan.  But on April 14 it listened to the reading of a petition signed by Frederick Schuster and 2,000 other New York City businessmen that asked for a committee to investigate corruption.

Voting fraud, it claimed “with the direct sanction, approval or aid of many prominent officials and citizens of New York, and with the shrewdly-concealed connivance of others,” had “robbed the people of that great State of their rightful choice of electors of President and Vice-President, of a Governor and other officers.”  A thorough investigation, the signers claimed, would prove that many had voted more than once, for instance.

Within a few years the store became home to John Hersche’s shoe shop.  Here, around 2:00 on the morning of August 30, 1873, a small fire broke out.  Luckily it was quickly discovered, doing only about $100 in damages before being extinguished.  The shoe shop would remain in the building for decades, his son taking over the business later.

No. 156 was owned by wealthy George Lorillard at least by 1881.  He owned much property in Manhattan, although he lived in Rhinebeck, New York.  Following his death, the house was sold to Benjamin B. Johnston on December 1, 1887 for $14,100—approximately $365,000 in 2015.  Almost immediately Johnston, who lived in Brooklyn, commissioned architect L. Sibley to install a new storefront at a cost of $300.

In 1890 Charles A. George, his wife, and their three children were living in two upper rooms.  The Georges were married in their native France in 1882 before the extended family, including George’s parents and his in-laws came to New York.

The Evening World noted “They came to this country, and for a time all was happiness.  George obtained work with his father in a looking-glass factory on Canal street.  He earned good wages, and supported his wife and three children until he began to drink.”

According to newspaper accounts, not only did Charles George began drinking, so did his wife.  And, as was often the case in Victorian accounts, liquor led to disaster.  “Then they speedily grew poorer,” explained The Evening World, “and were recently obliged to move into two small rooms…One of the two rooms is a bed-chamber in which two narrow cots are crowded side by side.  Man and wife sleep in one of these cots and the two little boys in the other.  The little girl is cared for by her grand-parents.”

George earned $18 a week, but, according to his wife, he “spends it all in whiskey.  One day he gives me 15 cents, next day 25 cents, never more than that, because he says I would drink it up.  Well, perhaps I would, but last Saturday my baby there was so sick that I got the doctor—Dr. Lorenzo.”

On Saturday, April 19, 1890 the doctor quickly diagnosed the boy’s problem—he was starving to death.  He prescribed medicine, telling Mrs. George that her three-year old was on the verge of death.   She later told investigators “So I waited all day, not drinking one glass of beer until my husband comes home at night.  Then I ask him for the money to buy medicine and food for my baby, but he was drunk and would not give it.”

The couple’s argument continued throughout the following day.  According to The Evening World on April 28, “They quarreled all night and drank heavily all of Sunday.” Angered with his wife’s unrelenting pleas for medicine and food for their son, Charles beat her; until finally, fearful for her life, she sent their oldest son to get her mother.

Alice Andre lived one block away, at No. 171 Spring Street and she was at the George home within minutes.  Charles George now turned his wrath upon his intruding mother-in-law.  As she fought back, “her son-in-law knocked her down and tore her gray hair out in handfuls.  It was found in bunches on the floor and in the hallway the next day,” reported The Evening World.

As she started to her feet, the 53-year old Alice Andre grasped the small hatchet used for chopping kindling.  Three blows on George’s head ended the fight.  He was taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital with four gashes to the head and a compound fracture of the skull.

An Evening World reporter arrived at the George’s rooms the following morning.  The newspaper reported “The mother, her face black, blue and scratched, staggered about, almost stupid from drink, in the outer room and paid no attention to an Evening World reporter’s entrance nor his movements.”  It described the starving boy, saying “Buried in the bedquilts this morning, one of the boys, about three years old, breathed heavily.  His little eyes twinkled restlessly in the darkness.  His tiny fists were clenched and his limbs were not as big around as a good-sized cane.”

While the reporter was there, a detective arrived, asking where Alice Andre was.  Mrs. George refused to tell her, “but inquired eagerly for news of her husband.”  Detective Savercool was brutally frank.  “Your mother is probably a murderess.”

On April 28 The Evening World reported that “Mrs. Alice Andre, of 171 Spring street, under arrest for assault with a hatchet upon her son-in-law, Charles George, a mirror-maker, must now answer to a charge of murder, the wounds upon George’s head having proved fatal.”   The New York Times seemed to have little sympathy for his death.  It got his profession wrong when it reported “Charles A. George, a dissolute French gun-maker of 156 Spring St…died yesterday at St. Vincent’s Hospital.”

In the meantime Mrs. George was also arrested, charged with being “an habitual drunkard”—charges which today would amount to child endangerment and neglect.  The children were given over to the care of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

Alice Andre went on trial in May.  Charles A. George somewhat atoned for his vicious behavior with his dying breath and most likely saved Alice Andre from a long imprisonment.  “Her son-in-law’s dying statement that he deserved what he got was also laid before the Courts,” said The Evening World on May 9.  Alice was freed after it was successfully argued that she “acted in self-defense and was trying also to save her daughter and two grandchildren from being murdered by George.”

The following decades would provide far less drama.  Working class residents over the years lived in what were not always the best conditions.  In 1909 the building was cited for “defective plumbing” by the Department of Health.

The ground floor store was used for “shipping and receiving” in 1946 and at some point a coating of white paint covered the red brick.  But throughout the rest of the century the 19th century storefront, the dormer, and, astonishingly, the Federal-style entrance survived.

As the Soho district was discovered by artists, the upper floors of No. 156 were converted to artists’ studios in 1972—one on the second floor and a duplex in the third and attic floors.  Dimitri’s Spring Street Café, operated by Dimitri Chatzidakis, took over the old store space.  When it opened in September 1983 Chatzidakis offered New Yorkers something they could get nowhere else in the city.

New York Magazine reported on September 12 that “There are connoisseurs who insist that Ben and Jerry’s Homemade…is the best ice cream in America.”  No store in Manhattan carried the confection—until now.   “Ben Cohen himself and his ‘famous Vermont cow’ were on hand for the opening of Dimitri’s Spring Street café, in SoHo, all spanking fresh in pale blue and gray,” said the magazine.


In 2007 a renovation was started which updated the artists’ studios.  It was completed a year later.  The project did not address the exterior, leaving the building with a rather charming time-worn feel.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The 1901 Substation 2 -- Nos. 173-175 Spring Street






In 1900 August Belmont, Jr. and Andrew Onderdonk embarked on a massive project that would change the lives of New Yorkers forever.  Their Rapid Transit Construction Company (reorganized as the Interborough Rapid Transit Company in May 1902) obtained the rights to build an underground railroad system—Manhattan’s first subway.

Simultaneously, the Manhattan Railway Company was erecting elevated trains along Sixth and Ninth Avenues.  New Yorkers would soon enjoy modern, electrified mass transportation—the 20th century had arrived.

But the trains that would run along the elevated and subterranean tracks would need electricity to power them along.  Powerhouses and substations with colossal generators had to be constructed.  And that meant that old buildings—entire blocks in the case of powerhouses—would have to go.

In 1901 the Manhattan Railway Company documented both the front and rear of Nos. 173 and 175 Spring Streets.  The last tenant in No. 173 peers out the second floor window (bottom).  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Brick houses had begun lining Spring Street, between Thompson Street and West Broadway, around 1818.  It was only a matter of 20 years or so before these homes were being converted to businesses.  In April 1841 P. Gregory & Son’s goods store at No. 175 Spring Street advertised its spring line of silks, linens and other fabrics.  Included was “the best assortment of Shirting and fine Linens ever offered…Astonishing Cheap.”

James Holden sold crockery from No. 173 around the time that Albert Schwab made embroideries in the building.
By the 1890s space in the house next door, at No. 173, was being used as the embroidery-making shop of Albert Schwab.  Albert found himself in trouble in 1894 when Augusta De Barenne, “a young French woman,” accused him of being annoying.

Schwab had left his wife in 1883 and come to New York from France with his two children.  Then in April of 1894 he met Augusta.  He proposed to her, she accepted, and he gave her $100 for a trousseau.  Instead, she spent the money “in fitting up a flat for herself.”  Then she broke off the engagement.

When Schwab wrote her a letter demanding his money back, she had him arrested for annoyance.  The judge agreed to dismiss the case if Schwab would “let the money go.”

As Schwab licked his romantic wounds, the old three-story houses at Nos. 173 and 175 Spring Street were about to fall victim to the 20th century.  In July 1901 George H. Pegram filed plans for the Manhattan Railway Company for three “electric power house sub-stations for its Sixth and Ninth Avenue elevated lines,” as reported in The New York Times on July 31.

“The sub-stations are to be used to transform the electric current generated at the company’s main power house at Seventy-fourth Street and the East River,” explained the newspaper.  Among the three projected structures was a “four-story brick sub-station at 173 to 175 Spring Street.”

George H. Pegram was more engineer than architect.  As Chief Engineer of the Metropolitan Railway Company, he was responsible for efficient operation of the massive facilities and machines.  A few months earlier, in January 1901, the Street Railway Journal noted “The plans of these buildings, as worked out by George H. Pegram…and his corps of able assistants, will undoubtedly produce buildings that will serve as models in sub-station construction.”

The Manhattan Railway Company carefully documented every stage of the construction process.   photo by the Manhattan Railway Company, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
It is most likely Pegram’s engineer-first, architect-second status that resulted in the style of Sub Power Station 2 being about a decade late to the architectural party.  The beefy Romanesque Revival base of rough-cut stone blocks had passed from style by now—prompting many current-day architectural historians to erroneously place it in the 19th century.   Above, three stories of brick were punctured by regimented rows of square openings and capped by an understated cornice.  It was a pleasing and attractive face for an undisputedly utilitarian structure.

In 1903 the Interborough Rapid Transit Company leased the Manhattan Railway Company, at which time their power systems were joined.  The City Real Estate Company was formed to take over the former Manhattan Railway properties.  Among those transferred to the City Real Estate Company on March 18, 1903 was the Substation 2 on Spring Street.  It was good news for the structure.  With the consolidation of electrical supplies, some of Manhattan Railway Company’s substations were no longer needed and were demolished.

A year after construction began, Substation 2 was nearly complete.  photo by the Manhattan Railway Company, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
As long as the Sixth Avenue elevated train existed, Substation 2 would survive.  An assessment of the properties of the Manhattan Railway Company in January 1907 placed the value of Substation 2 at $5,500—a mere $143,000 in today’s dollars. 

Substation 2 house massive machinery in vast open areas.  photo by the Manhattan Railway Company, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

During the Great Depression merchants and property owners along Sixth Avenues continually complained to the city about the elevated train.  The tracks cast the avenue in perpetual shadow and the noise and vibrations of the passing trains lowered property values.  In response the first stage of the Sixth Avenue subway line was opened in 1936.

In 1938, as the subway construction continued (it would be fully opened in 1940), the City of New York purchased the Sixth Avenue Elevated from the Manhattan Railway Company’s bondholders for $12.5 million.  The El was closed on December 4, 1938 and demolished within the year.

With the Sixth Avenue El gone, Substation 2 had no purpose.  The arduous task of dismantling and removing the goliath equipment inside was undertaken, and the cavernous structure was recycled for business purposes.  In 1964 it was converted to a lumber store on the first floor and mezzanine.  Department of Buildings records noted that the upper floors were “to remain vacant.”

The Gem Lumber Company would play a role in a tragedy that would rivet the attention of Americans nationwide in 1979.  Six-year old Etan Patz left his Soho home for school at 8:00 on the morning of Friday, May 25.  Every other day he boarded a school bus two blocks away, at West Broadway and Prince Streets.  But that morning he was not there when the bus pulled up.

Two days later The New York Times reported “However, late Friday afternoon the boy was in a neighborhood lumber store, according to the store’s manager.”  Howard Belasco told investigators he noticed Etan and another boy at around 4:30 or 5:00.

“They were outside playing in a dumpster, pulling out scraps of lumber and then they came here and bought two boxes of nails,” he said.  “Then they went around back and took some more scraps, then they disappeared.”  Belasco identified Etan from the school photograph police were distributing in the area.

No trace was ever found of Etan Patz and his disappearance still haunts the minds of New Yorkers.


When Metropolitan Lumber and Hardware moved in, it painted a Soho-worthy mural on the upper floors.  The bold graphics became a Spring Street landmark.  The lumber store left in 2015, leaving the fate of the building and the mural in question.

photographs by the author

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Greenwich House Workshops -- No. 16 Jones Street





Prior to the end of the 19th century, parts of Greenwich Village had changed from bucolic charm to squalid tenement life.  Immigrants poured into the district until Greenwich Village had the densest population in Manhattan.  Simultaneously, the Settlement House Movement was taking form.  It was based on the concept that the lives of the poor would be bettered not by charity; but by instructing them in income-producing skills, in health care, and homemaking. 

Mary Kingsbury Simkhovitch graduated from Boston University in 1890 and immediately threw herself into social reform.  Recruiting the help of other reformers like Carl Schurz, Felix Adler and Jacob Riis (whose stark photographs of slum life and tenement interiors startled the nation), she founded Greenwich House.  With the immediate goal of improving the lives of the impoverished Greenwich Village immigrant population, it opened on Thanksgiving Day 1902 in a renovated brick house at No. 26 Jones Street.

It was one of a row of Greek Revival homes built in the early 1840s as comfortable residences.  When the new Greenwich House took it over, the houses had been converted to tenements.

The House offered free instruction to women on housekeeping, lace making, reading, language, and other areas that would help them improve their own lives.  All the while Simkhovitch worked to reduce the appalling infant mortality rate.  And she relentlessly fought for playgrounds, sanitation, child labor laws and overall improved living conditions.  Within the first year the Greenwich House's Social Investigation Committee published The Tenant's Manual, the first guide to tenants' rights and tenement law.

In 1909 Greenwich House added pottery making to its curriculum.  It was no frivolous arts-and-crafts recreation.  Art pottery was a major trend and while companies like Rookwood, Roseville and Weller produced large amounts of commercial pottery; the studio art pottery movement was growing roots.  An accomplished potter could earn a comfortable livelihood.

The success of Greenwich House led to its new expansive building on Barrow Street, designed by Delano & Aldrich and opened in 1917.   But a decade later space here was already overtaxed.  Mary K. Simkhovitch, still its director, nudged millionaires to donate to the construction of an annex building on Jones Street.  Among the contributors were Greenwich House Treasurer Marshall Field and, most significantly, John D. Rockefeller, Sr., who wrote a check for $10,000.

Greenwich House already owned the “four story front and rear tenements” at No. 16 Jones Street.  The old house was demolished and the rear building was rented to Camilla Mason and Maude Robinson, both House potters.  It is not surprising that Delano & Aldrich were called back.  Chester Aldrich was highly involved in social reform and was a member of the Greenwich House board.

The cornerstone for the Jones Street building was laid on June 27, 1928 by Marshall Field.  The building would be devoted “to stone, wood and iron shops for training youngsters in the art trades.”   Its purpose was reflected in the list of speakers, including Chester Aldrich, Leo Calarco of the Wood Carvers’ Guild (he had graduated from the Greenwich House workshops, himself), sculptor Victor Salvatore, and master cabinetmaker Nicola Famigletti.  Famigletti addressed the group in Italian; but his lack of English skills was not a problem for the boys learning woodworking since most were Italian.

The New York Times reported that in his remarks Marshall Field “predicted that another Raphael, or some one who might become world famous, would receive his apprenticeship at Greenwich House.”

Completed within the year, the chaste Colonial Revival annex was a visual off-shoot of the Barrow Street building. Faced in Flemish-bond brown-red brick; its arched openings at the first floor and the tall windows and balcony at the second echoed Greenwich House.   The sedate façade gave little hint of the active industrial classes that would take place within.

The stone-cutting and woodworking classes had proved so successful during their seven-year history that in 1930 Marshall Field donated a foundry at No. 16 Jones Street for bronze and metal work.   A year later, on February 8, 1931, The Times commented on the work being done here.

“An effort to counteract the machine-made art of the present and to revive the old craftsmanship of the Middle Ages is being carried on by the Greenwich House Workshops at 16 Jones Street.  There, under the 500-year-old apprenticeship system as it was practiced by Michelangelo and other masters, youths are trained in the arts of stone-cutting wood-carving, cabinet-making and bronze work.”

Because architects and decorators placed orders for the custom-made items, students paid for their training only through labor.  New students—apprentices—helped the senior apprentices and “masters” until their skills earned them a higher spot on the chain.  An arrangement with the public schools allowed the mostly impoverished boys to attend school in the mornings and classes here in the afternoons.

The Workshops offered the boys a means to escape the grueling and dead-end fates otherwise destined for them.  The Times noted “One boy, working in a mine in Pennsylvania, read of the Workshops, saved $35 in order to pay his way to New York, and arrived here penniless.”

Pottery and ceramic work were still being taught in the main building on Barrow Street.  But the sales of these goods helped maintain the Jones Street facility.

But by now the Great Depression was taking its toll on Greenwich House.  The Times noted later, “Before the depression forced Greenwich House to curtail some of its activities, the [Jones Street] building was largely maintained by sales of its pottery and ceramic art and its woodcarvings and cabinet work.”   Now money the public had spent on household decorations was being spent on necessities like food and clothing.

In 1936 Mary K. Simkhovitch and the directors leased the Workshop to the City at $1 a year on a five-year trial.  The school was made part of the School of Industrial Art under the Public School system.  The New York Times explained that at the end of the trial “the educational authorities will decide whether it is to continue.”  Mary K. Simkhovitch, still involved, insisted “Why should we have to send abroad to get the decorative panels and rich reliefs for our cathedrals?  Why not train the boys to do that right here?”

In 1938 there were 48 boys attending classes.  The Board of Education insisted that there was no prejudice against admitting girls, but that “none has yet applied.”   As was the case previously, the boys’ handiwork was offered for sale, with the proceeds now going back to the school for the purchase of tools, materials and equipment.  One instructor told reporters “One piece may bring as much as $250, while it is not unusual to receive $150 or more for a sculptured bear or a hand-turned chair.”


In 1941 the trial period was over and the Board of Education, disappointed in the results, decided to shut down the endeavor.  For seven years the Jones Street building was used as a branch of the New York Public Library.  But then, on October 7, 1948, it was reopened by Greenwich House.  As the economy resurged, so did the interest in the workshops.

Not all the old classes, like bronze-making for instance, would return.  But several new areas were added.  The pottery school moved from Barrow Street into the building and The Times reported “The woodcarving and cabinetmaking shops, discontinued when the building was transferred, are functioning again, and the art classes and workshops of the theatre and dance that had interim housing in the main building are back too.”

The building was outfitted with two large pottery studios, a firing room and drying room.  Children (from 8 to 12), teenagers and adults were offered courses in pottery making, ceramic sculpture, mold making and design. 

Nicola Famigletti was back as well, teaching wood carving.  Examples of the work his former students had produced lined the walls.  The astounding quality of the pieces was reflected in the patrons.  The Times noted “Among the objects produced by them and sold were frames for paintings in the Metropolitan Museum and in the Whitney, religious carvings for churches, and furniture and fences for individuals.”

As the years passed, the industrial classes gave way to the highly-popular pottery until No. 16 Jones Street was entirely devoted to the craft.  In 1952, when the well-known Inwood Pottery Studios was threatened with closing, Gabriella Maria Le Prince convinced Greenwich House to perpetuate it.  The studio’s kilns and raw materials were installed at No. 16 Jones Street.  The following year Gabriella Le Prince died.

Throughout the decades the Greenwich House Pottery’s regular exhibitions and sales were highly-anticipated and attended.  The Jane Hartsook Gallery was installed for the purpose, named in honor of the former Pottery Director who had made the school “one of the nation’s leading ceramic arts studios,” as described in her Alfred University obituary.

In 2002 faculty member Peter Gourfain designed the plaque to commemorate the centennial of the founding of Greenwich House.  The inscription reads "argilla potest servare vitam tuam."
Hidden away on the block-long Jones Street, Delano & Aldrich’s jewel is easily bypassed by anyone not specifically looking for it.  Little changed externally, it is a reminder of a remarkable period in Greenwich Village history, when the sons of impoverished immigrants struggled to get a new start.

photographs by the author