Wednesday, May 4, 2016

English Muffins and Burglars. -- No. 161-163 9th Avenue






Don Alonzo Cushman traced his roots in America to Robert Cushman who landed in Plymouth on the Fortune in 1621.  By 1792 when Don Alonzo was born, the family worked a farm in upstate New York.  But farm life did not play a part in the ambitious boy’s plans.

He traveled to New York City to find his fortune.  By the time the 23-year old married in 1815 his dry goods business on Pearl Street was a success.  He moved to Greenwich Village, where he eventually became acquainted with Clement Clarke Moore and real estate operator James N. Wells.

Moore’s family estate, Chelsea, north of Greenwich Village had been doomed as a bucolic retreat since the 1811 Commissioners’ Plan laid out on paper the regimented grid of streets and avenues above 14th Street.  Early on James Wells worked hand-in-hand with Moore to develop Chelsea as a residential neighborhood.

Don Alonzo Cushman recognized Chelsea as an up-and-coming neighborhood.  In 1833 he bought property on Ninth Avenue between 20th and 21st Streets and constructed a commodious home for his family within a spacious garden.   After helping found the Greenwich Savings Bank, he gave up his dry goods business altogether and focused on real estate and banking.  In 1839 he began his most memorable project—the string of elegant Greek Revival homes on West 20th Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues that would become known as Cushman Row.

Cushman embarked on a less ambitious project four years later when he erected the double store-and-residential building at Nos. 161-163 Ninth Avenue, between 19th and 20th Streets.  Each shop owner and his family would live above his store in the three-story, two-bay wide residential space.  The relatively-new Greek Revival style had done away with the peaked roof and dormers of the Federal style, providing a full-height attic floor. 

As early as 1852 Samuel P. Armstrong lived in No. 163.  A house painter, he ran his business, Armstrong & Vanbramer, from the shop.   Starting around 1855 it was also used as the neighborhood polling place each year.  In 1865 the polling spot was identified as the “furniture-store” at No. 163; referring to Martin Furey’s cabinet making business which had taken over the space.

By the 1870s both addresses had become multi-family homes.  In 1876 Elizabeth Fraser lived upstairs in No. 161 and ran her “variety” store in the shop.  City directories listed her as “widow of John.”  Also living in No. 161 was David C. Munson, a carpenter; Charles H. Putnam, a “truckman;” and Edward Adams who earned his living as a clerk.

Next door, by 1872, Samuel Hanna had established his neighborhood bakery in No. 163.  Among the residents upstairs were Janet Bowden, “widow of Thomas,” and her son, Thomas E. Bowden.  By 1876 William Knapp, who moved in upstairs, had taken over Samuel Hanna’s bakery business.  He appears to have had only one employee in the tiny bakery, George A. Bellows.  By now Thomas Bowden had secured a job, listing himself in directories as “segarmaker.”

A recent arrival in New York City was Samuel Bath Thomas, who arrived in 1874.  Along with his personal effects, he brought his most valuable possession—a muffin recipe.   Thomas’s muffin was totally unlike anything Americans were accustomed to and it would lead to his fortune in his new country.

In 1880 Thomas took over the bakery at No. 163 from George Knapp.  He sold only to commercial establishments, advertising delivery “to hotels and restaurants by pushcart.”  Before long Thomas’s English muffins were a tremendous success, prompting the Thomas to open a branch bakery around the corner at No. 337 West20th Street.

Working in Samuel Thomas’s small, hot bakery may not have been the best of jobs.  In 1900 a State inspection listed three male employees at No. 163, each working an average of 72 hours per week.

By now the store at No. 161 was home to M. Voight & Sons, “bellhangers,” who nebulously described their work as “electric work, bell hanging, etc.”    

In the crowded rooms upstairs in No. 161 in 1903 lived 44-year old Mary Herrol her husband and their six children.  When Mary learned she had an incurable disease in January that year, she became depressed.  On Saturday night, January 31, she slashed her throat with a table knife.  She died in Roosevelt Hospital the following Tuesday.

More than a little excitement occurred at No. 161 in 1910.  The Chelsea neighborhoods had been plagued for weeks by what newspapers dubbed the “dumbwaiter burglars.”  Early on the morning of November 9 three detectives from the 20th Street Station House followed three suspicious characters who disappeared into No. 161.

Ironically, the rooms they broke into belonged to Patrolman Henry Bauersmith and his wife and family, who were away.  The thieves, Joseph Carroll, James Edwards and Joseph Franks, headed out of the apartment after about 20 minutes, “carrying a suit case that seemed to be heavy,” according to The New York Times the following day.

The New-York Tribune reported “When told to throw up their hands by Detectives Young and Brown, the burglars fired six shots in reply.  The noise brought Patrolman Callahan and Dwyer…and the burglars were overpowered and arrested.”  The thugs were later tied not only to a string of burglaries, but to a recent murder.

Twelve years later another notorious burglar would not be ransacking No. 161; but living there.    John Haughey had a record of 13 arrests and prior burglary convictions in 1922.  The Evening World said “He has been placed on probation twice, twice has received suspended sentences, one for violation of parole, and has been tried for homicide and discharged.”

In January that year Haughey was wanted on charges of assault and robbery, after he and two cohorts beat and robbed jeweler Charles Niehauser on January 4 in his West 83rd Street shop.  On January 9 he proved that he was not only dangerous, but stupid. 

That day one of the gang’s followers was on trial for burglary in Brooklyn County Court.  John Haughery and his two accomplices showed up in court to watch the trial.  They left the courtroom in handcuffs.

1922 was a much happier year for Edward A. Wilson, who also lived at No. 161.  When he entered a contest in The Evening World in October, he won the “Special Prize”—a new Ford motorcar.  (It was a much grander prize than the next place prize of $25.)

In the 1960s Nos. 161-163 were given a make-over that replaced the 19th century storefronts with blank walls during a conversion to apartments.  The misguided owners made alterations drew enraged comments from the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1970.  “Expert guidance could have aided the owner in producing a more appropriate design than that which combines a pseudo-mansard roof with splayed Georgian lintels and a Mediterranean style entrance door.”

Later owners may have read that blistering critique.  The entrance gained a reproduction Greek Revival enframement which, while it would be more appropriate in a high-stooped row house, is at least a sympathetic effort.


In the meantime, that the little building which introduced Americans to the English muffin survives at all after nearly 175 years on bustling Ninth Avenue is amazing.

photographs by the author

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A "More Pleasing Type of Architecture" -- No. 37 West 72nd Street




Shiny automobiles were parked along the curb when Wurts Bros. photographed the building on May 16, 1950.  Harmon & Hart relieved the flat facade of the central section with iron pseudo-balconies.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
In the 1920s both sides of Central Park were seeing the demolition of private homes to make way for modern apartment buildings.  The Upper West Side had embraced apartment living decades earlier—beginning with luxury structures like the Dakota, followed by the massive French-style confections that lined Broadway.  So when the apartment building craze of the 1920s arrived, the Upper West Side was accepting.

By the last years of the decade nearly all the old homes on the northern side of the block of West 72nd Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue had been demolished.  Only three remained in 1928-Nos. 35 through 39.  The New York Times referred to them as “fine private residences” and noted that one was particularly notable.  That was the “six-story dwelling at 39 West Seventy-second Street, erected by the late Daniel Loring.” 

The sumptuous house had been home to real estate operator Richard E. La Barre and his wife for many years.  The wealthy couple maintained a summer estate in Quoque, Long Island.  Now La Barre purchased Nos. 35 and 37 and formed The 37 West Seventy-second Corporation which would raze the three old homes and erect the latest apartment building.

The group commissioned Harmon & Hart to design the structure.  Partners Arthur Loomis Harmon and Donald Purple Hart had recently won the national award for architectural excellent for their Hotel Shelton.  The architects produced an eye-catching structure that stood out among the other soaring apartment buildings on the block.

On July 14, 1929 The New York Times reported “Architecture of a more pleasing type than is usually seen in a modern apartment building is exemplified in the attractive façade of the fifteen-story apartment house nearing completion at 35-39 West Seventy-second Street…The design of the façade is a modern version of North Italian renaissance and is in red brick laid with neat decorative effect.”

The “neat decorative effect” included lattice-work patterns, and randomly-projecting bricks that produced a rough, tactile façade.  Alternating stone and brick volutes of the arched entrance openings gave an arabesque feeling; while stone columns between the paired arched openings at the second floor were more Mediterranean.  The focal point of the lower floors was the elaborate loggia above the entrance with its complex openwork brick and stone railing.

photograph by Rob Clarke

Harmon & Hart reserved the ornamentation for the two lowest and two highest floors—the central section relying on occasional terra cotta tiles and the stubbly brickwork.  “Stone trimming is employed in the two lower and two upper stories,” explained The Times.  “Relief has been obtained by the treatment of the brick panels in the lower stories, the stone trimmings and tile inserts around the arcade and by the wrought-iron balconies above.”

The completed building held 84 apartments consisting of two to five rooms.  Quintessentially 1920s, the penthouse level was comprised of “three bungalow suites with garden terraces on the roof.”  As the building neared completion, The Times noted “All of the old-time private homes on the north side of the Seventy-second Street block have now given way to tall apartments.”

Unlike many Upper West Side apartment buildings that were given names; the new building was known simply as 37 West 72nd Street.  It opened just in time for the Stock Market crash of 1929 and the onslaught of the Great Depression.  Yet the new residents seem to have been little affected by the economic disaster.  The building filed with a wide-range of tenants—from well-to-do attorneys and physicians to theatrical and literary types.

Among the first to move in was retired theatrical manager Gustave Frohman and his wife, Marie Hubert Froham.  The brother of Daniel and Charles Frohman, he was already well-known in the business before they started their careers.  His long and impressive career included managing Madison Square Theatre in the 1880s; helping to found the Sargent Dramatic School which became the American Academy of Dramatic Arts; and opening the Lyceum Theatre in 1885.  He was one of the first press agents in New York City.  Within months of moving in, the 76-year old fell ill.  After about a four-week illness, he died in his apartment on the morning of August 16, 1930.

Another resident, 34-year old Julius Girden, had serious misfortune earlier that year.  On March 30 the attorney was driving his automobile along Eldridge Street when he was alerted by the screams of women on the street.  It was not until he stopped his car that he realized he had struck and killed 6-year old Harry Habit.  Girden was arrested at the scene on a technical charge of homicide.

Among the several esteemed physicians in the building at the time was Dr. Michael Schiller, an eye specialist, who lived here with his wife, Madeline, and two sons.  Schiller was on the staff of Post-Graduate Hospital and was the chief ophthalmologist of Harlem Hospital.

On of the building's first employees was doorman Harry Glaser, hired upon its opening.  Most likely few of the residents—except perhaps Gustave Frohman—recognized that the 50-year old had been a familiar vaudeville actor at the turn of the century.  The years had not been kind to Glaser, however.  He lived in a three-room apartment at No. 88 Amsterdam Avenue, near 64th Street, with his “common-law wife,” Mona Clark.  She worked as a hotel chambermaid.

For six years Harry Glaser wore his livery and held the door for well-heeled residents in the 72nd Street building.  But his polite demeanor and white gloves hid a dark secret.  Both he and Mona were addicted to drugs.  The secret was exposed in a horrific tragedy.

On the morning of November 19, 1935 the janitor where Glaser lived, Mrs. Manna McGuffin, ran to Patrolman Charles J. Gordon, telling him she had heard gunshots.  As Gordon approached the building, Glaser rushed out screaming.  Bleeding from two gunshot wounds, he collided with the officer.   
Upstairs, police found 52-year old Mona Clark dead.  Glaser had murdered her at around 10:40 as she lay in bed.  The New York Times reported “Glaser then fired two shots into his own body…One of the bullets had entered Glaser’s left breast and the other had lodged against his right temple.”

He told Patrolman Gordon “that lack of money to buy narcotic drugs had caused his act.”  Drug paraphernalia was found in the apartment.  Sadly, other items were found there that hearkened back to happier times for the former thespian.  “In two old theatrical trunks were found papers and photographs that indicated Glaser had been a member of ‘Vincent’s Comedy Musical Artists.’  Photographs of Nora Bayes, Jack Norworth, Lew Dockstader and B. F. Keith also were found.”

In December 1937 famed Russian-born writer and director, Theodore Komisarjevsky, leased an apartment here.  Noted for his groundbreaking productions of plays by Chekov and Shakespeare, he had lived and worked in London for over a decade.  Newspapers were highly excited when the news of his lease-signing was reported.

Komisarjevsky had a reputation as a womanizer and his second marriage, to actress Peggy Ashcroft, had ended a year earlier.  Famous British stage actress Edith Evans reportedly called him “Come-and-seduce-me.”

J. Hal Steffen and his wife, Alma, were in the building at the time.  Steffen was called by The New York Times “a leader in his field” for his photojournalism.  He had joined the Bain News Service in 1904 and by now had earned a reputation for his often-gripping journalistic photographs.  Alma Mueller Steffen, meanwhile, had taught in Public School 11 at No. 314 West 21st Street since 1918.  Steffen died in the apartment on April 13, 1937.  Within the year Alma died at the age of 46.

Colonel James A. Moss was also a resident of No. 37.  He was President General of the United States Flag Association, which annually presented an award for patriotism.  On Thursday April 24, 1941 the Patriotic Service Cross was scheduled to be given to Harold L. Rowland, president of the Hotel Pierre, by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia.  On Wednesday evening Colonel Moss picked up the award in anticipation of the next day’s ceremony.

Moss caught a taxicab and was “within a few feet of his home,” according to The New York Times, when an inter-city bus slammed into the cab, demolishing it.  Colonel Moss was killed instantly.  The tragedy necessarily caused a change in plans at City Hall the following day.

“This cross was in the possession of Colonel Moss when he was killed, and therefore it will be necessary to give it to Mr. Rowland at a later date,” explained Mayor La Guardia.  Instead, he took advantage of the moment to eulogize Moss, calling him “An American of the highest type, believing in the ideals and institutions symbolized by the flag of the United States.”  The Mayor said Moss had been “a fine American, a great soldier, a military expert, and a kindly, lovable American.”

Following in Moss’s footsteps was the American Action Committee which had its headquarters in the building in 1960. That year Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was scheduled to arrive in New York for 902nd Plenary Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly.  It would forever be remembered as Khrushchev’s “shoe-banging incident.”

Prior to the leader’s arrival, the American Action Committee poised to denounce the Soviet Union.  It organized a rally in Central Park on September 17, Constitution Day.  During the event a resolution “calling for the Soviet Union to be expelled from the United Nations” was adopted.  Fliers were distributed that invited protestors to be at Pier 73 on East 25th Street where Khrushchev was to arrive at 7 a.m. on Monday, September 26, 1960.

“Let us all be there at 6 A. M. to give Khrushchev and his gang the welcome they deserve,” it read.  The group also distributed black stickers with red lettering “Khrushchev Not Welcome Here.”

About the time that the American Action Committee demonstrated against the Soviet leader, the yellow-and-black Fallout Shelter sign (below the loggia) was affixed to the facade.  photograph by Rob Clarke
Little has changed to Harmon & Hart’s “pleasing” façade in its nearly 90 years.  As it did in 1929, it manages to stand out distinctly among the cliff-wall of 1920s apartment buildings lining the block.

many thanks to Rob Clarke for requesting this post

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Lost James Monroe House - Prince and Lafayette Streets




No. 63 Prince Street as it appeared in the 1820s. Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly, June 1877 (copyright expired)
In 1820 Maria Hester Monroe was married in the Oval Reception Room of the White House.  The youngest daughter of President James Monroe, she was just 17 years old and hers would be the first White House wedding.  The groom was Maria’s cousin, 20-year old Samuel L. Gouverneur.  His father, Nicholas Gouverneur was the husband of Maria’s aunt, the former Hester Kortright.  Hester was the sister of Maria's mother, Elizabeth Kortright Monroe.

The New York Herald described the bride, who had been educated in Paris, as “endowed with the hereditary grace and beauty of the Kortrights.”  The newspaper hinted at the groom's wealth, saying he was “very handsome and very opulent.”

Marrying the daughter of the President of the United States had advantages.  James Monroe appointed Gouverneur Postmaster of New York.  The newlyweds relocated to Manhattan and in 1823 Gouverneur purchased two undeveloped lots from Philip Brasher.   They were located at the northwest corner of Prince and Orange Streets, in the area between Houston and Canal Streets—a section just seeing the rise of handsome brick homes.  (Orange Street would later become Marion Street, then Elm Street, and finally Lafayette Street.)

Samuel Gouverneur paid Brasher $2,159 each for the 25-foot wide lots (a little over $50,000 today).   He erected two fine residences, one of which, the preferable corner house, became the Gouverneur home.

The elegant Federal-style structure left no doubt about the financial class of its owner.  Two-and-a-half stories tall above an English basement, it featured the extras expected in high-class homes.  The arched entrance included sidelights and a delicate fanlight, the brownstone lintels were handsomely paneled, and the commodious attic level was lighted not only by the two high dormers, but by an attractive arched opening at the side.

Despite James Monroe’s impressive military and political career—two terms as President, Minister to France and to England, Envoy to Spain, Secretary of State, and author of the Monroe Doctrine, for instance—he was burdened with financial difficulties following his departure from office.  Following the death of his wife, Elizabeth, on September 23, 1830, Monroe was forced to sell his Virginia plantation and move to New York to live with his daughter and step-son.

Decades later The Sun would remark, “as the Gouverneurs were among the socially elect of New York it was the scene of festivities and the gathering place of men of distinction, especially while it was the home of the ex-President.”

Less than a year later, at 3:30 on the afternoon of Monday, July 4, 1831, the 73-year old former President died in the Prince Street house.  A newspaper reported “For several days his death had been momentarily expected” and that “he expired without a struggle.”   His death on Independence Day, following the demise of both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson on July 4 five years earlier, was remarkable.

The funeral, on Thursday July 7, was the largest ever held in New York up to that time.  Following what The Illustrated American later described as “a public funeral from his residence,” the casket was removed to City Hall.  After addresses there, the cortege moved along Broadway to St. Paul’s Church where the second funeral was held.

The New York American reported “When it was concluded, the coffin was brought out and placed in the hearse, which waited at the north door of the front entrance of the church; and after a brief interval the procession commenced in the designated manner at about half past five o’clock.  It was computed to extend two miles.”  The former President was buried in a Gouverneur plot in the fashionable Marble Cemetery.

On April 16 the following year Samuel Gouverneur sold No. 63 Prince Street to Miles R. Burke for $10,750.  Fabulously wealthy, Burke lived in the house until his death in 1835.  The extent of his fortune was reflected in the “handsome legacies” of his will.  He left to the Sunday School of St. Thomas Church $3,000 (nearly $80,000 in 2016); and $2,000 each to the Institution for the Blind, and the Orphan Asylum.

Burke's estate sold the house to John Ferguson for $12,000.  Ferguson, who had six sons, lived in the residence with his wife until his death in July 1846.  The family retained possession until March 18, 1873 when it was sold to John H. Contoit for $32,500.

By now the neighborhood had succumbed to commerce.  Wealthy families had moved northward and former mansions were taken over by business.  John Contoit was the proprietor of the pleasure garden known both as the New York Garden and Contoit’s Garden.  (In his 1896 Reminiscences of An Octogenarian of the City of New York, Charles H. Haswell remembered that at Contoit’s one could get ice cream, pound cake and lemonade and “you could be served with a glass of veritable claret, and, if I recollect right, one of cognac too.”)

The elegant parlors, bedrooms and dining room of No. 63 Prince Street were now occupied by small factories and a restaurant.  Pubic interest in historic locations in the 19th century rarely turned to residences—other than exceptional homes like Mount Vernon.  The focus most often was on battlefields and other military spots.  So when newspapers and magazines first began pointing out No. 63 Prince Street as the “Monroe House” around 1890, it was rather remarkable.

In 1900 a massive billboard has been painted on the Lafayette Street side.  The faded sign below the second floor advertised a now-gone Billard Table Factory -- Early New York Houses, 1900, (copyright expired)
On February 20, 1900 The New York Times wrote “Probably not one in a thousand citizens recognized in the recent sale of the house at 63 Prince Street, the old residence of President Monroe when he retired from the White House after his eight years of service.”  The article said that the house “looks much the same as it did when it was the residence of President Monroe, only more dilapidated.  One still sees the Colonial columns and the fluted arch over the doorway, looking now like soiled bits of cast-off finery.”

In the building at the time of The Times article was a furrier and a Hungarian restaurant.  Signs were plastered on the façade and across the once-dignified doorway.  But a movement among at least one historic group was stirring.   And in the spring of 1905 the Women’s Auxiliary to the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society planned a bronze memorial tablet for the house.

The New York Times, on April 2, admitted “The old Colonial house, 63 Prince Street, where Monroe died, is falling to decay.  There is a cheap restaurant in the once beautiful drawing-room, a shoe factory occupies the second floor, and from the quaint old dormer window swings the sign of a small furrier.  In the restaurant, which the proprietor has agreed to clean up and vacate for the day, the Auxilliary Committee will hold its exercises.”

The ceremonies were held on April 28, 1905, the President’s 147th birthday.  Along with military dignitaries and soldiers, mounted police and society figures were what the New-York Tribune deemed “an interesting group of the old statesman’s descendants.”  The unveiling of the plaque was executed by young Gouverneur Hoes, Madison’s great-great-grandson. 

An impressive crowd watched the unveiling of the tablet (between the first and second floors) on April 28, 1905. New-York Tribune (copyright expired)

After the impressive ceremonies, everything returned to normal.  The historic nature of the house slipped into the background once again as employees upstairs got back to work making furs and shop workers grabbed lunch on the first floor.

Four months after the plaque was installed, fire broke out in the cellar at around 1:00 in the morning of August 15.  The Times reported “The cellar is occupied by Vessa & Daddata, dealers in rags.”  Luckily, the fire did not spread beyond the basement and damage was limited to about $500.  But it would be just the first of a string of fires in the venerable structure.

Despite the abuse, restoration of the historic property was well-within reach.  photo by Samuel Landsman from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
In 1919 the entire block of properties along Prince Street between Lafayette and Crosby Streets was scheduled to be sold as a unit.  The impending deal almost certainly doomed the building and sparked renewed interest by historical groups.

On November 2, 1919 The Sun commented “unless some historic society comes to the rescue it will very likely pass from its present regime as an old rag shop to utter obliteration and a modern structure will rise on its site.”

The problem of saving it “from the maw of commercialism” was the $200,000 necessary to buy the entire row of properties.  The article explained “If the house could be purchased of itself there probably would not be much difficulty in raising the necessary funds.”  One solution, however, was offered by Louis Annin Ames, president of the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution.  He thought that rest of the buildings could be razed and made a commemorative park to Monroe.

The block of real estate was sold on November 12, 1919 to “an unknown speculator,” according to The New York Times.  “The sale created great interest among patriotic societies, who desire to preserve this famous landmark,” said the newspaper.  The fact that a speculator, rather than a developer, purchased the site created hope—since he would most likely hold it for resale rather than erect a new building.

And, indeed, the old Federal mansion survived.  But, as it turned out, it was not the wrecking ball which was the immediate threat, it was fire.  On October 4, 1922 a fire broke out in the vacant building which was quickly extinguished.  Then another occurred on February 28, 1923.  And another on May 5, 1923.   Despite the troubling coincidence, fire investigators did not suspect arson.

“It was thought that the building was used by a gang as a poker club, and that the first two fires…were caused by accident.  Later the building has been carefully watched and no one has been seen to enter or leave," reported The Times.

Finally in May 1925 the block front was sold to developers.  The Times reported they “will raze the historic residence and erect a loft building.”  The newspaper listed the names of individuals and groups who had been fighting for the preservation of the house—including the James Monroe Memorial Association (formed in 1923), the Women’s Monroe House Memorial Association, Governor Al Smith, Mayor John Hylan and the now-deceased President Warren Harding.

The loss of the dilapidated old mansion seemed inescapable.  “The buyers will erect a fifteen-story loft to cost $1,600,000,” reported The Times.

Less than a month later, on July 29, 1925, the house suffered its fifth fire within two years.  “The fire started in a bale of old newspapers collected by Mario Matera, the present occupant,” reported a newspaper.  Once again the fire was extinguished before serious damage could result.

Undeterred, preservation groups forged on in hopes of saving the Monroe House.  Almost miraculously, funds were raised to purchase the building and a lot at No. 65 Crosby Street was obtained.  Plans were set forth to move the old mansion and in October it was carefully raised from its century-old foundation and placed on a flat bed truck.

One dormer has been stabilized in anticipation of the coming move. The original eight-panel door from 1823 still survived.  From the collection of the New York Public Library

The New York Times reported “on account of the age of the building the movers were compelled to exercise the utmost care and progress has been slow.”  The progress was slow indeed.  Three weeks later the one-block move was still in process.  And then came tragedy.

On November 20 the movers realized that a fire escape on the northeast corner of Prince and Crosby Streets projected too far to allow the building to pass.  Everything halted as workmen attacked the problem.

“The fire escape was dismantled and workmen were swinging the old house in when part of the upper floor collapsed,” reported The Times.  Bricks that rained down onto Crosby Street were “carefully salvaged” and the public was promised that the house would be restored completely when it was placed in position.  But the weakened structure could not endure the move of only a few more feet.  The roof caved in and the back wall collapsed.

The ruined building sat until September 1927 when all hope was given up.  It was offered for sale, raising the ire of State Senator Thomas F. Burchill and Assemblyman Frederick L Hackenburg, the latter denouncing “This could never happen abroad.”

photo American Craft Council
Among America’s earliest attempts at preservation of a historic residence, the embattled Monroe House was demolished to be replaced by a modern loft building.