Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Delano & Aldrich Studio -- No. 126 East 38th Street

Arabella Huntington, better known as Mrs. Collis P. Huntington, was not merely fabulously wealthy; she was well educated, refined, and had achieved her place in society by rising from the teen-aged mistress of a middle-aged millionaire to his wife.  She was also accustomed to getting her way.

Problems between Arabella and the residents of East 38th Street, between Lexington and Park Avenues, arose in 1911.   Collis P. Huntington’s former mansion stood at the corner of 38th Street and Park Avenue.  His private stable, originally constructed for A. B. Embury during the construction boom following the end of the Civil War, was located nearby at No. 126 East 38th Street.  Following the death of his first wife, Elizabeth, in 1883, Huntington transferred the deed of the mansion and carriage house to Arabella.

Following their marriage a few months later, the newly legitimate Mrs. Huntington laid plans to elbow her way into society.  In 1889 construction was begun on a massive Fifth Avenue mansion, directly across from those of Mary Mason Jones and Cornelius Vanderbilt.

Having moved north by 1895, Arabella Huntington had no need for the mansion nor the private carriage house. Around 1908 she rented the residence to the Cornell University Club.  But when, around the same time, she leased the stable to a dairy for a processing plant her former Murray Hill neighbors were not pleased.

Directly behind the carriage house was the home of sisters Helen C. and Frances R. Irving.  They took the reins in the dispute by taking Arabella to court.  On March 21, 1911 The New York Times reported that they had sued “for a permanent injunction against Mrs. Collis P. Huntington because she leased the building at 126 East Thirty-eighth Street, to the White Cross Milk Company for a distributing plant.”

The residents relied on “the Old Murray Hill Restriction” which prohibited businesses in the venerable residential district.  The Times noted “Of these householders the most prominent, perhaps, is J. Pierpont Morgan, and it is said that he has shown a deep interest in the present litigation.”

White Cross Milk employees at work in the converted carriage house.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Eventually the White Cross Milk Company’s lease was not renewed.   Collis Huntington had died in 1900, leaving Arabella an inheritance of approximately $22 million.  The other principal heir to Huntington’s $45 million estate was his nephew, Henry E. Huntington.  The aunt and nephew pooled their fortunes by marrying in 1913.

On July 9, 1916 The New York Times reported that Arabella had found a new solution to the carriage house problem.  “An interesting lease in the restricted Murray Hill area which is said to foreshadow important improvements has been made by Chester Aldrich of the architectural firm of Delano & Aldrich, who has taken a ten-year lease on the old stable at 126 East Thirty-eighth Street…from Mrs. Henry E. Huntington.”

Delano & Aldrich was, by now, among the most prestigious architectural firms in the city.  A favorite among the city’s millionaires, they designed elegant rowhouses and mansions, in addition to many other commissions.  Delano & Aldrich now set to work transforming the stable building into their offices and studio.

According to The Sun, on July 14, 1916, it was Chester H. Aldrich personally who designed the $25,000 renovations.   Calling the structure a “three-story garage,” the newspaper said the conversion would be made “along lines which he has planned.”

The renovations were completed within four months.   A “removal announcement” was issued on November 11, 1916 and the firm moved into a drastically changed structure.   The stucco-covered exterior had been transformed into what appeared to be a French Renaissance town home.  High floor-to-ceiling openings lined up along the second floor behind a handsome iron-railed balcony.   Round windows at the third floor provided special interest; and a broad skylight within the slate shingled attic level flooded the upper workrooms with natural light.

American Architect, June 1917 (copyright expired)
Clients were welcomed in the reception room on the first floor.  Here too was the library, hung with old Dutch paintings, and a view of the pretty garden to the rear.  The second floor was taken up by the impressive offices of William Adams Delano and Chester Aldrich.  The top floor was the large drafting room.

While the firm worked on a staggering number of commissions—Peter Pennoyer and Anne Walker estimate in their The Architecture of Delano & Aldrich that more than 500 designs and alterations were completed in the 38th Street studio—Chester Aldrich also immersed himself in worthy causes.

The year before the firm moved into its new studio, the Kips Bay Boys Club was formed to address the problem of vandalism being committed by “roving gangs of boys” in the neighborhood between 34th and 39th Streets.    Chester Aldrich became its president, a position he would hold for two decades.  The annual meetings of its management were held in Aldrich’s office here.  He was also highly involved with a boys’ home on Staten Island that provided post-hospitalization rehabilitation.

The Great Depression adversely influenced architectural commissions, resulting in many draftsmen being laid off.  In 1932 Delano & Aldrich turned the upper floor into a factory of sorts to help the out-of-work designers.    As Christmas neared in 1932, The New York Times reported "Fifteen doll houses, furnished to the last detail, are on exhibition at the Art Centre, 65 East Fifty-sixth Street, and will be shown until Christmas.  They are for sale at prices ranging from $15 to $250 with the proceeds to go to unemployed draftsmen.  The doll homes were built by Delano & Aldrich of 126 East Thirty-eighth Street, who have already received 350 orders, and who say they will turn the entire proceeds over to the relief fund, regardless of how many sales are made.  Twenty-five cents admission is being charged for the exhibit."

In 1935 Charles H. Aldrich was named Director of the American Academy in Rome.  It signaled the end of his partnership in Delano & Aldrich as he left the United States forever.  He died in Rome on December 26, 1940.

Delano & Aldrich had produced impressive structures from the 38th Street studio building—including the Colony Club, the Union Club and the Harold I. Pratt mansion.  But in August 1947 William Delano received a proposal which caused special attention.

The letter was written by Matthew Connelly, Harry S. Truman’s appointments secretary.  In it he explained that Truman deeply wanted a balcony added to the White House for the enjoyment of the First Family.   That desire had sparked a heated disagreement between the President and the Washington D.C. Commission of Fine Arts.

The Commission argued that altering the architecture simply to provide leisure space for the family was unacceptable.  Its chairman, Gilmore David Clarke, wrote a letter to Truman harshly opposing the idea.  Truman fired back, saying that the balcony would do away with the unattractive awnings which he deemed an eyesore.

To break the stalemate, Truman turned to William Adams Delano.   Connelly said the President would consider it “a special favor” if he would take on the project.  He said that “your acceptance of this assignment would go a long way toward appeasing the small group who invariably oppose any additions of changes to the Executive Mansion.”  Truman knew that not only had Delano & Aldrich replaced the White House roof for Calvin Coolidge, but Delano had been chairman of the Fine Arts Commission and was a friend of Gilmore Clarke.

According to Robert Klara in his The Hidden White House: Harry Truman and the Reconstruction of America’s Most Famous Residence, “Behind the French doors of his office in the old milk depot, Delano considered the letter carefully.  Just to see how a balcony might look, he dipped his pen in white ink and drew one right onto a black-and-white photograph of the house.”

Delano took the job, designed the balcony, and convinced the Fine Arts Commission.  Anticipating backlash, Truman personally paid for the $16,050.74 construction from a fund he had saved from his household account.    Critics were forced to admit, after its completion, that Delano’s handsome balcony was an improvement to the White House architecture.

Known popularly as the "Truman Balcony," Delano's addition proved to be an improvement, rather than the feared ruination, of the classic architecture.  photo by GearedBull / WTCA

Although he continued working, William Adams Delano left 38th Street not long after the Truman balcony was completed.  In 1950 a newly-formed engineering firm, Praeger-Maguire Associates, took over No 126 East 38th Street.  Today E. B. Marks Carlin American, Inc., music publisher, has called the building home for about two decades.

Little has changed to the appearance of the old stable since its 1916 transformation by one of America’s preeminent architects.  The calm, sophisticated façade belies the colorful history that played out inside throughout its nearly 150-year existence.

non-credited photographs by the author

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Lost Temple Anshe Chesed -- Lexington Avenue and 63rd Street

photo by Samuel H. Gottscho from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

In the 1820s the Jewish population in New York City was still relatively small; yet it was substantial enough to have three separation congregations: Congregation Shearith Israel, the oldest; Congregation B’nai Jeshurun; and Congregation Anshe Chesed.  Composed of German, Polish and Dutch Jews, Anshe Chesed was the youngest group, established in 1828.

Congregation Anshe Chesed (People of Kindness) was made up mostly of immigrants with little money or status.  They worshiped in rented rooms until 1842 when the old Quaker Meeting House at No. 38 Henry Street was purchased and converted to a synagogue.  Within a decade the congregation grew to be the largest in America.

Anshe Chesed distinguished itself from other Manhattan congregations as well by embracing the Reform Movement.  But this change would not become fully rooted until the group built a new, impressive synagogue on Norfolk Street in 1848.   Here more reforms were put into place—the introduction of a choir of both sexes, a pipe organ, and the allowing of families to sit together during worship, for instance.

In 1872 the congregation laid plans for another move—this time surprisingly far uptown.  Land was purchased on the corner of southeast corner of Lexington Avenue and 63rd Street.  The New York Times explained “The congregation formerly worshiped at the church in Norfolk-street, near Houston, but finding the building insufficient for the increasing strength of the membership, they decided to erect a new temple on the above-mentioned site.”

Prolific architects D. & J. Jardine received the commission.  The brothers, David and James, would be active throughout the rest of the century, designing commercial structures, rowhouses and mansions.

The cornerstone was laid on July 3, 1872 with ceremonies that included “the singing of a chorale by a male and female choir, accompanied by a brass band.”  In the box within the cornerstone were placed a history of the congregation, several newspapers, a list of officials of the Federal Government, State, County, and City, a list of the other Jewish congregations in New York City, and a number of ancient and modern coins, including a Danish token with Hebrew writing, among other items.

Consecrated on September 12, 1873, the $200,000 structure reflected the wealth and position of its congregation.   A mixture of Romanesque and Victorian Gothic, it was 83 feet wide and stretched 120 feet along 63rd Street.  Brick, stone and terra cotta joined forces to create a colorful, eclectic façade.  A massive corner tower rose 135 feet above the sidewalk, vying for attention with the gigantic stained glass rose window.  A Moorish-inspired portico, supported by two spindly stone columns greeted the congregation.

Capable of accommodating 1,400 worshipers, the interior was awe-inspiring.  Brilliantly-colored stenciling, inlaid woodwork, brass lighting fixtures and ornate carving bordered on overwhelming.

photo by Samuel H. Gottscho from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The side door of the temple was opened at 3:00 for the consecration.  The Times reported “The seats were soon completely filled from floor to gallery, many of the worshipers being in full evening dress, and all the males sitting with their hats on, as is the custom of the orthodox Hebrews.”

Two months later, during the week of December 21, 1873, meetings were held between Anshe Chesed and Temple Adath Jeshurun “for the purpose of effecting a union of these two congregations,” said The Times.   The two congregations “declared themselves in harmony with every principle enunciated and proclaimed by reformed Judaism [and] prepared to adopt the most radical measures to bring their worship to accord with modern ideas.”

The merger resulted in the congregation Beth-El.  On March 7, 1874 it rededicated the Lexington Avenue structure.  The New York Times reported “The splendid synagogue, or, as the modern Jews call it, temple, at the corner of Sixty-third street and Lexington avenue, which had been erected by the Congregation Anshi Chesed, formerly worshiping in Norfolk street, and dedicated by them to the worship of the Almighty during the last Summer, has passed into the hands of a new congregation, Beth El.”

Inlaid woodwork and brilliant stenciling added to the lavish interiors.  photo by Samuel H. Gottscho from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
In his first sermon in this temple, Rabbi Dr. Einhorn—who insisted on conducting services in English or German rather than Hebrew—referred to the reform movement as one more step in the freeing of the Jews.  He discussed “every allusion to the bondage of the Hebrews during the Middle Ages, as the reform Jew of America believes that he is now freer from every physical bond.”

It would not be long before a near-schism erupted between the two groups.  Prior to 1840 Anshe Chesed purchased a plot 25 by 100 feet on Sixth Avenue between 45th and 46th Street which it used as a burying ground.  When the City outlawed burials south of 83rd Street in 1851, the congregation established another graveyard on 89th Street near Madison Avenue.   That, too, was closed by the City for the same reasons—health fears and property needs.

Having learned its lesson, the congregation purchased a tract of land at Union Fields, Long Island to be used as a cemetery.  It was now being used by the newly-combined congregations. 

When some members realized that the real estate of the old burial grounds in Manhattan was now worth between $70,000 and $80,000, they proposed to move the bodies to Long Island and sell the land.  A permit for the removal of the bodies was obtained from the Board of Health and a notice went out to the congregants.

The reaction was swift and angry from some.

“The old members of the Anshi Chesed are bitterly opposed to this measure, on the ground that it is contrary to their faith to disturb the bones of the dead.  They also claim that the deeds for the lots stand in their name, and that the congregation have no right to them.”

The proposal was “denounced in the most indignant terms” as “desecration of the graves of their relatives and friends,” said the newspaper.  The irate members promised to “use every lawful means to prevent what they consider a wrong being done.”

Eventually the controversy was put to rest when the defiant congregants lost their battle and the coffins were moved.

On September 6, 1879 the temple welcomed its new rabbi, the Rev. Dr. K. Kohler.  The Times reported “The Orientally-decorated interior of the Temple Beth-El, with its slender Moorish columns, and windows of crimson and purple and gold, has not held a larger congregation since it was dedicated, in 1873, than that which assembled to hear the inaugural sermon of the Rev. Dr. Kohler yesterday morning.”

Kohler made it perfectly clear that he intended to continue the reforms of his retiring predecessor, Dr. Einhorn.  Saying that the 19th century marked “one of the turning-points in the material, moral and intellectual history of human kind,” he asked “ought Judaism alone remain passive, hidden, as it were, in its little snail-house?”

He said that “good, honest orthodoxy” had its face turned backward, and “has consequently been overtaken by the swelling tide of modern ideas, which have undermined not only the outer wall of the ghetto, but also the buttresses and the pillars of mediaeval Judaism.”

Kohler announced that services would be performed in English and German, on alternating weeks.  The unrelenting opinions he espoused that day would set the tone for decades of sermons to come.  And his demand for nearly autocratic authority would cause problems a few years later,

Two things occurred in 1886 that deeply offended the rabbi.  The first was the Board of Trustees independently deciding to look for an assistant rabbi who spoke fluent English.  Rabbi Kohler was incensed when he learned of their action without involving him. 

The trustees wanted an English-speaking rabbi to perform services on Sundays, rather than the Sabbath, because many of the young members held jobs that required them to work Saturdays.

Then, as Kohler prepared for a convention of reform ministers in Cincinnati on June 16, the Trustees requested a report on what he intended to do there.  Rabbi Kohler did not feel he was required to submit his plans nor to answer to the Board.

Around June 1 he sent a letter to the Board of Trustees “in which he announced his intention of resigning unless the Trustees accede to certain demands,” reported a newspaper.

Kohler expected his threat to be met with acquiescence.  He was no doubt surprised when one of the leading members of the congregation, Gerson N. Herrman, issued an announcement that intimated the resignation might be accepted.

“Rabbi Kohler is an able minister and a very intelligent man, but as heretofore I am opposed to his doctrines because they are too radical and not positive enough, and I think he was too hasty in proclaiming his resignation…We most assuredly need another minister as an assistant, and I approve of having an English preacher.  A special meeting of the Trustees was called, which will convene to-morrow.  Should the Rabbi’s resignation be accepted, it will not take effect until next year.”

On June 6 the meeting was held, its members being unanimous about looking for an English-speaking assistant and in denouncing the rabbi’s rash reaction.  Nevertheless, a committee of nine was appointed to meet with Kohler.

Rabbi Kohler emerged victorious from that meeting.  The New York Times reported on June 10 “The differences existing between the Trustees of the Congregation Beth-El…and their rabbi, the Rev. K. Kohler, were yesterday amicably adjusted.”

Kohler announced “It is to be understood that the lectures at the temple will continue, as heretofore, under my supervision, and, in the event of any appointment of an assistant minister, such step will come under my jurisdiction.  As to the Cincinnati convention, the Board of Trustees has decided not in any way to interfere with me.”

Kohler delivered a touching and ecumenical tribute from his pulpit following the death of Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, the renowned pastor of Brooklyn’s Plymouth Church.  On March 12, 1887 he declared “When Abraham died, the great men of the time, according to the Talmud, went about saying ‘The world has lost its leader, the ship its Captain.’ So in the death of Henry Ward Beecher the American Nation has lost one of its most gifted sons, one of its most determined and powerful champions for liberty and humanity.”

Kohler’s insistence on looking forward, rather than back, was evidenced in the titles of his sermons.  The same year that he honored Henry Beecher, he preached on “Prejudice,” “Prohibition and Self Control,” “Evolution and Morality,” and “Jew and Gentile: What is Going On?” among similar issues.

When the Supreme Court of Wisconsin ruled in 1890 against the reading of the Bible in public schools, Rev. Dr. K. Kohler responded in his sermon.  On March 23 he declared “It is both right and due of the Jewish citizen to protest against such an encroachment as is the opening of the school with either the Bible or the Lord’s Prayer, or of any of the public meetings or legislative sitting under the emblems and forms of Christians.  That is sectarian practice.  Any religious exercise which does not include all beliefs and convictions must be relegated to the Church, and has no connection with the functions of the State, which are purely secular.”

In 1891 congregation Beth-El moved again, selling its magnificent building to congregation Rodelph Sholom.  That congregation had been founded on September 29, 1842 as an orthodox synagogue; but in 1874 had embraced the reform movement.  A newspaper noted “it was decided to abolish some of the old-time, and now meaningless, ceremonies and to introduce organ music.”

Dedication ceremonies were held on the evening of September 4, 1891 after the temple had been “refitted and renovated,” according to The New York Times.

The following year the congregation celebrated its Golden Jubilee.  On December 17, 1892 Rabbi Dr. Wise delivered his sermon in German, on “Retrospective Glances.”  Tracing the congregation’s history back 1,000 years, he said “Like Jacob, the congregation had reason to thank God for the prosperity that had attended them.  They saw their members on the judicial bench, at the bar, and among the great merchants.  The children had all done well.”

The Congregation Rodeph Sholom involved itself in political and social issues, as well as religious matters.  When the first meeting of the Israelite Alliance of America was held in the Lexington Avenue building on May 25, 1902, the problem of Russia’s discrimination against American Jews was addressed.

The Russian Government had an official policy of barring Jewish men and women from entering the country, despite proper paperwork.  Joseph J. Corn, who presided at the meeting insisted “it was a humiliation to the whole Nation that American passports were dishonored on the borders of Russia because the bearers happened to be Jews.”

In honoring military dead, Americans at the time tended to overlook the contributions of Jewish soldiers and sailors.  Partially in response, on May 17, 1908 the Hebrew Union Veteran Association and the Hebrew Veterans of the War with Spain held joint memorial services at Temple Rodeph Sholom.  The Times noted “Spaces were reserved in the centre of the temple for the members of the two associations, and the rest of the auditorium was filled.”

The temple was equally filled on April 20, 1912, following the sinking of the RMS Titanic.  Rev. Dr. Rudolph Grossman addressed those who asked why God allowed such a tragedy.

“Is God at fault that there were not sufficient lifeboats?  It is human stupidity, sinfulness, and cupidity,” he said.

He spoke also of Isidore Straus, philanthropist, civic leader, and co-owner of Macy’s department store, and his wife, Ida.  “While we mourn for the humblest, the stokers and the sailors who died like men in the performance of their duty, and for the humblest in the steerage, we also mourn for those great men in philanthropy and in other lines which this country could ill afford to lose.

“There is one which we as Jews especially mourn—Isidore Straus, a leader in every good and noble cause, whether patriotic, religious, or educational.  We must call attention also to the wonderfully beautiful, almost sublime, deed of his noble wife, who refused to leave him.”

By 1926 the Lexington Avenue corner had greatly changed.  Apartment buildings and retail stores had replaced the homes along the avenue.  On January 31 that year The New York Times announced that the Temple Rodeph Sholom, “a landmark of the district,” had been purchased “as a site for an apartment hotel” for about $800,000.

The newspaper explained that the congregation, having become “beneficiaries” of the increased value of the real estate, had decided to move out “of a district which is being rapidly changed for structures for other uses.”

The congregation purchased land on 83rd Street, near Central Park West, and laid plans for a new $2 million temple there.  The final service was held on Monday evening, October 4, 1926.

photo from the collection of the Library of Congress
In its place the monumental Barbizon Hotel for Women rose, completed in 1927.  The masterful structure, designed by Palmer H. Ogden, survives today.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The NY Savings Bank Bldg -- No. 338 West 23rd Street

The brick-faced Italianate houses that lined the south side of West 23rd Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues at the time of the Civil War were not mansions.  Yet the 25-foot wide homes were far from middle-class.  The speculative row was designed with the financially-secure professional class in mind.

The house at No. 338 was home to the John S. Boyd family.  Like its neighbors, it was three stories tall above a high basement.  A broad brownstone stoop rose to the parlor floor where, most likely, floor-to-ceiling windows opened onto a cast iron balcony, like its neighbor at No. 336.  Boyd’s house went one step further than its neighbors in the treatment of the upper floor openings.  Rather than the brownstone lintels and sills, No. 338 featured carved limestone enframements.

Boyd was a director in several insurance firms, including the Clinton Fire Insurance Company and the First National Eclectic Life Assurance Society of the United States.  But most importantly he was President of the Albany Brewing Company, which was founded by his grandfather in Albany decades earlier.

Boyd's West Street depot is pictured on the lower right corner -- copyright expired
Boyd’s extensive brewery was in Albany; but not extremely far away from the 23rd Street house, on West Street and West Houston Street, was the firm’s New York office and “depot.”  From here shipments of beer were loaded onto train cars or boats on the North River (later renamed the Hudson River).

The scope of Boyd’s business was evidenced in 1878 when he filed an application to lay railroad tracks between Morton and Leroy Streets to the river.

The Boyds had moved on by the last decade of the 19th century.  The new owners decided by 1893 to rent rooms.  On May 29 that year an advertisement appeared in The Evening World:  “English family can accommodate one or two boarders: nice home; good board.”

The house would see the comings and goings of various tenants over the next few decades.  Civil engineer George Mitchell Estabrooke lived here at least from 1904 through 1908.  And by 1913 a “Miss Flynn” was here.   A caring aunt, her 7-year old nephew Donald Daly suffered from tuberculosis in the knee.

That same year Dr. Frederick Franz Friedmann arrived in town and set up an office at No. 339 Fifth Avenue.  The Berlin physician widely touted his cure for tuberculosis.  The Sun reported on March 1 that “He said with every evidence of sincerity that consumptives barely able to drag themselves to the office would come again inside of two weeks, walking erect and with signs that the cure has taken effect.”

The day after Freidmann’s office opened, at least 1,000 afflicted persons lined up along Fifth Avenue seeking treatment.   The publicity had attracted the notice of Miss Flynn.

Little Donald was admitted to Mount Sinai Hospital where Dr. Friedmann started treatments.  In the meantime, the doctor accepted $125,000 “part payment” from Moritz Eisner for the American rights to the remedy.  The U.S. Government’s doctors were more skeptical.

The National Association for the Study and Prevention of Tuberculosis commenced a study; and in May 1913 Washington DC Doctor Anderson published an official report that dismissed Friedmann’s “cure” as ineffective.  

On May 10, 1913, the day after Dr. Friedmann was found in Canada, having mysteriously disappeared, The Sun reported that Miss Flynn had removed her nephew from the hospital.  She said she “believed that the child had made no progress and that it was useless for him to remain there further.”

Also in the house at the time was Susan Campbell.  On St. Patrick’s Day 1914 she married Harry C. Swift who managed the B. F. Keith’s Harlem Opera House.  The boarding house that Susan Campbell and Miss Flynn enjoyed would soon see significant change.

No. 338 was owned by James D. Powell.  He lived on Livingston Place (later renamed Nathan D. Perlman Place) with his wife and son.   His death on August 17, 1916 would change the course of the 23rd Street house.   On February 18, 1919 it was sold at public auction “to close the estate.”  It was purchased by the Lawyers Title & Trust Co., which quickly resold it to the New York Savings Bank that same year.

Originally incorporated as the Rose Hill Savings Bank in 1854, the institution was well-known in the Chelsea area; its main bank building being an imposing Greek temple-like structure on the northwest corner of 14th Street and Eighth Avenue.

In 1921 the bank began the process of renovating the old high-stoop house to a modern bank.  The basement and first floor were transformed into a single, soaring space accessed through bronze doors within a two-story arched opening.  At the right side a doorway provided access to the apartments upstairs.  It was echoed in the window on the opposite side and both mimicked the treatment of the upper floor openings.  While the residential character of the third and fourth floors—including the bracketed cornice—remained intact; the new stone front presented the clean, modern visage of a stable financial institution.

The upper floors were leased to residential tenants, including attorney Earl A. Smith of the law firm McElligott & Smith.  In 1922 he took the bench as a temporary magistrate, filling the place of Judge Matthew T. Breen who was ill.

When the bank was taken over by the Century Bank in 1928, it signaled a series of rapid-fire changes.  Later that year Century Bank merged with the Dewey State Bank, while retaining its old name.  By 1930 it was a branch of the Interstate Trust Company while, again, still maintaining the Century Bank name.

Other than the loss of the central entrance, little has changed to the building's 1928 appearance.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
At around 9:00 on the night of April 18, 1930 a 12-year old boy, Harry Restel, was playing in front of the bank.   When he happened to brush by the door, it flew open.  The New York Times reported the following day, “Harry looked inside.  No one was there.  He saw a big safe.  The door of that was open too.  It was filled with silver.”

Reacting in a way that no doubt made his mother proud, Harry ran to Patrolman Michael Kent who was on duty nearby.  Kent notified bank officials who rushed to the scene.

Although the bulk of the bank’s assets were locked in the big vault, the safe contained a tempting $7,367.17 to Depression era thieves.  Nothing was missing.  The bankers said “The only way they could explain the bank door being open was that some employe working late in the bank had gone home and forgotten to lock it.”

One would surmise that someone had significant explaining to do the following morning.

In 1941 the former bank space was taken over by the Molloy Funeral Home; then by the Horne-Dannecker Funeral Home in 1957.  Eventually Horne-Dannecker moved north to the Bronx and the eclectic life of No. 338 continued as the PWG Gallery moved in by 1998.  It was followed by the John Stevenson Gallery which remained here until about 2006; replaced by the Cell Theater Company.  Still in the space today, The Cell is a not-for-profit collective, self-described as “creating works to mine the mind, pierce the heart, and awaken the soul.”

The house that was once home to a successful beer brewer is little changed since its 1921 transformation to a bank; at a time when this section of Chelsea was rapidly changing.

photographs by the author