Friday, October 9, 2015

Louis Korn's No. 424 Broome Street

The death of 69-year old Thomas Eddy died on September 16, 1827 was widely lamented.  Eddy was highly involved in the charitable institutions of New York.  He was for years a governor of the New York Hospital and was responsible for the establishment of the Lunatic Asylum.  He was a staunch abolitionist and a commissioner of the construction of the Erie Canal.

Prior to his funeral in his house at No. 424 Broome Street, his widow received a letter from Governor De Witt Clinton which read, in part, “Permit me to mingle my tears with you, and to offer to you and your family my heartfelt sympathies on the loss of your excellent husband and my invaluable friend.”

The block where the Eddy home stood would remain fashionable for at least two decades.  In the 1840s the Powers family lived at No. 424.  Thomas J. and William P. Powers were both attorneys and shared an office at No. 49 Wall Street.

But by the time of the Civil War commerce had invaded Broome Street.  No. 424 had been converted for business and in 1862 the ground floor was home to the clothing store of A. H. McArthur.  That year the proprietor had difficulties with a relative and employee—Alexander McArthur.  Alexander held the position of “foreman” in the store.  The owner alleged “that the sum of $45, belonging to him, was appropriated by the accused to his own use.”

Alexander McArthur was arrested on January 8, 1862.  He pleaded guilty and was held awaiting trial.

Within the decade the neighborhood became the center of the upholstery trimmings industry.  Victorian portieres, mantel scarves, and furniture were generously adorned with braiding, fringe and decorative tassels.   The converted house at No. 424 saw two such dealers.  In 1865 E. D. L. Meyer & Co, “dress trimmings factory and salesroom” was here.  It would remain in the building for years, becoming L. Meyer & Co.  Also here was D. Prosnitz, “cords, ornaments, and tassels.”

Unrelated was P, Ayres & Sons.  Phinny Ayres and his son Samuel dealt in “paints, oils, and glass” and apparently moved into the photographic supply business as well when that technology evolved.  In 1881 the store gave out promotional pamphlets posing as a city guidebook, Old Landmarks, or How to See New York.   It included advice to tourists one might take to heart today, such as “Avoid being too free with strangers…If you are obliged to make inquiries on the street, apply to a policeman or go to a respectable place of business.  Avoid all crowds, especially at night.  Careful attention to your own business will insure freedom from annoyance or interruption.”

By the last decade of the 19th century the most of the old brick houses along Broome Street had been replaced with modern loft buildings.  In the 1890s the brothers Samuel and Henry Corn were rabidly purchasing old homes and erecting such structures.  They were highly responsible for changing the face of lower Fifth Avenue and the neighborhoods which would become known as Soho and Noho.

On the single day of November 1, 1894 The New York Times real estate column reported on three important deals involving the Corn brothers.  Among them was the sale by the Ten Eyck Powers estate of the three-story brick No. 424 Broome.  The Corns paid $40,000 for the old structure—over $1 million in 2015 dollars.

Although two weeks later it was reported that the Corns had sold No. 424 to Julius Lowenthal; that deal apparently fell through.  The Corns commissioned architect Louis Korn to replace the old house with a factory and store building.  The architect had just completed designs for a handsome loft building for the Corn brothers replacing two old mansions at Nos. 91 and 93 Fifth Avenue.

Construction on No. 424 Broome would not commence until 1896.  The 25-foot wide building was completed a year later.   The handsome Renaissance Revival design was executed in stone, brick and cast iron—the latter allowing for vast expanses of glass.  Festooned capitals on the pilasters, wreaths, and garlands ornamented the seven-story building.  Playful s-shaped double volutes served to uphold the entablature at the second floor.  At ground level a cast iron storefront featured prim engaged Ionic columns on fluted bases, over which was an ornate foliate frieze.

The building filled immediately with trimmings and apparel manufacturers.  In 1898 directories listed Otto K. Friedrich, “braids;” Isaacs & Wittenberg, braids and dress trimmings; Philip Brous who manufactured cloaks and suits; the Katz Brothers, dealers in elastics; Ernest Freedman, skirt manufacturer; and Charles Luchenbacher, who manufactured samples books and cards for such businesses.  In the retail store was M. Katzenberg & Co., stationers.

The stationery store would remain in the building at least until 1908.  By then the original tenants of the upper floors were gone, replaced by similar firms—Kahn & Feltman, “silk yarns;” the Novelty Dress Skirt Co., Isaac Brill who manufactured curtains, and George Munster, whose company made pocketbooks and other items.

The apparel and trimming firms made up most of the tenant list through the World War I years.  But by 1920 printing companies had taken over.  That year printer Louis A. Reid was in the building, as was Geo. B. Hurd & Co., makers of playing cards.

Another printer, Glicksman Press, saw opportunity when Charles A. Lindbergh landed in Paris on May 21, 1927 following his 33-hour non-stop flight from Roosevelt Field on Long Island.  On June 5 The New York Times reported “Although there is no regular air mail between New York and Washington, air mail addressed in New York to Captain Charles A. Lindbergh will be transported by air in ample time for delivery to Lindbergh on arrival, according to a message received yesterday by A. Litton of the Glicksman Press, 424 Broome Street, from Postmaster General New.  Litton's company will begin selling today a souvenir post card to those who wish to send formal greetings to Lindbergh.”

The Soho district suffered during much of the 20th century and in the 1940s No. 424 was home to machine parts firm B. Pletman Devices, the Aristocratic Whipper Corp, maker of cream whippers; and the Modernistic Fixture Co.

Then the neighborhood was discovered by struggling artists.  The vast lofts with expansive windows were cheap and made perfect studio and living spaces.  In 1981 No. 424 was converted to “joint living and working quarters for artists.”  The transition from industrial to artsy was not always smooth, however.

No. 424 Broome shared a light well with the still-industrial building at Nos. 418-422.  The residents repeatedly lodged complaints with the city concerning “a constant roar” from exhaust fans as well as dry-cleaning fumes.  When officials continuously found the businesses next door in compliance with the law, the co-op residents of No. 424, known as the Broome Street Artists Corporation, filed suit in State Supreme Court.

In addition to seeking an injunction to stop the noise, water damage (purportedly caused by a roof-top air conditioning unit), security problems, and fumes, they asked for $10 million in damages.

The ugly affair was eventually settled.  In 2012 the high-end home-furnishings shop Ankasa opened in the architecturally-unaltered ground level store.  The upscale shop and the now multi-million dollar co-ops above exemplify the ongoing change in the Broome Street area.

photographs by the author

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Thomas S. Young House -- No. 110 East 17th Street

The development of a new upscale neighborhood around Union Square in the 1840s would spill onto the side streets during the next decade.  Dr. John W. Francis owned significant property on the east side of the Square and in 1852 began selling off building plots.

In August he sold four lots—Nos. 108 through 114—to John W. Smyth who, seven months later, turned them over to carpenter and builder Robert C. Voorhies for double the price he had paid.  Voorhies constructed four identical brownstone-fronted homes which left no doubt as to the financial status of his targeted purchasers.  Begun in 1853, they were completed within the near year.

Among the new homes was No. 110 which, like its neighbors, rose four stories above an English basement.  The 24-foot wide Italianate rowhouse featured the expected extras in a fashionable home—floor-to-ceiling windows that opened onto a balcony that stretched the width of the parlor floor,  hefty Italianate ironwork, and a handsome bracketed cornice.  But the architect set the homes apart with especially lush foliate carvings, like leafy waves breaking, over the openings.  The motif burst forth above the entrance as an elaborate carved crown worthy of the most lavish Fifth Avenue mansion.

Shaved flat around 1990, the lintel decorations of the openings were miniature versions of the doorway.

No. 110 was sold to Thomas S. Young.  As was customary, the title was put in the name of his wife, Mary E. Young.   The couple would soon have a daughter, Emma Priscilla. 

Referred to by The New York Times on April 28, 1875 as a “well-known gentleman,” Young engaged in several professional endeavors, including being an inspector of Indian supplies.  In the 1870s the Department of the Interior furnished supplies to Native American reservations.  Bids based on government specifications were taken from contractors. 

The overwhelming amount of goods out for bid in 1876 included “over 33,000,000 pounds of beef, gross weight, 5,435,000 pounds of flour, 2,104,500 pounds of bacon and mess pork, 23,200 pairs of blankets, 3,000 pounds of linen thread, 240,000 yards calico, and corn, wheat, cloths of different kinds, hose, shirts, clothing, twine, groceries, hardware, fine-tooth combs, zinc mirrors, camp-kettles, beads, needles, etc. in smaller quantities.”  In 1876 Thomas S. Young had the ponderous task of inspecting “clothing.”

By now Emma Priscilla was a grown woman and on Thursday, April 27, 1876 the house was the scene of her wedding to Augustus Talbot.  Two years later her parents would move to Park Avenue; although they retained ownership of the 17th Street mansion.

The house was leased to Harry Bowley Hollins and his wife Evelina Knapp Hollins.  Hollins was born in New York in 1854, the same year the house was completed.   The ambitious and aggressive 24-year old had formed the stock brokerage firm of H. B. Hollins in 1877, and a year later founded the banking and brokerage firm H. B. Hollins & Co.  Prominent and Progressive Americans pointed out “This firm from the time of its organization transacted the bulk of the Vanderbilts’ operations on Wall Street.”

Harry B. Hollins -- Prominent and Progressive Americans, 1904 (copyright expired)

The Hollins family had barely moved in before the house was the scene of a funeral.  Evelina’s sister, Kate Louise Knapp, died on Wednesday, December 17.  Her funeral was held here on the morning December 20.

The Harry and Evelina were still renting the house when Mary Young took out a $13,000 mortgage on the property in 1881.  But they moved on in 1887, the same year that Mary Young died at the age of 72.  In their place brothers William D. and George H. Andrews moved in.    The men were partners in William D. Andrews & Bro., a contracting firm involved in the “driven well” business. 

William was 63-years old when they moved into the house.  The leading force in the firm, he had invented a centrifugal pump in 1847 for removing sand from wrecked ships.  He was the first to raise a sunken ship by pumping it out.  By now he held at least 37 patents for construction equipment like hoisting machines, and a patent for a method of constructing artesian wells.

The rope-carved brownstone balcony supports a brawny cast iron railing.  The stoop railings, replaced when the steps were rebuilt around 1990, would have matched the balcony.

While the brothers were undeniably well-off; their repeated appearances in court suggests their business operation may have been just a bit shady.  The year after they moved into the 17th Street house they were sued by landlord John Brooks for unpaid rent on their offices on Water Street and Cherry Street.  Later the City of Albany would sue them for $205,960.70 for failure to construct a water plant.

The Andrews brother’s cook was looking for another job in January 1890.  She described herself in an advertisement in The Sun on January 16 as “a respectable Protestant woman” and a “good cook.”  The separation was apparently amenable, since she said she could be interviewed at the house.

Following George’s death in 1895, William left No. 110 East 17th Street.  He moved to No. 119 West 115th Street; but lived only a few months longer, dying there In November 1896.

The house was briefly home to the family of E. D. Smith.  The records of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children noted that in 1896 Mrs. Smith donated “two bibs and two blankets.”

By the time she donated the bibs and blankets, the Union Square neighborhood had greatly changed.  Once lined with fashionable mansions, the park was now ringed with commercial buildings and retail shops.  The homes along the side streets were operated as boarding houses or razed as their wealthy owners moved away.   The two houses next door to No. 110—Nos. 112 and 114—had been demolished in 1890 to make way for an apartment building, The Fanwood.  When the Smiths left No. 110, by 1898, Florence Wurtz opened her boarding house here.

After half a century of ownership, in July 1904 the estate of Mary S. Young sold the house to Ella L. Henniger.  Ella quickly resold it to Katherine Shippen Farr.  Among Katherine’s upscale tenants would be Mrs. Alfred Thurston Baker of Philadelphia.  She came to New York to avoid the press as she began divorce proceedings against her prominent husband.

She was tracked down, however, and on June 6, 1905 The Sun reported “Mrs. Baker is living in a boarding house at 110 East Seventeenth street.  She is a good looking young woman.”

Mrs. Baker explained “My husband deserted me two years ago and I have not lived with him since.  I have been ill with nervous prostration and have been in the care of a trained nurse.”  She explained that while she retained her townhouse in Philadelphia, “I have been living here quietly, so as to avoid notoriety.”

In 1909 real estate operator Herman Wronkow purchased The Fanwood apartment building and then set his sights on the property next door.  On September 25, 1909 the Record and Guide reported that Katherine S. Farr had sold No. 110 to Wronkow.  The Sun pointed out that he “now controls a plot 74x92 between Union Square and Irving place.”

The mention was not simply a passing comment.  Real estate operators who gobbled up adjoining properties most often had a plan in mind for further development.  If that was the case, however, it did not come to pass.  No. 110 was converted to apartments in 1933; however the exterior remained mostly unchanged for the rest of the century.  Until around 1990, that is, when the exquisite—if time-worn--trim was shaved flat, leaving only the magnificent carving over the entrance intact.

The residence received its touch of fame in 1989 as the home of Nicolas Cage’s character in the creepy film Vampire’s Kiss.  Today there are eight apartments in the house, some of which retain original architectural details such as mantels.  And despite the tragic loss of the window surrounds, it reminds the passerby of the elegance of the block in the decade before the Civil War.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Saxony and DeWitt Court Apts. -- Nos. 250-254 West 82nd Street

In 1911 Warren Cady Crane founded Ye Olde Settlers’ Association of the West Side in a panicked attempt to halt the demolition of brick and brownstone residences—most only 30 years old—to clear the way for lavish apartment buildings.  Crane was about a decade too late.

More than anyplace else in the city, residents of the Upper West Side had heartily embraced apartment house living.  Massive apartments the size of private homes did away with the expense and bother of large domestic staffs.

It was a movement that developer Albert Saxe (who also spelled his name “Sachs”) recognized early on.  On May 20, 1899 the Real Estate Record and Builders’ Guide announced that he had commissioned the architectural firm of Stein, Cohen & Roth to design a seven-story “brick and stone semi-fireproof flat.”  The estimated cost of was $200,000—in the neighborhood of $5.8 million today.

The 28-yearold Emery Roth was a fledgling partner in the firm.  He had worked in the office of Richard Morris Hunt until that architect’s death in 1895.  He moved on to the office of Ogden Codman, Jr. who designed and decorated the homes of Manhattan’s and Newport’s socially elite.  Now, working with Theodore G. Stein and E. Yancey Cohen he took on Saxe’s project.   While plans were filed under the firm’s name; architectural historians agree that The Saxony would be the first apartment building designed by Roth.

The Saxony, situated on the southwest corner of Broadway and West 82nd Street, was completed in 1900.  Emery Roth had produced a Beaux Arts confection of red brick and white limestone meant to reflect the social and financial status of its residents.  The two story rusticated stone base housed retail stores on the Broadway side.  The residential entrance, flanked by tall lampposts and sheltered by a glass-and-iron canopy, was located on the less public 82nd Street.

The Saxony offered the conveniences of a private home, as well as staff employed by the management—like the “liveried hall service night and day.”   Each apartment consisted of “nine rooms, two bath rooms, butler’s pantries and private halls.”  A 1901 advertisement boasted “The parlors are unusually attractive, being finished in white and gold; they have paneled walls, with high paneled base, and ceilings enriched with ornamental relief work, motif being Louise XVI.”

Depending on the floor, tenants would pay either $1,500 or $2,000 per year rent.  The latter would translate to a significant $4,800 per month in 2015.

The paint was barely dry before Albert Saxe sold The Saxony.   Morris k. Jessup owned the Forres, a similar building abutting The Saxony to the south.  He negotiated Saxe’s $375,000 asking price down to $355,000; netting Saxe a handsome profit nonetheless.  Saxe started on another building “similar to the Saxony apartment house,” according to the New-York Tribune, on the southwest corner of Broadway and 77th Street.

Among the first tenants of The Saxony was William R. Corwine, a visible member of the Merchants’ Association of New-York.  Following a devastating hurricane n 1899 in Puerto Rico, he was appointed Secretary of the Central Porto Rican Relief Committee by the Secretary of War, Russell A. Alger.

Corwine was, as well, an ardent William McKinley supporter; partly based on his merchant’s point of view.  On June 20, 1900 he mailed off a letter to the editor of the New-York Tribune which said, in part, “I have no doubt that if we will all pull together with a good, long, strong pull, Mr. McKinley can be re-elected by a majority that will show to the world that this Nation is alive to the changed conditions, and hat we intend to make every possible effort to expand the sale of our manufactured products in every portion of the globe.”

In 1902 William R. Corwine would find himself testifying to the Congressional Committee on Ways and Means during its hearings on Reciprocity with Cuba.

When designer Gustav F. Lang moved into The Saxony in 1902, construction was well underway on another lavish apartment building next door at No. 254—the DeWitt Court.   Designed by Neville & Bagge, it was the project of developer Jesse C. Bennett.   It was the beginning of an unexpected connection between the two unrelated buildings.

In the meantime, Gustav F. Lang submitted two of his works to the Architectural League of New York’s annual exhibition that year—a “design of electric light” and a “design for plate.”   Other residents at the time were Samuel Gottlieb and his wife, Julia.  Julia’s widowed mother, Yvette Rothschild, had moved in with them.  The 81-year old died here in June 1902.

Peter Gardner was described by The Financial Red Book of America simply as a “capitalist.”  The socially visible Chester Ingersoll Richards and his wife had moved into The Saxony from Brooklyn Heights by 1905.  That year on December 17 she announced in the society pages that she was “at home” on “second Fridays until May.”

An iron gate separates The Saxony and its new neighbor DeWitt Court.  photo by Wurtz Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The DeWitt Court had been completed in 1903 and offered apartments which, according to an August 9 advertisement were “like a private residence.”   Each apartment—there were just one per floor—featured nine rooms and three baths.  The parlors were 25 long by 15.6 feet wide and the kitchens were an amazing 23 by 10 feet.

Even before the DeWitt Court was completed, is owner, Jesse C. Bennett was managing The Saxony.  Before long the two buildings would share advertising space.

DeWitt Court sat behind The Saxony on the 82nd Street side.

Like its next door neighbor, the Dewitt Court attracted wealthy businessmen.  One of these was Mark Rapalsky, President and Director of the Constant Battery Co., Director of the Richard Realty Co., the Willet Realty Co., the Huron Realty Co., and the Imperial Realty Co.

Following his wife’s tragic suicide on May 10, 1905, Benjamin Strong, Jr. moved into the DeWitt Court.  The wealthy banker was Secretary of the Bankers’ Trust Company of New York, director of the Bank of Montclair (New Jersey), director of the North Star Mines Co., and a director of the Rochester and Sodus Bay Railroad Co.

Living with Strong in the apartment was his son, Archibald McIntyre Strong, who graduated from Princeton in 1906.   By 1918 Benjamin Strong would rise to position of head of the Federal Reserve Bank.

Perhaps no one in either building entertained as lavishly as did Mrs. Chester Ingersoll Richards.  Her entertainments were regularly followed in the society pages.  The Richards apartment was often the scene of the meetings of the Wednesday Morning Bridge and Luncheon Club.  At these events society women played bridge for expensive prizes—silver picture frames, linen handkerchiefs or a “fancy bonbon box,” for instance.

On October 1, 1910 Harriett Virginia Fischer was married to T. Arthur Nosworthy, Jr. in All Angels’ Church.  Her father, Bernardo F. Fischer was one of the brothers who headed the Fischer Piano Company.  Following the ceremony the reception was held in the Fischers’ apartment in The Saxony. 

Bernardo Franklin Fischer would die in the apartment three years later on September 13, 1913.

The DeWitt Court saw several esteemed doctors take apartments.  Drs. George Wyeth and Arthur Bookman were both here by 1911.  Their papers were regularly published in medical journals and Bookman would remain in the building for decades.   Even a 1914 advertisement in Country Life magazine noted that the ground floor apartments were “especially desirable for use of physician.”

At the end of January 1914 Robert B. Dula purchased both buildings.  He sold them two weeks later as a package.  The informal connection of the two structures was now a marriage, one for which divorce was not in the cards.

As the United States was pulled into World War I several of the younger men living in the buildings left to serve their country.  Among them were Lloyd Adolph Wimpfheimer, Mortimore Steinhardt, and Gustav Lang who in 1902 had exhibited his designs to the Architectural League.   Not all of them would return. 

On August 20, 1918 27-year old Lt. Mortimore Steinhardt’s parents, who lived in DeWitt Court, were notified that he had been gassed on May 20 and he was “severely wounded.”  Less than three months later word was received by Corporal Gusav F. Lang had died of wounds received in France.

Along with doctors, bankers and businessmen, the West Side buildings had their share of residents from the arts.  Maia Bang live in The Saxony with her husband C. E. Hohn.  The internationally-known violinist wrote the Maia Bang Violin Method, an instructional book still in use today.  In 1919 she advertised that she “will accept a limited number of pupils” in her studio here.

And another long-term resident of The Saxony was former actress Mrs. Grace Hall Chase Kramer.  She had acted with the Booth and Barrett Theatrical Company and, now retired, maintained her memberships in the Episcopal Actors Guild and the Catholic Actors Guild.  She lived here with her husband Edwin G. Kramer until her death on March 29, 1932.

Leo S. Jacoby was an insurance salesman who lived in The Saxony for decades.  Among his clients were entertainers like Al Jolson, Richard Bennett and Harry Richmond.  

A rather eye-brow-raising death occurred in The Saxony on May 6, 1921.  William Becker, an electrical engineer, and his wife had divorced.  Taking her maiden name, Katherine Miller now had an apartment here.   That night police were called to her apartment where they found Becker dead, his wrist slashed.

According to Katherine, her ex-husband had showed up around 3:00 that afternoon.   Believing him to be drunk, she said, she “did not interfere when he walked into a bedroom and shut the door.”

Four hours later she knocked on the door and, getting no response, entered.  According to the New-York Tribune, “Entering the room she found that a chandelier had been broken and that her former husband’s right wrist had been cut by the shattered glass.”   Despite the questionable circumstances, the Medical Examiner pronounced death due to accidental causes.

By the time Leo S. Jacoby died at the age of 92 in 1965, the buildings had been sold and resold as a package several times.  They had both seen change from their former glory days, as well.    In 1945 Department of Buildings records showed that the massive apartments in The Saxony had been divided into between 21 and 23 “single room occupancy” rooms per floor. 

 In 1951 a Dewitt Court tenant, 50-year old Ramon Rosario was convicted of international drug trafficking, along with what The New York Times called “thirteen henchmen.”  Members of the Federal Narcotics Bureau said “the smashed ring was the largest encountered in a decade.”

Rosario received 15 years in prison and an $11,000 fine, reported to be “the stiffest narcotics sentence ever imposed in Federal Court here,” according to The Times.

But happier days were to come.  In 1969 The Saxony was converted to, for the most part, one and two co-op apartments per floor.   Nevertheless, purchasers were sometimes faced with significant renovations.  When architects Jerry and Mary Overly Davis purchased their seven-room coop in The Saxony in 1995, the told Tracie Rozhon from The New York Times “They were only showing the apartment to architects and contractors—people who could deal with its condition.”

The Saxony is still emblazoned above the now-sealed 82nd Street entrance.

Today, following a subsequent 2006 renovation that resulted in three apartments per floor in both buildings, The Saxony and the DeWitt Court have recaptured their original grandeur.   After having been treated as a unit by real estate men for a century, the two buildings now are physically connected by a common entrance in the former service alley.   The entrance to No. 250 has been sealed off; but SAXONY is still emblazoned in an ornately carved cartouche dripping with swags and garlands.

photographs by the author