Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Kleeberg Mansion -- No. 3 Riverside Drive

In 1919, two decades after the fact, The Northeastern Reporter explained the rise of a string of lavish mansions at the foot of Riverside Drive, all designed separately by a single architect.

“In 1896 one John S. Sutphen was the owner of the entire block between Seventy-Second and Seventy-Third streets fronting on Riverside Drive.  He formed a general plan to improve and develop the land, and filed in the office of the register a map dividing it into lots.”  The first sale, according to the Reporter was in June, 1896, including a plot “to one Kleeberg.”

Philip Kleeberg’s deed included restrictions similar to the others.  Kleeberg, “his heirs and assigns, shall, within two years from the date hereof, cause to be erected and fully completed upon said lot, a first-class building, adapted for and which shall be used only as a private residence for one family, and which shall conform to the plans made of being made by C. P. H. Gilbert, architect.”

At the time developers intended that Riverside Drive would rival or surpass Fifth Avenue with palatial dwellings.  Its superb views from above the Hudson River and the manicured Riverside Park were its answer to Fifth Avenue’s Central Park.  Sutphen may have been friendly with the mansion architect Gilbert; or perhaps he chose him to do the work simply because he knew and trusted his well-earned reputation.

Philip Kleeberg and his wife, Maria, wasted little time in setting the gears in motion.  Within four months, on October 3, 1896, The American Architect and Building News announced Kleeberg’s plans to build a “four-story brick dwelling to cost $55,000, on Riverside Drive, near 73d St.”  Including the price of the land, $145,000 according to The New York Times, the outlay would be more in the neighborhood of $5 million today.

The Kleebergs were relatively young and the aggressive businessman’s fortune came from a variety of enterprises.  Originally involved in the wholesale lace business, he was by now also President of the Frog Mountain Ore Company, Vice-President of the Colonial Oil Company, and held directorships in the New York Petroleum Company, the William Radam Microbe Killer Company, the Alabama and Georgia Iron Company, and the Empire Steel and Iron Company.  Years later he would invent a calculator and in 1916 become President of the National Calculator Company.

Construction of No. 3 Riverside Drive took two years and as it neared completion, The Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide gave a hint at the high-end details when it reported that the Hernsheim Architectural Iron Works was at work on a “bronze vestibule gate for the handsome dwelling No. 3 Riverside Drive, Chas. P. H. Gilbert, architect.”  Construction was completed in 1898 and the Kleebergs, who had lived at No. 56 East 73rd Street, now defected in a nearly straight line across the park. 

Charles Pierrepont Henry Gilbert had produced a sumptuous confection in a frothy style so nebulous as to put architectural historians at odds.  The AIA Guide to New York City calls it “freely interpreted Dutch Renaissance;” while the Landmarks Preservation Commission argues it is “French Renaissance Revival.”  Late 19th century American architects were not wont to concern themselves with historical purity; and elements of both styles can be detected in Gilbert’s design.

American Architect and Architecture (copyright expired)

The architect set the entrance to the side, allowing for a spacious parlor looking onto the park.  The mansion’s bow-fronted façade stopped at three floors, allowing Gilbert to provide a “terrace” at the fourth floor accessed by a long square-columned gallery to the side.  The elaborate stone gables, ornamented with spiky finials and florid s-shaped brackets, culminated in deeply-carved shells.  In a somewhat tongue-in-cheek gesture, Gilbert perched a stone cherub holding a bowl of fruit at the pinnacle.

High above it all a stone cherub (one has been lost) surveys Riverside Drive.  The "terrace" would be the scene of tragedy.

The Kleebergs’s marriage may have been a bit shaky.  The title to the new mansion was put in Maria’s name, as was expected.  And the family, including three sons, moved in and outside appearances were maintained.  However Philip reportedly acquired a second home on the Upper West Side for his own use. 

Gradually the row of houses around No. 3 was constructed.  By September 7, 1901 the Record & Guide reported “three lots of the plot have been sold, one to Philip Kleeberg, one to Colonel W.L. Trenholm, and one to Mrs. Prentiss, all of which have been improved.”

For years nothing other than the expected entertainments and social functions at No. 3 was the norm.  Then, six years later after moving in, a heart wrenching tragedy would occur.  The Kleebergs participated in the routines of wealthy New Yorkers.  Philip and Maria spent the first two months of the summer of 1903 in Europe and upon their return she left for “the country.”  Society women at the time would summer in resorts or estates like Newport and Bar Harbor, while their working husbands would join them on the weekends.

On August 18 the 48-year old socialite returned to New York, a bit early in the season.  Six days later she hosted a dinner party “and a number of Mr. and Mrs. Kleeberg’s relative and friends were present,” said The Sun on August 24.  Following dinner the party took a drive along Riverside Park, then returned to the terrace of the mansion where they sat and chatted.

At one point Maria Kleeberg excused herself, saying she was going to the bathroom.  When she did not return, her sister became concerned and followed.  The Sun reported “She opened the door just as Mrs. Kleeberg put a bottle to her lips.  Mrs. Sands knocked the bottle, which was filled with carbolic acid, to the floor.”

In doing so, Maria’s sister was badly burned on the hands.  She rushed downstairs and instructed the servants to find a doctor.  Three doctors were sent for, but none of them was at home.

Notoriety was one thing the wealthy desperately attempted to avoid; so it was only through desperation that an ambulance was called for from Roosevelt Hospital.  It caused precisely the attention the family was attempting to avoid.

“The arrival of the ambulance caused great excitement in the neighborhood.  One of the rumors which were circulated had it that some one had been murdered in the Kleeberg house.  At one time there were at least 300 persons in front of the house,” said The Sun.

By the time the ambulance had arrived, Maria Kleeberg was dead.  The police, attracted by the ambulance call and the crowd, attempted to investigate.  In an attempt to avoid even worse publicity and scandal, the doors were barred against the police.  No information was given out until Detective Culhane refused to allow the body to be removed until he was let in.

Forced to face reporters, Philip Kleeberg insisted there was no reason why his wife should have committed suicide.  His only explanation was that she may have had “a fit of the blues.”

Kleeberg soon transferred the title to his son, 21-year old Gordon S. P. Kleeberg.  The young homeowner was possibly a difficult man to work for.  On February 23, 1906 he placed an ad in the New-York Tribune seeking a coachman.  “Good, careful driver; competent; painstaking.”  He asked for the “best written and personal references.”  Later that year another advertisement was placed, for the same position.  Then on September 21, 1906 yet another advertisement appeared.  “Coachman—Thorough horseman; care of horses, carriages, and harness; strictly sober, honest, willing and obliging.”  It would seem that young Kleeberg had unusually bad luck in finding a coachman; or he was simply too difficult to work for.

In the meantime the home life of William Guggenheim, known as “The Smelting King,” had become rocky.  Born into the fabulously wealthy mining family, his domestic differences with his wife, Aimee, became such that the couple separated.  In 1908 he purchased No. 3 Riverside Drive.  But he barely had time to unpack his bags.

On May 3, 1910 the New-York Tribune reported that Guggenheim had sold the house to “a Mr. Hopkins, who will occupy it.”  The development of the block was reflected in the asking price--$200,000, or about $4.75 million today.  The Tribune said that a negotiated price of $165,000 was said to be the actual sale price.  In commenting on the sale, the newspaper said “The house is one of the finest in the lower part of the drive.”

It was not uncommon in the first decades of the 20th century for wealthy purchasers of real estate to play a cat-and-mouse game with the press regarding their identities.  A little over a month later, on June 14, the New-York Tribune said “The new owner is said to be a woman, who by the purchase obtains control of half the block.”

Finally, on July 16, 1910, the Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide ended the speculation, naming Mrs. Angie M. Booth as the buyer.  “Mrs. Booth is the owner of the adjoining property on the north, including the southeast corner of 73d st.”

Angie Booth was the wife of Henry P. Booth, and in a surprising turn of events, she resold the property prior to 1915—to William Guggenheim.  Angie Booth would live to regret it.  Rather than move back into the mansion, Guggenheim initially ran it as a boarding house; then rented it to Dr. William H. Wellington Knipe at $4,000 a year for the first year, and $5,000 a year for the next four years.  It was a hefty rental price; but Knipe had income-producing plans for the property.

Dr. Knipe was “one of the first physicians in New York to become interested in twilight sleep,” said The Sun on January 22, 1916.  “Twilight sleep” was a procedure used on women going into labor that was intended to reduce the pain of childbirth.  The Guggenheim mansion became Dr. Knipe’s “twilight sleep sanitarium.”

Angie Booth, who lived next door to the house, and Mary T.Sutphen whose own mansion was at the corner of Riverside Drive and 72nd Street, were outraged.  They filed suit to close down the sanitarium.

Recalling the restrictions in the original Kleeberg deed, their lawyer explained “The plaintiffs contend that the block is restricted to residential purposes and barred from trade and business.”  His female clients were a bit more pointed, calling the sanitarium “a menace to the peace and quiet of the neighboring landowners,” and “obnoxious and offensive.”

The Sun said that Knipe felt his neighbors were “needlessly alarmed” and “said he had talked with many of his neighbors and they told him they preferred the proposed sanitarium to the ‘exclusive’ boarding house formerly conducted here.”  One of these was Lydia Prentiss.

The wealthy woman, who lived at No. 1 Riverside Drive, was placed in an uncomfortable position when her neighbors knocked on her door, asking her to join them as a plaintiff.  The stalwart socialite held her ground, however, telling the press she “didn’t think women should lend themselves to opposing the development of any treatment that would alleviate or diminish the pains of childbirth.”  It most likely put an end to Lydia Prentiss’s invitations to tea at either the Sutphen or Booth residences.

Although the courts ruled in Dr. Knipe’s favor; things returned to normal on lower Riverside Drive.  Eventually William Guggenheim moved back in and used the mansion as his private dwelling, restoring peace among the neighbors.  Highly educated and erudite, he was the author of several publications, many of them patriotic.  Among them were Our Republic Triumphant; Peace by Victory at Last, but with a Warning; A Greater America; and What Price Government.  His ardent patriotism was evidenced in 1940 when Italy declared war against Great Britain and France.  In 1920 he had been decorated with the Commendatore dell’ Ordine della Corona d’Italia by the Italian Government.  Now he renounced and returned the title, saying that the declaration of war came as “a profound shock.”

He remained in the Riverside Drive mansion until his death at the age of 72 on June 27, 1941.  The house became the property of the Seamen’s Bank for Savings, which leased it to General Boleslaw Wieniawa-D’Lugoszewski and his wife and daughter.  The Polish Ambassador to Italy at the outbreak of war in 1939, he had also been the aide to Marshal Pilsudski, dictator of Poland.

The 60-year old diplomat was subject to what the Polish Consul General referred to as “dizzy spells.”  On the evening of July 1, 1942, the general received word that he had been appointed as Envoy to Cuba.  Shortly afterward, wearing his pajamas and bedroom slippers, he went to the roof “to get a little fresh air,” according to Sylvyn Strakacz, the Police Consul General.  Moments later he fell to his death.

Despite the Consul’s assertions that the fall was the result of recurrent dizziness; The New York Times said “Police of the West Sixty-eighth Street Station, who helped remove the general to the hospital were uncertain whether the death was an accident or suicide.”

Like William Guggenheim, Gordon Kleeberg could not stay away from No. 3 Riverside Drive.  On New Year’s Day, 1944 The New York Times reported “One of the finest town houses on the West Side figured in the news yesterday when Lieut. Col. Gordon S. P. Kleeberg purchased the building at 3 Riverside Drive which was erected by his father in 1896.”

Although the newspaper got the architect’s name wrong, citing Cass Gilbert rather than C. P. H. Gilbert; it correctly described the interiors.  “Among its features still in a good state of preservation are a marble stairway, solid cherrywood floors and bronze grill entrance doors.”  The article said “Colonel Kleeberg intends to remodel the building into small apartments after the war and occupy the terrace suite.”

As promised, in 1951 the 37-foot wide mansion was divided into two apartments per floor.  Happily, much of C. P. H. Gilbert’s interior detailing was preserved.  In 1995 it was purchased by real estate developer Regina Kislin for $10 million.  She and her husband, photographer Anatoly Siyagine, embarked on a long restoration project to bring the house back to a private home.

Much of the interior detailing survives.  http://streeteasy.com/building/philip-and-maria-kleeberg-house
Included in the renovation were modern touches that Maria Kleeberg would have found shocking—an indoor pool, sauna and gym, for instance.  Seventeen years later she put the 18-room house on the market for $40 million.  Real estate listings noted “six bedrooms, eight and a half bathrooms, a two-room staff suite, four terraces, and an elevator.”  When no buyers appeared, Kislin reduced the price to $30 million in September 2014.  

The magnificent Gilbert-designed mansion survives as a stunning reminder of the first days of the development of Riverside Drive when developers lured millionaires from the east side of Central Park.

uncredited photographs taken by the author

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Lost 1763 Rhinelander Sugar House

An early watercolor shows the builder's initials in wrought iron on the gable -- from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York http://collections.mcny.org/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult_VPage&VBID=24UAYWE88MMX&SMLS=1&RW=1280&RH=915

Henry Cuyler came from a wealthy Dutch family and in 1763 was highly involved in the importation and refining of sugar.  That year he erected a substantial building at the corner of Prince Street (later renamed Rose Street, and finally William Street) and Duane Street.  His stone and brick sugar house was both a refnery and a warehouse for the storage of sugar and molasses.

In this depiction, the Sugar House sat behind the refined homes and was accessed by an alley.  George P. Hall & Sons, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York http://collections.mcny.org/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult_VPage&VBID=24UAYWE88MMX&SMLS=1&RW=1280&RH=915

For Colonial New York, the sugar house was massive and impressive.  At six stories tall, it was among the largest structures in the colony and dominated the buildings around it.  Cuyler was not without competition in the sugar business.  It was a highly lucrative industry and by the time he erected his sugar house, there were several others in lower Manhattan.

Valentine's Manual of 1857 romanticized the structure, placing it steps away from the Rhinelander mansion and guarded by British soldiers.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

Unfortunately for the Cuyler family, they chose the wrong side in the coming war of revolution.  Instead of backing the rebellious gang set on upsetting the Government, they remained Loyalists.  That did not work out well for them.  Following the Revolution, the Act of Forfeiture was passed.  Loyalists were banned from the State under penalty of death “without benefit of Clergy” and their property sold at auction. 

William Rhinelander, like Cuyler, came from an old Knickerbocker family, and he made a fortune in the sugar business.  By 1790 he had come into possession of Cuyler’s massive sugar house. 

During the British occupation of New York large buildings such as churches and sugar houses were used as prisons.  One of these was the Livingston Sugar House on Liberty Street.  It was under the supervision of a cruel officer, Sergeant Waddy.  Possibly old-timers, after the war, confused the two buildings; or perhaps stories that the last standing sugar house in lower Manhattan was once a prison made good tourist publicity.  In any event, local lore persisted that the Rhinelander Sugar house was a Revolutionary War prison.  In 1890 historian Wesley Washington Pasko, in writing on the Prisons of the Revolution in his Old New York tip-toed around the veracity of the legend.  “The Rhinelander Sugar House, still standing, is averred by all of our older citizens to have been a prison, and there is no doubt about it, but we have seen no contemporary evidence of the fact.”

Indeed, to this day, no contemporary documentation has come to light supporting the Rhinelander building ever being used as a prison.

Yet the story succeeded in drawing tourists and the warehouse was romanticized in etchings and documented by early photographers.  Somewhat amazingly, while nearly all the Colonial architecture of Lower Manhattan was either burned (the Great Fire of 1845 destroyed 345 buildings downtown) or razed, the utilitarian Sugar House survived. 

By the last quarter of the 19th century, the old stone Sugar House was surrounded by taller commercial structures.  photo by Robert L. Bracklow from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York http://collections.mcny.org/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult_VPage&VBID=24UAYWE88MMX&SMLS=1&RW=1280&RH=915
By the end of the Civil War the venerable building had not served its original purpose of storing sugar for years.  Still in the possession of the Rhinelander family in 1872, it was used as a paper store by James T. Derrickson.  Victorian interest in historic architecture, however, was essentially non-existent.  Despite the dogged legend of the building’s role in American independence, within the next two decades the old Sugar House would suffer neglect and indignation.

In 1892 James Grant Wilson, in his The Memorial History of the City of New-York, wondered at the structure’s survival.  “Its solid, unbroken walls stand as a silent testimonial to the honesty of the dead and gone builder.  The date and the architect’s initials are still to be seen on the side of the building, worked in wrought-iron characters, quaint and old.”

photo by Hugo B. Sass from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York http://collections.mcny.org/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult_VPage&VBID=24UAYWE88MMX&SMLS=1&RW=1280&RH=915

But as “quaint and old” as it was, it was severely abused.  “On the side facing toward the east many windows were walled up during the last fifteen years, but there were still six grated openings left.  Three were in the gable and the others along the south side.  Underneath them was a great vaulted passageway made of heavy masonry like the whole building.  Still another opening was to be seen alongside of it, half-hidden by rubbish, and the barred outline of another cell-window also visible after close examination.”

Wilson’s description served as a sort of obituary for the Sugar House.  That year the Rhinelander family decided to demolish it in order to erect a modern office building on the site.  As was typical of the time, newspapers followed the course of demolition with emotional, nostalgic articles that lamented the loss of another landmark.  But, as was also typical, no one raised a hand to protest.

Demolition of the massive stone structure proved difficult.  Photo by Robert L. Bracklow from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York http://collections.mcny.org/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult_VPage&VBID=24UAYWE88MMX&SMLS=1&RW=1280&RH=915
The long-lived urban legend that the Rhinelander Sugar House had been a British prison where American boys suffered misery and torture resulted in two of the windows with their wrought iron grills being preserved.  One was donated to the National Society of Colonial Dames in the State of New York and was installed in the Van Cortlandt House in the Bronx.  The other was incorporated into the new Rhinelander office building, demolished in 1968.

While the Victorian office building was lost, the window was not.  It was moved to a pedestrian zone behind One Police Plaza where it is maintained by the New York City Police Department.  And the legend came along with it.

On May 6, 1968 The New York Times wrote “A small, barred window from a sugar house used as a British prison during the Revolutionary War will be spared during demolition for the new Brooklyn Bridge ramp system.”   When the window was unveiled, it bore a plaque reading in part “This window was originally part of the five story Sugar House built in 1763 at the corner of Duane and Rose Streets and used by the British during the Revolutionary War as a prison for American Patriots.”

An urban legend, most likely untrue, resulted in this small piece of Colonial history to be preserved.
As is often the case, legend trumped history and in this case it resulted in a small chunk of historic preservation. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Frederick Zobel's 1913 Colony Arcade Building

At the turn of the last century the block of West 38th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues was lined with brownstone rowhouses.  By now the millinery district would reached this far north, engulfing the once fashionable neighborhood.  As the homeowners fled, the businesses moved in.

That quickly changed, as well.  The old houses were quickly snapped up by developers who razed them for soaring loft and store buildings.  On March 25, 1911 The Sun made note of the changes.  “Before the development of the section began most of the structures in the district were of the old fashioned brownstone front type, with here and there a small business building.   There were many milliners and dressmakers in the section, and these used their parlor floors and basements for show and workrooms.  Now, however they have fine quarters in these new light and airy structures and the old time building is rapidly a thing of the past.”

Developer William H. Wheeler seemed to be determined to transform the block of West 38th Street alone.  At the time of The Sun’s article, he had replaced four brownstones at Nos. 8 through 14 with the Murray Hill Building; two at Nos. 28 and 30 for his Wheeler Building; and the day before had purchased Nos. 24 and 26 where he intended to build “a twelve story store and loft building.”

But Judson S. Todd would make his mark on the block as well.  Like Wheeler, Todd and his Holland Holding Co. were a major force in Manhattan real estate.  On January 21, 1912 The New York Times reported that Mrs. M. J. Parrott had sold Todd the two houses at Nos. 65 and 67 West 38th Street, and that Dr. J. E. Serre sold him the house next door at No. 63.  The newspaper pointed out that Todd “last week purchased…the abutting property, 62 and 64 West Thirty-ninth Street.”

In 1911 brownstones like these at Nos. 60 and 62 still lined West 38th Street.  from the Collection of the New York Public Library
The developer now owned a large plot running through the block and he immediately put architect Frederick C. Zobel, to work on designs.  The choice of architect was no doubt influenced by the organization of the Colony Construction Company, of which Zobel’s brother, Robert P. Zobel, was president.

Two months later plans were filed for a “twelve-story store and light manufacturing building” with an anticipated cost of $400,000—about $9.3 million today.  “The façade will be of brick and terra cotta, and it will be fireproof through,” reported The Times. 

The building was completed in 1913.  Although the 38th Street side was wider that the 39th—62 feet as opposed to 46 feet—Zobel masterfully designed identical facades.  Within the past decade terra cotta had been used to create elaborate Gothic Revival commercial structures like the Woolworth and World’s Tower Buildings.  It now appeared on Zobel’s Colony Arcade.  The lower three floors were embellished with Gothic arches, heraldic shields, and quatrefoils.  Demanding the most attention, however, were the magnificently-executed pairs of spread-winged eagles that perched above the entrances.

The Colony Arcade Building quickly filled with tenants and, as expected, most were millinery firms.  Shortly after its doors opened it was home to The Crest Brand Bandeau Co “makers of bandeaux and hat linings.”  The Illustrated Milliner reported in June 1913 that “The offices and sample rooms are being tastefully fitted up and all the appurtenances of manufacturing this line of goods have been installed.”

Jos. Levin Co moved in during the building's first year of operation.  The Illustrated Milliner, June 1913 (copyright expired)
Simultaneously, Jos. Levin Co., Inc. was in the building, manufacturing tailored hats; as was Bonhotal Co.  Once settled in, Bonhotal Co. advertised that its “early Fall lines” were ready, including “tailored and fancy hats” and 150 styles of “black and mourning hats.”

Soon other ladies’ hat manufacturers were here, including Richard Sentner; Sternberger & Marks; and H. Goldfarb (advertising “Every new idea in shape, material and trimmings—clever models with ribbons, gold and silver ornaments, fancies, flowers, ostrich, etc.”).  A manufacturer not in the millinery industry was Harry Rothleder who leased space toward the end of 1913.  The firm manufactured and sold furs in the building.

Sentner's $36 price tag was for a dozen hats -- Dry Goods Economist, July 1914 (copyright expired)
Little by little over the years, as the Garment District crept into the area, the Colony Arcade Building would see more apparel firms.  In the meantime, however, the enormous ground floor space—a full 20,000 square feet—was leased by Winifred T. McDonald “for a term of years” in October 1914.  In reporting on the deal, The New York Times felt it was a reflection of the “growing importance of the Thirty-eighth Street block, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, due to the Lord & Taylor store at Fifth Avenue and the new elevated station at Sixth Avenue.”

Cast metal spandrels carried on the Gothic motif.
McDonald shared the newspaper’s enthusiasm.  With the rapid rise of commercial buildings and the migration of department stores northward from the old Ladies’ Mile; the neighborhood was flooded with workers and shoppers.  All of them needed to be fed.  The perceived potential was enough to induce the female entrepreneur to sign the $400,000 aggregate lease.

The Times said “After extensive alterations the place will be opened as a restaurant and tearoom.”  Winifred McDonald hired architect Patrick Reynolds to do the $7,000 in alterations.  The tearoom and café was opened early in 1915.  To separate the working men from the female shoppers and shop girls, the tearoom and café were separate from the “men’s grill.” 

Winifred T. McDonald offered music to her patrons -- The Sun, May 23, 1915 (copyright expired)

Later that year the 39th Street block was closed off for a 4th of July block party thrown by workers in the area.  Hattie Meyer worked as a seamstress and the 35-year old participated in the Vacation Committee’s plans for the event.  When the day came, she left her house at No. 228 East 12th Street dressed all in white with a red, white and blue badge, and excitedly headed off to the festivities.

“She had entered the block in West Thirty-ninth street between Sixth and Seventh avenues, where the celebration was taking place, when she became ill and started to fall,” reported The Sun on July 6.  People passing by saw her drop to the pavement and helped her into the hallway of the Colony Arcade.  “An ambulance was called from the New York Hospital, but before it arrived Miss Mayer died.”

The seamstress’s body was removed to the West 13th Street police station.  The Sun said “The band kept on playing and none of the Fourth of July dancers knew of the fate of one of their committee members.”

Harry Silverstein was working for Freundlick & Sons in the building in 1916.  Around 1:00 on a Saturday in February that year he was walking along Fifth Avenue nearby at 45th Street, when he noticed a necklace on the ground.  The honest worker took it to a lawyer, David Lewis, and the pair searched the lost and found ads in The World.  The newspaper reported on February 21 that “they noticed that a necklace answering the description of the one Silverstein found had been lost by Mrs. Emil Sperling, who lives at the St. Regis Hotel.”

The pearl necklace with a silver clasp had dropped from her neck while walking down Fifth Avenue.  The attorney took the necklace to Mr. Sperling who handed him a $600 reward for Silverstein.  “The necklace was valued at $12,000,” said The World.  The garment worker’s honesty earned him what would be essentially that same amount in today’s dollars.

The wonderfully detailed facade survives, even at street level.
The aggressive development of the district had an unexpected and undesired consequence.  The hundreds of factory and shop workers mobbed the sidewalks and spilled onto upscale Fifth Avenue.  Refined shoppers were loathe to battle the hoards of workmen and the fashionable tone of the avenue was threatened.  The Save New York Movement was born.

The Movement established a “restricted zone” and encouraged manufacturers to avoid it.  The mayor supported the program and initiated zoning restrictions for construction going forward from 32nd Street to 59th Street, from Third to Seventh Avenue.  J. H. Burton, Chairman of the Save New York Committee, explained to Buildings and Building Management magazine that the movement was designed “to preserve the character of our shopping, retail and residence sections.”

The Movement made itself known in the Colony Arcade Building in 1916 when one of its largest tenants moved out.  On November 14 that year The New York Times reported “Hollow & Perlow, one of the largest manufacturers of silk waists in the city, who moved uptown when the northward movement of trade began several years ago, have declared their allegiance to the ‘Save New York Movement,’ and will move out of the restricted zone.”  The firm, “which employs a large force” had decided to move south to 25th Street.

Millinery and apparel workers cram the sidewalks of Fifth Avenue in 1917 -- Buildings and Building Management, February 1917 (copyright expired)

“We are in hearty sympathy with the ‘Save New York Movement,’ and believe that this wonderful business section of New York City should not be marred or depreciated by the manufacturing industry,” said D. Parlow.  “Success to the movement, which should be supported by every manufacturer who has the interest of the trade at heart, even if they do entail a sacrifice of choice location.”

In 1922 Robert P. Zobel sold the building to Brooklyn real estate operators Levy Brothers.  The $1.25 million all-cash deal drew understandable attention.  The New York Times noted that the building “is occupied almost exclusively by the millinery trade and shows a gross annual rent of about $150,000.” 

While the Colony Arcade Building continued to be occupied by hat manufacturers, a vastly different firm moved in within a few years.  The Radiovision Corporation was among the pioneering television firms.  On July 9, 1928 it conducted a public demonstration at the Hotel Mayflower of the Cooley “Rayfoto” system.  Invented by Austin G. Cooley, The New York Times reported that “The apparatus demonstrated transmitted and received four by five inch pictures in less than three minutes each.”

Later that year, in August, Radiovision Corporation announced the invention of “a new light cell, which…will greatly aid the realization of practical radio television.”  During a demonstration of the cell, the company’s vice president, Edgar H. Felix said “it can be utilized to perform such functions about the house as turning on the hot-water heater, starting the furnace or closing the windows at sunrise.”

That never happened.

The building continued to house hat firms through the last quarter of the 20th century.  Most amazingly, however, the ground floors of the handsome structure were never destroyed by modernization.  The building was converted by in 2012 to a boutique hotel, the Refinery Hotel.  Zobel’s eye-catching terra cotta façade survives astoundingly intact on a block that was almost entirely transformed during the first decades of the 20th century.

 photographs by the author