Saturday, August 27, 2016

Hugh King & Co. -- Nos. 630-632 Hudson Street

The first house Stephen Kane erected was No. 628, to the right with the blue awning.

Captain Richard Towning had a successful career in the West Indian slave trade.  When he retired from the sea, Captain Towning purchased the trapezoidal-shaped tract bounded by West 12th Street, Jane Street, Hudson Street and Eighth Avenue.
Towning died in 1843 and two years later his executors began liquidating the undeveloped land.  Stephen Kane, a sashmaker, lived about a block and a half to the north, at No. 652 Hudson Street.  He purchased at least two of the lots, Nos. 628 and 630 Hudson Street as speculative investments.  In 1846 he built a handsome brick-faced house at No. 628, and the following year began construction on a slightly taller, four story house next door.

For the second project Kane obviously worked closely with the Towning Estate, which simultaneously constructed a house at No. 632.  The completed structures were identical.  Face in red brick, each was three bays wide and featured simple brownstone sills and molded cornices above each window.  Most likely each had a store at street level from their inception.

The first occupant of No. 630 moved out by at least 1853.  At 10:00 on the morning of Friday, April 22 that year an auction of the household furniture was held.  By 1860 it was home to Dr. James Norval.

When “the Rebellion” broke out in the South, Norval left his Hudson Street practice to become Surgeon of the 79th Regiment, known familiarly as the Highlanders.  The New York Times wrote that the doctor, “who has charge of the hospital department, applied himself day and night, with his staff of assistants, to the care of these men.”

In December 1862 Dr. Norval sent word back to New York with a somewhat surprising request.  He said that he had “abundant medical supplies” but felt “greatly the want of entertaining and instructive books for the use of the convalescents.”  The doctor asked New Yorkers, especially publishers, to help establish a “hospital library.” 

Wording his entreaty as only a Victorian gentleman could, he said “The inanity of mind attendant upon this condition cannot be more readily relieved than by reading works of a narrative humorous or historical nature.”

At street level was a variety store.  The owner placed an advertisement in the New York Herald on May 20, 1865 offering “For Sale—Confectionery, Toy and Fancy Store; old established stand.”  The proprietor hinted that the sale had nothing to do with a bad location or poor business.  “Good reason for selling.”

The new owner of the store, Ferdinand Harteze, found himself in trouble with the law on Sunday April 21, 1867.  Two policemen, Officers Sands and Blackwood, made a surprise visit to the basement around 4:00 that afternoon.  The New York Times reported that there “they found a party of three men playing cards for money with the proprietor of the place.”  Harteze and the other men were arrested and spent the night at the 9th Precinct Station House.

In the meantime, the house next door at No. 632 had been operated as a boarding house at least by 1855.  The blue collar residents included Augustus J. Reilly and L. S. Vandermark, both of whom worked as “cartmen,” and Henry J. West, a clerk.  All three men were also volunteer firefighters; somewhat surprisingly at three different fire houses.

In 1856 No. 632 was valued by the New York State Insurance Commissioners at $5,500 (about $160,000 in 2016).   The tradition of volunteer firefighters continued as the residents changed.  In 1859 Edward Eaton, John Kavana and Louise M. Sturtevant—all carpenters—were living here and volunteering.  They too were assigned to three different fire houses.

On Thursday, May 21, 1874 Dr. James Norval died at the age of 51.  His funeral at 1:00 the following Sunday took place at No. 630 Hudson Street.  His dedication during the Civil War had not been forgotten.  The funeral included a parade of the soldiers of the 79th Regiment and a military escort to Greenwood Cemetery.  Newspapers reported that he was buried with “military and Masonic honors.”

During the last week of January 1881 Hugh King purchased both buildings at No. 630 and 632 for $23,650.  King was in the wholesale grocery business and owned other properties in Manhattan.  Within two months he filed plans for alterations, including a one-story brick extension to the rear, a new roof, and “front basement and first-story all taken out and iron supports, columns, girders &c., inserted.”  The $6,000 in alterations would include a new cornice, the parapet of which announced “HUGH KING & Co. 1881.”

Initially Hugh King & Co. occupied the now-combined buildings, listed as “grocers” in 1883 and “provisions” in 1886. 

In July 1888 a “handsome, gentlemanly” man named Altamont B. King entered the butcher shop of Charles A. Brown, just steps away a No. 636 Hudson Street.  Explaining to Brown that he was Hugh King’s nephew, he presented a $45 dollar check which butcher cashed.

The 28-year old, however, was not King’s nephew and, in fact, was not even named King.  The Evening World later remarked that he “says he is a Buffalo man and has another and better name [and] is apparently an accomplished forger.”

After several other similar scams the man “of a first-rate family” was arrested.  But his conviction almost did not come to be.  The Evening World reported that on September 5 he “created a sensation…by deserting Deputy-Sheriff James Reilly on the way from the brown-stone Court-House to the Tombs and running away to New Jersey.”

Although the forger pleaded guilty only to the Hugh King crime; when he was arraigned on September 25 his fate looked grim.  “He may be sent to Sing Sing for from five to ten years on the one count,” reported The World.

Like Hugh King, Edward Rafter was a grocer and property owner.   He started business in 1863 and by the time that “Altamont B. King” was arrested, owned eight tenement buildings and several retail grocery stores.  When investigators checked the building at Nos. 343 and 345 East 11th Street, they were shocked.  The street level shops included a baker and a fisher seller.  The investigators found that the baker used water from the basement sink for his bread; while the fish monger washed his fish in that sink.  More disturbing was that the 16 families in the building “used the sink as a urinal.”

Threatened with legal action, Rafter said that correcting the problem was impossible.  “What steps can I take?” he asked.  “It is a very hard matter to take charge of all the tenants in the house.”

By 1903 Hugh King had leased Nos. 630-632 Hudson Street to Rafter, who used it as his liquor and grocery warehouse.  Despite the conditions in his tenements, the New-York Tribune had nothing but praise for his provisions business.  

Edward Rafter added the signage to the brick facade.  photo via

On August 2, 1903 the Tribune wrote “Buying for all of his nine stores in quantity at wholesale, and selling cheaply, his goods go quickly, and are therefore always fresh.  In his great storehouse at No. 630 Hudson-st, New-York City, these goods are gathered, and from it distributed to his several retail establishments."  Rafter’s slogan was “Purest goods, lowest prices.”

Edward Rafter used the combined buildings as his warehouse through 1908.  In July 1909 Hugh King leased them to the Consumers Liquor Dealers’ Association for five years.  The new tenants subleased part of the space.  In 1913 Buttlar Mills, a wholesale coffee and tea dealer, was in the building; and by 1919 F. m. Gertzen Company offered storage for “merchandise in transit through the Port of New York.”

Buttlar Mills operated from the building in 1913.  St. Peter's Magazine, September 1913 (copyright expired)

Jefferson Candy Company operated from No. 632 Hudson Street in the early 1920s.  The firm provided boxed candy for promotional sales by groups like the Boy Scouts of America and promised “Candy is the easiest thing you can sell.  Everybody buys it.  We have package candy from 5c to $1.00.” 

In the 1930s the building was home to companies as diverse as the Michelson Tire Company and the Kremer Plantations Fruit Concentrates.  Then, in 1942 after ownership of more than 60 years, the High King estate sold the building.  The new owners, the Esteve family, opened a candy factory in No. 632; converting it for making sausages in the 1950s.

While the Esteve family manufactured sausage at No. 632, the upper floors of No. 630 had been converted to apartments.  photograph by C. T. Brady, Jr. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
The Esteves closed the business in 1983; but held on to the Hudson Street property.  It sat unused for a decade until after Maria Esteve’s death in March 1993 at the age of 97.  A few months later the family sold it to real estate agent and actress Karen Lashinsky and her mother, Dr. Bertha Lashinsky, for just under $500,000.  The women announced their intentions of converting half of the building, No. 632, into a two massive apartments—one on the second floor and one engulfing the rest of the upper stories.

The third and fourth floors were gutted to create a 40-foot atrium with a staircase, the railings of which had been rescued from an Upper East Side hotel.  A set designer recreated a Renaissance ceiling with fluttering cherubs. 

The building earned its place in the spotlight when it was used as the set for season 10 of The Real World in 2001.  By then the owners were also leasing it as a location and entertainment venue, “632 on Hudson.”

In April 2015 the building was purchased by 630 Hudson L.L.C. for $6.6 million.  The Lashinskys’ transformation of No. 632 resulted in a peculiar split personality outside.   With the old paint removed from the brick, the ghost of Edward Rafter’s turn of the century sign can still be seen at No. 632.  Meanwhile, the remaining paint on No. 630 creates a distinct line of separation and the old 20th century fire escapes still cling to its walls.

Part of the word "WHOLESALE" can be made out above the second floor.

Otherwise, the exterior is little changed since Hugh King transformed the buildings in 1881.  Even the 19th century storefronts survive relatively intact.

many thanks to ready Matt Kess for suggesting this post
photographs by the author 

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Wm. S. Thorn House -- No. 136 East 70th Street

The end of the Civil War triggered a resurgence in building in Manhattan, partly due to the return of the workforce that had been fighting in the South.  In 1869 developers R. & J. Cunningham completed a row of five upscale brownstone homes on East 70th Street. 

The most desirable of architect John Sexton's Italianate row was No. 136, because of its location at the southwest corner of Lexington Avenue.  The corner site afforded windows on the eastern side, admitting light and breezes.

Four stories tall above a high English basement, the front of the house was clad in brownstone while the avenue elevation was warm red brick.  Sexton’s attention to architectural details was evidenced by the stone quoins that joined the brick and brownstone facades, the paneled lintels of the parlor level, and the handsome arched openings of the top floor.

No. 136 became home to another real estate developer, John Muller.  Unlike R. & J. Cunningham, Muller focused on the tenement districts of downtown.  In 1870, the year No. 136 was completed, he was constructing a five-story tenement building on Stanton Street, for instance.  And in 1874 he was working on three five-story brick combination store and tenement buildings on Elizabeth Street.

In December 1884 William S. Thorn and his wife, Carrie, purchased the residence.  They spent $18,500 on their new home, in the neighborhood of $450,000 today.   Thorn was president of the Second Avenue Railroad Company. 
Owners of fashionable dwellings required a household staff and Carrie A. Thorn was quite specific in her needs.  On August 14, 1890 she advertised for “a competent German or Swedish girl for general housework.”

On February 8, 1883, almost a year before the Thorns moved into their new home, 24-year old William S. Thorn, Jr. had married Josie Dingee of Brooklyn.  By 1894 the couple had two children.  He had risen to the position of President of the Red Star Manufacturing Company, and was a partner in the lubricating oil firm of Dingall & Co.

Trouble came in 1894 when both William Thorn, Sr. and Jr. suffered illnesses.   The elder man’s condition forced him to resign from the railroad that year, and by autumn it was considered “serious.”  The Evening World was blunt, saying “The senior Thorne [sic] it is said, is lying close to death’s door.”

According to that newspaper, William Junior’s ongoing health issues were “the result of worry over business complications.  The worriment, it is said, preyed so heavily upon Mr. Thorne [sic] that his health had been undermined.”  His despondency grew to the point that he left his Brooklyn house and family, and moved into his parents’ much quieter East 70th Street home on October 6.

The near morning, Sunday October 7, he appeared at breakfast and seemed “more cheerful than usual,” according to the family.  At around 10:00 he went upstairs to his room.  When he had not been heard from by 4:00 he was checked on.   William Thorn, Jr., was dead, having “sent a bullet crashing through his brain,” according to The World.

The New York Times mentioned William Thorn, Sr.’s condition.  “It is feared that when he learns of his son’s death the shock may end his life also.”

On April 7, 1896 No. 136 was sold at auction.  Henry Neckersheimer placed the winning bid of $25,100.  He quickly resold it to architect Gerard Fountain who took advantage of the advantageous Lexington Avenue location by extending the structure into the rear garden to accommodate ground floor stores and apartments above.

Living in the main portion of the structure at the turn of the century was the John H. Meyer family.  On May 21, 1900 daughter Gertrude Attracta Meyer was married to Ambrose Stolzenberger, Jr. in what the New-York Tribune deemed “a pretty wedding.”  The newspaper reported “The ceremony over, a wedding supper was served at the home of the bride’s parents…after which the happy couple started on an extended tour.”

Fountain sold the property in 1903 to Dr. Charles Ignatius Proben and his wife, the former Josephine Ulrich.   Proben was a specialist in diseases of children and in gynecology.

The basement sprouted a commercial storefront in the second half of the 20th century.

The Probens shared the house with renters, including publisher and playwright William Harlowe Briggs and his wife, Berta.   The Briggs had been married in 1913, six years after William had been appointed associate editor of Harper’s Bazaar.  He was later made book editor of Harper & Bros.  In 1915 his play Behold Thy Wife was produced in New York.

When war broke out in Europe, Briggs put his career on hold and left East 70th Street to join the army.  In 1916 he was a private at the Federal Military Training Camp of the Eighth Training Regiment.

Charles and Josephine Proben continued to rent the rear portion of their large home.  Concert oboist Albert Marsh lived in the house from about 1918 to 1922.  He taught in his studio here during that time.   And in January of 1925 Cornell graduate Thomas Louden and his wife, the former Elizabeth H. Valentine moved in.

Josephine B. Proben, now widowed, died in 1946 having owned the 70th Street house for more than four decades.

Over time the store space in the southern extension spread throughout the entire Lexington Avenue span, culminating in a storefront addition at the corner.  Yet, rather surprisingly, the post-Civil War residence remains little changed on the floors above.

photographs by the author

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Immanuel German Lutheran Rectory -- No. 223 East 83rd St

Decades before the bulk of New York’s German population would migrate to Yorkville from the Lower East Side, Rev. C. J. Renz founded the Immanuel German Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1863.  It originally worshiped in the Yorkville on 86th Street, before erecting a modest church at Nos. 213-215 East 83rd Street.  The handsome brick-faced house at No. 223 East 83rd Street was purchased for the rectory.  The Italianate-style residence featured elliptical-arched openings with brownstone lintels and sills and a pressed metal cornice. 

The charismatic Rev. Renz left his German-language congregation in 1867.  Membership quickly dwindled, causing financial problems.  The first casualty was the rectory, lost in foreclosure in 1876.  But a plan seems to have been worked out.  The building was purchased by Richard G. L. Dieffenbach, who immediately leased it to Friedrich Dieckmann.   The arrangement between the two Germans allowed the pastor of Immanuel German Evangelical Lutheran Church to remain in the house.

It appears that at least one boarder was taken on to help with expenses (including the minimal rent of $650 over the first five years which Dieffenbach charged).   In 1885 Samuel Wood listed his address here.  He was a First Grade Fireman at Engine Company No. 39.

Dieffenbach continually renewed Dieckmann’s lease as Immanuel’s pastors lived on in the house.   Rev. H. Hobler resided here in the late 1880s while he watched in desperation as his congregation continue to diminish.  By 1889 the membership had fallen to just 13 congregants and Immanuel was forced to sell its church property.  Rev. Renz was convinced to return, and by 1891 the congregation had swelled to several hundred.

The former church property was re-purchased and plans were laid for an impressive, new building.  Construction was started in February 1893 and was completed the following year.  The new structure included “apartments” for the pastor.  The leased rectory at No. 223 was no longer needed.

Residents came and went at No. 233 East 83rd Street over the next few decades.  Richard Fullan lived here when he was appointed a Commissioner of Deeds for the City in 1902; and grocer J. E. Stein was living here in 1905.  He was named in a lawsuit as sustaining “loss and damage” when Charles Bettels failed to deliver 160 tubs of Summer Swiss Cheese that year to him and other retailers.  And in 1918 Samuel H. Federman lived at No. 223 while he studied at the College of Pharmacy of the City of New York.

But a drastic change to the red brick house was only months away.  In June 1919 the Economy Taxicab Co. was incorporated.   Among the three principals was Henrietta Zimmerman, who owned No. 223 and lived there.  She converted the ground floor to a garage for the new business.

Unfortunately the Economy Taxi Cab Co. seems to have quickly failed.  In 1922 Henrietta Zimmerman was still listed as owner and was still living in the upper floors.  But the ground floor was now described in Department of Building documents as a “private garage (four cars).”  Oddly enough, in 1928 the description was changed to “stable for 10 horses and garage for 4 autos” on the first floor, with single-family residential space above.

In 1931 a conversion resulted in an “office” in the basement and first floor, with one “housekeeping apartment” on the two upper floors.   The work permit filed in 1990 to restore the house to a single family home was surprising at best.  It noted intentions to “change in use on the first floor from stable for horses” to a residence.

The make-over included a garage opening that sympathetically attempted to copy the brownstone lintels above, and a dentiled cornice between the first and second floors.   Although no attempt at historic accuracy was made for the garage or entrance door, the rescued residence is a charming survivor with a colorful history.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Labor Riots and Bruised Dignity -- No. 21 Bond Street

When Captain Thomas Barclay of the British Navy moved into the new house at No. 21 Bond Street around 1830, the neighborhood was the most exclusive in Manhattan.  Along the block between Broadway and the Bowery handsome mansions boasted luxurious amenities—some of them faced in marble.

But in 1892 much had changed.  Many of the once-grand mansions had been razed to make way for commercial structures; and the others had been converted for business.  Young’s Portrait Studio used the former Barclay house as its storeroom.  Disaster occurred early in the morning of March 18 that year.  A headline in The Evening World announced “Pictures in Fiery Frames” and reported that fire had erupted in the basement of the building, causing $2,000 damage (about $54,000 in 2016).

It was most likely that unfortunate incident that prompted the owners to sell.  Real estate operator Leon Tannenbaum purchased No. 21 Bond Street for $40,400.  Tanenbaum was highly active in the changing neighborhood and owned a staggering number of properties.  In 1894 court documents related “Mr. Tanenbaum, who has been peculiarly well acquainted with property in the vicinity of Bond street for a number of years…rents over 1,000 buildings in the vicinity.”

Tanenbaum commissioned the architectural firm of Buchman & Deisler to design a modern loft and store building for the site.  The six-story structure, completed in 1893, was a remarkable interpretation of commercial Renaissance Revival style.  An attractive cast iron storefront, embraced by brownstone piers, joined the second story Palladian-inspired openings.   Prim rosettes marched around the framing and a cast iron triangular pediment was filled with delicate floral ornament.

Grouped openings on the third and fourth floors (with interesting terra cotta fleurs-de-lies within the spandrel) visually joined with the large fanlight-like window at the fifth to create a dramatic arch.  Below the iron cornice was a row of arched windows, diminished by the drama of the multi-floor elements below, but nonetheless handsome.

When the building opened on February 1, 1893, it was fully rented.  Tanenbaum’s yearly rental income on the 10-year leases was $6,750 for the first five years and $7,250 afterward.  As the city debated the extension of Elm Street through to Lafayette Place in 1894, Tanenbaum testified that the “most marked changes have taken place in the last two or three years north of Houston street—the erection of enormous fireproof structures.  I should say probably ten or twelve of the finest store buildings in the City of New York have been erected there within the last two years.”  He was including, of course, his own buildings like No. 21 Bond Street.

Among the first tenants was Jules Stein's casket company.  In 1896 he employed 16 men, six women, and three boys under 18 years old.  The employees worked an average of 53 hours a week.  Stein would be in the building at least through 1900.

At the time attitudes regarding working conditions were changing in New York.  Socialistic ideas had been arriving from Europe for decades and the concepts of labor unions and improved work conditions were by now taking hold.  At the turn of the century A. Hahn & Co. was doing business at No. 472 Broadway; but as early as 1904 it leased space at No. 21 Bond Street for its leather works factory.

The manufacturer of high-end leather luggage was not sympathetic to the union movement.  It was a clash of interests that would erupt into a Bond Street riot.  When workers walked out on strike during the first week of January 1904, the management of A. Hahn & Co. filled their positions with non-union workers.  As the picketers stood on the frigid sidewalk for three weeks, the factory went on as usual.  But when the 15 workers left at 6:00 on the night of January 29, chaos broke out.

Trunks, Leather Goods and Umbrellas, September 1906 (copyright expired)

The 12 strikers attacked the men.  But, according to The Evening World the next day, “The workmen were as ready for the fight as were the pickets.

“They went at each other with clubs and fists, and fully a thousand people passing along the Bowery gathered and cheered the fighters until some one in the crowd fired a revolver into the air.” 

Not only was the firearm produced, but so were knives.  Someone sent a call to the Mulberry Street Police Station.  The Evening World reported “six policemen with service sticks broke heads among the fighters until they dispersed.”

By the time order was restored one man, Samuel Hartman, had been stabbed three times in the back, Samuel Cohen “was so severely beaten that he couldn’t walk,” and Max Dubler had head injuries, “whether from police clubs or pickets he couldn’t say.”

The battle between A. Hahn & Co. and the unions continued for more than two years with neither side conceding.  Finally in September 1906 Trunks, Leather Goods and Umbrellas reported that after an 11-week strike A. Hahn & Co. “refused to recognize the union in any way, offering to employ the men whether union or not, individually.” 

The partners, Abraham Hahn and Max Kastan, came up with a solution to the labor problem.  Kastan announced his retirement in the fall of 1906 and the firm stated “The business will be continued by Mr. Hahn, who is now looking around for a suitable location and may locate in Newark.”

By April 1907 A. Hahn & Co. had removed its factory from Bond Street, no doubt confident that it had defeated the unions.

About the time that Hahn & Co. left, Otto R. Hartman moved in.  He had previously been President of the American Philip Morris & Co. and now headed the New York branch of the British-based H. L. Savory & Co.  The New York division was organized in 1907 and the United States Tobacco Journal explained its object was “to manufacture and sell in this country the Savory cigarettes which had obtained a strong hold in England.”

Unfortunately, H. L. Savory & Co. went bankrupt in the spring of 1909.  But Otto R. Hartman continued on heading the Ascot Tobacco Works and branching into real estate and, later, “bag making machinery.”

The same year that H. L. Savory & Co. went under, the first signs of the apparel and millinery trades appeared at No. 21 Bond Street.  In January Chest’s “artificial flower and feather factory” was already operating here; and in November the top floor was leased to Fechheimer-Fischel Company, wholesale tailors.

Among Chest’s employees were Italian immigrants, including Mrs. Peter Chiasolo and her brothers.  During their noon lunch break on January 18, 1909 the workers went outside for what The Sun described as “a playful snowball fight.”  But things quickly turned from playful to dangerous.

When Mrs. Peter Chiasolo decided that Angelo Guastello was being “too familiar” she began repeatedly striking him in the face.   The wronged woman’s brothers attempted to come to her defense, but Guastello bolted—heading for what he considered his best refuge, a police station.

Not only did Mrs. Chiasolo’s brothers run after him, so did other factory workers.   When he looked over his shoulder and saw the mob chasing him, he drew his revolver and began firing it in the air.  Giuseppe Rubino was sure that Guastello had shot one of his comrades.  Just as they reached the police station, he overtook his frightened co-worker and the two fell into the snow, fighting.

The Sun reported “Guastello’s revolver went off and Rubino got a slight bullet wound in the side.” It would seem that the affray was ended with police rushed out of the station house.  It was not.  Just as the officers separated the two men, Mrs. Chiasolo appeared waving a knife and tried to stab the man who had offended her honor.

“The policemen had to drag her away and beat off several Italians who wanted to get at Guastello,” said the newspaper.  There was little artificial flower making back at No. 21 Bond Street that afternoon.  “Mrs. Chiasolo and Guastello were arraigned in the Tombs court with four Italians who were charged with interfering with policemen,” said The Evening World.  Giuseppe Rubino was removed to St. Vincent’s Hospital.

The judge showed his displeasure by setting Mrs. Chiasolo’s bail at $1,000 and Guastello’s at $3,000.  The larger amount would amount to about $80,600 today.

Textile wholesalers occupied the building from the late 1930s until 1972 when owner William Israel’s Farm Cooperative Corporation converted the building for theatrical purposes.  The project resulted in a theater the first floor, the Producers Showcase 21, and studios and offices above.  Six years later another alteration retained the theatrical space at ground level, but transformed the upper stories to one “joint living/work quarters for artists” per floor.  Department of Buildings documents, interestingly, clearly noted “theatrical studio for invited guests only.  Public not to be admitted.”

In 1996 the continuing change in Bond Street’s personality was reflected in the opening of the Daryl K. boutique at ground level.

Buchman & Deisler’s skinny eye-catching factory building is, overall, little changed outwardly—a striking survivor of a time when Bond Street and American labor conditions were undergoing tremendous change.

photograph by the author