Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The 1861 S. B. Althause Bldg -- No. 19 Mercer Street


The side pilasters were once adorned with Corinthian capitals which matched those of the columns.

When Elizabeth Birdsall married Richard Jackson Althause, her father owned a successful "blacksmith" business.  It would become the life's work of their eldest child, Samuel Birdsall Althause, who was born in 1804.

Samuel first apprenticed under his grandfather; then when Benjamin Birdsall retired in 1828, he partnered with George Cornell to take over the business, calling it Cornell, Althause & Co. Now more than merely making horseshoes and door hinges, the firm was an early Manhattan foundry.

Renamed S. B. Althause & Co. following the partners' breakup in 1841, the foundry was located at Nos. 20-22 Mercer Street.  Directly across the street at No. 19 was the Althause home.  Samuel married Helen Welling Sealy, and on December 17, 1855 their first child, Charles M. Althause was born in the house.

Tragedy struck the following year.  On Wednesday, March 19, 1856 the one-year old boy died.  At 2:00 two days later friends and relatives filed into the Mercer Street house for the heart-rending funeral of the infant.

The success and scope of S. B. Althause & Co. was reflected in the contract to provide the ironwork for the massive new Lord & Taylor department store at Broadway and Grand Street in 1859.  It was about this time that Samuel Althause, having already amassed a personal fortune, moved his family to Brooklyn.

In 1860 Althause demolished the Mercer Street house and began construction on an up-to-date commercial building.  While the name of the architect has been lost, his design was unexpectedly sophisticated.  Its five stories were divided into three sections.

Free-standing fluted columns flanked the centered double doors of the cast iron base.  Their elaborate capitals were echoed in the pilasters to the sides. 

The upper floors, faced in stone, featured rusticated piers which rose between two-story arches.  Paneled spandrel panels separated each of the double-height arches.  Faceted keystones flanked a gently scrolled keystone at the lower level; while above the keystones were elaborately carved and foliated.  A bracketed iron cornice completed the design.



The building was completed in 1861 and among its first tenants was Griswold & Sheldon.  Partners William C. Griswold and Julius Sheldon operated a substantial hat-making and wholesale business here, and Sheldon held a patent on his "hat-blocking machine."  Despite what appeared to be an extensive business, the firm declared bankruptcy in 1867.

M. & P. E. Goldberg operated from the building in 1871.  The firm's bookkeeper, J. D. Smith, was caught pilfering "small sums of money" that summer.  On August 4 he was committed for trial.

In the meantime, the store of Rawson & Co. was at street level.  It closed in April 1872, advertising its furniture and accessories in The New York Herald.  "Store fixtures--counters, tables, desks, show cases, chairs, chandeliers, mirrors, globes, travelling trunks, stove and pipe; at nominal prices this week."

By 1874 John T. Camp & Co., "ladies' dress trimmings" had its factory and salesroom in No. 19 Mercer Street.  John T. Camp was a successful businessman, who also owned the "popular Hotel known as the Mountain House," in South Orange, New Jersey, as described in The New York Herald that same year.

But he was best known for his military service during the Civil War.  He had enlisted in the 22nd Regiment on November 11, 1861, just seven months after the firing on Fort Sumter.  By the time of his discharge in February 1871, he had risen to the rank of Lt. Colonel.  Breveted a colonel, he retained command of the 22nd Regiment until his retirement on April 13, 1896.

Meanwhile, other apparel-related firms came and went.  In 1883 brothers Herman and Aaron Levy went into business manufacturing boys' clothing.  The young men opened with a substantial working capital, added to when Aaron married "a Miss Jacobs [and] received $15,000 as a wedding gift from his father-in-law," according to The Clothier and Furnisher.  

The firm suffered damaged to its stock when a fire broke out on July 26, 1888; but the partners received $6,000 in insurance money to cover it.  And so it was perhaps puzzling to their uncle, Charles Schanz, when the brothers asked for a $4,016 loan not long afterward.

The problem was horse racing.  The Levi brothers purchased a stable of 12 horses and invested in a race track in New Jersey.  And they gambled in a 28th Street "pool room," (the term for an illegal horse gambling operation) to try to bolster their funds.  Instead, they simply got deeper into debt.


Finally, on March 6, 1890 H. L. Levy & Brothers declared bankruptcy.  The Sun reported the following day, "Both the partners...are young men, and their failure is attributed to horse racing, in which they are currently reported to have lost $22,000."  The article mentioned the stables and the race track, saying "they made a failure of it."

The embarrassing reason for the once-respected firm's collapse was publicized nationwide.  The Clother and Furnisher reported "Their failure is attributed to the fact that they tried to run horses and were heavy losers, besides losing very heavily in an uptown poolroom."

Equally mortifying was the press attention received three years later by Etienne Hunter, a 42-year old traveling salesman for W. A. Reilly & Co.  Hunter had married Annie Morris on July 22, 1880 and they lived happily together for years.  Then, on their anniversary in 1892, he walked out.

On March 16, 1893 "he returned home and was forgiven," according to The Times.   Three weeks later he told Annie he was going on a business trip.  "She suspected, however, that there was a woman in the case, and began to investigate," said the newspaper a few months later.

Annie's suspicions were based on Etienne's frequent mention of Mrs. Edith Browning, who had written several books on "free love and kindred subjects;" one of which was titled Experimental Marriage.  Annie had found several of Browning's books which the author had sent to Etienne with passages underlined by her.

And in 1891 Hunter had mailed a letter to Mrs. Browning; but it was accidentally returned to his wife who opened it.  The last straw was when Annie purchased furniture on 14th Street.  The clerk asked her if she wanted it delivered to "the same place as the last."   "She then learned that her husband had purchased a quantity of furniture and had it delivered to Mrs. Elizabeth Hunter at 134 East Twenty-eighth Street."

Now Annie did her own private investigation work.  She staked out the 28th Street address, a boarding house operated by a Mrs. Burke, as well as No. 19 Mercer Street.  "She went to her husband's place of business and followed him one day for seven hours all over the city, until he finally reached the house...where he went in."

At 6:00 on the morning of Thursday, July 6, 1893 Annie was lying in wait outside Mrs. Burke's boarding house when her husband emerged.  She took him directly to the law office of her brother, Harry Morris.  "When he arrived there he found a detective, who arrested him and took him to Yorkville Jail, where he was locked up."

The New York Times ran the headline "MUST PAY OR STAY IN JAIL" and reported that Etienne agreed to pay Annie and their two children $60 a month.  But he did not have the cash.  "If Hunter does not secure a bondsman to qualify for him this morning, he will be sent to Blackwell's Island for a term of several months."

The first decades of the 20th century saw a decline in the Mercer Street neighborhood.  In the 1930s No. 19 was home to The Waterbury Chemical Company, which used the entire building "for baling of cotton waste."

 In 1975 the Soho Repertory Theatre, also known as Soho Rep, was founded by Jerry Engelbach and Marlene Swartz.  It moved into No. 19 Mercer Street and by 1979 had the largest subscription audience of any Off Off Broadway theater.    Its success was such that in 1985 it was forced to move to a larger venue.

A conversion in 2000 resulted in a recording studio and lounge on the ground floor, and joint working-living space above.  Rather amazingly, however, the ground floor storefront was never abused, other than the loss of the Corinthian capitals of the pilasters.  And other than a distracting iron fire escape, the especially impressive 1861 structure survives wonderfully unchanged.

photographs by the author

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Flamboyant Mattern House -- No. 46 West 88th Street



In 1887, as the Upper West Side was emerging as a popular new suburb, developer James J. Spaulding embarked on an ambitious and costly project.  He purchased 19 building lots on West 88th Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue and set architects Thom & Wilson to work designing fashionable brownstone dwellings.  Completed a year later, the row paraded every bell and whistle a late Victorian homeowner could want in residential architecture.

Holding its own with its neighbors homes was No. 46.  The architects held nothing back in the Renaissance Revival style brownstone.  Four stories high over an English basement, it boasted chunky stone stoop newels elaborately carved with bows and fruits; a rounded, parlor floor oriel complete with a bearded telamon and domed copper roof; muscular brackets in the shape of lions and scrolls on either side of the entrance; and upper floors embellished with Corinthian pilasters--rusticated at the second floor, paneled at the third, and unadorned at the fourth--and a profusion of rosettes, carvings and arches.


The residence became home to the Jacob Mattern family.  The well-to-do owner of the Jacob Mattern Wagon Company, he and his wife, Theresa, would have two daughters, Anne and Therese.

Not far away another carriage maker, George Meyer lived in what The Evening World deemed "pretentious style" at 80th Street and Amsterdam Avenue; saying that he "was always reported to be very wealthy."  On October 23, 1893 the newspaper noted that his firm, George Meyer & Co. "enjoyed an excellent reputation."

Thom & Wilson pulled out all the stops at the parlor floor level, creating a virtual onslaught of decorations.
But the headline that day told of serious problems.  "GEORGE MEYER GONE."  The article explained that the carriage maker had vanished and "the greater number of his friends say he has fled."  He left behind more than $100,000 in liabilities and The Evening World said "The accounts are in the most tangled-up condition and nothing in fact can be done until he appears and straightens out the firm's affairs."

While the mystery played out, 41-year old Jacob Mattern wasted no time in taking advantage of the unexpected opportunity.  Three days earlier he was awarded possession of Meyer's property by the Sheriff.  His carriage business was suddenly enormously enlarged and he had one fewer competitors.


Mattern invested in real estate as well.  And as the years went by, Mattern adapted with the changing times.  As automobiles and trucks replaced horses, by 1918 his six-story factory building at Nos. 215-217 West 53rd Street doubled as a Goodyear Truck Tire Service Station.  A year later, on June 20, 1919, the New-York Tribune reported he had purchased the adjoining four-story stable at No. 219.  "With this purchase Mr. Mattern controls a site 75x100.  He plans to alter his recent purchase for use in connection with his automobile wheels and rims business."

On November 23, 1921 Therese was married to James L. O'Connor in the Church of St. Gregory the Great on West 90th Street.  Anne served as her bridesmaid.  Perhaps because of the large guest list (there were 200 people at the ceremony) the Matterns hosted the wedding breakfast at the Hotel Astor rather than on West 88th Street, as might have been expected.

Jacob Mattern died on Monday, August 4, 1924 at the age of 71.  His funeral was held in the house three days later prior to a solemn requiem mass at the Church of the Assumption.

By 1934 the Mattern residence had become home to physician John Abraham Jenney.  While, by now, most of the houses along the 1889 row had been converted to apartments or rooming houses, No. 46 would survive as a single-family house for another decade.

It was sold in 1944 and alterations were started immediately.  They resulted in two apartments on each floor.  Among the first residents were Simon Frankel and his wife.  Hattie G. Frankel was active in Congregation Emanu-El, on the opposite side of Central Park, and sat on the Board of Directors of its Women's Auxiliary.


The Mattern house was altered again in 1989; now containing a duplex in the basement and parlor floors, one apartment each on the second and third, and two on the fourth floor.  Sadly, little remains of the Thom & Wilson Renaissance Revival interiors.  But from the sidewalk, No. 46 West 88th Street is little changed; still flaunting its flamboyant presence as it did more than a century ago.

photographs by the author

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Lost 1824 Phenix Bank Building - Wall Street and Broad

Martin E. Thompson's white marble edifice was perfectly proportioned.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

In 1812 the Phoenix Bank was established and within only a few years became one of New York City's principal financial institutions.  Along with other banks, it established a branch far to the north in Greenwich Village at the time of the devastating yellow fever epidemic of 1822.  The concentration of these branches on one street, far away from the dangerous conditions, led to its being renamed Bank Street.  By now Phenix Bank had lost its "o."

Somewhat surprisingly, perhaps, it was about the same time that Phenix Bank began construction of its noble new headquarters on the south side of Wall Street near the corner of Broad.  The bank commissioned architect Martin Euclid Thompson to design its building.  Thompson had been a partner with Ithiel Town and both architects were influential in the introduction of the Greek temple style.

The completed Phenix Bank building is credited by some historians as the first example of the Greek temple style to appear on Wall Street.  Perfectly proportioned, it featured an impressive portico of four fluted, Doric columns.  A classic triangular pediment perched above the Grecian-style entablature.

The Phenix Bank narrowly escaped destruction on December 16, 1835 when fire broke out in the store of Comstock & Andrews at No. 25 Merchant Street.  Before morning 13 acres of downtown Manhattan had been burned; 528 structures were destroyed and the total lose was estimated at $17 million.  The inferno had stopped at Wall and Williams Street at the opposite end of the block from the Phenix Bank.

Former mansions, converted for business purposes, abutted the bank building.  print from the collection of the New York Public Library

It was not fire nor even financial panic that most threatened the institution--it was corruption.  On March 1, 1838 readers of the Morning Herald learned that Senator Verplanck had opened a state investigation "into certain charges against the Phenix Bank of the city of New York."  The list of accusations which included overcharging on exchange rates was so lengthy that the newspaper simply wrote "&c. &c."  (The exchange rates mentioned involved the various currencies of states and territories--it would not be until February 25, 1863 that the National Currency Act established the federal dollar.)  The senator's push for an investigation was followed by one in the House by Representative Willis Hall.

The ugly and widely-publicized affair developed into the case of The People vs. Phenix Bank.  The Morning Herald went to the bank's defense, asserting on March 31 that every bank on Wall Street conducted business exactly as did the Phenix Bank.  "If, therefore, the transactions of the Phenix Bank in exchange are sufficient cause for the legislature to take away its charter...in effect, every charter of Wall street [would be] declared forfeited, and the great bulk of the exchange transactions, foreign and domestic, are tainted with usury, fraud and extortion."

The newspaper added "But this is not all."  The editors alleged "the movement against the Phenix Bank" was the result of "private malice and revenge" of the Whig Committee, "the omnipotent power of a party invoked to carry out the game of destruction."

The turmoil ended on April 5 when the Whigs and the Board of Trade were victorious in forcing out bank President John Delafield.   On that day he tendered his letter of resignation which began "Having been assured that the present hostility to the Phenix Bank has its origin in enmity to myself, and that unless I am sacrificed, the interest of the stockholders and of the commercial community will suffer serious consequences; I am willing, though conscious of the rectitude and legality of all my operations, to offer up my office."

In reporting on his resignation, the Morning Herald was indignant.  "A more paltry, personal, and vindictive crusade was never undertaken than the one set on foot by the Board of Trade against Mr. Delafield."

Bank security in 1842 was weak, certainly in comparison to the alarms, plexiglass partitions and surveillance cameras patrons are accustomed to today.  And so it was easy for Thomas Conroy and Charles Wheeler to rob the Phenix Bank of $1,900 (about $57,000 in 2016 dollars) in February that year.

The New York Herald reported "The money missed from the Phenix Bank was in Highland Bank notes...and had been placed in a package on the inside of the bank counter on the day it was stolen."  On March 6 the newspaper noted "It was ascertained a few days after that the rogues who took it had proceeded to the Long Island Bank, at Brooklyn, and obtained other notes in exchange."

Not long after the incident the Phenix Bank laid plans for an updated headquarters at the corner of Wall and William Streets.  On September 13, 1845 The New York Herald mentioned "The building of the Phenix Bank, in Wall street, is rapidly progressing.  A good part of the front is already raised.  The whole front is to be of pecked brown freestone, and will present a neat and substantial appearance."

The new brownstone-clad Phenix Bank building as it appeared in 1855.  In the foreground, part of the 1841 Merchants Exchange building can be seen.  The Bankers' Magazine, June 1855 (copyright expired)
The old Greek temple-style building survived until 1872 when it was demolished along with six other structures to make way for the marble Drexel Building, designed by Arthur Gilman.  That building was razed in 1912 to be replaced by the still-standing J. P. Morgan & Co. building designed by Trowbridge & Livingston.
photo from the collection of the Library of Congress

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The 1842 Edmund Hurry House -- No. 613 Hudson Street





In 1842 architect Edmund Hurry designed and built his own brick-faced, three story home at No. 613 Hudson Street.  The modest Greek Revival dwelling sat above a shallow brownstone English basement and featured a handsome entranceway with unassuming pilasters and sidelights.

In addition to his architectural business, Hurry served as a Commissioner of the Common Schools in the Ninth Ward while living here.  He moved out in 1851, just as his career was reaching its peak.  The following year he would be appointed the Consulting Architect for the New York Crystal Palace; his crowning achievement.

Five months after the Confederate Army opened fire on Fort Sumter, life on Hudson Street continued as normally as possible.  At 10:30 on the morning of September 26, 1861 auctioneer George Holbrook sold the entire contents of No. 613 Hudson Street; its former owner apparently having died.  Holbrook's advertisement in The New York Herald promised “all the genteel parlor, chamber, dining room and kitchen furniture, &c. of the above house.  Dealers, as well as others, are invited, as all must be sold and the house vacated.”


The house was the scene of the funeral of Smith Bryant on Monday, May 13, 1872 at 1:00.  Bryant had died of a heart attack the previous Friday.  Three years later, on April 8, 1875, Sheriff William C. Connor conducted the sale of the house in a foreclosure auction.  Somewhat surprisingly, it was the sheriff who bought it.

Conner conveyed title to Jessie, “wife of Daniel Clark,” the following July.  The sheriff had been operating No. 613 as a boarding, or rooming house.  Among his tenants was Elia Jane Huling, who taught in the primary department of Grammar School No. 47 on East 12th Street.

The Clarks lived in Jersey City.  Three days after Jessie received the title, she transferred it to Sarah Crygler, possibly a relative based on the “nominal” monetary exchange.   The rapid-fire ownership continued as Crygler sold the house to Henry B. Welcher, of Peekskill, New York, who sold it to William C. Carpenter on August 20, 1877 for $5,000.  The sale price would translate to about $117,000 in 2016 dollars.

Carpenter ran a “lodging house” at No. 613.  The term differentiated it from a boarding or rooming house.  Lodging houses offered no amenities like meals or common space.  Instead, for a much cheaper fee the lodgers received an over-night bed with (hopefully) fresh sheets.  Carpenter and F. S. Carpenter, most likely his son, operated the lodging house at least through 1898.

Independence Day celebrations in New York City at the turn of the century were filled with danger and mayhem.  Boys and men fired pistols wildly in the streets and fireworks were uncontrolled.  In 1912 Robert Haven Schauffler, in his book Independence Day, recalled “It then seemed to be a day wholly devoted to boyish pleasure and mischief, sure to be followed by reports of hairbreadth escapes and injuries more or less serious, sometimes even fatal.  The day was one of terror to parents, who, while deeming it unwise to interdict to their sons the enjoyment of gunpowder, dreaded to see them maimed of disfigured for life by some unlooked-for accident.”

On July 5, 1906 The New York Times reported “Nearly five hundred accidents due to fireworks and at least one of which ended fatally were reported to the police as incidents of the Fourth of July celebration in Manhattan alone.”  Among those injured was a roomer at No. 613 Hudson Street, Henry Buhrens, who was treated at St. Vincent’s Hospital for a “wound of the hand.”

It was around this time that the house was purchased by Louis Dern and his wife, Lizzie.  The couple had three children, Arthur, Lilian and Jessie.   They apparently continued to rent to roomers.  Louis died in the house on December 1, 1916.  Lizzie and the now-adult children (Arthur R. Dern was 29 year old at the time of his father’s death) remained here for just over three years. 

When Lizzie sold the house on February 21, 1920 to Catherine Cook, it was described as a “three story brick tenement.”  While the Cooks lived in Gillette, New Jersey, M. S. Cook had run a wholesale stationery business in New York for years.   Among his customers was the United States Government in 1907.  In 1922 the Educational Red Book—a buyer’s guide for school superintendents—listed M. S. Cook’s stationery business at No. 631 Hudson Street; most likely in the basement level.

Hudson Street in 1922 was nothing like the street where Edmund Hurry built his home in 1842.  Brick houses had been razed or converted to commercial establishments, and produce wagons and delivery trucks replaced the carriages of 80 years ago.  As the neighborhood continued to change, No. 631 resisted the trend.  Residents in rented rooms came and went throughout the 20th century.


In 2002 a renovation was completed which brought Edmund Hurry’s house back to a private residence.  The stoop, removed in the 20th century, was reproduced and six-over-six mullions were installed in the windows--as closely as possible restoring the picturesque brick house to its 1842 appearance.

photographs by the author

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Chas. H. Tuttle Mansion -- No. 339 Convent Ave



Developer Jacob D. Butler was well-known in the real estate field.  His impressive Lincoln Building on Union Square--designed by Robert Henderson Richardson--was completed in 1890.  At the same time he was highly involved in the development of Hamilton Heights, creating long rows of upscale homes.

That same year he finished a row of 15 residences on Convent Avenue on the long, interrupted block between West 141st and 144th Street.  Designed by architect Adolph Hoak, the row was a delightful blend of styles--Flemish Revival, neo-Tudor and Romanesque Revival.  Construction had begun three years earlier, in 1887 and resulted in a particularly picturesque row.  No. 339 Convent Avenue, however, stood out.

Anchoring the corner of Convent Avenue, the mansion stretched 100 feet along West 144th Street, where, despite its avenue address, the entrance sat above a sideways brownstone stoop.   The red brick and brownstone house mainly exhibited elements of the Romanesque Revival style--the corner tower with its conical cap, carved spandrel panels, and the clustered colonnettes under a single capital, for instance.  But then Hoak changed gears with a Flemish Revival stepped gable above the three-sided bay to the rear.

A rear extension, with wonderful rounded corners, fills part of the rear yard.

Another real estate operator, Charles Augustus King, purchased the house in January 1909.  Unlike Jacob D. Butler's high-end structures, King made his fortune mostly in tenement buildings and stores.

He and his wife, the former Mary O'Connor, announced the engagement of daughter Grace Cecile to John Lewis Bull on January 11, 1913.  The following year the newlyweds' first child, John Lewis Bull, Jr. was born.  He would grow to be a renowned ornithologist and author.

In June 1916 Charles A. King vehemently denied reports published a week earlier in various newspapers  that he had sold his mansion to Eva Wardach.  There was, however, apparently a hint of truth in the rumors; for he sold the property five months later to Cornelius P. Toomey.

In a charming detail, the clustered colonnettes by the entrance are repeated in miniature one floor above.  Difficult to see in the photograph, the stained glass transoms of the parlor level survive.
Within a few years Toomey resold the house to lawyer-politician Charles. H. Tuttle.  Educated at Columbia University, Tuttle was no stranger to Hamilton Heights.  His father, the Rev. Isaac H. Tuttle had been pastor of St. Luke's in The Fields Church in Greenwich Village when, in 1892, the church moved to Convent Avenue and 141st Street (on the opposite end of the block from No. 339).  It was Isaac Tuttle who recognized the neglect and decay of Alexander Hamilton's The Grange and had the house relocated next to the church.

Charles Tuttle and his wife, the former Helene L. Wheeler had four children.  By the time the family moved into the Convent Avenue mansion he had made a name for himself as a reformer.  In 1927 President Calvin Coolidge appointed him as United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.  He earned a reputation as a staunch anti-corruption champion, launching investigations into the activities of public officials, gangsters and crime rings.  Tuttle was unruffled by the status and power of the men he investigated and in 1930 sent Albany's Democratic political boss Daniel P. O'Connell to jail for contempt of court when he refused to answer questions.

Helene Tuttle's widowed mother, Katherine Harding Wheeler, lived with the family.   She died here in January 1929; her funeral being held in the house on January 17.  At the time daughter Charlotte was attending Vassar College.  She brought happier news to the family a month later when The New York Times reported she had made the honor roll.

The following year, on September 17, 1930, Tuttle resigned as U. S. Attorney in order to run for Governor of New York against Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Helene, who was actively involved in political and social issues, proved to be a strong asset.  She was Vice President of the Women's Republic Club and Chairman of the club's civic committee.

Helene routinely held meetings of the club in her home.  Her awareness to racial issues--possibly vitalized by the changing racial make-up of the Hamilton Heights neighborhood--was often high on her agenda.   On April 19, 1930, at a meeting in the mansion, she announced the initiation of a "civic center" in the Hotel New Yorker.  One of the goals, she told reporters was to "try to organize various racial groups and for that purpose will inaugurate a series of 'courtesy evenings,' when women of these groups will be our guests and meet with us for discussion."

Three days after her husband announced his campaign for Governor, she added another item to the group's endeavors.  The New York Times reported "A particular attempt, Mrs. Tuttle said, would be made to bring into the Republican ranks young women and first voters."

Charles H. Tuttle's campaign included all the speeches and hoop-la associated with major politics.  He was the guest of honor of the Republicans of Washington Heights on October 4, 1930; an event which included a press-grabbing spectacle.  The Times announced the occasion would "include a parade with torchlights, red fire and band music, from the Tuttle residence at 339 Convent Avenue to the clubhouse of the Twenty-third Assembly District Republican organization."

Charles H. Tuttle.  New York Telegram, August 9, 1930.

Tuttle lost the election; possibly because conservative Republicans felt he was too soft on Prohibition.  He hoped to campaign on his anti-corruption background; but that was overshadowed by his views that states, not the Federal Government, should control alcohol consumption and production.

He returned to practicing law as senior partner in the firm of Breed, Abbott and Morgan; continued on the vestry of St. Luke's Church; and was the Chairman of the Council of Religious Education; and served on the Rapid Transit Commission.

Helene, in the meantime, continued her work as a leader in women's politics.  She was elected President of the New York State Women's Republic Club in April 1931; but resigned on December 20.  She made the announcement following a Christmas party in the Tuttle home, saying she wanted to "devote more time to forming a State-wide organization of young people's Republican clubs, and also to organize non-partisan groups of future voters, now in their 'teens."

And she continued her work to improve the conditions of the black community.  On October 19, 1933 The Times reported that "Mrs. [Fiorello] LaGuardia and Mrs. James Russell Parsons...will be guests today at a Fusion tea to be given by the Negro women of the regular Republican organization of the Twenty-first Assembly District.  The tea will be given at the home of Mrs. Charles H. Tuttle."

By mid-century the private homes of the Convent Avenue block had been mostly divided into apartments.  No. 339 managed to escape drastic change; being converted into just two large residences.  Then, in 2001, new owners poised to restore the mansion to a single family home.

But they were stopped by motion picture director Wes Anderson, who pleaded to leave the property in its somewhat frowzy condition--at least temporarily.

Anderson had been looking for a set for the comedy-drama film The Royal Tenenbaums.  He rented the Tuttle mansion for six months; filming inside and out.  The motion picture made the mansion a celebrity of sorts in its own right.


When the production crew pulled out, renovations ensued.  Today the Charles H. Tuttle mansion is again a private home and, except for updates like replacement windows, looks much as it did in 1890.  And, as it did then, it still commands the spotlight along Adolph Hoak's delightful row.

photographs by the author

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Edwardian Gothic -- No. 158 West 23rd Street



By the last quarter of the 19th century the former high-stooped residence at No. 158 West 23rd Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, had been converted to a store at street level, with meeting rooms and offices above.  At least one last residential tenant was still here in 1893.

The retail store was home to the well-known picture frame shop of S. Marekdorff.  Upstairs were the offices of architect Voltaire Combe and the International Order of King’s Daughters and Sons.  The Order had been founded in 1886 by a group of ten women, and by 1892 had grown to over 200,000 members, according to The World Almanac that year.  From its headquarters on 23rd Street it published the monthly The Silver Cross.  The publication, said the Almanac, “deals with every topic by which women may be helpful to humanity.  Its work in aid of every charitable object is effective and increasing.”

One charitable cause that the Order apparently overlooked was that of Mrs. Nellie McGibney, a widowed Irish immigrant with little money who lived in the building.  Her son, Daniel, had been sent off to the Elmira Reformatory, and in 1893 he died “under peculiar circumstances,” according to newspapers.  Nellie, who had just lost her father, was further distressed when the Reformatory would not release her son’s body to her, saying “they do not wish to have the body seen.”

Newspaper reports of the disturbing situation resulted in sympathetic visitors at the 23rd Street house.  On August 13 1893 The New York Times reported “Her landlord dispossessed her from her home at 158 West Twenty-third Street, on the ground that too many people called upon her after her son’s death.  Her rent had been paid, but she was in destitute circumstances.”

Nellie owed money on her furniture, still in the rooms from which she had been evicted.  She explained her situation to dealer, B. M. Cowperthwait & Co. and, as related in The Times, “after she had told her story, the firm delighted her by closing her account for money due on furniture and by giving her the furniture and enough money to move her goods and secure other rooms.”

Fire broke out in the large six-story building of Hoefer Wall Paper Mills at Nos. 148-150 West 23rd Street on June 6th, 1904.  It originated on the fourth floor and spread quickly to the upper floors, breaking through the roof.  It spread to the six story building next door at Nos. 152 and 154, where the house furnishing dealer Manhattan Trading Stamp Co. and the photo studio of G. W. Thomas did business.

As firefighters battled the inferno, it spread to No. 156 and then to No. 158, causing damage to the offices and the store of S. Markendorff.  It took firefighters more than eight and a half hours to extinguish the blaze, which resulted in a staggering $73,882.23 in damages.

In June 1910 the old building was purchased by Mentor Realty, headed by developer Samuel Heyman.  The firm took out a $38,000 loan to erect a “seven-story loft and store.”  In August architect Charles B. Meyer filed plans.  He projected the building cost at $50,000--nearly $1.3 million in 2016 dollars.


Completed in 1911, its Edwardian take on Gothic Revival utilized a variety of materials.  The two-story retail level was stone, above which were four floors of beige brick.  The uppermost story was clad in white terra cotta.  The Gothic motif was carried out with shields and crests, medieval ornament, and a blind crenellated parapet.  A stately terra cotta spread-winged eagle stepped slightly away from the theme.

Apparently Heyman was not entirely satisfied with the results for in July 1911 he hired architect George Dress to design a new “marquise” over the entrance.  The upgrade cost him $350.

The upper floors of No. 158 filled with women’s and children’s clothing makers.  In 1912 the Pansy Waist Co. advertised in Virginia, looking for an “experienced salesman to handle a popular line of ladies’ silk and cotton waists on commission basis only at 7-1/2 per cent as a side line.”  Other manufacturers in the building were S. Khoury & Co. which manufactured kimonos, and Traina Bros. who made dresses.  Stark & Trattner were here at the same time, turning out infants’ and children’s wear, much of it under the well-known brand name Noxall.  And Harry Kay & Co. was in the building by 1915, also making children’s dresses.


Samuel Heyman updated the building once again in March 1916 when he commissioned the well-known architectural firm of John B. Snook & Sons to replace the stairways, install “fireproof windows,” and extend the balconies.  Following the $800 upgrades, Heytman transferred title of the building to his wife, Amanda, in September 1918.  She sold it a year later in November to Michael Kaufman for $125,000—about $1.7 million in 2016 dollars.  The New-York Tribune noted at the time of the sale that all the leases were about to expire.

The change in tenants was apparent by 1919 as Perez, Morsoff & Gaal, “manufacturers of a general line of fur coats and sets” moved in.  Jacob Hamer moved his silk dress making operation into the building; as did Silverman & Weinstein, silk goods makers.  They may have initially regretted the move.

In the spring of 1920 a six-week rash of burglaries of silk merchants frazzled the police.   On May 8 the New-York Tribune reported that six thefts within the past weeks had netted burglars over $38,000.  “One firm, that of Silverman & Weinstein, at 158 West Twenty-third Street, is reported to have been robbed of $15,000 in goods, but acting under instructions of the police declined to make any comment in the matter.”  In an attempt to keep the burglars unaware of the scope of its investigation, the NYPD often requested victims to withhold information from the newspapers.

Later that year, on October 7, Simon Heiman paid Jacob Hamer for a “job lot of silk dresses” with his check for $263.  By the time Hamer found out that the check was worthless, Heiman had already been sent to Sing Sing prison on another charge.  Hamer was a patient man, though.  Four years later when the 60-year old Heiman was released, he was immediately arrested and held on $1,000 bail on Hamer’s charges of passing a bad check.

In the meantime, silk-related firms continued to move in.  The American Silk Yarn Company leased the store in 1921.  But by the end of the Great Depression, the Garment District had migrated north, settling above 34th Street.  By mid-century the building would see a completely different set of tenants.

In 1950 M. Zimmerman opened his newly-formed Burton Press, a graphics arts service here.  In 1951 Doval Sales Company advertised its wholesale novelties, including “Hula Hula Dancers” at $3 per dozen, “large walking chimpanzee,” “large squeeze lighter,” and “lipstick lighters” which could be had for $.90 a dozen.   In the 1970s New York City dog owners could enroll their pets in a nine-week training course at the City Dog Obedience School here.

By 1984 the building was home to the Eccentric Circles Theater; and a year later the highly-popular A. M.Ozeki Japanese restaurant opened.  The ground level opened as Monster Sushi on August 18, 1997 where it remains today.

In 2006 the upper floors were converted to residential space—one apartment per floor.  Largely overshadowed by its hulking neighbors, the 1911 dress-making building retains its handsome Edwardian persona.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Quirky Grosvenor Atterbury House - No. 131 East 70th Street

photograph by the author


In the first years of the 20th century, Charles Larned Atterbury and his wife, the former Katharine Mitchill Dow, lived at the fashionable address of No. 23 East 62nd Street.  The Yale-educated lawyer had been the solicitor for the Erie Railway Company before later becoming its Assistant President.  He also served as counsel for the Chicago and Atlantic Railway Company, and the Pullman Palace Car Company.

The couple’s son, Grosvenor, was 40 years old in 1909.  He too attended Yale before studying architecture at Columbia University and then working with McKim, Mead & White.  He was by now firmly established as a respected architect and was working on a major commission—designing the charming model housing community of Forest Hills Gardens for the Russell Sage Foundation.  But that year his parents would give him one more project—remodeling an old rowhouse for the family’s use.

Around 1871 architect Robert Mook designed two Anglo-Italianate brownstone houses for wealthy produce merchant and part-time developer Pearson S. Halstead at the northwest corner of Lexington Avenue and 70th Street—Nos. 760 and 762 Lexington Avenue.  Halstead sold the newly-completed No. 762 to Ebenezer Hurd and his wife, Jane, for $26,000 (roughly $520,000 today) and kept the corner house for himself.

It is unclear whether the entrance to Halstead’s commodious home was always on the 80-foot long 70th Street side; but as early as 1884 he was using the address of No. 131 East 70th Street.  On July 22, 1889 the 78-year old Halstead died suddenly in the house.  His widow, Christina, lived on here until July 6, 1905 when Halstead’s estate sold No. 131 to “Chas. L Atterbury and Kath. M. his wife and Grosenor Atterbury joint tenants.”  The family paid $65,000 for the “four-story stone front dwelling.”

By October 16 Grosvenor Atterbury had filed plans and awarded the general contract to J. B. Acken to remodel the old brownstone.  The renovations would cost another $20,000 and result in a rather startling residence.

Viewed from Lexington Avenue, the rowhouse origins of the mansion are obvious.  photograph by the author
Oddly enough, Atterbury did little to the Lexington Avenue façade, retaining the Italianate quoins, the projecting sills on their little brackets, and the elliptical arched windows of the 1870s.  On the 70th Street side, however, he went all out.

The house was a surprising mish-mash of shapes and protrusions.  House Beautiful May 1916 (copyright expired)

He splattered the façade with irregularly-positioned openings and bays; and added a two-story elliptical oriel.  Reportedly, the leaded glass in the seven-sided copper bay had once belonged to Louis Comfort Tiffany.  The intended effect was that the house had developed its quirky personality over decades, rather than a few months.  The up-to-the-minute home included a connected garage, below the drawing room, complete with reception room and leaded-glass windows.  It was accessed on the far west end of the house.  House Beautiful noted “This unusual proximity to the main entrance and to the living quarters has not proved in the least objectionable, while the direct access to the car from the main house is of inestimable value as an everyday convenience.”

To the left of and below the massive two-story copper-clad bay was the garage entrance; converted today to an upscale shop. photograph by the author
The Atterbury family moved into the house in 1911.  Grosvernor’s interior renovations reflected the sophistication and taste of the family.  Basically English in design, there was oak paneling, beamed ceilings and leaded glass throughout.  The House Beautiful commented “gloominess would be the last word to apply to Mr. Atterbury’s house.  Mr. Atterbury has progressed beyond the state of mind of a puristic practitioner.”

The entrance hall (left) featured a metal-faced fireplace and tile floors.  House Beautiful described the carved balustrades as suggesting "the Gothic cusp."  Beyond the arch is the living room.  House Beautiful May 1916 (copyright expired)

“Gloomy” was prevented by the use of color and material.  One fireplace was faced in bronze, the paneling of the dining room was enlivened by a frieze of blue-green Spanish leather; and the wooden details included carved thistle and rose elements—symbols of the Stewarts—and linen-fold panels.

Exquisite leaded glass, English paneling and brass lighting fixtures provided the venerable feel of the dining room.  House Beautiful May 1916 (copyright expired)
Now displaying upscale accessories, the dining room retains its green-tiled mantel and paneling.  Sadly the leaded windows have been lost.  photograph by the author
In 1913, just two years after moving in, Charles Atterbury became ill.  A year later, on November 10, he died in the 70th Street house less than a month before his 72nd birthday.  Katharine was the same age as her husband.  She lived another eight years with her son, dying here after a short illness on Wednesday, December 21, 1921.

New York society may have been shocked when, on March 27, 1923, Mr. and Mrs. Homer C. Johnstone announced that their daughter, Dorothy, and Grosvenor Atterbury had been married four days earlier.  The quiet wedding of 54-year old architect and his bride had taken place in the 70th Street house.   In reporting on the marriage on March 28, the New York Evening Post noted “Mr. Atterbury is one of the most prominent architects in this city” and added “Mr. Atterbury and his bride will sail to-day for Nassau, and upon returning will make their home at 131 East Seventieth Street.”

Two views of the living room.  photo by Samuel H. Gottscho from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Like all well-to-do Manhattan couples, Dorothy and Grosvenor closed their city homes during the hot summer months.  The Atterbury’s 80-acre estate, Sugar Loaf Acres, was in Southampton.  In the summer of 1925 just two servants, sisters Frances and Elizabeth Koff were left back to watch over the East 70th Street house.  Everything went fine until shortly after midnight on Friday, July 31.

Rain was beating against the windows as the sisters sat in the kitchen and prepared a pitcher of iced tea.  Frances asked Elizabeth if she were sure all the windows upstairs were closed. 

“I think so, but as soon as I finish making the iced tea I’ll go up and see.”

Instead, the sisters went together.  Elizabeth carried the pitcher of tea as the two rode the elevator to the top floor.  They checked the windows and the hatch leading to the roof, then headed back down.  Just as the elevator passed the third floor, it ground to a stop.  Concerned but not panicking, they both tried punching this button and that.  The elevator would not move.

Two days later The New York Times reported “Calmly the two surveyed their situation…They were alone in the house.  After some moments’ consideration one of the sisters pushed a button which rings a large gong in the basement.  There was no one in the basement to answer it, of course, but it was the only thing they could do.”

Of course, it was the dead of the night in a nearly-deserted residential neighborhood.  Although the gong kept ringing, there was no one to respond.  So they simply sat on the floor of the elevator and drank tea.

Almost four hours later beat cop Paul Minor heard the “incessant ringing of the gong.”  Assuming it was a burglar alarm, he called another policeman.  He and Officer Sullivan tried all the doors and found them locked.  They woke up the residents in No. 962 Lexington Avenue, crossed the roof, and started forcing the hatch.

The two servant girls, most likely afraid of the damage they would be held accountable for, shouted for them to stop.  The policemen hear Elizabeth calling to “get a ladder and try to enter one of the front windows.”

In the meantime, six more policemen arrived.  One of them sent for Hook and Ladder Company 16.  The fire truck’s ladder was raised to an upper window and the firemen and police clambered in.   Unable to solve the girls’ predicament, a repairman from the Otis Elevator Company was summoned.  Eric Granfeldt climbed up the fire truck ladder and into the house.  Within a few minutes he found that the safety control in the bottom of the shaft had somehow dislodged, preventing the elevator from moving.  The girls were freed.

The Koff sisters tempered their gratefulness with annoyance.  “We did not mind the wait at all, for we had our tea and we knew that we couldn’t stay there forever,” explained Elizabeth.  But she added “If someone had had sense enough to notify the elevator people immediately, we wouldn’t have had all this fuss.”
The top-most floor includes this Arts & Crafts-style room, with beaten iron strap hinges, exposed beams, and a charming brick fireplace.  photograph by the author
By 1949 the Atterburys had left East 70th Street.  Grosvenor died in Southampton on October 18, 1956 at the age of 87.  No. 131 East 70th Street was converted to a doctor’s office on the ground floor in 1949, with “showrooms and workroom” on the second floor, and two apartments each on the upper floors.

The ground floor space became the boutique of Eulalie, described by The New York Times on September 21, 1950 as “a promising newcomer to the field of fashion designers.The second floor “showroom” was well-known to Manhattan women as the Pierre & Fred hair salon for years.

Nearly a century after Atterbury completed his remarkable remake of the house, owner E. William Judson finished an exterior renovation in 2006.  Sadly, the leaded glass in the second floor oriel was disintegrating and was deemed unsalvageable.  The panels were removed, but thankfully not discarded.


The parlor floor, where Pierre & Fred had been, is now home to the upscale Hayward House.  Its owners, John Goldstone and his wife, the former Marin Hopper (daughter of motion picture actor Dennis Hopper), live upstairs with their daughter.   Their meticulous restoration of the drawing room and dining room included resurrecting the ceiling stenciling from beneath decades of grime, repainting areas which were lost; and careful removal scores of nails and built up lacquer (from years of hair spray mist in the air).  The charming sixth floor where the elder Atterburys lived has exposed beams, strapwork hinges and other interior elements of the Arts & Crafts era.

John and Marin Goldstone have sensitively restored the drawing room floor where, thankfully, most of the original elements survive.  photo courtesy of John Goldstone
The façade was touched up, again, in 2015.  Grosvenor Atterbury’s eccentric and wonderful purposely-accidental design mostly survives and is still a cause of occasional head-scratching by passersby.

many thanks to John and Marin Goldstone for taking me through their exceptional home.