Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Transfiguration Lutheran Church - 74 West 126th Street



In 1894 general contractors banded together to form a united front against the tradesmen's unions.  The move was in direct response to a general strike of the carpenters' unions against sub-contracting, called "lumping."  At a meeting in Renwick Hall on September 24, the builders formed the Employers' and Builders' League, with architect and builder John P. Leo elected president.

The Real Estate Record & Guide later said it "proved so effective and useful" that it was incorporated.  It was now known as The Builders' League of New York.

John P. Leo remained its president and when the group laid plans for a permanent headquarters in 1897, he personally designed the building.  Located in Harlem at No. 74 West 126th Street, between Fifth and Lenox Avenues, it sat on a block lined with high-stooped brownstones.  Building Trades Employers' Association Bulletin later explained the group "settled there because a majority of its charter members dwelt north of Central Park and the location was convenient for them"


Completed in January 1898, the Record & Guide described the 25-foot wide building as "Romanesque, a style peculiarly adapted for use in a building of this kind."   Leo's was a restrained take on Romanesque Revival, foregoing the chunky stone blocks and massive arches in favor of an ordered facade.

Three stories tall, the base was of brownstone and the upper two stories of light gray brick.   Leo incorporated expected Romanesque Revival elements--heavy, ornate medieval carvings on the newels of the shallow stoop and brackets of the second floor balcony, for instance; but introduced arched openings--a hallmark of the style--only at the second floor.  The Record & Guide approved "The general effect of the building, externally, is one of dignity and solidity, and the details have been carefully studied by the architect."

Building Trades Employers Assoc Bulletin, January 1904, (copyright expired)
In the basement were bowling alleys; on the first floor was a 10-food wide entry hall leading to the staircase.  Also on this floor were the billiard room and cafe.  The second story contained a foyer, large ladies' parlor and a double-height assembly room, the ceiling of which rose 16 feet.  Designed for entertainments as well as meetings, it featured a musicians' gallery.  On the top floor were a small apartment for the steward, a board room, and the hat and coat room.  The interiors were, according to the Record & Guide "tastefully decorated."

A reception for members was held on the evening of January 14, 1898; but the "formal opening" was held on March 10.  The Builders' League said of its upcoming "stag entertainment," "An interesting programme has been arranged and the occasion promises to be almost attractive one."

The Builders' League of New York may have been composed of builders and contractors; but they were chiefly well-to-do gentlemen.  For the dinner held on December 15, 1900, for instance, the assembly room was decorated with palms and flowers, and an orchestra played.  The Record & Guide noted "a confusing variety of wines and cordials increased the palatory enjoyment, and no doubt aided digestion."

By the turn of the century the Clio Club used rooms in the League's building for its meetings.  Founded in 1892 its members were mostly women, although men were occasionally admitted.  Its main purpose was to foster "mental improvement and social intercourse."  By its own description, it would seem there was little that the club did not discuss.  In Club Women of New York, the Clio Club said it "interests itself in education, the home, philanthropy, arts, social economics, the drama, fiction, historical research, nature study, poetry, and women's ideal."

In December 1901, for instance, the club met to hear Mrs. Charles Milton Ford read her paper "Civic Responsibility;" Mrs. Daniel B. Van Houten, who spoke on "The Gospel of Wealth;" and Mrs. Charles Appleton Terry, who addressed the "One Great Need of a Crowded City."  The New-York Tribune mentioned that "Musical numbers were interspersed."

On July 20, 1909 the Builders' League sold their clubhouse to the Harlem Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church.   The church had been at No. 191 East 121st Street for years.  By 1910 it shared the building with the Lenox Avenue Union Church, which moved from No. 39 West 119th Street.

Interestingly, while the Harlem Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church held the mortgage on the property, it was the Lenox Avenue Union Church that hired architect Nathan G. Kelsey in June 1912 to renovate the structure from a clubhouse to a proper church.  Kelsey's plans called for new structural beams, interior walls and, most importantly, "new front wall."  The renovations cost the church $10,000--more than a quarter of a million dollars today.  When completed, there was no trace of John P. Leo's club building.
A postcard showed the astounding make-over.  The rough-cut blocks of Leo's basement level are all that are left of the original design.

Kelsey's two-part design featured a rusticated brick base interrupted by three pointed-arch openings trimmed in terra cotta.  The churches saved money by using brick almost exclusively in the detailing.  The quoins and paneled spandrels of the two-story upper portion were executed in brick rather than stone.  The three double-height Gothic arches were given terra cotta drip moldings.  Kelsey turned from neo-Gothic to Flemish Renaissance for the high gable, where brickwork more than the eave line suggested the stepped motif.

Two years later the Lenox Church announced an upcoming move.  Having merged with the Central Church of the Disciples of Christ, in February 1914 the two congregations reported that a new edifice would be erected "in the vicinity of 110th Street."

With its new home completed the Lenox Avenue Union Church sold its share of the 126th Street church to the Harlem Swedish Lutheran Church on October 18, 1918.  But the Swedish congregation would not stay much longer.

The demographics of the Harlem neighborhood had starkly changed.  The population was now mostly black--an issue that did not escape the notice of the United Lutheran Church.  In 1920 the Church moved to establish a "mission in the heart of Manhattan" for those worshipers who, according to the Minutes of the Biennial Convention, "on account of the color which God put in their skin, were without a home."

On New Year's Day 1923 the Harlem Swedish Lutheran Church was purchased for $57,000 (the Minutes grumbled that it was "almost twice its pre-war value).   The convention minutes said "This structure had originally been a clubhouse" but had been rebuilt "until it was a modern church with a beautiful auditorium on the first floor, a Sunday school room and kitchen on the second floor, janitor's quarters on the third floor, offices and rooms for the workers on the first and second floors, and a bowling alley in the basement."

"The name chosen, the Church of the Transfiguration, is the same as that of a famous New York church of another faith," admitted the minutes, but, it hoped, "in time [it] will become as well known in its way as the other 'little church around the corner.'"

Instead it was doggedly known for the racial make-up of its congregation.  On June 12, 1927, when The New York Times reported on the ordination of seven new Lutheran ministers, it singled out one.  "One of the class is a negro, Nicholas Morris Chisholm.  He will become assistant pastor of the Negro Lutheran Church of the Transfiguration."

For years the church would never be mentioned in articles about sermons, events, or celebrations with the identifying tag "negro" or "colored."   Perhaps the first example of the congregation being referred to simply as "the Lutheran Church of the Transfiguration" came in August 1930 when a change was made to the staff.  That was when James Soler arrived from Argentina to serve as pastor of the Spanish-speaking West Indian members. 

In 1932 a tiny wooden house survived next door.   photograph from the collection of the New York Public Library

Despite the make-up of his congregation, it was not race that was on the mind of Rev. Dr. Samuel Trexler on Sunday, March 10, 1935.  It was Adolph Hitler.

The Nazis had outlawed independent religious sects in Germany and ordered all churches to unify as the Protestant Reich Church.   Church leaders protested, forming the Confessional Synod, and demonstrated against the system.  A massive rally was planned for that same Sunday and Rev. Trexler announced his support from the pulpit.

"The protest of the churchmen of Germany planned for today must have a heartening effect upon Christians throughout the world," he told the congregation.  "Confronted by the State and the Word of God, they are like Luther at Worms when he said, 'Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise.  God help me.'"

The minister's prediction of a "heartening effect" was premature.  As could be expected in retrospect, the demonstration did not end well for the religious leaders.  On March 18 the Chicago Tribune reported "About 700 Confessional synod pastors were arrested in Berlin and throughout Germany during the last 24 hours to prevent them from reading the synod's proclamation which sharply criticizes the Nazi church regime."

The newspaper predicted that many more arrests would follow.  "More than 5,000 pastors are identified with the Confessional movement" and added "Nazi official acted aso against the Catholics and Masons.  Secret police searched the Convent of the Good Shepherd...and arrested the mother superior and her assistant for reasons which were not announced."

If press coverage of Transfiguration Lutheran Church seemed racially-focused before, it was never more so than following the May 30, 1956 ordination of 28-year old Rev. Robert Tage Neilssen.  The shocking news was reported throughout the state of New York.

The Associated Press reported Neilssen "will become the first white pastor of a New York church with an all-Negro congregation."  The new minister was barraged with questions that would be highly inappropriate today.  Why was he interested in serving a Negro congregation?  How was he received by the members?

The novelty of a white man shepherding a black congregation resulted in reporters filing into the church for Neilssen's first day on the job.  On June 4, 1956 The Times reported "At the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Transfiguration...the Rev. Robert Tage Neilssen preached his first sermon as the white pastor of a Negro congregation."

Perhaps speaking more to the reporters at one point than to his flock, Neilssen said "Religiously speaking, segregation is living a lie.  When I deny that any man is my brother, I am denying that God is the Father of us all."

Racial tensions across America resulted in riots in New York, Houston and Miami in the late 1970s and 1980.   Rev. James Gunther, now pastor of Transfiguration, noted with near resignation in December 1981 "things do not look as hopeful as they did five or 10 years ago."  He suggested that minority church leaders should "give the city some advice in dealing with black and Puerto Rican constituencies."


Transfiguration Lutheran Church continues its work after nearly 95 years in the remodeled clubhouse.  Sadly Nathan G. Kelsey's Flemish gable was removed rather than restored--no doubt because of financial reasons--and the brick and terra cotta facade has been painted.  The historic little structure nevertheless maintains a quaint presence among its brownstone neighbors.

photographs by the author

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Horgan & Slattery's Nos. 329 to 343 West 71st Street




A rather startling report, at least in real estate circles, appeared in The New York Times on April 5, 1895.  Within a matter of weeks every one of the eight rowhouse recently completed by Horgan & Slattery had sold.  The rapid sales spoke of the desirability of the residences.

And Arthur J. Horgan and Vincent Slattery needed the cash.  In 1894, when construction of the row began, their firm declared bankruptcy "with a large indebtedness," according to American Bankruptcy Reports a few years later.  By now they had re-incorporated as "Horgan and Slattery Company:" but when that firm failed within two years, they reformed as Horgan & Slattery, using their wives' names.

The struggling partners would find salvation in the highest city offices.  Tammany Hall Mayor Robert Anderson Van Wyck would funnel many civic commissions to Horgan & Slattery, and designed by other architects were filtered through them for approval as "consulting architects."  It all prompted an infuriated New York Times editorial on July 15, 1899 that questioned who these unknown upstarts were. "Does anybody know who they are or what they have done or why any human being should pay them a nickel each for their opinions on the art of architecture or even whether they exist?" it asked.

But despite their obscurity and their future bad press; Horgan & Slattery had managed to produce a row of impressive Italian Renaissance Revival residences.  Five stories tall and romantically embellished with Venetian touches--balconies and faux loggias, for instance--they were faced in yellow brick and lavished with terra cotta.  A bit surprisingly, given their formal facades, the pattern of the row was an off-kilter A-B-B-A-B-B-B-A.

Venetian style masks grin down below heraldic-type shields.

The new owners along the row were professional and wealthy.  Among them were architect Samuel Breck Parkman Trowbridge and his wife at No. 331; the wealthy widow of lace merchant Richard Muser at No. 343; and advertising executive Henry Brock's family were in No. 339.

Perhaps it was his upcoming marriage to Edith Hellman that prompted 23-year old George Louis Beer to purchase No. 329.  The couple was married on November 11, 1896 and despite both coming from prominent Jewish families, the service which took place in Sherry's Red Room was conducted by Felix Adler, founder of the Ethical Culture movement.

Beer was a historian and economist.  He graduated from Columbia University in 1892 and was now a professor of European History there.  His sister had married Edwin R. A. Seligman, son of banker Joseph Seligman, and like George, a economics professor at Columbia.  The new Mrs. Beer was was a granddaughter of Joseph Seligman.

George Louis Beer -- George Louis Beer: A Tribute to His Life and Work, 1924 (copyright expired)
Although his wedding ceremony may have hinted otherwise, Beer was at least marginally active in Jewish life.  He was a founding member in January 1897 of The Judaeans, a club which stated its goal as "to promote and further the intellectual and spiritual interests of Jews, and at least three-quarters of its members shall be engaged in literature, the arts of sciences."


When Mount Sinai Hospital relocated to new buildings covering a full block at Fifth Avenue and 100th Street in 1904, George and Edith endowed the facility with $10,000--more than a quarter of a million dollars today.

Beer, by now, had retired to focus on his research and writing.   Early in 1913 his four-volume set on the British colonial system was published--British Colonial Policy, 1754-1765; Origin of the British Colonial System, 1578-1666, and the two part The Old Colonial System.   On June 1 that year The Washington Herald announced that the combined works had earned him the first Loubat Prize for the best English language book on "history, geography, archaeology, ethnology, philogy, or numismatics of North America."

As war broke out in Europe, Beer's focus turned from Britain to Germany.  After "German apologists" routinely defended its actions to the still-neutral United States, Beer cautioned readers of The Sun on October 18 1914 to judge carefully.   Citing historian James Anthony Froude, he likened history to "a child's box of letters, with which we can spell any word we please.  We have only to pick out such letters as we want, arrange them as we like, and say nothing about those which do not suit our purpose."

The U.S. entrance into the war brought it closer to home for Beer.  He was appointed  "colonial expert" to President Woodrow Wilson's American Commission of Inquiry; and attended the Paris Peace Conference.  In 1919 he was appointed director of the Mandatory Section of the League of Nations.

On March 17, 1920 the New-York Tribune announced rather bluntly "George Louis Beer, forty-seven, historical and economic writer, is dead at his home, 329 West Seventy-first Street."  Edith remained in the house until November 1943.  In the meantime, she had as neighbors her relatives, Hugo and Hazel Seligman.

When the Seligmans moved into No. 343 in 1915 the house already had garnered a colorful history.  Its original owner was the then-recently widowed Cecelia Muser, whose husband, Richard, died under suspect circumstances in 1893.

Muser, whom the Evening World said was "supposed to be worth at least $1,000,000," was a partner in the Belgium lace importing firm Muser Bros., and according to the New-York Tribune, a "large owner of Chicago Gas and General Electric."  At the time the family, including son Richard Jr., maintained a country residence north of the city in Suffern, New York.  The Evening World described it as "a fine estate of 300 acres, with a fine house and outbuildings."


It was there he was found in the woods with a bullet in his head in August 1893.  He lived for 12 hours after being found; and immediately the theory of suicide was dismissed.  The Evening World, on August 11, stated the obvious:  "the fact that no pistol was found near the body gives color to the theory that he did not die by his own hand."

The perpetrator of the murder was never discovered; although suspicion was cast on Cecelia.  Town gossip in Suffern said that the Musers were planning a divorce "on account of differences between Mrs. Muser and the housekeeper," reported the Tribune.  The implied "differences" would have been an affair between the servant and Richard Muser.

When Cecelia arranged to have the funeral take place in the home of a relative, it only fueled speculation.   Some of Muser's friends, according to the New-York Tribune, said the funeral arrangements led credence to the "domestic trouble point of view" as the cause of the murder.

Cecelia Muser and, later, the Hugo Seligmans, lived at No. 343.

Cecelia moved into the 71st Street house and quickly ran into a different sort of trouble.  In the spring of 1896 she noticed laces worth $2,000  and other clothing items were missing.  Although it seems she did not immediately notify police, her neighbors, the Trowbridges did.  The newlyweds returned from Europe in May and Mrs. Trowbridge discovered her $400 wedding dress and $1,040 in other gowns had been stolen.

On a servant's bed on the top floor of the Trowbridge house at No. 331 were footprints.  Detectives followed them along the rooftops until they reached No. 339--the home of the Henry Brock family.  Brock, who was president of Brock's Commercial Agency, had eight children.  Two of them, 21-year old Georgie and 12-year old Florence, were about to be in hot water.

When detectives informed Mrs. Brock that there had been a burglary on the block, she allowed them in to investigate.  They checked the servants' shoes, none of which matched the prints.  But one pair, belonging to Florence, were a match.  "Just at this moment they saw a trunk being taken from the house," reported The New York Times.

Police followed the wagon the carried it to a warehouse.  Inside were not only Mrs. Trowbridge's dresses; but Cecelia Muser's expensive laces.  The Times noted "Miss Georgie Brock, who is a beautiful brunette, has always had a good reputation in her neighborhood, but her father said yesterday that Florence is unmanageable."

The girls were arrested for grand larceny on May 26 and Georgia admitted guilt.  It turned out that when Georgie realized what her sister had done, she tried to cover up the theft, sending the trunk to storage until she could quietly return the items to their owners.

Cecelia Muser, having gotten her laces back, refused to press charges.  Henry Brock attempted to minimize the theft, telling a reporter "It was merely a child's misdoings, serious enough, but due wholly to her lack of judgment."

Around 1903 Celelia moved to No. 505 West End Avenue.  The John Reinfrank family moved in; but their stay would be disastrously cut short.  Reinfrank (who at some point had dropped the "h" from Rheinfrank) was a director in the Germania Bank and the founder of the coal company J. Rheinfrank & Co.  Now retired, he had passed the operation of the business to his sons.  The Coal and Coal Trade Journal called him "one of the most highly esteemed" and "one of the wealthiest" in the business.

On Wednesday, June 15, 1904 Reinfrank and his wife, Katherine, (he was 75 and she was 64) joined a group of family and friends on the General Slocum, a steam-powered side wheeler hired by the German-language St. Mark's Lutheran Church to take a group on a day-long picnic outing.  Before making it to its destination the vessel caught fire and within a span of 15 minutes the ship burned to the waterline.  In the greatest loss of life in New York City until the World Trade Center attacks, nearly 1,000 people perished.

The Reinfrank's daughters were in Europe at the time.  Hearing of the disaster they boarded a ship to New York; they knew that their family would have known many of the victims but they were unaware that their parents were passengers.

On June 17 the New-York Tribune reported that brothers Frederick and Gustave Reinfrank, "two big Germans," "wandered disconsolately from the morgue to the scene of the accident, to Police Headquarters and back to the Morgue" looking for their parents."

John Reinfrank's body was identified and his funeral held in the 71st Street house on Sunday, June 19.  When the daughters arrived on the Lucania five days later, their brother was there to tell them the horrifying news.  At the time Katharine's body had still not been found.

Alice Miller purchased No. 343 in 1908, and sold it to the Seligmans in 1915.  Despite the ample size of the house, it was not large enough for the debutante entertainment for daughter Susan in December 1921.  The New York Herald announced on December 24 that her parents and her uncle Alfred F. Seligman, "will unite in giving a supper and dance next Monday night in the Plaza...There will be 300 guests."

The Seligmans left West 71st Street at least a decade before Edith Beer.   In 1935 it was home to attorney Alexander Cumming; but change was quickly coming.  By 1937 it was operated as a rooming house, home to tenants like former chorus girl Dorothy Sabine who sued the wealthy aeronautical supplies manufacturer J. D. Wooster Lambert that year for breach of contract.  Her questionable action claimed he had promised to pay her $300 a month as a "secretary" and to give her 20 percent of all profits.

In the meantime, the Brock house had seen more excitement following the stolen dresses episode.  For several years the Brock name appeared in the newspapers only to report their comings and goings at fashionable resorts like Atlantic City.   But then, on June 26, 1900 the New-York Tribune ran the mystifying headline "Henry Brock Disappears."

On the previous Saturday a "few thousand" of his clients received a letter that read:

Dear Sir: I regret to announce my inability to continue this business.  Accept my sincere thanks for your kind support and encouragement so many years.  I will be personally at your service any time you require me.  Respectfully yours, Henry Brock

The difficulty in obtaining that service would be that Brock simply vanished.  When two clerks in his office in the Park Row Building were questioned, they could only say that "Mr. Brock left town suddenly last Thursday night."  A review of the company's finances showed no outstanding debts.

The Brock house was eventually sold at auction in April 1908.  Like its neighbors, No. 339 was converted to furnished rooms during the Depression years.

As the 20th century drew to a close the houses were all treated with a bit more respect.  The George Beer house was remodeled into four apartments in 1973--three duplexes and a floor-through.  In 2011 No. 339 became "Class A apartments," and the Muser house at No. 343, too, became modern apartments.


Despite minor changes like replacement doors from the early 20th century in most of the houses, the row mostly retains its 1895 appearance.  And despite the black eye that Horgan & Slattery continues to wear more than a century later, most architectural historians grant the row a most favorable opinion.

photographs by the author

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Lost Jacob Ruppert Mansion - No. 1116 Fifth Avenue


A newspaper published the above photograph around 1900 (copyright expired)

When Andrew Carnegie purchased land between 90th and 91st Streets in 1899 as the site of his new mansion, other millionaires called him "foolish."  At least 20 blocks north of the mansion district, the plot seemed impossibly remote.

But Carnegie was not the first wealthy pioneer in the weedy district.  In 1880 Jacob Ruppert had put architect William Schickel to work designing a lavish mansion two blocks to the north, at the northeast corner of 93rd Street.   Construction began in 1881 and was not completed until 1883.

A four-story Victorian concoction of brick and stone, it melded several of the most popular architectural styles--Ruskinian  Gothic, Renaissance Revival, Romanesque Revival, and even a splash of French Second Empire in the full-story mansard.  Despite dormers, quoins, arched first floor windows, and quaint bays, it was the corner tower that stole attention.  Decorated with carved panels and friezes, girded by a cast iron balcony at the third floor, and topped by a conical cap pierced by delightful pointy-topped dormers, it dominated the design.

The completed Ruppert mansion, seen from the rear above, sat amid a rather desolate landscape.  The little white building to the right is the Eagle Hotel, a roadhouse.  photograph by Peter Baab, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Jacob Ruppert had humble beginnings.  Born on March 4, 1842, he was one of seven children of German immigrant Franz Ruppert, who had arrived in America in 1836.  The senior Ruppert started business as a grocer, then opened a malt-house on 13th Street and Avenue C--making him the first malt brewer in New York City.  His tavern was so successful that in 1851 he established the Turtle Bay Brewery on 45th Street, between Second and Third Avenues.

Jacob was nine years old at the time.  The following year he left school to enter his father's beer business.  The New-York Tribune later noted he "served for years, working up from the bottom and learning every feature of the trade."  By the time Franz Ruppert retired in 1870 Jacob was well prepared to take over the operation of the brewery.

Franz Ruppert died in October 1883, the same year that Jacob and his wife, the former Anna Gillig, moved into the Fifth Avenue mansion.  The couple two daughters and three sons.  Living in the house with them were 13 servants including a butler, cook, laundress, Japanese valet and maid.  Behind the house were apple and peach trees.

The Ruppert mansion reflected its owner's millions.  The interiors not designed by Schickel himself were done by Herter Brothers, the decorating firm that had redone the White House for President Grant.  As the Ruppert house neared completion, Herter Brothers was simultaneously at work on William. H. Vanderbilt's massive "petite chateau" 40 blocks to the south, the mansion of Darius Ogden Mills, and Jay Gould's sumptuous summer estate, Lyndhurst.
A musicians' gallery looks out onto the dining room.  The Herter Brothers frieze depicts a procession of children and animals, including leopards.  from Artistic Houses, Vol. II 1883 (copyright expired)

Costing $90,000--or about $2.2 million in 2017--the mansion included all the luxuries of the period.  The dining room, wainscoted in antique oak, included a small musicians' gallery behind a carved railing.  The walls were covered in embossed leather, its dark red design of grapes and vines touched in gold.
The chandelier is gilded bronze.  As in the dining room, the frieze (this one painted on canvas and applied to the walls) depicted children, these engaged in games.  from Artistic Houses, Vol. II 1883 (copyright expired)

The drawing room was lighter, a modified take on Louis XVI with ivory-painted woodwork touched in gold leaf.  An intricately-stenciled ceiling hung over hand-enameled Herter Brothers furniture.

Critics were not impressed.  The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide derided “It is evident that there are a great many things in the house . . . and that the house cost a great deal of money.  But it is impossible to discern any more artistic purpose on the part of the designer than to exhibit these two facts.”

More in keeping with Ruppert's German roots was his kneipstube, or beer drinking room.  The New-York Tribune singled it out, saying "There is a room in the Fifth-ave. home of Jacob Ruppert, the brewer, that is as delightful as it is unique.  A peep inside the 'kneipstube,' as the quaint room is called, is, in imagination, a trip to the Fatherland."

A faithful copy of a rathskeller, it included bulls-eye glass windows, an iron chandelier, and antique oak paneling.  German tavern furniture was placed around a large oaken center table.  Bronze medallions of German characters graced the paneling, and inscriptions in German reflected the purpose of the room.  One, for example, translated loosely to:

Malt and hops
Make good drops.

At one end of the vaulted room, a wall painting surmounted what appeared to be a huge beer barrel, or hogshead, planted deeply within the wall.  In actuality, it was a cleverly-disguised cabinet, the spigot of which was one used in Franz Ruppert's 1851 brewery.

Steins and drinking cups line the plate rail, and a painting of a Taverne Madchen, or tavern waitress, adorns the wall.  New-York Tribune, December 6, 1903 (copyright expired)

Ruppert decorated his kneipstube with German steins and a tile stove.  The Tribune remarked "This is an old German stove, imported for Mr. Ruppert several years ago.  It is made of tile, and presents an appearance odd enough in this country, where most stoves are of iron.  This is one of the most highly valued articles in the room."

The Jacob Ruppert Brewery, now located on Third Avenue and 91st Street, was one of the largest in the nation, producing around 350,000 million barrels of beer annually.  By the end of the century it provided employment to 400 men, and required 200 horses and 135 delivery wagons.

Along with his professional pursuits (he became president of the Delavergne Refrigerating machine Co., and a director in the Astoria Silk Works, for instance), Ruppert turned his attention to horse racing--a visible and expensive pastime of Manhattan millionaires.  In the fall of 1886 he bought the Hudson River Driving Park.  The New York Times noted in January 1887 that he "is arranging to have four trotting meetings there this Summer.  D. B. Herrington, well known as a turfman and trainer of trotters, is to have charge of the park, and has plans laid out to make it a most attractive spot as well as a fast track."  Ruppert's summer estate, Hudson Brook Farm, near Rhinebeck, New York, would soon be known for his impressive stable of pedigree steeds.

In the meantime, Jacob Ruppert, Jr. was enjoying the privileges not available to his father as a young man.  Born in 1867, he was educated at Columbia Grammar School.  He joined his father not only in the brewery, but in the Astoria Silk Works and the Delavergne Refrigerating Machine Co.   His advantaged upbringing as the eldest son of a millionaire was reflected in his staggering number of memberships to exclusive clubs: the Manhattan, New York Athletic, Larchmont Yacht, Atlantic Yacht, New York Yacht, Jockey, Lotos, Sagamore, and Algonquin among them.

He shared his father's interest in horses, and went a step further by breeding and showing Saint Bernard dogs.  He was, therefore, a member of the English Kennel and the American Kennel Clubs.

While her husband and sons involved themselves in business and sports, Anna focused on her growing daughters.  On February 4, 1893 The New York Times reported "A very large reception was given yesterday by Mrs. Jacob Ruppert and the Misses Ruppert of 1,116 Fifth Avenue."

Two years later, on May 3, the mansion was the setting of the wedding of daughter Anna to Herman Adolph Schalk.  The Tammany Times reported "The magnificent home of Mr. Jacob Ruppert, the millionaire brewer, No. 1116 Fifth avenue, was the scene of one of the most beautiful weddings of the season this week."

Ruppert had given society florist Hanft Brothers carte blanche in decorating the house, which, according to Tammany Times, was "transformed into a floral bower."  The newspaper called the mansion a "fairy scene of flowers," and reported "A marriage bell of white roses was suspended from the centre of this flowery canopy, and two immense baskets of white roses divided the bridal cortege from the guests.  The four immense mirrors were draped with smilax studded with white roses, orchids and lilies of the valley."

An orchestra played the music, which included the wedding march from "Lohengrin."  Among the guests were Archbishop Michael Corrigan (the ceremony, interestingly, was performed by the rector of St. Joseph's Church, Rev. Father Lemmel), Senator David B. Hill, former Governor Roswell P. Flower and his wife, millionaires John D. Crimmins and Thomas E. Crimmins, and the Duchess of Castelluccia,.  A wedding dinner followed the ceremony, after which was a reception from 8 to 11 p.m.

Two months later, almost to the day, Cornelia Ann Ruppert was married.  Hers, however, would not include thousands of dollars in flowers, an orchestra, nor wealthy guests with lavish gifts.  On July 2 she appeared at the Paterson, New Jersey City Hall with orchestra leader Nathan Franko.  The 33-year old groom routinely appeared in the mansions of Manhattan's millionaires to provide musical accompaniment to balls, elaborate dinners or weddings--not to court their daughters.

While Anna had been dressed in ivory satin trimmed with Venetian lace and dripping with diamonds, Cornelia wore "a light gray traveling skirt and a changeable silk blouse waist," according to The New York Times the following day.  The newspaper mentioned "The general understanding here is that the match was a runaway."

The bride and groom took a carriage to the United States Hotel where a dinner was waiting for them.  Cornelia told reporters that immediately afterward "she was going direct to her father's house."

If anyone wondered how smoothly that meeting went, it was obvious the following year when Cornelia died of typhoid fever.  Franko was barred from the Fifth Avenue mansion following the funeral and a bitter, public court battle played out over control of the body and place of burial.

By now Jacob, Jr. was the general manager of the brewery.  On January 30, 1897 the New-York Tribune noted that beyond competing in regattas in his steam yacht, the Albatross, "he finds further vent for his enthusiastic ardor in athletic and outdoor sports.  Before many years that ardor in outdoor sports would manifest itself in baseball.

In 1898 Jacob, Jr. was elected to Congress.  But he was back in the Fifth Avenue mansion the following March when he fell seriously ill.  The New York Times reported on March 14 that he "caught a severe cold about ten days ago while leaving the Metropolitan Opera."  His condition worsened, said the newspaper, to pneumonia.

His doctor, E. G. Janeway (who was "one of the physicians attending Rudyard Kipling") changed his diagnosis before long.  Two days later The Times said that Ruppert "is lying ill with typhoid fever" but "was said last night to be somewhat improved."

By 1911, when this photograph was taken, development was beginning to catch up to the Ruppert mansion.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

Jacob Ruppert, Jr. did recover.  But his younger brother, Frank, contracted typhoid fever three years later.  The 30-year old had been accepted into Columbia University's School of Applied Sciences years earlier; but opted instead to go into the brewery.  After suffering with the disease for several weeks, he died in the mansion on October 20, 1902.  His funeral was held there two days later.

In reporting on his death The Evening World noted "He was unmarried" and "was looked upon as a good fellow."

Despite its love of horses, the family embraced the new automobile trend.  In 1914 Anna owned a Peerless, and Jacob, Jr. was driving a sportier Simplex, known for speed.

Anna Ruppert was driven around in a 1914 Peerless, similar to this model.  It retailed for up to $5,000--or about $110,000 today.  Country Life in America, December 1914 (copyright expired)
That same year, in December, The Evening World broke the story that Jacob Rupert, Jr. had purchased the National League baseball team, the New York Highlanders.  The newspaper said that rumors held that "Mr. Ruppert has long wanted to get into baseball."  He paid an astonishing half million dollars for the team.

But the Ruppert family was also dealing with a serious threat--the Temperance Movement.  The possibility of Prohibition was genuine, and its effects not only to America's brewers and distillers, but to the population at large, would be monumental.  On February 22, 1914 The Sun published a lengthy interview with Jacob Ruppert, Jr. in which he insisted that Prohibition would not promote temperance.  He went on to expound that legislating what one could drink was an invasion of personal rights.

Jacob Ruppert would not live to see Prohibition enacted.  On May 25, 1915 he died in the mansion with his entire family around him.  His more than $6 million estate was divided among the family; with Jacob, Jr. receiving the mansion while Anna had life-long rights to live there.

Jacob, Jr. was now the head of the Jacob Ruppert Brewery, which was putting out 2 million barrels of beer a year.  He was also the owner of the New York American Ball Club.

The Jacob Ruppert Brewery vats, several stories tall, were deemed the largest in the world in 1918. The Sun, October 6, 1918 (copyright expired)

Within two years Ruppert would own another ball club--the New York Yankees.   In an ironic twist the Fenway Realty Trust took out a $300,000 mortgage on Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, in May 1920.  The mortgagee was Jacob Ruppert, Inc.  The attorney for the Boston team tried valiantly to distance the club from the Yankee's owner.  "There is no connection between the club and either Jacob Ruppert or the Jacob Ruppert corporation," he said.  The Boston Red Sox, Thomas J. Barry insisted, were "merely a tenant" or the ballpark.

Yankee Stadium has long been nicknamed The House That Ruth Built.  And while Babe Ruth may have been responsible for making the Yankees champions, it was, of course, Jacob Ruppert, Jr. who built the new stadium.  On April 1, 1922 he announced that after 18 months of negotiations, he had finally succeeded in having two Bronx streets closed to accommodate the site of the structure.

Now he embarked on finding contractors to erect Yankee Stadium.  The New-York Tribune reported on April 1 "Figuring as conservatively as possible, the stadium even without the upper tier, will be able to accommodate 60,000 fans in case of necessity during the early weeks of October."

On March 16, 1924 Anne Gillig Ruppert died in the Fifth Avenue mansion.  She was 82 years old.  In the four decades she had lived here, she had seen drastic change in the neighborhood.  Farms had given way to mansions, which were now being replaced by apartment buildings.  Jacob, Jr. and his family still lived in the house; a situation that would not last much longer.

In 1925, months before demolition, nothing had changed to the old house.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

Within the year Ruppert sold the mansion to Anthony Campagna, who assembled the Fifth Avenue and Ninety-third Street Corporation to erect a high-end cooperative apartment building on the site.  But before it was totally demolished, Ruppert saved entire rooms of the family home.  Anna's bedroom was dismantled and installed intact in Ruppert's new Garrison, New York country estate.  Even her furniture and decorative objects were brought in, creating a sort of time-capsule shrine.

The Garrison house also received the dining room fireplace and musicians' gallery; and, like his mother's bedroom, his father's favorite room, the kneipstube was reinstalled in the new mansion.

The cover of a 1926 brochure pictured the new building.  (copyright expired)

Jacob Ruppert's massive mansion, which once defined the Fifth Avenue frontier, was replaced by 1115 Fifth Avenue, designed by J. E. R. Carpenter.  It survives.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

A Century of Shoes - No. 116 Duane Street



Duane Street was still lined with brick-faced homes in 1841; but change was rapidly overtaking the change.  As well-to-do residents moved farther north; merchants and shopkeepers moved into their former homes.  On July 22, 1841 an advertisement appeared in the New-York Tribune.  "Ladies who are particular in the article of Shoes, we would recommend to call at No. 116 Duane-street, where they will find some choice specimens, made of the best materials and of superior workmanship, combining elegance with durability."

It was perhaps the first hint of the shoe district that would engulf the Duane Street neighborhood before the end of the century.

In 1862 the house where the shoemaker had been was replaced by a five-story commercial building faced in white marble.  The cast iron storefront was manufactured by D. D. Badger & Co., run by Daniel D. Badger who was highly responsible for the popularity of cast iron facades in New York City.

Sorely abused, Badger's cast iron storefront is nevertheless surprisingly intact.

 The initial tenants were all in the wholesale dry goods business.  They included Joseph I. Barnum, "clothing;" Motts, Hyde & Vanduzer, "woolens;" and Runk & White, "clothing,"  

Fifteen years later, in 1876, there were still only three three tenants, Meyer and Frank Neubrik's clothing firm, M. Neubrik & Brother; Isidor Silverman, who dealt in "window shades and paper hangings;" and importer Henry C. Ely.   One of those firms was hiring in December 1878.  An ad in The New York Herald sought a "Boy--Must have business experience; bright, honest, industrious; salary first year $100."  The wages would equal about $50 a week today.

Sisters Adele and Annie Mary Hutton were among the first New York socialites to marry European nobility.  Annie became Countess Harold de Moltke Huitfelt, and Adele the Marquise de Portes.  Although the sisters lived in Paris, they retained possession of their various Manhattan properties, including Nos. 114 and 116 Duane Street, owned by Adele.

On Christmas Eve 1892 Adele died in Paris.  Her husband Comte Henri de Portes, rather quickly liquidated her property.  On May 27, 1893 The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide noted that he had sold both Duane Street buildings to Hoffman Brothers, for $250,000.  The significant price tag, around $6.8 million in 2017, reflected the commercial activity and property values in what was now New York's shoe district.

The marble building filled with footwear companies.  In 1895 the Boston Guarantee Shoe Company was here; and within two years shoemakers I. E. Schoonmaker & Co. (Hiram Schoonmaker would stay on past the turn of the century); and David Simon would move in.

On March 9, 1899 The New York Times reported that the "marble and iron front building" had been purchased by Leo Babalgin.  Along with Schoonmaker, his tenant list included the boot and shoe firms Carlisle Shoe Co.; Friedland, Epstein & Co.; and Hathaway, Soule & Harrington.


By 1903 No. 116 had a new owner, Emanuel Stein.  He hired architect Benjamin E. Stern to do the first of a string of renovations.  The $12,000 in updating initiated in March that year included "new steel beams, girders, elevator shaft, [and] partitions."

Stern would be back 11 years later.  Daniel P. Morse, president of Morse & Rogers, owned No. 116 in 1914, as well as the adjoining building at Nos. 118-120.  He commissioned Stern to update both buildings.  When The New York Times reported on October 9 that the Concord Shoe Company had leased the store and basement of No. 116 for three years, it noted "Extensive improvements are being made to the building, including new front, elevator changes, etc."

Stern's redo of the facade replaced the elegant white marble with beige brick.  The no-nonsense commercial design featured broad expanses of glass.  The sparse decoration, influenced by the Arts & Crafts Movement, were limited to a projecting bay at the second floor, topped by a triangular pediment; rusticated piers along the sides, a cast metal cartouche and paneled spandrels.  Interestingly, D. D. Badger's cast iron storefront was left intact.  The cast cornice between the fourth and fifth floors, too, seems to be a surviving element from the original building.

When Concord Shoe Company signed the lease, The Record & Guide mentioned that the deal, "together with those involving six other buildings...indicate the continuance of the shoe and rubber trade in that vicinity."

The following year more renovations, while somewhat minor, were done.  Architect Charles Sheres drew plans for a new water tank and "steel supports."  With those alterations completed, Concord Shoe Company shared the building with new tenants: T. H. Hindle Co., "typewriter supplies;" Hudson Novelty Company, and Deacon Rubber Co.  Another typewriter supply company, S. T. Smith, moved in the following year.

After renting the store and basement for five years, Concord Shoe Company signed a lease for the entire building in January 1919.  The Record & Guide said "It is one of the best buildings in the shoe district, with elevators, heat and all improvements."  Apparently the Concord Shoe Company only partly agreed.  Only days later the firm announced that it "contemplates alterations" to the building.

The George H. Snow Co., shoe manufacturers, was already in the building; and before the year was out Concord Shoe Company would lease space to the Oriental Slipper Mfg. Co., and the top floor to the U. S. Electric Mfg. Corp.

In 1920 the "recently modernized" building was valued at $125,000; nearly $1.5 million in today's dollars.  Although the shoe district was still firmly implanted on Duane Street, luring tenants like the Saks-Meth Shoe Co. in 1921; other concerns moved in as well.   In 1937 the S. Weinstein Supply Company, hardware dealers, moved in.  And Thomas H. Hindle's typewriter supply store was still here in 1940.

S. Weinstein Supply Company found itself the victim of a long-term felon in 1942.  William Conklin did not fit the normal description of a veteran crook.  The New York Times described him as "an elderly, well-dressed man" 66-years old.  Despite his grandfatherly image, he had a record of 28 arrests and 21 convictions going back to 1898; and had served terms in Sing Sing and the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary.

Conklin's several aliases included Frank Murphy, Julius Goldberg and Edward Howard. In January 1942 he began "systematically looting mail boxes" in the Tribeca district.  Conklin knew that office building mail boxes would contain dozens of envelopes containing checks.

After a six-week stake-out, detectives finally nabbed Conklin on February 13 "while fingering mail boxes in a loft building at Broadway and Howard Street," reported The Times.  When police searched his apartment the found "equipment used by forgers, including ink eradicators and shading pencils."  Among the thefts he confessed to was "a check for $557.48 made out to the S. Weinstein Supply Company."

One tenant found itself on the opposite of the law five years later.  Shoe buyer George F. Arronson and his sons, Myron and Jules, posted $5,000 cash bail on January 23, 1947, charged by the Federal Government with "conspiring to bribe an official of the War Assets Administration." The New York Times explained "The defendants are alleged to have offered a WAA official $20,000 to help them fraudulently purchase nearly $1,000,000 in surplus steel, textiles and shoes."

No. 116 continued to be home to shoe companies as late as 1958 when the Asher Shoe Company moved in.  Then, as Tribeca changed to a trendy residential neighborhood, the upper floors were converted to apartments in 1996.

Amazingly, a faded sign "SHOE & RUBBER" is still legible on the cast iron entablature.

In 2016 the ground floor, where Concord Shoe Company sold footwear for years, became home to the Trinity Boxing Club.  Although the Corinthian capitals of the pilasters and columns have fallen off; Daniel Badger's cast iron store front with its multi-paned transoms survives somewhat humiliated by roll-down security gates and graffiti.  The incongruous 1914 upper floors are little changed; but leave us wondering how the marble front must have appeared.

photographs by the author

Friday, February 17, 2017

Fasces on the Upper East Side - 405 East 72nd Street


The several fasces that decorate the facade had nothing to do with contemporary politics.

In August 1928 Fannie Sailor sold her 25-foot wide, four story brick building at No. 405 East 72nd Street to Stanhope Estates, Inc.  It was the last piece in the puzzle the real estate developer was putting together.  Stanhope Estates, Inc. had already acquired Nos. 407 through 411 and now controlled a 100-foot wide building plot.

Something got in the way of its project, though; quite possibly the onslaught of the Great Depression.  But finally, a different developer, the newly-organized 405 East Seventy-second Street Corporation, filed plans on October 5, 1934 for "a new tenement house," as described by The New York Times.

The syndicate had commissioned Boak & Paris, Inc. to design its structure.  Both Russel M. Boak and Hyman F. Paris had worked in the drafting rooms of architect Emery Roth.  They struck out as partners in 1927 and by now were giving the Art Deco style--most often in the form of apartment buildings--their own architectural personality.

Completed in 1935, the six-story structure had eight apartments per floor.  The Depression may have been responsible for the seeming cost-cutting on avoidable materials and decoration.  The all-brick facade was sparsely trimmed in stone and the upper openings were blunt and industrial.



And yet the architects were able to create a striking Art Deco design using minimal, well-placed elements.  The stone-framed entrance spilled in waterfall tiers on either side.  The second floor was defined by a brick frieze outlined in stone.  Waterfalls reappeared here in the bases of two five-story piers that culminated in bold, if a bit stumpy, fasces.


Although the Roman symbol of strength in unity had already been adopted by Benito Mussolini; the fasces here had nothing to do with the Fascist movement.  The symbol had gained popularity in America in the 1920s, appearing on several Federal buildings.  As a matter of fact, while Boak & Paris were designing No, 405 East 72nd Street, Cass Gilbert was busy working on new flagpoles for the Supreme Court Building, including the fasces among their symbols.

A dozen other smaller fasces dotted the spandrels of the fourth through sixth floors.  They, along with stone rondels, paneled blocks which speckled the parapet, and a decorative bandcourse above the sixth floor provided relief to the otherwise somber brick.  The architects turned the problem of requisite fire escapes into an architectural advantage.  The sculptural Art Deco railings gave the appearance of balconies, melded with the overall design and added dimension.

Despite the ongoing Depression the building soon filled.  Its tenant list was composed mostly of professionals, like attorneys and physicians.  Among the first residents was lawyer Fridolin A. Buholzer, a member of the firm John W. Davis.  Moving in next door to him was Frank Miller.  Theirs would be a contentious relationship.

Above the stylish Art Deco entrance way is a nearly sculptural fire escape landing.

When Buholzer came home each day he relaxed by playing his accordion.  The music that relieved his stress only heightened that of his next door neighbor.  On October 6, 1935 Miller banged on his door and threatened to call the police and have him arrested for disorderly conduct.  The lawyer insisted he had a legal right to play until 11:00 and demanded, according to a newspaper, "if Mr. Miller had a complaint he could make it to the landlord."

The feud had now begun.  Twice Miller called the police in an attempt to have his neighbor arrested.  He was successful in January and Buholzer was forced to appear in court on the charge of disorderly conduct.  The charges were dismissed.  And so now Buholzer struck back.

A few weeks later, on March 9, 1936, he filed suit in the Supreme Court for $25,000.  He alleged "damage to his reputation."

Publicity relations man George D. Lottman and family were also early tenants.  He and his wife, Betty, had two sons, Herbert and Evan.   Lottman started out as a writer and editor with diverse publications like the United States Tobacco Journal, The New York American (for which he was "zoo editor"), and Billboard.

Then, in 1928, he started his own publicity business.  By now he represented celebrities like Dorothy Lamour, Rudy Vallee, George Jessel, Helen Morgan, and Kate Smith.  Another of his clients, Texas Guinan, was perhaps as well known for her notorious speak-easy, the 300 Club, as for her film career. Lottman became ill in 1941, and died in his apartment on September 25, 1942.

Among the physicians living in the building at the time was Dr. Kenneth J. Loder and his wife.  The war in Europe brought with it hardships at home, including rationing of gasoline, nylon, and household staples like butter.   The private consumption of gasoline was further restricted in January 1943 when the Government banned the use of automobiles for anything but business purposes.

Dr. Loder thought, perhaps, no one would notice if he and his wife used their car on a Saturday night.  He was wrong.

The Office of Price Administration sent policemen on motorcycles onto the streets of Manhattan "to check on passenger cars and learn their business."   On January 9 they were focusing on places of entertainment, including the Metropolitan Opera House, Madison Square Garden, Carnegie Hall, and night clubs like the Stork Club and Eddie's.

Just before midnight, Dr. Loder was pulled over.  The New York Times reported he "admitted that, after working all day, he was going to see a motion picture, accompanied by his wife."  The couple was publicly embarrassed by their breaking the law and apparent lack of sense of patriotic duty (the newspaper noted only one other car that night had violated the ban).  Nevertheless, they were sent home without a fine and having learned a lesson.

Throughout the rest of the century No. 405 continued to be home to professional and financially-comfortable residents.  Attorney Julius G. Paider, Jr. and his wife the former Clara Stolba, lived here for years.  He was appointed law secretary to State Supreme Court Justice Ferdinand Pecora in 1945.  He subsequently served Justice Benedict Dineer and George M. Carney.  On April 5, 1971 he collapsed in the New York County Courthouse of an apparent heart attack.  The 68-year old was pronounced dead in Beekman-Downtown Hospital shortly afterward.


Little has changed to the Boak & Paris building.  It is one of only a few of their surviving Art Deco style buildings in Manhattan, and a striking example of how sometimes minimal ornamentation trumps excess--and that a fasces does not always mean there is a Fascist behind the scenes.

photographs by the author

Thursday, February 16, 2017

From "Vile Women" & Gambling to Pioneering Black Modern Dance - 17 W. 24th Street


Despite repeated alterations to the ground floor and parlor levels; the upper stories retain their 1852 residential appearance.

As the mansions of Manhattan's wealthy pushed north past 23rd Street, builder James Wellock erected two upscale homes on West 24th Street, between Broadway and Sixth Avenue.  He advertised Nos. 17 and 41 "For sale or to let" on April 14, 1852.

No. 17 was the more upscale of the two, Wellock describing it as "a very superior four story brown stone front house, 28 feet wide and 65 feet deep, finished complete with all the modern improvements, and ready for immediate occupation."  The builder overstated the width by two feet; yet at 26 feet it was on par with the mansions of Fifth Avenue.

The Italianate-style house sat above an English basement.  There was, almost assuredly, a cast iron balcony at the parlor level, and a handsome entrance with foliate brackets upholding the pediment.  An Italianate cast metal cornice featured paired brackets.

Who the first resident of the house was is unclear; however it may have been Wellock, himself.  He was involved in the speculative real estate business, and on April 19, 1855 he advertised "Four new and beautiful three-story, high basement, Philadelphia brick houses" on East 40th Street.  For potential homeowners who could not make it to his office at No. 27 Wall Street during business hours, he offered to see them "mornings and evenings" at the 24th Street residence.

The family of William P. Jones was here in the early 1860s.  In 1861 Jones was elected to the Chamber of Commerce.   The house was filled with expensive rosewood furniture, imported carpets and even a billiard table constructed by Phelan & Collander.  The firm, located on Broadway, was recognized as the premier manufacturers of billiard tables.

On November 30, 1864 12-year old Harry W. Jones died.  His funeral was held in the house that week.  The Jones family was quick to leave.  It would appear that they relocated to another city or abroad; for the auction held in the house on June 20, 1865 included everything, from "crockery, kitchen ware, [and] oil clothes," to "rich Brocatel Curtains, with elaborate Cornices, Rosewood Etagere, Clock and Mantel Ornaments," mahogany and black walnut bedroom suites, and even the "handsome Gas Chandeliers."

The Jones house would never again be a private home.  By now the exclusive Fifth Avenue Hotel and the upscale Hoffman House at the end of the block, on Broadway, were drawing royalty, politicians and millionaires.  The new owner of No. 17 took advantage of the location and in 1866 offered "Elegantly furnished rooms without board, to gentlemen only."

It was not until 1871 that the proprietor started offering meals.  On March 5 that year an advertisement touted "A magnificent suit of elegantly furnished Rooms, with or without Board; a single front Room for a gentleman."

Within a few years the neighborhood that had been home to wealthy professionals was undergoing drastic change.  The district which would be known as The Tenderloin--perhaps the most crime-ridden in the world--would seep onto the 24th Street block before the end of the century.  The first signs of change for No. 17 were benign, and came when the proprietor suggested that the parlor floor could be let "for party of gentlemen or doctor's office."

Drs. Keck, Hoyt and Stoddard took the space on in December 1874 announced "There is an association of regular physicians at 17 West Twenty-fourth street, who treat Catarrh and Deafness exclusively.  They cure every case."  Another ad in the same newspaper promised "Dr. Keck's new and wonderful method with Chronic Catarrh and Deafness cures.  No other method does.  Physicians and all suffering invited to test it free."

W. H. Catlin owned the house on August 20, 1881 when The American Architect and Building News announced that architect George A. Freeman, Jr. had filed plans to add an extension to the rear and make interior alterations.  

By the time August C. Hassey purchased the house on November 1, 1886 it was described by the Record & Guide as a "four-story stone front club house."   Hassey paid $36,000 for the property, in the neighborhood of $936,000 today.  It is unclear what organization was using it as its clubhouse; but when William Higbee bought it the following year (providing Hassey a $500 profit), he returned it to a boarding house.

In 1891 Fanny Ford Walsh arrived in New York from Cincinnati.  Recently widowed, she brought with her $10,000, part of which she used to lease No. 17 from Higbee.  Also with her were three children and a governess.

Among her first boarders was Victor Cadieux, a Canadian about 20 years old who "attended to the stereoscopes in the Eden Musee."  Later the famous journalist Nellie Bly--perhaps the first investigative reporter--noted "No one knows whether it was the widow Walsh who made the first advances, or the boy Cadieux, but be that as it may, they say that in less then eight months after her husband's death, and with courageous, if not admirable disregard of the almost double difference in age, the two were wed, and Victor gave up the Eden Musee, with its motionless inmates, for the boarding-house and its spry mistress."

Apparently the pair opened a saloon in the former club rooms; for when Cadieux was later called to the stand to testify in the divorce proceedings of Wellington E. Newcomb and his wife, Caroline (who accused him of frequenting a "disorderly house") he gave his profession as "a bartender at 17 West Twenty-fourth street," according to The Evening World on April 10, 1894.

West 23rd Street had become the theater district by now and half a block away, on Sixth Avenue, was Koster & Bial's music hall where Jennie Joyce appeared as the Fairy Queen in "The Doll's Fairy" in June 1890.  Now she was living in the Cadieux boarding house.

Jennie Joyce was a music hall favorite.  photo from the collection of the Library of Congress

On December 26, 1891 the New York Clipper reported "A birthday supper was given to Jennie Joyce [on] Dec. 15, at her residence No. 17 West Twenty-fourth Street.  Among those present were Mr. Bial of Koster & Bial; Paulus and Mile. Valarez.  Miss Joyce received many valuable and handsome presents, among them a 'loving cup,' which was filled with champagne and passed among the guests."

The actress would have done well to secure the handsome and valuable presents; for she was living among a sordid class.  Nellie Bly exposed the Cadieuxes, not for the illegal saloon, but for fraudulently selling furniture as a sideline, for as the reporter pointed out "The boarding-house proved a failure."

The World, for whom Bly worked, explained the scam after she had written a scathing article.  "Their method is to advertise in the papers that a lot of magnificent furniture and paintings must be sold immediately and at a great reduction.  The alleged magnificent furniture and tapestries consists of the cheapest kind of plush and cotton and imitations."

The article, published on April 14, 1894, added "After 'The World's' exposure, Mr. and Mrs. Cadieux moved their business to 127 West Forty-seventh street."

But even after the Cadeiuxes left, the boarding house continued to be shady.  One boarder, Henry W. Dietz, was arrested on August 25, 1894.  The 33-year old claimed to be a salesman for a Kentucky distillery.  He received $100 payment for four barrels of whisky from saloon keeper James Kelly; but never provided the goods.

In the meantime Daniel J. Mahoney ran the basement saloon.  When he attempted to legitimize the place by applying for an excise, or liquor, license, reformer Mrs. Mary Sallade got wind of it.  She appeared at the Excise License Board with two policemen.

The Evening World reported on September 18, 1894 "She swore that the place was the resort of vile women and men and was of a very disreputable character."  The article ended "The Board rejected Mahoney's application, and Mrs. Sallade went away triumphant."

In the place of Mahoney's saloon the Regular Republican Organization of the Twenty-fifth Assembly District moved in.  On June 7, 1896 The Sun reported that the new club had held "an informal opening of its newly furnished club room" the night before.  Political social clubs were ubiquitous and, as a matter of fact, directly next door was the James G. Blaine Club, a political rival.

When delegates to the Republican County Committee of 1897 were elected on the night of December 15, 1896, a hullabaloo broke out here.  The Sun reported "The hall was filled with a howling mob of partisans of both sides.  Police Capt. Chapman and seventy-five patrolmen were there, and were needed there."  Although delegates were finally chosen, it was not before fighting broke out.

By the turn of the century the club was gone and the house became an illegal gambling den.  Police were tipped off by Joseph Hymonson in June 1902 after he lost $30 (a week's salary) at the roulette wheel, after initially winning.  "Then he thought he had been robbed, and that the best way to get even was to inform the police," reported the New-York Tribune on June 22.

Hymonson accompanied police to the place.  Undercover detectives went in with him, while patrolmen surrounded the house.  The detectives played roulette and lost; but then someone became suspicious and announced the place was closing.  Detective Flynn gave a signal to the men outside and they rushed in.

The New York Times reported "Two roulette wheels, a faro layout, and a quantity of poker chips and cards were seized.  The suspected owner had escaped; but four waiters were arrested; one charged with keeping a roulette wheel, one with running a faro bank, one with being a lookout and the last for being "a suspicious character."

Joseph Hymonson beamed with pride because he had caused the raid.  When a reporter asked what he would have done if he had won rather than lost, he replied "Why I would have gone home and let them alone."

William Higbee's estate sold the house in March 1903.  The Record & Guide pointed out "It sold in 1887 for $36,500, and now sells for $48,000."  It was sold one more time before Paul Shotland purchased it in 1906.  He hired architect C. Dunne to make "extensive alterations" costing $4,200.  Among the changes was the replacement of the stone stoop with one of iron, and re-configuring the floor plans to accommodate bachelor apartments in the upper floors.

Delia Muligan signed a five-year lease on the upper floors in April 1907; and Peter Maucher leased the ground floor for a "restaurant."  But problems quickly developed.  Shotland took Mulligan to court to dispossess her when their racial viewpoints collided.

On April 17, 1908 they appeared before a judge.  The New York Times explained that Shotland's suit was his "answer to the action of Miss Mulligan, who had thrown open the house, which is just a few doors west of Broadway and Madison Square, to negro tenants."

Mulligan countered that Shotland had agreed to install a hot water heater, then refused to do so.

In 1912 Shotland did renovations again after leasing the ground floor to Jonathan J. Kelly.  The plans filed by architect J. C. Crocker included bar fixtures, new stairs and beams.  While the upper floors were converted to business spaces, the first floor remained what was politely termed a "cafe" for years.

In February 1912 Shotland once more did renovations.  These, by Otto Reissmann, included "new steps, doors, columns, beams" to what was called a "dwelling and lodging."  Shotland, again, did not get along with his newest tenant.  On May 31 that year he filed for eviction of the Institute for the Instruction of the Deaf & Dumb.

Paul Shotland sold the building in September 1919 to William Weinberger, who almost immediately did yet more renovations.  The extensive changes made by Gloss & Kleinberger--removing the stoop and moving the entrance to ground level, replacing the plumbing fixtures, installing new exits and walls, installing a dumbwaiter and an interior balcony--cost $10,000--nearly $120,000 today.  The result was a social hall where wedding receptions, dances, anniversary dinners and testimonials would take place through the 1930s.


In August 1939 the school of the New Dance Group (or NDC, formed in 1932) moved into the building.  A stage was constructed and promising young artists learned not only modern dance, but Hawaiian, Caribbean, Indian and African dance.  When the first scholarships were handed out, African American dancer Pearl Primus received one.

The group continued to break new ground.  On December 29, 1940, for instance, The Times announced "The New Dance Group is presenting a program showing 'The Contribution of the Negro to Music, Theatre and Dance" at its headquarters, 17 West Twenty-fourth Street, tonight."

The New Dance Group remained in its studio until 1944, when it moved elsewhere.  But Pearl Primus remained.  Her father helped her establish her own studio in the building.  Always espousing her dreams of "a future free from racism," she focused on bringing the black experience into art.

On March 11, 1951 The Times reported "Pearl Primus and her group will give two lecture-recitals in her studio, 17 West Twenty-fourth Street, March 20 and 21.  They will be devoted to the discussion and the dance interpretation of folk poems of African tribes and the works of Negro poets of the western world."

Two years earlier the building also became home to the newly-organized Weekend School of Theatre, sponsored by People's Drama, Inc. (splinter group of the Socialist SFA organization).

Before 160 choreographer Drid Williams had opened his DW Studio in the building, where, along with other innovative dance, she originated Jazz Ballet.   Regular events here were routinely touted as "New Concepts in Contemporary Jazz, showcasing new works and new talent."

By 1976 the No Smoking Playhouse was here.  And as the 20th century drew to a close the Great Modern Pictures, a gallery of photography, was in the building.

A vised-in boutique hotel is slated to replace the 1852 building.  Commercial Observer

In 2014 developer Hag Gyun Lee of Eben Ascel Corp., announced that the often-renovated house where performing arts history had been born was to be replaced with a 18-story hotel designed by architect Gene Kaufman with interiors by Philip Johnson Alan Ritchie Architects.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Harlem Club - Lenox Avenue and 123rd Street




On June 22, 1889, as the Harlem Club's new headquarters was nearing completion at the southwest corner of Lenox Avenue and 123rd Street, the Record & Guide opined "In composition and in detail we scarcely know of a more creditable recent building."  It could also have been described as imposing.

Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide, June 22, 1889 (copyright expired)

Well-to-do Victorian gentlemen were expected to hold at least one membership in a high-end social club.  As Harlem evolved into a vibrant suburb, its new residents found themselves inconveniently far from the club district, which was around 75 blocks to the south.  In 1879 "some of the most prominent gentlemen who reside in the upper part of the City," as described by The New York Times, formed the Irving Club of New-York, and in 1881 acquired an existing residence on Fifth Avenue near West 127th Street for its clubhouse.  The New-York Tribune later explained "There were clubs and meeting places in the Harlem district at that time, but they lacked the qualities of the good clubs in the lower part of the city." 

Five years later the name was changed to the Harlem Club.  Its membership, which had risen to 100 by now, was composed, according to a newspaper "principally of bankers, brokers, lawyers, and merchants."  The Harlem Club listed as its purpose "to cultivate friendly and social intercourse among its members, and to further and advance by means of concentrated action, matters of public welfare in the upper section of the City."

By 1888 the membership had more than tripled to 340 and, according to the New-York Tribune, the clubhouse "was too small and not attractive, and offered few club features for the younger element."  A committee was formed on January 14 that year to consider a more commodious and impressive clubhouse.

On September 8, 1888 The American Architect and Building News published an understated, one-line announcement that architects Lamb & Rich had completed plans for a four-story "brick club-house" with a projected cost of $50,000.

A terra cotta sunburst decorates the blind arch and delightful stone leaves parade along the upper frieze.  The Record & Guide described the black tiles as "japanned." 

Now, nine months later, the Record & Guide assessed the completed structure.   Hugh Lamb and Charles Alonzo Rich had created a hulking Romanesque Revival structure of brick and stone, with touches of Queen Anne thrown in.  The critic could find little to criticize, saying for instance "Over each wing is a dormer in metal, of rather fantastic but effective design, relieved against the steep roof of dark japanned tiles..." and noting that "The gabled roof would have been uncouthly large if it had occupied the whole width of the central division.  The awkwardness is happily got over by the clever and effective introduction of a broad chimney on each side."

The actual costs, including the expensive furnishings, draperies, carpetings and such, had risen to $150,000--nearly $3.9 million in 2017.  On June 14, 1889 The New York Times reported "The house is equipped in the latest style.  In the basement are bowling alleys and kitchens; on the first floor parlors and a library; on the second floor billiard rooms and a cafe; and on the third and fourth floors three private dining rooms and ten chambers."  The "chambers" were sleeping rooms.  Not only did out of town members need a place to stay, but so would those briefly in town on business from their summer residences.   The room, said the newspaper "are furnished in a manner that leaves nothing to be desired."

A long balcony, now lost, graced the second floor and stocky iron lampposts flanked the entrance.  photo via harlembespoke.blogspot.com
The New-York Tribune was more detailed, describing the first floor as having "a handsome reception room, a large drawing room, and back of these a cosey reading room with great easy chairs and comfortable lounges and handsome wall decorations.  In the hall stands a great stuffed bear, which was killed by the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia when he hunted big game with Buffalo Bill."


An antique tall case clock graced the entrance hall (above).  Masculine oak furniture in the library complimented the mantelpiece.   New-York Tribune, February 2, 1902 (copyright expired)

The Harlem Club opened its new clubhouse on June 13, with a reception for men-only.    It would be another six months before women would get a peek inside.  On December 13, 1889 The Times reported that the evening before "the wives and daughters and sisters of its members had their first chance to inspect the beauties of the new domain of their male relatives."

Although women's visits were restricted, a delicately-furnished Ladies Parlor accommodated them.  New-York Tribune, February 2, 1902 (copyright expired)

Plants and flowers softened the decidedly masculine atmosphere for the event.  "The building was prettily decorated with palms, roses, and flowering plants, and a band played in a floral bower in the reading room."  Oddly enough, despite the spacious dining rooms, the guests ate in the basement.  "Dancing went on for the younger folks in the drawing rooms, and supper was served by Steward Marsich on small tables arrange in the bowling alleys."

The Billiard Room was outfitted with five tables. New-York Tribune, February 2, 1902 (copyright expired)

Like its downtown counterparts, the exclusivity of the Harlem Club was not limited to wealth and family, but to religion.  On July 10, 1889 The Times wrote "The Harlem Club, which recently moved into its handsome and costly new house...is disturbed by the raising of the Hebrew question."

The issue went back to the June 13 opening, at which Senator Jacob A. Cantor was a guest of George McGown.  Banker Robert Bonynge proposed him as a member that night.  Later another member approached the senator and said "Jake, I have known you for a long time, and I am a friend of yours, but I must tell you that in this club we draw the line at Hebrews."

Understandably insulted, Cantor went to Bonynge and offered to withdraw his name.  But, explained The Times, "that gentleman and the other friends of the Senator had their blood up and said the Senator's name should stand and be passed on if it took all Summer."

It would take more than all summer; in fact the senator was never admitted.  A reporter who spoke to Cantor during the drawn-out process noted "he was satisfied to know that if it did reject him, it would do so on account of his race and not on personal grounds."

The ugly and bigoted affair would stain the Harlem Club for the rest of its existence.

An early postcard depicted a nearly deserted Lenox Avenue. (copyright expired)

But in the meantime the clubhouse was the scene of "smokers, euchres, and concerts," among other events.  An annual exhibition of works by American artists was held here; and musical entertainments were common.  In January 1903, for instance, 200 hundred members and guests heard soloists perform operatic arias, after which supper was served in the dining rooms, and dancing went on until 1:30 in the morning.

During the 1904 Presidential campaign two members got into a heated political debate.  James O'Reilly insisted that Judge Alton B. Parker, the Democratic candidate, would beat Theodore Roosevelt in the election.  Herman J. Elkhoff was equally confident in his choice.  Their argument resulted in a bet, the conditions of which were "that the loser swim across the East River some time during the month following election day."

Parker lost the election and O'Reilly lost the bet.  True to his word, on Sunday morning November 10 he plunged into the river and swam to Randall's Island and back.  O'Reilly was physically prepared for the challenging feat.  The Evening World said "he takes a plunge in the river every morning during the winter."   The apparently out-of-shape Elkhoff, on the other hand, was lucky his candidate had won.  Other members confided that he "was taking a desperate chance" with his bet.

Modern Harlem historians are wont to blame the decline of the Harlem Club on its anti-Semitic policies.  In fact, while the stigma of the Cantor affair hung on, it was more likely finances that brought the club down.  Suit was filed against the club on June 19, 1906 "to foreclose a mortgage of $60,000 on the club's property."  That was the original July 12, 1889 mortgage; a second mortgage of $52,779 brought the liabilities to more than $3 million in today's dollars.

In October a Supreme Court judge ordered the building to be sold at auction on January 31, 1907.  Two days before the sale, The New York Times wrote "After nearly thirty years of active life, during which it came to be known as the first club of Harlem, the Harlem Club is about to be dissolved.  Upon the two iron lamps which stand on either side of the front steps of the handsome building...are glaring yellow posters announcing in large type that by order of the Supreme Court the clubhouse and its furnishings will be sold out at auction."

The clubhouse was purchased by developer William A. Martin.  He resold it within the month to the Eastman Business College of Poughkeepsie.  Established in 1859 by Harvey Gridley Eastman, the school readied young men for clerical business work.  Included in the curriculum were "Civil service, shorthand, typewriting, telegraph, penmanship and correspondence."

The new Manhattan branch was called the Eastman New York Business Institute, and an advertisement boasted that it was housed in "one of the most attractive structures in the most aristocratic neighborhood of Upper New York."

The school remained in the building until 1935, when it fell victim to the Great Depression and changing demographics.  Reportedly it refused to admit black students--a major problem in a neighborhood that was now significantly black.

The building was taken over as the Unity Mission Church; the headquarters for the charismatic if questionable "Father" Major Jealous Divine.  The leader of what at least one newspaper called "a Negro cult," Divine had made a name for himself by conducting revival meetings, curing the sick, and declaring himself a deity.  Telling his followers that he had been born a fully-formed adult, he amassed a following of tens of thousands.

The progress of the 4-foot, 6-inch leader was closely followed by law enforcement.  By 1933 he had "kingdoms" in Manhattan, Newark, Baltimore, Washington DC, Bridgeport and other cities.  A 38-page typewritten report ordered by Common Pleas Judge Richard Hartshorne that year credited Divine with "some socially helpful results."   But it also noted, according to a New York Times report, he "has equipped himself with an airplane, automobiles, several secretaries and a large staff of employes in his headquarters and 'kingdoms' in New York City" and that "his followers, including many whites, did in fact worship him as God."

Adherents to Father Divine turned over all their possessions to the Kingdom, earning them the status of angel.  The angels then took on a heavenly name--such as Lovely, or Kind.  The process caused endless problems, from followers trying to file tax reports under their unregistered new names; to husbands suing Father Divine for alienation of affection.

One case was that of chauffeur and oboe player Carl Davenport, who sued for $100,000.  He testified that he and his wife Alice, had been happily married until February 1933 when she was "subjected to public and private exhortation by Father Divine and his servants and employees."  Alice walked out on Carl and their eight children.

Her actions were mirrored by Madeline Green two years later.  She left her husband, Samuel N. Green, Jr., a postal clerk, and their seven children (aged 3 through 14).   Samuel filed a petition alleging that when she had abandoned them, she said the children should be sent to an orphan asylum.  She explained to the Children's Court judge "I have no more children.  The life I lead is one of sacrifice.  All belongs to God now."

When Judge Levy asked "How can you give up seven children and say you lead a Christ-like life?" she responded flatly "Because I see the light.  I am out of darkness."

A "children's dinner" in Unity Mission Church.  photo via libertynet.org

Father Divine's magnetism did not affect everyone.  Washington DC pastor Rev. Dr. Walter H. Brooks, a son of slaves, was asked about Divine's movement in April 1935.  "People like to be humbugged," was his curt reply.

Despite his constant legal battles (he was accused of having a harem, engaging in outrageous sexual activities, and illegally housing minors), Father Divine continued to lead throngs--his meetings drew tens of thousands of followers.  His main companion and assistant was No. 1 Angel, Faithful Mary; and his celebrity was such that in 1936 John Hoshor wrote God in a Rolls Royce.  The Rise of Father Divine, Madman-Menace or Messiah.

Following an incident in which three men were stabbed by one of his angels, Father Divine was wanted for questioning.  He fled Harlem, but was found hiding behind the furnace in the cellar of Milford, Connecticut house.  Divine had tried to "invisibilize" himself, but seems to have failed.

Initially he denied being Father Divine.  But at the West 123rd Street station house, he notified authorities that "the Father had resumed his earthly body," and he was once again Father Divine.

The Unity Mission Church left West 123rd Street in 1946.  The building was sold to Jacob Goodman & Co., which announced they were "considering plans for altering the property into apartments."  Instead, the firm resold the structure "to a buyer who intends to spend $50,000 on alterations," as reported by The Times on February 1, 1947.

Especially charming were the metal dormers, with openings on three sides. 

A second church took over the building; followed by the newly-formed Bethelite Community Baptist Church in 1957.  Founded by Rev. Millard Alexander Stanley, he supposedly invented the name "Bethelite" after a drug addict said to him "If y'all gonna be a church, you better 'Be-The-Lite."

If Father Divine had drawn controversy, he would pale in the shadow of Stanley's successor, Pastor James David Manning who took over in 1981.  He changed the name to the ATLAH [All The Land Anointed Holy] Worldwide Missionary Church.  He used the church's outdoor signboard to spread his outrageous and, some would say un-Christian, viewpoints.

Hateful messages like "We will take Harlem back from the pinch nose sellout Negroes and the demonic homos" and "Jesus would stone homos.  Stoning is the law" in 2014 drew protestors to Lenox Avenue.

Manning sided with Donald Trump, posting that Barack Obama was a Muslim and not a valid president.  In August 2014 he asserted that Russian President Vladimir Putin would release KGB intelligence "that would prove that President Obama is homosexual."

The splinter group is still in the former Harlem Club, although financial pressures make its future questionable (Manning refuses to pay taxes, insisting the church should be exempt like other religious institutions, although his is not a recognized sect.)


In the meantime, despite the loss of the Lenox Avenue balcony and altered windows; Lamb & Rich's striking clubhouse survives as an imposing reminder of a far different period in Harlem history.

photographs by the author