Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The 1914 Spreter Dept. Store -- Nos. 2220-26 Broadway

Robert E. Dowling was 48 years old in 1902.  He had opened his real estate office at Columbus Avenue and 104th Street in October 1885.  By now he was a real estate mogul, having co-founded the New York Realty Company and built the Sherman Square Hotel along with dozens of other Manhattan buildings.  In addition he was a director or officer in several corporations.

In April 1902 Dowling purchased the large property at the northeast corner of Broadway and 79th Street from the Blodgett Estate.  The developer paid a significant $175,000 for the plot—just under $5 million in 2016 dollars.

It would be two years before Dowling developed the site.  Early in 1904 he signed a 10-year lease with merchant Anton J. Spreter which, according to the New-York Tribune, “provides for the construction by Mr. Dowling of a modern and up to date department store building to cover the entire plot.” 

Spreter had chosen the location wisely.  The new Broadway subway station had just opened directly across the street, providing easy access to shoppers.  His lease, which ran from September 6, 1906 to April 30, 1915, totaled $10,000 for the ground floor and basement.  Dowling would include a second story for additional rental income.

On December 14, 1904 the Tribune noted “The building will be one of the show buildings of upper Broadway.  Mr. Spreter will conduct his retail drygoods and department store business on the premises.”

By the time of the Tribune’s article construction was well underway.  Foundations were begun in October and the department store, designed by John H. Duncan, was taking shape.  Were it not for the fact that Dowling routinely used the services of Duncan, the choice of architects might have been surprising.  John H. Duncan was best known for designing mansions (in 1905 he would design Dowling’s own mansion on Riverside Drive); and for monumental works like Grant’s Tomb and the Soldiers’ and Sailor’s Memorial Arch in Brooklyn.

Spreter’s Department Store was completed by the fall of 1906.  Duncan’s design was as much plate glass as it was masonry.  Vast show windows on both floors allowed for abundant display as well as the admission of natural light.  A cast iron and glass storefront wrapped the corner, extending down 79th Street and along Broadway almost to the northern end of the building.  The upper floor and the northern entrance were clad in creamy terra cotta.  The deeply overhanging cornice was supported by scrolled and wreathed brackets.  Terra cotta bell flowers dripped down from each bracket onto the blank panels below.

In December 1906 Dowling leased the entire second floor to Madame Yale “for the manufacture of toilet preparations.”  He sold the year-old building in November 1907 to Archibald D. Russell.  Unlike Dowling, the new owner would maintain ownership for decades.

Despite its 10-year lease, the Spreter Department Store was gone by 1913 when the Oliver A. Olson Co. department store took both floors.  Olson Company called itself “The Store of Service” and offered everything from apparel to furniture and draperies.

Difficult to see, the name OLSON & CO. appeared below the cornice, along with "Furniture" and "Draperies"  from the collection of the New York Public Library
When Oliver Olson decided to expand the corset department and move it to the second floor in September 1917, the department’s manager, Miss Henry, searched out a new type of fixture “that would overcome the difficulties of proper display in the corset department,” according to The Corset and Underwear Review.

She convinced her employer to install what the journal deemed “the most modern and withal the most common-sensible method” of displaying corsets and brassieres.  The magazine reported “Leaving the elevator of the attractive store…the visitor steps directly into the corset department and is struck immediately by the attractiveness of its arrangement and display.”

Noting that the store was “located in the heart of one of the most exclusive residential districts of the city,” The Corset and Underwear Review mentioned that “Immediately adjoining the corset department is a most attractively furnished fitting room, where Miss Henry herself looks after the needs of those customers who desire to have their corsets fitted.”

Oliver A. Olson & Co.'s displays for women's unmentionables was considered "the very latest idea in arrangement and equipment."  The Corset and Underwear Review, March 1918 (copyright expired)

Miss Henry’s customers could expect to pay from $3.50 and up for the latest in Spring corsets that year.

In May 1930 Louis Barnet resigned as executive vice-president of R. H. Macy & Co. and purchased “the business and good-will of Oliver A. Olson & Co., Inc.”  Now president of Olson & Co., Barnet immediately announced that he had signed a 21-year lease on the corner of 74th Street and Broadway as the new site for the department store.  After being a 79th Street fixture for 13 years, the department store was replaced by an F. W. Woolworth store.

On August 14, 1930 The Pittsburgh Press announced that the Woolworth Company had signed a 63-year lease on the two-story building “having a total rental of approximately $5,000,000.”  After renovating the store the Woolworth branch opened around November 1 that year.

Woolworth stayed on in the building that seemed nearly custom-made for the five-and-dime.  It was not until 1945 that the estate of Archibald Russell sold the structure for about $1 million to Frederick Brown.  He resold it five years later.

Following the expiration of the Woolworth lease, No. 2220-26 Broadway became home to a Filene’s Basement store.  It held a going out of business sale in 2011.  Today the low-rise department store building is home to a shoe store.  The cast iron and terra cotta ground floor has been annihilated in favor of insipid granite panels.  The second story, thankfully, survives mostly intact; a reminder of a time when female shoppers browsed among the latest styles in corsets.

 photographs by the author

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Lost Germania Theatre -- Fourth Avenue and 8th Street

The altered facade still smacked of a church building.  To the left is the 1891 Clinton Hall.  photograph from the collection of the New York Historical Society, Robert L. Bracklow Photograph Collection

In 1852 Bishop John Hughes established the Roman Catholic parish of St. Ann’s in the upscale Astor Place neighborhood.  At the corner of Fourth Avenue and Eighth Street stood the former Third Associated Reformed Presbyterian Church—an exquisite Georgian-style structure designed by John McComb, Jr. and completed in 1812.  The building originally stood on Murray Street, but was astonishingly moved uptown when the congregation relocated

photo by Ewing Galloway, original source unknown
Now the Presbyterian church moved uptown again, this time deciding to leave its building.  It was sold to the Catholic Church to become St. Ann’s Roman Catholic Church.  On April 23, 1852 an advertisement in The New York Herald read: “All persons desirous of securing seats in this church are invited to attend at the church, on Tuesday next, the 27th inst., at one o’clock, P. M.”

Although the majority of Manhattan’s wealthy citizens were Episcopalian, St. Ann’s Roman Catholic Church filled with fashionable parishioners.  In April 1865 the well-dressed worshipers would listen especially intently to the words of their pastor.

The New York Times reported “Rev. Dr. Preston read the circular of Archbishop McClosky, and delivered some remarks on the untimely death of Mr. Lincoln, in which he rebuked the spirit of the assassination and wickedness which prompted the murder, and which if allowed to prevail, would destroy the Republic.”

The Rev. Thomas Scott Preston was a fiery, opinionated preacher.  On March 20, 1870 he focused his sermon on “Catholic doubters and offending journalist;” saying that they were “erring, if not positively unclean.” 

And later that year, after the Italian Army stormed Rome and stripped the Pope of his temporal powers, Father Preston had much to say on the matter.  On November 27 The New York Herald reported “Last evening St. Ann’s Catholic church, Eighth street, was crowded with an attentive and respectable congregation, who assembled for the purpose of hearing the eloquent and gifted pastor, the Rev. Thomas Preston, deliver his promised lecture on the temporal power of the Popes.  Before the doors were opened crowds had collected outside, and in five minutes after ingress into the sacred edifice had been allowed there was not a single vacant seat.”

The priest began his lengthy speech saying that all assembled were aware of “the circumstances in which the Holy Father was placed, and the fact that he had been deprived of his temporal power.”  Father Preston was convinced that a higher power would correct the situation.  “How long God would allow him to be deprived of it nobody knew; but at this time the faith, love and devotion of the entire Catholic world should rally around the standard of St. Peter.”

At the time that Father Preston was discoursing on Papal powers, the parish was busy contemplating a move to East 12th Street.  On month earlier The New York Times commended “The old church, in Eight-street opposite Lafayette-place, has, for some time past, been much too small to accommodate the rapidly-increasing congregation which worships in it, and it was therefore decided to build a larger and more pretentious [church] in Twelfth-street, near Fourth-avenue.”

The new church was dedicated on New Year’s Day, 1871.  The previous day the Catholic Church had petitioned the Supreme Court for “an order granting leave to sell St. Ann’s Church…together with the parsonage and school-house adjoining.”  The petition pointed out that dry goods mogul Alexander Turney Stewart had agreed to buy the property—paying $75,000 in cash of the $125,000 selling price.

Alterations were made to the building and Stewart used it for the manufacture of bedding.  Nine years later the Stewart Estate leased the building to theater manager Jacob Aberle.  The once exclusive residential neighborhood had changed much and was now part of the northward moving entertainment district. 

On September 9, 1879 The New York Herald announced “The old church edifice on Eighth street, between Fourth avenue and Broadway…after having suffered many changes in the past few years, has finally been remodeled into a theatre, and under the management of Mr. Joe Aberle it was opened to the public last night, when an elaborate programme was presented.  In seating capacity, at least, this new house is a prominent rival of all the other east side variety theatres.”

To create his Tivoli Theatre, Aberle had lopped off the steeple and transformed the fa├žade from Georgian to Spanish Colonial—a toned down version of Spanish Baroque.  The building still retained a churchy appearance, nonetheless.  Two days after opening night Aberle placed an advertisement in The New York Herald applauding the “overwhelming success of this New and Grand Theatre.  The Greatest Attractions in the World.  American’s Best Star Artists.”

For New Year’s Eve that year Aberle staged a special attraction, a “modern drama” entitled The Poor of New York.  The New York Herald wrote “It is based upon scene in New York during the financial crisis of 1837-38 and is a story of fraud and its victims, with the usual accompaniments of wealth, luxury, destitution and misery.”   Jacob Aberle was no doubt especially excited about the staging of this new play, because it would be the debut of Miss Laura Aberle as an actress.

The “story of fraud and its victims” was especially appropriate, considering that less than a week later Aberle received a restraining order which prevented his giving any further presentations of the play.  “The proceeding is taken on behalf of Francis Mayo, who claims to be the owner of the piece,” explained the New-York Tribune on January 11, 1880.

It was just the first of problems for the theater owner.  On May 13, 1880 The New York Times reported “A number of unruly boys nightly congregate in the gallery of Aberle’s Tivoli Theatre, in Eighth-street near Fourth-avenue, and render themselves a nuisance to the more respectable portion of the audience by their antics.  They are extremely disorderly, and in guying the actors use the most obscene language.”

The evening before, the boys had been especially problematic.  John Reilly, 17-years old, “made himself conspicuous in the disturbance,” and lit a cigar in the balcony.  He refused to put it out when ordered to do so by the door keeper.  It was only after considerable wrangling that Police Officer Golle got Reilly out of the theater and onto the street.  But then, “the friends of the young ruffian assaulted the officer with a shower of stones, several of which struck him.”

Reilly broke free and ran off with the officer “in hot pursuit.”  The delinquent teen quickly discovered that assaulting a policeman in 19th century New York came with its costs.  “When the fugitive was brought back he was bleeding profusely from a wound on the right side of his head,” reported The Times.  The boy had to be taken to the station house on a stretcher.  He complained that Golle had whacked him on the side of the head with his club, knocking him down.

“The officer said that Reilly, while running across Fourth-avenue, stumbled and fell on the car-track, cutting his head.”

On New Year’s Day 1881 the theater was inspected by Fire Department Battalion Chief Bresnan.  The chief did not hold back in his assessment of the place.  The Times reported “Aberle’s Theatre…in the opinion of the Chief is a rookery that should be closed until it is so far rebuilt as to be in some measure safe.”  He called it “one of the filthiest places in the City, the galleries being, as he expressed it, ‘as dirty as the streets.’”

He was mainly concerned with the safety of the building—the number of exits, for example—and pointed out that the employees added to the problem.  “The employes about the theatre, he says, spend most of their earnings in the bar-room connected with and adjoining the theatre.  Being constantly more or less under the influence of liquor, he says, they should not be trusted in such important places, for in his opinion they would add to instead of preventing a panic in case of a fire.”

Aberle’s problems only increased when he staged The Boss; or, Waiting for Vengeance in February 1883.  One of the actresses was an eight-year old girl who went by various names including Lillie Atkins, Petite and May Atkinson.  In the audience on Tuesday night, February 6, was an officer of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

The New-York Tribune reported “He observed that the child seemed delicate, that she was poorly clad and that she was suffering.”  The girl appeared on stage three times during each performance, which did not conclude until around midnight.  The following day Aberle was informed that she must be removed from the cast.

An officer checked in on February 8 to make sure the order was being obeyed.  To his surprise (or not) the little girl took her place on stage exactly as before.  Not only was the girl’s father arrested, but so was Jacob Aberle.  He was held at $500 bail—a significant $12,000 in today’s dollars.

photograph by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Years later The New York Times recalled a humorous story which centered around a crooked ticket seller.  A patron wanted to see the play The Forty Thieves and passed a $10 bill to the cashier.  “Upon receiving $5 in return he returned the tickets, at the same time saying he did not want to go in and see the other thirty-nine thieves.”

Jacob Aberle sold the theater to actor John Thompson, deemed by The New York Times as “the eminent tragedian.”  When Thompson produced and appear in On Hand here, in what was now called the Eight-Street Theatre, the newspaper said it was “considered one of the most sublime creations ever produced.”

Thompson did not rely only on dramatic presentations to ensure success.  On October 24, 1884 the theater was the scene of the Jack Dempsey-Tom Henry boxing match.  The Times reported “Every grade of society was represented, from swell young men about town who wore evening dress, crush hats, and opera coats, down to dance hall bouncers and Bleecker-street ‘statues.’  All the evening cabs and carriages were driving up before the theatre, and men and women were crowding through the throng about the steps and taking their places in the boxes, while Bowery roughs and prize fighters from the dives were making efforts to pass in unobserved or begging admission from the doortender.”

The Eighth Street Theatre suffered scandal when actress Lillie Ellis committed suicide “in the saloon” of the theatre two weeks later.   According to testimony the following week, she was infatuated with a man named James Ryan.  On Wednesday night, November 12, 1884 the two apparently had words.  Ryan told Coroner Martin that he “was leaving the room when she shot herself.”  Another actress, Minnie Western, testified that Lillie was intoxicated and the matter was closed.

Like Jacob Aberle, John Thompson found himself on the wrong end of the law.  He was arrested for serving liquor in the theater without a license; and also for “assaults and brawls at the place.”  But things got serious in 1885.

That year all of Paris was enthralled by the Can Can.  Lines of synchronized dancers kicked their legs high, revealing stockings and petticoats; and at one point in they bent over and brushed their skirts above their pantaloons.  Paris may have been ready for the Can Can, but New York society was not.

In the early morning hours of February 22 Police Captain John J. Brogan “made a descent” on the theater where, according to The Times, he “surprised about 120 persons of both sexes, who were taking part in or spectators of a degrading exhibition of the can-can.”

The raid revealed that the respected tragedian was running more than a theater.  “There were nine rooms and apartments near the stage termed actress’s dressing rooms.  The boxes were the scenes of orgies, and liquor was served in the theatre during variety performances.  At late hours the can-can was danced in the wine room, and each woman endeavored to be more indecent that the others.”

Nineteen women and 45 men were arrested.  Police searched the theater for Thompson, who was finally found trying to hide in a heap of coal in the cellar.  He insisted he was in the engine room “bathing a sore eye with warm water.”  He was held in $1,000 bail for running a disorderly house—the polite 19th century term for a brothel.  John Thompson’s Eighth Street Theatre was closed down.

The beleaguered theater was reopened as the New Eighth-Street Theatre by John F. Poole on August 3, 1886.  The Times noted “The first play will be ‘Shanema Lawn,' with Mr. W. J. Scanlan, a very interesting comedian, in the principal part.”

Poole faired only slightly better than his predecessors.  In 1889 the theater was raided for serving liquor without a license.  Within months it was under new management.  On April 26, 1890 The Evening World reported “The Boston Howard Athenaeum Company begin a week’s engagement at Harry Kennedy’s new Eighth Street Theatre.”

The vaudeville show format included “Little Ida Heath, a clever child artist in the lightning change line; Baggesen, the human corkscrew; Ella Wesner, the Wems Brothers and Coyne Sisters, Prof. Harry Parker and others.”

Kennedy’s managerial term, too, would be a short one.  When comedian Gus Bruno opened the season here in 1890, The Evening World tried to keep the tangled history of the theater straight.  “The Eighth Street Theatre, formerly Poole’s and Harry Kennedy’s was opened Saturday night by Gus Bruno, in a musical burlesque called 'A Queen Family.'”

And once again the notorious venue was shut down.  On June 15, 1891 The Evening World announced “The Eighth Street Theatre has been closed by order of Mayor Grant, who was notified Saturday that the theatre had been running since May 1 without a license.”

After serving as a boxing venue again for awhile, Adolf Philipp leased the theater in July 1893.  The Times reported “New-York is to have a German Harrigan’s.”  The article said that Philipp proposed “after renovating the house and making needed improvements, opening it with a German company of selected artists…The house will be known as the Germania Theatre and will be open about Sept. 16 at popular prices.”

Later the newspaper would remind its readers that the building “was at one time a church of considerable importance.  Although the exterior has been changed a little, there is still a distinct church effect noticeable in the architecture…It became a concert hall of fair reputation, then a dance hall of the Bowery type, and finally a dive of the most notorious character.  In these various roles it failed to pay, and the property was finally sold to a company of Germans who tried to make it at least a respectable place for light theatricals.”

A group of Germania Theatre stage hands pose for a photo in front of a stage set of a cut-away tenement.  photo by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Adolph Philipp, too, had some run ins with the law.  He was arrested on January 24, 1899 when he decided to resolve a problem with Gustav Amberg, who had leased the theater from him briefly, by punching him in the nose.  And a week later the theater was briefly closed when detectives felt that the “sacred concert” being staged on a Sunday night was in fact, an entertainment.

Actually, the detectives were right.  Jaegerblut was a German comedy; however Captain Cooney decided not to interfere.  “Besides,” explained The Times, “the players talked the Bavarian patois, and the detectives could not make out a word of it.”

Despite the minor problems, The New York Times noted on February 10, 1901 “the Germania Theatre has partly redeemed the building form its one-time unpleasant associations.”  But in April 1902 Adolf Philipp announced his intentions to construct a New Germania Theatre on East 14th Street which would be “built and ready to be opened by May, 1903.”

The theater's fate was already sealed when, on October 21, 1900, the New-York Tribune published this photo of the building "and the adjoining property which will be condemned for the rapid transit system."  (copyright expired)
Shortly after the Germania moved out, the entire block where the old theater stood was demolished to make way for the new subway.  The John Wanamaker Department Store's 1906 extension rose over the site of the old theater.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edward Rafter added the signage to the brick facade.  photo via 632onhudson.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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