Thursday, May 18, 2017

Victorian Stable to Sleek Boutique -- 1122 Madison Avenue

Russo Brothers moved into the renovated stable in 1914.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

In the second half of the 19th century Newport, Rhode Island, saw the rise of magnificent palaces, known as "cottages."   Most of the opulent residences served their affluent owners only during the glittering summer season.  In September and October those millionaires migrated back to New York City.

The King family, however, was different.  While Edward King and his wife, the former Mary Augusta Leroy, maintained a fine home in New York, they listed Newport, where Edward had been born, as their permanent address.  Their villa, designed by Richard Upjohn and completed in 1846, was the town's grandest at the time.  Edward was repeatedly listed as the largest payer of property taxes in Newport.

When Edward died in 1875, The New York Times noted "He was well known in all the leading business centres of the country.  He amassed a fortune in the tea and silk trade in China, and was one of the most active business men of the day...He owned considerable real estate in New-York."

King's estate was estimated at about $5 million--more than $110 million today.  Mary, somewhat surprisingly, continued wheeling and dealing in Manhattan real estate.  Among the properties she owned were Nos. 1116 through 1122 Madison Avenue between 83rd and 84th Streets.  No. 1122 Madison was among her less impressive properties, a 35-foot wide "private stable."

The last quarter of the century saw a drastic change in the neighborhood just a block east of Central Park.  Carriage houses, for the most part, were being constructed on the opposite side of Park Avenue, farther away from the new, upscale homes.  Mary had the old stables converted to a commercial building.  The second floor windows and loft opening were dressed up with bracketed cornices, and a decorative balustrade with urn-like finials perched above the roof line.

Mary diligently kept the little store building up to date.  In October 1898 she hired architect Edward Smith to remove the old extension in the rear and rebuild the back wall.  Then in 1901 she commissioned architects Bannister & Schell to design new show windows.  The $2,000 renovations resulted in up-to-date "arcade windows," the modern innovation that recessed the store entrance between deep, glass-fronted display spaces.  It was most likely at this time that the first floor was divided into two shops.

Austin Finegan moved his real estate business into half of the renovated structure.  He stayed here for several years.  On Election Day in 1902 the address was leased by the city as a polling space.

Mary A. King died in her Fifth Avenue mansion on May 3, 1905.  Her real estate holdings were distributed mostly between the two surviving of her seven children.   The Madison Avenue store went to Edith R. King, the widow of her son, Leroy.

Around 1910 Frederick W. Cohn was the first of a string of tenants involved in the electrical contracting business.  In 1911 he was appointed secretary of the new Consolidated Building Trades Employers' Association.

Cohn was followed by Russo Brothers, electricians, who signed a lease in May of 1914.  They renewed the contract in 1922.  One year earlier another tradition was begun when the Margolis Antiques Shop moved into the other half.

New-York Tribune, October 30, 1921 (copyright expired)
Ethel King sold No. 1122 Madison Avenue to the 27 East Eighty-Third Street Corp. in 1921.  The firm converted the second floor to "non-housekeeping apartments."  The Department of Buildings included a stark warning in its Certificate of Occupancy:

Cooking in more than Two of the apartments will render this building liable to immediate vacation by the Tenement House Department

The Margolis Shop remained here at least through 1928.  The tradition was continued by Frank Lustig Antiques in the 1960s, Frank Silberman's Art & Ends antiques shop in the 1970s, and Pascoe and Solomon, Inc., dealers in art pottery beginning around 1979.

In 1937 Russo Brothers had erected a large awning.  photo from the collection of the New York Public Library

The former stables-turned-store received a significant make-over before the first Halston Heritage store opened in 2013.   But the intimate proportions of the little hold-out may be gone before long.  Real estate listings tout that 11-stories of air rights are available.

photo via streeteasy

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