Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Franz Sigel Monument - Riverside Park at 106th Street



When the Sigel Monument was unveiled in 1907 Riverside Drive was still lined with handsome mansions around 106th Street.  from the collection of the New York Public Library
When the German Revolution, sometimes called the March Revolution, erupted in 1848 the revolutionaries had a valuable ally in Franz Peter Sigel.  He had graduated from the Karlsruhe Military Academy in 1843 and served as a lieutenant in the Baden Army.

Sigel rose to Minister of War and commander-in-chief of the revolutionary republican government of Baden; but when the revolution was defeated, he fled to England.  Among the other exiled rebels in London was Dr. Rudolph Dulon, former pastor of the Dutch Reformed Church of Werban, and his family.  The minister's 20-year old daughter, Elise, had often heard of the brave military leader and in 1853 the two met.

Any hope for romance seemed to have been dashed when Dulon moved his family to America shortly after that meeting.  But before long Siegel, too, arrived in New York and in 1854 the couple was married.

After briefly teaching in the New York City public schools, Sigel moved to St. Louis in September 1858 where he became a professor at the German-American Academy.  But as had been the case in his homeland, his passion for social equity was soon evident.  He lobbied German immigrants into the Union and antislavery causes and vocally supported both.

When war broke out Sigel was commissioned colonel of the Third Missouri Infantry.  He was promoted to brigadier general on August 7, 1861, endorsed by Abraham Lincoln.

But other generals did their best to steal the credit for Sigel's accomplishments.  In his 1862 book, Heroes and Martyrs, historian Frank Moore explained that in October through December 1861, "while all was movement, life, and triumph around him, he fretted in compulsory inactivity, till it seemed that he was forgotten, or that there was an intention to ignore his past services."  A friend of Sigel later remarked "For a long time things have looked as though the intention were to trifle with him."
General Franz Sigel -- from the collection of the Library of Congress

Sigel tendered his resignation.  But the other generals had underestimated his immense popularity and support.  On January 9, 1862 The New York Times reported "A statement that Gen. Franz Sigel, of Missouri fame, has been driven by neglect and ill-treatment to resign his command in the United States service, is producing the greatest excitement among the German American population of the entire North."

The following week The Rebellion Record reported on a massive New York City assembly.  "The great meeting in favor of Gen. Franz Sigel, which took place at the Cooper Institute, was attended by more than ten thousand of the most respectable and solid adopted citizens of German birth, and was characterized by most enthusiastic speeches and resolutions."   A committee was formed to go to Washington and demand that Congress investigate the causes of the general's resignation.

The nationwide outrage at Sigel's treatment prompted a response from the Abraham Lincoln himself.  The Rebellion Record reported the President was determined that "he should decline the acceptance of Gen. Sigel's resignation" and added "His Excellency the President took further occasion to express his sincere satisfaction with the patriotism shown by the adopted citizens of German birth during this unholy rebellion, and particularly acknowledged the so well known and meritorious services of Gen. Franz Sigel."

With the ordeal behind him, Sigel returned to action.  His leadership in the Battle of Pea Ridge on March 8, 1862 was his greatest triumph.   Sigel was given various duties throughout the remainder of the war, suffering a notable defeat in the Battle of New Market on May 15, 1864.  It did little to tarnish his reputation among German Americans and he emerged from the war a bigger-than-life figure.

He and Elise had four sons, Robert, Rudolph, Franz and Paul, and a daughter Leila.  The family moved briefly to Baltimore where Rudolph Dulon ran the Socialist newspaper The Baltimore Wrecker.  Both Franz and Elise worked for the newspaper.  The New York Times later remarked "Mrs. Sigel, having inherited the literary ability from her father...became widely known through the articles she wrote for this publication."

The Sigels moved back to New York in 1869 as Franz planned his campaign for Secretary of State of New York.  They were staying in the house of "Mr. Otterberg" on East 17th Street when the general's popularity was made obvious on the night of March 8 that year.

The Times reported "The friends and countrymen of General Franz Sigel assembled in considerable numbers last evening at the Steuben House, in the Bowery, for the purpose of organizing a serenading party to compliment the General on the occasion of the seventh anniversary of the Battle of Pea Ridge."   A procession through the streets arrived at the Otterberg house.  "After the performance of a number of airs by the orchestra, the General appeared and responded in a few remarks, which were enthusiastically cheered."

Sigel was defeated in his run for Secretary of State.  But he remained highly involved in the political and social activities of New York.   When the Franco-Prussian War broke out in 1870, reporters came to him for military and political insight.  And in 1873, when the city was debating on the best means of public transportation for the rapidly increasing population, Sigel was one of the speakers in the discussion at the Cooper Institute on February 18.  He proved that in addition to his skills in educating, writing and military planning, he understood engineering as well and provided his proposal for an elevated railroad.

Franz Sigel's proposal for an elevated railroad included arched girders similar to those seen in contemporary train sheds.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Sigel's popularity was exhibited again in November 1888 when he traveled to Pennsylvania to attend a meeting of the German Democrats.  The Philadelphia Record wrote on October 28 "Although years have passed by since he sheathed his sword and settled own to a peaceful life in his adopted country, and the shadows of age are now falling around him, he still retains much of the fiery spirit which made him victorious on many a well-fought field, and his utterances have about them a simple directness and a fervid eloquence which not only awaken enthusiasm but carry conviction."

At the time of that article Sigel held the position of United States Pension Agent in New York City.   It was a trusted position that meant that hundreds of pension checks passed through his hands before being distributed to their beneficiaries.  The accessibility to the checks was a temptation too great for Sigel's son, Robert, to resist.

On March 27, 1889 the Colorado newspaper, the San Louis Valley Courier, reported "Robert Sigel, son of General Franz Sigel, who pleaded guilty to forging pension checks, has been sentenced in the United States Court to six years' imprisonment at hard labor."

Humiliated, Sigel stepped down from his position.  On April 18 The Times reported "He had not been asked to resign, but he did not wish to embarrass the Administration or stand in the way of the appointment of an agent of like political faith with the powers of be."

Robert had not only ruined his own life, but that of his parents.  Two years later, on January 8, 1891 the Committee of Pensions petitioned the United States Senate to approve a pension for Sigel, saying "the beneficiary, whose distinguished service is known to all, is now old and poor and without means of support."  The House Report added "it is but an act of simple justice to care for this old hero in his old age and poverty."

Sigel died in his Bronx home "of general debility" according to The Evening World, on August 21, 1902, at the age of 78.  The tributes flowed in immediately.  The New York Times said "He was a meritorious man, and he embodied, in a high degree, the qualities which make all reasonable Americans proud of their fellow-citizens of German birth...and his memory deserves to be honored by all Americans."

The streets were thronged with civilians and uniformed military personnel on the day of Sigel's funeral.  photographer unknown, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Later that year attention was turned to Elise.  President Theodore Roosevelt received a telephone call from Karl Kapff, a German-American resident of New York on December 12, asking for his help in securing a pension for the widow.  The Times reported "A bill has been introduced in the House by Representative Lessler to give Mrs. Sigel $2,000 a year...Gen. Sigel's widow is now seventy years old and dependent, so that a strong appeal is being made in her behalf."  The pension bill, equal about $57,600 a year today, was passed in January 1903.

On March 17, 1907 the New York Times printed a full-page article announcing that a memorial to Franz Sigel was being sculpted by the esteemed artist Karl Bitter.  The article noted "He has imagined Gen. Sigel as he appeared during the early years of the civil war, erect and vigorous, on the back of an exceptionally large and powerful horse, overlooking the scene of a battle."  The newspaper reported that the "fine monument" would look down Riverside Park and the Hudson River.

The completed statue, over 11 feet high, stood on a granite pedestal designed by architect William Welles Bosworth.  The dedication ceremonies on October 19 began with a parade of described by the Columbia Spectator as "a long procession of United States troops, the National Guards of the State, the Naval Militia, the Grand Army and Spanish War Veterans, and a large division of civilians."  The New-York Tribune estimated that 8,000 members of the regular army and navy, and 5,000 veterans marched.


A massive parade accompanied the unveiling ceremonies.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

The "handsome bronze statue" was unveiled by Sigel's son, Franz.  But what should have been a dignified, military affair had been tainted by infighting among him and his siblings.

Hours before the event The Times reported "The children and grandchildren of the late Gen. Franz Sigel are squabbling over the comparative prominence each of them is to have to-day at the unveiling."  The vicious quarreling was explained by Rudolph's wife who told a reporter "this disturbance was caused by Franz, who was entirely too officious and who had seen to it that she and Mrs. Paul were slighted."

The Times said "The family row got so hot that last Monday Mrs. Rudolph Sigel was summoned to the Morrisania Court."  The magistrate heard the complaints behind closed doors and dismissed them.  But the night before the ceremony, according to the newspaper, "Mrs. Rudolph Sigel said...that when she had asked for seats in the stand for to-day's unveiling she received but two which included no seat for her mother."

Nevertheless, thousands of onlookers were there and the New-York Tribune called it "an ideal day."  The Governor of New York opened the ceremony.

A horrific side story occurred two years later.  Paul Sigel's daughter, Elise (known familiarly as Elsie), was 22 years old and worked in a Christian mission downtown.  Newspaper readers the world over were shocked when her body was found stuffed in a trunk.  On June 22, 1909 the Australian newspaper The Bunbury Herald ran the headline "Chinatown Horror" and reported "The body of Elsie Sigel, who was engaged in missionary work and Sunday-school teaching in Chinatown, New York, has been found in a trunk in a room over a Chinese restaurant in that quarter of the city.  The occupier was a Chinaman, who is supposed to have murdered her."

At the time the condition of Franz's widow was serious.  The Los Angeles Herald wrote in January 23, 1910 "Since the death of her husband, six years ago, she has suffered three strokes of paralysis."  Her family was concerned that the news of Elsie's death would worsen Elise's condition.  The Los Angeles Herald explained "Elsie had visited her grandmother with regularity, and when her visits ceased and her parents were unable to offer a plausible excuse for her absence, the aged woman became alarmed."

Finally she was told that Elsie had gone away to a boarding school.  Soon, however, Elise became "piqued" that the girl had left without saying good-bye.  She also wanted to know why her granddaughter never wrote, but was never given a good explanation.  Finally, after yet another stroke, Elise Sigel died on January 17, 1910 at the age of 75.

Apartment buildings to the north now form a backdrop to the restored Sigel Monument.  photo via the New York Parks and Recreation Department.

On November 16, 1924 about 2,000 persons attended ceremonies at the base of the Sigel Monument to commemorate the general's 100th birthday.  It was most likely the last event held in the shadow of the statue.  Sigel, like so many heroes once so important in the minds of those who erected statues, eventually faded from memory.

photo via the New York Parks and Recreation Department.

In 1941 the statue's bronze sword had become dislodged.  It was repaired by Parks conservators, but was later removed entirely and put into storage.  The statue was cleaned in 1980 and recently the sword has been restored.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Lost 1853 Everett House - 37 East 17th Street


When this stereopticon slide was produced, Union Square was still residential, as evidenced by the brownstone mansion next door.  (copyright expired)
Like his Gramercy Park, Samuel Ruggles's Union Square was an elegant residential enclave with four-story mansions surrounding an iron-fenced park.  In 1853 a first-class hotel, the Everett House, appeared among the private residences.

The hotel was five stories tall--four stories of brick sat on a rusticated stone base.  High end shops opened onto the Fourth Avenue (later renamed Park Avenue South) side.  Above the columned portico, a stack of grouped openings--the Victorian version of Palladian windows--rose to a gently arched pediment.

The proprietor, Hawley D. Clapp, named the hotel after "the distinguished Massachusetts Senator," Edward Everett.  Everett was among the most illustrious orators of the day and a fierce advocate of maintaining the union, earning him the nickname the "apostle of the Union"

The Everett House, like all first-class hotels at the time, provided both transient and permanent accommodations.  There were 60 suites, each with "uncommonly high" ceilings of 15 and a half feet.  The building was designed with comfort and privacy in mind.  On December 23, 1853 The New York Herald noted "The house is so constructed and arranged that the different suits of rooms are almost as retired and quiet, and free from external disturbance, as separate houses."


Clapp had focused on details.  Each of the suites included a "bathing room, with hot and cold water, a water closet, and plenty of closets for clothing and storage."  Only clean, costly coal was provided for the fireplaces.  The Herald said that the rooms "are all warmed by open grates, in which only Liverpool coal is burned, [securing] a good, pure atmosphere."

The furniture throughout was rosewood and sat upon English velvet carpets.  "The curtains of the windows, and the covering of the chairs and sofas, are of costly and beautiful material."  The New York Herald reported that "The parlor furniture cost from twelve hundred dollars to seventeen hundred and fifty to a room."  That price would be equal to as much as $56,100 per room today.  Three of the "enormous mirrors," according to the New-York Tribune, cost $7,500, or nearly a quarter of a million dollars today.

There was a restaurant in the basement "intended to be on a par with Delmonico's, both in quality and price."  Board (or the cost of food) was not included in the rent; instead families dined in their parlors, or in small private dining rooms.  Clapps stressed that they "have just what they want, at any hour they please, and pay accordingly."

Enjoying the luxuries of the Everett House was not cheap.  The most expensive suites rented for as high as $80 per week--more than $2,500 in today's dollars.  It prompted the Herald reporter to say somewhat sarcastically, "People with plenty of 'gold glistening through the interstices of their long silken purses,' who are fond of luxury and quiet, without the trouble of house-keeping, will find themselves about as comfortable and independent at the Everett House as under their own vine and fig tree."

The wealth of the hotel's residents was exemplified in a distressing incident in November 1854.   Starting around the first of the month, a deranged printer named Theodore H. Gray had been tossing acid on the expensive clothing of women leaving theaters.  When he was later caught he admitted "I first commenced throwing it on women of bad character, thinking it would benefit the community."  But quickly he took to throwing acid at New York's female elite.

On the evening of November 20 Daniel Cortman and his wife left the Everett House for the opera.  Mrs. Cortman was fashionably dressed in a silk gown and French cloak.  As they left the theater Gray rushed up and splashed "vitriol" on her clothing, ruining the attire which would be valued at nearly $7,400 today.

Along with certain European nobility, the Everett House attracted high level politicians.   When Presidential candidate James Buchanan arrived in New York on April 23, 1856, the city had already arranged rooms for him here.   And when Senator Stephen A. Douglas arrived with his family on December 28, 1858 representatives of the Common Council met them at the dock to escort them to the Everett House.

One full-time resident in 1860 drew attention for a much different reason.  Spiritualism--the belief that spirits of the dead could be communicated with by gifted persons--was widely popular.   Often the spiritualists were exposed as hoaxes, but a reporter for The New York Times was convinced by this one.

"It is really refreshing, after the numberless disagreeable and mischievous tricks which have been charged to the agency of the 'spirits,' to record one instance where they have taken a pleasant method of evincing their proximity to their earthly friends," said an article on February 28, 1860.  "The boarder at the Everett House are at present in a state of wondering excitement over sundry manifestations reported to have occurred in the family of an editor."

The article reported that one of the resident's children, a 12-year old girl, had "recently developed as a medium."  Her mother insisted that she would leave the child alone in a room, inaccessible from without, and would return to find a bouquet on the table, or a canary flying about the room--gifts from the spirits.  While the reporter was sold on the story, not all the Everett House guests were so sure.  "The matter affords an unceasing theme for the marvel-lovers at the hotel in question, though some are incredulous enough to doubt the spiritual origin of the gifts."

Another of the other permanent residents at the time was millionaire Jay Gould, who lived here at least through 1861.   The family of Samuel Clemens lived here during the summer of 1869 and two years later two high-profile guests, Mary Todd Lincoln and her son Tad, stayed in the hotel.

The Everett House was the scene of a glittering reception for Civil War General Daniel Edgar Sickles on June 30, 1869.   The New York Herald was impressed by the bipartisan (if male-only) outpouring of respect.  "Republican and democrat, radical and conservative, men of every stripe and of the highest standing in the community, were present, and had not the Committee of Arrangements decided on confining the reception entirely to gentlemen there is little doubt that the ladies would have mustered in strength and brought fresh accessions of guests to the beautiful parlors of the Everett House."

Henry Singleton was the "storekeeper" of the hotel that year; a position that involved maintaining the inventory of goods necessary to keep the hotel functioning.  On March 11 he enlisted the help of the building's engineer to help find a leak in a barrel of alcohol in the basement storeroom.

Of course, decades before the advent of electric lighting, they did so with the aid of a kerosene lamp.  It resulted in the barrel exploding.  Luckily neither man was seriously injured, although Singleton was burned about the face and his hair was singed.  But the explosion set fire to the hotel, causing $4,000 in lost stock and $1,500 damage to the building.

The New York Times reported "The event naturally created a panic among the guests of the house, who began to leave the house hurriedly, and whose excitement was not quelled until long after the fire had been extinguished."

In the 1860s and '70s the city's Democratic Party leased rooms in the Everett House for its headquarters.  In 1876 the Democratic National Committee had its home here when it campaigned for Governor Samuel J. Tilden for President.   Tammany Hall held sway over the New York Democratic organization in the late 19th century, so a particular gathering in the Everett House headquarters on March 1, 1878 was somewhat shocking.

The New York Herald reported "A conference meeting of a committee from the New York county democracy and a committee from what is known as the Everett House anti-Tammany democracy was held last evening at the Everett House, in the same rooms that were occupied in the fall of 1876 by the Democratic National Executive Committee."

from Scribner's Magazine, June 1890 (copyright expired)

As with all hotels, the Everett House had its share of scandal.  It was the scene of a shady and shocking incident in the spring of 1893.  Mrs. Minnie Porter was described by The Evening World as "a handsome, diamond-bedecked young woman."  The newspaper added "Just who she is has not yet been ascertained, but it is known that she is married and has a husband in Tennessee."

The New York Times dug up more information on the mysterious woman.  The newspaper said her husband "was a sporting man," adding "She was extremely gay and fond of wine, and she and her husband did not live happily."   Her fondness of wine was, apparently, excessive and The Evening World flatly said "her bibulous habits have attracted much attention"


Checking in about the same time as Mrs. Porter was Army Colonel David C. Houston.  Well-respected within the military community, his wife had died about 12 years earlier and he had no children.

On Sunday, May 14 Minnie Porter was carried out of the Everett House "in a dying condition" and taken to the alcoholic ward at Bellevue Hospital.  The Evening World said she "is a victim of the liquor habit."  Three days later she was still in a coma.

The same day that she was removed from the hotel, Colonel Houston vanished.  According to The Evening World, "It was said that the Colonel was acquainted with Mrs. Porter, and when she was taken to Bellevue Hospital he mysteriously disappeared."  He was later found at St. Vincent's Hospital where he had been taken "for nervous prostration" by friends.

The couple had secretly been romantically involved and their story had a tragic ending.  On May 21, 1893 The New York Times reported "The bodies of Col. David C. Houston, United States Army, who died in St. Vincent's Hospital Thursday of alcoholism, and Mr. Minnie Porter, his companion at the Everett House, who died from the same cause in Bellevue Hospital Friday evening, were taken from the city yesterday for burial."

Houston's military funeral was impressive.  "A great many military men attended the funeral, and all expressed deep regret for the death of Col. Houston, and particularly over the circumstances attending it."

The body of "the Porter woman" was taken from the morgue to New Haven, Connecticut by an aunt for burial.

A postcard, published in the 1890s, advertised suites at $21 per day.
In December 1906 the New-York Tribune published rumors that the hotel was on the verge of bankruptcy.  The newspaper recalled that "As the centre of the hotel district moved uptown, the Everett House maintained its popularity."  Now owned by the Everett House Company, its manager, William H. Parke, scoffed at the rumors, saying "the hotel had been doing a good business" and said it was clearing about $100 per day.

On December 25 The Times chimed in, remembering the hotel's impressive past.  "For many years it was the best-known hotel in New York.  The Prince of Wales, now King Edward VII, chose it as his stopping place when he visited this country many years ago, and the room he occupied is still a choice room in the hotel.  So is the room once occupied by the Duchess of Marlborough."

In 1906, other than the recent fire escapes, little had changed to the building since 1853.  from the collection of the New York Public Library.
Despite the management's denials, the end of the venerable hotel was near.  The building was foreclosed upon in 1907 and bankruptcy was forced upon the owners.   On the morning of June 16, 1908 a notice was tacked to the office bulletin board announcing that the building would be torn down to be replaced by a 20-story office building.  The New-York Tribune reported "The seventy-five guests, many of whom have been patrons of the hotel for years, looked at one another bewildered."

As The Times had done, the Tribune reminisced about the hotel's storied history.  "Prince Henry of Battenberg stayed at the Everett House and was wined and dined there, as did the Duchess of Marlborough, mother of the present Duke of Marlborough.  It was during the Civil War that the Everett House was at the height of its glory, and oldtimers say that the scenes there at balls and dinners were brilliant ones."

photographer unknown, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
The developers gave a nod to the distinguished old hotel when it named the new building The Everett Building.  Completed in 1909, it survives.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Tudor in the Village - 26 Grove Street





In September 1914 the Architectural Record commented on a remarkable project recently completed by heating and ventilation contractors Blake & Williams.  At a time when vintage structures were considered outmoded, they rescued the Federal-style house at No. 26 Grove Street and did a meticulous restoration worthy of 21st century conservationists.  The firm then established its offices in the century-old residence.

Blake & Williams painstakingly restored the old house to its circa 1815 appearance.  Architectural Record, September 1914 (copyright expired)

The restoration was so conscientious that the ironwork on the stoop--updated in the 1850s--was removed and replaced with period-appropriate railings found in a nearby junk shop.  The magazine wrote "This restoration may perhaps tend to show other firms that these old houses, with but a small amount of repair, are as well adapted to commercial uses as are more expensive new buildings, and that the old ones present, if restored in a consistent way, a far more pleasing aspect than most recent buildings of the same size."

Sadly, those hopes were dashed following Blake & Williams's bankruptcy.  In 1928 the handsome house at No. 26 was torn down and construction began on a six-story apartment house.

Designed by Louis Allan Abrahamson, working with Samuel Katz, it was the project of the newly-formed 26 Grove Street Corporation.  Completed in 1929, the architects had wasted little money on costly materials and ornament on the facade.  They nevertheless created a charming take on Tudor Revival.

In 1928 Abrahamson and Katz released a rendering of the proposed building.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

Clinker bricks--purposely manufactured to be blackened and misshapen--gave the appearance of age.  They starkly contrasted with the smooth-faced stone blocks that created the irregular framing for the arched doorway.   A picturesque gable at the sixth floor featured Tudor half-timbering.


Typical of the first residents were Hugh Cook Glenn and his wife, Esther.  He was the head of the exporting firm of Young & Glenn and had formerly been in charge of the Customs Department of the Mexican Railway Company in Mexico City.

Another of the initial tenants was Howard W. Proctor, a broker.  In the spring of 1929 he found himself in serious trouble.  The 39-year old had been drinking one evening in May when he crashed into another automobile at Park Avenue and 60th Street.  Proctor drove on.

The passenger in the other car, 47-year old Sadie Mitchell, died from her injuries.  The following day Proctor was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated, leaving the scene of an accident, and homicide. 

Other tenants at the time included Jay H. Schmit, a 1916 graduate of the University of Michigan who owned a perfume business; and author and editor Clara M. Leiser, who wrote her biography of Polish tenor Jean de Reszke here.

The well-received book, Jean De Reszke And The Great Days of Opera, was her best-known work.  The magazine Poland reported in December 1933 "Miss Clara M. Leiser was entertained recently at a tea in the Roerich Museum in New York by the Polish Institute of Art and Letters, affiliated with the Roerich Society."  She spoke of her research and the magazine noted "Of special interest were the letters from celebrities throughout the world who wrote Miss Leiser about their personal impressions" of the star.  Many of those letters were the result of personal ads Clara placed in newspapers worldwide, asking for replies to be sent to the Grove Street address.

A highly visible tenant was Samuel N. Horowitz, a retail grocer.  In 1930 he bristled at the rise of chain stores that threatened the livelihoods of the neighborhood groceries.  A headline in the New York Times on March 30, 1930 read "9,000 Grocers Fight Chain Stores Here."  Horowitz was among the organizers of the grass roots movement.

The outcome was the Associated Grocery Stores Corporation of which he became head.  When he was not at work or dealing with the organization's business, he relaxed by playing chess.  Long a member of the Stuyvesant Chess Club, he headed there on the evening of February 21, 1934.  On his way up the stairs to the club room on East 14th Street, he collapsed.  The 48-year old died of a heart attack.

The Great Depression took a toll on at least one of 26 Grove Street's professional residents.  William Pritchard was an attorney; but after losing his job he eventually could no longer afford his rent.  He gave up his apartment sometime in 1937 and moved in with a friend, Patrick J. Brown, who lived nearby at No. 87 Barrow Street.

Pritchard continued to look for employment, but there was none.  On February 9, 1938 Brown returned home to find the 46-year old dead.  He had committed suicide by opening the gas jets on the kitchen range.

Mrs. Alfred Wilcox narrowly escaped a similar, but accidental, death in her Grove Street apartment five years later.  On January 5, 1943 gas seeped from her refrigerator.   While she could not detect the toxic methyl chloride, her Irish setter, Rusty, did.  If not for the dog's nervous warnings and insistent actions she would no doubt have perished.  On September 21 Rusty was honored by the Greenwich Village Humane League with a medal of heroism.

Living here in 1947 was William H. Unger, an electrical and radio engineer.  He missed a considerable amount of work in January 1947 when he was selected to be on the jury of a case that drew national attention.  Alvin J. Paris was charged with offering bribes to two star players of the New York Football Giants to throw the play-off game with the Chicago Bears for the National Professional Football League championship on December 15, 1946.

No small incident, the crime involved gangland ties, nationwide gambling on the game's outcome, and the mob violence.  The New York Times described the defendant on the day they were selected, saying he was "dressed in Broadway fashion with a two-toned tie and pin-striped blue suit."  Unger and his colleagues were be confined to a hotel for the duration of the trial.  The precaution was due to death threats that came even before the jury was decided upon.

No. 26 Grove Street got its few minutes of fame when it was used as the apartment of actor John Ritter's character Steve Nichols in the 1980 film comedy, Hero at Large.


The charismatic building sits on a charming Village block, quietly minding its own business.  Only the few passersby who happen to look up catch the delightful Tudor touch at the top.

photographs by the author

Friday, September 15, 2017

The 1822 William Ross House - 58 Lispenard Street



Neglected and abused, the building shows little hint of its impressive history.

In the first decades of the 19th century the area recently known as Lispenard Meadows--a sprawling tract owned by Anthony Lispenard and his wife, the former Alice Rutgers--saw development as handsome brick-faced homes rose on the newly-laid streets.

The little two-block roadway named Lispenard Street was opened in 1809, at which time it turned abruptly north between Church Street and Broadway to meet Canal Street.  In 1821 the street was straightened to intersect with Broadway.  That year William Ross began construction of his home at No. 58 Lispenard.

Completed the following year, at 25-feet wide the Federal-style home reflected its owner's comfortable financial status.  Handsome paneled lintels graced the openings of the two-and-a-half story house.

Ross lived here with his wife, Hanna.  He had made his fortune as a coachmaker to clients who were, quite literally, of the carriage trade.  The quality of his work miraculously survives in the 1797 carriage he designed for Daniel Campbell for his wife, Engeltie Bratt Campbell.   The two-passenger vehicle, known today as The Campbell Chariot, was the epitome of elegance and luxury at the time.

The Campbell Chariot is on display in the Henry Ford Museum.  photo via brhoward.com
In 1827 Hanna Ross was listed in city directories as "widow of William."  When she died is unclear, but by 1836 the Ross heirs were leasing the house.  The widowed Julia Mills lived here that year when she subscribed to The Passion Flower.  The monthly, 96-page magazine included two full-page drawings of flowers.  "The tint leaves are for crayon sketches or desultory thoughts," explained an advertisement.  The $5 yearly subscription Mrs. Mills paid "in advance" would be equal to about $135 today; evidence that she was financially comfortable.

Three years earlier Piero Maroncelli had fled to New York from his native Italy where the poet, musician and journalist had spent time in prison for founding a revolutionary newspaper.  During his 12-year incarceration he developed a tumor on his leg.  The New York Times later reported "The prison barber hacked off the limb, and after months of suffering Maroncelli's life was saved.  His sentence was commuted, and he came to this country."

Listed in directories as "Professor Marconelli," he had moved into the Lispenard Street house by 1841.  In addition to teaching music, he wrote critiques for the New York Sunday Mercury and the New World, wrote several books, and published poems and musical compositions.

Godey's Lady's Book described him as "irritable, frank, generous, chivalrous, warmly attached to his friends, and expecting from them equal devotion.  His love of country is unbounded, and he is quite enthusiastic in his endeavours to circulate in America the literature of Italy."

Maroncelli's sometimes "irritable" nature came to light on December 21, 1843 when fired off a letter to the editor of the New World.  Instead of sending it to that newspaper's office, he ensured it would be made public by directing it instead to the New-York Daily Tribune.   Members of the Philharmonic Society were "very much displeased" with the negative critique attributed to Maroncelli in the New World, one which he had not written.  He clarified the issue and ended his letter saying:

Be pleased, Sir, to make the proper correction in this matter through the columns of the New World, in justice to Your obedient servant, Piero Maroncelli

Maroncelli never truly recovered from his treatment in prison.  In June 1846 Godey's Lady's Book said "Maroncelli is now about fifty years old, and bears on his person the marks of long suffering; he has lost a leg; his hair and beard became gray may years ago; just now he is suffering from severe illness, and from this it can scarcely be expected that he will recover."

Piero Maroncelli is remembered as a composer, educator, author and political martyr.  original photo source unknown

Indeed he did not.  He died in the Lispenard Street house on August 1, 1846.   Exactly one month later the New-York Daily Tribune chastised Italian-born New Yorkers for their lack of a proper display of respect.  "The Italian population of New-Orleans are to celebrate with appropriate solemnities the death of Piero Maroncelli, the Italian martyr, who recently died in this City.  We have heard of nothing of the kind among our Italian citizens."

If the newspaper was disappointed in the public display of respect at the time of Maroncelli's death, it would certainly have approved of the massive ceremonies four decades later.  Maroncelli's casket was disinterred from Greenwood Cemetery in preparation for the return of his body to Italy to be buried with honors.

The New York Times reported on July 21, 1886 "The entire Italian colony of this city was in Broadway last night."  Tammany Hall was packed with Italian-born citizens, many in various uniforms.  "In the centre of the hall stood a large catafalque.  It was nearly 10 feet in height, and consisted of five square platforms, one above the other, and growing small as they went upward."  Atop the black-draped structure sat the white coffin of Maroncelli.  Following the ceremonies, the casket was carried to a hearse drawn by four black horses.  The procession proceeded to the Wall Street Ferry.  The Times noted "The street was literally packed with people."

In 1845, the year before Marconcelli's death, artist Christian Mayr was listed as sharing No. 58 Lispenard Street.   That year he submitted at least two paintings in the exhibit of the National Academy of Design--Death of Abel, and Waiting the Arrival of my Cousin, Who Promised me a Good Situation in Town.

Born in Nuremberg, by 1823 when Mayr enrolled in the Academy of Art in Munich he had established himself as an architectural painter.  He immigrated to the United States in 1833, settling in New York in 1845.  How he came to share the house with Maroncelli that year is unclear.

Mayr's paintings provided an often-humorous glimpse into 19th century life.  This one is titled "Too Tight." image via askart.com
It appears that Mayr's artistic career was earning him a comfortable living.  On November 19, 1846 he placed an advertisement in The New York Herald reporting that a "draft for $1000 has been lost (through the Post Office)" payable to him.  The announcement reported that the draft had been stopped and any information on the lost check, worth about $32,400, would be appreciated.


Around the time of Maroncelli's death the Ross family converted the first floor of No. 58 to a shop.  In 1846 it housed the businesses of tailors John Hawkes and  Isaac L. Cowl, and upholsterer E. C. Gading.   Mayr now shared the upper floors with physician William Nathusius.

"Reading the News" may have included neighborhood figures.  collection of the National Academy Museum

Christian Mayr died in the house in October 1850.  His funeral was held in here on October 21.  As his executors attempted to settle his estate, they placed an advertisement in the New-York Daily Tribune on December 7 that included "Persons in possession of paintings or other articles of art, &c. belonging to the deceased, are requested to return the same without delay."

Dr. Henry G. Cox now moved into No. 58.  He was Professor of Theory and Practice of Medicine and of Clinical Medicine at the New York Medical College and head of the Emigrant Refuge Hospital.  He wrote a compassionate letter of reference from the house on May 12, 1851:

Mrs. Rebecca McGuinness, the bearer of this, is a destitute Scotch woman who followed her husband to this country, where they expected to secure the comforts of a happy home; but he, unfortunately, died in Rochester a few days before she reached this city.  Mrs. McGuinness has herself suffered from severe disease since her arrival, and was under my supervision in the hospital; she is now desirous of ascertaining if she can procure aid from your society to enable her to secure such employment as may preclude the necessity for separation from her young son.

The following decade saw commerce encroaching on the previously upscale neighborhood.  In 1860 the floors above the shop were home to several renters, including Alexander Condy, who listed no profession in directories, and shoe maker Theobald Deitsch.  One resident, named Moone, was inducted into the Union Army in 1863.

Around the end of the Civil War the Ross family sold the property to Jacob Pabst.  In 1867 he hired architect Julius Boekell to convert the residence for business.  The peaked roof was removed and the attic raised to a full third floor.  Interestingly, Boekell copied the original paneled lintels for the new windows.  The architect also converted the former tailor shop to accommodate a restaurant run by Pabst and his wife Christina.  A fashionable, up-to-date Italianate cornice looked as much domestic as commercial.

The renovated building became home to clothing manufacturers, the first being Baudouine & William, owned by Abram Baudouine and William P. Willis, which moved in 1868.  In 1876 two shirtmakers, Ballou & Co. and William Henry Olmstead, shared the upper.

The former Pabst restaurant was the "eatinghouse" run by George Spangenmacher by 1875.  Described in directories as a "wine-and-beer merchant," he also ran a saloon in his home state of New Jersey.

J. R. Haines and Company was in the building by 1885, run by John R. Haines an John K. Halsey.  A tenant not directly involved in making garments was Aaron Waldman, a dealer in buttons.   Things were going better in the button trade than in domestic life for Waldman in 1890.  He was served a judgment of $947 by the sheriff on December 14 that year for Goldina Waldman.

The turnover in tenants was routine; but it seems there were never more than two at any time.  In 1894 Minnie Mosso manufactured children's clothing here.  She employed two men, four women, and two girls.  The staff worked 53 hours per week, plus 8 hours on Saturdays.

As the turn of the century approached, Otto Gottschalk had taken over the saloon formerly run by George Spangenmacher.

The building was sold at public auction to George J. Ponders on March 7, 1900.  He retained ownership for only two years, selling it in 1903 to William Philip Hoffman who announced that "alterations will be made" to the building.  At the time The Parisian had been making shirt waists here for several years.  In 1901 the small shop employed just three men who worked 54 hours a week.

Hoffman's alterations may have included renovations to the former saloon.  It now had a far different tenant, the Physical Culture Restaurant.   It was one of a string of 12 restaurants in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Boston and Philadelphia intended as a means to advance "the Physical Culture work and hygienic living."  Ironically housed in the former saloon space, it was what might today be termed a health food restaurant.   Former patrons who wandered in would be distressed to find that alcohol was markedly absent.

Dry goods and clothing operators continued to lease space upstairs.  In 1908 dry goods jobbers Kleban & Jacobs were here, staying at least through 1910.   Around 1912 Louis Barall & Son began selling men's business attire directly to the consumer here; and in 1914 Jacob R. Gold & Co. was leasing space.  Makers of "hosiery, underwear, shirts and gloves," that firm remained until moving to Crosby Street in 1921.

By 1924 Frank Jacobovitz had run his odd-lots business from the former restaurant space in No. 58 for several years.  He routinely advertised "cash paid for stores stocks and merchants, also job lots."  When he had sufficient inventory, he auctioned the goods to retailers.  Things were slow on the afternoon of February 2 that year so Jacobovitz and five other men were passing time by playing cards.

Suddenly five men walked into the auction room.  With their right hands in their pockets as if holding pistols, they ordered the men "Keep your hands down.  Don't make a move that will attract attention."

Because the thugs never showed their weapons and, according to The New York Times the players "took the matter of arms on faith," the police called it a "mental robbery," the first ever reported in New York.

As scores of workers heading home passed by the large windows, the bandits gathered up cash and jewelry, including Frank Jacobovitz's ring that he valued at $500--more than $7,000 in today's dollars.   The Times noted that anyone glancing inside "from the casual manner in which the valuables changed hands, apparently regarded it as a straight business transaction."   The robbers then hurried to a waiting automobile and disappeared into Broadway traffic.

Amazingly, as tenants upstairs came and went, the one who steadfastly remained was Louis Barall & Son.  They were still in the building during the 1960s and '70s when the firm Plastics offered novelties through mail order.  Among the items offered in magazines like Boys' Life was the miniature, steel framed set of plastic drawers to store screws or hobby collections.

On October 8, 1982 John Duka, writing in The New York Times, tipped off male shoppers to the secret on Lispenard Street where, he said, "Louis Barall & Son have been selling men's clothing for 72 years, primarily to those who work on Wall Street."  He noted "the quality of the goods at Barall is comparable to that offered by such stores as Barney's."  By now the firm had moved into the street level store.

The upper floors were converted to joint living-work quarters in 1984.  When the venerable men's furnishers finally closed its doors on March 10, 1995 the shop space served for several years as an annex to Pearl Paint.  The rear entrance of the main store on Canal Street was almost directly across Lispenard Street. 



Today the brownish-red paint peels from the brick facade and the storefront is vacant, giving the venerable house-turned-business building a lonely look; one that conceals the fascinating history that played out within its walls.

photographs by the author
many thanks to reader Ted Leather for prompting this post

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The 1894 Hart Brothers Stables - 148-150 West 20th Street



In the decades before the outbreak of Civil War the block of West 20th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues was lined mostly with three-story homes built for families of moderate means.  In 1848, for instance, Peter Van Iderstein, a "licensed cartman," lived at No. 148 and Francis McNally, who taught in Public School No. 17, lived next door at No. 150.

As the neighborhood changed in the last quarter of the 19th century, John Murray saw financial opportunity in the old houses.  Sixth Avenue was becoming a major shopping thoroughfare and Seventh Avenue, too, was increasingly commercial.

In January 1893 Murray hired George Fred Pelham to design a five-story brick stable on the site of Nos. 148 and 150.  The architect learned his trade in the office of his father, George Brown Pelham and had opened his own office less than three years earlier.  The fledgling architect no doubt welcomed this latest commission.  He would not truly come into his own until the 1920s when he designed apartment buildings in what became his signature neo-Tudor style.

For Young he turned to a commercial take on Romanesque Revival.  Completed a year later the $40,000 building (about $1.15 million today) was clad in Roman brick and was dominated by two massive three-story arches separated by brick piers.  They engulfed four smaller arches filled with double hung windows.  The fifth floor featured two four-window arcades with projecting brick eyebrows.

While Pelham did use contrasting materials like the rough cut brownstone lintels at the second floor and the limestone capitals of the fourth floor, the bulk of his ornamentation was executed in brick.  A stair-stepping brick cornice ran above the carriage bays and a sharp corbel table sat below the second floor.  The brick constituting the spandrel panels above the second and third floors and the upper cornice was laid in a honeycomb pattern.   Three large terra cotta roundels decorated the upper facade.

John Murray sold the completed building to Michael Gillespie, who quickly turned it over to millionaire Russell Sage.  Sage traded two empty plots at the northern corner of Central Park West and 69th Street for the stables.  The lots were worth $65,000.

Russell Sage was a financier and railroad mogul who had no interest in running a livery stable.  His purchase was an investment.  He leased the building to Patrick and Tole Hart.

The forward-thinking brothers added a modern innovation--a telephone (their phone number in 1895 was 1137).   The improved communication meant that an owner could call ahead and when he or his coachman arrived the horses would be harnessed to his carriage and ready to go.

The size of the stables allowed for the storage of many vehicles and the housing of teams of horses.  Even those wealthy enough to have their own carriage houses would have used boarding stables like this to store seasonal vehicles like sleighs.  Small businessmen like cartmen or hansom cab drivers used boarding stables, as well.  The livery portion operated much like today's rental car businesses, leasing buggies and cabriolets for day trips.

Neither Tole nor Patrick Hart could expect to see their names in newspapers; but that briefly changed in 1897.  That year some of Manhattan's wealthiest and most powerful men--directors and officers in the American Tobacco Company--were accused of conspiracy.  James B. Duke, Benjamin N. Duke, and William H. Butler were among the millionaires to be tried.  Tole Hart was called for jury duty in the case.  But he had no intention of serving.

The New York Times reported on June 12, "He said he had read a little about the case, had a prejudice against trusts to strong that he though the chances were that he would vote to convict an individual connected with a trust, irrespective of law and fact.  He was excused by consent."

Hart later revealed that his disinterest in serving had more to do with jury watching.  To guarantee that the jurors were not influenced the courts had them followed.  The New York Journal and Adviser explained that Pinkerton detectives were charged with following the jurors day and night.  As a double-check detectives from the Drummond Agency, in turn, monitored the Pinkerton men.

"While Smith is being followed by the Pinkerton detectives, the Drummond detectives are watching Pinkertons.  When the Pinkerton talks to the juror at dinner about the weather and trade the other detective keeps the pair in sight.  A third man is watching the trio."

Tole told a reporter from the New York Journal "I would never have had any rest until the whole trial was over.  This thing of being followed to one's door by mysterious looking individuals and not being allowed to eat a meal or drink a glass of soda water without having Pinkerton men rubbing up against you for the purpose of taking note of every word you say is not at all pleasant."

Among the patrons of the stable in 1903 was William M. Mooney who housed his hansom cab and team here.  He nearly lost his cab and his life on May 20 that year near the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

Nearby, on the third floor of No. 329 Fifth Avenue, was Harriet Darling's music studio.  Around 5:00 a group of well-dressed women were enjoying a recital by vocalist Mary Gallagher.  Suddenly Mrs. Darling noticed that her portieres were on fire.  She tried to put out the flames herself, but the fire spread.   Mary Gallagher continued to sing, hoping to prevent panic "but without effect," said the New-York Tribune.

William Mooney had two passengers in his cab, Frank Clarke and his wife, who lived on Staten Island.  Just as he entered the intersection of 34th Street and Fifth Avenue the tender of Engine No. 65 came galloping to the fire.  A violent collision followed.

"The cab was overturned and Mooney thrown from his seat to the pavement," reported the Tribune.  Mooney was not severely hurt nor were his heavily-shaken passengers; however his hansom was destroyed.  The New York Times said "The heavy fire wagon shivered the cab to splinters."

Two years later, on June 27, 1905, a Hart Brothers employee was preparing the rig owned by John Cronin when the horse became spooked and bolted out of the stable.  At around 7:00 that morning Policeman William D. Kenealley was on patrol around the Flatiron Building, three blocks away.  It was a quiet day, reported The New York Times.

"Then he heard the rattle of harness coming down Broadway, also a human cry."  The headline of the newspaper's article read "Tale of an Exciting Broadway Incident Without a Hero."  As the horse, dragging its leather tack, galloped by, the policeman rushed into the street and grabbed the bridle.

On a day without much news to report, The Times was comical in its tongue-in-cheek description of the hero-less incident.  "No person was in an attached vehicle; there was no vehicle...He wasn't dragged any distance.  He wasn't hurt, and no damage was done.  No little girl, beautiful woman, or aged man was dragged out of the way."  The horse, said the article, was led back to the 20th Street stable.

By 1913 Hart Brothers had purchased the stables.  But by now horse-drawn vehicles were rapidly being replaced by machines.   When the newly-formed 148 and 150 West Twentieth Street Realty Company purchased the building in March 1922 it was being described as a "five-story garage."

Fire ripped through the building on October 3, 1949.  Firemen Frank J. Sergi and Henry D. Brookman received medals for heroism the following March for rescuing a man from the flames.  The subsequent renovation was completed in 1951.  It was most likely at this time that the yawning garage opening replaced the carriage-sized bay door, still seen at the western end.  The Department of Buildings noted that the garage was to house "pleasure type cars only."


Utilitarian structures like garages routinely suffer abuse as their function overpowers their beauty for most owners.  Subsequently the nearly 115-year old building has suffered noticeable humiliation.   Nevertheless, the powerful design of George Fred Pelham's Romanesque Revival stables still shines through.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The 1836 William Huyler House - 42 Bedford Street


The original roof line is evidence in the change of brick color.
In 1835 William Huyler began construction on a neat two-and-a-half story brick house at No. 42  Bedford Street.  A master mason, Huyler was responsible for erecting several other homes in the immediate neighborhood.  He likely acted as his own architect, drawing from the trends of the day.

Completed in 1836, the house was faced in red Flemish bond brick.  The doorway above a short stone stoop was almost at sidewalk level and the openings were trimmed in brownstone.  The peaked roof would have been punctured by one or two dormers.

The house was most likely an investment project from the beginning.  At least by 1842 boarders were living here, like Mary M. Griffin, a school teacher.  The residents, like Mary, were respectable but by no means affluent.   The renter of the "front room, second floor" placed an advertisement in The New York Herald on March 26, 1851 that exemplified the boarders' financial and social class:

Wanted--By a Neat Young Woman, a situation as a Children's Nurse, in a respectable private family, and to do Plain Sewing, or a Chambermaid's place and to assist in sewing; has no objection in going with a family to the country in summer.

William Huyler died in 1860 and by the 1890s his heirs had moved to New Jersey.  It is possible that John T. Clarke was managing No. 42 for the family when on January 9, 1892 the Real Estate Record & Guide reported that they had sold him the building.  But something fell through and the title was never transferred.

At the turn of the century the family of Fred C. Burckhart had lived at No. 42 for several years, possibly leasing the entire house.  Daughter Anna grew up in the neighborhood and was inseparable friends with Sophie Haverman who lived nearby.  The girls had attended school together and were both members of the Alexander Chapel choir on King Street.

In 1903 Anna was 18 years old and was described by The Evening World as "of a bright and cheerful disposition, and because of her exceptional good looks and unfailing good nature was regarded as the belle of the neighborhood."  The newspaper added that "with her parents she lived in a cozy home at No. 42 Bedford street."

Anna's happy life was terribly upset when her friend Sophie underwent an operation in the fall of 1903.  During the surgery the teen girl died.  Anna was thrown into deep depression.  "She wept considerably and frequently complained of headaches," reported The Evening World.

On the cold morning of January 15, 1904 Anna told her mother that she was suffering from a headache and was going to the corner drugstore to "get a powder."  Her mother told her to hurry back.

Only 15 minutes later Anna stumbled into the doorway of a family friend, Daniel Martin, who lived directly across the street at No. 41 Bedford.  "As she opened the door she attempted to speak, but fell unconscious before she could formulate a word."

Martin picked up the girl and immediately recognized the smell of carbolic acid--a frequent method of suicide--and noticed that her lips were burned by the acid.  He rushed the girl across the street to her home and an ambulance was summoned, but Anna had died almost instantly.

Where she had obtained the poison was a mystery.  She had never gone to the drugstore as she purported and there was no bottle in her pocket nor anywhere on the ground.  Describing the dead girl as "heartbroken with grief," The Evening World ran the dramatic headline: Joins Her Girl Chum In Death.

The Burckhart family remained in the house through 1910.  On November 29 that year Fred C. Burckhart died here, one month after the Huyler family did finally sell the house to John T. Clarke.

Oddly enough, Clarke sold the house to Frederick Rabbe within a week of buying it.  The $7,010 Rabbe paid would equal about $183,000 today.

When Rabbe sold No. 42 to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Matthew in 1918, Mrs. A. Nunan was living in the house.  She was enraged when she opened her gas bill in December that year.   She headed to the office of the Consolidated Gas Company at 15th Street and Irving Place and vented her complaint.

The Evening World reported on December 27, "Her bill for October was $2.72 and that for November $7.36."  The gas company had a good excuse for the mistake--they had hired women to read the meters.  The newspaper reported "For some time the company has employed women as meter readers, but they are being dispensed with."

The ownership of the house was turned over three times in 1925, finally being sold to Jenny (sometimes spelled Jennie) Fongaroli in 1925.   In October 1930 she leased the property to Dorsey West who changed its personality forever, converting it to a restaurant.

Architect Ferdinand Savignano was commissioned to transform the nearly century-old building.  Rather than restore the its quaint 1836 appearance, Savignano was, ironically, instructed to make it appear colonial.  Following the contemporary "bohemian" trend in Greenwich Village, the attic was raised to a full third floor, the entrance received a "colonial" double door with a fanlight, topped with a charming triptych window.  Although Savignano carried on the Flemish bond brickwork, he did not bother to match the color, since the facade was covered in stucco.

Beginning in 1935 Mary's Restaurant operated from the quaint building.  Sitting squarely in the Little Italy section of the Village, it originally served Italian cuisine.  Owners Mary and Pasquale D'Agosto lived in the building.  By the 1950s they had two children, also named Mary and Pasquale, enrolled in the public schools.

Mary's Restaurant was a landmark of sorts in the neighborhood.  On February 5, 1971 reknowned food critic Craig Claiborne glowed "We had one of the best pasta dishes at this small restaurant we've ever encountered outside Italy...As a matter of fact, most of the dishes we've eaten here are above the New York average."  Claiborne described the layout, saying "Mary's is on two levels, with a kitchen downstairs that opens onto a small dining room with only four or five tables.  The dining room above is not much larger."

But as the character of the neighborhood changed--with Italian families leaving and yuppies moving in--Mary's Restaurant attempted to adapt.   It was remodeled in 1994 and reopened with little or nothing left of the old ristorante.    In its opening review, The New York Times seemed to lament the changes.

"This historic town house restaurant underwent a major facelift...and emerged the slightly more serious brother of Universal Grill, the boisterous party restaurant next door that is owned by the same team."  The new incarnation made a stab at camp (there was a private room decorated as a tribute to Angie Dickinson) and the menu no longer offered authentic Italian fare, but American, with items like pork loin and calf's liver.

It was the beginning of the end of Mary's Restaurant.  Following its close, a conversion to a private home was initiated by the architectural firm of Edelman Sultan Knox Wood.  The stucco was removed from the facade and an artist studio space installed on the roof.

The little hallway window above the doorway was designed originally to include a window box.

While William Huyler's 1836 design is unrecognizable, the charm of the eccentric little house is undeniable.

photographs by the author

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Charles A. Youngs's 1891 Hybrid--59 West 94th Street



Increase M. Grenell acted both as the developer and the builder for his row of seven comfortable rowhouses on West 94th Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue.  He purchased the plots and hired Charles M. Youngs to design the houses in 1890.

Youngs had been working in New York for at least a decade, but he is little known today.  His obscurity is possibly because much of his work, it seems, was in making renovations to existing buildings.  In 1879, for instance, he designed a new cast iron storefront for the building owned by Charles A. Baudouine at No. 42 Walker Street; and the following year he designed a two-story extension at the rear of Charles G. Landon's residence at No. 428 Fifth Avenue.

And so perhaps the 94th Street row would be his crowning work.  He designed each house to stand on its own architecturally, but to compliment its neighbors as a harmonious whole.  Blending prim Renaissance Revival elements with more rugged Romanesque Revival components, he created hybrid designs that were quintessentially 1890s in taste.

Construction was completed early in 1891.  No. 59 perfectly exemplified Youngs's marriage of styles.  The basement level--protected not by the more expected iron fencing but by two low stone walls incised with fans--was faced with thick bands of rough-cut brownstone.  Stone newels with handsome carved Renaissance Revival panels introduced the steep stoop where, too, stone wing walls took the place of iron railings.

The architrave surrounds of the parlor floor windows perfectly matched the framing of the double-doored entrance, and Youngs gave all three openings an unusual concave hood.  The piers flanking the upper two stories alternated between planar stone and undressed bands, creating somewhat the look of newly-laid blocks with their mortar oozing out.  It was at the second story that Youngs let his full creativity loose.

The two-story central section projected a few inches away from the facade, just enough to draw interest.  A wide arch encompassed three smaller arches--two windows and a blind arch overflowing with intricate Renaissance carvings.  Swirling vines with fruits and flowers sprout from the mouth of a smiling mask.   The spandrel directly above echoed the motif with vining leaves and flowers in full bloom.  Its foliate keystone served no purpose other than to be attractive.  The design was carried on in the five small panels just below the cornice.




At 20-feet wide and three stories tall above the basement level, it was intended for an upper-middle-class family.  Grenell sold it on May 14, 1891 to Ernest Emmel and his wife, Ida, for $25,000--about $680,000 today.

Emmel was doing exceptionally well for himself.  At just 38 years old he was a member of the firm Wattenberg & Emmel, flour merchants, and an officer in the newly-formed New York Hygeia Ice Company, Ltd., which produced and sold "artificial ice" to restaurants and hotels.  He was a member of the Produce Exchange and of the New York Athletic Club.

But the young executive would not enjoy his new home for long.  He died at his country home in Portchester, New York on September 20, 1891, just four months after purchasing the 94th Street house.

The following month Ida A. Emmel sold No. 59 to George F. Mattlage (making a quick profit of $2,000 in the deal).  The 30-year old was a member of the produce wholesaling firm of Charles F. Mattlage & Sons, which did business at No. 337 Greenwich Street.  

Mattlage embraced the new Upper West Side neighborhood.  His brother, C. Henry Mattlage, lived in the area, too, at No. 325 West 88th Street and both men were elected members of The West End Association in January 1899.  No mere social club, the The West End Association lobbied for improvements in the district such as gas street lamps and the extension of the rapid transit system.

The brothers' focus would temporarily shift to Texas the following year after Galveston was devastated by a hurricane on September 8, 1900.  The deadliest hurricane in U.S. history, it took between 6,000 and 12,000 lives.

New York City residents responded with an outpouring of money to the relief funds.  And city merchants offered goods to the survivors.  An army transport ship, the McPherson, was loaded with supplies, mostly clothing and shoes.  Charles F. Mattlage & Sons came through with a less expected donation: 1,500 boxes of smoked herring.

The simple carved fans on the squat walls protecting the basement areaway, more in line with the Esthetic Movement, , contrast with the exuberant carvings above.

In 1903 members of the Merchants' Association gathered to protest the proposed "overhead trolley" on West Street.  They were united in favoring a subway instead.  George F. Mattlage was not there in person; but his letter of protest was read nonetheless.

His absence was due to sickness.  In fact, in 1899, the same year that he joined the West End Association, Mattlage had fallen ill.  Before the end of the year he was no longer able to go to his office.  He died in the 94th Street house in April 1905 at the age of 43.

Mattladge's widow appears to have stayed on in the house until 1915 when, on February 20, the Record & Guide reported on rumors that his estate had sold the house.  And it had.  Emanuel Louis Spellman, who had been living at No. 76 West 119th Street in Harlem, was the purchaser.


Spellman was born in Rotterdam, Holland, on July 24, 1845, and was educated in Europe and Cincinnati, Ohio.  He moved to New York in 1870, the same year he married.   He founded E. L. Spellman & Co., dealing in wine and liquor, described by the California Farmer in 1912 as "one of the largest wine distributing firms in the country."  He was also, by now, a director of the California San Gabriel Mine, and the Federal Distilling Company of Baltimore.  Not forgetting his homeland, he was President of the New Netherland Society.

The Successful American said "Mr. Spellman is noted for his charities, and in distributing his bounties he is discriminating and just."   His donations covered an array of causes.  Following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and subsequent fire, his company donated $250 in relief--just under $7,000 today.   He was a member of the Hospital for Deformities and Joint Diseases (membership required a $10 per year contribution), and in 1916 he donated to the American Jewish Relief Committee's fund to provide relief to European Jews affected by World War I.

At a time when most wine merchants imported their goods from Europe, Spellman was surprisingly bullish on domestic wines.  In the fall of 1912 the Pacific Rural Press noted that he had "given evidence of his faith in the future of the industry by contracting for 2,500,000 gallons of sweet wine and 1,500,000 gallons of brandy," produced in California.  The article added "He also expected to buy between one and two million gallons of dry wine."  Spellman's faith in California wines was strong enough that he purchased vineyards near Fresno and Los Angeles.

Emanuel Spellman would not live to see Prohibition wipe out the distilleries and wineries of America and ruin distributors.  He died on January 11, 1917 at the age of 73, less than two years after purchasing the 94th Street house.

Only three of Youngs's original row of seven houses survive.
His widow apparently did well through his real estate holdings in New York and California.  On April 22, 1922 she and her daughter Gladys arrived in Paris for the summer.

By the following year No. 59 West 94th Street was being operated as a rooming house, and in 1938 it was converted to apartments with four per floor and six furnished rooms on the top floor.  A recent renovation in 2012 resulted in a total of seven apartments, no more than two per floor.

No. 59 and its two neighbors are most likely the sole surviving designs in New York City by the obscure Charles M. Youngs.

photographs by the author