Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Altered 1746 Ye Olde Coffee House -- No. 105 Broad Street

In 1746 a three-story brick building was erected at No. 105 Broad Street, on a plot owned by Philip Van Cortlandt.  An inn and meeting place called Ye Olde Coffee House, it replaced the Exchange Coffee House, or New Coffee House, that had stood on the northeast corner of Water Street since at least 1709.

On the opposite end of the narrow block, at the corner of Pearl Street, was the elegant home of James DeLancy which would be purchased by Samuel Fraunces in 1762 and converted to the Queens Head Tavern.  It was renamed Frances Tavern during the Revolution.

Both structures would be important in the conflict with the British.  According to the New-York Tribune a century and a half later, “The Sons of Liberty, who later became bolder and changed their name to the Liberty Boys, organized and held meetings at ‘Ye Olde Coffee House’ in 1765.” 

A large iron bell hung outside a neighboring building, according to the New York Herald on September 2, 1920, “in the early days of New Amsterdam, when the clangor of its iron tongue rang out joyful news on special occasions or announced the safe arrival of merchant vessels from the Fatherland.  Later, when Ye Olde Coffee House had become the meeting place of the Sons of Liberty, so tradition hath it, this time-pocked old relic summoned them to assembly, and in 1776 it rang for them the call to arms against the mother country.”

Following the Revolution, the building became home to businesses related to the shipping industry.  By 1856 L. B. Crocker & Co., had its office here.  The firm, consisting of L. B. Crocker and George Jennison, operated a line of Erie Canal barges.  The extent of its business was reflected in the $2,000 note the Lake Erie, Wabash and St. Louis Railway Company sent to it in July that year.  The payment would amount to nearly $58,000 in 2016 dollars.

Ship chandler George W. Hadden had problems with theft that same month.  On Saturday, July 12 he appeared before Justice Davidson, charging that “William Thomson and John Johnson had stolen from him 350 lbs. of boat lines, hawsers and two hatch cloths, worth $40,” as reported by The New York Times.  “The accused were committed for trial.”

Also in the building was the lighterage firm of John S. Conklin.  His job, the moving of cargo from large ships to smaller vessels so they could be off-loaded in port, became dangerous in 1858 when New York City was terrorized by an outbreak of yellow fever.  The panic was so great that rumors spread that Castle Garden, the “Emigrant Depot,” would be burned.

The 43-year old Conklin joined with eight other “lightermen” and presented a list of increased charges for “lightering infected cargoes from Quarantine.” Among the group were well-known businessmen like John McCreery and Cornelius Vanderbilt.

Following the Civil War M. F. James & Co. operated from No. 105.  The agent handled a variety of merchandise and overstock cargo.   In June 1873 the firm offered “a valuable steam canal boat for sale—has powerful machinery and suitable for freight or towing; also several coarse and coal freight Canal Boats.”  A year later it offered “A Canal cargo of about 200 tons of American (sterling) cannel coal will be sold at a great sacrifice in quantities of 20 tons and upwards, or entire cargo.”

In 1882 little historic importance was placed on the 136-year old building.  Architect George F. Pelham was hired to modernize the outmoded structure by adding two stories and a Victorian barroom at the ground level.  The handsome cornice proudly announced the date of the renovations.  Marble quoins and lintels contrasted with the dark red brick.  The New-York Tribune noted that despite the changes, it “retained considerable of the older structure, built in 1746.”

The date 1882 was inscribed in a marble quoin block.  Close inspection shows the original date of construction, 1746, in the block two below.

The renovated structure became home to the New York offices of the Philadelphia-based A. E. Massman Bros.   Founded in 1868, Philadelphia’s Leading Industries described it in 1886 as “importers of wines, gins, brandies, etc., and dealer in fine whiskeys, sold proprietors of the Standard Silver Rum Copper Distilled Whiskey.”

In October 1885 A. E. Massman Bros. hired James H. Graham to run the New York office.  A nearly one-man show, he was “in charge of the New-York agency of the firm as salesman, collector, and bookkeeper.”  With no one from the home office to look over his shoulder, Graham helped himself to the receipts.

He was fired the following year, on August 1, 1886.  During this time his employers charged “he had collected $2,222.14 from customers of the firm for goods sold and had failed to account for the money.”  The amount Graham embezzled would amount to about $58,000 today.

Later that year, on November 9, 1886, Robert H. Noble dealt with a near riot at his office in the building.  Noble headed up the New York office of Fowler Brothers, the third largest meat packing concern in Chicago.   The firm employed about 1,800 butchers at its seven-acre facility there, and slaughtered more than 160,000 hogs every year.   But that year the company was shut down by a labor walk-out.

Unwilling to be controlled by the butchers’ union, Fowler Brothers placed an advertisement in New York newspapers promising “steady work and free transportation to Chicago” to as many as 1,000 “able-bodied workmen.”  They failed to advise Robert H. Noble of the action, however.

The New York Times reported that when he arrived at work, “He could not understand why the office door, the long iron stairway leading up to it, all the sidewalk, and part of the street, should be crowded with all sorts and conditions of men.”

About every ten minutes, with the help of a hulking butcher whom he quickly hired, the exasperated Noble cleared his office and the stairwell.  A New York Times reporter managed to thread his way through the mob “to secure a brief hearing from Mr. Noble.”  He was told:

“I don’t know how many hundred or thousand men we’ve had here to-day, but I do know that they are the sorriest lot of men that I have seen gathered together in my life.  Out of all the applicants I have been able to secure 25 who call themselves butchers…We have accepted about 200 men, and I expect that, with the afternoon rush, we shall be able to get the greater part of the required thousand and ship them to Chicago by the night train.”

In 1885 John S. Conklin was still running his lighterage business here.  He left work on September 13 that year and took the ferry to Passaic, New Jersey where he lived.  Oddly enough, when his carriage met him at the station, he sent his driver home on foot and he continued on with his housekeeper at the reins.

The following day The Sun reported “At Franklin’s crossing they were warned of the approach of a train, but the housekeeper drove on.  Soon the headlight of the Shohola special train flashed upon them, and the horse stopped directly on the track, either because he was frightened or because he was pulled up.”

The carriage was “dashed to pieces” and the 70-year old Conklin died on site within a few minutes of the impact.

In 1895 Lamson Co., “registers” leased space in No. 105 Broad Street; and five years later the National Cash Register Company signed a lease.

In the meantime Bernheimer & Son had been running the corner saloon since the building was remodeled.  Around 1905 Fritz Lindlinger took over the saloon.  The former President of the Liquor Dealers’ Association, he gave a nod to the location’s history by naming it “Ye Olde Lindinger’s Tavern.”

The New York Herald later recalled “Fritz…had made it a downtown shrine for those who liked to mingle with their daily dram and luncheon just a dash of the musty flavor of things historically antique.”  He decorated the bar with German steins, old crockery ale bottles, Revolutionary era firearms, and Dutch relics like clay pipes.  Perhaps most interesting was the ancient iron bell, reportedly the same that summoned the Sons of the Revolution, which Lindinger hung over the corner entrance.

Fritz Lindinger would remain in the tavern for years; but his stay would be frequently bumpy.  On the afternoon of June 16, 1909 three undercover detectives entered the barroom, suspicious that Lindinger was running a poolroom—the term for an illegal horse betting den.  It resulted not only in the arrest of the tavern owner, but of the detectives.

The following week, on June 24, the officers appeared before a grand jury facing charges of assault in the third degree filed by Lindinger.  He complained they “started a disturbance, declaring that the café was a poolroom, and threatened to arrest the men in there at the time.”

The Times reported “One of the men, he said, tried to grab a $1 bill, with which a customer was paying for drinks, to use as evidence.  A fight started, in which the detectives were ejected from the place.  They returned later, however, with other men and arrested Lindinger on a charge of keeping a poolroom.”

After Lindinger’s case was dismissed for lack of evidence, he filed suit against the officers.

Interestingly enough, it was lack of evidence--not the facts--which got Lindinger off the hook.  Such would not be the case nine years later.  As he sat at a table in the tavern on May 4, 1918, three detectives rushed in and seized him.

The Times reported the following day “There was considerable of a wrestling match, and when it was over the detectives said Lindinger had shred various pieces of paper that were found on the floor.  Some of these, they added had such cryptic messages inscribed as ‘Blue Laddy,’ ‘Hourless,’ and other stars of the racetrack, followed by figures showing, the detectives said, the odds against each horse.”

There were also charts of the horses running and the races scheduled that day at the Lexington and Have de Grace race tracks.   Fritz Lindinger was in more hot water than he had been in 1909.  The Times sub-headline read “Restaurateur Must Explain His Knowledge of Betting Horses.”

As the United States was drawn into World War I, one of the upper floor spaces became the office of the U.S. Army’s Air Service Officer, Major J. McClintock.  On April 6, 1919 he encouraged Army veterans to re-enlist in a statement from No. 105 Broad Street.

In part it said “if flying is to continue in the American Army men now experienced in that branch of the service must re-enlist.”  He used the shaky labor market as an argument.  “For men who have had service in the army, it is believed that there is a decided advantage for the period of one year enlistment or until labor conditions have become more stable, at which time they can expect more positive market for their service in civilian life.”

It was not the war that bothered Fritz Lindinger so much as Prohibition.  On December 7, 1919 the New-York Tribune wrote “Fritz Lindinger, who now holds the title to what was the first coffee house in New York, ‘Ye Olde Coffee House,’ which was established under that name at 105 Broad Street, in New York, says it does not matter any longer whether people know where his tavern is or whether they ignore it.”

His cynical viewpoint was a result of Prohibition.  “Mr. Lindinger has used the old coffee house for many years as a tavern.  Since prohibition he declares that he cannot sell anything worth while.  Coffee does not interest him.  The house, as it stands on the northeast corner of Broad and Water streets, is the same building which was built in 1746, except that one story has been added and the outside wooden stairway, which was the only approach to the upper floors in Washington’s day, has been removed.”

On February 5, 1920 The Sun reported that the Hegeman family had sold the venerable building which it had owned “for 125 years.”    The Hegeman family traced its American roots to Joseph Hegeman, who arrived from Amsterdam in the 17th century; and his wife Femmetji Remsen, who was born in New York in 1672.  A string of marriages linked their family to Thomas Gardner's (Gardner to Aycrigg to Hegeman).

Later that year, in June, Fritz Lindinger and his partner, William Hemme, were arrested “charged with maintaining a nuisance.”  The nuisance was the whisky their bartender served to two undercover revenue agents.  (They were charged 70 cents a glass.)  The bartender was hauled away with his employers.

It was the end of the line for Fritz Lindinger’s “Ye Olde Lindinger’s Tavern.”  On September 1, 1920 a public auction was held.  Fritz kept the bar open until 2:00 and “dispensed generously such innocuous beverages as the historic bar had to offer in these degenerate times,” said the New York Herald.  “But at 2 o’clock sharp the bar was closed forever.”

Lindinger did not stay to watch the auction.  “So help me God, I was crying like a baby,” he later told a reporter, “and I had to go upstairs to my rooms.  I couldn’t stay here and see all the old things auctioned off.”

The Sun reported “The mahogany bar, plate glass mirrors and like fixtures were being removed by the National Salvage Company, whose representative said: ‘For the last year we have been saloon undertakers; that has become one of our most extensive specialties.”

An antique clock, purchased for $16, was sawed out of the woodwork, leaving a jagged hole.  A reminder of the Revolution, two letters signed by George Washington were among the relics sold.  One brought $150.  The antique flintlocks, sabres and firearms brought from $1.50 to $8 for the best specimens.

The Herald listed among the auctioned items a Tammany cane, said to have been owned by Richard Crocker, “a collection of old German steins, a lot of copper fireplace kettles, wooden shoes from Holland, pipes and other curios [including] a pulley block reputed to have come from the rigging of the original Mayflower.”

The sole item Lidinger refused to sell was the ancient iron bell.  He told a reporter “But we didn’t sell the old liberty bell; that was reserved from the sale and I don’t know what we will do with it yet.”

The New York Herald announced that the barroom “is to be remodeled and opened by a firm to which it has been rented for use as a buffet lunch establishment.”  However, soon after its opening William Siebert’s “buffet lunch establishment” proved itself to be what Federal agents termed a “blind pig.”

On May 5, 1921 it was raided.  Seiberg and eight customers were arrested, charged “with having liquor before them in tea cups.”  They were held in $500 bond.   Three of the patrons arrested were described as sea captains.

Agents kept an eye on No. 105 Broad Street.  When the Annex Grill Restaurant was raided again on May 28, 1928 Federal Judge Thatcher had had enough.  He ordered the space padlocked for one year under the prohibition law.

After the Annex Grill was padlocked, the space became a less-controversial drugstore.  photo from the collection of the New York Public Library

Meanwhile, the upper floors continued to house nautical-related concerns.  In 1930 the Neptune Association had its headquarters here.  Composed of merchant mariners, the group distributed more than 3,000 ballots to members “scattered among the ports of the world and at sea” in 1930.  The vote of “masters and officers of the American merchant marine” showed they were strongly in favor of the repeal of Prohibition.

The Neptune Association as quick to issue a statement which explained that the vote “does not indicate that American masters and officers are drinkers, but that their means of employment has been threatened by prohibition and their safety at sea jeopardized by the removal of medicinal liquor.”

That same year the Association staged its fourth annual Labor Day “International Lifeboat Crew Race.”  The races were for steamship lines crewmen who rowed lifeboats up the Hudson River.  The winner received the William H. Todd Cup.

In the 1930s and 1940s the building would be home to the Scandinavian Seamen’s Club, the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 333, and the Nordin Seamen’s Club, founded in 1937 by Danish seamen.

The historic importance of No. 105 Broad Street finally came to the notice of the Sons of the Revolution, owners of Fraunces Tavern, in 1956.  Their bid to take over the property was denied by the Slum Clearance Committee after owners Edward Kronish and A. L. Cohen promised “that it [would] be remodeled to conform to the architecture of the neighboring tavern.”

A project completed in 1962 resulted in a cleaned-up façade, offices and “light manufacturing” on the lower floors, and one apartment each on the fourth and fifth floors.  Other than its grossly inappropriate ground floor where the Fritz Lidinger ran his tavern, the building is handsomely intact.

At the other end of the block (left) sits Fraunces Tavern.
And passersby, looking up at the 1883 inscribed in the cast metal cornice, are given no hint that it dates to 150 years earlier; nor that it played an important part in the birth of the Unites States.

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

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Hassinger Saloon Bldg -- No. 1548 2nd Avenue

In the 1880s German immigrant Lorenz Hassinger operated his saloon at No. 91 First Avenue, between 5th and 6th Streets.  Located within the Kleindeutschland, or Little Germany, neighborhood, Hassinger’s saloon specialized in German wines rather than beer.

But on May 30, 1891 Hassinger embarked on a move to another German district, Yorkville.  He signed a 12-year lease with Patrick Reynolds on “the entire building” at No. 1548 Second Avenue between 80th and 81st Streets. 

The “entire building” was just two stories tall and 14.5 feet wide.  Above the lower store space was a single apartment, most likely originally intended for the shop owner.  The tiny brick structure was emboldened by a rather pretentious bracketed cornice and triangular parapet.

Hassinger opened his saloon on June 1, 1891.  But he chose to rent the upstairs apartment rather than move his own family in.  His German tenant, Otto Held, looked forward to the free weekly concerts in East River Park (known now as Carl Schurz Park) in 1892.  But there was a problem.

On June 16 The Evening World reported “There is a prospect that the regular Thursday concert at East River Park one week from to day will be given in the evening instead of afternoon, and that to-day will see the last day concert in this pleasant resort, whose frequenters are prevented by their work from visiting it in the daytime.”

Working men like Held eagerly anticipated the evening band concerts with the cooling river breezes.  But Paul Dana, President of the Park Commissioners, foresaw a danger to children.  He told a reporter “The only question seems to be whether the railing along the esplanade, next to the river front, is safe, with the crowds of children that would be attracted there by evening concerts.”

The Evening World felt Dana was being needlessly cautious.  “The only remaining objection to evening concerts at the Park now appears to be the unsafe condition of the railing along the river front, and this certainly is trivial.”  Asserting that “the last few days hint strongly that the warm season has fairly set in, and this is another forcible argument against further delay in the matter,” the newspaper circulated a petition urging the Park Commissioners to forge ahead with the concerts.

Among the long list of signatures was that of Otto Held.

Six years before the expiration of his lease Lorenz Hassinger seems to have closed his wine saloon.  On March 16, 1897 his lawyer, Kaufman Simon, filed a claim with the City for $76.93 “for amount refunded on unexpired Excise License for premises No. 1548 Second avenue.”

Adolph Pohl converted the saloon to his “house furnishings” store which was operating in 1898.  The long tradition of German-born occupants continued when owner Susan Reynolds Cherrie leased the building to Louis Zimmerman in 1917.  Zimmerman ran his business here and before long purchased the property.  In 1922 his son, Leopold Zimmerman, sold No. 1548 to John Mottmann who said he would “alter and occupy” it.

Following World War I Yorkville had also become the center of the City’s Hungarian population.  By 1940 the Hungarian population topped 123,000; making New York’s the largest Hungarian center in the country.  By 1933 No. 1548 Second Avenue was home to Kaufer’s Import House.

On March 12 1945 The New York Times recommended it as a place to find exotic spices.  “Culinary enthusiasts who enjoy browsing in unusual shops will find some interesting spices at Kaufer’s Import House, a small and cluttered establishment…where various kinds are still in stock.  Some are left over from happier days, while others are South American in origin.”  The article noted “The Hungarian proprietor is especially pleased with his supply of black and white pepper, which you may have either ground or whole for 5 cents an ounce.”

The shop offered, of course, paprika; but it also sold spices and herbs less known to mainstream New Yorkers.  It also sold authentic Hungarian specialties like “sheep’s milk cheese and home-made prune lekvar.”  The customer interested in buying lekvar—a puree of cooked prunes—could purchase it for 25 cents per pound.

Kaufer’s Import House remained in the little building for years, followed by Paprikas Weirs where, according to The Times “spatzle machines and sweet Hungarian paprika are available.”  That shop would serve the neighborhood for at decades, beginning around 1965.

Today Lorenz Hassinger’s skinny saloon structure is home to a dry cleaning establishment.  The Victorian storefront was long ago obliterated.  But the charming little building with its ambitious headgear is a picturesque relic of a time when German, not English, was spoken on this stretch of Second Avenue.

photographs by the author

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Chelsea Survivors -- Nos. 256-262 West 21st Street

Breaks in the cornice define the four original houses.

In the first decades of the 19th century the land north of 14th Street was being transformed.  The country estate of Clement Moore, “Chelsea,” and the farm of George Rapelje, the southern boundary of which was around 16th Street, for instance, saw the laying of streets and avenues and the erection of private homes.

By the mid 1850s a striking row of speculative homes was completed at Nos. 180 through 186 West 21st Street (later renumbered 256 to 262), between Seventh and Eighth Avenues.  Their Ango-Italianate design was the cutting-edge in residential architecture; and the commodious three-bay wide homes, five stories tall, were intended for moneyed occupants.  Clad in brownstone, they sat upon two-story bases.  Rows of architrave openings lined up in a regimented order until No. 186 broke ranks with a jutting angled bay.

The western-most house, No. 262, featured an angled bay and extra interior square footage.

By 1862 No. 180 was home to a “Mrs. Lawlin.”  When Abby Jane Creemer, the widow of Francis W. Creemer, died at 2:00 on the morning of Friday, July 11, 1862, Mrs. Lawlin stepped in to offer her home for the funeral the following day at 1:00.

Mrs. Lawlin was soon gone from No. 180.  In her place was Charles Pope, Sr., who was less well-known than his famous son, Charles Pope, Jr..   The New York Times deemed the actor “well esteemed” on November 21, 1864.

At the time of the newspaper’s comment, the Leonard family was living two doors away at No. 184.  As the family prepared to close the house for the summer in 1864 one of the servants looked for a new position.  On May 24 an advertisement appeared in The New York Herald: “Wanted—A situation as chambermaid and waitress or nurse, by a capable girl; will go in the country.  Can be seen at her present employer’s who will give three years’ recommendation.” 

As the season drew to a close Mrs. Leonard began her search for a replacement.  On August 25 her ad appeared.  “Wanted—A girl to do general housework; a German or Protestant preferred; must be a good washer and ironer, and come well recommended.”

The Civil War soon disrupted the family routine at No. 184.  In March 1865 A. H. Leonard was inducted into the Union Army. 

The Leonard family was followed in the house by A. A. Hall, his wife, Eleanor, and their daughter Mary Kate.  Tragedy struck on Sunday, July 14, 1867 when 9-year old Mary Kate died of gastritis.  Her funeral was held in the house the following Wednesday.

In 1865 West 21st Street was renumbered.  The row of houses now bore the addresses of Nos. 256 through 262.  It would not be long before even greater change came to the residences.

The year following Mary Kate Hall’s death No. 260 (formerly No. 184) was being operated as a boarding house.  On May 27, 1868 an advertisement in The New York Herald offered “Elegant front room, with hot and cold water, large pantries, &c., to let to gentleman and wife or single gentlemen.  Terms moderate.”

Maintaining a reputable boarding house required a staff and on April 6, 1869 another ad sought “Two good girls; one to do washing and ironing and assist in cooking; the other as chambermaid and waitress.  Apply at 260 West 21st st.”

It would appear that not every one of the tenants at No. 260 was impeccably respectable.  On Tuesday, December 8, 1875 Patrick McGagney was arrested and “held to answer for pointing a loaded pistol at Gesene Marshall…with felonious intent.”

A boarder in No. 262 was involved in a late night incident in Central Park on Friday May 12, 1877.  Why Ferdinand Imhorst was there that night is unclear; but police routinely contended with a problem which was succinctly described by The New York Herald: “A number of idle and bad characters frequent the bridges in the Park after nightfall.”

That night Officer Russell had driven several men from one of the bridges.  When he came back on his rounds, he saw a man “who appeared to be one of the crowd, return.”  The night was so dark, according to the newspaper and “apprehensive of assault,” Russell grabbed Ferdinand Imhorst from behind.

Imhorst, apparently believing it was he who was being assaulted, responded by landing several punches on the officer’s face.  When Officer Russell pulled his club and hit Imhorst over the head, his prisoner cried out “Police!”

“Why, I’m a policeman,” said Russell.

“The devil you are!” replied Imhorst.

The Herald reported “There was an attempt at explanation, but it resulted in the citizen being brought to the Fifty-seventh Street Court yesterday.”  The policeman charged Imhorst of assault and he, in turn, filed a complaint against Russell.

In January 1888 Margaret. Mahoney, who ran the boarding house at No. 260, took in 50-year old Richard B. Carter, a former sailor.  She could not have imagined the drama that would follow.

Carter had taken a furnished room at No. 477 West 22nd Street in the autumn of 1887.  His landlady was Teresa Adams, the widow of George Adams of Salem, Massachusetts.  Telling Mrs. Adams that he was a widower, he courted her.  The quick romance resulted in their marriage on December 14.  The New York Times later noted “Carter soon changed from a meek, industrious suitor to a domestic bully, and would not even look for employment.  He was constantly grumbling at her because she would not let him control her little fortune.”

The domestic problems boiled over in January, just six weeks after the wedding.  A young woman with a baby in her arms appeared at the boarding house and claimed to be Mrs. Richard B. Carter.  The Times reported “The incident provoked a serious family dispute and Carter went to board at Mrs. Margaret Mahoney’s.”   His domestic abuse, however, continued, in the form of stalking and threats.

The New York Times wrote “He there entered on a campaign of annoyance and bullying by letter, waylaid his wife in the street, and then had recourse to cajoling and piteous appeals for a reconciliation.”

In the meantime, Teresa Adams discovered she was not merely the victim of bigamy—the woman who appeared at her doorstep in January was not the only other wife.  She found out Carter had a wife in Valparaiso and one in Jamaica.

Richard Carter disappeared from Mrs. Mahoney’s boarding house for a period, and then reappeared toward the end of June 1888.  The stalking began again; and on Tuesday night July 10 he confronted Teresa on the street, abusing and threatening her “so violently that she took refuge in a neighboring house.”

Two days later he sent Teresa a “civilly worded” message asking her to meet him at 5:00 at 23rd Street and Sixth Avenue to “talk over their differences.”  The two met, but the conversation did not go as Carter had hoped.  A witness saw them at 5:15 on West 22nd Street walking rapidly and “conversing earnestly rather than excitedly.”

Suddenly Carter pulled out a 32-calibre handgun and fired it at Teresa.  She screamed and ran towards Sixth Avenue.  Carter fired again, this time missing.  The astonished witness reported that Carter then pointed the weapon to his right temple “and he fell insensible on the sidewalk.”

Teresa had run into McLaughlin’s stable at No. 106 West 22nd Street where Dr. A. B. Tucker, whose office was on the same block, examined her.  The bullet had been stopped by her whalebone corset.   Richard Clark was far less lucky.  He was taken to New-York Hospital where he died at 7:35 that evening.

Margaret Mahoney operated her boarding house to accommodate her working tenants.  On January 16, 1889 she advertised “A large and small room to let, with excellent board; table boarders accommodated; meals to suit business hours.”

Ella Goodacker boarded in No. 260 in 1893 with her husband, a speculator in horses, and their baby.  When Goodacker left for Philadelphia on business in March, Ella’s mother, Mrs. Lemline, came for a visit.  During her stay, Ella received news that her brother, Jack Lemline, had committed suicide in a Jersey City hotel.

In his room was a letter from Ella dated December 7, 1892 inviting him to visit and saying he “will be surprised to see how big the baby is.”  Despite the seemingly warm invitation, Ella was not overcome with grief at the news of her brother’s death.

She told an Evening World reported “that he was a shiftless fellow, who had been driven from home by his father when he was sixteen years old.”  The World reported “She expressed no sorrow at her brother’s act, but said coldly that she had not seen him in months.”  She was more sympathetic with her mother, of course, and had not yet told her about the suicide.

A few months later the proprietor of No. 260 was looking for help.  Her ad on May 11 read “Wanted, a girl to wait on table and assist with chamberwork in private boarding-house.”  The potential servant would earn $12 per week—about $325 in 2016 terms.

In the meantime, the other houses in the row were also boarding houses by now.  In June 1893 No. 262 offered “Elegant large and small rooms to let, with excellent board; terms moderate.”  Their once upscale tone was much less so as the 19th century became the 20th.

Among the boarders at No. 258 West 21st Street in 1904 were Frederick J Wyle and William J. O’Donnell.  On the evening of May 3 they sat down to a dinner of prunes and hash.   Wyle watched, offended, as his landlady dished out “the choicest prunes and the most appetizing portions of hash” to O’Donnell.  Irate that O’Donnell received preferential treatment; Wyle stormed from the table and went outside.

There he fumed until he scratched a note and gave it to a passing boy to take inside to O’Donnell.  It said that Wyle needed to speak to him.  When O’Donnell walked out, a fistfight ensued during which Wylie produced a jackknife and stabbed O’Donnell five times in the back.

According to The New York Times the following day, at the station house Frederick Wyle explained to police “that O’Donnell was served with an especially sumptuous supper, while he had to be satisfied with scraps.”

And so it continued for the four formerly-elegant homes.  In 1922 Ray Monohan was living at No. 256 when he was arrested for Prohibition violations; and three years later, on April 22, 1925, the landlady, Mrs. James Forbes called police concerned about the welfare of 50-year old widow Emily McGuiness.  Mrs. Forbes had noticed Emily “was not well” the day before and brought her a cup of tea.  She now appeared so sick that she felt help was needed.

Indeed it was.  Patrolman James McKenna called Dr. Jaeger of the New York Hospital, who diagnosed Emily as “suffering from starvation.”  Despite the alarming diagnosis, The New York Times reported “he did not take her to the hospital, but made arrangements for notifying the Department of Charities.”

The family of Philias La Chance was living at No. 262 in 1928.  With La Chance and his 33-year old wife were their three sons, five-year old Arthur, two-year old Philias, and John who was just one year old.   Life was hard for the family, especially when Philias lost his job that year and could not find employment.

Driven to desperation, on the afternoon of September 21 his anxious wife dissolved moth balls in hot water and flavored it with cologne, then drank the poisonous blend.  “She fell to the floor screaming,” reported The New York Times.  Her suicide attempt was thwarted at the New York Hospital when Dr. Baker was successful in reviving her.

During the 1870s and ‘80s operatic prima donna Mme. Caterina Marco was, according to The New York Times decades later, “the toast of Europe and America.”  After a brilliant career which included being the leading singer at the Imperial Theatre in St. Petersburg, she retired.  The Times noted “In later years the earnings of her operatic career dwindled to almost nothing” and by the early 1930s the destitute former star “resided in a cold-water flat at 260 West Twenty-first Street.”

Even this became too costly for Mme. Marco and around 1934 she moved to a furnished room on West 23rd Street where she died penniless at the age of 83 on February 3, 1936.

That year artist Archibald McKeown was rooming at No. 256 West 21st Street.  He ran into problems when he set up his work at Washington Square’s ninth annual outdoor art exhibition on May 29, 1936.  Two tax collectors arrived in the park on June 7, the last day of the show, to collect the city sales tax. 

While other artists begrudgingly forked over the levied amounts, McKeown refused.  The artist who called his pictures “the world’s cleanest paintings,” countered that “he had paid his taxes when he bought his materials.”  The tax collectors did not agree with his argument and ordered him to report to the central office.

In 1967 Nos. 256 and 258 were combined, resulting in four apartments per floor.  The following year Nos. 260 and 262 were similarly converted to a single apartment building.  Other than the joint ground floor entrances and replacement windows, the handsome row retains its pre-Civil War integrity.  Their colorful stories are a fascinating archive of the chapters in the ever-changing Chelsea neighborhood.

photographs by the author
many thanks to Burt Schein for requesting this post