Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Neo-Georgian 1911 Goodridge Mansion -- No. 122 East 78th Street

Interior renovations started in 2010 continue in February 2016

The Grace Church wedding of Ethel Iselin and Frederic Grosvenor Goodridge on June 3, 1901 was a notable social event.  The bride had an impressive pedigree; a descendant of three Colonial period families—Morris, Gouverneur and Philipse.   Dr. Goodridge, who had just been graduated from the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University, belonged to a socially prominent family, as well.

The guests sat among a virtual forest of rose trees that filled the sides of the chancel and lined the nave from the altar a third of the way to the entrance doors.  A month later the newly-weds left on a world cruise.

Goodridge was a busy man.  Not only did he fill his schedule with his medical work, including writing and instructing, he joined Commander Robert E. Peary on one of his early expeditions to Labrador. 

The couple would have four children; and in 1910, they planned an larger mansion to accommodate their family.  The commission went to architects Foster, Gade & Graham, who were given an ample 36-foot wide site to work.  Two narrow brownstones at Nos. 122 and 124 East 78th Street were demolished to make way for the new residence.

Construction began in 1911 and was finished a  year later.  The resulting five-story neo-Georgian mansion of red brick and limestone was striking, mostly due to the three massive arched openings at the ground floor.  Georgian detailing like splayed lintels, carved panels and iron balconettes produced a refined and imposing structure.  Inside were nine master rooms, seven servants’ rooms, ten baths and an elevator.

By the time the family moved in, Frederic Goodridge had essentially retired from his hands-on medical practice.  In 1912 he mentioned in the Fourth Report of Harvard College, “During the last three years I have been engaged in research work in physiological chemistry, and have recently been made an associate in that subject at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University.”

Ethel Goodridge was well-known for her lavish entertainments; but the dinner parties and dances would become less carefree when the country entered World War I.  Frederic left East 78th Street to see active duty as an officer of the 5th Division, not returning until after the war.

With her husband away and social events in New York City subdued, Mrs. Goodridge withdrew with the children to their 5,000-acre country estate in Pomfret, Connecticut.   She leased the house, filled with Colonial silver and exquisite artworks, to Vincent Astor in 1916 for the winter season.

From here Helen Astor continued her work toward social reform.  She hosted a series of “social welfare luncheons” in the home.   Manhattan's wealthiest socialites gathered to hear speakers discuss subjects such as immigration and nationalization, and unemployment.

Helen Astor’s luncheons were business affairs--a contrast to the polite social teas or receptions in many of New York's drawing rooms.  Discussions were encouraged, ideas aired and action committees organized.  Following the February 8 meeting concerning immigrants, The New York Times noted that education was of extreme importance to the group and “plans were discussed for forming a national council of all agencies concerned in the work of making American citizens.”

When Frederic Grosvenor Goodridge returned in 1919, having left the military with the rank of Major, the house was put up for sale and the family left New York City for good.  Eleven years later the retired doctor would be found in the woods two miles from his mansion in Connecticut, shot through the heart with his own hunting rifle.

Colonel De Lancey Kountze purchased No. 122 East 78th Street.   Like the Goodridges, The Colonel and his wife filled the mansion with American antiques, appropriate to the Georgian-style residence.  Among the items was a desk that once belonged to George Washington in Mount Vernon. 

A war veteran, Kountz entertained distinguished military figures in the home--none, perhaps, more prominent than Ferdinand Foch, Marshal of France and Allied Supreme Commander during World War I.   Twice during his 1921 visit to the United States  was the Kountzes' house guest.

On November 18 the New York Tribune noted that “When Marshal Foch arrives here at 11 a.m. he will be taken to the home of Mr. Kountze, at 122 East Seventy-eighth Street, where he will receive newspaper men.  He will also receive a delegation from the Salvation Army, headed by Commander Booth, and other organizations.”

Later, General Joseph Jacques Cesaire Joffre would be a house guest.  The general was most remembered for his defeat of the Germans at the First Battle of the Marne in 1914.

The Kountzes would remain at  No. 122 East 78th Street for five years.  They rented the house for the season of 1923-24 to Guy Cary, an attorney with the firm Sherman & Sterling; then sold it on February 1924.  At the time of the sale, The New York Times remarked that “The house is of the Colonial type, and is considered one of the finest houses in the Park Avenue section.”
The Winthrops erected No. 120, to the right, in 1930.  The striking recessed entrance was based on Thomas Jefferson's University of Virginia pavilions.

Stock Broker Henry Rogers Winthrop would own the residence for two decades.  But the Winthrops leased it for years after they completed their new home next door, at No. 120.  Their final tenant was Mrs. Nathalia Collver in 1944, who leased it for her exclusive and private Collver School.

Renovations, completed in January 1945, resulted in one classroom on the first floor, two on the second floor, and one apartment each on the top three floors.  These were most likely for staff, including no doubt Nathalia Collver.  The record made special note “No sleeping accommodation for pupils.”

The school would exist in the house only for two years.  On December 30, 1946 The Times announced that Henry Rogers Winthrop had sold the house to A. G. Rowes & Co.   The firm confirmed its plans to remodel the town house “into small apartments.”

By 1948 the renovations were completed and doctors’ offices shared space with apartments on the first two floors, with four apartments each on the upper stories.  Department of Buildings records noted that the apartments were for the doctors.

In 2010 the ambitious project of restoring the Goodrich mansion to a single-family home was begun.  Still ongoing six years later, the striking house awaits its rebirth as the luxurious residence it was a century earlier.
photographs by the author

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Lost 1892 Hotel Savoy -- 5th Avenue and 59th Street





The Savoy was intended to fill the block, spreading south.  Instead it eventually went east.  Nevertheless, it perched a Hotel Savoy sign on the adjoining building.
As Central Park was nearly completion in 1867, Mary Mason Jones began construction of her white marble mansion at the southeast corner of still-unpaved Fifth Avenue and 57th Street.  Hers was the first hint of the mansion district to come.  But for now, she shared the neighborhood with shanties and a saloon one block to the north at 58th Street.

Nearly a quarter of a century later, in 1891, The New York Times would remark “The saloon is a relic of the days when that part of New-York was unsettled and covered with the huts of squatters.  When its big sign was painted, goats roamed over the rocky knobs thereabout, and truck patches nestled in the valleys between the streets.  One by one the palaces drove out the shanties, and the goats retired to the lonely fastnesses of Harlem.”

But, surprisingly, Frank Mullen’s saloon had survived.

On October 1, 1890 the lavish Plaza Hotel opened opposite the old saloon.  It faced the plaza in front of central park and was mere steps away from the massive Cornelius Vanderbilt mansion.  The new hotel ignited a firestorm of demolition and construction.  Within months another grand hotel would begin rising directly across the avenue.

Like Mary Mason Jones, real estate operator Morris Littman had long ago recognized the future of this section of Fifth Avenue and purchased the eastern block front between 58th and 59th Street—except Mullen’s saloon property which belonged to George Rudd.  The Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide later reported that Littman sold the three 25-foot plots to Supreme Court Judge P. Henry Dugro and John J. Gibbons “at a remarkable advance.”

The men commissioned architect Ralph S. Townsend to design an elegant hotel that would rival, if not surpass, the Plaza.   But there was the problem of the corner lot.  Frank Mullen paid the Rudd estate $2,000 a year for his saloon, which The Times described as “very small, and is almost obscured behind advertising signs that Mr. Mullen rents out at a high rate per month.  It has a little bar in front and a big bar behind.  The former is patronized by the ‘transients’ who travel on Fifth Avenue or visit Central Park.   The latter is for the accommodation of the workmen and hackmen in the neighborhood.”

The Rudd heirs were acutely aware that the Plaza Hotel had increased property values.  When Dugro offered them $90,000 for the plot, they refused.  “They would not listen to anything short of $125,000 for the land,” reported The Times.  The price they wanted for the residential-sized plot would translate to about $3.5 million today.  And when Dugro offered Mullen $2,500 to vacate, “Mr. Mullen listened and smiled, but gave no answer.”

Frustrated, Drugro instructed Townsend to go ahead with the plans, with the towering hotel inching up to the hold-out saloon.  On August 21, 1891 The New York Times noted that while the 12-story hotel was going up, “Yesterday Mr. Mullen sat in his saloon and counted out his money.  There was a far-away smile on his face.”


photographer unknown, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
The Hotel Savoy was informally opened on June 6, 1892.  Judge P. Henry Dugro had spared no expense.  Construction costs were about $2 million and the decorations and furnishings of the banquet hall on the first floor alone cost $60,000.  Invited guests, according to The Times the following day, “wandered through its halls and magnificently furnished and decorated rooms and admired the splendor which met their gaze at every turn.”

The banquet room was the showpiece of the hotel.  African marble pillars, partially inlaid with Killarney green marble, upheld the ceiling with its large painting, “The Four Seaons,” by Virgilio Tojetti.  Sculpted groups by Karl Bitter flanked either end of the ceiling.   Satinwood wainscoting lined the walls, inlaid with mother-of-pearl and metal.  Bronze figures within niches held electric lights.  At the rear of the banquet room was the musicians’ gallery, its canopy upheld by Grecian caryatids.  In front of the gallery was a Sienna marble fountain.

The ballroom, or "banquet room," was the most lavish.  The sculptural grouping over the door was by Karl Bitter. photo by Byron Company, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The interiors took advantage of American society’s fascination of things French.  There were five public parlors on the second floor—one decorated in the Louis XIV, one in the “First Empire,” and three in Louis XVI decor.   The Times reported that “The corner suite on the second floor is an exact reproduction of the rooms of Marie Antoinette in the Trianon Palace at Versailles.”  The furnishings of his room reportedly cost $20,000.

A stereopticon slide depicted the "First Empire" Parlor
In the basement were a “Pompeiian” barroom and a billiard room.

Two months after the Savoy’s opening, The Record and Guide remarked on the amazing transformation of the Fifth Avenue-59th Street neighborhood.  On December 17, 1892 an article announced “Fifty-ninth street, east of 5th avenue, is fast changing its character.  Private houses are being altered, one, two and three at a time, into stores and offices…The Hotel Savoy and the Plaza Hotel have brought a mass of people to the vicinity, who must be catered to by nearby establishments.”

The Grand Dining Room Hotel Savoy Illustrated, 1893 (copyright expired)
Within months Ralph Townsend was back working for Dugro.  If the Judge could not have the 58th Street corner, he would expand east along 59th Street.  By June 24 the foundation for a 50-foot wide extension was being dug.  The Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide reported that “it will be in the same style as the main structure.”


Groundbreaking for the addition may have been slightly delayed for the arrival of Infanta Eulalia of Spain.  She was the youngest daughter of Queen Isabella II and Francis, Duke of Cadiz; and the sister of King Alfonso XII and the aunt of his son King Alfonso XIII.  The Princess’s choice of the Hotel Savoy was a major coup over the Plaza.

A promotional brochure in 1893 pictured the lobby (above) and the Louix XVI Parlor -- copyright expired
Princess Eulalia was stopping over in New York on her way to the Chicago Exposition.  She arrived in Jersey City by train from Washington DC at 3:04 on the afternoon of May 25, 1893, and then boarded the steamboat the General Slocum to cross the river to New York.  (Incidentally, in 1904, the General Slocum would be tragically involved in the greatest loss of life in New York City until the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.)

The thousands of people who had waited for the Infanta at the pier at the foot of 34th Street were pushed back by police.  A platoon of mounted policemen, 90 troopers of the National Guard, and a 16-piece band were assembled.  “Soon afterwards fourteen carriages and the Hotel Savoy stage had driven up to the pier.  The footmen and coachmen were costumed in uniforms of blue coats, high hats, buff trousers and top boots.  Each wore a boutonniere of red and yellow roses,” advised the New-York Tribune.

Princess Eulalia and her entourage took the entire second floor of the hotel.  “Here are fourteen rooms in all, including several large parlors,” explained the New-York Tribune.  “The bedroom which has been selected for the Infanta is a corner room at Fifth-ave and Fifty-ninth-st., from the windows of which there is a splendid view of the plaza, Fifth-ave, and the entrance to the Park… The bedstead is of fine satinwood, inlaid.  The walls and ceiling are hung with worked and painted canvas.”

The newspaper described the bedroom of the Infanta’s husband, Prince Antonio D’Orleans, as “finished in the style of Louis XIV” and his parlor of the First Empire.  That of the Duke of Tamames, her chamberlain, “is furnished in Moorish style.”  Other bedrooms were held for the Princess’s ladies in waiting, and the Duke’s secretary. 

Newspapers closely covered the royal visit, publishing schedules of the couple’s every movement.  Finally, on May 30, the event for which society had been holding its collective breath came to pass.  The New York Times reported the following morning, “The Infanta Eulalie and Prince Antoine of Bourbon were ‘at home’ yesterday afternoon, and for the first time since their arrival in this city, the royal couple received the homage of New-York society in their own drawing rooms.”

Two committees, numbering 160 members, “undertook the management of the reception for the Prince and Princess…so that only the task of receiving the guests was left to the Princess.”  There were 300 highly-prized invitations issued to the cream of New York society.  In all about 400 ladies and 100 men were presented to the Infanta.

Guests pausing on this stair landing would find themselves amid a forest of palms -- from the collection of the New York Public Library
The guests were presented two-by-two in a circular route through the drawing rooms.  The Times noted “The guests after having been presented to the Prince and Princess strolled about the beautiful apartments and [some] soon took advantage of this freedom by being presented twice.”

The Times listed the socially-illustrious names who gained entrance to the Princess’s apartments that afternoon.  Among them were Mrs. Paran Stevens, John D. Crimmins and his daughter, Mrs. Alexander S. Webb and Miss Webb, and other expected names like Tillinghast, de Peyster, Lawrence and even merchant Isidore Strauss and wife.  Glaringly missing from the list were the Astors and the Vanderbilts.

Princess Eulalia -- photo Library of Congress
On June 2 the royal couple escaped the Hotel Savoy.  “Stealing quietly down the stairs,” according to The Times, they alluded their retinue and bodyguards.   While hundreds of pedestrians passed them, they stopped to watch the stone carvers working on the addition to Cornelius Vanderbilt’s chateau.   “Twice the Prince raised his tightly-rolled silk umbrella and pointed at the Vanderbilt house, at the same time speaking to the Infanta.”

The newspaper noted that the New Yorkers on the street were unaware “that the pretty, golden-haired woman in the sailor hat, whom they almost brushed against, was a Princess of Spain, and that she and the man at her side were the scions of a long line of monarchs, among the Louis XIV of France and Henry of Navarre.”

The pair wandered for an hour and a half, unperturbed by the public.  In the meantime, the Hotel Savoy was the scene of panic as officials searched for the missing couple.  Around 6:00 the Prince and Princess strolled into the lobby and their very public and royal lives resumed.

Three days later the Infanta and her large entourage left the Hotel Savoy for Chicago.  Before leaving, she instructed her secretary to give the hotel manger $500 to be distributed to any servants who had attended to her.  The 20 employees received between $10 and $50, according to the scope of their services.   They were indeed royal-sized tips; the largest being in the neighborhood of $1,400 today.

Construction could now begin on the Hotel Savoy addition.

Two days before Princess Eulalia had arrived, another titled couple checked into the Hotel Savoy.  But they attracted far less attention, just as they intended.

The couple arrived on May 22 and checked in as “R. C. Leigh and wife.”  Later hotel employees would said that they “behaved about the hotel as titled aristocrats, of fine breeding and unusual good sense.  No one suspected that they were not R. C. Leigh and wife, as they had registered.”

In fact “Mrs. Leigh” was Lady Meredith, wife of Sir Henry Meredith.  Richard Cecil Leigh was extremely wealthy and a member of the aristocratic Cecil family—at one time the most powerful of England’s political and social families.  He, too, was married and had several children.  

In the spring of 1893 the two met in Cairo.  Somehow a romance ignited and it appears that while there they plotted an escape to America.  They disappeared from London on May 8 headed for the Hotel Savoy.  Close on their heels was Captain Charles Leigh, Richard’s brother, and a private detectives.  Captain Leigh’s purpose in trailing the adulterous couple was not to dissuade them, but to get business out of the way.   The detective had other goals.

Captain Leigh located his brother on May 27 and they met at least once in the Hotel Savoy regarding a suit in London.  “As the situation was understood at the hotel, the meeting of the brothers closed the incident so far as the London branch of it is concerned” said The Times.

The detectives however, were closing in.  The newspaper reported that “At about that time detectives also located them, and made copious notes as to their behavior.”  On May 29 Richard Leigh and Lady Meredith “left the hotel in a hurry and went to Canada.”

While Sir Henry and Mrs. Leigh, back in London, were apparently irate; the management of the Hotel Savoy was modernly-American in its perspective.  One associate told a reporter “all that was needed was the necessary divorces in that country to allow the elopers to marry and live as happy as they could in this or any other country they may select.”

Pedestrians cross the plaza at 59th Street in 1898.  The entrance to Central Park is, unseen, to the left.  At the far right is part of Mary Mason Jones's "Marble Row."  photo by Byron Company, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
As with all high-class hotels at the time, the Hotel Savoy accommodated both transient and permanent guests.  Among the latter were the esteemed lawyer and former Minister to Austria, John Jay; and the wealthy David Wallace and his wife.  In the depth of the night of March 31, 1894 they would be part of great excitement in the Hotel Savoy.

The hotel was outfitted with the latest in safety technology—electric fire alarms.  Around 3:00 that morning a chambermaid awoke to the smell of smoke.  Well-trained on emergency procedures, she did not panic, but grabbed a shoe and smashed the glass in the alarm box.  Bells began to ring in every room and 350 guests were startled awake.  “They arose as one man and began to act as frightened people do when there is a fire,” reported The Times.

The Fire Department was notified by phone while six policemen from the street searched for the fire with the night clerk.  Some lodgers helped in the search—most rushed through the halls in various stages of dress to the ground floor.

“One young man rushed there wearing a lace curtain which had been hanging in his room. Another appeared in an evening-dress coat, a silk hat, and a pair of black stockings.  Other toilets ranged from a pair of shoes and a nightdress to a full suit of clothes,” said The Times.

The fire was discovered in a closet.  While buckets of water were poured on the blaze, John Jay, seriously ill, was carried to the ground floor.  One person who was not perturbed by the fire was David Wallace, whose apartments were near the fire.

“Mr. Wallace partially dressed himself and stepped into the hall.  People were rushing about, screaming and gesticulating.  Mr. Wallace saw that a closet was afire, but that there were many men, with plenty of water, there to attend it.  He went back to his room, told Mrs. Wallace not to rise, undressed, and went back to bed, leaving those who wished to catch cold in their scanty attire in the corridors.”

The fire was quickly extinguished and the major damage, other than to the woodwork, was to the water-soaked carpeting.

A little over a month later, on May 5, 1894, John Jay died in his rooms at the Hotel Savoy.  His condition dated to September 1890 when he was run over by a cab near Grand Central Station.  “The accident resulted in the general breaking up of Mr. Jay’s vigorous constitution,” explained The Times.  He had moved into the Savoy in the autumn of 1893.

The Hotel Savoy continued to compete with the Plaza for notable guests and residents.  In October 1894 the Savoy was home to international opera star Madame Nellie Melba.  The diva suffered through an attack of influenza here that year.

Over a decade after its completion the Hotel Savoy had not lost its high-class stature.  In 1907 the yearly rental for a “beautifully furnished” suite of a parlor, three bedrooms and three baths was $4,000—around $8,700 per month in 2015 terms.

It was the sort of rent that only families like that of Charles N. Fowler could afford.   He lived here in 1911 with his wife and five-year old daughter.  Their apartment was the scene of a mysterious robbery on January 19 that had all the marks of an inside job.

According to The Evening World the following day, Mrs. Fowler and her daughter were alone in the apartment.  After lunch, Mrs. Fowler removed her $1,000 diamond horseshoe brooch and placed it on a table in the sitting room.  She reclined on the sofa there and fell asleep, awakening around 5:00 to find the brooch missing.

The cultured residents of the Hotel Savoy would have a brush with the less-tony class on June 6, 1920.  Frances Levy was the daughter of Lower East Side apparel manufacturer Joe Levy, known locally as the “Duke of Essex Street.”  The dress and suit maker had garnered a small fortune and was determined that his daughter would be married in style to Harry Levine.

“From all accounts nothing is to be left undone to make this one of the distinctly notable weddings of the year,” advised the New-York Tribune a few weeks ahead of the ceremony, “and the beauty and chivalry of the lower east side will have a day to remember.”

Joe Levy was equally determined to outdo Fifth Avenue in cost and display.  “The east side hears that Miss Levy’s wedding gown is to cost $5,000.” reported the newspaper.  “The ‘Duke,’ it is understood, will wear an eight-carat diamond stud, among other things.”

The Evening World, Monday, May 24 1920 (copyright expired)

By the time of Frances Levy’s wedding, fussy Victorian hotels were quickly falling from favor.   The old Plaza Hotel across the avenue had been demolished and replaced in 1905.

 On December 9, 1922 the Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide reported that “Negotiations are about to be concluded for the sale of the Hotel Savoy.”  The sale would be just the first in a rapid-fire string.

Real estate operator Frederick Brown purchased the building for $3.75 million.  Only a few days later he sold it to the du Pont family.  It then became property of the Savoy Hotel Corporation, which resold it in May 1925 to the Childs Restaurant chain for $6.5 million.  The New York Times reported “the Childs Company said that they contemplated making extensive improvements on the site.  This was interpreted as meaning that a modern building will be erected.”

Within a week of the sale, on May 25, a public auction liquidated the “furniture, carpets, draperies, silver, china, glassware, pictures and statuary.”

On November 28 that year demolition was announced.  The “famous old structure,” as described by The Times, was to be replaced by a $17.5 apartment hotel 29 stories tall “according to plans prepared by McKim, Mead & White, architects.”


A postcard displayed the new building in 1927.
By the time of its completion in 1927 the new Hotel Savoy rose 33 stories.  It survived until October 1965 when—amid much protest from architects—it was demolished for the new General Motors Building, designed by Edward Durrell Stone & Associates, with Emery Roth & Sons.  The full-block, International Style structure survives.

photo realtytoday

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Cross Hotel & Saloon -- No. 73 Eighth Avenue

By the end of the Civil War the street level had been converted for business purposes.


When James Wallace purchased the property at No. 73 Eighth Avenue from the Genet family in 1833, what had recently been farmland was quickly being developed.  Greenwich Village had experienced a construction explosion beginning in 1822 when the devastating yellow fever epidemic in lower Manhattan resulted in hundreds of new Village residents.   The growing population meant new homes, and new homes required lumber.

James Wallace owned a lumber yard on 13th Street, not far from his new plot.  The neighborhood would soon fill with lumber businesses like Wallace’s.   He completed his handsome Greek Revival home in 1834.  Its red brick, laid in Flemish bond, was trimmed in brownstone.   The new architectural style did away with the peaked roof and dormers of the Federal period.  Instead, attic windows punched through the wide fascia board.

Wallace apparently branched into selling coal as well.  He had retired by 1852, but in 1859 at least one city directory listed him as a “late coal” merchant.   The Wallace family remained in the house until around the time of the Civil War; but by 1876 it was owned by Margaret Le Comte. 

She had converted the ground floor for the E. D. Carpenter & Co. grocery store.  Elias D. Carpenter apparently did not live upstairs; but was tight-lipped about his home address.  When the New York City Directory listed him that year, it noted “home refused.”

Margaret Le Comte leased the rooms above over the Carpenter grocery store for both residential and business purposes.  Benjamin Princellis operated his “segar” making shop here; and editor Juan Ignacio de Armas, whose offices were at No. 21 Park Row lived in the spacious second floor.  Living in the attic floor was Caspar Castillo.  He was a “cigar-stripper” employed by Princellis and made extra money as a watchman for the property at night.

By 1878 the grocery store space was shared by the tea store of P. J. McDonnell.  De Armas had moved on and McDonnell and his cousin, P. E. Nagel, the Secretary of the New-York Press Club, lived on the second floor.  McDonnell had a bedroom just off the parlor and his cousin slept in a bedroom facing Eighth Avenue.

On July 8, 1878 McDonnell seriously injured his wrist.  The pain was such that he had trouble sleeping—a condition that saved his live two nights later.   Around 3:00 a.m. he was awakened by heat in the room and the smell of smoke which was wafting in through the doorway cracks.  The New York Times reported “He sprang from his bed in affright, and rushing back into the dining-room opened the door leading to the hallway.  He was driven back by the flames and smoke that enveloped the doorway, and slamming the door, he ran to his cousin’s bedroom.”

Nagle was deeply sleeping, partly overtaken by the growing heat and smoke.  McDonnell dragged him from the bed and managed to rouse him.  When he turned up the gas jet, he saw that the heat of the fire was peeling the paint off the door.

The men threw clothing and valuables out the parlor window onto the sidewalk.  Then they stood in the window in their night clothes deciding what to do.  A row of sharp meat hooks hung below the awning of the grocery store.  The Times explained that “To jump from the window was to run the dangerous risk of becoming impaled.”

Nagle had shouted “Fire!” to a passing policeman.  He threw the door keys to Officer Todd; but in his excitement the officer got the wrong key wedged into the keyhole.  The street door was now impassable.

Finally, the worsening smoke forced them out.  They dropped onto the awning and clung to it until it began to collapse.  Carefully they edged away from the meat hooks and dropped to the sidewalk.

Fire engines arrived just after 3:20 and the front door was broken down.  Nagle suddenly remembered he had left his treasured gold watch under his pillow.  He ran up the fire ladder, but was too afraid to re-enter the burning rooms.  A fireman came down with a bundled sheet, in which was Nagle’s watch.

The flames were, by now, spreading up the staircase.  Chief of Battalion Glaquel asked if anyone else was in the house.  In the excitement and panic, the cousins forgot about “the Cuban on the top floor.”  When firefighters broke open the skylight to release smoke, they looked in to see Castillo kneeling on the floor by the bed with his face buried in his hands.  “It appeared that he had rolled out of bed, but had fallen insensible from the heat while endeavoring to reach the window,” advised The Times.

Castillo was carried to the street where doctors tried to resuscitate him, with no success.  The following morning the New York Clipper flatly reported that “a Cuban cigar-maker suffocated to death.”  Fire investigators suspected arson, advising that the fire was most likely “the work of an incendiary.”  The blaze had damaged the building and its contents to about $2,000—in the neighborhood of $50,000 today.

Margaret Le Comte died later that year; however the family retained possession of the repaired building for a few more years.  In the meantime, George Hayes moved his Metallic Skylight business into No. 73 and into No. 71, as well.  In 1882 he won an infringement suit against Erickson & Gibson; deemed by Hayes as “a very severe and well-contested trial.”

The cornice of No. 71 still bears the name HAYES, a reminder of George Hayes's skylight business.
He turned the decision into a marketing campaign; placing long-running advertisements in The Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide that announced that a “complete and perfect Skylight” could be acquired only through him.

In the 1870s Amos Byron Cross ran a saloon at No. 417 Bleecker Street.  But by 1885 he had moved it into No. 73 Eighth Avenue.  But he had bigger visions for the building.  On October 8, 1889 the Le Comte estate put the building up for auction.  The Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide reported “There was some lively bidding for the four-story store No. 73 8th avenue…Starting at $19,000, bids followed quickly until $36,300 was reached, and the property sold to Amos B. Cross, the present occupant.”  The Guide noted “The store is occupied as a saloon, and the rental accounted was $3,000 per annum.”

While Amos Cross began conversion of the upper floors to Cross’s Hotel, business went on as usual in the saloon.  One patron was well-known in the area.  James Rigney was about 65-years old in 1890 and for many years was the “door-keeper” at J. H. Haverly’s Fourteenth Street Theater, where he was known as “The Major.”

Early in the 1870s Rigney had gone to San Francisco seeking his fortune.  He was made night watchman of Maguire’s Opera House and, according to the New York Clipper decades later, “While in ‘Frisco he speculated in mining matters, sometimes successful, oftener otherwise.”

When he returned to New York he took the job at Haverly’s, and added to his income by working as a clerk in a butcher store on 15th Street, directly behind the theater.  Despite his financial troubles, his warm personality made him a well-liked and popular character.  But his finances worsened when Samuel Colville took over the 14th Street theater.

Rigney lost his job soon afterward.  Now out of work, he got another shock following the death of his wealthy sister.  He learned that she had left her entire estate to a religious institution.  "This preyed upon Mr. Rigney’s mind, and he was never the same man afterward,” explained the New York Clipper on February 8, 1890.

On the morning of January 28, 1890 James Rigney walked into Cross’s saloon.  He had $3.92 in his pocket and inside his shirt he had pinned two $5 bills.  Also in his pocket was a card he had written out before leaving home:

1890 God bless all.  I forgive. Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.  If I should die before I wake I pray the Lord my soul to keep and may He have mercy on all, everybody.  J Rigney January 1890

As he stood in the barroom, Rigney pulled out a pistol and placed it to his temple.  The shot killed him instantly.  The New York Times reported “It was supposed that he was despondent because of nervous troubles and erysipelas.”

The area around Amos Cross’s hotel and saloon was panicked by a small pox epidemic in 1893.  Along with other businessmen and neighbors, Cross was concerned when, on November 21 that year, Joachim Hein was diagnosed with the disease.  Hein lived and ran his cigar store directly across the avenue at No. 74.  Two other families shared the three-story building.

Although Hein was removed to North Brother Island and the house was fumigated and the bedding destroyed; his wife and children kept the cigar store open.  According to The Evening World they “continued to peddle out cigars to all customers who patronized the place.  In fact, Hein and his family are immensely industrious.  Two of his children, boys of twelve and ten years of age, respectively, utilize their after school hours in adding to the family income by selling papers.”

By December 9 The World reported that “In that part of quaint old Greenwich Village which is bounded by Jackson Square, Eighth avenue and Fourteenth street, the greatest consternation exists among the residents who fear, and justifiably so…an epidemic of small-pox.”

“Already four cases of small-pox have been reported to the Board of Health, three of which emanated from one house, 74 Eighth avenue and the other and latest one from 76 Eighth avenue.”  The newspaper was incredulous that the Hein family was allowed to go on about their business.  “The simple fact that their father had been stricken with small-pox and had been taken away did not apparently disconcert them to the extent that they refrained from mingling with the public, selling their papers here, there and everywhere in the vicinity.”

Amos Cross watched as the small-pox ambulance arrived across the street and took away 17-month old Gracie Weinhoff.  Then, a few days later, it was there “with its funereal trappings of black, backed up against the curbstone in front of 74 again, and in a few moments two attendants appeared with another victim on his way to North Brother Island.”  This was Frank Welch who lived in the Hein house.

As with the other businesses along this stretch of Eighth Avenue, Cross’s saloon and hotel business suffered as patrons, fearful of the contagious disease, avoided the area.  Amos Cross joined his fellow businessmen in demanding that Hein’s cigar store and the store in the neighboring house be closed “temporarily, at least”  They told reporters that “mere perfunctory measures, such as fumigation, could not counteract the effects liable to result” if the public was allowed to come and go in those shops.

The Evening World ended its article with the sensational question “Who knows where it will break out next?”

Around the turn of the century Amos Byron Cross took on Herman Kreyer as partner in the hotel and saloon.  It was possibly this fact that prompted Cross to transfer the title to No. 73 Eighth Avenue to Catherine M. Cross, his wife, as “a gift” in 1900.

Cross’s Hotel was, perhaps, not always as upstanding as it seemed.  On November 20, 1903 The Sun ran the headline “Nest of Con Men Turned Out” and reported on the raid of an illegal horse betting den—known as a poolroom--above Cross’s saloon.  Seven men, deemed by the police as “about as fine a bunch of grafters and flim flammers as have been got together in some time,” were arrested.

The detectives had been tipped off by a businessman who said he had been swindled out of $400 in the place “by a gang of fakirs.”  Detective Rochester went undercover, giving the name of Al Richter and a Brooklyn address.   He made an appointment with “R. C. McDonald” and, according to The Sun, “dressing up like a German farmer, he kept the engagement.”

“Rochester was taken to a small room over a saloon at 73 Eighth avenue, where there were five men counting money…The detective made a bet of $50 on Golden Drop, and was about to cash his winnings when Capt. Aloncle and the other detectives broke in.”

Every one of the hoodlums arrested (“after a lively fight”) was in the Police Department’s Rogues’ Gallery.  Also arrested was Cross’s bartender on duty, George Cudaback.  Police noticed that one of the men, who gave the alias George Munroe, carried a wad of Confederate bills.  When they asked him why, he responded “Oh, there are a lot of suckers in this town who don’t know that the war is over.”

Herman Kreyer and Amos Cross were about to close the saloon early on the morning of May 28, 1905 when a young man came in and asked for a glass of beer.  He placed a counterfeit quarter on the bar; but Kreyer was on to him and refused it.

The man left the bar; but either outraged at being found out or at not getting his beer, he returned.  Seeing Kreyer standing by the bar, he pulled out a long knife and stabbed him.   As the man escaped, Cross ran onto the avenue and shouted for police.  The New York Times later reported that Kreyer “will probably die of his wounds.”

In fact, Kreyer recovered and was back running the hotel a year later when Princeton University instructor Joseph Greenwood checked in on May 28, 1906.  Greenwood, who had graduated from the school a year earlier, routinely stayed the night when visiting his brother, Isaac J. Greenwood, Jr., whose pencil factory was nearby at 13th Street and Ninth Avenue.

The two brothers went bowling that afternoon, then Joseph went to his third floor room in the Cross Hotel early in the evening.  Two hours later he was found on the sidewalk with “severe contusions and possible internal injuries,” according to the New-York Tribune the following day.

The newspaper admitted that Greenwood “jumped or fell” but had its own opinion.  It ran the sub-headline “Supposed Princeton Instructor Tries Suicide from Window.”  The theory was bolstered by Policeman Spiess, who charged him with attempted suicide (suicide was a crime at the time).

But Isaac Greenwood and Herman Kreyer both came to the injured man’s defense, insisting the fall was accidental.  On May 30 The Sun gave their explanation.  “Greenwood was not feeling well when he went to his room.  The windows are of the old fashioned sort, extending down to within two feet of the floor.”  That newspaper’s headline read simply “Walked Out of Window.”

On April 2, 1916 John Farley leased the “hotel and cafĂ©.”   Farley moved into the hotel which he operated into the 1920s.  He was the brother of former Congressional Representative Michael F. Farley, who was the victim of a bizarre death on October 8, 1921.

Michael Farley had purchased a new shaving brush and, after using it a few times, noticed a rash had broken out on his face.  A week later his face was swollen and he could barely walk because of the pain.  The natural-hair brush, it turned out, was laden with anthrax spores.  When he cut himself shaving, he became infected.  By the time he was taken to Bellevue Hospital on October 8 it was too late.  John Farley was at his brother’s bedside when he died seven hours after being admitted.

The ground floor space where Amos Cross’s saloon had been was the Half-Past Nine Greenwich Club in 1928.  Prohibition was a problem for night clubs, one which the proprietors of the Half-Past Nine ignored.  But on the night of December 29, 1928 the speakeasy was raided.  The New York Times reported that the club faced “padlock actions” after being charged with Prohibition violations.


When this photograph was taken on April 17, 1937 the Half-Past Nine Greenwich Club had been replaced with what appeared to be a grocery store (under the awning at right).  To the near left is the entrance to Jackson Square park.  from the collection of the New York Public Library.

In February 2016, little has changed.
When the old Cross Hotel building was sold in 1941 it was described as a “four-story apartment house” and was assessed at $45,000—about $725,000 today.  In 1996 the building was renovated with one spacious apartment on each floor above a restaurant.

With only moderate remodeling of the storefront, the Cross Hotel is remarkably intact above the first floor where it retains much of its 1834 appearance.  Its sedate countenance successfully masks the colorful history that has played out within its walls.

photographs by the author