Monday, July 27, 2015

The Lost Astor Estate "Hellgate" 87th and East End Ave





Four years before the mansion was demolished George Hayward depicted it for Valentine's Manual.   From the collection of the Museum of the City of New York http://collections.mcny.org/Collection/J.%20Jacob%20Astor's%20Former%20Residence%2086th%20Street%20near%20East%20River-2F3XC5U9F9F9.html
In the mid-18th century, when the northern edge of New York City was still around Pearl Street and Duane Street, wealthy New Yorkers and British officers established sprawling country estates to the north.  Following William Waldron’s death, his farmland on what would become Manhattan’s Upper East Side was divided and sold. 

The section of the East River here was called Hellegat by the Dutch—loosely translated to mean “bright strait” or “clear opening.”  Over the years English-speaking settlers would corrupt the name to Hell Gate. The rolling landscape near the river offered cooling breezes and refuge from the city’s crowded and dusty conditions during the summer months.

In 1784 the 21-year old John Jacob Astor arrived in New York.  Born in Walldorf, Germany, his command of English was only fair, but his ambition was unparalleled.  He began business by selling musical instruments he brought with him from London.

Astor rented a room from Sarah Cox Todd, a widow, at No. 18 Queen Street.  He struck a romance with his landlady’s daughter, also named Sarah.  On September 19, 1785 the young couple was married.   Sarah was a year older than John and brought to the marriage a $300 dowry.

from the collection of the New York Public Library.
Over the next decades both the family and their fortunes grew.  By 1800 Astor had amassed a fortune of nearly a quarter of a million dollars.  Before long his and Sarah’s combined business acumen would make him the first multi-millionaire in the country.

In 1801 Eliza, the Astors’ seventh child, was born.  She was a frail child and it was possibly this fact that prompted Sarah to urge husband to purchase a summer estate.  Here, she felt, the children could spend time in the fresh, healthful air away from the heat and diseases of the city.  Astor purchased 13 acres, part of the old Waldron farm, and constructed the Georgian-style mansion, Hellgate.

Like the elegant homes on the surrounding estates, Hellgate reflected the family’s wealth and status.  Four two-story columns with elaborate Corinthian capitals gave the residence a grand air.   The view from the porch, past the grounds that ran down to the East River, included Blackwell’s Island.  Astor would spend much time watching the ships navigating the waters below his property.

An unknown artist created this charming watercolor around 1850 -- from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York http://collections.mcny.org/Collection/House%20of%20John%20Jacob%20Astor.-2F3HRGFH2IH.html

Hellgate was located in what today would be approximately 86th Street to 87th Street and East End Avenue.  The wealthy neighbors included Commodore Isaac Chauncey, and Archibald Gracie.   Not far away were the estates of the Livingstons, Rikers, and Joneses—all part of the upper crust of New York society.

In his Literary New York, historian Charles Hemstreet described Hellgate as “a square two-story frame dwelling of colonial type, painted white, with deep veranda, wide halls, and spacious rooms; set high upon a hill, backed by a forest of towering trees, and fronted by a vast lawn stretching by gentle slope to the cliff at the riverside.”

Astor’s daughter, Magdalen married the Rev. John Bristed in 1819 and their son, Charles Astor Bristed was born the following year.  When Magdalen died in 1832 the 12-year old Charles was taken to be raised by John Jacob and Sarah Astor; spending most of his youth at Hellgate. 

The lawn swept down towards the river edge -- sketch by Eliza Greatorex from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York http://collections.mcny.org/Collection/East%2088th%20Street%20[64th%20Street%20to%20178th%20Street]-24UAKVNKCJBR.html

Sarah died two years later and John Jacob Astor spent more time in his beloved Hellgate.  Here young Charles would be exposed here to the literary figures who often visited—writers and poets like Washington Irving and Fitz-Greene Halleck.  Washington Irving was a long-term guest in 1836 while he wrote his Astoria, the book commissioned by Astor to document his expedition to Oregon in 1810-1812.

Contact with such figures no doubt contributed to Bristed’s eventually becoming a famous Greek scholar and author.

Following his death Johnson, Fry and Company's 1862 Portrait Gallery of Eminent Americans kindly depicted the aged Astor as dignified and robust.  (copyright expired)

By the 1840s Astor was showing his age.  Although his mind was still sharp, he was in serious physical decline.  Philip Hone, famous for keeping precise, detailed journals which were not always complimentary, was a dinner guest of Robert M. Blatchford n October 8, 1844.  Blatchford’s summer home was near Hellgate and John Jacob Astor was also there that night.  The following day Hone wrote in his diary:

I went yesterday to dine at Mr. Blatchford’s at Hell Gate.  The party at dinner consisted of old Mr. J. J. Astor and his train-bearer...Mr. Astor…presented a painful example of the insufficiency of wealth to prolong the life of man. This old gentleman, with his fifteen millions of dollars, would give it all to have my strength and physical ability; and yet, with all this example…I, with a good conscience and in possession of my bodily faculties, sometimes repine at my lot…He sat at the dinner table with his head down upon his breast, saying very little, and in a voice almost unintelligible, the saliva dropping from his mouth, and a servant behind him to guide the victuals which he was eating, and to watch him as an infant is watched.  His mind is good, his observation acute, and he seems to know everything that is going on.  But the machinery is all broken up, and there are some people, no doubt, who think he has lived long enough.”

Four years later, on March 29, 1848, John Jacob Astor died.  Once again Philip Hone commented on the event in his diary.  “John Jacob Astor died this morning, at nine o’clock, in the eighty-fifth year of his age; sensible to the last, but the material of life exhausted, the machinery worn out, the lamp extinguished for want of oil.  Bowed down with bodily infirmity for a long time, he has gone at last, and left reluctantly his unbounded wealth.”

Astor’s beloved grandson, Charles Astor Bristed inherited much of the Astor property, including “my country seat at Hellgate and my lands there, containing about thirteen acres.” 

At the time the relentless northward expansion of the city was still miles away.  But by the end of the Civil War the Upper East Side was seeing rapid development.  By 1869 Charles Bristed was selling off parcels of the Hellgate estate.  That year the Astor mansion was pulled down. 

Henderson Place sits approximately where the Hellgate mansion stood.  photo from the collection of the New York Public Library
The sweeping lawns on which the Astor children played are now part of Carl Schurz Park.   The site of the Hellgate mansion is now occupied by John C. Henderson’s delightful 1881 group of homes known as Henderson Place

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The John H. Heller House -- No. 247 Grand Street

The store level, where expensive gold watches were sold for around a century, is now a Chinese food market.


Life for James de Lancey Jr. was good in the 18th century—at least for half of it.   In addition to his elegant home in town, he owned land in Westchester County and a country estate north of the city.  His problems started when the seeds of revolution germinated in the 1760s.

Unwilling to choose a side, de Lancey straddled the political fence.  In 1768 he secured a seat in the New York Assembly by winning the support of the Sons of Liberty who rallied against British control.  In the meantime, he rubbed shoulders with the Crown, meeting secretly and assuring his loyalty.

It all ended badly for de Lancey in February 1775 when he was exposed as a loyalist.  By May he had been expelled from New York, never to return.

But before his world crumbled, he had lived the life of Manhattan aristocracy.  In the mid-18th century, he laid out an exceptionally wide drive through his estate—beginning at a formal square and running to the East River.  It was a stately lane that reflected his wealth and importance.

On March 6, 1777 the Provincial Congress appointed Commissioners to “take into their custody & possession all the personal property” of loyalists.  In 1785 all the de Lancey property was auctioned off—grossing about $50,000.  Beginning in 1810 deeds for building lots were sold along de Lancey’s broad lane—now called Grand Street because of its unusual width.  By the 1820s brick-faced Federal style homes appeared on the block of Grand Street between First Street (later renamed Chrystie) and the Bowery.

Among these was the free-standing house at No. 247.   Like most of its neighbors, it was two-and-a-half stories tall and clad in Flemish bond red brick.  One or two dormers would have penetrated its peaked roof.  The space between it and No. 245 next door was most likely a “horse-walk”—the passageways that led to the yards behind where small outbuildings or stables were located.

The width of Grand Street would contribute to its becoming a major shopping thoroughfare later in the century.  It appears that if No. 247 did not always have a shop on the first floor, one was in place by 1848.  J. D. Cromwell listed his address here when in November that year he was awarded a silver medal at the Fair of the American Institute for “best Boys and Children’s Clothing.”

The house, along with No. 245, became property of John Henry Heller.  The Heller family lived upstairs in No. 247.  John H. Heller and Anthony Imberry ran their watch and jewelry store at No. 231 Grand Street.  They had gone into business in 1837; but problems developed between the two which apparently resulted J. D. Cromwell now looking for a new store location.

On October 12, 1850 the New-York Tribune ran a notice that as of October 1, “the copartnership heretofore existing between Anthony Imberry & John H. Heller, watch makers and jewelers, is this day dissolved by mutual consent.”  The announcement told patrons that Heller would continue the business, now located at No. 247.

Meanwhile the Heller family continued to live in the rest of the house.  In 1857 John Henry Albert Heller, Jr. had enrolled in the introductory class of the New-York Free Academy.  He would be followed there by his brother, Charles Augustus Heller in 1869.  Charles enrolled in the “commercial class.”  William Heller appears to have been learning his father’s trade at the time.  In the meantime, Bayard H. J. Heller was drafted into the Union Army on March 30, 1865.

John Henry Heller’s jewelry store saw phenomenal success.  His income of $5,272 in 1865 doubled in 1866 to $10,468 according to the District Assessor.  That would amount to about $160,000 today.

Heller offered more to his customers by leasing part of the ground floor to Isaac D. Noe’s silver plating operation.  Noe lived in Brooklyn and was working in the Grand Street space by 1873.  He stayed here for at least two years offering “silver-plating fixtures, &c.”

William S. Heller joined the business by 1874, listing himself as “jeweler.”  But in 1876 when the firm name was John H. Heller & Son, the “son” was John H. Heller, Jr.  Within three years, the business was renamed John H. Heller, Jr. following the death of the John Henry Heller, Sr.

Only John, Jr.'s name appeared in ads by 1879 -- Puck magazine, December 17, 1879 (copyright expired)

The electro-plating business sharing space with the jewelry store was run by H. B. Lubbert now.  In 1884 he advertised both gold and silver plating. 

In 1881 Charles Heller was still living with the extended family upstairs. But after John Henry Heller moved his family to Brooklyn, at No. 493 Flatbush Avenue, in 1889, it appears that all the Hellers were gone for good from Grand Street.

John retained possession of No. 247 and it was about this time that the attic was raised to a full floor and the updated brownstone and pressed metal trim and cornice were installed.  The architect deftly disguised the addition with a bandcourse; however close inspection of the brickwork reveals the alteration.

A course of brownstone cleverly hides the alteration.  But close inspection of the brickwork tells the tale.

Heller retired from the jewelry business and the store became home to J. Hess’s jewelry store.  Hess lived across the street at No. 276 Grand.  In 1892 he spent $500 on interior alterations designed by architects Horenburger and Straub.

In 1893 Hess advertised an "immense stock" -- The Evening World, December 8, 1893 (copyright expired)

Upstairs Alexander Straschum was living, at least from 1893 to 1895.  Exactly how he made his living is unclear; but in the summer of 1895 the Board of Aldermen resolved that he was “permitted to keep stand at No. 247 Grand street.”

In 1893 John Henry Heller, Jr. sold the building next door at No. 245 for a staggering $100,000, according to New York State court documents—nearly $2.7 million today.  The buyer, William Cohen, had occupied the property for two decades.  Heller continued to hold on to No. 247, however, and still owned it when he died in 1902.

By now, although H. B. Lubbert was still running his silver plating concern here, the Hess jewelry shop was gone.  It was replaced by H. Levy’s tailor shop.  On July 8, 1901 The Tammany Times reported that Levy “calls attention to the fact that he has completed arrangements with a large cloth concern for an unfadable Indigo blue.  Mr. Levy has for years made 50 per cent of the police uniforms in this city and therefore this statement should bear some weight.”

While Levy stitched together police uniforms, Lubbert had 19 employees in his silver plating shop—2 men, 16 women and one girl under 16 years of age.

The Grand Street neighborhood was drastically different from the time when John Henry Heller purchased No. 247 before the Civil War.  In 1912 when the estate of Mary A. Astor Woodcock had B. W. Berger & Son renovate the “3-story store and dwelling” with new walls and windows, the area had filled with Italian immigrants.  In 1939, as the city finally emerged from the Great Depression, The New York Times described the building as a “three-story tenement.”  It was sold that year for a mere $35,000.

The ground floor where gold and silver-cased watches had been sold for decades was now a restaurant run by the Marin family.  But Grand Street was on the verge of yet another change.


Chinatown was rapidly encroaching on the Italian district.  By the late 20th century the signs at street level were in Chinese, including those at No. 247.  Today a Chinese market operates here while upstairs, as has been the case since the Hess family left, small apartments are rented.  Overall, little has changed to the outward appearance of the unusual free-standing house since the late 19th century renovation.

photographs by the author

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Alfred Kayne Mansion -- No 358 West End Avenue




In 1891 Architect Clarence True had only been on his own for six years, after leaving the employ of Richard M. Upjohn.  He may have been regretting the decision, since commissions were relatively scarce.   A year earlier he had finally received a significant contract to design a string of rowhouses for developer Charles G. Judson.

It was the beginning of a flood of commissions which would establish True as one of the most prolific architects in the wildly-developing area and prompt some to later call him the face of the Upper West Side.

Within months True received another commission from developer Francis M. Jenks.   His row of upscale residences would wrap the southeast corner of West End Avenue and 77th Street, stretching from No. 350 to 356 West End, and from No. 270 to 274 West 77th Street. Clarence True drew heavily from historical styles; but he preferred to adulterate them with his own liberal interpretation.  With no compunction about melding two or three styles into an attractive and sometimes playful concoction, he produced mansions and townhouses that managed to be at once elegant and fanciful.

And so it was for the Jenks houses, anchored at the corner by the row’s showpiece.  Although the entrance to the four-and-a-half story house was squarely on 77th Street, it took the avenue address of No. 358 West End.  Clad in rough-cut limestone, it was quintessentially True.  Elizabethan elements co-existed with Romanesque Revival in a romantic manse with tall gables, balconies, and elaborate carvings.


The handsomely carved arched double doors were flanked by Elizabethan style columns, carved in a diamond pattern.  The panel directly above featured the head of a frightening beast contrasted by delicate, swirling foliage.  A stone oriel at the fourth story provided a balcony to the floor above, its stone railing decorated with carved Celtic-like strapwork.

Construction on the row commenced in 1881 and was completed the following year.   As the finishing touches were put on the corner mansion, wealthy broker Alfred Kayne married the contralto opera singer Attalie Claire Smith (known on stage as Attalie Claire) in the Windsor Hotel on Fifth Avenue.  In reporting on the wedding on September 15, 1892, The New York Times noted that Attalie’s veil “fell in deep folds over the skirt from under a coronet of diamonds in the form of a fleur de lis valued at $20,000.”

Carved oak entrance doors were flanked by Elizabethan-style columns and lancet windows.  Exquisitely carved spandrels and overhead panel completed the design.

Alfred’s courtship of the singer caused somewhat of an uproar in the entertainment world a year earlier.  Attalie had shared the stage with the formidable and celebrated Lillian Russell and, as reported in The Times, “It was in Boston about a year ago that [Attalie] excited the jealousy and enmity of Lillian Russell by receiving more flowers from Mr. Kayne and other young men than the star of “La Cigale,” and left the company.”

Attalie appeared on the cover of Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News in January 1890 (copyright expired)
The newlyweds spent their honeymoon in Newport.  Upon their return Alfred Kayne purchased No. 358 West End Avenue in February, 1893.  As was customary, the title was put in Attalie’s name.   While Alfred carried on business downtown, Attalie continued her stage career, having signed a three-year contract with Colonel Henry Mapleson that began in April 1893.

Sharing the spacious home with the Kaynes was Attalie’s close friend, operatic soprano Lucile Hill, described by The New York Times as “the prima donna of the Metropolitan Opera House Company.”   She had recently returned from an engagement at Covent Garden.

The Peterson Magazine, in 1895, described Lucile as “one of the singers immensely popular within the theater and without, as she has a sunshiny, open-hearted and un-affected temperament that cheers and refreshes.”  And then after that glowing compliment, it went on with a description that would offend most female entertainers today.  “She is a plump little person with a winsome, intelligent face, very youthful and with pretty, regular features.”

The Peterson Magazine added that she “may be seen daily cantering round the corner at Seventy-seventh Street and West End Avenue, on her way for a ride in the park, as she is an excellent horsewoman.”

A stone balcony supported by hefty brackets faced the avenue.
Alfred Kayne was an avid bicyclist and was a member of the Cyclists’ Touring Club.  But he, like Lucile, was equally interested in horses.   He found himself in hot water with U.S. Customs officials in 1893 over three fine new steeds.

The Times reported on May 19, 1893 “Alfred Kayne, who is rated down town as a man of fashion, is in trouble with the customs authorities over three horses that he brought across the Canada line near Rouse’s Point a few days ago.”  Kayne declared the value of the animals at $145 each, which enabled him to bring them into the country for $30 tariff each, since their value was under $150.

But Special Agent Montgomery was not so sure about Kayne’s low assessment.  He sent two appraisers to examine the horses.  Their separate reports valued them at $1600 and $1010.  Alfred Kayne’s new horses were seized, much to Kayne’s irritation.

As might be expected, the glittering entertainments in the Kayne mansion often centered around music.  On January 17, 1895 The Times reported on one such event, saying the Attalie “gave one of the most enjoyable musicales of last week at her home…The hall and the reception room were profusely decorated with palms, smilax, and American Beauty roses.”  Lucille Hill, of course, sang (“charmingly,” according to the Times’ reporter) as did several other opera singers.

The Kaynes had one daughter.  But their seemingly happy marriage came to a highly-publicized and unhappy end by the turn of the century.  The couple separated and the West End Avenue mansion was sold  to Thomas J. McLaughlin.

In January 1899 Attalie was living with their child in apartments at No. 74 Madison Avenue.  Her maid, was working undercover for Alfred.  Attalie told reporters “She had been carrying tales to Mr. Kayne ever since I took her, through sympathy, into my employ.”

It resulted in Alfred Kayne and his brother breaking into Attalie’s apartments at 2:30 on the morning of Saturday, January 14.  There he found Attalie with a man.  Alfred swept up his daughter and left.

Attalie protested that “When they broke in, Mr. Kaffenburgh of Howe & Hummel, who has my divorce suit in charge, and I were talking about the divorce case.  My husband had no right to act as violently as he did.”  She did not address the question of why her lawyer would be talking business in her apartment at 2:30 a.m.

In the meantime, Thomas J. McLaughlin sold the West End Avenue mansion on March 1, 1901 to Bendet Isaacs and his wife, the former Gussie Finn.  The 36-year old Isaacs had been born in Cincinnati and the couple was married in 1890.  A self-made man, Isaacs had received a public school education.

In 1897 he was still described in directories as a “clothing manufacturer.”  But by now he had amassed a comfortable fortune and was branching out into real estate.  Within the next few years he would become President of the Tuben Realty Co.; an officer in the Trion Toy Co., Inc.; President of the Clifton Construction Co.; and an officer in the Oklahoma-Kansas Refining Co.

Bendet and Gussie had three children, Sidney, Theodore and Hilda.   The couple were active in Jewish philanthropies; Bendet was a member of the Jewish Social Service Association, a director in the Montefiore Home, and a member of the Jewish Protectory and Aid Society.  Gussie was a regular contributor to the United Hebrew Charities, a member of the Hospital for Deformities and Joint Diseases, and the first president of B'nai Jeshurun Sisterhood.

In 1917 Distinguished Jews of America asked Bendet Isaacs “whether it is possible for the Jew to adhere to his religion, and at the same time, serve best his own interests and that of his country.”  He replied “Success in business is absolutely independent of one’s faith.  To be truthful in words and deeds and the people one comes in contact is the only condition essential to success.”

When war broke out the Isaacs’ 21-year old son, Theodore, became a sergeant in the Gas Defence Section.  Unlike his father, he had enjoyed a privileged education, attending Barnard Preparatory School and Cornell University.  Known for his school athleticism, he had excelled in basketball and track.  He died suddenly in St. Luke’s Hospital at the age of 26 on June 27, 1922.

Two years before the tragedy, in November 1920, the Isaacs sold No. 358 West End Avenue to Henry M. Weill.  The Real Estate Record and Builders’ Guide noted on November 27, “After extensive alterations Mr. Weill will occupy the house.”

Real estate operator Henry M. Weill was a wheeler-dealer.  His “extensive alterations” included dividing the mansion into two residences and installing a commercial space.  Madame Garnham’s Art Gallery opened on the first floor in January 1922.

Madam Garnham's opening exhibited her own artwork.  New-York Tribune January 22, 1922 (copyright expired)

Weill, his wife and daughter who was studying at Barnard College, moved into one of the newly-renovated residences.   Four years later marital problems boiled over when Mrs. Weill and her daughter stormed into the apartment of former showgirl Peggy Stone early on the morning of June 17, 1926.

Hearing his wife and daughter in the apartment, Henry left the bedroom by the window.  The problem was that Peggy Stone’s apartment was on the second floor.  His embarrassment at being caught in bed with another woman was now compounded by a broken leg.

It was not only Weill’s leg that was broken during the “divorce raid,” as described by police. The New York Times reported “The furnishings in the apartment which included some costly bric-a-brac, were broken or damaged but neither Miss Stone nor Mrs. Weill would say if the damage was caused during the raid.”

Seeing her husband injured played on the wronged women’s sympathies.  “Mrs. Weill said that when her husband leaped to the courtyard she went to his assistance while Miss Stone remained in the apartment.  When she learned that he had been seriously injured she said she did not know whether she would sue for divorce.  She really felt sorry for him, she declared.”


The Weills patched things up in time for Henry M. Weill to deal with another problem.  London artist Alfred A. Wolmark left valuable paintings at the West End Avenue house with understanding that they were “for exhibition only.”

Instead, Weill kept the paintings until Wolmark sued him for $50,000 early in 1928.  Henry Weill protested that he was under the impression “he had an option to buy them for $2,500.”  On February 9, 1928 Wolmark got his paintings back and Weill was directed to pay for the legal costs.

Later that year, on October 29, Henry M. Weill claimed surprise at hearing of an upcoming foreclosure sale on the house.  Despite efforts to “stave off the completion of the foreclosure proceedings,” the Appellate Division allowed the sale of No. 358 West End Avenue in March 1929.  Joseph Weisenfelder, who had held the mortgage, took back his property.

By now the era of the lavish Upper West Side mansions had already come to an end.  Weisenfelder remodeled No. 358 West End Avenue into 16 furnished apartments in 1937.  When he sold the building on June 20, 1940 to Olga Vojtickzky, The Times noted “The new owner also acquired the furnishings”

When Vojtickzky leased the building to Louis Goldberg in January 1943 it was now described as “containing twenty-eight rooms and fourteen bathrooms.”  The well-used furniture was again purchased by Goldberg who said he “will operate the property as furnished apartments.”


In 1999 the former mansion underwent another renovation that resulted in three apartments per floor.   Outwardly Clarence True’s romantic structure, the parlors of which once reverberated with the voices of opera singers, survives little changed.

photographs by the author

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Baumann Bros. Bldg.- No. 22-26 East 14th Street





In 1880 the Union Square neighborhood bore no resemblance to the farmland it had been 70 years earlier.  Henry Spingler died in 1814 in his country home that sat approximately where the Square is today.  Not far away to the south, roads were already being laid and houses and shops constructed.  Spingler’s farmland would soon be engulfed by development.

In 1832 Union Square was laid out and by 1845 fine brick residences were appearing along its borders.  That year $116,000 was spent on paving the surrounding streets and landscaping the square.  And simultaneously Spingler’s old house was taken by the city through condemnation proceedings.  It spelled the end of that chapter.

The second chapter—that of refined mansions and wealthy residents—was a short one and would come to an end shortly after the end of the Civil War.   The business community rapidly moved in, taking over upscale homes or razing them for commercial structures.  As always, the moneyed homeowners fled northward.

In 1880 successful textile merchant James McCreery commissioned brothers David and John Jardine, also Scottish immigrants, to design a commercial building to replace the Arlington Building at Nos. 22 through 26 East 14th Street.   Construction began in December 1880 and, simultaneously, Joseph J. Little began work on a structure next door at No 28 and another developer started construction on No. 30.

These men approached the Board of Aldermen, separately, requesting permission to include projecting shop windows.   The requests were denied because “of the refusal of Mr. McCreery to assent to the erection of bay-windows by them,” as recorded in the Proceedings of the Board of Aldermen.   The developers were understandably upset when, in May 1881, McCreery applied to the Board “to place bay-windows on stores Nos. 22, 24, and 26 East Fourteenth street.”

Mayor W. R. Grace returned the resolution “without my approval” on May 28, saying “The owners of the buildings No. 28 and No. 30 East Fourteenth street object strongly to the proposed bay-windows on the ground that they would injure their stores, which have been built with plain fronts” because of McCreery’s complaints.

Even without the protruding bays, the Jardines’ building was an eye-catcher.  Completed in September that year the $75,000 structure was faced in cast iron.   But architects who had worked with the material in the decades before had, mostly, followed one or two standard motifs.  The Jardines moved away from the pack, drawing on a collection of popular styles to create a powerful up-to-the-minute statement of current taste in architecture and art.  Seemingly incongruous styles—neo-Grec-influenced openings married with neo-Classical swags and pilasters—were splashed with surprising Aesthetic Movement panels of sunflowers.

Beautiful Aesthetic-Movement panels joined the various styles used by the architects.

The building stretched through to 13th Street and was quickly filled.   E. D. Bassford, “dealer in crockery and house-furnishing goods,” moved in.  The store was run by the son of E. D. Bassford who had died in 1873.  He had founded the firm in 1838 and since 1856 had been located in the Cooper Union.  His widow attempted to run the business until her death in 1881.  The younger Bassford moved the store into the new 14th Street building on November 13, just a month after its completion.

Flint & Warren, dealers in dry goods, “Paris costumes,” and women’s apparel was another retailer here.  But McCreery’s major tenant was Baumann Brothers furniture and carpet store which opened on September 1.  The expansive showrooms offered customers a wide-range of furniture and styles.

Neither Flint & Warren nor E. D. Bassford would survive in the new location.  On May 15, 1883 The New York Times explained Bassford’s business failure, blaming the high rents charged by McCreery.  “The stand did not prove as eligible as was anticipated, the rent was $12,000 a year, and this Spring’s business was particularly bad.”

Baumann Brothers, however, was much more successful.  On October 15, 1891 The New York Times commented on the variety of pieces available.  Those mentioned were all historic European styles; but since they were made in America, the newspaper deemed them examples of “practical patriotism.”

It said Baumann Brothers “have opened at their show rooms an exhibition of artistic furniture of the Renaissance and Empire periods, deftly and cunningly copied from the Old World models by skillful American handicraft.  On the ground floor there is a massive sideboard of antique oak, a perfect reproduction of an old Tudor piece of furniture found in one of the manors of England.  The carving on this is an artistic revelation.  Further on there is a varied collection of desks in brass and rosewood, perfect copies of those now on exhibition at Versailles at the Little Trianon.  The prices of these range from $20 to $200.” Shopping at Baumann Brothers could get pricey—a $200 French-style desk in 1891 was the equivalent of about $5,000 today.

In 1894 this 4-piece "Chamber Suit" could be had for $100; "the greatest value for the price asked ever offered."   the New-York Tribune, September, 22, 1894 (copyright expired)

The journalist walked the reader through each department, including the carpet and bedroom sections.  There was also a parlor department.  “Here are gorgeous arm chairs in yellow, shrimp pink, and celeste blue satin damasks.  Parlor sets in all shades about in every imaginable style. Vernis Martin tables, Empire bric-a-brac cabinets, and many other dainty trifles for the drawing room are here in profusion.”

Baumann Brothers remained in the 14th Street store until 1897, when they moved to Sixth Avenue.  McCreery briefly broke up the ground floor into separate shops.  In October 1886 he leased the first floor store and basement to M. Freedman, dry goods.  Another space was taken by the Austin-Remsen Co. bicycle shop.

Then in June 1900 James McCreery leased the entire round floor to Frank W. Woolworth.  The New York Times noted “The lease is for a long term of years.”   Indeed, the 5-and-10-cent store would stay here until 1928.

The upper floors now became manufacturing rather than retail space.  In 1901 Julius Deyfus & Co., an embroidery firm, operated here.  The impressive factory employed 35 men and 45 women.  Also in the building around the same time were Laird & Bonwit, “cloaks and suits;” and Hornthal, Benjamin & Riem, another apparel firm.  A large concern, it employed as many as 136 men and 71 women at any given time, with an office staff of eight.

Many teen-aged boys in 1904 worked to help their families rather than attend school.  One of them, Albert Greenwall, who worked in the 14th Street building, was persuaded by his friend, 14-year old John Ell, to join him along with his mother and brother and another friend on a river excursion.   Albert did not go to work on Wednesday, June 15, 1904; instead he and about 1300 other passengers boarded the General Slocum headed to a picnic grove north on the East River.

John Ell told investigators later “As we neared Hell Gate children were called down to the lower deck where ice cream and soda were served…With my mother and my little brother Paul I went to the engine room to watch he machinery.  I was standing there with John Gray, Albert Greenwall, Otto Hans and a number of children.

“Suddenly and without the least note of warning there was a burst of flame from the furnace room that rushed up through the engine-room and flashed out about us.  The flames spread with the rapidity of an explosion, setting fire to the clothing of the women and children who were grouped about the engine-room watching the machinery.”

Within 15 minutes the General Slocum had burned to the water line.  Of the more than 1,300 souls on board, only 321 survived—the greatest loss of life in New York City until the World Trade Center murders of 9/11.  Albert Greenwall, who played hooky from work for a day of recreation, would never return.

Hornthal, Benjamin & Reim was still in the building in 1913.  Eugene S. Benjamin was President of the New York Clothing Trade Association, a leader in the opposition to union demands in a long-standing apparel worker strike.   The non-union workers employed by Hornthal, Benjamin & Reim were threatened by union thugs, causing the firm to offer sleeping accommodations so the workers did not have to go into the streets at night.

The New York Times reported “Some told of being followed to their homes at night and having glistening knives shown to them.  Others said that their families at home had received death threats.”

The threats were not taken lightly.   Shortly after midnight on February 28, 1913 a bomb exploded on the street directly below the sleeping quarters of another apparel firm, Fruhauf Brothers & Co. at No. 54 West 15th Street.  Around 150 men and women were inside, but were unhurt.

Then, around 2:00 a.m. a foot-long pipe smashed through a window on the second floor where Hornthal, Benjamin & Reim workers were sleeping.  “When the heavy missile thumped on the floor there was such consternation that the police of the Mercer Street Station had to be called to quiet the frightened workers,” reported The Times later that morning.

A policeman dropped the pipe into a bucket of water, and then assured the workers that it was a fake.   Reporters were told that “the act was attributed to garment strikers desiring to ‘get even’ with Hornthal, Benjamin & Reim.”

But the loyal workers refused to be intimidated.  The New York Times interviewed one employee who said “When I was sick last Winter, my boss sent me my wages every week.  Now I have a chance to prove my appreciation and I am going to continue working in spite of death threats.  I want to say that I am prepared to meet any one who attacks me, and when I strike it will be to kill.”

Other apparel firms would come and go here.  In 1912 Sohn, Oppenheim & Co., “makers of ‘Sailor-waist’ brand trousers,” moved from West 20th Street to the building.  The Clothier and Furnisher reported in August that year that “the new premises on Fourteenth Street have been very handsomely fitted up.  The loft is an unusually light one, and it is entirely finished in white, making a very pleasing appearance.”

When F. W. Woolworth moved out, the store was taken over by another five-and-ten-cent store, F. & W. Grant.   Like Woolworth, it operated a soda fountain here.  But it did not come without problems.

In September 1932 a pipe leading to the refrigeration unit broke, leaking ammonia gas.   Seven young women were overcome by the dangerous fumes.  Newspapers reported that an ambulance surgeon from St. Vincent’s Hospital treated them and they were sent home.

A worse incident occurred on June 5, 1936 when 20 employees collapsed around 5:30 in the afternoon.  Sulphur dioxide fumes were escaping from an ice cream cooler in the basement.  No one smelled the gas as it seeped up to the first floor until, after about 45 minutes, it became concentrated enough to overtake the employees.

“The store, which employs 150 persons, was filled with rush-hour customers and a near catastrophe was averted when James Evans, a Negro porter, ran to the basement and shut off the cooling plant.  Evans himself was overcome as he struggled back to the street floor,” reported The Times.

Seventeen girls and three men were dragged to the sidewalk and the store’s manager ordered the 14th Street door closed.   Three ambulances and three emergency squads responded. Part of the second floor was vacant and was turned into a triage space.   Although the condition of the victims was not considered serious, Evans and five of the girls were taken to Columbus Hospital for observation.  “The fourteen others were sent home in taxicabs by the store management.”

In the meantime the Delehanty Institute had moved into 15,000 square feet of the building in 1930.  The organization trained candidates for both the Police and Fire Departments.  When the Institute renewed its lease in January 1941, a running track was installed on the roof.
Among the other tenants that year was the Kramer Tie Company.   Like its predecessors, the firm was sometimes plagued with union problems, and that year 40 girls walked out on strike, halting production of a $25,000 Government order for 100,000 black neckties for the United States Army.   Samuel Kramer, head of the firm, insisted he was caught “in the middle” between the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, which which he had a contract, and the A F. L. which called the strike.  Fortunately for Kramer (and the Army), the girls came back to work the next day.

Bon Marche, deemed by The New York Times as “a store known for its well-styled, inexpensive furniture, took over the building in 1955.   In 1960 the newspaper said that “while it is geared to young budget-minded people, it is attracting their parents, too.

“Customers of all ages can be seen toting anything from a collapsible Fiberglas screen to a small children’s chest out of this shop at 26 East Fourteenth Street.  Although furniture has to be hauled down a whole flight of stairs, taking a purchase home saves pennies.”

Bon Marche remained at the location until 1963; however retained space in the building for warehousing.   Then in 1990 the building was converted to a day care center on the ground floor, classrooms, gymnasium and locker rooms on floors two and three, and offices on the top floors.


In 1999 it became a condominium, with the New School acquiring the upper floors as the Parsons School of Design annex.  Following a 2014 cleaning and repainting of the façade, a health club took over the sidewalk level.  After having survived a period of rust and neglect, D. & J. Jardine’s remarkable cast iron façade is pristine once again.

photographs by the author