Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Ryder Henry House - No. 5 East 93rd Street




In 1891 construction began on six upscale residences on East 93rd Street, steps away from Central Park.  Designed by A. B. Ogden & Sons in the Renaissance Revival style, they were splashed with Romanesque Revival elements.   The builders were taking a gamble in placing the homes so far north.  At the time the only residence in the neighborhood was the Jacob Ruppert mansion across the street, which had stood in lonely isolation for nearly a decade.

The row was completed in 1892.  Each house was slightly different, yet designed to create a harmonious flow.  No. 5 greeted visitors with a broad brownstone stoop with sturdy wingwalls.  The steps widened as the western wall undulated away towards the sidewalk.

Four of the original row survive; No. 5 is the least altered, thanks to the Ryder family's nearly half century of occupancy.

Romanesque Revival made its appearance in the stubby columns flanking the entrance, and in the foliate carvings below the bowed bay above.  Both the parlor and second floors were faced in rough-cut stone.  Renaissance Revival took over in the pilasters and the carved frieze of the bay, before slightly conceding to Romanesque again in the arched upper floor windows.

The wainscoting, Romanesque newel and exquisite ceiling are original.  photo via Curbed New York

The house was sold to Isaac Hamburger and his wife, the former Fanny Levy.  Hamburger had come to New York in 1848 and established the tobacco firm of I. Hamburger & Co. in 1855.  Three years later the couple were married.  They had five children, three sons and two daughters.

By now Solomon and Benjamin had become partners in their father's firm.  And they were doing very well.  In 1890, "by the rise in Sumatra tobacco," according to the New-York Tribune, the company made $150,000--more than $4 million in profits by today's standards.

Both Isaac and Fanny were active in Jewish interests.  He was at one time the Supreme Grand Master in the District Grand Lodge No. 1 of the Independent Order Free Sons of Israel.  And Fanny, according to the United States Tobacco Journal years later, "was widely beloved for a lifetime of ardent devotion to her family and charitable work which was closely linked with her husband's extensive Masonic activity."

Wholesale tobacco was a family affair,.  Fanny's brother, David Levy, was head of the tobacco firm D. Levy & Son.  Trouble came in 1894 when that firm declared bankruptcy.  The failure was too much for David Levy, and he died shortly afterward.

Those troubles now spread to the Hamburger family.  Isaac had tried to help his brother-in-law financially and the unpaid loans lead in part to his own bankruptcy.  On March 1, 1895 the New-York Tribune reported that I. Hamburger & Co. "failed yesterday."  Although the Tribune reported that the "general depression in business" was thought to have been the principal cause; it added "The failure of D. Levy & Son, wholesale tobacco dealers a year ago is said to have been one of the causes of the assignment yesterday."

The Hamburgers managed to remain in the 93rd Street house for a while.  In 1896 a lien was filed against Isaac; and finally on May 12, 1898 it was sold in foreclosure to the mortgage holder, Louis Dannhauser for $43,615--nearly $1.3 million today.

The basement areaway is protected by low stone walls.  The architects created interest with the undulating lines of one of the stoop's wing walls.

Sixteen days later he sold the 21-foot wide house to Benjamin Lowenstein.  Like Hamburger, Lowenstein was a leader in Jewish causes.  He was also a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.   The Lowensteins had three daughters, Loretta, Emma and Carrie, and a son, Leo.

Benjamin had founded the Nassau Smelting & Refining Works with his brother, Moses.  Located on West 16th Street, it collected and reclaimed scrap metals--essentially an early recycling center.  But their business practices were sometimes shady.  The week before he purchased No. 5 East 93rd Street the Mongolia Metal Co. took out a full-page advertisement in Hardware magazine informing the trade that Benjamin and Moses had been found guilty of trade-mark infringement by stamping "Mongolia" on their bars of metal.  "BEWARE OF FRAUDULENT IMITATIONS" warned the ad.

Seven years later, on December 19, 1905, The New York Times ran the shocking story that Benjamin had been arraigned in the Tombs Court the day before "charged with grand larceny."  Lowenstein had conspired with a storekeeper's clerk for the Erie Railroad to falsify records concerning brass fittings in September 1904.

The Erie Railroad began closely inspecting the books in the first months of 1905, leading to Harry J. Ort's confession.  The fake numbers resulted in Lowenstein's pocketing an extra $1,270 in the deal.  Both men were held on $2,000 bail.  Unfortunately for Ort, his clerk's salary left him in less comfortable circumstances than his wealthy cohort.  The Times ended the article saying "Lowenstein sent his check for $2,000 to the City Chamberlain's Office and went back to his office, while Ort was locked up."

Loretta was the first of the sisters to marry.  Her wedding to Arthur Wallace in the Louis XVI Room of the St. Regis Hotel on November 25, 1909 was a glittering affair.  The Times reported "The wedding ceremony was held under a canopy of chrysanthemums, lilies, and palms, and at dinner after the reception in the marble banquet room the bride sat at a heart-shaped table strewn with white roses."

The family was back at the St. Regis for Carrie's marriage to Harry Groedel on February 21, 1918.   Emma, however, would never be married.  She died on January 2, 1923 while on a New Year's visit to Carrie's home in Newark, New Jersey.

The following year the Lowensteins moved to an apartment on West 110th Street.  No. 5 East 93rd Street became home to the Ryder Henry family.

A Baltimore native, Henry was relatively unknown in New York society at the time of his wedding in 1907.  The same could not be said of his bride, Louise Frelinghuysen Jackson, daughter of the wealthy William Henry Jackson and the former Mathilde Bruce Reynolds Jackson.  Her mother had been presented to Queen Victoria as a debutante.

The marriage took place in the Jackson mansion at No. 556 Madison Avenue, just off the corner of 56th Street.   The guest list that afternoon included names like Shepard, Livingston, and Van Rensselaer.

Henry's pedigree, nevertheless, could compete with his bride's.  He was a direct descendant of the 18th century governor or Maryland, John Henry.  His brother, Clement, married Louise's sister, Adelaide,  When the couple named a son Ryder Henry, it sowed the seeds of confusion in society columns years later.  Ryder's nephew was always referred to as Ryder Henry 2d as he earned social recognition.

Ryder and Louise would have two children.  Louise Frelinghuysen Henry was, obviously, named after her mother; while John Campbell Henry shared his name with his grandfather and great-great grandfather.

Louise's debutante luncheon on November 29, 1927 was far too large for the 93rd Street house to accommodate.  It was held in the Louis XVI ballroom and the Tapestry Room of the Park Lane Hotel.  Her mother scored a social coup when The Times led its listing of guests with nobility: the Countess Alexandrine von Beroldingen.  (Although born in New York City, she carried her ancestral German title, highly impressive to Manhattan socialites.)

The mother and daughter were soon hosting together.  The New York Times announced on November 13, 1928 "Mrs. Ryder Henry and Miss Louise Frelinghuysen Henry of 5 East Ninety-third Street will give a luncheon at the Park Lane on Nov,. 27 for Miss Alexandra Diodati Gardiner, debutante daughter of Mrs. Robert Alexander Gardiner."

The Henry family summered, most often, in Easthampton, and routinely appeared in the society pages rubbing shoulders with the elite.  Louise enjoyed a privileged upbringing, attending the exclusive Miss Nightingale's School, and then St. Timothy's School in Catonsville, Maryland.  As would be expected, she was now a member of the Junior League.

The heiress was, however, apparently in no great hurry to marry.  While other young women in her class often wed a year or two after their debuts, Louise's engagement to F. Douglass Clark was not announced until September 25, 1934. 

The wedding on November 28 that year drew headlines.  "Miss Louise Henry Wed in St. Jame's" announced The Times, with a sub-headline "Church is Massed in Blooms."  After a detailed description of the event, the guests, and the outfits, the article reported "The ceremony was followed by a reception at the home of the bride's parents, 5 East Ninety-third Street, which like the church was decorated with palms and chrysanthemums."

Four years later, after suffering an extended illness, Ryder Henry died on October 2, 1938.  He was buried in Cambridge, Maryland.

Louise and her son, who had attended the Berkshire School in Massachusetts, lived on in the house.  When World War II erupted, John Campbell Henry served with an Army anti-aircraft unit in Europe with the rank of lieutenant.  His impressive family background earned him memberships in the Colonial Lords of Manors, the Huguenot and St. Nicholas Societies.

His marriage to Margaret Riker Post on June 11, 1949 in the Church of the Incarnation was a significant social event.

The aging Louise was alone in the 93rd Street house and invited her spinster sister, Margaret Augusta Jackson, to live with her.  Margaret was proud of their lineal descent from French and Dutch settlers.  She had been a member of the Huguenot Society since 1893; serving as its secretary for three decades.  She also served as director general of the Daughters of the Holland Dames, and was a life member of the Colonial Dames of America.

Despite her advanced age, she seemed indefatigable.  She maintained her role as an officer in the Home Garden Society and a registrar of the Colonial Lords of the Manor.  For 35 years she served as secretary for the Society for the Relief of Poor Widows and Small Children.

But Louise would be alone again in 1952 after her 91-year old sister died in the house on January 14.  Nevertheless she remained here until her own death on April 24, 1965 at the age of 93.


The house became the "upper school" of the Columbia Grammar School.  The school was founded in 1764 in a one-room house by the Battery.  The lower school was housed a block away at Nos. 22-28 West 94th Street.

The mansion was returned to a single family home in 1998.  It was purchased in 2002 for $4.25 million by floral designer Lynn Jawitz who, according to Curbed New York, "set about sprucing it up with marble columns, a royal palace's worth of ornamental molding, and many different patterns of floor."

The Versailles-like parlor floor rooms (top) are Jawitz's creations.  photo via Curbed New York
Jawitz put redecorated mansion back on the market in 2011 for $24.5 million.   Perhaps her decorating scheme (resulting in what Curbed New York called a "medieval fairy tale townhouse") was a bit aggressive for buyers, and in 2014 the price was reduced to $20 million.

The Henry mansion is the last of the row to retain its original stoop (the stoop at No. 11 was recreated in 2011).  Outwardly it is little changed, thanks in a great part to the Henry family's four decade ownership.

non-credited photographs by the author

Friday, November 17, 2017

The 1828 Jacob Bogert House - 39 Barrow Street


photograph by the author

Charles Oakley was busy constructing houses along Reason Street (named in honor of Thomas Paine's 1794 The Age of Reason) in the mid 1820s.  In 1826 he completed Nos. 47 and 49 and in 1828 added Nos. 39 through 45.  Already locals had corrupted Reason to Raisin Street and that same year Reason Street was renamed Barrow Street.  Artist Thomas Barrow, who had depicted Trinity Church in 1807, received the honors.

It appears that Oakley made deals with craftsmen; for apparently they either invested in the project, or they received discounted prices on the houses in exchange for work.  As a result the new buildings became home to masons, carpenters and stone cutters--like carpenter Jacob Bogert who moved into No. 39.  (The stone cutter Abraham Bogert who also worked on the houses was most likely a relative.)

Three bays wide, his house was two and a half stories tall above a shallow basement level.  A brownstone stoop let to the narrow entrance, adorned only by a small transom.  The Flemish bond red brick was trimmed in plain brownstone lintels and sills.  The peaked roof would have been pierced by one or two dormers.

On November 3, 1854 Joseph G. Warner moved into No. 39 Barrow Street.  His timing was bad in terms of the State and City elections that year.  Exactly one week later he walked to the polls to vote.  The inspectors told him he was ineligible to vote, because he had just moved into the district.

Warner was not pleased.  The New York Times reported that he "remonstrated" with the inspector and insisted that his lawyer had assured him he "had a perfect right to vote," because he had lived in the state for a year and in the county for four months.  "The appeals of Mr. Warner made no impression upon the Inspectors," said the newspaper.

Furious, Warner headed to the Second District Police Office and complained to Justice Meech.  Warner had presented an interesting conundrum.  While, on one hand, he had just moved into the Fourth District; on the other the law declared it "a misdemeanor for Inspectors of Election to refuse the deposit of a legal ballot from a legal voter."

Because of Warner's complain, three inspectors were arrested.  On November 11, 1854 The Times noted they were awaiting a hearing.  "The punishment for this offence is left at the discretion of the Court; being imprisonment for one year, or a fine of not less than $250."  It was the first case of its kind and the newspaper was sure that the "inquiry will probably excite considerable interest among politicians and citizens generally."

The fiery Joseph G. Warner was gone from Barrow Street by 1861 when David Groesbeck was living here.  He worked in the Hall of Records as the First Auditor in the Metropolitan Police Department's Board of Finance.  In December 1863 he received a raise, bringing his salary up to $2,000 per year (just under $39,500 today).  But he was disgruntled about the back pay the city still owed him.

Since 1859 he had been performing "extra services," apparently what would be termed overtime today.   He had petitioned the Board of Aldermen for his back pay in February 1863, but that petition "was referred to the Committee on Finance."    Finally, on December 13 he received $2,460 which represented the "extra services rendered in the Auditing Bureau" during the years 1859 through 1862.

It may have been that sizable windfall--equal to more than a year's pay--that prompted Groesbeck to move.  Only four months later he sold everything in the house.  His advertisement on April 28, 1864 offered "Beds, bedding crockery, table linen, towels, looking glasses, pictures, mantel ornaments, &c., for sale cheap, in good order.  Second hand dealers need not apply."

It was most likely James D. McClelland, a lawyer, who raised the attic to a full third floor within the next few years.  The renovation was done prior to July 29, 1870 when an advertisement in The New York Herald offered "A second or third floor to let--unfurnished, in a private house, where there are no children."

On March 13, 1873 McClelland sold the house to Amos Jean and his wife, Rosina.  They paid $4,100 (or about $84,800 in today's dollars).  The couple took out a $3,000 mortgage to buy the property.  They continued to rent rooms, and on May 8, 1874 offered "furnished--large front room and pantry in a quiet house...also a small room; excellent neighborhood."

The designation of a "front room" was important to potential renters.  Unlike a "hall room," it would have a window and therefore light and ventilation.

When the Jeans sold No. 39 in January 1891, the buyer was, somewhat surprisingly, James D. McClelland, who now lived just two houses away at No. 43. He spent $6,500 to regain the house, which he leased to John F. Neilson, a City Marshal.  Just two months later a fire broke out in the house; but the damage was minor and Neilson continued to live here.

Neilson was involved with Tammany Hall politics, a fact that tainted his reputation in the eyes of some journalists.  After City Marshal Henry J. Spink was killed in a train accident in Sheepshead Bay in June 1893, Neilson was appointed to replace him.  The Evening World commented "Neilson held the same office before.  He is one of Police Justice 'Barney' Martin's henchmen in the Eighth District...Neilson will be attached to the Third District Civil Court, in the Jefferson Market building."

'Barney' Martin, was, incidentally, Justice Bernard F. Martin.  He had been partners with "Red" Leary and his wife, Kate, in a saloon, described by Abram C. Bernheim as "the resort of the most disreputable classes in the community."   And Tammany Biographies published by The New York Evening Post in 1894 added "'Red' Leary was the most notorious burglar in the country, and Kate probably the most famous pickpocket in the world."  The trio had lived together above the saloon.

Later that year, in November, Martin advertised "hall rooms, nicely furnished, $1.50."  The weekly rent would be equal to about $43 today.  Among those living here in 1896 was William McClelland, apparently the son of Neilson's landlord.  It is most likely no coincidence that the young McClelland landed a job as a clerk in the Third Judicial District Court--the same location where John F. Neilson served as City Marshall.

It is unclear when Neilson left the Barrow Street house.  On July 1, 1910 James D. McClelland (still living at No. 43 Barrow) sold the house to Bridget McDonald.   At least twice she leased the house--in August 1919 to Jane Herder, and in November 1921 to Catherine McCabe.

It was purchased by Marie Louise and Julius Goebel in 1936.  Immediately Marie Louise involved herself in neighborhood activities.  She opened what one newspaper described as her "100-year-old house and garden" for the Greenwich House Garden Tour in 1937, arranged by Mrs. J. G. Phelps Stokes.  She participated in the event every year until 1940.  In 1939 she installed a "studio for sculpturing" in the rear.

The following year Julius Goebel died.  A few months later, in April 1941, Marie Louise leased the house to Bertha Brainard; then sold it in 1945 to Ruth Neinson.

No. 39 has remained a single-family residence.  It sits on a block emblematic of Greenwich Village charm, perhaps best described by the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1969 when it said "The warm quality of brick creates an atmosphere for this street."

photograph by the author

Thursday, November 16, 2017

A Downtown Treasure, The National City Bank Building - 55 Wall Street



Photographer Irving Underhill captured this shot of an eerily-empty Wall Street.  From the collection of the Library of Congress

At 2:30 on the afternoon of December 17, 1835 Samuel Swartwout, Collector of the City of New York, wrote a startling letter to a member of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.  It began:

Dear Sir--Last night, between eight and nine o'clock, a fire broke out near the Merchants' Exchange, and is still raging most violently...By this disastrous visitation, between four and five hundred buildings have been destroyed, and goods and other effects, to the amount of fifteen to twenty millions of dollars.  This calamity falls principally upon the heavy importing merchants; and they must unquestionably become greatly embarrassed, and many of them ruined.

Those merchants relied heavily on the Merchants' Exchange building for holding meetings, conducting business, auctioning properties and goods, and related functions.  With its destruction, Swartwout quickly arranged temporary quarters and plans were laid for a new structure.

The original Merchants' Exchange was a casualty of the 1835 Great Fire of New York --King's Handbook of New York (copyright expired)
About two months following the fire The Herald announced "It is intended, if practicable, that the new Merchants Exchange shall occupy the whole block, bounded by Exchange street, Wall, William and Exchange Place."  

Interestingly, on May 3, 1836 the South Carolina newspaper, the Cheraw Gazette, announced "John Haviland, Esq. of Philadelphia, has received the first premium for a plan of the new Merchants Exchange, New-York.  The cost of the building, exclusive of the ground, will be about $300,000."  It is unclear whether the newspaper simply received erroneous information or if Haviland's undertaking merely fell apart.  In either case, it was architect Isaiah Rogers who took on the project.

Rogers was among the foremost architects of the time.  He had recently completed designs for the massive Astor House Hotel nearby on Broadway; and was at work on the plans for the Bank of America at No. 44 Wall Street, also destroyed in the fire.   Both of those buildings would employ classic Greek columns in their designs.

Rogers's nearby Bank of America building, completed in 1836, featured two massive Greek columns. The Bank of America: A Brief Account of an Historic Financial Institute, 1918 (copyright expired)
Considering the fate of its predecessor, Rogers was tasked with designing a "fire-proof" building.  His gray granite structure, which took six years to complete, would indeed be hard to burn.  The New-York Tribune noted its "partitions, floors and walls being all of stone."

The finished building was a stately Greek Revival edifice with a free-standing order of monolithic two-story Ionic columns at the second floor.  Each column was 3 feet in diameter, nearly 30 feet tall, and weighed more than 33 tons.  According to The New York Times, they "were hauled up Wall Street, one at a time, by teams of forty spanned oxen."

The architect topped the structure with a massive iron dome.  Its oculus allowed sunlight into the large rotunda.

An 1858 engraving shows the iron dome and a sedate Wall Street.  Rogers's building bore a striking resemblance to LaGrange Terrace, or Colonnade Row, completed a few years earlier.  from the collection of the New York Public Library
Even though the building was still under construction, tenants had begun moving in as early as 1839.  Among them were several fire insurance firms, including the Seventeenth Ward Fire insurance Company, the Hartford Fire Insurance Company, and the Merchants' Fire Insurance Company.   Broker Myer Levy established his office here in 1839, the same year his speculations for a client resulted in an violent encounter.

At noon on December 20 Levy was walking back to the Merchants Exchange from a meeting of the Board of Brokers.  The Morning Herald (which commented that women found Levy to be "very handsome looking") reported he was ambling along "with his book under his arm, and his thoughts on the rise and fall of stocks" when Emanuel B. Hart approached.

The newspaper said Hart then produced "a very respectable cowskin [and] gave Mr. Levy a smart blow across the most classical portion of his nose.  At this sudden attack, the fire flew from his eyes and the blood from his nose."  The two well-dressed and respectable businessmen engaged in fisticuffs, creating "as great a sensation in Wall street as the arrival of the British Queen."

It had all started when Levy purchased disastrous stocks for Hart.  When Levy demanded the $400 owed him, Hart requested time to obtain the funds.  The broker threatened to report him as a defaulter and "put your name in the Black Book."  Hart retorted that "If you do I'll cowhide you."  Both men fulfilled their promises.

Among the tenants in 1843 was the young attorney John Jay, who had graduated from Columbia College in 1836.  He was the namesake of his grandfather who was President of the First Congress and first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. 

The first hints at financial problems for the Merchants' Exchange Company, owners of the building, came in February 1852 when an announcement appeared in The New York Times.  The group was looking for an $800,000 loan, secured by the mortgage to the building.  The massive amount would be equal to about $25.6 million today.  The statement declared that the current rental income was $65,000 and "it is presumed that is can be increased" to $90,000.

But the desperate attempt came too late.  "After every effort had been exhausted to redeem it from the sheriff's hands," according to The New York Times on May 11, 1852,  the Merchants Exchange building was sold at auction.  Called by the newspaper "one of the grandest structures in the United States"--its shocking-low winning bid was $805,000, or "two-thirds its estimated value." 

Despite the change in ownership (the new organization was the New York Exchange Company), business inside the building went on unchanged.  For years real estate auctioneers like Anthony Bleecker and A. H. Muller conducted sales of estates and properties within the building; and Simeon Draper held semi-weekly auction sales of stocks and bonds. 

The large meetings of merchants routinely held in the rotunda dealt with issues which potentially affected commerce.  Such was the case on December 16, 1853 when about 300 businessmen assembled to discuss the problem of "Harbor Encroachments."  A sudden rash of private docks threatened to obstruct harbor traffic and, consequently, with business.  The men pressed for the "appointment of Commissioners to fix a permanent shore line."

In 1862 the Merchants Exchange left its granite headquarters, which then became home to the United States Custom House.  The move came at a tenuous time; one when the suggestion of corruption within the Custom House was rampant.   On February 7, 1863 The New York Herald wrote "For some time past we have heard much upon the subject of gross frauds said to have been committed by Custom House officers."   With the nation engaged in civil war, the newspaper noted that the nerves of citizens were on edge and officials needed to act.  "The anxiety felt about this matter should be cleared away by an official expose of the whole affair.  These are times when it is dangerous to tamper with the people."

Although the 1871 depiction of the Custom House appears to show a missing dome, an etching of the rotunda that same year confirms that it was intact.  images from the collection of the New York Public Library
Familiar faces continued to lease space within the building.  In 1864 at least five insurance company, including four fire insurance firms, shared the address with the Customs House.  And Simeon Draper who had for years auctioned stocks and bonds in the Merchants Exchange, now held the position of Collector of the Port.  That ended in scandal, however, following a visit by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1865.

On August 16 that year The New York Herald reported "Political circles in this city have been in the greatest ferment since the announcement of the removal of Simeon Draper from the position of Collector of the Port."  The President intended to stamp out corruption and Draper and his cohorts were on his hit list.  The Herald commented "With this removal the President has ripped up a most formidable cabal."

But corruption was a recurring scourge within the Custom House.  It would once again find itself in the sights of a Government clean-up in the summer of 1873.  On August 15 The New York Herald reported "Yesterday was a 'Black Friday' in the annals of the New York Custom House.  That stately and imposing building was swarming from the hour when business commenced in the morning till dusk with half-crazed inspectors and other outside officials of the Custom House, who were led to visit headquarters by the rumor that an investigation was pending before Assistant Secretary of the Treasury."   The federal investigators were on their way "in regard to some huge frauds, alleged to have been committed by various Custom House officials, numbering in all from seventy to ninety persons."

Top-hatted businessmen conduct business within the Custom House's stately rotunda.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

The newspaper said "It is impossible to describe the paralysis of terror depicted on the faces of the swarms of office-holders who thronged the corridors, passages and anterooms of the big building attendant on this rumor of probable decapitation and criminal exposures."

By 1896 it was obvious that the old granite building was no longer adequate for the Customs House.  In January that year two congressmen had opposing opinions regarding a solution.  Representative Quinn introduced a bill in the House for "reconstruction and renovation of the present Custom House building."  Representative Low had already introduced a bill for the erection of a new building on Bowling Green.

The Customs Collector Kilbreth had already met with architects McKim, Mead & White.  The firm directed the construction firm of Norcross Brothers to assess the possibility of remodeling and adding floors to the aging structure.  Their report, made public on January 17, 1896, concluded "To enlarge the building and to make it perfectly safe...it must be practically rebuilt" and doubted that it would "be either economical or wise to do this."

Three years later the magnificent Cass Gilbert designed Custom House neared completion at No. 1 Bowling Green.  On January 29, 1899 the New-York Tribune rejoiced over the coming move from Wall Street, writing "few tears will be shed over the abandonment of the dark, dirty structure."

There was at least one man who did not share the newspaper's opinion of the stately structure.  James Stillman was president of the National City Bank, located across the street at No. 52 Wall.  On July 3, 1899 the bank paid the Department of the Treasury more nearly $3.3 million for the old Customs House.  The New-York Tribune noted that the bank's directors had "the ambition" of making it the American counterpart to the Bank of England.  "This purpose is generally understood to have been the leading motive which impelled the National City Bank to purchase the Custom House."

On December 2 Stillman held a stockholders' special meeting.  The agenda included "payment for an improvement of the old Custom House property."   Despite the earlier opinion of the Norcross Brothers, the bank went back to McKim, Mead & White in 1904 to carry out those renovations.

McKim, Mead & White staff architect Louis H. Dreyer produced a rendering of the renovations.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

In a remarkably sympathetic and seamless renovation, the architects added four stories.  A second colonnade, this one Corinthian, perfectly aligned with Rogers's original.  Already classic, the renovations made the building monumental.  Inside the architects completely redesigned the rotunda, creating a classical Roman environment later echoed in their Pennsylvania Station and the Main Post Office.

photo by Wurts Bros, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

At the time of the building's remodeling banks relied heavily on messenger boys whose extremely low rate of pay was equal to their skill level.  One, a 17-year old named Benson Lang, would make national news after he headed off to the National City Bank on Friday, February 4, 1910.

The following day the Washington D.C. Evening Star reported "the ticker startled hundreds of business offices today and set a small army of messenger boys on a fruitless quest with this laconic announcement: 'Lost, a ten-thousand dollar bill.  Notify Hornblower & Weeks.'"

Lang had been employed by the banking house of Hornblower & Weeks for about four months when he was handed the rare $10,000 bill (there were only about 20 in circulation at the time) and the company's pass book and sent to the bank to deposit it.   But when he arrived at National City Bank, the bill was gone.

As he explained later "I never had seen so much money in one bill before and I couldn't help showing it, first to the elevator man then to another bank runner, and thirdly to a Greek bootblack, who has a stand in front of the building.  I let him handle it and hold it up to the light.  He didn't believe it could be real.  He gave it back to me, I put it into the pass book, put the pass book in my overcoat pocket and hurried to the bank."

According to the teen, he was so stunned by the loss that he wandered the streets all day until nightfall looking for the bill.  Afraid to tell his employers, he went home.  He told his mother what had happened and the following day she accompanied him to Hornblower & Weeks.

While the loss of the bill was substantial--more than $260,000 in today's dollars--it was doubtful that it could be used.  The New York Tribune pointed out two days later "It would seem prudent for the next few days not to present a certificate of that denomination in payment of any merchandise, as all such bills will in the nature of the case, be under some suspicion."

Three days after the incident, Benson Lang was behind bars in The Tombs with his bail set at $10,000--the exact amount of the lost bill.   On February 18 the Ohio newspaper The Democratic Banner reported that his lawyer "pointed out that his client had been afflicted by attacks of aphasia with complete temporary loss of memory."  His employers had another opinion entirely.  "It has been asserted by members of Hornblower & Weeks that young Lang fell into the hands of a gang of gamblers through a woman's influence."

National City Bank leased office space in the building.  Among the tenants around the time of Benson Lang's felony were the brokerage firms of Mackay & Co., and Colgate Hoyt & Co.  

The law firm of Shearman & Sterling was also located in the building.  John W. Sterling handled the affairs and estates of millionaires in the United States and abroad.   When Baron Strathcona died in London in May 1914, for instance, his $23.25 million estate was executed by Sterling.  And four years later when National City Bank president James Stillman died, it was Sterling who handled the $20 million estate.  (Newspapers were somewhat shocked that he left his entire fortune to his family, The Evening World noting "Nothing was left to charity.)

When John W. Sterling died in 1921, his will was significantly more philanthropic.  The New York Times announced "He provided for the erection of several memorial buildings for his Alma Mater, Yale; scholarships, library, laboratories, &c., all of which will represent an expenditure of probably $20,000,000."

Every year the gloom of the Great Depression temporarily disappeared below the grand dome of the rotunda as the National City Bank held its Christmas party.   In 1937, for instance, all 6,000 employees of the bank's 74 offices gathered here.  On December 22 The Times reported "The City Bank Club Choral Society of 125 voices will sing Christmas carols to the accompaniment of an electric organ.  The program will be broadcast over WHN.  The decorations include a 50-foot Christmas tree."

Even before the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, American boys abandoned their jobs to joining the military.  It caused a severe shortage in the workforce and National City Bank met the problem head on by hiring women as messengers.  On August 6 that year The New York Times reported on the 60 "girl runners" in language which would be deemed inexcusably sexist today.

Faced with a shortage of qualified young men for page boys, messengers, and runners, the bank turned six months ago to the feminine field.  From it was gleaned a photogenic group of high school girl graduates who now 'wouldn't give up' their jobs "for anything"--except marriage...Five suburban "glamour girls" combined the intricacies of banking with a few remarks about their 'really nice' men associates in a description of their work.

In 1957 the bank re-hired McKim, Mead & White to modernize the building at a cost of $912,000.  Included in the project was the installation of a two-story safe deposit vault that weighed more than 1,400,000 pounds.  The Times reported on November 27 "Men with hydraulic drills raised fearful clatter on the world's largest banking floor--it is 188 feet long, 124 feet wide, with a reach of 72 feet to [the] roof of the great Pantheon-type dome put up in 1842."   It took days to lower the massive steel vault into place on hydraulic jacks, the same "used to underpin the White House in Washington when it was made over a few years ago," said the newspaper.

Other renovations included an escalator to reach the banking floor.  The Times added "The grim old brick-arched cells in the basement, used by the Customs people from 1863 to 1899 as a lock-up for pirates, smugglers and other interesting male-factors, may be done over too.  Now they're used mainly for utilities and for storage."

Luckily, because the bank had again chosen McKim, Mead & White, the classical facade was preserved and the magnificent interiors were not significantly altered.  Nevertheless, eight years later when the building was being proposed as a New York City landmark, the bank bristled.  Spokesman John A. Wilson remarked "We are not Philistines," but insisted that the building was just "one example of Greek architecture...Certainly not all present examples of Greek architecture in our city are to be preserved--only...the finest.  And, in our opinion, our head office building is not in the elite category."

Despite the bank's opposition, the exterior of the building was designated a landmark on December 21, 1965, the Landmarks Preservation Commission calling it "one of the few truly monumental Classical buildings of this city."

In 1979 the bank, now named Citibank, remodeled again.  The interiors were not yet landmarked and could potentially have been destroyed by modernization.   Instead, in what architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable called "another laudable action," the exterior was cleaned and restored and the interiors converted to a public banking facility "within the framework of a historical interior."  In deference to the glorious McKim, Mead & White banking room, the manufacturers of the automated banking machines were asked to specially design the equipment for 55 Wall Street.

Although Huxtable lamented "It would be nice to be able to say that the results are as good as the intentions," the interiors were, nonetheless, preserved.

In the spring of 1990 Citibank sold the historic structure to foreign investors for $69.1 million.  Luckily, according to a lawyer for the buyers, "They think it's a fine structure, a fine piece of Americana.  They intend to maintain it."

photograph from the collection of the Library of Congress

Oddly enough, the building sat almost empty for nearly a decade.  In October 1994 real estate operator Raymond T. O'Keefe explained "It's unusual, it's unique, but what can you do with it?  Banks no longer need grandiose space, retailers don't like space that's tucked away, and the office floors just don't divide well."

It seemed the building would be purchased in September 1996 when Donald J. Trump boasted he had negotiated "a bargain" price for the property at $20 million.  He declined to say what exactly what his plans for the site were; but was "in discussions with House of Blues, Planet Hollywood, the Hard Rock Cafe and Virgin Records."  With his customary use of superlatives, he told Robert D. McFadden of The New York Times "It's one of the easiest to rent that I've ever seen because it is one of the most beautiful buildings...It's truly one of the most magnificent structures in the world."

Then, on May 28, 1997, The Times reported "Four months after Donald J. Trump walked away from buying 55 Wall Street, a subsidiary of the investment bank that was to have financed his purchase of the historic building has bought it."

The Cipriani family, owners of Harry's Bar in Venice and two restaurants in New York City, announced it would open a luxury hotel and banquet hall in the building.  Giuseppe Cipriani told reporters "It'll be the most exclusive hotel in America, with the most gorgeous banquet hall."

The renovation by Michael Gadaleta of MG Architects resulted in a 30,000-squre foot banquet hall and the 144-room all-suite Regent Wall Street hotel.  Unfortunately the aftermath of the World Trade Center attack dealt a fatal blow to the hotel.   On December 18, 2003 The Times explained "It is a victim not only of the attack on New York--through which it resolutely stayed open, sheltering and feeding victims, workers and neighbors--but of an economy that was souring even before Sept. 11, 2001."  The Regent Wall Street closed on January 7, 2004.

photograph by Charles Heckler, via mgnewyork architects.com

Today, following a 2017 conversion, the upper floors contain 106 furnished condominium apartments known as the Cipriani Residences.  The grand banking hall (designated a landmark in 1999) is still home to the Cipriani restaurant.

many thanks to reader Peter Alsen for suggesting this post.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Sullivanesque 9-11 East 16th Street





Architect George W. Maher told the Chicago Architectural Club in March 1906, “If the architecture of this country is to be kept from going to the bow-wows, in which direction it is headed just now, Chicago must do it.… New York and other cities which architecturally speaking, [have] bound the United States on the east, are powerless to take the initiative.  They are to be rescued.”

Chicago architect Louis Sullivan was way ahead of Maher.   He had been changing the face of American architecture for years with his innovative forms and decoration.   And his new direction was not overlooked by New York architect Louis Korn.

A decade before Maher's comments the conversion of the East 16th Street block between Fifth Avenue and Broadway from a residential to commercial neighborhood was in full swing.    Early in 1895 developers Gutwillig Bros. and Jacob Hirsch purchased the four-story house at No. 11 East 16th Street, then quickly resold it to builder Martin Johnson.  Johnson commissioned Louis Korn to design the 25-foot wide building.  On March 2 the Record & Guide said the plans for the $50,000 building "call for all [the] latest improvements."

Within the month Gutwillig Bros. and Hirsch bought the house next door, at No. 9 and announced their intentions to "erect a companion building" to Johnson's.   But, instead, Johnson acquired that property as well and before long his project had doubled in size.

Completed in 1896, Louis Korn's remarkable loft and store building clearly showed the influence of Louis Sullivan--particularly in the carved stone and terra cotta ornamentation.   The muscular stone piers of the ground floor were capped with ornately-carved Romanesque capitals.  The second story openings sat within the architectural equivalent of Victorian picture frames that must have kept stone carvers busy for months.  The fourth through sixth floors. clad in brick and terra cotta, offered a visual bounty.   The swirling decoration of the three-story engaged columns alternated from spiraling lines to clinging vines.  The arcaded seventh floor was topped with a pressed metal cornice with a deep frieze of roundels.



On April 30, 1896 The American Stationer reported "The new building at 9-11 East Sixteenth street, New York, is fast filling up with tenants, so far exclusively with those connected with the stationery and book trades."  

And indeed, all the tenants that spring were either publishers or involved in the office or school supplies trade.   Among them was the Milton Bradley Company which had moved from Astor Place the month before.   The company not only manufactured the board games for which it is so famous today, but children's art supplies.  Leach, Shewell & Sanborn published school and college text books.

Also in the building by the time of the article were publishers Merrill & Baker and Perkins & Hovendon; and office supplier Edward Todd & Co. which manufactured items like gold pens.  The H. P. Smith Publishing Company was here, too.  It published the Educational System of Penmanship and dealt in school and business pens, and school compasses.  And H. M. Caldell Co., another publishing firm, had moved in by now.  In April 1986 Publishers' Weekly  noted that the firm was preparing "numerous series" of books.

from The Publishers' Weekly, February 1, 1902 (copyright expired)

Like H. M. Caldell Co., F. M. Buckels & Company and R. F. Fenno & Co. published books in series.  The popular method of buying publications in installments made book-buying more affordable to middle class families.   In 1902 F. M. Buckles published George Ethelbert Walsh's novel, Allin Winfield: A Romance in 12 issues, each costing $1.50.   Simultaneously R. F. Fenno & Co., founded by Robert F. Fenno in 1894, published the series of dime novels, The Idle Hours.

In May that year publishers Gustav E. Stechert offered the Libraries of Greater New York.  The guidebook included 350 libraries, including branches, and provided "location, history, and regulations of each library."   Most likely assuming the guide would be carried around, the publishers offered it only with soft covers.  The cost was 75 cents for cloth cover and 50 cents for paper.


The second floor show windows resemble of side-by-side picture frames.
Also in the building in 1902 was the publishing firm of Grosset & Dunlap, founded in 1898.   In 1903 it would publish the first of its series of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries that would be one of the company's mainstays for decades.

Grosset & Dunlap published The Hound of the Baskervilles in 1903, the first of the string.
The days when employees enjoyed two-day weekends were still far off in 1902 when Samuel A. Jenkins went to work at Grosset & Dunlap on August 2.  But unlike factories and garment shops, publishers enjoyed half-days on Saturdays.  But that day, engrossed in taking stock, Jenkins lost track of time.

Suddenly realizing that he was alone, Jenkins attempted to leave the fifth floor office at around 3:00.  Unnoticed by the other staff, he had been locked in.  With no telephone, he realized he faced the possibility of being trapped until the first workers arrived on Monday morning.

Around two hours later he noticed a small boy playing in the rear yard.  Jenkins got his attention and begged him to find a policeman.  The boy notified Policeman Speeden who came to the rescue.  The New York TImes reported that he "forced an entrance through the basement, got to the freight elevator, ascended to the fifth floor, and after considerable trouble rescued the imprisoned man and brought him down."

By 1904 C. T. Brainard & Co. was operating from the building.   That year it the publisher offered The Theodore Thomas Library of Music in "ten solid volumes," containing "the very best, but not the most difficult music," and an Encyclopedia of Music.  The series was produced in "six large volumes containing a history of music, the biographies of the greatest composers and musicians and a wealth of interesting and instructive facts relating to musical matters."

Merrill, Baker & Co. was still in the building at the time.  Like all publishers of series, or "subscription," books, it heavily relied on door-to-door salesmen, not all of whom were reliable.  In 1903 a salesman was hired to sell subscriptions to a 20-volume work of French memoirs.  The total cost was $240--a substantial $6,750 today.

He sold two sets to Frederick W. Jobelman who had recently opened an office at 80 Wall Street.  Merrill, Baker & Co. sent the books after the first payment was received.  Immediately both the salesman and Jobelman disappeared.  A detective was put on the case.   In mid-September, 1904 an advertisement appeared offering the books at $90 in Wilson & Co's bookstore.  Police arrived and arrested Jobelman on the spot.


A docile-looking lion peers from within the swirling foliate carvings of the capital of the chunky center pilaster on the ground floor.
That year the first hint of a change in the tenant list appeared in Cloaks & Furs.  "Chas. Heineman is receiving his friends at his cloak and suit emporium, 9-11 East Sixteenth street, where he is reiterating his unalterable faith in 'Instep lengths,' the phrase which he himself has made famous in the cloak and suit work."

The store space became home to the floor covering dealers Walker & Heisler on January 1, 1910.  The opening announcement touted its "Cut-Order Departments" which offered "every grade of Carpets and Rugs from the Hartford and Roxbury Mills."  The new, larger showroom space allowed the firm to introduce  the "cutting of Greenwich Inlaid Linoleum."

Five years later Walker & Heisler expanded, leasing the entire building "for many years."  But the firm may very well have over-estimated its success.  Within the year they were gone.

In 1916 Lenz & Nauluan, Inc. took the store and basement.  The firm, which imported and sold scientific apparatus, changed its name that year to the American Apparatus Corporation.  

A 1916 advertisement included a rendering of the building.  Chemical Engineering Catalog, (copyright expired)

The building continued to house an eclectic mix of tenants.    In 1918 A. F. Fondeville & Co., importers of "china, earthenware and glassware, leased a full floor; and by 1921 Hitz, Jacobs & Kassler's showroom and warehouse was here.  It stocked a massive array of toys including dolls, doll carriages, child's furniture, mechanical toys, velocipedes, sleds, and, as an advertisement put it, "Etc., etc., etc."

The building as it appeared in 1921.  Toys and Novelties, January 1921 (copyright expired)
Not all of the old occupants were gone, however.  In 1929 R. F. Fenno & Co. remained, publishing The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam that year.

And the publishing tradition managed to continued.  In 1931 Shulman Printing Company took a floor, and by 1934 The Amerikai Magyar Nepsvana (American Hungarian People's Voice) was being published here.  As a matter of fact, the Press Building Co., Inc. owned 9-11 East 16th Street in 1935 when it made extensive renovations which resulted in printing facilities, composing rooms, and manufacturing space.  But the changes would not last long.

In 1937 the building was converted to classrooms, locker rooms and offices by architect Hugo Taussig for The Delehanty Institute.   Founded by Michael J. Delehanty, the school trained candidates for civil service jobs.  At one point it was estimated that 90 percent of New York's firemen and policemen were educated in The Delehanty Institute.


Korn's intricate details survive even, for the most part, at street level.
With America's entry into World War II, the institute slightly changed course.  On June 14, 1942 The New York Times reported "Three new courses in machine shop maintenance, general machine shop and shop time study and production, to prepare students to take their places in the war effort, have been added by the Delehanty [sic] Institute."

The Army's Quartermaster Purchasing Office shared the building by 1946.  It was here on August 16 that Major General Thomas B. Larkin, Quartermaster General of the Army, examined the newly developed trench coat.  The military's use of the building continued well into the 1950s, with the Army Corps of Engineers occupying space ad well as the Air Force Procurement Office.



It all came to an end in 1992 when the upper floors were converted to apartments by the respected preservation architects Joseph Pell Lombardi.  A rare example of Sullivanesque-style architecture in Manhattan, Louis Korn's striking structure survives wonderfully intact.

photographs by the author