Thursday, March 22, 2018

The 1901 Theodore Luling House - 118 East 70th Street

Theodore W. Luling, born in 1875, was admitted to the banking firm of the Fifth Avenue Trust Co. in 1898.  He was, as well, a director in the large dry goods firm James H. Dunham & Co.   John H. Dunham was the father of Luling's wife, Grace Louise Lathrop Dunham.  The couple were living with the Dunhams in their comfortable rowhouse at No. 37 East 36th Street at the time.

It was most likely the arrival of their first child, Rosamund Elena, on November 23, 1899, that prompted the couple's search for a new home.  In June 1900 they purchased the old three-story brownstone house at No. 118 East 70th Street from the estate of David Babcock. 

The block between Lexington and Park Avenues had recently seen an influx of moneyed families; several of whom transformed the outdated Victorian houses into modern, upscale residences.  The price the Lulings paid for the property, about $660,000 in today's dollars, reflects the growing exclusivity of the block.   As was common at the time, the title was put in Grace's name.

The Lulings hired the architectural team of Trowbridge & Livingston to remodel the house--adding a floor, and expanding the building to the front and rear.  The extensive renovations would cause a standoff of sorts between the architects and the Department of Buildings.

According to the New-York Tribune, "The plans for the improvements were submitted to the Department, and as they called for the practical rebuilding of the structure the architect was told to file plans for a new building."   On September 15 the architects submitted the revised plans--now calling for a completely new structure.

It may be that the Lulings were reticent to advertise what they were paying for what had become an extremely expensive project; but for whatever reason when the Department official asked the Trowbridge & Livingston associate to insert the construction costs, which had been left blank, he refused.  The Tribune reported "He refused to fill in the cost at first, but on being told that his plans would otherwise be rejected he placed the cost at $100."  To this day the construction cost on record for No. 118 East 70th Street is a mere $100.

The 20-foot wide neo-Federal style residence was completed in 1901.  With no stoop hogging real estate, the architects could have pulled the facade to the property line, thereby increasing interior floor space.   Instead they used the former entrance to the basement as a fenced areaway which contributed to the stately tone of the house.

The entrance of the five-story residence sat with a planar limestone base.  Leaded sidelights flanking the single door and an over-sized fanlight admitted sunlight into the foyer.  A full-width iron balcony fronted the pair of French doors at the second floor, the tympana of which were decorated with delicate carved wreaths and ribbons.  Burned headers of the Flemish bond brickwork, splayed lintels and double keystones added to the colonial flavor of the style.  The top floor took the form of a steep mansard above a stone cornice.

It appears that one of Grace's maids came up with a clever way of seeing the world; or at least of getting free passage on a liner.  On June 2, 1902 her advertisement appeared in the New-York Tribune:

Maid--A young, intelligent girl, going to Europe, desires position as maid to ladies or children while crossing.  Apply to H. Sullivan.  118 East 70th-st.

If Miss Sullivan was unsuccessful in finding children to tend to on the Atlantic, she would have had a newborn to take care of on 70th Street.  Theodore Dunham Luling was born on October 30, 1902.

Four months later the Lulings hired architect H. Davis Ives to design a two-story addition in the rear.  This time the architect and the Department of Buildings did not butt heads.  Ives filled in the construction costs at $5,000--around $145,000 today.

The Lulings had a summer estate in Ridgefield, Connecticut when the 70th Street house was constructed.  By 1905 they had a "villa" in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.  And while they continued to maintain that home at least through 1908, on August 6, 1905 The New York Times reported that they were building in Lenox, as well.

"Theodore W. Luling of New York, who last season bought a fine building site on the Cone estate, is preparing to build a costly Summer residence.  Plans have already been prepared.  Mr. and Mrs. Luling are in Stockbridge for the Summer."

Interestingly, while Theodore and Grace were busy with  summer estates and garden parties, they appear to have been highly interested in the education of black children, as well.  At the time both were writing back and forth with Booker T. Washington.  While Washington enjoyed the patronage of several Manhattan philanthropists--John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and Collis Huntington among them--the relationship between him and the Lulings appears have been personal.

Following the formation of the Union of South Africa, E. B. Sargant was appointed South African Commissioner of Education by Lord Milner.  Charged with developing a "system of Public School education among the natives," he turned to Grace Luling to help in connecting with Washington for advice.  Grace enclosed a list of Sargant's questions in a letter to the author and educator, which he answered.   On February 12, 1909 she followed up, sending Washington a letter saying in part that "Mr. Sargant has successfully accomplished this work."

The Lulings sold No. 118 in September 1910 to Francis Leonard Kellogg and his wife, the former Emilie Baker.  The couple paid the equivalent of $1.3 million for the house.

The Kelloggs had three sons and a daughter; Alexander, John, F. Leonard Jr., and Virginia.  F. Leonard Kellogg had graduated from Princeton University in 1894 as an electrical engineer.  By now he managed the Electric Storage Battery Company, and was a member of the prestigious Ivy Club of Princeton, the Union Club and the University Club.

Emilie was an accomplished artist, having studied at the Art Students' League as a teenager.  She now immersed herself in charitable causes, like the vaudeville entertainment at Sherry's in December 1912 for the benefit of the Convalescent Home for Babies.

The Sun reported that one act, which involved children, also relied on Emilie's artistic bent.  "A series of Dickens tableaux in which young people will pose after illustrations of Cruikshank will be given under the direction of Mrs. F. Leonard Kellogg and will be accompanied by English glee songs."

On August 22, 1916 the funeral of Francis's widowed mother, Josephine Kellogg, was held in the house.  Five years later, in November 1921, it was the scene of the funeral of Emilie's father, William Edgar Baker.

Much happier events would come as the children neared adulthood.  The winter season of 1927 saw Virginia's debutante entertainments, the first of which was "a large luncheon," as described in The New York Times on December 9, at the Savoy-Plaza.  The extensive guest list inluded the daughters of some of Manhattan's most prominent families.

Virginia's education reflected her privileged upbringing.  She had graduated from the exclusive Spence School, and later studied at the Miss Sheldon and Miss Nixon's School in Florence, Italy.  Like most debutantes, she was a member of the Junior League.

On June 15, 1928 the house was the scene of a double wedding.  Virginia was a bridesmaid for her cousins Josephine Leonard Kellogg Reeve and Imogen Jewell Kellogg Reeve.  The engagements of sisters had been announced just weeks apart and now they were married together in the Kellogg house.

F. Leonard Kellogg retired in 1929 after two decades with Electric Storage Battery Company.  Two years later, on New Year's Day 1931, he and Emilie announced Virginia's engagement to William Kemble.  The New York Times noted "Both Miss Kellogg and her fiancé come of distinguished ancestry," reminding readers that her great-grandfather was Cornelius Baker, the philanthropist and founder of New York University.

Virginia's wedding took place in Bedford Village, New York, where the family maintained their country home.  It was there on December 20, 1941 that F. Leonard Kellogg died at the age of 74.

Francis L. Kellogg, Jr. would go on to an illustrious career.  He would serve as special assistant to two Secretaries of State, William P. Rogers and Henry A. Kissinger, earning him the title of Ambassador.  He was also chairman of the Executive Committee of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and head of the United States Delegation to the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration in Geneva.

Emlie Kellogg sold the 70th Street house in the mid-1940's.  It was home to Mrs. Charlotte Coursay Kulka in 1948.   She was the victim of 38-year old George Feld, called the "Celluloid Burglar" by newspapers because he favored motion picture actresses as his targets.   He was arrested after breaking into the apartment of actress, comedienne and actress Gertrude Neison on October 16 that year and making off with $10,000 worth of jewelry.   The grand jury charged him at the same time with burglarizing the homes of actress Gene Tierney, Kay Long, and Charlotte Coursay Kulka.

While many of the mansions on the 70th Street block were converted to apartments in latter part of the 20th century, No. 118 remained a private house.  It was purchased by the multi-talented director, screen writer, actor and musician Woody Allen in 2005 for $22.62 million.

Outwardly, the home which the Theodore and Grace Luling never really intended to build essentially unchanged.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Surprising Survival - The 1861 Wedge-Shaped 158 Reade Street

The widening of Reade Street in 1860 mutilated the rectangular plot where the two old buildings at No. 309 Greenwich Street and No. 158 Reade Street had stood.  The Reade Street site was now a pie-shaped wedge that no doubt presented a challenge for the architect designing a replacement building.

Charles G. Carley was, it seems, undaunted by the odd shape of the plot.  Leasing it from the Corley family, he commenced construction of a three-story business building that same year.  Completed in 1861 it was an unpretentious take on the commercial Italianate style.  The simple cast iron storefront was designed to house at least two shops; while the two red brick upper floors held offices.  Brownstone was used in the sills (which sat on tiny stone brackets) and their elliptically arched lintels.  A deeply-overhanging wooden cornice was supported by scrolled brackets.

Little & Sheppard, tobacco merchants, seem to have been the first tenant in the ground floor.  The store was listed here by 1862.  Meanwhile, "attorney and counsellor" William H. Meeks moved into an upper office.

Meeks, who was the son of attorney Joseph Meeks, had practiced law since 1846.  He lived far uptown at No. 112 East 56th Street and had a summer home in Islip on Long Island.  He divided his professional time between law and real estate--routinely placing advertisements for upscale homes for sale.   Visible in politics as well, he was nominated as a candidate for Presidential Elector at the Republican State Convention the same year he opened his Reade Street office. 

Lawyer Charles Denison was listed in the building in 1865.  He very likely worked for Meeks.   That year Morris W. Hanna operated his produce business from the ground floor, most likely having replaced Little & Sheppard who no longer appeared in the city directories here.

Litigants were at times summoned to William Meeks's office to give depositions in upcoming court cases.  In 1874 a bitter battle erupted between George C. Huntington, who owned the building at Nos. 28-30 West Broadway, and a former tenant, James K. Spratt.  When Huntington refused to renew Spratt's lease and, in fact, rented the space to a new tenant, Spratt retaliated by smashing the building's plumbing pipes.

The men received a summons from State Supreme Court Justice A. R. Lawrence which read in part "We command you, that all business and excuses being laid aside, you and each of you appear and attend before William H. Meeks, Esq., at his office, No. 158 Reade street...on the 25th day of July, 1874, at 12 o'clock, in the afternoon, to testify."  The men appeared, but it did not necessarily end well.

Spratt refused to take an oath when Meeks's presented his Bible, and further refused to answer any questions.  Meeks called it "disobedience;" Spratt said he was following his attorney's instructions.  The judge was not understanding and ordered Spratt arrested, brought to the courtroom to give his deposition, and was fined $10 for the court's troubles.

The ground floor spaces continued to house produce businesses.  In 1876 the W. K. Howard & Co. and Arthur Richardson operated here.  Richardson was still here in 1897 when he signed a petition asking the City to established an East River ferry from Market Street to the Wallabout Market in Brooklyn.  The signers assured the Board of Aldermen that the ferry would "facilitate the transaction of our business" while reaping new income for the City.

William H. Meeks was last listed at No. 158 Reade Street in 1890, just short of three decades after moving in.  In 1898 Edward J. Sweeny ran his real estate office upstairs, and the following year commission merchants Goodman & Sons took over the former space of A. Richardson.  The Reade Street neighborhood was quickly becoming the "butter and egg" district and Goodman & Sons's notice in the New York Produce Review on May 3, 1899 noted "we will handle all grades of Butter and Eggs."
The New York Produce Review, November 30, 1898 (copyright expired)
Goodman & Sons was followed by "butter, eggs and poultry" merchants Tancer Bros., first listed in 1908; which was followed by Philip Mandelker, another butter, poultry and egg jobber who moved in in 1915.  Mandelker had barely opened business on Reade Street before he found himself in serious trouble.

On July 14 the United States Attorney ordered 105 cases of "shell eggs" shipped by Mandelker to New Jersey seized and condemned.  He was charged with "adulteration in violation of the Food and Drugs Act," and the complaint alleged "the eggs consisted, in whole or in part, of a filthy, decomposed, and putrid animal substance."  Mandelker pleaded guilty and paid a substantial $1,000 fine--nearly $25,000 today.

Mandelker seems to have learned his lesson.  He remained in business at No. 158 Reade Street into the 1920s, his advertisements in 1922 promising "Absolute Satisfaction Guaranteed."

Butter and eggs jobbers Samuel Pfeiffer and I. Roth were here by 1930 when the industry was terrorized by the mob.  On August 19, 1930 The New York Times reported that a hearing held by the Attorney General the day before had exposed "A widespread organization of 'racketeers, guerrillas and gangsters.'"  Pfeiffer and Roth both testified, despite what the Assistant Attorney General said were definite threats by the mob "to kill any one who persisted in defying the gang's will."

Butter and egg dealers who balked at the mob's price fixing told of having the tires on their delivery trucks slashed and their customers being intimidated to cease doing business with them.  Samuel Horowitz, manager of the 1,000-member Jewish Grocers' Association, said "All of our truckmen, without a single exception, have been threatened with harm."

I. Roth's reluctance to testify prompted Assistant Attorney General William B. Groat, Jr. to ask if he were afraid.  Roth did say that he had been clearly warned against patronizing a Utah egg supplier who refused to work with the mob.

"A few days ago a man I never saw before walked up to my place and told me to stop getting eggs from the Utah outfit.  He told me I was a nice young fellow with a family and 'it would be a shame to get bumped off.'"

Pfeiffer was even less eager to talk.  He pleaded, "I have a wife and children to support and I have to work."  Groat was not all that sympathetic.  "Well, so have the people who buy eggs."

On March 1, 1935 The Times reported that "A triangular parcel at 158 Reade Street, held by the Corley family since 1848, has been sold."  The 75-year old building already showed its age, and the subsequent decades were no kinder.  By the 1970's it was mostly vacant, neglected and abused.

In the mid-1970's things looked bleak for the old structure.  photo by Edmund Vincent Gillon from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York 

But change to the neighborhood was on the horizon as the Tribeca neighborhood changed from produce and eggs to art galleries, restaurants and boutiques.  In 1996 a renovation of No. 158 designed by architect John Petrarca resulted in a single-family home.

The sympathetic treatment of the exterior replaced the decayed cornice and hefty wooden brackets with an appropriate, if more restrained version.  The facade is now painted, and the cast iron storefront filled in with a grid of wood and glass.  The survival of the pie-shaped building is surprising and remarkable.

photographs by the author

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Lincoln's Ghost, A Smuggling Dressmaker, and German Propagandists - 1153 Broadway

The formal opening of the elegant Madison Square Park in 1847 prompted residential development within the surrounding blocks.  Around 1849 or shortly thereafter construction began on No. 1153 Broadway near the southwest corner of 27th Street.   The three-story Italianate-style house-and-store was an ample 24 feet wide.  It was completed by 1851 when Joseph Oatwell listed both his residence and his business here.

Oatwell was described in directories as a "marble cutter," a term which diminished his artistic skills.  His stone carving operation was further up Broadway, at the corner of 35th Street.  The store at No. 1153, his "warerooms," showcased examples of Joseph Oatwell & Son's work, mostly marble mantels.

Respected within the industry, he had been a delegate from New York City to the State Convention of Mechanics in Utica in 1835.  And in 1840, while still located on Sullivan Street, his workers' expert artistry received a silver medal at the American Institute's annual exhibition for "the best chimney piece."

Oatwell had barely set up his operation in the new building when he was sued by a supplier, Dietz, Dietz & Weed.  The problem was that Oatwell had given the firm two promissory notes, totaling $504, or about $16,500 in today's money.  But when his creditors grew impatient for their funds, they took him to court on February 9, 1852.  Oatwell countered that they "had taken them at usurious interest."  The jury was unmoved and ruled for the plaintiffs.

The size of his stone cutting and carving facility was evidenced in 1853 when he offered space for lease there.  "Room to let, with steam power--A good room, 35 by 40 feet, suitable for some light manufacturing business."  Mid-19th century work conditions were reflected in his adding "not extra hazardous."  Those interested were told to inquire a Joseph Oatwell & Son, 1,153 Broadway.

By the spring of 1856 it seems Joseph Oakley was ready to retire.  An auction in the store was held on March 27 to liquidate the stock.  Auctioneers Pells & Co. described the broad range of marbles used in the finished mantels.  "Sale of Marble Mantels by the warerooms of Mr. J. Oatwell, 1,153 Broadway, comprising mantels of Italian statuary, ordinary, veined and sienna, Spanish orocatel, black and gold, Lisbon, American statuary and mosaic marbles."  (The term "statuary marble" referred to high-quality stone like Carrara.)   The announcement added "Many of the mantels are modern designs, and all well executed."

Joseph Oatwell died upstate in Hughsonville, New York seven years later. on February 14, 1863.  His obituary noted simply, "for many years a resident of New-York City."

At the time, wealthy New Yorkers exhibited their culture and refinement by filling their homes with European paintings and sculptures.  Art dealers haunted the auction houses of France and Italy where they purchased artwork--some good, some not--for clients many of whom were more interested in quantity than quality.  For most collectors, the very concept of "American art" was laughable.

But in November 1869 a bold move was made by daguerreotypist Abraham Bogardus when he opened the Bogardus' American Fine Art Gallery.  Bogardus had taken over the entire building at No. 1153.  At its opening Bogardus not only presented American oil paintings; but examples of his photography--an almost entirely new field of art.  Many of the artists were there for the private viewing on the evening of November 15.

The New York Times reported the following day, "The gallery is not a very extensive one, but it contains already about one hundred paintings by native artists."  After mentioning many of the artists and paintings, it focused on three works.  "The most noticeable are William Hart's 'Sylvan Scene, Maine,' and Van Elten's 'Autumn in the Shawangunk Mountains.'  De Haas' 'West Hampton Beach' is also worth of attention, though not one of his best pictures."

Art critics were taken with Maurice Frederick Hendrik de Haas's Westhampton Beach, executed in 1868.
The correspondent from the Rockland County Journal was perhaps more impressed.  He wrote on December 4 "The gallery is laid out in a very tasteful manner and the pictures are well arranged.  The room is well lighted from above by a large skylight, and the artists cannot reasonable complain about their pictures being hung in a poor light."  He, too, picked out William Hart's Sylvan Scene, Maine, "which was painted in his peculiar dreamy style."

Then the writer digressed as he spent as much column space describing the party as he had the artwork.  "In one of the upper rooms tables were loaded with flowers, fruit and all the delicacies of the season.  The most fastidious could find something here to suit his exquisite tastes either in the eating or drinking line.  The punch and the segars were indeed choice and excellent and ample justice was done to both; but they were not in any way used to excess, for the party dispersed about eleven o'clock amid much good feeling and tobacco smoke."

Although neither critic mentioned Bogardus's photography--it may be that that branch of the gallery was not ready yet--it was a major part of the business.  On September 1, 1871 The Photographer's Friend described:  "The first floor is fitted up in superb style.  The front portion is devoted to photographic specimens, stereoscopic views, chromos, engravings, carved goods, artists' fine materials, frames and velvet passepartouts.  On this floor the orders are all received.  Adjoining this salesroom on the same floor is a 'Fine Art Gallery,' filled with the choicest oil paintings by celebrated artists, all framed with elegance and good taste."

The writer was shocked at the prices for some of the paintings.  "Some of these masterpieces are valued at three thousand dollars."  (It was understandable sticker-shock, equal to more than $62,000 today.)

On the second floor were the artists' work rooms where photographs and prints were matted and framed.  The sky-lit third floor held the "operating and printing rooms," and Bogardus's private office.   The extensive operation required a staff of about 20.  The Photographer's Friend ended its article saying "The place has an air of cheerfulness and thrift."
Bogardus produced this rather severe looking selfie.  original source unknown

The same year that Abraham Bogardus opened the Broadway gallery he was called upon by P. T. Barnum to help in a law suit against spirit photographer William H. Mumler.   Mumler repeatedly produced double-exposure photographs of a living sitter with the phantom form of a deceased relative looming behind.  But for Barnum he went too far when he publicized a photograph of former First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln with the ghost of her martyred husband.

Mumler's photograph of Mary Todd Lincoln with the dead President was a sensation - from the collection of the Allen County [Illinois] Public Library

Barnum hired Bogardus to fabricate a portrait of him with the ghost of Abraham Lincoln.  The resulting image was produced in court as evidence.  Although Mumler was not found guilty, it was the end of his career and he died nearly penniless.

Bogardus's image of Barnum and Lincoln -- original source unknown

Bogardus's Fine Art Gallery was gone by 1877 when No. 1153 was owned by "Madam" Eliza Rallings as her upscale dressmaking shop.  She was described by The New York Times as "a fashionable milliner and dress-maker."

Eliza had an secret enemy, possibly a competing dressmaker, who successfully managed to cause her intense grief early in 1878.  Like most modistes, in order to supply expensive gowns to Manhattan's socialites Eliza sailed to Europe to study the newest fashions and, in some cases, bring back items.
As she neared New York harbor on the White Star steamship Adriatic in March, customs agents were waiting.  The Times reported on March 13 that Special Treasury Agent Brackett had "received private information recently" that Eliza "intended to smuggle a large quantity of valuable goods, partly on orders for her customers and partly for sale in her shop."

When her two large "Saratoga trunks" were taken off the ship, she swore a declaration that they contained mostly personal effects, and named a few articles liable to duty.  She was no doubt shocked when, just as her trunks were about to be taken to the Broadway shop, they were seized by Customs officials.

"The scene in the seizure room of the Custom-house yesterday would have driven an average woman mad," said The Times.  The writer was astonished that Eliza had managed to stuff all the items into the two trunks at all.  "In the first place, there were 24 Spring bonnets, evidently of the newest Paris designs.  Certainly nothing like some of them was ever seen in this country before."  There were also "a variety of cloaks and other outer garments" and the writer could not resist mentioning that "One mantilla was perfectly gorgeous."

Then came the dressing gowns, the dresses, the underwear and the rolls of expensive fabrics.  "To give any notion of the style of these dresses would require columns of space," noted article.  The large box of trimmings "alone might turn a town full of women green with envy."  The newspaper estimated the retail valued at upwards of $10,000; more than a quarter of a million dollars today.

While Eliza was hit with $3,500 invoice, her true punishment was worse.  Officials said the goods "will probably b e kept in store a year, until the principal articles are out of fashion."

The bad publicity and the financial loss may have been responsible for Madam Ralling's closing her shop.  The following year she leased the building to J. G. Johnson for $2,500 per year for his furniture store.

Eliza sold No. 1153 to shoe manufacturer and retailer Henry J. Mahrenholz around 1889.  His store offered fashionable men's footwear at prices around $375 a pair today.  Around the time of his opening the Broadway store, Mahrenholz's name became more well-known for his personal problems than his shoes.

The Evening World, December 6, 1889 (copyright expired)
Mahrenholz was a devout Roman Catholic.  His children were educated at Catholic schools, and to ensure his family's sanctified interment, he had purchased several burial plots in the Roman Catholic Calvary Cemetery.  By now four of them held the remains of his first wife and three children.

In the spring of 1889 his daughter, Carrie, "a young lady accomplished and personally attractive," according to The New York Times, fell ill and died.  Her death came so abruptly that there was no time to summon a priest to administer the Last Rites.

Mahrenholz notified an undertaker.  When he learned that Carried had not received the sacraments, he mentioned that there might be a problem getting a permit of burial from the Catholic Church.  Indeed, the Church refused to allow the girl's body to be interred.

Mahrenholz went to Father Ducy of St. Leo's Church the following day; but he was at first avoided, left waiting for "an unreasonably long time," and finally told "you must accept that answer."  Mahrenholz was understandably infuriated.  "My daughter was a spotless as the Virgin Mary, and I should be an inhuman father if I did not feel indignant and incensed at this outrage." 

Carrie received a Protestant funeral and her body was cremated.  Her father went further, telling the managers of the crematorium he wanted all the bodies in the family plot in Calvary to be disinterred and cremated.  He publicly renounced the Pope and the Catholic Church saying the incident "illustrated a narrow, bigoted spirit."

The matter may have ended there if Vicar General Thomas Scott Preston had not tried to discredit Mahrenholz.  He told reporters that Mahrenholz's assertion that he had purchased the Calvary plots was patently untrue, saying "not one foot of ground was ever sold in it from the time it was opened until this day."

Now dishonor had been added to insult and cruelty and Mahrenholz fired back.  "I should have let this matter rest if the Vicar General had not made this public attempt to force a lie down my throat," he responded in his own mini press conference on June 3, 1889.  "He has assailed my veracity and I am ready to meet him with documentary evidence."

With that he produced the contract, dated September 6, 1869, proving his purchase.  "I will leave it to any unprejudiced man as to who is the liar in this controversy."

Henry Mahrenholz was still at No. 1153 Broadway when he was called for jury duty in 1895.  The case involved the death of Bridget Malone on July 25 that year.  The woman was attempting to board a Third Avenue cable car when she fell backwards, hitting her head on the pavement.  Conductor Robert Lawless was on trial for her death.

Mahrenholz was as outspoken in his opinions now as he had been six years earlier.  When Lawless was called to testify in his own defense, he blamed the motorman for the accident.  He claimed he had rung the bell signalling a passenger wanted to board, and when it did not stop, he rang three more times.  The car was still moving when Bridget fell.

Mahrenholz interrupted the court proceedings with his own take.  "You conductors ring too quick, anyhow.  The motorman can't understand you."

Lawless's attorney, H. W. Mayer, asked for Mahrenholz's removal from the jury.  It was a lucky break for the defendant.  The jury ruled that Bridget Malone's death was accidental and Lawless was released.

By 1899 both No. 1151 and 1153 Broadway were owned by Emma A. Hopkins.  The store in No. 1153 was being leased to the floral shop of J. H. Small & Sons.  It was run by John H. Small and John H. Small, Jr., who also had a branch in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and another in Washington DC.

The Washington Times, March 29, 1902 (copyright expired)

The flowers and plants sold by J. H. Small & Sons came from their greenhouses outside Washington.  John H. Small, a pioneer in floral decoration, opened his first store in Washington DC in the 1870s.  John Jr. continued operating all three shops after Small died on February 14, 1909 at the age of 84.

Interestingly, when Emma A. Hopkins died in January 1913, her will demanded that the two Broadway properties be held in trust during the lifetime of her 38-year old son.  She directed that the income from the buildings go to her two grandsons.  This meant that neither building could be sold while J. J. Hopkins was still alive.

In August 1914 Dr. Bernard Dernberg arrived in New York City and within a few days had established the headquarters of the benignly named German Red Cross in the upper floors of No. 1153 Broadway.  The offices were, however, much more malignant.

The war in Europe had erupted two months earlier and before long newspaper reporters and Government officials were closely watching Dernberg's activities and those of other Germans, including Dr. Karl Fuehr and Captain Ewald Hecker.   Eventually the "German Red Cross" was exposed as a propaganda office and German military fund-raising organization.

On July 15, 1918 The New York Times revealed "The whole German propaganda which was put into operation before the European war was a month old, and the purpose of which was to debauch public opinion in the United States in favor of Germany and Austria-Hungary, is one the eve of being exposed."  Deputy Attorney General Alfred L. Becker told reporters "The headquarters of the propaganda machine were at 1,153 Broadway, in the offices of the German Red Cross Commission.

Dernberg had been deported after his attempts to "justify the murder of the passengers on the Lusitania."  In the meantime the German Red Cross had collected an estimated $1,985,000 towards the German war effort.

By then J. H. Small & Son was gone.  In 1916 the Estate of Emma A. Hopkins leased the building to Max Schwarz.  in April that year he commissioned architect Alfred Freeman to do $7,000 in renovations, including the installation of "new fronts" to the store.

In 1920 the telephone had become an essential fixture in offices, hotels and most residences.  To keep up, the New York Telephone Company opened five employment offices in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx, one of which was at No. 1153.  An advertisement on June 12, 1920 was enticing:

Girls Wanted--$15.00 a week to start.  Permanent work.  Regular increases with many opportunities to soon reach earnings of $85 to $100 a month.  Positions open in several departments.  No experience required.

The $15 weekly wages would be equal a yearly salary of a little over $9,500 today.

Emma Hopkins had wanted the side-by-side buildings to remain in her estate for the benefit of her grandsons, and assumed the provisions in her will would ensure that.  She had also assumed, however, that her son would pay the taxes.  He did not.

By December 1938 when the buildings were auctioned off the unpaid taxes had amounted to more than $1.5 million in today's dollars.  The new owner converted the ground floor space to a restaurant, with offices on the upper stories.

The Fifth Avenue neighborhood had suffered by mid-century, with tawdry, small businesses taking the one-upscale shops and offices.  One of the offices in No. 1153 was home to the publishers of the Business Guide at mid-century.  Its advertisements in 1953 touted "Buy from manufacturers, wholesalers, branded merchandise; thousands of items; mail order, direct selling, personal use."

Another tenants was the Broadway Mercantile Corp., importers and wholesalers of cheap novelty items.  In October 1956 it hawked "money-making Christmas Items" like the "fully automatic top squeeze cigarette lighters for $5 a dozen; "teen-age jewelry" at $5 per dozen; and photo ID bracelets for the same price.  "Here is a Real Buy!" screamed an ad in Billboard on October 13, 1956.  "Men's Billfolds.  Smooth Redwood, Tanwood, Alligator and Black Leather."  Those, too, sold for $5 per dozen.

photo via Commercial Observer, July 21, 2015

The remainder of the 20th century was unkind to the embattled little building.  By turn of the century the storefront had been mostly obliterated and garish, clashing vinyl awnings vied for attention.  But the burgeoning, trendy Nomad neighborhood would soon put an end to flashy stores.  The office building build in 1991 directly next door was renovated to the boutique Broadway Plaza Hotel in 2016.

A substantial renovation of No. 1153 began around the same time, completed in 2017.   The frame of the 1916 cast iron storefront has reappeared and the upper stories retain their domestic appearance of 170 years ago.

photograph by the author

Monday, March 19, 2018

The 1910 Wm. Erdmann Mansion - 15 West 68th Street

On New Year's Day, 1899, the banking firm of Asiel & Co., announced that Louis S. Frankenheimer had retired and Siegfried S. Prince and William Erdmann had been admitted as partners.  The two young men joined ranks with two respected. well-known bankers--Elias Asiel and Maurice Seligmann.

In 1909 Erdmann and his wife, the former Julie Price, purchased the property at No. 15 West 68th Street, just steps from Central Park, and hired Buchman & Fox to design a residence that would reflect their substantial wealth.   Best remembered for their handsome commercial buildings, the architects were also responsible for lavish townhouses, like the ebullient Albert Rosenblum mansion at No. 5 East 73rd Street and the Julius S. Ulhman house at No. 24 East 81st; both completed in 1902.

The 68th Street block between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue was lined with speculative brick and brownstone rowhouses typical of the Upper West Side.  But for the Erdmanns Buchman & Fox designed a limestone-faced Beaux Arts confection that would have been more at home on the opposite side of the park.

Completed in 1910, it rose five stories.  A carved cartouche above the double-doored entranced announced the address.  A full-width stone balcony with lavish French-style railings fronted the second floor, or piano nobile (the entertainment level where the drawing room, library and dining room were located).   The French doors were capped by a cornice and triangular pediment overflowing with a cartouche surrounded by oak leaves.  Carved fish-scales spilled over the elaborate keystone.

A narrower but no less extravagant balcony fronted the fourth floor; while a third sat behind a stone balustrade atop the heavy, stone-bracketed cornice.  The top floor took the shape of a slate-shingled mansard with copper-clad dormers.

The couples' names appeared in print most often not because of costly entertainments, but for their numerous philanthropic works.  The year they moved into the 68th Street mansion, for instance, Julie established "perpetual beds" in the Mount Sinai Hospital in honor of her parents, Edward A. and Bertha R. Price.  And when Dayton, Ohio was devastated by the Great Flood of 1913, prompting New Yorkers like Andrew Carnegie to donate $10,000 to relief, William Erdmann joined the New York Stock Exchange's relief committee.

Julie also made news through her athleticism.  The Erdmanns, like many wealthy Jewish families, summered in Deal, New Jersey where they were members of the Hollywood Golf Club.  Julie was an accomplished golfer and routinely played in the invitational tournament for women at the Deal Golf and Country Club.

A recurring house guest at No. 15 West 68th Street was Leila Marie Koerber, better known by her stage name of Marie Dressler.  According to her biographer, Matthew Kennedy, in his 1999 Marie Dressler: A Biography, when she was in New York, "During the workweek she stayed at 15 West 68th Street near Central Park...The neighborhood and building were stately and dignified, with 'no less than three gentlemen of color in livery on guard around the portals.'"

William and Julie would have three children, William Price, Elizabeth Price, and Martin 2d (named after William's brother, the somewhat reclusive bachelor whose remarkable mansion at No. 57 East 55th Street survives today as the Friar's Club).   Tragically, William died in the house at the age of 17 in the house on March 9, 1922.

The relatively rare instances of the Erdmann's names appearing in society columns was, perhaps, due in part to their religion.  Jewish families were not readily accepted into mainstream society; and so when Elizabeth's debutante supper and dance was held in the Louis XVI ballroom of the Park Lane Hotel on December 24, 1927, the prominent names of Manhattan society were notably absent from the guest list.  Instead it was composed of other wealthy Jewish families like Guggenheim, Hellman, Koehler and Klee.

Nevertheless, the Erdmanns maintained a social presence.   On October 27, 1932, for instance, they hosted a luncheon at the fashionable White Sulphur Springs Casino in West Virginia.  That was, incidentally, the year that Martin graduated from Dartmouth College.

William Erdmann died on August 25, 1936 at the age of 61.  His passing received only a two line obituary in The New York Times.   The following year his brother, Martin, died, leaving a more than $5 million estate, much of which went to Julie.

By 1941 she had left the house she and William had built three decades earlier.  That year the mansion was converted to apartments.

In 2009 Upper West Side residents were concerned when news broke that the owner of the Erdmann house, Fine Times, intended to lease it to a European real estate company, Armonia, as "a residential club for the extremely wealthy."  After reconverting the mansion to a single-family home, it would be run more or less as a time share for the super-rich time.  Saki Knafo, writing in The New York Times on April 17, explained the firm would "charge members of the exclusive club at least several thousand dollars and, perhaps, as much as $50,000 a week to stay in the house for short times.  Membership would be restricted to people of a minimum net worth...A live-in residence manager and possibly a butler would cater to their needs."

Fortunately, much of the fabric of Buchman & Fox's original interiors survives.  Above are the dining room and entrance hall.  photos via Curbed New York
According to the Department of Buildings, however, the return to a one-family residence was not completed until 2017.  Thankfully, the 1941 conversion left much of the interior detailing intact.   The renovated 15,000 square foot home was offered as a rental in March that year for $100,000 per month.

photographs by the author

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Lost Wm. Walton Mansion - 326 Pearl Street

A stone wall and gate lead to the extensive gardens behind the mansion which lead to the river's edge.  The Magazine of American History, January 1878 (copyright expired)

Captain William Walton had amassed a significant fortune by the early years of the 1700's.  A merchant, he owned and built the ships that carried his goods.  He and his wife, the former Mary Santford, had two sons, William and Jacob.

The Captain was all business, caring little for society.  But, according to an unnamed historian in 1872, "His sons, Jacob and William, on the contrary, were very dashing young men, whose visits were greatly courted by the ladies of the period."  The family's "notorious" wealth was due, in part, to Captain Walton's having relieved the Spanish Government of Florida from a sizable debt, "and they repaid the debt by giving him a practical monopoly of trade with their West India Islands and the port of St. Augustine."

The leading families of New York encouraged a romantic alliance between their daughters and either of Walton's sons.  Jacob married Maria Beekman, the daughter of Gerard Beekman  in 1726, and William married Cornelia Beekman, Maria's niece, on January 27, 1731.

William Walton from the collection of the New-York Historical Society

Following their father's death, the brothers carried on business together until Jacob's death in 1749.  Three years later William began construction on what would be the most palatial residence in the city.   Sometime prior to 1726 his father had purchased what a newspaper described as "a large toft of ground on the present Pearl street, but known at the time of his purchase as the Swallow Field, which extended from Franklin-square down to the river."  Now William chose it as the site of his new home.  In his 1902 New York: Old & New, historian Rufus Rockwell Wilson commented "We are told that when...Walton selected the site for it people wondered why he designed to build so far out of town, for at that time there was only one building on the south side of Pearl Street between Peck Slip and Cherry, and only four or five in the neighborhood of Franklin Square."

Cornelia Beekman Walton - from the collection of the New-York Historical Society
At the time there was no Franklin Square; and Pearl Street was known as Queen Street.  But the undeveloped land would be transformed into ample gardens, lawns and orchards.

Because Walton imported the building materials--the yellow bricks came from Holland and the carved woodwork from England, for instance--the project took about five years to complete.  When finished, William and Cornelia Walton had a Georgian palace that could easily hold its own with its London counterparts.

The house originally had the address of No. 156 Queen Street.  Historian John Fanning Watson, in his 1846 Annals and Occurrences of New York City, pointed out that it was "intended to show the best style of English construction, and of course, as marking a set purpose of avoiding the former Dutch style."

Rufus Rockwell Wilson described, "Set in ample gardens, which then ran down to the East River, with no intervening streets, the Walton house was fifty feet wide, with three stories and an attic, above which was a tiled and slightly sloping roof, encircled by two rows of balustrades."

Within the pediment over the imposing columned portico was the coat of arms of the Walton family.  Wilson went on, "there were spacious drawing-rooms on each side of the wide mahogany staircase.  Some of the rooms were panelled in oak, and the walls of others were hung with stamped and heavily gilded leather, while porcelain tiles set with flowers and birds adorned all of the fireplaces."

Decades later The New York Times wrote "After the building came the furnishing, which was all that boundless means and great good taste could make it.  Gilding, ormolu, molding, rare Spanish-American woods for panels, wainscots and stair-cases of mahogany, carved chimney-pieces in the style of Grinling Gibbons from London, tapestries, damasks, and carpets from France, marbles from Italy, were amassed slowly during several years."

A sketch in Valentine's Manual of 1857 depicted the "Sitting Room" (copyright expired)
The view from Cornelia's dressing room looked out over the garden to the East River where sailing vessels glided passed.  The Times later described the garden being "finely laid out in sections of vegetable, flower, and rose beds; also a large conservatory, Summer houses, grape arbors, and graveled walks.  There were cherry, peach, apricot and quince trees in abundance.  The shrubbery was luxuriant.

Charles Hemstreet wrote in his 1902 When Old New York Was Young that "the main rooms were furnished with silk damask and green worsted curtains, mahogany card-tables and dining-tables, and chairs with damask seats; walnut gilt-framed looking-glasses and a large number of framed prints."

The Georgian woodwork of the entrance hall was sumptuous.  Valentine's Manual of 1857 (copyright expired)
William Walton was not only one of the most prominent businessmen of the city, but was "soon looked upon as fitted for political honors," according to The Magazine of American History in 1878.  In 1752 he was elected to the General Assembly (a post he held until 1759).  In 1756 Governor Hardy recommended him as "a suitable person" to take a seat in his Majesty's Council and he remained on the Council until his death in 1768.

In the meantime the mansion was the scene of glittering dinners, dances and receptions.  Historian Isaac J. Greenwood recalled in 1878 that it was "where fashion and power gathered in their pomp and pride."    The famous New York historian Martha J. Lamb said Walton "was genial, full of brilliance, and a master of the arts of politeness.  Dinners were his hobby, and he gathered about his table from time to time such of the celebrities of the Old World as, officially or in the pursuit of pleasure, visited the New."

One of the nost notable entertainments came when the British officers returned to New York from Canada following the end of the French and Indian War in 1763.  The New York Times, decades later, wrote "The lavish profusion of his cellars and larder, and particularly the gorgeous display of his gold and silver plate, astonished those who had the fortune to be invited."

The Walton mansion came into play when the colonists opposed the Stamp Act, passed in November 1765.  They complained that they were unable to afford the tax, and it would ruin many a merchant.  But the officers who had been entertained in the Walton house had taken home stories; The New York Times saying "it became the topic of universal comment in fashionable circles."  The English Ministry took note, "and the house of Mr. Walton [was] quoted in Parliament as proof of the great wealth of the colonial merchants, and their perfect ability to pay the stamp tax."

from the History of the City of New York by Martha J. Lamb, 1921 (copyright expired)
The repeal of the Stamp Act in the spring of 1766 prompted another grand display.   On December 14, 1872 The Times recounted "Oxen were feasted whole and distributed to whoever chose to partake; bells were rung, cannon were fired, and the whole City gave itself up to an intoxication of self-gratulation.  Mr. Walton, now quite an old man, threw open his house to everybody throughout the day; cold meats, port and sherry and strong waters were on the sideboard, and every one was free to feast to his heart's content.  In the evening he gave a grand dinner to the principal merchants and the leading English officials, at which there was a grand reconciliation."

William Walton died in the house in July 1768 at the age of 63, leaving the mansion to Jacob's son, confusingly also named William Walton.  Cornelia remained in the house until her death in May 1786 at 78 years old.  The New York Packet reported that she died "after a tedious illness which she supported with an unshaken fortitude and truly Christian resignation to her last moments.  Indeed she laboured under a complication of disorders, but the dropsy being the most prevalent, terminated her scene of existence, which exhibited a perfect pattern of patience under all the calamities and trials incident to mortality."

Like his uncle and father, William had married into a wealthy, established family.  His wife was Mary de Lancey, daughter of James de Lancey.  The couple would have three sons, William, James, and Jacob, and a daughter, Anne.  Mary died in 1767 leaving William to raise the children alone.  He was a founder of the Chamber of Commerce in 1768, was its treasurer in 1771, its vice-president in 1772, and its president from 1774 to 1775.  He helped incorporate the Marine Society in 1770, formed to assist the widows and children of ship masters. 

Although William was among the Committee of Correspondence in May 1774 that would become the First Continental Congress, he preferred to stay neutral in the growing conflict between the Colony and Britain.   When war broke out he packed up his valuables, closed the mansion and took his family to their country estate in New Jersey.  It was a move that angered both the British and the patriots.  According to Lamb, "he was too marked a man to be left in peace, and was compelled to return to the city when it was occupied by the British."

William remained in the house throughout the war, spending much of his focus and money on the relief of the poor.  The vestry of Trinity Church recorded in 1779 that "he was unceasing in his efforts to soften the miseries of the confinement to which the American prisoners were subjected."

For three years, from 1784 to 1787, he leased the house to the newly-formed Bank of New York, which took the address of No. 67 St. George's Square.   After the bank moved to No. 11 Hanover Square, William Walton returned to the Pearl Street mansion.

He died on August 18, 1796 at the age of 65.  It started a rather rapid-fire change of ownership within the family.  Walton's eldest son, William, inherited the family mansion.  The Times said of him simply, "he took no part in public life, and died without issue in 1806, being succeeded by his brother, James De Lancey Walton, who never married, leaving the property to the youngest brother, Jacob, who had gone off to sea during the Revolution.  A career navy man, he achieved the rank of Rear Admiral in 1840.  He never lived in the mansion, but leased it as a "genteel boarding-house."

In 1821 Goodrich's Picture of New York described the Walton House under the heading of "Principal Hotels" as "kept by S. Backus.  Prices $1 per day, $5 per week, $260 per year."  The $5 weekly room charge would be an affordable $110 today.

But by 1839 things were already on the decline, as reflected in the rates.  An advertisement in the Morning Herald on June 12, 1839 offered:

Board--At the Walton Mansion House, No. 326 Pearl street, Franklin Square, at $3.50 per week.--The location is central, and it is one of the most pleasant summer resorts in this city.  Young men doing business down town, or gentlemen and their wives, will find at the above place a confortable home--Rooms to let at the above house without board.  Also, a splendid Hall for masonic, odd fellows and other lodges, referees, committees, musical parties, &c.

The "splendid hall" was the former Walton family ballroom where Cornelia Beekman Walton had presided over sumptuous entertainments.   As the once verdant area around the mansion became increasingly commercial, tourists and businessmen were lured away to new, modern hotels like the Astor House and the St. Nicholas Hotel.  The Times said years later "it became a common boarding-house, going continually lower and lower in the scale."

The decline in patronage was reflected in the continued lowering of the room rates.  J.. Fowler & Son, who charged $3.50 a week in 1839, lowered the price by a full dollar in 1843.   Their announcement in August that year said in part that "the proprietors having reduced the prices of Boarding to 50 cents per day, or two dollars fifty cents per week."  The Fowlers put a positive spin on the outdated accommodations, saying "The above house needs no comments as it is one of the most airy and spacious premises in the city, having a large yard with a fine spring of water, with every other requisite to make it comfortable."

Problems came when Mrs. Leah Jacobs arrived in town from Liverpool with her sister and two sons on January 3, 1847.  They went to the Walton Mansion House with their luggage for an overnight stay.  After breakfast the following morning, Mrs. Jacobs asked for her bill.  The cost of two meals and the overnight lodging came to $14.25--about $430 in today's dollars.

The New York Herald reported "This was rather more of a good thing than the lady expected; she therefore remonstrated but the payment of the bill was strenuously insisted upon by the person who presented it."  When she refused to pay, the bar keeper "assaulted the lady, and pushing her into the room, detained and imprisoned her, using threats and abusive language, telling her that they should be imprisoned as non-residents, if the amount was not forthcoming."  The world-wise Mrs. Jacobs was not intimidated and sent her son to find a policeman.  A hearing was held on January 18, after which the Mayor revoked and cancelled the Fowlers' license to run a boarding house.

The following proprietor remodeled the exterior.  The update included the removal of the rooftop balustrades, and the portico and installing shopfronts on the ground floor.

from The History of the City of New York, 1859 (copyright expired)

In reporting on a small fire that was discovered in the building at 2:30 in the morning on November 8, 1850, The New York Herald noted it was "speedily extinguished by the inmates and the police," and added "This house is remarkable for its massive proportions, being built in the old English style, before the revolutionary war."

A much more disastrous fire would rage through the building three years later.  On December 10, 1853 at around 1:00 in the afternoon it broke out in the Harper Brothers publishing building on the opposite side of Pearl Street.  The flammable materials inside--printing inks, paper, and camphene for cleaning the rollers, for instance--caused it to spread rapidly.

The fire raged throughout the afternoon, engulfing the other buildings along the block, then jumping across Pearl Street to the Walton Mansion House.   When the inferno was finally extinguished, 16 buildings had been consumed and losses were estimated at more than $23 million dollars today.  A sub-headline in The New York Herald the following day read "The Old Walton House Destroyed."

In reporting on the loss, the newspaper noted "Until very lately, when its front was altered for an emigrant boarding house, the portal was in fine keeping with the style of architecture which, in the day it was built, distinguished the English patricians from the plebeians.  The armorial bearing of the Walton family, supported by two fluted columns in front, were until a few years ago, preserved; but at last the insignia of royalty fell before the advance of republicanism, and the royal emblem of the aristocratic Waltons gave place to the sign of an emigrant boarding house keeper."

The article lamented "For the last few years this once famous place has been used as an emigrant boarding house, and its stately halls, once trod by those in whose veins flowed 'the blood of all the Howards,' have resounded with the revelry of noisy foreigners, and been darkened by the democratic smoke of huge Dutch tobacco pipes."

Although all of the major newspapers deemed it a total loss, when the ashes cooled it was found that the outer walls were intact and that the solid beams and flooring had survived the inferno.  Despite the severe damage, it was repaired and a fourth floor added.  It re-opened as The Old Walton House; although no more illustrious than it had been before the fire.

In 1871 The New York Times imagined that the humiliated old mansion would soon be destroyed.  On March 22 it wrote "In all probability but a short time will elapse before one of the most venerable of our ancient landmarks will be demolished."  While reminiscing on its glory days, the article also described its present condition.  "There are two second-hand stores on the street floor, and rag cellars underneath.  A dingy sign on the second story front reads: 'The Old Walton House.'  There is an extensive cheap boarding-house, occupying most of the upper front and rear rooms, while in the rear extension are a number of tenants."

Rather surprisingly, the former mansion was still owned by a Walton.  When Admiral Jacob Walton died in 1844 it was inherited by his eldest son, the Rev. William Walton.  He died in 1869 and it passed to his brother, Dr. Charles Johnston Walton, who still owned it at the time of The Times article.

The following year it appeared that the newspaper's predication was about to come true.  On December 14, 1872 The New York Times reported that Dr. Walton "is desirous of selling it, for the house is now a reproach and a nuisance, bringing the merest trifle as rent, and the ground is suitable for a large factory.  Its end is close at hand."

But the end was not all that close at hand.  It was not until November 13, 1881 that its sale and impending demolition were announced.    The Evening World noted that it would be razed "that a good building might be put up in its stead;" one which The Times described as a "large building for stores and factories."  The article added that with the disappearance of the Walton mansion, "we shall have lost nearly all buildings, except one or two churches, whose erection preceded the Revolutionary war."

The brick factory building erected by James Callery on the site of the Walton mansion survives as apartments today.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The 1905 Hotel Broztell - 3-7 East 27th Street

The first years of the 20th century saw a flurry of residential hotels being constructed throughout the city.  Their similar brick-and-stone Beaux Arts facades were intended to attract moneyed residents and to imply respectability and prosperity.

On July 1, 1903 The New York Times reported that real estate operators Campbell & Clement and purchased the "three four-story buildings" at Nos. 3 to 7 East 27th Street.  "The buyers will erect a twelve-story apartment hotel on the site."  Under the name of the Argyle Realty Co., they commissioned William H. Birkmire to design the structure.

The old buildings were demolished that year, and then things ground to a halt.  On January 9, 1904 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide noted "The Argyle Realty Co's plot at 3, 5, and 7 continues vacant, though plans were filed some time ago and the excavations dug."  Then, five months later on May 7 the journal reported that work was "suspended."

The long delay may have had to do with the Argyle Realty Co.'s cooperative meetings with other hotel developers in the immediate neighborhood.  Progress on three other residential hotels planned on the East 27th Street block had also stopped.

It may have been explained by The New York Times on March 20, 1904 in an article entitled "Solving A Problem With Inside Lots."  It explained that the "struggle for the greatest amount of light and air with the least sacrifice of space" had been solved by the "closely allied" developers who agreed to give up square footage.  "Thus a large T-shaped court will be created, the benefits of which will be shared by three of the buildings."

The dotted lines show the property lines.  The T-shaped light court was shared by the Broztell, the block-through Prince George Hotel to the right, and the Latham Hotel directly behind.  The New York Times, March 20, 1904 (copyright expired)
Originally called the Argyle Hotel, it was the Hotel Broztell by the time of its completion in 1905.  Birkmire's design toned down much of the gushing carved ornament seen on similar hotels.  The rusticated limestone base was punctured by four expansive arched openings, including the entrance with its glass and metal marquee.

The Official Hotel Red Book & Directory, 1903 (copyright expired)
Metal-framed angled bays in the mid-section not only added dimension to the facade, but caught wafting breezes during the summer months.  Baroque parapets rose on either side of the cornice.

From its opening the Broztell saw a surprising array of residents and guests.  Mrs. Leslie Carter was considered "the American Sarah Bernhardt."   On July 15, 1906, the day after her marriage to actor William H. Payne, her 26-year old son Leslie Dudley Carter, gave a dinner in a private room in the hotel.  The guest list included many theatrical figures, including actors Jack Devereaux and William Courtenay, theatrical manager W. J. Dun, and Norma Munro.  Norma was the daughter of wealthy publisher George Munro and lavishly backed theaters and productions.  She was also the closest friend of Mrs. Leslie Carter.

The actress and her new husband were not at the affair, so she missed out on a shocking announcement.  "After the dinner it was reported along Broadway that in the course of the evening young Mr. Carter had announced at it his engagement to marry Miss Munro," reported The New York Times.  It quoted him as saying "Mother doesn't know a word about it and it will be a deuce of a surprise to her."

While the patronage of theatrical types would have made some other hotels socially distasteful; the Broztell's eclectic mix of guests successfully co-existed.  Madeline Howard lived here in September 1907, for instance, when she went on a drive to Coney Island with Austrian Counts Frank and Felix Hoyas in their hired limousine.  (It ended horribly when the chauffeur, traveling at a "whirlwind speed," crashed in the surrey, seriously injuring its occupants.)  And on November 17, 1909 The Times reported "The Princess Lillian de la Pointe registered at the Hotel Broztell from Paris, en route to Chicago."

An electric sign perched above the glass marquee in 1906.  Note the tightly-pleated fabric inside the arched entrance.  The lamps and areaway fencing were removed in 1914 by City orders as "encroachments."  photo by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

In October 1910 Pittsburgh steel tycoon Alexander R. Peacock purchased the Hotel Broztell for $750,000--about $19.5 million today.  Like his partner, Andrew Carnegie, Peacock was born in Scotland and, also like Carnegie, was an art collector and millionaire.

Under Peacock's ownership the Broztell became exclusively transient.  In July 1912 Silk magazine noted "A hotel that has become very popular with the silk and ribbon buyers during their semi-annual visits to the New York silk market in August and February, is the Broztell on Twenty-seventh street near Fifth avenue...It is an ideal place to lunch, the dining rooms being cool and attractive."  The hotel's 250 rooms at the time (each "with bath and shower") went from $2 to $6 per day--just over $50 for the cheapest.

All hotels dealt with the occasional and unfortunate press coverage of deaths and suicides.  But the Broztell seems to have had more than its fair share.  Among the earliest was that of Mrs. Blanche Carson, the wealthy widow of Dr. Edward Carson.  The Evening World described her as "one of the most prominent clubwomen in San Francisco."  She arrived in New York following an extensive trip through Europe on Monday, March 18, 1912.  Like other wealthy dowagers, she did not travel lightly.  It took five steamer trunks to accommodate her wardrobe and jewelry.

As she passed through Customs, she declared nothing dutiable.  In fact, she had been patronizing the shops of European jewelers and in addition to the $20,000 in jewels she had left with, she had $12,000 in new jewelry.  And she was caught.  After admitting her guilt she was released on $2,000 bail awaiting a hearing.

The 55-year old took an eighth floor room in the Broztell and considered her fate.  The San Francisco Call said "There was no one in [New York] to whom she could appeal for friendly guidance."  And The Evening World described her as being "overwhelmed by the disgrace."

At around 4:00 on the morning of March 19 she untied the 25-foot long rope from one of her trunks, tied one end around the radiator and the other around her neck.  About four hours later a tenant of the Knickerbocker Apartments on Fifth Avenue looked out his window to see "the body, clad in a blue dressing down, swinging on the wall of the Broztell."

Equally tragic and bizarre was the death of Dr. Solomon Fishel the following year.  The 43-year old physician was internationally known for his work with infant incubators.  On Saturday, October 18, 1913 he married Anna Winter.  At 11:30 that night, following a wedding dinner, the newlyweds arrived at the Broztell where they had booked rooms for three weeks before leaving for San Francisco.

At 4:00 in the morning Fischel woke his bride, complaining of stomach pains.  Dr. Maurice M. Berger arrived.  "For two hours the doctor worked with his patient, but at 6:10 Dr. Fishel died," reported The Times the following day.  Fischel had been married less than 10 hours.

The Broztell flexed its wartime patriotism with special military rates.  New-York Tribune, April 7, 1918, (copyright expired)
In 1920 60-year old Samuel Angrnai, the secretary of the Swedish Consulate, lived at No. 60 East 124th Street.  But like many despondent persons, he preferred not to end his life at home.  He checked in to the Broztell on November 28 where he was found the following morning suffering an overdose of morphine.  He left two notes, one to an undertaker and the other explaining his actions, saying "he had grieved much over the death of his daughter last April," according to The Times.

The hotel was popular among buyers.  This ad calls it "headquarters for Carpet Men." Price's Carpet and Rug News, December, 1921 (copyright expired) 

A similar tragedy occurred on August 18, 1921.  Robert Rosenfeld, a Madison Avenue apparel manufacturer, lived in Great Neck, Long Island.  He visited David Bell, a buyer from Cleveland, in his Broztell room that day.  When Bell realized he had a conflicting appointment, he asked Rosenfeld to wait and he would be back shortly.  Rosenfeld agreed.

When Bell returned he found Rosenfeld dead.  The New York Herald reported "A glass containing cyanide of potassium in solution was on the table."  He left a sealed note addressed to his wife.

But perhaps no suicide in the Broztell Hotel drew more attention than that of author Frederic Van Rensselaer Dey, whose prolific works included the famous Nick Carter detective stories.   Dey was close friends with high-ranking police officials, including Commissioner Joseph Faurot.  Faurot's tales of crime-fighting provided Dey with fodder for his weekly fiction.

By by the early 1920's the days of pulp fiction were waning.  In 1919 The Atlanta Constitution published his The Lady of the Night Wind in daily installments; but The New York Times deemed it "somewhat cheap and dime novelish."  Concerned that his long literary career was drying up, he checked into the Broztell on April 25, 1922 as J. W. Dayer of Nyack, New York.

After being in his room for a while, he returned to the lobby with sealed notes and asked manager Frank Pierce to have them delivered the following morning.  One was addressed to Commissioner Faurot, and another was to Ormond G. Smith, president of the publishing firm Street & Smith.

Upon opening the note, Smith rushed to the Broztell.  Dey's room was forced open and he was found with a gunshot wound to the head.  His note to Faurot read:

Dear Old Joe:  Please forgive me.  Be good to and help Hattie, my wife.  I can't stand the gaff, Joe, so I am going out.  Everything has gone to smash and me with it.  Goodby [sic] and God bless you.  V.R.D.

When Alexander R. Peacock died in 1928, Prohibition had been in effect for eight years.  The law not only dealt a heavy blow to hotels and restaurants, it put many of them out of business and their employees out of work.  Some, like the Hotel Broztell, struggled to survive by surreptitiously side-stepping the issue.   It was an especially gutsy move on the part of Broztell's management, since Prohibition Headquarters was located on the same street, just two blocks away at Nos. 45-47 West 27th Street.

Suspicious that alcohol was being sold here, on April 17, 1931 undercover agents staked out the hotel.  The following day The Times reported "Louis Kaufman and Murray Fogel were arrested in an automobile parked in front of the Hotel Broztell in East Twenty-seventh Street when...they were about to make a delivery of liquor in the hotel."  The agents seized two cases of scotch and one and a half cases of rye.

The third floor balcony was originally fronted by stone balustrades.
On February 9, 1934 Columbia University purchased the Broztell at an auction sale.  It sold it just two years later, on April 7, 1936 for $350,000.  In reporting on the sale, The New York Times said "The new owner will modernize the structure and install new furniture."  That new owner, Latham Hotel Realty Corp., went well beyond new furniture.  It connected the Broztell and the Latham Hotel on East 28th Street internally.   In 1941 the ground floor was altered by architect Sampson Gray to create a storefront.

The Broztell Hotel limped along, eventually becoming a welfare hotel, until it was purchased by Urs B. Jakob in 1992.  Once again separated from the Latham Hotel, it was renamed the Gershwin.  On February 20, 1994 Alan S. Oser, writing in The Times noted that Jakob "is gradually converting it to a dormitory-style hostelry.  Sixty-five of the 164 room are run as dormitories, usually with four beds to a room.  The charge is $17 a bed per night."  To attract his targeted audience, Jakob installed Pop Art sculptures in the lobby and created small lounges "to help young international travelers get to know each other."

Jakob owned a soup can signed by Andy Warhol which became his inspiration for a party on what would have been the artist's 67th birthday in August 1995.  The event attracted 250 guests from as far away as Nice, France, the home of painter, author and star of several Warhol movies, Ultra Violet.  The following year, in March, a memorial service for playwright, director and producer Anthony Ingrassia was held in the hotel.

In December 2014 a $20 million, year-long renovation was completed by Triumph Hotels.  Included was a name change from the Gershwin to the Evelyn, in honor of the colorful actress Evelyn Nesbit, the love interest of architect Stanford White.  Crain's New York Business, on December 16, said the name switch "is meant to reflect the evolution of the hip neighborhood in which the hotel is located."

Triumph Hotels's CFO, Ronny Apfel, concurred, adding "We needed to bring the hotel up to the standards of NoMad."  The upgrades were reflected in the room rates, which started at $400 per night.  The Evelyn was given a 21st century face lift with giant illuminated tear drops that cascaded down the 1905 facade.

The well-known tear drops are gone now, giving the Evelyn a less edgy appearance.  The vibrant history that has played out within its walls far outshines the statley Beaux Arts design on the outside.

photographs by the author