130 West 62nd Street
B&W NYC Tax Photo of 130 West 62nd Street

View of 130 West 62nd Street from north east, Courtesy NYC Municipal Archive

209 West 64th Street

by Tom Miller

In 1887, real estate developer Annie Kelly completed construction on a five-story, stone-faced tenement at 130 West 62nd Street.  Designed by George B. Pelham in the neo-Grec style, it was typical of dozens of “double-flats” being erected in the San Juan Hill neighborhood at the time.  (“Double-flats” had apartments on either side of a central hallway.  In this case, there were two on either side, one front and one back.)

Although nearly all the residents were working class, Dr. Frank P. Howser lived in the building by 1892.  His reputation was such that he was asked to stand in for Deputy Coroner Weston in investigating the mysterious death of Philip Lustig in July that year.  Lustig had been lowering a window in his home when it slammed down, and shards of glass cut into his arm.  He was bleeding so badly that the responding physician, C. S. Collins called for additional help from Dr. Howard C. Myers and Dr. Edward Williamson.  Despite their efforts, the patient died.  Collins filled out the death certificate, listing the cause of death as a cerebral hemorrhage.  Dr. Howser was not so sure.  Following his autopsy, he pointed the finger at the physicians, who had administered too much ether.

Seven months later, on February 15, 1893, Howser became the patient rather than the physician.  He was on his way home in the front corner seat of a crosstown streetcar.  As the car approached the intersection of Madison Avenue and 59th Street, a baker’s wagon with an out-of-control horse “came along at a rapid gait,” according to The New York Times.  The horse slammed into the streetcar “with terrific force.”  The article recounted, “One of the shafts of the wagon passed through the body of the car just at the point where Dr. Howser was sitting, and before the doctor was aware of the danger, the shaft struck him in the right side and in the back under the shoulder, causing serious internal injuries.”

Howser was removed from the car and taken into a corner drug store, where a physician attended to him.  Afterward, he was brought home, where he recuperated.  Dr. Howser and his wife moved upstate to Bloomingburgh, New York, in 1901.

Lustig had been lowering a window in his home when it slammed down, and shards of glass cut into his arm. 

A more typical tenant was James O. Conway, a sailor employed by William Trenholm on his yacht, Romance.  On January 22, 1893, Trenshom had Conway arrested in Brooklyn.  The Brooklyn Daily Eagle explained, “The allegation is that Conway took 10,000 pounds of pig iron from the hold of the yacht Romance while the vessel lay in Wingstringham’s yard at the foot of Fifty-fifth street, South Brooklyn, in December last.”  The iron had been used as ballast.  “The accused denies the charge,” said the article.

A more youthful tenant appeared in the papers three months later.  At around 7:00 on the night of April 16, 14-year-old William Stead was arrested “on the complaint of Bernard Friedman, aged thirteen…charged with an attempt at highway robbery,” reported The New York World.  Friedman told Captain Collins, “This boy with four others knocked me down and tried to rob me of 5 cents.”  The newspaper continued, “His story seemingly improbable, Capt. Collins persuaded the boys to make up, and they were sent home.”

At the time of William Stead’s arrest, the nation was suffering from The Panic of 1893, one of the most severe financial crises in the history of the United States.  The residents of 130 West 62nd Street were already struggling, and the consequences of the economic depression were too much for at least one of them to handle.  On October 27, 1893, the New York Sun titled an article “A Victim of the Hard Times,” and explained that Joseph Ingram had worked for Higgins’s carpet works as a carpet dyer for many years.  But the Panic forced Higgins to shut down in August and Ingram was unable to find new employment.

The Sun wrote, “These things brought on melancholia.  He imagined that he and his family were destitute and were about to be turned out into the street.”  Ingram went to carpet works on West 45th Street every day in the vain hopes that it would reopen.  The article recounted, “He went there on Wednesday night and not finding anything to encourage him, cut his throat.”  He was taken to Roosevelt Hospital, where he lingered for three days before dying.

Resident John McTurner got drunk on the night of January 9, 1894.  While attempting to stagger home through Central Park around midnight, he fell into the Harlem Meer.  Now, soaking wet in the frigid January air, he was not so drunk that he did not realize he would die of exposure if he did not find shelter.  A policeman found him in a saloon at 110th Street and Second Avenue at 1:00 a.m.  McTurner explained he “had broken into the saloon to get warm.”  The judge in the Harlem Court was sympathetic and McTurner was “discharged with a caution.”

San Juan Hill residents were often on the wrong side of the law.  One such woman was Maurie McClave who lived here in February 1896.  The Sun reported on February 27, “Shortly after 2 o’clock yesterday morning Detective McNaught found Peter Haggerty running about in a great state of excitement in West Sixty-second street.  He was shouting for the police, declaring that he had been robbed and wanted to have the thief arrested.”  He told McNaught:

I was walking up Columbus Avenue about an hour ago when, near the corner of Fifty-ninth street, I was accosted by a well-dressed woman.  We went to a neighboring saloon, where we were joined by a second woman, who sat down at one of the tables with us.  I set up the wine, and we were having a good time of it, when the first woman asked me to accompany her to her flat at 130 West Sixty-second Street.  We went out, leaving the other woman in the saloon.  I remained at the flat for a short time and was about to leave when I discovered that a roll of bills amounting to $480 had been stolen from my pocket.  When I accused the woman of having taken the money, she denied having done so.

Mary protested that she was the sister-in-law of former Police Commissioner James McClave, and “declared that to arrest her on the statement of a half-drunken man was an outrage,” reported The Sun.

When the detective and Haggerty arrived at 130 West 62nd Street, Mary McClave was standing on the front steps.  The New York World reported, “The detective made some inquiries among the tenants in the house and then arrested Mrs. McClave.”  Mary protested that she was the sister-in-law of former Police Commissioner James McClave, and “declared that to arrest her on the statement of a half-drunken man was an outrage,” reported The Sun.  When asked at the station house what she had been doing on the street at that hour, she said she had been visiting a friend.  A reporter went to the home of James McClave, who denied that Mary was his sister-in-law.  “We have had that same game played on us before, and there’s nothing in it,” he said.

An advertisement in The World on October 24, 1897, offered a “Neat and cozy flat of 4 rooms & bath, in complete order; rents $15 to $20.”  Considering the financial status of the San Juan Hill population, scraping together rent would have been difficult for most, the highest amount equaling about $728 in 2023.

Unlike Mary McClave, most of the tenants of 130 West 62nd Street worked hard for that rent money.  One, who signed her ad C. Noble, was looking for work as a lady’s maid in April 1897.  And in 1901, an English-born coachman was trying to find employment after the family he had worked for left for Europe.

The hardscrabble San Juan Hill lifestyle was sometimes too much for tenants to bear.  On April 10, 1905, the Buffalo Enquirer reported, “Mrs. Anna Williams, who recently came to [New York City] from Troy, N. Y., attempted suicide this morning by inhaling illuminating gas at her home, No. 130 West 62d Street.  This is the woman’s fifth attempt to take her life.”

As late as mid-century, immigrant families found apartments at 130 West 62nd Street.  In 1950, of the twelve families living here, five were from other countries– Ireland, Mexico, and Scotland.

The building was demolished with the neighboring buildings to make way for the Fordham University Law School.

Tom Miller is a social historian and blogger at daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com

Explore Even More!

Read more about the residents of this lost building.

Meet Former Resident Richard Ward!

Let's Keep in Touch!

Let's Keep in Touch!

Want the latest news?
Care to share about something in the neighborhood?
Be the first to hear about upcoming events?

Join the LW! email list!

You're Subscribed!

Share This