by Tom Miller
At the turn of the last century, Anna E. M. de Montsaulnin had acquired all the buildings on the east side of the Boulevard from 87th to 88th Streets. By 1906, when she demolished them, the thoroughfare had been renamed Broadway. That year she contracted the architectural firm of Cady & See to design what their plans described as a “two-story brick and stone garage” on the site.
The completed project was, in fact, ten buildings, each three bays wide. Commercial spaces lined the sidewalk, while offices occupied the second floor. Because of the incline of Broadway, what would have been a continuous cornice was necessarily five stair-stepped pairs.
Cady & See’s description of a “garage” had everything to do with Broadway’s being known as Automobile Row. For blocks, the street was lined with automotive-connected businesses like dealerships, tire and parts suppliers, and such. Among the initial tenants of the row were the Wagner Motorcycle Company, the George V. Lyons Motor Company, and Frank B. Widmayer’s garage and repair shop. (The density of automotive operations in the neighborhood was evidenced by Widmayer’s second repair shop just three blocks away at Broadway and 84th Street.)
George V. Lyons’s business was a success. So much so, that on July 1, 1908, Motorcycle Illustrated reported:
On account of the great demand the Geo. V. Lyons Motor Company have met with for their Minerva motorcycles, larger quarters have been found necessary. Therefore, in addition to the large store at 2384 Broadway, this company have leased the adjoining store, 2382 Broadway, giving them the largest floor space of any motorcycle establishment in Greater New York.
Cady & See’s description of a “garage” had everything to do with Broadway’s being known as Automobile Row.
The row was nearly filled with motorcycle dealers now. Frank B. Widmayer was selling motorcycles from his repair shop by 1908, and the Ovington Mfg. Co. also had space on the block that year.
Charles W. Gray was an employee of George V. Lyons in 1908. He was called for jury duty that January and was considered for a high-profile trial—the case of Harry K. Thaw, accused of murdering architect Stanford White. It did not take prosecutor James Travers Jerome long to decide against him. The Sun reported on January 11, “Then Charles W. Gray, who is in the bicycle business at 2384 Broadway, took the twelfth seat. He stayed there about thirty seconds when Mr. Jerome knocked him out.”
Decidedly not involved in the automotive industry was Ellen McCarthy, who ran a saloon from 2380 Broadway beginning around 1908. Working with her by 1914 was Hanora McCarthy, presumably a daughter or sister. It was not until 1918 that a man, Cornelius McCarthy, held the liquor license for the space. The McCarthy saloon continued here until it was shuttered by Prohibition.
Although the Service Tire & Rubber store occupied 2384 Broadway in 1919, most of the automotive tenants had left by the outbreak of World War I. In 1909, a Schuyler Candy store opened in 2398 Broadway, and in 1916 the Nippon Garden Florist opened at 2386 and Huntsman & Seligson’s upholstery store opened in 2382 Broadway. Morris Lowenstine’s fish market at 2384 Broadway would be a neighborhood destination for years.
In the meantime, the upper floor offices saw a variety of tenants. Attorney and notary public Oscar F. Banse’s office was above 2396, and the photography studio called “Rockwood Jr.” was at 2388. Photographer George G. Rockwood had apparently negotiated for the space with Anna E. M. de Montsaulnin in 1906, since he had operated from the former building at the same address as early as 1900.
The ground floor tenants throughout the 1920’s reflected the residential neighborhood. The Sheffield Farm Dairy store occupied 2386 Broadway, the American Beauty Tea Room was at 2394, the Independent Radio & Electric store was at 2386, and the A. L. Radio shop was in 2396.
In 1934 architect J. Charles Hankinson renovated the row, consolidating the shops so that there were now just five. He combined the offices of the second floor into two large spaces—one a dressmaking shop and the other a beauty parlor. The southernmost of the upper floor spaces was rented in 1937 by the West Side Progressive Club, which was supplanted by the Republican Captains Association in 1940.
In 1934 architect J. Charles Hankinson renovated the row, consolidating the shops so that there were now just five.
Mid-century saw Louis B. Becker’s optometrist office on the second floor. The practice was taken over by Meyer Epstein in 1968, and he would remain at least through 1974. From 1956 through 1959, the other upstairs space was home to Arco Films.
In 1972 the Suzy Prudden Studios operated from 2390 Broadway. Not your run-of-the-mill aerobics studio, she focused on the younger set. Prudden’s clients ranged from 13 months to three years old. On December 28, 1972, The New York Times advised, “For mothers who can’t bring their offspring to the studio, there is a new, well-illustrated book titled ‘Suzy Prudden’s Creative Fitness for Baby and Child.’”
Other tenants in the row throughout the 1970s were Albert’s Dog Grooming salon, the Café China, a grocery store at 2380 Broadway, and New Frontier Trading Corp. at 2394. Among the items available at the latter were window blinds, rattan headboards, and wicker lamps.
All the tenants of 2380 through 2398 Broadway would have to find new homes in 1984. The blockfront was demolished to make way for the 24-floor apartment building known as The Montana.
Tom Miller is a social historian and blogger at daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com
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