by Tom Miller
As the last decade of the 19th century approached, Charles A. Fuller was a major player in the development of the Upper West Side, focusing on the erection of apartment houses. In April 1899, he purchased the vacant plot at the northeast corner of the Boulevard (later renamed Broadway) and 100th Street from the estate of David S. Jackson. He gave architect Edward L. Angell the challenging job of designing an apartment building on a plot 86-feet-long on the side street, but only as wide as a rowhouse, 26-feet, on the avenue.
Completed at a cost of $30,000—about $910,000 today—the five-story structure was faced in red brick and trimmed in stone. While the residential entrance at 219 West 100th Street, sat within a formal, classical frame, the rest of Angell’s Queen Anne design was playful. Creative brickwork formed aprons below certain windows and blind arches in the chimney backs and in the wide parapet that interrupted the pressed metal cornice. On the narrow Broadway elevation, two blind keyhole arches held terra cotta decorations of heraldic shields against palm fronds.
As added income, there were two stores at ground level, one at 2640 Broadway and the other next to the entrance on West 100th Street. The Broadway store became home to the office of Cunningham & Foley, general contractors.
The residents were professionals, like Arthur Haller of the American Locomotive Co., pawnshop owner Martin Simons, and Charles A. Carroll who “held several clerkships in the city government Under Tammany,” according to The Daily Standard Union in July 1902.
The robbers were so laden down with loot that they had to leave thousands of dollars’ worth of jewelry behind.
The Martin Simons & Sons’ shop at 94 Hester Street was deemed by The Daily Long Island Farmer “the largest pawnbroker on the east side and with perhaps two exceptions the largest in the city.” To safeguard the large inventory of expensive silver, jewelry and other valuables, Simon had a safe–nine feet high and twelve feet wide, and twelve feet long—installed. The walls were two feet thick. The Daily Long Island Farmer said, “Inside wood and steel finished the construction, while great chilled steel doors protected the front.” Martin Simon doubled his protection by having the shop wired by a burglar alarm company.
But all those precautions failed. On Saturday night, March 15, 1913, Martin and his son closed the shop. Between that time and 6:30 the following evening, “cracksmen looted the place,” according to The Daily Long Island Farmer. The thieves entered the basement of the apartment building, then burrowed through a coal bin until they had a large hole through which a man or small boy could fit through. Then, standing on something in the cellar of the pawnshop, they cut a hole in the floor through which they entered the store.
Amazingly, they broke into the vault without the use of explosives. A hole was cut, apparently using blow torches, “after several hours of hard, silent work.” The safe was a virtual Aladdin’s Cave to the burglars. The robbers were so laden down with loot that they had to leave thousands of dollars’ worth of jewelry behind. When Martin Simon opened the store on Monday morning, “The biggest robbery in New York since the burglary of the Manhattan bank more than twenty-five years ago was discovered.” The article said, “The amount stolen is roughly estimated to be between $250,000 and $300,000, while half a million more in jewels and negotiable bonds was not taken, probably because the safe blowers could not carry the plunder away.” The heist would equal as much as $8.4 million by today’s standards.
Certainly, the most colorful residents were Thomas and Adele S. Seltzer, here as early as 1914. Seltzer was born in Russia on February 22, 1876. Upon arriving in America, he became a journalist and translator. By the time the couple moved into 291 West 100th Street, he worked as a writer and editor for periodicals like the Harper’s Weekly, Review of Reviews, The Independent, and Literary Digest. He was, as well, the secretary of the Federation for Child Study, which created a “Selected List of Recent Books for Children,” deemed appropriate for young minds.
Like many recent Russian immigrants, Seltzer and his wife were confirmed Socialists. When Adele learned of an anti-Socialist meeting being held by Frank Urban three blocks away in October 1916, she decided to make her own voice heard. She barged into the meeting and, according to Urban, verbally attacked him and disrupted the meeting. He had her arrested. But being a woman was an attribute in court, as it turned out. Adele denied having “made statements attacking Urban,” then asked the judge to charge him with disorderly conduct for having “handled her roughly.”
When the judge learned that Urban had already been convicted of disorderly conduct twice before, he asked Adele if there was not another way to handle the matter, “as a third conviction would mean a two years’ sentence.” In a 360-degree turn of events, the New-York Tribune reported on October 24, “It was finally agreed the complaint would be withdrawn if Urban apologized.”
In 1917 Thomas Seltzer became a vice president of Boni and Liveright, publishers. By then, he and Adele had taken over the Federation for Child Study, running it from their apartment. Ironically, while it published its annual list of appropriate books for children, Thomas Seltzer would be the target of an investigation by the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice in 1922 for publishing the works of controversial writers. That year the Society had all copies of D. H. Lawrence’s Women in Love, the anonymously written A Young Girl’s Diary, and Arthur Schnitzler’s Casanova’s Homecoming confiscated.
…a third conviction would mean a two years’ sentence.
Seltzer sued and won. But it would be an on-going fight. He was charged with publishing “unclean books” again in 1923. Eventually the expenses of his never-ending court battles bankrupted his firm.
In the meantime, in 1913 M. M. Hayward & Company, real estate agents, had taken over the Broadway commercial space in 1913 and would remain until the early Depression years. In 1914 the store at 219 West 100th Street was leased to Ludwig Einhorn for his laundry business.
In 1933 the American Detective System operated from 2640 Broadway. It advertised around the country, “Detectives—Make secret investigations; experience unnecessary. Write American Detective System, 2640 Broadway, N.Y.” Two years later, only the name had changed. George Pitts Wagner ran the business at least through 1945. An advertisement in The Pittsburgh Courier on January 2, 1943, echoed the earliest ones. “Detectives Earn Big Money—Experience unnecessary. Detective particulars free. Write George Pitts Wagner, 2640 Broadway, New York.”
A fire broke out in the basement of the building early on the morning of February 10, 1955. Before it was extinguished, Fire Fighter James Steins and the building’s superintendent, William Carmichael, suffered “smoke poisoning” and had to be hospitalized.
Not all the residents in the second half of the 20th century were upstanding. On the night of May 11, 1962, two policemen, Edward Lesko and John O’Sullivan came across tenant Cleveland Floyd beating a woman in an alley. Two days later, the Daily News reported that the 38-year-old was being held without bail “on charges he assaulted Margaret Polite…with a screwdriver.”
Today a pizza parlor operates from the Broadway store, and a barber shop in the other. The apartment building has the same configuration of apartments as it did in 1890 and, outwardly, Edward L. Angell’s skinny apartment building is little changed.
Tom Miller is a social historian and blogger at daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com
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