2690 Broadway

View of 2690 Broadway from north west; Courtesy NYC Municipal Archive

2690 Broadway

by Tom Miller

In April 1896, architect Christian Steinmetz filed plans for three flat-and-store buildings at the southeast corner of the Boulevard and 103rd Street.  He designated that the apartments would have “steam heat, exposed plumbing, tiled bathrooms and hardwood trim.”  The five-story structures were completed within the year.  The corner building, with its long northern wall of light and ventilation, was undoubtedly the most desirable.

Sitting on a two-story stone base, the upper three floors were clad in warm red brick and trimmed in brownstone.  The residential entrance was located at 216 West 103rd Street above a two-step porch.  Polished granite Corinthian columns that upheld a massive entablature were surrounded by picture-frame-like carvings.

The building filled with professional tenants, among the very first being Dr. Jean F. Chauveau, Jr., here by New Year’s Day 1897.  Other early residents were Dr. James R. Bingham, and an interesting, unmarried woman known as “Miss Rocheford.”  She offered instruction—either private or in small classes—in her apartment in a variety of subjects as early as 1903.  A notice in The Evening Telegram on September 29, 1906, announced, “Miss Rocheford returns from Europe October 9; French, German, English, neglected education.”  She apparently had a small staff, for the notice added, “special teacher’s French classes.”

An education by Miss Rocheford in 1908 cost the student $1 per month—an affordable $30 by 2023 conversions.  She would remain here at least through 1913.

He was a prospective juror on the Harry Thaw murder case.

Marine insurance agent Henry W. J. Telfair was called for jury duty in January 1907.  But this was not a run-of-the-mill case.  He was a prospective juror on the Harry Thaw murder case.  Thaw was charged with the June 25, 1906, killing of famed architect Stanford White.  When asked if he had formed an opinion of the case, Telfair answered truthfully, “yes.”  He was asked if he could go into the jury box “entirely unbiased.”  He replied, “I couldn’t quite say.”

At this point, the judge broke in.  “Don’t you think you could try this case on the evidence uninfluenced by your opinion or anything else?”

After what The Evening World called “a slight hesitation,” Telfair replied, “I think I could.” 

The newspaper reported, “Mr. Telfair was excused, however.” 

There were three stores in the building—two on Broadway and one on 103rd Street, and two offices above the Broadway stores.  By 1913 Maurice Quinlan ran a tavern in the corner space, while the store on the side street was home to Harry Tagg’s tailor shop called My Valet.  Tagg’s advertisement that year read, “Dyeing and cleaning.  Men’s and Ladies’ garments cared for.  Call and deliver.”

In order to “call and deliver,” Tagg had to have messenger boys.  One of them was 19-year-old Frank Nuck.  He had delivered cleaning to Joseph N. Courtade’s home at 526 East 87th Street several times.  Courtade was a well-to-do piano manufacturer, the head of Joseph N. Courtade & Sons.

On December 17, 1913, Courtade received what The Sun described as “a badly spelled typewritten letter signed ‘the Committee.”  It warned him “that unless he handed $10,000 to a boy who would call for it on Friday night the committee would see that he and his sons were killed.”  Included with the letter were newspapers clippings about bomb explosions.  Courtade went to the police who devised a scheme.  Real bills were placed on either side of a thick stack of paper, then tied into a package.  Courtade was told that when he passed the “ransom” off to the messenger, he was to place a lit lamp in the window as a signal to detectives waiting in the shadows.

On Friday night, December 19, a 14-year-old boy, Leopold West, came down the block with Frank Nuck.  The boy ran up the stoop while Nuck lingered outside.  Before West had descended the stoop, a lamp had been placed in the parlor window.  The detectives followed in an automobile, finally stopping the pair at First Avenue and 85th Street.  The Sun reported, “They bundled [Nuck] into the auto with the boy, and that started a rumor that a bold party of kidnappers was abroad.”

At the stationhouse the packet was found in Nuck’s pocket.  He told police, “he demanded the money of Courtade because he was a wealthy man and he hated him.”  Leopold West was let go in the custody of his parents after he explained that he did not know Nuck until he approached him asking him if he wanted to make some money by getting a package.

The Sun reported, “They bundled [Nuck] into the auto with the boy, and that started a rumor that a bold party of kidnappers was abroad.”

The corner tavern remained until Prohibition closed it down.  The space became a United Retail Candy Store in 1919.  The other Broadway space was the Lemcke & Buechner bookstore.  By 1921 the 103rd Street store was the Broadway Bootblack Parlor.  On April 3 that year, The Evening Telegram reported that three nights earlier “marauders” had broken in.  The gutsy crooks “shined their shoes and took $130 from the cash register.”

The Depression years saw a nearly complete change in the commercial tenants.  In 1929 the candy store was leased to the Horn & Hardart Company for an automat.  The Columbia University Press had offices upstairs from 1934 through 1968, and a hair and nail salon occupied one of the spaces in 1937.

In the 1960s 216 West 103rd Street was home to the Roco Auto Driving School, which, oddly enough, doubled as a travel bureau agency.  It was replaced by Danny Montemurro’s shoe repair shop in the 1970s.  The decline in the neighborhood was reflected in an article in The New York Times on November 27, 1976.  Journalist May Breasted had followed foot patrolman Frank Cohen around, visiting the locations on his beat.  Montemurro had to unlock the door for them.  Breasted explained he “keeps his door locked at all times,” adding “His shop, at 216 West 103rd Street, is around the corner from a single room occupancy building where drug overdoses and other tragedies are common.”

In the meantime, in one of the Broadway offices was the Partido Revolucionari Dominicano—the Dominican Revolutionary Party headquarters.  The group had rented space around 1975. 

The other two buildings of the 1896 trio were converted to Single Room Occupancy hotels in the 20th century, but—probably because of its corner location and additional windows—216 West 103rd Street remained an apartment building.  All three were demolished in 2020 to make way for the 13-story apartment building The Rockwell, under construction.

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


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