Cultural Immigrant Initiative of Landmark West
This Exhibit is made possible with generous support from the Cultural Immigrant Initiative. LANDMARK WEST! especially thanks New York City Council Member Ben Kallos and Council Member Helen Rosenthal for their generous support. Initially intended as an inside-landmarks/on-the-Avenue exhibition, They Were Here has been reconfigured for an online audience due to Covid-19, but we also plan to launch a live version with tours along Columbus Avenue as soon as we can!
541 Columbus Ave.
Groceries, Hats, and Poison
In the 1890's, the corner shop here was Charles Hartman’s furniture business. The center store was Arndt & Wiesner grocers, and at the north end was Emma Jarden's millinery. Two brothers from Italy, Joseph and Mauro, then opened Sabatelli Brothers' barber shop near Morris Malbroau's corner butcher shop in 1916.
529 Columbus Ave.
The Countess, the Piano King & The Party Box
A resident here, German immigrant Josef Kuder, was a master piano maker. After studying the craft in Vienna, he came to New York in 1854 and in 1872 co-founded Sohmer & Co. At that time, there were 170 other piano manufacturers in NYC.
519 Columbus Ave.
Butter & Eggs Below; Shooting Showgirl Above
Charles Nagel and his wife were living here in 1911 when they became the focus of intense public scrutiny. Newspapers nationwide covered the story of the attempted murder of millionaire W. E. D. Stokes, owner of the Ansonia Hotel, by two chorus girls, one of whom was the Nagel’s daughter. They were called “The Shooting Show Girls.” The Nagels moved.
508-516 Columbus Ave.
The Louise: Money Woes and a Slice to Go
The Louise, completed in 1894, is a five-story assembly of flats with storefront space along Columbus Avenue designed and built by the prolific John G. Prague, who moved his firm’s operations in the same year the building opened to residents. Prague’s year at The Louise was an unhappy one, marred by financial failures. The Evening World suggested that Prague owed somewhere in the neighborhood of $400,000 to $430,000 (over $1 million today when adjusted for inflation). Perhaps this public pocketbook shaming led Prague to settle his operations miles away at the island’s southern tip, distancing himself from the Upper West Side enclave he had helped to build.
505 Columbus Ave.
A Landmark for Women's Suffrage
Each year on Election Day the city leased 507 Columbus Avenue as a polling place. In 1918 this humble building drew special attention when women registered to vote for the first time. On May 26, 1918 The Sun reported, “Miss Mary Garrett Hay, chairman of the Woman Suffrage party…was the first votress to enroll in her district. The place was a furniture store at 507 Columbus avenue and the time four minutes at 8 A. M.” Joining Mary Hay was Carrie Chapman Catt whom The New York Herald said, “has waited thirty years for the privilege of casting her ballot.”
504 Columbus Ave.
Fire, Films and a Fraud
Residents of 504 Columbus Ave. included May Atzbach who made waves when she was reportedly cured of her deafness onstage by Darius Wilson, M.D., a physician who proclaimed himself to be the greatest aurist of his (or any) time. Dr. Wilson was praised at the time for offering health insurance to immigrants, despite his dubious claim that he had found the solution to hearing loss. His displays of aural wizardry were popular events and well-attended by eager crowds clamoring to see the medical showman theatrically undo permanent ailments.
493 Columbus Ave.
The Corner Drugstore
The corner storefront here was home in the 1890s to Baluff’s Pharmacy, the first of a long string of drugstores in the space. It was operated by German immigrant Charles Wittenack. The next proprietor, immigrant Max Weiss, unluckily had his shop raided by police in 1904. It seems his associate was counterfeiting aspirin.
464 Columbus Ave.
A Solid Home for Single Ladies
Several single working women called this 1887 building home. There was Luella Know, who ran a shoe store and Miss Sarah Schreier who had a hat shop here in 1904. In 1894, Cynthia Westover arrived, a self-sufficient young woman, private secretary to the Commissioner of Street Cleaning. Her experience hiring a maid, procured through the Children’s Aid Society, taught her much about the lives of poor immigrant families in New York.
441-449 Columbus Avenue
Hotel Colonial: High-End Luxury and Low-Life Criminals
Built 1903-1905, the 125-unit Hotel Colonial was advertised upon completion as being “ABSOLUTELY FIREPROOF” with furnished or unfurnished suites of one-, two-, or three-bedrooms. Unfortunately it wasn't burglar-proof. Either way, the $1 Table d'Hote Dinner was a steal!
440 Columbus Ave.
Check out the Hotel Endicott
In 1890 “family hotel” apartments such as the Endicott were very popular, offering suites of up to nine rooms. Residents enjoyed all the latest amenities of steam heat, electric lights, and even a resident doctor. There were seven storefronts on Columbus, including an elegant Victorian drugstore with marble floors and mahogany cabinetry. There was not a single vacancy the day the Endicott opened.
426 Columbus Ave.
The Protective League and the Poolroom
In 1893 Clarence True designed this building as Hennessy’s oyster market and restaurant. He used iron spot brick, brownstone and terra cotta to mimic a Flemish stable with a large, offset archway- like the double doors of a carriage house- framing the quaint commercial space. A side entrance led upstairs to meeting rooms. In 1891 the West Side Protective League met there to suppress “gambling houses, houses of prostitution, and all persons and places of immoral character”. They ironically did not notice Costello’s billiard rooms in the space directly beneath them.
424 Columbus Ave.
Sheet Metal or Sheets to the Wind?
In 1899 German immigrant and architect Julius Munckwitz was hired to build a “modern” structure here. Munckwitz, who came to NYC in 1849, had worked on Central Park and was the New York Park Commission’s official architect for decades. He designed a two-story brick and stone building for two commercial tenants that included a bay window and a second story clad, uniquely, in sheet metal.
410 Columbus Ave.
"Hello Girl" Challenges Hospitality
Built in 1899, this was a 10-story “hotel”. Residence hotels were, essentially, just apartment buildings where residents ate in upscale communal dining rooms rather than in their suites. One resident was immigrant Elizabeth Ambrosy, whose parents brought her from Brandenburg, Germany, around 1870. Since her childhood she had known Eugene Landon, who grew up to be a wealthy lumber merchant. On April 3, 1906 the two were married here in the Orleans Hotel. The New-York Tribune remarked that the “wedding was quiet, only a few friends of the pair being present.” That was most likely because the groom had just divorced his wife.
392 Columbus Ave.
Five Houses Flip to Flats
Michael Kelly and his wife were living here in 1915 when Mrs. Kelly surprised a burglar in her room. He fled with Mrs. Kelly close behind yelling “Stop, thief!” The Tribune reported, “From Columbus to Amsterdam Avenue she chased the invader.” At Broadway the man stopped and turned his revolver on Mrs. Kelly. She did not slow down and he pulled the trigger, but the gun jammed. He dove down into the subway and onto the tracks. He did not see the express train.
380 Columbus Ave.
The Elegant Evelyn
Belgian immigrant and architect Emil Gruwe unveiled in 1894 a Renaissance Revival structure with corner pavilions capped with stone balustrades: The Evelyn. But it was really all about the details-- the magnificent terra cotta angels, satyrs, putti and florals. Inside were luxuries like a Russian Bath and a restaurant with Delmonico's chef.
370 Columbus Ave.
A New Home for New UWS Irish
This 1887 “double flat” (two buildings designed to look like one) was home to many immigrant families, predominantly Irish. In 1895 the Martin Connellan family lived on the top floor; directly below them lived the Kearns. Early shops were Mme. Hodes’ hairdressing salon and Respoli Brothers grocery in 1901.
351 Columbus Ave.
Zeigfeld Girls & Whist
On March 17, 1916 a patrolman was alerted by women's screams coming from this building. Investigating, he found a man holding onto a resident, Zeigfeld Follies chorus girl Margaret Randolph, while two friends battled to free her. As it turned out, Margaret was no victim; she had helped herself to $45 in cash from the gentleman's pocket.
331 Columbus Ave.
Shops here in 1894 included Hayward & Reynolds plumbing, Kruse & Hodes hairdressers, and Charles Otten's corner grocery. Early on April 30, 1897 fire broke out in Otten's. Smoke poured out the windows. The night watchman was, alas, asleep on the job, but an alert patrolman smelled the smoke and rushed into the building, roused the sleeping residents and saved them all.
328 Columbus Ave.
Seances and Peruvian Proxies
In 1889, Dr. Henry Rogers staged fake seances in his apartment here, charging grieving customers to hear messages from their loved ones. His neighbor, Peruvian immigrant Pedro Rubio, Jr. was much more respectable, although he did run up against the City Clerk when he tried to arrange a proxy marriage for his sister to a man back in Peru.
321 Columbus Ave.
Elevators, Electric Light & Extortion
A 1897 ad for La Rochelle boasted of "three elevators with all-night service; electric light and steam heat free; not a dark room or closet in the house." The apartments were spacious, just four to a floor and most had three bedrooms. The pièce de résistance: a "first-class French Restaurant on premises."
320 Columbus Ave.
Christmas is for the Dogs
Mrs. Katherine Fay and her daughter, Irene, lived here with their beloved Skye Terrier Teddy and, later, Chump. The dog was the guest of honor at the Fay's Christmas reception every year through 1914. The Fays invited a dozen canines, the tree was decorated with doggie edibles, and each dog received a present. The parties were reported in detail by various newspapers each year.
305-307 Columbus Ave.
Bicycles Ride, Bogus Checks do Not
Bicycles were a nationwide obsession in the 1890’s and the tenants here were not immune. An August 6, 1893 article on the Excelsior Cycle Club mentioned that among the “good riders” was “Mrs. I. B. Fleming, No. 305 Columbus avenue.” Her neighbor was equally passionate about biking. Mrs. J. S. Miznu signed a petition in 1895 asking the city for a dedicated bicycle path from the Upper West Side to downtown.
302 Columbus Ave.
The Ice Cream Depot
In 1889 successful ice cream entrepreneur James Horton hired Cleverdon & Putzel to design this five-story building faced in red brick above a cast iron storefront. Above it all, an ambitious cornice held a triangular pediment announcing the J. M. Horton name. This was a J. M. Horton Ice Cream “depot” where Victorians could stop in for a treat, but the shop also received deliveries from its Brooklyn plant, which cranked out 40 quarts of ice cream every 20 minutes.
301 Columbus Ave.
Communists and Carrier Pigeons
By 1910, Jewish tile layer Aaron H. David lived here. As a hobby he kept carrier pigeons in coops on the roof. That spring, however, his attentions were more focused on a young lady, Hattie Moses, the daughter of manufacturer Max Moses...
289 Columbus Ave.
Barnett Bros.’ Burglaring Brothers
From 1895 to 1925 this was the home of Barnett Brothers, a true department store that offered not only dry goods and apparel, but housewares, china and glass, and other items. In 1908 a burglary was foiled there. Ironically, the thieves were three brothers and it was not the brazen deeds of the trio that amazed detectives and the public, but their ages: “Red” McGlynn was 10 years old, his brother George was 8, and William “Fatty” McGlynn was 9.
280 Columbus Ave.
Early Multi-Family Housing
Designed by architect Henry Janeway Hardenbergh--the man who designed the extraordinary Dakota Apartments--the flats here were first leased to well-to-do families, but soon moved towards more middle class tenants before, during the Depression, eroding into a flophouse. Things improved by mid-century though, and luckily today one finds the upper floors of Hardenbergh’s stylish flat building little changed. It survives as a remarkable example of early multi-family housing in the then just-developing neighborhood.
261 Columbus Ave.
Singers and Sinners
In 1901 resident Cornelius Allen was love struck over the famous and beautiful stage actress Lillian Russell. For weeks he sent her roses and love letters. He waited by his telephone, dressed for the theater, ready for the actress’s call saying she accepted his proposal. It never came.
248 Columbus Ave.
A Grocery or a Work of Art?
This building was designed by one of the most famous firms in Gilded Age New York: McKim, Mead & White. For a grocery store. But, Park & Tilford was quite a step above anything the UWS had ever seen. The opening on September 23, 1893 was reported by The Times as "attended by hundreds”, adding, “There is no business building more handsome on the west side”. The New-York Tribune noted that the “best class of trade” on the Upper West Side had “suffered much inconvenience by being obliged to order their groceries and household provisions from down-town houses.” They could now rest easy. “The new store of Park & Tilford…has been decorated and stocked in such a manner that it is no exaggeration to say that it is a work of art.”
240 Columbus Avenue
Lost Time and Broadway Hits
Daniel Morey of 240 Columbus Avenue swam out with the surf and floated back with the tide. He was out of time and so were two others caught in the nick of time as they pocketed watches thinking they weren't being seen!
235 Columbus Ave.
Lifelines and Livelihoods
In the early 1900’s hotelier Richard Kelly lived here. His widowed mother, Florence (Fanny) Kelly, planned to come visit from London in April 1912, choosing the newly christened RMS Titanic. Mrs. Kelly was one of the lucky ones. Not only did she make it here, she brought with her Marion Smith, a ladies maid that she had met in her lifeboat.
201 Columbus Ave.
Modest Means or Millionaires?
These apartments were filled in the 1900's with tenants of modest means; many were newcomers to America. In 1896 John DeGioanni’s “eating house” was at #203; next door was Frank Bird & Son, painters. The Birds also lived upstairs. Cecilio Ocon fled here after the Mexican Revolution in 1913, but had trouble explaining a diamond necklace he brought along to Customs officials.
190 Columbus Ave.
A Literal Shotgun Wedding
On June 27, 1893, 20-year old Mable Clark became the wife of Frederick Clark here. While the pair had lived together for some time, that night Mable’s mother and aunt appeared with a minister. “Mrs. Clark threatened to shoot him and then commit suicide,” said The New York Times, and “Clark preferred not to be shot.” The couple split up July 1st.
189 Columbus Ave.
Looted Linens and The Literary Review
This building was the scene of a crime spree in Summer 1899 when “valuable linens” repeatedly disappeared from the rooftop clothes lines. Things turned serious when Chief of the New York Police Detective Bureau George McClusky’s pajamas were stolen on July 18--the string of burglaries came to an abrupt stop after that!
188 Columbus Ave.
Immigration: To and Fro...
When Ninth Avenue was renamed Columbus Avenue in the early 1890’s this building's residents were respectable, middle-class working people like John Rohl, a piano maker; Henry Berthaume, a waiter, and his wife, Bertha, a dressmaker. Susan Windecker was a partner in the dressmaking shop downstairs; her sister Augusta had a hat shop nearby.
157 Columbus Ave.
A "Taxpayer" Full of Talent
In 1903, this was a two-story brick “taxpayer” building. J. T. Finn & Co. plumbing was here; they worked on Charles Schwab’s massive Riverside Drive mansion in 1904. There was also Ward & Feld ladies' tailoring and the Friedrichs Co. art supplies store. By 1906, Italian immigrant brothers Gustatus and Samuel Calama had a popular restaurant on the corner.
This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.
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