227-229 Columbus Avenue

View to east side of Columbus Avenue between 70 & 71st Streets; Courtesy NYC Municipal Archive

Thrashings and Marital Strife

by Tom Miller, for They Were Here, Landmark West’s Cultural Immigrant Initiative

The real estate field was one male-dominated area in which 19th century woman sometimes excelled.  Among them was Ellen Gunning who in 1891 purchased the buildings lots at 225 through 229 Columbus Avenue, between 70th and 71st Streets and hired architect George Paccison to design three harmonious flat and store buildings on the site.  Completed the following year, the Romanesque Revival structures were architecturally harmonious, if a bit off kilter.

The northern and center buildings—227 and 229 Columbus Avenue–pretended to be one, with a shared residential entrance framed by a chunky stone arch supported by small, clustered columns above a short stoop.  The southern building, while carrying on the motif of four-story arches above the storefront and a medieval-inspired entrance, stood on its own, giving the trio a rather off-balanced appearance.  Each of the buildings had a store at sidewalk level. 

Among the initial residents were the French-born couple, Noemie and Julius Lassère.  The two had married in 1880.  On December 27, 1893, the end of their marital bliss was made official by Judge McAdam in the Superior Court Chambers.  The Sun explained that Noemie “showed that he had been at the Metropolitan Hotel with a woman she did not know.” 

Another couple to have serious domestic problems that year were the Nevilles, who moved into the middle building in August.  Florence Neville was astonished to receive a five days’ notice to vacate the apartment on September 1.  She sent her husband to the basement to ask the janitor, named Farrer, if he knew why they were being evicted.  The Sun explained on September 13, “Farrer told him that his wife had been receiving visits from men in his absence.”   Neville promptly walked out on his wife.

The two had married in 1880.  On December 27, 1893, the end of their marital bliss was made official by Judge McAdam in the Superior Court Chambers. 

The janitor had been instructed by the landlady, Mrs. Gunning, to observe the tenants and report any problematic behavior and that was what precipitated the eviction notice.  The Sun, describing the 25-year-old Florence Neville as “good looking,” said she “determined to horsewhip him.  Yesterday she met him in front of the house.  She asked him what he meant by telling her husband a false story.”

“I only told what was true,” he responded.

Before he had time to realize what was happening, Florence drew a small horsewhip from under her jacket and lashed him about the head and face.  She managed to land three or four blows before he escaped, running to the 68th Street police station where he demanded her arrest.  Policeman Jose went to the apartment and did just that.  The Sun reported, “She had the whip, which was broken, in her possession, and she was allowed to carry it.”

As soon as she entered the police station and saw Farrer, she attacked him with the whip again.  Finally, the police disarmed the irate woman.  In court, Farrer maintained a safe distance from Florence.  He was closely questioned by Justice Burke and was unable to provide any positive evidence.  Farrer was Black and in what could only have either been a case of 19th century racism or class inequity, “Justice Burke gave him a lecture and told him the thrashing served him right.”  He then dismissed the charges of assault against Florence Neville.

Artist Henry Wechsler and his wife, Mary, were also having marital problems and in the fall of 1894, Mary filed for separation.  It seems to have been too much for her, however and on September 16 The Press reported, “She jumped from the window of her home on the third story of No. 229 Columbus avenue, Sunday night, during the thunderstorm.”  She died in Roosevelt Hospital a few days later.

707 West 180th Street Tax Photo

The stoop from which Wardell Edward Washington advertised his crime.  Image Courtesy NYC Municipal Archive

Much more positive press surrounded the heroic actions of another resident, Hans Gerstel, in the winter of 1897.  The German immigrant witnessed a Columbus Avenue cable car collide with a carriage at Columbus Avenue and 71st Street on the night of December 4.  The impact was severe enough to tear the rear wheels from the carriage.  The panicked team of horses galloped along 71st Street dragging the wrecked vehicle and its occupant, Charles P. Armstrong.  In close pursuit were Hans Gerstel and a policeman.  The two were able to grab the reins at Central Park West and stop the frightened animals.

At the time, the northern store was home to the T. J. Enoch “high class grocery and delicatessen store.”  The business would remain here until 1913.

The Greek immigrant Ekonomos family lived in 227 Columbus Avenue by 1910.  On July 3, brothers Esperos and Nicholas went to Mohan’s bathing pavilion on the Hudson River, near 83rd Street.  They had swum for about an hour when Nicholas left the water and entered the pavilion.  When he returned, he could find no trace of his 23-year-old brother.  A frantic search followed, but Esperos’s body was never recovered.

The Depression years saw Charles J. Keeley’s fish store in 227, and Isadore Jacobs running the delicatessen in 229.  Meanwhile, an influx of Irish-born residents moved into the apartments.  Throughout the 1930’s the Irish American newspaper The Advocate reported on the marriages and deaths tenants like Miry O’Flaherty, James McDonnell, and Nora Mullins.

While 229 Columbus Avenue remained a delicatessen, the end of Prohibition brought significant change to the stores next door.  In 1935 M. A. Dumphy’s liquor store opened in 227 Columbus Avenue.

Washington was as foolish as his former boss had been.  The New York Sun reported, “On September 28, Washington stood in front of 707 West 180th street waving the bill and shouting for others to gather ‘round and see what he had.” 

Isadore Jacobs ran the delicatessen in 229 Columbus Avenue in 1944 when he made a foolish move.  On September 13 he withdrew $1,000 from his bank in the form of a single bill, “and put it in the pocket of an old jacket hanging in the store,” as reported by The New York Sun.  Working for him at the time was 44-year-old Wardell Edward Washington.  The newspaper said, “The money was there on September 14 when he looked, but on September 15 both the bill and Washington had disappeared.”

Washington was as foolish as his former boss had been.  The New York Sun reported, “On September 28, Washington stood in front of 707 West 180th street waving the bill and shouting for others to gather ‘round and see what he had.”  Among those curious to see just exactly what he had were two policemen.  He was taken into custody technically for possessing an illegal knife.  “A dozen or so persons, hearing about the money, put in an appearance to claim it,” said the newspaper.  One of them was Isadore Jacobs.  The bank substantiated his story and Washington was indicted for first-degree larceny.

Changing demographics in the neighborhood brought drastic change to the stores.  In 1982 Rits, a gourmet grocery opened in the former delicatessen space, replaced by the French-based clothing firm Naf-Naf’s boutique in 1987.  The space became Pomodoro Rosso restaurant in 1994.   Italian for the Red Tomato, the restaurant still operates from the space.  And as it was at the end of Prohibition, 227 Columbus Avenue is a liquor store.

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


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