340-348 Columbus Avenue
B&W NYC Tax Photo of 340-348 Columbus Avenue

View of 340-348 Columbus Avenue from south west; Courtesy NYC Municipal Archives

340-348 Columbus Avenue

by Tom Miller

On July 8, 1886, The Record and Guide reported that the office of Thom & Wilson was “preparing plans for a five-story brown stone apartment house on the northwest corner of Ninth avenue and Seventy-sixth street” and another at the southwest corner of Ninth Avenue and 77th Street.  Developer John T. Farley had commissioned the mirror-image buildings.  Completed in the spring of 1887, their entrances at 101 West 76th Street and 100 West 77th Street sat above short stoops flanked by beefy cast iron newels.  The architects’ neo-Grec design included sawtooth brick courses that connected the windows at each level.  On Ninth Avenue (renamed Columbus Avenue soon afterward) were eight stores.  Each of the buildings cost Farley $30,000 to construct—a total outlay of $1.98 million in 2024 terms.

The up-to-date apartments consisted of six rooms and a bath and were heated by steam.  Rents ranted from $38 to $45, or about $1,650 per month for the more expensive suites in today’s money.

The roomy apartments could accommodate large gatherings, not all of which were joyous.  On March 3, 1892, for instance, the funeral of Frederick C. Hearne was held in the apartment of his parents, Jean C. and Robert J. Hearne.  They were also large enough that some tenants sublet rooms.  On November 12, 1895, the Jeansen family advertised, “Two handsomely furnished adjoining rooms; corner; heated; bath; suitable [for] gentleman and wife.  100 West 77th St.”

The stores became home to a variety of tenants.  In 1898, the Good Government Club occupied the space at 340 Columbus Avenue.  On November 4 that year, the group “passed resolutions denouncing [Tammany “Boss” Richard] Crocker’s attitude toward the bench and called on all voters, irrespective of party, to support the candidates on the Republican Judiciary,” as reported by The Sun.

In May 1900, real estate broker W. S. Anderson Co. moved its offices into 348 Columbus Avenue, and by 1902 R. A. Schoenberg & Co., electrical contractors operated from 344 Columbus Avenue.

In Bradley’s apartment they discovered “about a dozen women who were jotting down facts and figures on pads of paper.”

John P. Bradley rented a second-floor apartment at 100 West 77th Street in 1904.  The New York Times, said it was “elegantly furnished and with a rather liberal display of oil paintings on the wall.”  But Bradley did not live there–his residence was 201 West 53rd Street.  The 25-year-old needed the space for his business. 

In February police Captain Kemp received an anonymous tip “that a great number of well-dressed women seemed to be greatly interested in something at 100 West Seventy-seventh Street, and that many of them came to the place in carriages,” according to The New York Times.  Kemp took three detectives with him on February 27, and they waited inconspicuously to see if any suspicious activities occurred.  Eventually, a carriage drove up and three women got out.  They rang the bell marked “Marion” and were admitted.  The policemen, in plain clothes, casually followed.  In Bradley’s apartment they discovered “about a dozen women who were jotting down facts and figures on pads of paper.”  The New York Times said “to [Captain Kemp’s] unsympathetic mind [it] appeared to be nothing else than a woman’s poolroom.”  (A poolroom was an illegal gambling operation, usually involving betting on horses.)  The article continued, “The busy assembly, dressed in expensive furs, silks, and furbelows, listened eagerly to a man at a telephone who, in accents loud and distinct, was calling: ‘Pretorius, 8 to 5 to show.’”

John P. Bradley was arrested, but the women who had been “nervously fumbling to find their boas which were dangling over their shoulders,” and who “were whimpering,” were allowed to go home.  The New York Times explained that Captain Kemp, “knew full well what was likely to occur [and] saw that he must expedite matters if he wished to avoid the scenes inevitable on these occasions, and out they went.”

Unexpectedly, given the inherent racism of the period, the Braxton family lived at 100 West 77th Street by 1905.  John and Sarah A. Braxton were prominent in the black community.  Living with them were their son George S., Georgietta Jones, Sarah’s daughter from a previous marriage, and Sarah’s brother, Charles H. Dempsey.  John Braxton was born in Richmond, Virginia in 1836 and had moved to New York City at the age of 20.  The New York Age called him “one of the best known among the older colored men of the city.”  He was a founder of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem and would serve as a deacon for 43 years.

The family was closely followed in the society pages of The New York Age.  On May 10, 1906, for instance, the newspaper reported, “Miss Georgietta Jones of 100 West 77th Street, has been very ill but is now on the mend.”  And on September 5, 1907, an article noted, “Mrs. S. E. Braxton, of 100 West 77th street, has returned home after a pleasant stay in Bennington, Vt., Williamstown, Mass., and Saratoga Springs, the guest of Mrs. David Franklyn.”

Charles Dempsey had served in the Civil War as a member of the 14th Rhode Island Heavy Artillery, a “colored” regiment.  He died in the apartment on May 2, 1908, at the age of 67.  His funeral was held in the Zion A. M. E. Church.

John Braxton’s funeral was in the Abyssinian Baptist Church on December 19, 1912.  It was presided over by pastor Adam Clayton Powell, who had taken the pulpit four years earlier.

At the time, the catering firm Perssell Mfg. Co. occupied 340 Columbus Avenue.  Malvine Javitz’s hat shop at 344 Columbus Avenue was taken over by Charles F. Lawrence that year for his florist shop.

Clara Briner Tousey, her husband Dr. Ralph Tousey, and their three-year-old son Ralph, Jr. lived at 100 West 79th Street in 1913.  Things were not going well for the couple.  Clara filed for separation and on August 7 the pair faced off before Supreme Court Justice Guy.  Clara complained that “He has old-fashioned ideas and wants more than one baby,” that he paid more attention to his business demands than to her, and that, “He failed to provide her with sufficient funds with which to purchase slit gowns and other things which the feminine heart holds dear,” as worded by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

Dr. Tousey’s expectations were simple.  He wanted his wife “to be a housewife, a mother of children, a helpmate, and not too extravagant.”  According to him, Clara had spent $11,000 “above his income” in their four years of marriage.

Unfortunately for Clara, the judge sided with Dr. Tousey.  The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that Clara, who “has New Woman ideals of wifehood, must live with her ‘old-fashioned husband.’”  Justice Guy did not find enough merit in her complaint to warrant their living apart, although he did give custody of Ralph, Jr., to the father.

In 1919, Herman Flower operated his electrical contracting business from 344 Columbus Avenue, the L. B. Basim Grocery store was in 340, and Henry Graham’s jewelry store was in 342 Columbus Avenue. 

Patrolman Deveny ran up, and as the bandits ran north on Amsterdam Avenue, he leaped on the running board of a passing automobile and overtook them at 79th Street. 

Henry Graham was described by The Jewelers’ Circular-Weekly as “an elderly man.”  He was behind the counter at 9:30 on the morning of January 31, 1919, when a customer came in and asked to see a pair of cuff buttons.  Graham brought out a tray of 36 sets and just as he placed it on the country, the man pulled out a revolver and demanded, “Hold up your hands!”

Dumbfounded, Graham answered, “What do you mean?” as a second gunman entered the store, and then a third.  As one of the men came behind the counter, Graham pulled out a short club and attempted to strike him, but, according to The Jewelers’ Circular-Weekly, “The blow went wild and the ‘billy’ was kicked from his hand and fell to the floor.”  Graham was warned that he would be shot if he made another move or cried out.

When a customer entered, the trio fled followed closely by Henry Graham who shouted as he ran.  The gunmen fired back at their pursuers.  “Col. Archibald Roosevelt, who lives at 201 West 78th St., and who was passing by when the gun play began, immediately joined the action,” recounted the article.  “Reports of the shots which stabbed the air in quick succession, brought a big crowd.”  Patrolman Deveny ran up, and as the bandits ran north on Amsterdam Avenue, he leaped on the running board of a passing automobile and overtook them at 79th Street.  One, named Marcello, drew his revolver and fired four shots at Deveny, who was wounded in the leg.  Marcello “fell mortally hurt, a bullet lodging in the side of his forehead.”

Marcello was taken to Bellevue Hospital where Henry Graham identified him.  He also identified the cuff buttons found in his pockets.  Other cuff buttons were retrieved from the sidewalk.

Herman Flower’s electrical contracting business was still at 344 Columbus Avenue in 1925.  On January 24, he wrote out some papers, gave the envelope to his manager, William Roberts, then drove to the Astoria Shore Road under the Hell Gate Bridge where he shot himself.  In the envelope were his newly drawn-up will, and a letter to Roberts and one to his wife.  He left the business to Roberts.

The following year, William Orkin opened a restaurant at 346 Columbus Avenue.  It would remain into the 1930s. 

Thom & Wilson’s brownstone buildings survived until 1956 when they were demolished for the schoolyard of Public School 334, known as The Anderson School.


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


340-348 Columbus Avenue


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