528-534 Columbus Avenue

View of 528-534 Columbus Avenue taken from north along Columbus Avenue at West 86th Street; Courtesy NYC Municipal Archive

The Amy: Taking shots at Delmonico’s

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

Yacht designer and architect John G. Prague was a significant force in the development of the Upper West Side in the late 19th century, responsible for designing and constructing 232 buildings in the neighborhood around Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues and 86th Street.

In 1886, he began construction of a flat building with stores on the southwest corner of Columbus Avenue and 86th Street.  Called The Amy, it was completed the following year.  The five-story structure, faced in red brick and trimmed in brownstone, was a surprisingly unenthusiastic take on the Queen Anne style.

The initial residents of The Amy were financially comfortable professionals, like T. Mortimer Seaver, a member of the Produce Exchange, and his wife, Jane.  He also held memberships in the Union Boat Club, the New-York Athletic Club and the Freemasons.  It was the latter membership that got him into posthumous trouble.

Although his wife was an ardent Roman Catholic, Seaver was indifferent to religion.  The New York Times said of him on February 8, 1889, “Mr. Seaver, until about a month ago, was a Universalist by inclination, but even to this belief he was not a devotee, his friends declare, the merchant not identifying himself with any congregation.” 

About a year after moving into The Amy, Seaver was diagnosed with a terminal illness.  Jane panicked over the plight of her husband’s eternal soul.  She sought out a priest whom her husband had known since before his ordination.  Father Clarence E. Woodman began the instructions necessary to convert Seaver to Roman Catholicism—a process which included the renouncing of the Freemasons.

On February 4, 1889, Seaver died in his apartment.  His funeral was held at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament on West 71st Street.  But no one had thought to inform the Freemasons that Seaver had renounced their rituals.  When the masons filed into the church with pomp and ceremony, “Father Taylor saw this,” reported The New York Times.  He informed Jane Seaver “that under no circumstances should the funeral take place from his church if the dead were regarded as a departed Freemason, and that the members of the lodge, as such, could not take part in the services.”

The services screeched to a halt while a relative rushed to St. Patrick’s Cathedral where he pleaded with the Vicar-General to intercede.  The New York Times reported on February 8, “The services after considerable delay, therefore, took place yesterday.”

Another early resident was engineer George F. Hancock.  He certainly did not anticipate a night of physical exertion when he entered the fashionable Delmonico’s Restaurant on the night of November 16, 1893.  But, while he and his wife enjoyed their dinner, a “well, built, sharp featured young man, with a pair of glaring light blue eyes,” as described by the New York Herald, entered the establishment.  G. A. Roeth drew a revolver from his vest and shrieked, “Curse the rich!  Curse them now and for all time.”

The fascinating Dr. Joseph A. Nolan and his wife lived in the building at the time.  Born in Boston in 1842 he graduated from Georgetown University, then worked as an editorial writer for Horace Greeley’s New-York Tribune.  He gave that work up, finding it “too confining,” and shortly afterward wrote a review on “Church Architecture in the United States.”

He then began firing.  “Confusion conveys a weak impression of the scene that followed,” reported the New York Herald.  “Both in the bombarded restaurant and street there was the wildest kind of scurrying for cover.”  Waiters and patrons rushed for the doors and windows or took refuge under tables and the crazed man continued to fire shots.  George F. Hancock, however, did not retreat.  Calling him “one plucky man, small and wiry,” the New York Herald reported that he sprung at Roeth’s neck.

The article went on, “The new actor in the scene was no match physically for the frenzied intruder, but help was at hand.  Fire fighter Felix J. Jewell heard the commotion from the street.  “Running at top speed, he bounded into the restaurant as the ‘crank’ and his plucky little antagonist were whirling around in a lively fight for possession of the revolver.  Jewell tore the smoking weapon from the madman’s hand, but not before the fifth and final shot was fired, the bullet burying itself in the floor close to the engineer’s foot.”

Hancock and his wife decided their evening out was over and headed home.  He was later tracked down by authorities and served as a witness in Roeth’s trial.

In the meantime, another resident, German-born Jacob Ringkleb, had opened his Crystal Market butcher shop downstairs in the combined stores at 528 and 530 Columbus Avenue in 1891.  Ringkleb had come to America in 1871 and started his business five years later.  The History and Commerce of New York in 1891 noted “Four competent assistants are employed, all goods are delivered free, and an extensive and substantial trade has been established.”

The other two storefronts were occupied by W. N. Tobin’s plumbing office, in 532 Columbus Avenue, and J. E. Briggs real estate office in 534.

One resident brought unwanted press to The Amy in the fall of 1894.  Charles E. Poucher was an attorney and among his clients was inventor William Biddle.  One afternoon when Biddle was absent from his office, Poucher arrived and told the building’s porter he needed access to his client’s desk.  Michael Ward opened a drawer, then was directed to open another.  There Poucher found Biddle’s check book, which he took with him.

Poucher filled out a blank check for $80, making it payable to the bearer, then signed Biddle’s name and cashed it.  It was not a huge amount, equal to about $2,500 today, but it understandably got Poucher into serious trouble.  He was arrested on October 2, and held in $1,000 bail awaiting trial.

The fascinating Dr. Joseph A. Nolan and his wife lived in the building at the time.  Born in Boston in 1842 he graduated from Georgetown University, then worked as an editorial writer for Horace Greeley’s New-York Tribune.  He gave that work up, finding it “too confining,” and shortly afterward wrote a review on “Church Architecture in the United States.”  He then turned his focus to the study of sea organisms and was a frequent lecturer on the subject.

9th Avenue El with a view of The Amy

Image from the Norvin H. Green Collection, courtesy New York Historical Society ca. June 3-5, 1940

At the turn of the century Jacob Ringkleb had installed a new-fangled amenity to the Crystal Market—a telephone booth.  On the evening of October 9, 1901 two young women walked in and asked if he had a public telephone.  The Sun, with a rather sexist swipe, wrote, “There was a sign in the window telling that there was a public telephone there, but these were young women.”

Ringkleb pointed to the booth and the two women squeezed inside.  At 7:00 Ringkleb closed his shop, not realizing that the women were still inside.  The Sun reported “At 7:45 P.M., the telephone bell at Police Headquarters rang.  Then followed this conversation over the wire:

Hello, oh, hello!  Is this Police Headquarters?  Well, I should think it was time you answered.  Say, we’re shut in and want to get out, and there’s a great big dog in here and he won’t let us get near the door.  Please send somebody to break down the door and shoot the big dog.  Where are we?  Oh, we’re in an old horrid butcher shop at 528 Columbus avenue.  We got locked in by mistake.  Please send a man quick.

The call was repeated three more times at five minutes intervals.  At 8:45 two policemen arrived.  “They saw inside two girls squeezed into one corner, and a very small fox terrier in another corner.  The dog appeared more frightened than the girls,” said The Sun.  The police notified Ringkleb who opened the door.  “Then everyone but the dog went home,” said the article.  It concluded, “Mr. Ringkleb remembered later that he hadn’t been paid for the use of his telephone.”

By 1909 534 Columbus Avenue was home to the T. Martin & Co. fruit store, run by Thomas Martin.  An advertisement in 1914 touted “Steamer Baskets a Specialty.”  The store next door could not have been more different.  The Boston-based Electro-Radiation Co. made and sold “x-ray, high frequency and electro-medical apparatus,” according to an advertisement in 1905.

Resident Susan Daniels was, according to The Evening World, “a plump and pleasing little milliner,” who embarked on a dangerous undercover assignment for the city in the summer of 1914.  Dr. Charles F. Baxter was the head physician in the workhouse hospital on Blackwell’s Island and rumors were that he was selling drugs to prisoners.

On June 4, 1914, The Evening World reported that Susan Daniels had been sent undercover as an inmate on May 30.  Per the plans, not long after arriving there she complained of illness and was sent to the hospital.  She had been provided with “plenty of money” said the article.  “She bought morphine and cocaine from [Dr. Baxter] and concealed it in her clothing, producing it to-day [in court] as evidence,” said the article.  Additionally, she wrote notes to the doctor, asking for drugs, knowing that detectives would later be able to retrieve them from his rooms.

Moreover, on the stand Daniels testified “that women of the streets with money who are sent to the Island can buy their way into the hospital and serve their terms out in comparative luxury and comfort.  The women who have no money are compelled to scrub.”

Another resident, Dr. Hubert V. Guile, was called to an auspicious case in June 1916.  His patient was former President Theodore Roosevelt.  On the evening of June 15, Roosevelt suffered what the New York Herald described as “another severe attack of coughing.”  It went on to say, “In the morning his coughing and loss of sleep caused Mrs. Roosevelt anxiety, and Dr. Guile was called.”  The doctor later told reporters, “There is nothing the matter with Mr. Roosevelt’s heart.  He has a touch of pleurisy, but nothing to worry about.  His condition is very satisfactory, and he is doing very well indeed.”

The post-World War I years saw the affluent residents leaving The Amy.  Among the occupants in 1922 was George W. Naudain, a 24-year-old former convict.  He had been released from the penitentiary in March that year after serving a term for burglary.  Naudain may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time on the night of May 9.

At around 4 a.m. Frederick Brown, his wife and their maid were asleep in their apartment on Central Park West when the flicker of a flashlight woke up Mrs. Brown.  She nudged her husband who told the intruder “Go on, take anything you want, but don’t hurt any of us.”  The gutsy burglar emptied Brown’s wallet, took a gold pen, then approached the bed and told Mrs. Brown to remove her jewelry.  He then escaped out the window.

Michael Amento was jailed for two days in 1937 for reckless driving; and former policeman Matthew McGovern was arrested in an extortion plot in 1939.  In 1946, Robert Luckey was arrested for running an illegal betting parlor from the storefront at 528 Columbus Avenue.

An hour later George Naudain was at the corner of 91st Street and Central Park West with a bundle.  It was a bad situation for the Black man in the 1920’s and he was arrested on suspicion.  At the station house police examined his package, which turned out to be a chicken.  Nevertheless, when the Browns appeared, they positively identified him.  Then, according to the Daily News, “after first identifying him, the Browns said they weren’t sure he was the man.”  He was nevertheless held “because of his criminal record” as police investigated other recent burglaries.

It one of a string of arrests of residents to come.  Michael Amento was jailed for two days in 1937 for reckless driving; and former policeman Matthew McGovern was arrested in an extortion plot in 1939.  In 1946, Robert Luckey was arrested for running an illegal betting parlor from the storefront at 528 Columbus Avenue.

The upper floors of the building had been converted to Single Occupancy Rooms in 1942.  The degrading conditions continued until the early 1970’s when the entrance was padlocked, and the upper floors left vacant.

Although shops—like Poulet Take-a-Way restaurant in 528 Columbus Avenue—continued to occupy the stores, the upper section remained abandoned for more than two decades.   Then in the summer of 1992, Marcus Retter purchased the building and hired architect Joseph Feingold to renovate it to modern apartments.  Feingold told a reporter from The New York Times, “The elements have wreaked havoc inside.”

The renovations, completed in 1995, resulted in three apartments per floor and a new penthouse level.  The 1990’s saw The Grocery in 532 Columbus Avenue, a home store that The New York Times’s Florence Fabricant said “sells very little in the way of real food.  But the toys, household goods, gift items, gadgets and other products carried in this new shop are all inspired by food.”  And by the end of the 1990’s the bar Lucy’s Retired Surfers was in 530 Columbus Avenue, “where the décor runs to Day-Glo surfboards and the crowd quaffs beach-themed cocktails,” according to the 1999 Street New York.

Today Matto Espresso is in 530 Columbus Avenue and Vive La Crepe is next door in 532.

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


528-534 Columbus Avenue


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