Gothic architecture usually brings to mind shadowy vaulted ceilings and cathedral spires, and there are plenty of examples of this all over New York City.
But there’s a mashup of a building on a tiny Tribeca block that’s such a fascinating kaleidoscope of Gothic details, it suggests something light and frothy, not dark and Medieval.
The 5-story slender building is at 8 Thomas Street, between Broadway and Church Street. This architectural confection was completed in 1876 by a young designer named J. Morgan Slade.
“It was built as a store for David S. Brown Company, a soap manufacturing firm, and as such is a reminder of the first large-scale commercial development in the area following the Civil War,” explained the Historic Districts Council.
Brick, stone, cast iron, ionic columns, arched windows, a gabled roof, and one single fanciful oculus on the top floor, it has all the bells and whistles that makes coming across the building such a treat.
The Historic Districts Council calls it Venetian Gothic.
“This building is a rare New York example of Venetian Gothic, a Victorian style popularized by the British architecture critic John Ruskin,” the group wrote.
Other sources describe it as Victorian Gothic, Romanesque, and Ruskinian Gothic.
After the soap company departed in the late 19th century, other manufacturing concerns moved in, including a wool company. A French restaurant was tried in the early 20th century.
By 1990, it was described in a New York Times article on Tribeca as “a giddy mix of Romanesque, Venetian Gothic, brick, sandstone, granite and cast-iron elements that stands alone, a little forlornly, beneath a giant construction project.”
Originally, 8 Thomas Street was flanked by two larger late 19th century cast-iron buildings, as the 1940 Tax Photo from the NYC Department of Records shows.
Sadly, both were lost—leaving number 8 to stand out on its own between a 2-story restaurant on one side and a modern residential tower on the other.
It’s now a 4-unit condo, a luxury building like so many of its Tribeca neighbors. What would the folks at the David S. Brown soap company think of this stylish pad which sold for $2.9 million in 2018?
[Fourth image: 1940 Tax Photos/Department of Records and Information Services]
While browsing old postcards of Brooklyn recently, I came across this lovely image from 1905, which features a bicyclist on the then-new cycling path on Ocean Parkway.
Then I looked closer at the postcard. Ocean Boulevard? This was apparently the name for the street in the late 19th century.
Newspaper articles in 1869 announced that the “Grand Ocean Boulevard” from Prospect Park to Coney Island was in the works. Designed Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, it was to be modeled after the grand boulevards of Europe, with a pedestrian path on the grassy median.
Thanks to the popularity of cycling in the late 19th century, the bicycle path came into the picture in 1894.
Ocean Boulevard? The term seemed to fall out of favor, and by the 1890s, most news stories called it Ocean Parkway.
In March 1970, a traveler now living in Rotterdam paid a visit to New York City.
Jaap Breedveld was in his 40s at the time. Like many tourists, he took photos that reflect the typical itinerary of a sightseer from overseas, like Times Square (above, with the old Howard Johnson’s at 46th Street on the left).
But Breedveld also captured images of New Yorkers at work, like this pretzel vendor on an unknown street, above. (Were pretzel carts really so low-key in 1970?)
During a foray into Chinatown, Breedveld immortalized these two men slicing fish on a barrel.
His photos also reflect a changed cityscape. In this image above, the Chrysler Building dominates the skyline, as it does today.
But Roosevelt Island—in 1970, still officially Welfare Island—has yet to be developed into a residential enclave, and the tramway wouldn’t start operating until 1976.
Midnight Cowboy fans will recognize the lovely Beaux-Arts building on the left in this image of Times Square.
It’s the Hotel Claridge, where Joe Buck gets a room after he arrives in New York. Opened in 1911 as luxury accommodations, the old hotel was torn down in 1972 to make way for an office building.
Sure you might be able to open the windows, but you were basically crammed into a group of perspiring passengers inside a metal box under the broiling sun.
“In summer the packing-box system makes comfort impossible,” complained the New York Herald of streetcars in 1876.
So with summertime comfort in mind, streetcar companies—especially the John Stephenson Streetcar Company, a leading manufacturer on East 27th Street near Fourth Avenue—began making “summer cars,” which showed up on city streets in the 1870s and 1880s.
These open-air streetcars had rows of seats but no side panels, so taking a ride in one offered fresh air and something of a breeze, depending how fast the horses were traveling.
While they were most certainly a relief from the heat, these summer cars seemed to be a lot less safe than the regular streetcars.
New York and Brooklyn newspaper archives contain many stories of people falling off them and getting injured or killed. Seat belts, needless to say, were nonexistent.
When developers created Sutton Place in the 1870s, they started with a one-block strip of 24 brownstones between 58th and 59th Streets and the East River and Avenue A (which ran uptown at the time).
But it wasn’t until the 1920s when Sutton Place, now stretching from 57th Street to 60th Street, became synonymous with extreme wealth and privilege.
This couldn’t have happened if a group of New York’s richest and most notable women—such as Anne Morgan, daughter of J.P. Morgan, and society decorator Elsie De Wolfe— didn’t decide to turn this out of the way street into the city’s new corridor of exclusivity.
Among these influential women was Anne Harriman Vanderbilt (left).
Vanderbilt’s announcement that she was relocating from her Fifth Avenue and 52nd Street mansion to a part of Manhattan known for its proximity to slaughterhouses and factories was quite shocking.
It marked such a shift among the society set that the news made the gossip columns and bold type headlines.
“Mrs. W.K. Vanderbilt to Live in Avenue A,” proclaimed the New York Times in 1921, in an article that chronicled the movement of “society leaders” to this “new colony” of Sutton Place that sought to blend the three “classifications of life—social, artistic, and professional.”
Though devoted to her charitable endeavors, Vanderbilt apparently pulled out all the stops when it came to her new digs.
Instead of building a luxury townhouse or moving to a ritzy apartment residence, she commissioned architects to create an expansive Georgian-style mansion on the corner of Sutton Place and 57th Street.
Christened “One Sutton Place North” and completed in 1921, the mansion was a 13-room (plus 17 servant rooms) ivy-covered home with a bright blue front door.
Stately shutters flanked enormous windows, and shady trees swayed gently across the front facade.
Perhaps the mansion’s most impressive features were the terraces, gardens, and the lawn sloping down to the East River.
Vanderbilt only lived on Sutton Place until 1927, after which she relocated to a triplex on Park Avenue.
Her magnificent house still stands on this lovely corner today, one of the last single-family mansions in Manhattan on a street that isn’t trendy but still has its air of exclusivity.
This dry goods emporium was the first to offer set prices for each item (in other words, no haggling), a money-back guarantee, and a store Santa starting with the 1862 holiday season.
But the retailer that eventually operated 11 shops across 14th Street in the Ladies Mile shopping district before decamping for Herald Square in 1902 can also claim another first.
Macy’s was the first store, or perhaps the first business in New York at all, to employ a female executive.
Having an astute woman leading a company that largely marketed itself to women may have been the secret that helped make Macy’s the retail giant it still is today.
Born in 1841, Margaret Getchell (above) was a former schoolteacher from Nantucket who moved to New York City at the age of 20. She applied for an entry-level job as a Macy’s clerk.
[Some accounts have it that Getchell was a distant relation of Rowland H. Macy, the store founder; but it’s unclear if this was actually true.]
“[Getchell] was an incredibly hard-working employee and, aside from her quick calculations as a cashier, she would often stay late at night to help with the company bookkeeping,” states The Folding Chair, a women’s history website. “Macy decided to promote her to the store’s bookkeeper.”
Soon, Getchell wasn’t just keeping track of the books and training new “cash girls,” as the shopgirls were called. She was recommending trends to Macy that he should capitalize on.
“At the end of the Civil War, Margaret suggested the addition of military-inspired fashion. She also began to spot budding trends in gifts, jewelry, clocks, homeware and cooking equipment,” The Folding Chair explains.
“These suggestions, as they began to materialize in the shop, transformed Macy’s into the first modern department store in America.”
This is Park Row and Broadway in 1972. John Lindsay was the New York’s mayor; that year, he launched a short-lived quest for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Transit strikes, teacher strikes, and a sanitation workers’ walkout in the 1960s continued to cripple the 1970s city. By the end of the decade, almost a million people had left Gotham and resettled elsewhere.
The congregation was an outgrowth of the more affluent St. Michael’s Church to the south in Bloomingdale, according to the 1998 Landmarks Preservation Commission report. (St. Michael’s is still here, on West 99th Street.)
The first St. Mary’s church (at left) was a simple white structure consecrated in 1826.
“Manhattanville’s founding families, many of whom were related by marriage, were the core of St. Mary’s early congregation, which also included the widow and sons of Alexander Hamilton, and Daniel F. Tiemann, mayor of New York in 1858-1860,” states the report.