Beyond Murray Hill
( Originally Published 1918 )
Stretches of the Avenue—The Public Library—Temple Emanuel—The Draft Riots—The Coloured Orphan Asylum —The Willow Tree Inn—Remaining Residences—Clubs of the Section—As Seen by Arnold Bennett and Henry James—Three Churches and a Cathedral—The Elgin Botanical Gardens—Old Land Values.
O beautiful, long, loved Avenue,
ON the site of the old Croton Reservoir the cornerstone of the Public Library was laid November 10,1902, and the building opened to the public May 23, 1911. To it were carried the treasures of the Astor Library on Lafayette Place, and the Lenox Library at Fifth Avenue and Seventieth Street. Designed by Carrere and Hastings, the Library was built by the city at a cost of about nine million dollars. It is three hundred and ninety feet long and two hundred and seventy feet deep, the material is largely Vermont marble, and the style that of the modern renaissance. The lions that guard the main entrance from the Fifth Avenue side are the work of E. C. Potter. The pediments at the ends of the front, the one at the north representing History and the one at the south Art, are by George Grey Barnard. The fountains are by Frederick MacMonnies. Above the main entrance are six figures by Paul Bartlett, in order from south to north, Philosophy, Romance, Religion, Poetry, Drama, and History. Augustus St. Gaudens, who was to have directed the choice of the sculptors and supervised the work died before the Library was completed.
Although consideration of the Public Library must necessarily be brief, a word should be said of the collection of paintings. The paintings comprise the gifts of three donors: James Lenox, whose collection of about fifty paintings was presented in 1877; the Robert Stuart Collection of about two hundred and fifty paintings, bequeathed by Mrs. Stuart in 1892; and some of John Jacob Astor's pictures, presented by William Waldorf Astor in 1896. Paintings of importance are, in the main room, Munkacsy's Blind Milton Dictating " Paradise Lost " to his Daughters, Sir Henry Raeburn's Portrait of Lady Belhaven, Copley's Portrait of Lady Frances Wentworth, Turner's Scene on the French Coast, Sir Joshua Reynolds's Mrs. Billington as Saint Cecilia, Gilbert Stuart's Washington, Horace Vernet's Siege of Saragossa, Raeburn's Portrait of Van Brugh Livingston; in the Stuart Room, Boughton's Pilgrims Going to Church, Schreyer's The Attack, Inness's Hackensack Meadows, Sun-set, Troyon's Cow and Sheep, Detaille's Chasseur of the French Imperial Guard, Bougereau's The Secret, and Weir's View of the Highlands from West Point.
About 1825 the land on the east side of Fifth Avenue from Forty-second to Forty-fourth Streets belonged to Isaac Burr, whose estate ex-tended along the old Middle Road. The present Seymour Building at the north-east corner of Forty-second Street is on the site formerly occupied by the home of Levi P. Morton, and before that by the Hamilton Hotel. Near the adjoining corner to the north is No. 511, the late residence of Mr. Richard T. Wilson, Jr. That number was once the home of " Boss " Tweed. Arrested for robbing the city, Tweed asked permission to return to his house for clothes. While policemen were guarding the Fifth Avenue entrance he escaped through a rear alley, made his way to his yacht in the East River, and sailed to Spain. Today unsightly advertising signs, thorns in the flesh of the Fifth Avenue Association, disfigure the north-west corner of Forty-second Street. Behind the signs there is an office building. Until a few years ago the Bristol Hotel stood here, and back in the days before the Civil War there was a small tavern on the site, while on the adjoining lot was the garden of William IL Webb, the ship-builder. Webb's house was at 504 Fifth Avenue, and 506 was once the home of Russell Sage.
The brown synagogue, Temple Emanuel, at the north-east corner of Forty-third Street, dates from 1868. The congregation was organized in 1845, first holding services in the Grand Street Court Room, thence moving in 1850 to a re-modelled Unitarian Church in Chrystie Street, and again, in 1856, to a Baptist Church in Twelfth Street. The present structure, considered one of the finest examples of Saracenic architecture in the country, was designed by Leopold Eidlitz, and completed at a cost of six hundred thousand dollars. The materials are brown and yellow sandstone, with black and red tiles alternating on the roof. Within, near the entrance, are memorial tablets to Dr. Leo Merzbacher, first Rabbi, 1845-56, and to his successors, Dr. Samuel Adler (father of Felix Adler), 1857-74, and Dr. Gustav Gottheil, 1873-1903. The present Rabbi is the Rev. Joseph Silverman.
Back from the Avenue, on the west side, between Forty-third and Forty-fourth Streets, there once stood the Coloured Orphan Asylum. It was a square four-story building, occupying almost the entire block, and there was a garden in front extending to the road. The Asylum, which was under the management of the Association for the Benefit of Coloured Orphans, organized in 1836 by a number of prominent New York women, received from the city in 1842 a grant of twenty-two lots and erected the building in which the children were housed and taught trades. In the summer of 1863 there were between two hundred and two hundred and fifty children in the institution. Then Congress passed the Conscription Law. In the evening papers of Saturday, July 11th, the names of those drafted from New York were announced. Excitement seethed that night and all day Sunday. Monday the storm broke. The draft offices were surrounded by a mob, and as the first name was called a stone crashed through a window. That was the signal. The offices were rushed and the building soon in flames. The police were routed, and a squad of soldiers sent to their aid disarmed and badly beaten. Then the mob ranged, pillaging the house of William Turner on Lexington Avenue, firing the Bull's Head Hotel at Forty-fourth Street, and the Croton Cottage opposite the Reservoir, plundering the Provost Marshal's office at 1148 Broadway, and destroying an arms factory at Seventh Avenue and Twenty-first Street. Then some one in the mob cried out that the war was being fought on account of the negroes and the rioters started in the direction of the Asylum.
When they reached the spot they found an empty building, for the alarm had been given and the children taken to the Police Station and later conducted under guard to the Almshouse on Blackwell's Island. But the structure they destroyed, and when they came upon a coloured man in the neighbourhood they hanged him to the nearest tree or lamp-post.
During the riot the draft-rioters made their headquarters at the Willow Tree Inn, which stood near the south-east corner of Fifth Avenue and Forty-fourth Street, and which at one time was run by Tom Hyer, of prize-ring fame. A photo-graph shows it as it was in 1880, with the tree from which it took its name in front, and the Henry W. Tyson Fifth Avenue Market adjoining it. " Fifth Avenue " quotes from Mr. John T. Mills, Jr., whose father owned the cottage: " My mother planted the old willow tree," said Mr. Mills, " and I remember distinctly the Orphan Asylum fire. The only reason our home was not destroyed was that father ran the Bull's Head stages which carried people downtown for three cents, and the ruffians did not care to destroy the means of transportation. There were many vacant lots in this section of Fifth Avenue at the time of the Civil War, and a small shanty below the Willow Cottage was the only building that stood between Madison Avenue and Fifth Avenue. On the north-west corner of Fifth Avenue and Forty-fourth Street, then considered far north, stood a three-story brick building. The stockyards were between Fifth Avenue and Fourth Avenue from Forty-fourth to Forty-sixth Street, and Madison Avenue was not then cut through. The stockyards were divided into pens of fifty by one hundred feet, into which the cattle were driven from runs between the yards. On the east side of Fifth Avenue, just above Forty-second Street, stood four high brown-stone-front houses, the first to be built in this neighbourhood. In the rear of these were stables that had entrances on Fifth Avenue. Fifth Avenue " points to the Willow Tree Inn as illustrating the appreciation of Fifth Avenue real estate. " In 1853 this corner was the extreme south-west angle of the Fair and Lockwood farm, and was sold for eight thousand five hundred dollars. Here in 1905 a twelve-story office building was erected, replacing Tyson's meat market and the old Willow Tree Inn. The corner was then held at two million dollars. The property was bought in 1909 for one million nine hundred thousand dollars by the American Real Estate Company."
At No. 7 West Forty-third Street is the home of the Century Association, at the corresponding number in Forty-fourth Street that of the St. Nicholas Club, formed of descendants of residents, prior to 1785, of either the City or State of New York, and facing diagonally at Forty-fourth Street, are the establishments of Delmonico and Sherry. The site of the former restaurant was occupied from 1846 to 1865 by the Washington Hotel, otherwise known as " Allerton's," a low white frame building surrounded by a plot of grass. The rest of the block was a drove yard. Thomas Darling bought the entire block in 1836 for eighty-eight thousand dollars. David Allerton, to whom he leased part of it, ran the Washington Hotel during the Civil War. When the cattle-yards were removed to Fortieth Street and Eleventh Avenue the tavern's living was gone. John H. Sherwood, a prominent builder who contributed much towards developing upper Fifth Avenue as a residential section, bought the site and erected the Sherwood House. It was in the basement of the hotel that the Fifth Avenue Bank first opened for business. An interesting record of early rental values is found in the original minute book of the Bank. The Bank's offices in the basement of the Sherwood House were se-cured " at a rental of two thousand six hundred dollars per year, said rental to include the gas used and the heating of the rooms." There have been but four transfers of the corner upon which the Bank now stands at Fifth Avenue and Forty-fourth Street since Peter Minuit, in 1626, bought the island from the Indians for a handful of trinkets.
Despite the invasion of business there are many houses in this stretch of the Avenue that recall the tradition and flavour of the older New York. Between Forty-fifth and Forty-sixth, Nos. 555 and 559, respectively, are the residences of Mrs. James R. Jessup and Mrs. John H. Hall. At the north-east corner of Forty-seventh Street is the home of Mrs. Finley J. Shepard, formerly Miss Helen Gould. Between Forty-seventh and Forty-eighth live Captain W. C. Beach (585), Mrs. James B. Haggin (587), Mrs. Robert W. Goelet (591), Mrs. Russell Sage (604), Mrs. Ogden Goelet (608), and Mrs. Daniel Butterfield (616). On the next block, Charles F. Hoffman (620), and August Hecksher (622) ; and between Fifty-first and Fifty-second, William B. Coster (641), William B. O. Field (645), and Robert Goelet (647). Then, on to the Plaza, comes the sweep of the houses of the Vanderbilts, and the residence of Lewis Stuyvesant Chanler (673), Samuel Untermeyer (675), F. Lewisohn (683) , H. McK. Twombly (684) , William Rockefeller (689), Mrs. M. H. Dodge (691), W. Kirkpatrick Brice (693), Mrs. Benjamin B. Brewster (695), Adrian Iselin, Jr. (711), Mrs. N. W. Aldrich (721), John Markle (723), Mrs. Lewis T. Hoyt (726), H. E. Huntington (735), Mrs. Hermann Oelrichs (739), Joseph Guggenheim (741), and William E. Iselin (745).
Of this land the stretch from Forty-fifth Street to Forty-eighth on the east side of the Avenue was a part of the fifty-five-acre estate bought by Thomas Buchanan between 1803 and 1807 from the city, which was then disposing of its common land, for the sum of seven thousand five hundred and thirty-seven dollars. One hundred and eight years later " Fifth Avenue " appraised its value at twenty million dollars. For his country-seat Buchanan purchased a tract of ground along the East River front between Fifty-fourth and Fifty-seventh Streets. Buchanan died in 1815. A daughter, Almy, married Peter Goelet, and an-other daughter, Margaret, married Robert Ratzer Goelet, which accounts for the large Goelet holdings in this section.
In this stretch of the Avenue and in the adjacent streets is the heart of the new Club-land. The Century in Forty-third and the St. Nicholas in Forty-fourth have been mentioned. At No. 10 West Forty-third Street is the home of the Columbia University Club. In Forty-fourth Street are the City Club (55 W.), the New York Yacht (37 W.), and the Harvard (27 W.). Until a few years ago the Yale Club was diagonally across the street from the Haryard Club, but now the alumni of " Old Eli " have a superb club-house of their own on Vanderbilt Avenue between Forty-fourth and Forty-fifth Streets, which they are occupying jointly with the alumni of Princeton for the duration of the war. Farther up the Avenue, on the north-east corner of Fifty-first Street, is the Union Club, which moved there after relinquishing the house it held so long at the corner of Twenty-first Street. Then, at the north-west corner of Fifty-fourth Street, is the University Club, to the mind of Mr. Arnold Bennett, the finest of all the fine buildings that line the Avenue. " The residential blocks to the north of Fifty-ninth Street," he wrote in the book that on this side of the North Atlantic was known as " Your United States," " fall short of their pretensions in beauty and interest. But except for the miserly splitting, here and there, in the older edifices, of an inadequate ground floor into a mezzanine and a narrow box, there is nothing mean in the whole street from the Plaza to Washington Square. Much mediocre architecture, of course, but the general effect homogeneous and fine, and, above all, grandly generous." . . . The single shops, as well as the general stores and hotels on Fifth Avenue, are impressive in the lavish spaciousness of their disposition. Neither stores nor shops could have been conceived, or could be kept, by merchants without genuine imagination and faith."
Bennett, though not in an unkindly spirit, was looking for aspects, not to praise, but to abuse. It was a far different neighbourhood forty-five years ago. Henry James, writing in 1873, in " The Impressions of a Cousin " (Tales of Three Cities), said : " How can I sketch Fifty-third Street? How can I even endure Fifty-third Street? When I turn into it from the Fifth Avenue the vista seems too hideous, the narrow, impersonal houses with the hard, dry tone of their brown-stone, a surface as uninteresting as that of sandpaper, their steep, stiff stoops, their lumpish balustrades, porticos, and cornices. I have yet to perceive the dignity of Fifty-third Street."
Besides being a stretch of clubs it is a stretch of churches. Shrinking back from the sidewalk on the east side of the Avenue between Forty-fifth and Forty-sixth Streets is the Church of the Heavenly Rest. So inconspicuous in appearance is it that once a passer-by commented: " I can perceive the Heavenly, but where is the Rest? " Two blocks to the north, at the corner of Forty-eighth, is the Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas, occupying the block between Fiftieth and Fifty-first is the Cathedral, and at Fifty-third is Saint Thomas's. Once the tract from Forty-seventh to Fifty-first Street was occupied by the Elgin Botanical Gardens. The story of the Gardens, says " Fifth Avenue," " begins in 1793 in the garden of Professor Hamilton near Edinburgh, where Dr. David Hosack, a young American, who was studying with the professor, was much mortified by his ignorance of botany, with which subject the other guests were familiar. Hosack took up the study of botany so diligently that in 1795 he was made professor of botany at Columbia College, and in 1797 held the chair of Materia Medica. He resigned to take a similar professorship in the College of Physicians and Surgeons, where he remained until 1826. For over twenty years he was one of the leading physicians of New York, bore a conspicuous part in all movements connected with art, drama, literature, city or State affairs, and was frequently mentioned as being, with Clinton and Hobart, ` one of the tripods upon which the city stood.' He was one of the physicians who attended Alexander Hamilton after his fatal duel with Burr. While professor of botany at Columbia he endeavoured to interest the State in establishing a botanical exhibit for students of medicine, but failing to accomplish this he acquired from the city, in 1801, the plot mentioned above, for the purpose of establishing a botanical garden. In 1804 the Elgin Botanical Gardens were opened. By 1806 two thousand species of plants with one spacious greenhouse and two hot houses, having a frontage of one hundred and eighty feet, occupied what today is one of the most valuable real estate sites in New York, the tract being now valued without buildings at over thirty million dollars. The financial burden of maintaining the garden was more than the doctor could carry, and he appealed to the Legislature for support. Finally on March 12, 1810, a bill was passed authorizing the State, for the purpose of promoting medical science, to buy the garden. The doctor sold it for seventy-four thousand two hundred and sixty-eight dollars and seventy-five cents, which was twenty-eight thousand dollars less than he had spent on it. The State finally conveyed the grounds in 1814 to Columbia College, and this property, part of which the College still holds, has largely contributed to the wealth of the great University."
But to revert to the churches. The Heavenly Rest is noted for its fine wood carvings and its stained glass windows. In the tower of the Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas hangs a bell, cast in Amsterdam in 1731, which for years hung in the Middle Dutch Church in Nassau Street. While the British held New York the bell was taken down and secreted. When the Middle Dutch Church became the Post Office in 1845 the bell was removed, first to the Ninth Street Church, then to the Lafayette Place Church, and later to its present location. The crocketed spire of the Church of St. Nicholas is two hundred and seventy feet high. Within the edifice is a tablet to the soldiers and sailors of the Revolution, placed by the Daughters of the Revolution, and oil portraits of all the ministers of the church from Dominie Du Bois, who, in 1699, preached in the old Church in the Fort.
Then St. Patrick's Cathedral. It was conceived, in 1850, by Bishop Hughes of the Diocese of New York, the cornerstone was laid in 1858, and the Cathedral dedicated in 1879 by Cardinal McClosky. It was designed by James Renwick, the architect of Grace Church and St. Bartholomew's. The Cathedral is three hundred and thirty-two feet in length and one hundred and seventy-four feet in breadth, the spires rise three hundred and thirty feet above the ground, and the seating capacity of the edifice is two thousand five hundred. But its full capacity is eighteen thousand, and it is eleventh in point of size among the cathedrals of the world. Considering St. Patrick's in its artistic aspect Miss Henderson, in " A Loiterer in New York," has said: " Renwick considered it his chief work; and the cathedral holds high rank as an example of the decorated, or geometric, style of Gothic architecture that prevailed in Europe in the thirteenth century, and of which the cathedrals of Rheims, Cologne, and Amiens are typical. . . The modern French and Roman windows, which, to the eye of the later criticism, impair the beauty of the simple interior, were considered something most desirable in their day, and their completion was hurried in order that they might be shown at the Centennial Exhibition, of 1876, where they were a feature much admired. One of them—the window erected to St. Patrick—has at least an antiquarian interest. It was given by the architect, and includes, in the lower section, a picture of Renwick presenting the plans of the Cathedral to Cardinal McClosky. The rose window is said to be a facsimile of the rose window at Rheims, recently destroyed by German bombs ; a provenance that may be the more securely claimed since the original has been immolated. As a matter of fact, it too bears the stigma of the Centennial period, of which it is a characteristic example. The only windows of esthetic interest in the church are the recent lights in the ambulatory, made by different firms in competition for the windows of the Lady Chapel, which is to be treated in the same rich manner."
Massive and splendidly Gothic is St. Thomas's. The church dates from 1823. In 1867 the present site was secured, and the brown-stone edifice of the early seventies, designed by Richard Upjohn, was for nearly two generations the ultra-fashionable Episcopal church of the city. In 1905 it was destroyed by fire, and with it, in the flames, perished its artistic contents, among them the decorations made by John La Farge and Augustus Saint Gaudens. For six months the congregation was without a home. Then a wooden structure was erected and the new church was built without interfering with the services during the following years. Designed by Ralph Adams Cram, the present St. Thomas's is of white lime-stone from Kentucky. The left entrance, which is surmounted with a garland of Gothic foliage composed of orange blossoms, is the Bride's Door. Carved on each side of the niche above the key-stone is a " true-lover's-knot." A cynical observer (Rider's " New York City ") comments: " Few visitors note the sly touch of irony which, by a few strokes of the chisel, has converted the lover's knot on the northerly side into an unmistakable dollar sign."
On the west side of the Avenue, running from Fifty-first to Fifty-second, are the Vanderbilt twin residences, the wonder of the town of a quarter of a century ago. They were built, in 1882, by the late William H. Vanderbilt, the southerly for his own use, and the northerly one for his daughter, Mrs. William D. Sloane. In 1868 the land on which the brown-stone mansions stand was occupied by one Isaiah Keyser, whose small three-story frame house was in the middle of a vegetable garden. That garden supplied the residents along lower Fifth Avenue, and its owner also dealt in ice and cattle. In the house which Mr. Vanderbilt erected for himself Henry C. Frick lived for a time. The Vanderbilt family spent millions of dollars in purchasing property to protect themselves against business encroachments.
In former days the neighbourhood was given over largely to philanthropic and religious institutions. The New York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb stood between Forty-eighth and Fiftieth Streets and Fourth and Fifth Avenues. That was from 1829 to 1853. The building was one hundred and ten feet long, sixty feet wide, four stories high, with a beautiful colonnade fifty feet long in front. The grounds are described as " beautifully laid out in lawns and gardens, planted with trees and shrubbery." When the Asylum sold the property in 1853 it moved to Washington Heights. For many years the National Democratic Club and the Buckingham Hotel have stood on the land. The site of St. Patrick's, originally part of the Common Lands of the City, was sold in 1799 for four hundred and five pounds and an annual quit rent of " four bushels of good merchantable wheat, or the value thereof in gold or silver coin." Then it became the property of the Jesuit Fathers, and in 1814 the Trappist Monks conducted an orphan asylum there. Eventually it passed into the hands of the trustees of St. Peter's Church on Barclay Street, and St. Patrick's Cathedral on Mulberry Street, who, in 1842, conveyed about one hundred feet square on the north-east corner of Fifth Avenue and Fiftieth Street to the Church of St. John the Evangelist. The ground now occupied by the Union Club was once part of the site of the Roman Catholic Orphan Asylum.