Little Coney Island on West 110th Street

Here’s another post on something that no longer exists in our Bloomingdale neighborhood. The author, Pam Tice, is a member of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group’s Planning Committee.

For a short period, perhaps less than five years, West 110th Street became an entertainment district known as “Little Coney Island.” The story of its development and demise is a New York story with real estate, politics, the Police Department, vice and corruption, changing social values, and class conflict.

The Upper West Side rapidly developed in the last two decades of the 19th century and the first two of the 20th century. Very quickly, sparsely-placed wood-frame houses were replaced by brownstones and tenements, and, over time, larger and larger apartment buildings. Development initially followed the new El train, spreading out from the station stops as land was sold and developed.

Up on 110th Street, real estate development proceeded a bit more slowly. Morningside Park was designed, but took a long time to build out, even after Andrew Haswell Green’s money-saving idea to retain the rocky wall between Morningside Heights and the Harlem Plain. On one end of 110 Street, near Central Park, the elevated train’s “suicide curve” provided a thrill to riders as the train moved from Ninth to Eighth Avenues. There was no stop there until 1903; when it did open, the speed of the trains was decreased on the curve, lessening the thrill of the ride.

On the western end of 110th Street, at the Boulevard (now Broadway) the Lion Palace—owned by the Lion Brewery—developed into a popular entertainment “resort,” as these places were called. While it’s unclear as to exactly when the Lion opened, by the end of the century the Palace had a summer roof garden and performers were regularly covered in newspaper entertainment listings. It became a popular spot for the nearby Columbia men. Perhaps because of the Lion’s popularity, other such “resorts” began to develop along West 110th Street, creating the entertainment district. Eventually, the vaudeville house on the SE corner became a movie theater (the Nemo), and finally a supermarket in 1964. The structure was torn down in the early 2000s replaced by an apartment building with stores on the ground floor.

The Dixon family had significant property on West 110th Street, particularly on the block between the Boulevard and Amsterdam. Courtlandt P. Dixon bought land and put up wood-frame houses for German and Irish immigrants; some called the area “Dixonville.”  His son, William P. Dixon, a Yale-educated attorney and socially-connected New Yorker, inherited the various holdings on the west side. The wood-frame structures came to house the saloons and dance halls that became so bothersome to the real estate community. When the sale of some of the Dixon lots took place in 1905, the Real Estate Guide noted that the property had been in the hands of the Dixon family for nearly fifty years.

Here are two images of the block, including one from the Real Estate Record and Guide published just before the structures were removed and replaced by the apartment buildings there today.

No images from the years when the saloons and dance halls were in operation could be located.

wood frame buildings on West 110th

wood frame buildings on West 110th

110th Street wood-frame structures from site

110th Street wood-frame structures from site

Another group of wood-frame structures may also have served the burgeoning entertainment district. The west side had become a popular bicycling area in the 1890s. Cyclists rode up the Boulevard and the other avenues to the Claremont Inn at 124th Street and Riverside. Other places for refreshment developed along Broadway. Peter Salwen included a photo of “William Schaaf’s Bicycle Inn” at the Boulevard and 112th Street in his book, Upper West Side Story.  This same photo, part of the recently digitized Bracklow collection, is labeled there as 120th Street and Broadway. Wherever it was, it is an example of the small shed-like buildings that could have been turned into places of entertainment.

Bicycle Summer Garden from the Bracklow Collection

Bicycle Summer Garden from the Bracklow Collection

As real estate development proceeded on the UWS, property owners formed associations to bring some degree of power to bear upon the city government.  The West Side Association formed early, in 1866, and eventually met with some success in getting the streets cut and utilities developed. The Morningside Park Association pushed to get Morningside Park built. Finally it was finished in the 1890s during the economic recession when public work was needed.  The Association also played a role in getting the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum out of the neighborhood.

In 1899 the Riverside and Morningside Park Association formed to help “the material and social advancement of that portion of the city that lies between 96th and 123rd Streets, and the Hudson, and Central and Morningside Parks”. Professor Burdick of Columbia Law School became the President, and other notable West Side businessmen and churchmen were on the Board.

Morningside Heights was dubbed the “Acropolis” of Manhattan. Planning for the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine was started in 1887, and construction commenced in 1892. St. Luke’s Hospital planned their move to the area in 1892. Columbia College announced it would take over the Bloomingdale Asylum site, completing an initial campus plan in 1894 and commencing classes in 1897. Teachers College acquired their site in 1892, and Barnard College in 1895. Women’s Hospital at Amsterdam Avenue and 109th Street was developed 1902-1906. The National Academy of Design bought lots on Amsterdam and 109th Street in the late 1890s.

Shortly after the Cathedral began construction in 1892, West 110th Street from Eighth Avenue to Riverside was renamed Cathedral Parkway in an effort to construct wide roadways leading to the Cathedral. Many continued to call the street “110th Street” much as we still call Avenue of the Americas “Sixth Avenue” today. Both designations were used when the subway under Broadway opened its stop in 1904.

The entertainment district on West 110th Street was in sharp contrast to these lofty institutions. First, the words “Coney Island” were fraught with meaning. That famous Brooklyn beach resort had segmented areas from “low class” to “high class”, with West Brighton becoming known as “Sodom on the Sea” and tolerating all sorts of unconventional behavior. Many entrepreneurs opened “pleasure gardens” —beer halls and concert saloons—where immigrants could enjoy themselves without “bluenose interference.” It was this aspect of Coney Island that people saw on West 110th Street, where a group of entertainment providers flourished.

By the 1890s, New York City’s Protestant reformers were disturbed by the “wickedness” of New York’s entertainment areas, from the Bowery to the Tenderloin. Theaters, gambling dens, and brothels had become a part of New York City’s legend. In a famous sermon at his Madison Square Presbyterian Church, the Reverend Charles Parkhurst described the “disgusting depths of this Tammany-debauched town—rotten with a rottenness that is unspeakable and indescribable.”

Reformers got a new mayor in office, and the state began an investigation that confirmed the role of the police in taking payoffs and allowing illegal activity.  In 1894 the Lexow Committee of the New York State Legislature, operating out of the Tweed Courthouse, exposed the police corruption in fine detail. A police captain named Max F. Schmittberger, in order to avoid prosecution for his own misdeeds in exchange for immunity, described the process of taking bribes, and implicated several higherups. We will meet the captain again on West 110th Street.

1895 brought in Theodore Roosevelt as NYC Police Commissioner, and he made his reputation as a take-charge leader, although with mixed results.  He only stayed for two years before heading to Washington to the McKinley administration. During this time, the state legislature grappled with the issues of Sunday drinking and dancing—not everyone agreed with the esoteric levels of the Reverend Parkhurst’s social purity. The German community wanted to go to beer gardens on Sunday afternoons and listen to Strauss waltzes. The Jewish community wanted to relax on Sundays. Many complained of “the unfairness of shutting down poor men’s recreation while allowing champagne suppers at the Union League Club.” In response, Roosevelt raided Sherry’s, the watering hole of the rich.

The state legislature tried to help Sunday drinkers by enacting a statute that liquor could be served if accompanied by a meal. Then, in 1896, they passed the Raines law that permitted Sunday sales of liquor —but only in hotels, defined as establishments with at least ten rooms. Saloons quickly complied by adding rooms (many already had “backrooms” where alleged illicit activity took place). Soon “Raines Law Hotels” sprang up all over town. Sunday dancing was yet another complicated issue, as the forms of dancing ranged from dancing with strangers in dance halls to dancing at an “academy” where the elders could keep an eye on the young people.

West 110th Street’s Little Coney Island also raised the issue of how young women were behaving during this new era. Young, single working women from the city’s factories, shops and stores wanted to use their freedom to meet others—some young women came to be known as “charity girls”—not sex workers/prostitutes, but young women out on the town, meeting young men, flirting, and getting the guys to pay for drinks. The dance halls provided the place to meet, since women in saloons were all marked as prostitutes. In the early days, the dancing wasn’t as disorderly as it became later. When the arrests were made for dancing on 110th Street, described below, no women were ever listed as arrested.

In Timothy Gilfoyle’s book, City of Eros, he describes the growth of the sex industry on the Upper West Side when theaters and entertainment developed around Columbus Circle. He further describes Little Coney Island as being under the El on 110th Street, but the Bromley Atlas of 1891 shows no buildings between Eighth Avenue, Manhattan Avenue and Columbus Avenue. He names Waldron’s Dance Hall as having one hundred prostitutes working there by midnight on weekends. Waldron’s was at 216 West 110th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam. Waldron’s played an important part in the 1901-1902 activity described below.

Gilfoyle’s book also displays a map of numerous “houses of prostitution” just south of 110th Street on West 109th and West 108th between Broadway and Central Park.

By 1900, the West Side Association assigned the 110th Street clean-up work to the Riverside and Morningside Park Association.  In June 1900 the Association protested the issue of a “Police Board license” to a Mr. Webber to operate a resort at Broadway at 111th Street, a place Webber said would not be a dance hall, but a summer garden with a small stage for concerts.

The Association is featured in nearly every news article about the raids against “the resorts of ill repute” on West 110th Street that operated on Sundays.

Another group in opposition to Little Coney Island was the Anti-Saloon League. The New York Times featured an article in May 1900 about a meeting at the Methodist Church on West 104th Street, noting that in this district there was only one factory, but 511 saloons with “backroom accompaniments”. The article also notes that the neighborhood has “Little Coney Island and a repetition of the evils of the Tenderloin”.

(Note: the “Tenderloin” refers to the area of Manhattan in the mid-20s along Sixth Avenue where the Captain of the 29th Precinct, as he took his position, commented that he had been having chuck steak since joining the force, but would now have a bit of tenderloin, referring to the payoffs he would now gather.)

One of the entertainment venues on West 110th Street was actually named “Little Coney Island” and may have led to the naming of the whole area. When William Hammerstein of the famous entertainment family died in 1914, his obituary noted that he had established “a small vaudeville resort” on 110th Street known as Little Coney Island. However, a newspaper report of a fire there in 1900 referred to it as Philip Dietrich’s resort.

Even before the Riverside and Morningside Park Association began its focus of getting rid of the resorts on 110th Street, the police were raiding various saloons for “excise tax violations.” A report in The New York Sun in June 1899 noted 45 such raids, 23 of them in Manhattan, and focusing on “Maus’s Lion Palace” on Broadway and 110th Street for “running a bar and a concert together on Sunday.” This article made a distinction between the West 125th Street police station that had responsibility for the north side of 110th Street, and the West 100th Street police station that had responsibility for the south side of the street. Two “resorts” on the north side of the street were the Imperial Garden and the Columbus Casino.

In January 1901, the New York Times reported the arrest of Louis Waldron, the proprietor of Waldron’s Dance Hotel at 216 West 110th Street, on the south side of the street, between Broadway and Amsterdam. The charge was that he had violated the Penal Code which forbid the opening of dance halls on Sundays. The operator of a dance hall at the Southwest corner of Broadway and 110th Street was also arrested—a Mr. Edward Austin.  Their trial was held later that spring, and a Magistrate Zeller concluded that the New York Supreme Court had ruled that dancing was allowed on Sunday if it were pursued as a “pastime” and not as a “show” that people paid to attend. Waldron declared victory!

However, throughout the spring, and until the trial, arrests continued every Sunday at Waldron’s and were reported in the newspapers. Later in the spring, after the decision about dancing, the arrests were focused on serving liquor. The police detectives said that once a patron bought a “meal ticket” that did not satisfy the Raines Law, that liquor could only be served with food. An argument between the police and the operators involved sandwiches, and whether or not they met the definition of “meal.”  There were others around town who placed a brick between two pieces of bread to make fun of the law.

The Riverside and Morningside Park Association employed its own detectives who patrolled the resorts along 110th Street. One report noted a fistfight breaking-out between the private and public forces. Arrests were also made at Rophuro’s Dance Hall at the southwest corner of Broadway and 110th Street, where the building was in violation of building laws, as the hall was classified as a “shed” when the permit was issued.

There were no reports of arrests at the Lion Palace, and rarely at other saloons.  It’s not clear if the focus on Waldron’s had some other motive.

The Association even managed to get a law passed in Albany—named the Bennet Bill for the Assemblyman who introduced it—that “dance halls in a county with over 1.7 million inhabitants would not be lawful if the concert hall is situated within a half mile of any cathedral now in process of erection.” The governor was advised by his Attorney General not to sign it, as it was unconstitutional.

The police work in the spring of 1901 was under the direction of Max F. Schmittberger, the Captain of the Precinct at West 100th Street, located then on the south side of the street near Columbus Avenue. This was the same man who had “squealed” in his testimony to the Lexow Commission in 1894 against the higher-ups in the Department. Many of the New York “reformers” held the Captain up as a man who had seen the error of his ways—indeed a bit of a hero against corruption.  His detractors in the Police Department said that he worked it both ways throughout his career, sometimes taking bribes, sometimes not. When he was promoted to Inspector, Schmittberger faced great criticism as an admittedly former corrupt officer, but he was promoted anyway. Later, in 1906, the police department tried to pursue him for corruption again, after transferring him to Staten Island as a punishment. He was never convicted of any crimes, and, when he died in 1917, he had a magnificent funeral at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Max Schmittberger

Max Schmittberger

While a Democratic Party Tammany-controlled administration was in power from 1897 to 1901, the police appeared willing to work with the “reformers” of the Upper West Side who seemed more interested in their property values than the immorality of Little Coney Island. The Police Commissioner was quoted in March 1901 that he was determined to crush the dance halls at any cost, and was happy with Schmittberger’s Sunday raids. He said he’d received letters from parents who were concerned about their daughters and sons going to the dance halls. Commissioner Murphy was hauled into court himself for his continuing pursuit of Waldron, angering the Magistrate at the West Side Police Court, as to how the police were doing their jobs.

After 1902, all news reports of the raids on 110th Street ceased. The next phase of property development began, and the wooden structures on 110th Street were eventually sold for the increasingly profitable land. By 1910, developers had constructed the solid apartment buildings we still have today.

The Lion Palace continued operation and lasted for many years until movies became a more popular entertainment than vaudeville. When the subway station opened at 110th Street, one of the images considered for its mosaic sign was a beer stein, but the tulip reminiscent of the old Dutch Bloomingdale was chosen instead.

110th Street stop on the Broadway line

110th Street stop on the Broadway line







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Making Music in Bloomingdale

A map of the musical history of Bloomingdale was recently created by Vita Wallace of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group’s Planning Committee. The map is posted here, along with commentary from Vita and photos of a recent BNHG Program that presented the rich heritage of our  musical neighborhood.

THE MAP  (scroll down for Spanish version)






At one point, I was planning to have more explanatory text on the back of my map of musical history in the neighborhood.  Later, I redesigned it to have no back, but instead two “fronts,” one in English and one in Spanish. This made it impossible for me to highlight as many stories as I had originally intended to on the map, and I thought some of you might be interested in reading the draft of the original explanatory text below. It might help you to find your way into the final version of the map, and it also contains a lot of additional details that I enjoyed collecting.

This musical map uses scraps of melody to suggest musical events, musical venues, the homes and habits of musicians, neighbors’ musical memories, and a few elements of the neighborhood soundscape. It would have been impossible to be complete, so I strove instead to give a sense of the variety of musical styles and musical experiences that have occupied, moved, and delighted residents over the last 200 years. How lucky we are to have been a neighborhood of immigrants from many places for so many years! What a marvelous musical legacy we have to share, celebrate, and be inspired by! The cross-streets are represented by musicals staves, the avenues by bar-lines. How to use this map, I leave to your imagination.

Since the establishment of St Michael’s Episcopal Church (99th and Amsterdam) in 1807, churches in our neighborhood have rung the hours and given scope to fine organists (often composers) who organized dozens of choirs (English, German, French, Chinese, Eritrean…). The Cathedral of St John the Divine (110th and Amsterdam) has the oldest organ in the area (built 1906) and has employed some of the most celebrated American organ-improvisers of the past century, making it difficult to guess which one a neighbor remembers accompanying silent films over the summer many years ago. Ascension Catholic Church (107th between Broadway and Amsterdam) still has the case of its 1898 organ, but the works have been rebuilt. Area churches have also presented concerts and served as nurseries for both amateur and professional groups. The Falcons, the Paul Winter Consort, Early Music New York, Pomerium, Florilegium Chamber Choir, Shirei Chesid, Amuse, Westside Opera Society, the New York Piano Academy, Soh Daiko — these and many more were nurtured by our churches.

Unexpected, but a stroke of genius, was Bernardo Palombo’s idea to combine a Spanish language school with concerts featuring musicians from all over the Americas at El Taller Latino Americano, which has been at home at St Michael’s Church as well upstairs in the Automat building at 104th and Broadway during its 36-year history. Long before the Bloomingdale School of Music (founded in 1964 at West End Presbyterian Church, 105th and Amsterdam), the Master Insititute of United Arts  (founded in 1929 at the Master Building, 103rd and Riverside) offered lessons in strings, piano, organ, voice, theory, composition, conducting, even harp; the harp teacher was none other than Carlos Salzedo! The Master Orchestra and Chorus presented substantial and interesting programs. The Equity Library Theatre also produced musicals in the Master Theater from 1943-87. By the way, while churches often double as theaters, The Master Theater turned into a church, as did the Fox Theater (109th and Manhattan Avenue), now Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal.

Audiences enjoyed live orchestras and massive organs at the large, swanky Riverside and Riviera Theatres, 96th and 97th and Broadway (1912-1913). These were on the “subway circuit” for shows that had already played on Broadway (“legit,” vaudeville, and musical comedies). Later they featured burlesque revues and movies.  The Riviera’s organ was built in 1917 and Riverside’s in 1928. Even the smaller movie theaters such as the Rose Theater (102nd and Columbus) and the Park West (98th and Columbus) had organs (both built in 1926). The Park West’s stops included doorbell, horses’ hooves, train whistle, and fire gong (reiterated). Speaking of organs, there were several in grand houses in the neighborhood, including one in the main hall of “Satin Soap” heir David S. Brown (102nd and Riverside) from 1895-1910. And, speaking of the Riverside and the Riviera: what was designed in 1927 as a “comfort station” in the middle of Broadway in front of the two theaters, has become a charming gallery and venue for music run by West Side Arts Coalition.

Life in the Old Community on 99th and 100th Streets between Amsterdam and Central Park West was full of music, with St Jude’s Chapel at its heart. Rev. Floarda Howard was a musician himself and his wife Sadie encouraged children’s choirs during Lent, musical teas, hymn-singing in the garden during the summer (following showings of stereo-opticon slides), musical clubs all year round, even a church orchestra! The atmosphere was heightened by regular dances at the 98-99th St Association/Children’s Aid Society and frequent visits from stars including Paul Robeson and Billie Holiday, whose mother owned a restaurant on 99th Street.

Buskers, outdoor concerts, and music festivals have long enlivened sidewalks, subway stations, parks, community gardens, farmers’ markets, & city streets. Riverside Clay Tennis Association’s Sunset Concerts feature music from all over the world. The New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players made their debut in Straus Park in the early 1970s. Jazz has become a tradition on the Great Hill in Central Park since the 1990 celebration of Charlie “Bird” Parker’s birthday. Thomas Delaney made an impression playing the blues outside his apartment building in 2005 after a fire kept him and his neighbors from home for months. What a Neighborhood! was founded in 2003 by brother and sister Ishmael and Vita Wallace to celebrate the creative spirit in the area primarily through the music of living local composers. One of their projects, with composer Elizabeth Adams, has been to encourage neighbors to write songs about their blocks (“songlines”) and to sing them as they walk.

Around 1900, “Little Coney Island”(110th and Broadway) had several “concert halls,” one of which was described by the proprietor as “a Summer garden, with a little stage for singing” and by neighbors as a “dancehall… bringing a large number of the worst element of the city to the locality.” Since then, all sorts of music have been presented in the area’s restaurants, clubs, & bars. Peter’s Italian Table d’Hote Restaurant at 163 West 97th Street had a nice dance-floor c. 1910, and so did the “speakeasy” Chateau Shanley, which succeeded it and must have employed excellent musicians since the owner, Will Oakley, was a well-known singer. Perhaps the most famous hotspots were Mikell’s (97th and Columbus), Augie’s, now Smoke (105th and Broadway) and Birdland, which moonlighted on the same block from 1986-96.

Many thanks to the NYC Organ Project, Gary Dennis (of Cinema Treasures and NY Tours by Gary), Michael Susi (author of Postcards of the Upper West Side), the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group’s collection at the New York Public Library’s Bloomingdale branch, and the members of the group’s planning committee for information and inspiration.

Laurence Goldman, Lois Bellamy, and the Orfeo Duo. Photo by Judy Langer

Laurence Goldman, Lois Bellamy, and the Orfeo Duo. Photo by Judy Langer


The New York Mandolin Orchestra with conductor Jeffrey Ellenberger. Photo by Judy Langer

The New York Mandolin Orchestra with conductor Jeffrey Ellenberger. Photo by Judy Langer

The Orfeo Duo. Photo by Judy Langer

The Orfeo Duo. Photo by Judy Langer

The Harlem Blues and Jazz Band. Photo by Paul Lindberg

The Harlem Blues and Jazz Band. Photo by Paul Lindberg

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The Home for the Relief of the Destitute Blind

This is another post in a series by Pam Tice, member of the Planning Committee of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group, covering buildings that no longer exist in our neighborhood.

New York Home for the Destitute Blind on Amsterdam at 104 Street

New York Home for the Destitute Blind on Amsterdam at 104 Street

From the mid-1880s, this beautiful red brick building stood at the corner of Amsterdam Avenue and 104th Street for more than thirty years, housing blind men and women in The Home for the Relief of Destitute Blind.

This photograph was taken in 1898 by Robert Louis Bracklow (1849-1919), a New York stationer who was also a talented amateur photographer. The photo gives us a sense of what Amsterdam Avenue looked like with its trolley tracks, fancy street lights, and telephone lines above the street. Mr. Bracklow’s extensive collection is posted HERE by the New-York Historical Society. (Warning: there are more than 2000 photos to look at!)

The Society of the same name that built the building had been founded in 1868 by an Episcopal minister, the Reverend Eastburn Benjamin. An 1856 graduate of the Theological Seminary of Virginia, he served as Assistant Minister of St. Ann’s Church for Deaf Mutes in New York from 1864 to 1868.   The Rector of that church was Reverend Thomas Gallaudet, whose son later founded Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. This experience may have given the Reverend Benjamin his interest in establishing an institution to serve the disabled.

New York City had established a residential school, the Institute for the Blind, to educate blind children in the 1830s, possibly modeled on the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston. New York’s effort to educate blind children had been spurred on by a philanthropic physician who had removed three blind orphans from a public institution, housed them in a widow’s home, and proceeded to teach them using the materials of raised letters on a page. Braille wasn’t devised until the middle of the century.

The Society for the Relief of the Destitute Blind was an effort to deal with the adult blind, whether schooled or not, to provide support and a means to earn a living. At a time when the gulf between abled and disabled people was so great, the fact that blind people could be educated must have been an important step in recognizing them as “worthy” recipients of aid.

Reverend Benjamin’s impetus to form a new charity to deal with a specific social problem came at a time in New York City’s history when industrialization and immigration created an increasing number of poor persons. Although there was some government aid, support came primarily from church-based charities. Reverend Benjamin—perhaps through his experience at St. Ann’s in Brooklyn—appears to have been skilled enough to form a charitable effort that succeeded. Like today’s non-profits, he had to create a funding operation that would sustain the organization.

In May 1868, the Reverend Eastburn Benjamin founded a Manhattan church to serve the blind: the Free Church of the Holy Light. Early advertisements for its Sunday services at the 37th Regiment Armory at Broadway and 37th Street were posted in the New York Herald. In January, 1869, an article about a Home for the Blind appeared in the New York Herald. The article notes that

There is in this city a very large number of persons who are affected with either total or partial blindness, who are thereby precluded from obtaining a livelihood by any other means than at the hand of charity. Many of them eke out a beggarly existence by peddling shoe strings and other trifles in the market places, or with placards on their breasts pitifully invoke the attention of passersby with their monotone, “Please help the blind.” All the State asylums for the blind reject applicants who are upward of thirty years of age, and for these there is no provision. They shrink from entering the county poorhouse; and this class of adult blind is very large, hence a great deal of suffering prevails among them, living in the most noisome cellars and garrets and feeding upon almost any refuse food. They do not need a church specifically devoted to them for worship, but they require physical assistance, and with a view of rendering some aid Rev. Eastburn Benjamin established in April last the Church of the Holy Light, having for its wardens Sylvester R. Comstock, president of the Citizen’s Bank, and Mr. George W.T. Lord and a number of eminent gentlemen as vestrymen. The Church has assumed as its mission the adult blind of New York and vicinity, and Dr. Benjamin leased a house at Second Avenue and Fifty-Seventh Street for three years, at $3,500 per year, as a Home for the blind, and it has already upwards of twent-five inmates. Religious belief is no test of admission, and it is intended to introduce some branches of labor at which the inmates can work.

The article finishes with a note on where contributions can be made, to Mr. Lord at 199 Second Avenue, and to Dr. Benjamin at 48 West 37th Street.

As described in this news article, Reverend Benjamin was wise to get two prominent and wealthy New Yorkers involved: Mr. Comstock, a bank president; and Mr. Lord, of the Lord & Taylor retail business. There’s no evidence that Reverend Benjamin came from a moneyed family, nor did his wife Cornelia. When Mr. Comstock died in 1882, his obituary noted that the Reverend Gaudellet gave the burial service, so Reverend Benjamin may have recruited vestrymen from St. Ann’s Church for his charitable efforts for the adult blind. When Mr. Lord died in Paris in 1903, his obituary noted that he was a millionaire, the last son of Samuel Lord who had founded the store and left his sons in charge to return to England with his fortune to establish a 200 acre estate.

One early listing shows the Home for the Destitute Blind at 437 Seventh Avenue. An 1871 New York Episcopal Diocese report notes that the church had established a Home for the Blind in a building at 567 Seventh Avenue where 24 blind people of both sexes were housed and cared for, and noting that there was no other institution like it in the City, so that, if rejected here, blind people would find themselves in the almshouse (then on Blackwell’s Island).

The Reverend Eastburn Benjamin died in 1874, a young man only 38 years old. His Church of the Holy Light appears to have ended; the 1882 Episcopal Diocese report notes that it still existed but held no services. Both the Reverend Benjamin and his wife are buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

The Benjamin Family grave at Greenwood Cemetery

The Benjamin Family grave at Greenwood Cemetery

The Society for the Relief of the Destitute Blind settled into a brownstone at 219 West 14th Street, and was a going concern. An 1877 news article reported that the Home had a “workshop” in operation and was ready to receive orders for mattress repair, mattress making, and chair caning. The female inmates (the word used in the Victorian era for anyone living in such an institution) were able to do “plain sewing and fancy worsted and bead work of various descriptions.” The Home was described as having large and comfortable “sleeping apartments,” and visitors were allowed twice a week. Like other institutions, the Society gave weekly support to “outside” recipients, the term applied to those who did not live in their Home.

In How The Other Half Lives (1890), Jacob A. Riis writes in his chapter on “Pauperism in the Tenements,” a description of the blind beggars of New York:

The blind beggar alone is winked at in New York’s streets, because the authorities do not know what else to do with him. There is no provision for him anywhere after he is old enough to strike out for himself. The annual pittance of thirty or forty dollars which he received from the city serves to keep his landlord in good humor; for the rest his misfortune and his thin disguise of selling pencils on the street corners must provide. Until the city affords him some systematic way of earning his living by work (as Philadelphia has done, for instance) to banish him from the street would be tantamount to sentencing him to death by starvation.

This piece describes the plight of the blind person, providing the charitable impulse that compelled the Protestant Episcopal New Yorkers (and others) who supported the work of the Society for the Relief of the Destitute Blind.

Although the Board was entirely male, the Society soon had what the newspapers called “Lady Managers.” These were the women who took on the cause, holding sales of goods made by the women “inmates,” organizing theatrical evenings, and spending afternoons reading to the blind. Performing such charitable work was a necessary part of an upper-class woman’s role in the life of the City. As noted in an earlier essay about the Association for the Relief of Respectable Aged Indigent Women, this work outside the family structure gave women organizing skills that were applied to abolitionist work, and then suffrage work.

One “Lady Manager” of special note in the 1880s was Mrs. August Belmont, the daughter of the famous Commander Perry who opened trading ports with Japan in 1857. Mrs. Belmont had married a German Jewish man who had converted to his wife’s Episcopal faith. Their son, the second August Belmont, was behind New York’s subway building in the early part of the 20th century. Both his father and mother died in the 1890s, leaving an estate of $10 million. One news article noted that Mrs. Belmont had left a legacy gift to the Home for the Destitute Blind, but did not state an amount. Another legacy gift was made by Eliza Osgood, the daughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt.

In the mid-1880s, based on news reports, the “Lady Managers” of the Society for the Relief of the Destitute Blind stepped-up their activities. The Home at 219 West 14th Street was running out of space, and plans were made to build a bigger facility. A news article from 1884 noted that tickets for a theatrical event were available, listing the women who had them for sale, including Mrs. Belmont at 109 Fifth Avenue. The fundraising must have gone well, for in 1886, the new Home opened on the southwest corner of Tenth (later Amsterdam) Avenue and 104th Street.

Kings Handbook 1895

Kings Handbook 1895

Like the Association Residence for the Relief of Respectable Aged Indigent Women across the Avenue, the new Home took advantage of the Elevated train stop at 104th Street and Ninth Avenue. An elementary school had recently opened at the northeast corner of 104th Street and Tenth Avenue.

An article in The Real Estate Record and Guide noted that two rows of houses had been erected on both the north and south sides of 104th Street between Tenth Avenue and The Boulevard (later, Broadway). On the south side, there were three-story brownstones with “drawing, sitting and reception rooms” on the first floor, a kitchen in the rear, a dining room in the basement, and, on the second floor, two bedrooms, each with a salon of its own, with “ample closet room and hot and cold water.” The third floor had four bedrooms, and the home had electric bells throughout for communicating with the servants.

The New York Times 1886 description of the Home for the Relief of the Destitute Blind noted that the new home had space for 100 inmates. “It will be provided with fireproof staircases, bathrooms, a workshop and a chapel. The sexes will be domiciled in opposite sides of the building.” The New York Charities Directory described the Home as taking in “blind and friendless adults of both sexes of good moral character, free from infections or incurable diseases, irrespective of creed.” Here they would find “reasonable comforts, and have facilities for earning their livelihood, making mattresses, re-seating chairs, or doing all kinds of knitting work.”

Blind person weaving

Blind person weaving

The architect for the Home was Frederick Charles Merry who was born in England but had grown up in New Jersey.* He’d also designed the Parish House at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, a few blocks south on Amsterdam Avenue, which may have been the connection to the Episcopal leaders who chose him to design the Home.

An 1893 listing of the Board of the Society listed men who were active in the Episcopal Church, and the Bishop of the New York Diocese, The Right Reverend Henry C. Potter, is listed as a “visitor” at the Home. The Board members were also professional men, including a banker, an attorney, a judge, and a commercial stationery merchant—not unlike today’s boards of New York’s non-profits.

The 1900 Federal census listing for the Home shows a Matron with overall responsibility, and a Superintendent—also a woman—in charge of the workshop. There are at that time 33 males and 31 female inmates living there. Both men and women are a mix of people born in the United States, most from New York and New Jersey, and about a third are immigrants, with many from Germany and Ireland. Most of the inmates are in their 50s and 60s, although there was one 20 year old male, and two 20 year old women. The female jobs included a cook, a laundress, a seamstress, and five women designated “waitress,” which may refer to over-all maid jobs. Male jobs included an engineer and a watchman.

In the 1910 Federal census, the Home had 98 inmates, demonstrating the need for a larger facility, a project the Board would undertake in just a few years. The overall management remains the same, with a Matron and an Assistant Superintendent, both women, but not the same two as in 1900. There are 16 workers, but now the female jobs are either “waitress,” “chambermaid,” or “servant.” There is a nurse, an engineer, a watchman, a cook, and a laundress. One man is labeled “Useful Man.” All of these staff members are immigrants, with the exception of the engineer and the two women supervising the Home.

Between this 1910 census showing the Home at full capacity and the fall of 1916, the Society for the Destitute Blind built a new Home in the Bronx. The Society purchased about twenty lots bounded by the Grand Concourse, Kingsbridge Road, Croton Avenue and 193rd Street. The red-brick somewhat Colonial structure was designed by architects M.L. and H.G. Emery. Newspapers reported that the Society would spend $400,000 to build the new facility. The expected opening was to be in the spring of 1917.

Not long after the old Home emptied out, the property was sold and the building taken down. Thanks to my two colleagues on the Planning Committee of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group, Gil Tauber and Jim Mackin, we know that a building permit was issued in 1919 for the structure that was built in 1921 and still with us today.

1921 Real Estate Map

1921 Real Estate Map

1916 Real Estate Map

1916 Real Estate Map






The Home for the Destitute Blind operated for many years at its Bronx location, which became 2641 Grand Concourse. In 1969, the Society for the Destitute Blind merged with the New York Infirmary, whose origins were Elizabeth Blackwell’s Infirmary for Destitute Women and Children. That institution became the Beekman Downtown Hospital, and today operates as New York-Presbyterian Downtown Hospital. One contemporary directory has a listing for the Society for the Destitute Blind at 500 Greenwich Street, but that location houses a program called “Visions,” which provides services for the blind and visually impaired at various locations in the New York City area.

Today, the Society’s building on the Grand Concourse is the home of Public School 246, the Poe School.

PS 246 on the Grand Concourse

PS 246 on the Grand Concourse

*Thanks to Jim Mackin of the BNHG Planning Committee for finding Mr. Merry.


The New York Times archive, online

Newspaper archive at

New York Episcopal Diocese reports, found online

Federal census online at

Real Estate Record and Guide online at Columbia University.

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The Bloomingdale Insane Asylum

This post is written by local historian Jim Mackin based on his presentation for the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History group on November 16, 2015. The topic covers two of our themes: the medical history of the Bloomingdale neighborhood, and another building that (almost) is no longer in existence.

Jim Mackin is a member of the BNHG’s Planning Committee, presenting popular presentations on behalf of the group, as well as leading monthly neighborhood history walking tours.

It all began in 1769. Two students were graduating with medical degrees from King’s College. Twenty-eight-year old Dr. Samuel Bard gave the commencement speech that so moved city leaders that enough funds were pledged to establish a hospital. In 1776, New York Hospital became the 3rd oldest hospital when it opened just in time to treat some rag-tag colonials wounded by shot from British men-of-war ships moving up the Hudson.

Mentally ill patients were treated from the very beginning of the hospital along with all other patients. But the number of mentally ill patients was rising greatly. In 1802 a committee was formed to consider an addition to the building, and any other planning, to accommodate the increase of what were the called “lunatics.” But more radical action was taken by the establishment of a separate and new department in the hospital to accommodate mentally ill patients, and the construction of a separate and new asylum building in 1808. This asylum of 80 beds was the only one of its kind in New York State.

New approaches to treatment of the mentally ill by Dr. Pinel in Paris and William Tuke who established the Retreat for the Insane in York, England. Patients were to be no longer kept in seclusion, let alone in chains. Treatment was becoming understood as “moral” instead of “medical”. The changes had sweeping implications: patients were “visited” and physical activity for patients was encouraged.

A committee consisting of Thomas Eddy, John R Murray, John Aspinwall, Thomas Buckley, Cadwallader Colden, and Peter A Jay decided on a site in Bloomingdale for a new and separate institution for the treatment of the mentally ill. They purchased land from Gerald DePeyster on what is now where Columbia University resides in Morningside Heights. The cornerstone for the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum was laid on May 7th, 1818, and the building was officially opened on June 1st, 1821. This is how it appeared on the early Randel Farm Maps (1818-1820):

Randal Farm Map of 1818-1820 showing The Bloomingdale Insane Asylum

Randal Farm Map of 1818-1820 showing The Bloomingdale Insane Asylum

The building was made mostly of limestone and was 60 ft. wide and 211 ft. long. That would make it as long as say from 103rd to 104th St. By 1824, there were 120 patients.

In 1829, a building was erected 117 ft. northwest of the main building to house noisy and violent men. The building was made of brick, 57 by 32 ft., 3 stories high, with 33 rooms, and iron bars on the windows. A similar building for noisy and violent female patients was erected in 1837. Here is an image of how the Asylum looked in 1834:

Bloomingdale Insane Asylum in 1834

Bloomingdale Insane Asylum in 1834

In 1834 when there were 134 patients, 38 acres southeast of the grounds were sold (for $24,755) to the Leake and Watts Orphan Asylum. In 1839, “pauper patients” in the Bloomingdale Asylum were moved to the new Lunatic Asylum that was opened by the City on Blackwell’s Island, today called Roosevelt Island. A Superintendent and a Matron administered the Asylum. The Asylum also had a resident physician from the beginning in 1821. By 1848, and for $75 a year, Croton Water came to the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum.

In 1843, Dorothea Dix visited the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum. In 1851, she visited the BIA again, this time rendering her comments to the Board of Governors. From this, some $52,000 was raised to build two additions to the facilities that separately housed the noisy and violent men and women. They were each two stories high and 100 ft long and housed about 150 patients. In 1862, additional funds expanded the asylum further and connected the buildings into a wing-type design. In response to a point made by Miss Dix about a noisy engine and laundry, a separate 3-story building, 75 ft. by 40 ft., was built for laundry and as a residence for domestics. In 1875, pumping water from wells was ended with a direct connection to the Croton water supply that ran down present Amsterdam Avenue. Also in 1875, a conservatory of brick, wood, and glass, containing a plant house, aviary and aquarium was erected.

On September 16, 1876, as many as 10,000 people were estimated to have congregated to Bloomingdale Heights to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Harlem Heights.

In 1880, the BIA site was given consideration, along with another site in Inwood and another site at Port Morris in the Bronx, for the 1883 World’s Fair Exhibition that would celebrate the 100th anniversary of the end of the Revolutionary War (Treaty of Paris). Here is an image of the proposed plan:

Plan for the 1883 World's Fair site in Morningside Heights

Plan for the 1883 World’s Fair site in Morningside Heights

In 1880, the $130,000 John C. Green Memorial Building for female patients was opened with a donation from his widow. John C. Green made his fortune in the China trade, and he gave much of it to Princeton University and the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum. The Green building was attached to the main building on the west side. When Columbia University moved to the site in 1897, this building was renovated and used by Columbia as “College Hall.” Here is a photograph of the Green Building whose architect was Ralph Townsend:

John C. Green Memorial Building circa 1890

John C. Green Memorial Building circa 1890

Ralph Townsend was also the architect of the Macy Villa that survives to this day.

Columbia University has used the Macy Villa in various capacities with the names of Buell Hall, and Maison Francaise. Trustee and donor, William H. Macy, funded it for use by wealthy male patients. William H. Macy was a cousin to R. H. (Rowland Howland) Macy of department store fame and he made his fortune in oil and becoming part of Rockefeller’s Standard Oil. Here is an early photograph of the Macy Villa:

Macy Villa circa 1890

Macy Villa circa 1890

As early as the 1860s various factors compelled the trustees of New York Hospital to consider moving the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum. In the late 1860s they purchased nearly 300 acres in White Plains and established a farm facility for patients. Some serious though was given to moving New York Hospital from its location on lower Broadway to the Bloomingdale site. In 1889, the Asylum began selling property to finance a complete move to their White Plains property. They sold lots that were between 112th and 114th Streets and between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway. Here is a map of the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum in 1891:

Map of The Bloomingdale Insane Asylum in 1891

Map of The Bloomingdale Insane Asylum in 1891

In 1892, the Asylum sold its land between 116th and 120th Streets to Columbia University. In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had been Columbia’s president (1948-1953), used his influence to have 116th St between Amsterdam and Broadway closed to traffic and bricked over to commemorate CU’s bicentennial.

When the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum moved to White Plains, the street on which it was located then and now was named Bloomingdale Road. Very recently, a Bloomingdale’s department store opened on Bloomingdale Road.

Here is the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum in White Plains (top) and in Morningside Heights (bottom):

Bloomingdale Insane Asylum in White Plains (top) and in Morningside Heights (bottom)

Bloomingdale Insane Asylum in White Plains (top) and in Morningside Heights (bottom)


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The New York Pasteur Institute on Central Park West at 97th Street

This is the third in a series of posts about buildings no longer standing in the Bloomingdale neighborhood; it was also the subject of an October 5, 2015, BNHG presentation by medical historian Bert Hansen, Professor at Baruch College, part of the BNHG’s series on medical institutions in our neighborhood. Dr. Hansen’s book is listed in the “Sources” section below. The book received awards by the American Library Association and by the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association.

Our thanks to Dr. Hansen for reading our draft and suggesting changes.

Written by Pam Tice, member of the BNHG Planning Committee

The New York Pasteur Institute on Central Park West at 97th Street

Until the late 19th century, a dog bite was one of the most fearful things that could happen to you. If the dog were rabid, and you showed symptoms, you were sure to die a painful death. An infectious disease in mammals, rabies (lyssavirus) is transmitted through the saliva just a few days before death when the animal “sheds” the virus. Because it affects the central nervous system, most rabid animals behave abnormally. The disease still exists in the United States today, especially in the northeast in raccoons, but most dogs today are vaccinated. Humans, if thought exposed, can get a treatment far easier than the one first devised.

People bitten by a rabid dog develop a disease that came to be called hydrophobia, a name used interchangeably with rabies. First displayed in humans as agitation, fever, and restlessness, it soon causes delirium, and then the inability to swallow liquids (hence the name), as even the smallest amount causes painful spasms and gagging. Most people died within a few weeks of contracting the disease.

Before vaccinations, an outbreak of rabies among dogs or cats would often bring about a panic calling for all the animals to be destroyed. Until registration of animals became the norm, wild or unmarked dogs would be hunted and killed. That job often fell to a local police officer.

The disease was so frightening that humans developed folk-type cures to treat it, including “madstones” which were placed on the wound and thought to soak-up the blood and poisons. Madstones were porous concretions found in the stomachs of deer.

When Louis Pasteur announced in 1885 that he had cured rabies with a treatment involving a series of injections, the news was met with immense excitement and brought great acclaim to Pasteur. By 1888, his Pasteur Institute had opened in Paris, where it still exists today as one of the world’s leading research facilities.

In December 1885, newspapers covered a story of five little boys from Newark who were taken to Paris to be treated. The trip was covered in daily detail, and, thanks to their rambunctious nature and the news coverage, the kids became national celebrities, put “on display” in a number of cities. These news stories had a big impact on the public understanding of the new treatment.

A Parisian doctor, Paul Gibier, came to New York in 1888, a stopover on a follow-up trip to Florida where he’d planned to continue research on yellow fever that he had commenced in Cuba in 1887. Dr. Gibier was very well trained in infectious diseases. He opened the New York Pasteur Institute with a clinic at 178 West 10th Street to offer treatment for hydrophobia. Dr. Gibier also seems to have been skilled in attracting funding. A “Wall Street” benefactor funded his new building, and he secured funding from New York State for the vaccination regime for indigents. His work was also regularly covered in the press, including special mention when the famous teacher of deaf mutes, Annie Sullivan, came to him for treatment.

Dr. Gibier also organized the New York Bacteriological Society to pursue research in tuberculosis, tetanus, epilepsy, and other diseases.

Dr. Gibier was featured in a New York Herald article in April 1889 titled “Among the Horrors, An Afternoon with the germs of Cholera, Yellow Fever, Smallpox, Consumption and Hydrophobia, the Kitchen of the Microbes.” The reporter visited his laboratory and reported in detail just what the doctor did, how the microscope worked, what a glass slide looked like, and the possibilities for solutions to these diseases that the “French savant” Dr. Gibier brought to light. Reading this article today — even with all we know about science and with contemporary education that includes time in a laboratory — one can still find admiration for Dr. Gibier’s work. We can also see the importance of science-news reporting as it educates the public about the solutions to once-frightening mysteries.

By 1893 Dr. Gibier opened a five-story brick building at the corner of Central Park West and 97th Street, pictured here. Soon the Pasteur Institute was treating patients from all

The Pasteur Institute on 97th Street at Central Park West

The Pasteur Institute on 97th Street at Central Park West

over the United States, and keeping its animals for research on the roof, and on a farm in Bayside, New York. As important as it was to start treatment immediately, it was also crucial to have the viral material— developed in rabbits’ brains —ready as needed. Over 14 or more days, the patients received increasingly strong injections. Dr. Gibier also admitted patients with epilepsy, since he was working on an injectable anti-toxin for that disease also, as reported in the press in 1893. In 1895 he announced an anti-toxin for lockjaw, what we call today the “tetanus shot.”

Dr. Gibier was an oft-quoted figure in the press on subjects other than his research. He commented that the recently-discovered canals on Mars were clearly the work of intelligent beings. He published a book on “psychism” and investigated other aspects of spiritualism. Unlike what would happen today, his explorations in these areas did not bring any criticism.

Starting in 1895, Gibier expanded the Institute, purchasing a 200-acre estate in Suffern, New York, where he could both provide a sanitarium as well as barns for the horses, cows, and sheep he needed to produce the diphtheria and smallpox vaccines. The Institute on Central Park West closed, but maintained an office on West 23rd Street (in a house that famous actress Lilly Langtry had once rented) to evaluate bite victims.

In 1900, Dr. Gibier was killed in a carriage accident while returning to New York from Suffern. George Gibier Rambaud, his nephew, succeeded his uncle, but sold off the Suffern facility, keeping the West 23rd facility for a while. Soon, hospitals were able to establish vaccination procedures, and a special facility was no longer needed.

Rambaud was kept in the newspapers by an alleged affair and then a second marriage to a popular French contralto with the Metropolitan Opera. He became embroiled in a controversial treatment for tuberculosis with a turtle vaccine, in another facility known as the Friedmann Clinic at West End Avenue and 103rd Street. The Pasteur Institute closed in 1918, when Rambaud joined the Army to fight in World War I.

The handsome brick building on West 97th Street that was the Pasteur Institute — which had been leased to Dr. Gibier — was sold to a T. Chambers Reid in 1893, shortly after it opened. In 1898, the owner was the “C.R. Cornell Estate” as the building was altered to become a hotel known as the Cornell Apartment Hotel. It is listed as such in the Brooklyn Eagle Almanac of 1906.

It is unknown how long the building lasted. It appears on maps at least through the 1920s. Eventually, the lot became part of the Park West Village development of the 1960s, specifically, 372 Central Park West.



Chapters 3, 4, and 5 in Bert Hansen, Picturing Medical Progress from Pasteur to Polio: A History of Mass Media Images and Popular Attitudes in America (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press 2009).

The Real Estate Record digital version at Columbia University Libraries Digital Collections

Talk by Bert Hansen, Professor, Baruch College, presented by the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group, at Hostelling International, 891 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, October 5, 2015

Bromley and Sanborn Maps at New York Public Library

The New York Times Archive

New York Herald available through







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John Clendening, Esquire, and his Bloomingdale Estate

This is the second post of a series on Bloomingdale neighborhood places that no longer exist.  It was written by Pam Tice, member of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group Planning Committee.

When John Randel made his 1818-1820 Farm Maps, he mapped a house on a Bloomingdale hill right in the middle at what would become 104th Street and Columbus/Ninth Avenue.

RANDEL FARM MAP showing the Clendening land

RANDEL FARM MAP showing the Clendening land

This was the home of John Clendening, a wealthy New York merchant. After assembling the land in several transactions, he called his Bloomingdale farm “Sharon Farm.” Stokes’ Iconography of Manhattan Island includes notes on Clendening’s farm and how it came to be.

John Clendening typified the wealthy merchants who purchased land in the Bloomingdale area on the west side of Manhattan, land that the Dutch had farmed as they settled Manhattan’s northern reaches. The original patent for the area in 1667 was granted to Isaac Bedloe, a New York Alderman. After he died in 1673, Bedloe’s land became divided through property transfers over the years, creating the Charles Ward Apthorp Farm, the Striker’s Bay Farm, the Herman LeRoy Farm, the John Clendening Farm, and a part of the Lawrence Kortwright Farm that became part of Central Park.

According to Stokes, the block numbers assigned to the Clendening Farm are 1857, 1838, 1834, 1854, and 1857. Thus, if you are looking at Manhattan property on a map with block numbers, you can identify the area of Mr. Clendening’s estate.

Clendening assembled his property by first buying ten acres in two pieces from land Herman LeRoy had sold to John Goodeve and James Brown in 1796. Goodeve became the sole owner at a later date, and in 1808, sold the acres to Clendening. In 1832, Clendening bought another piece of the LeRoy farm. But the most significant portion of his holdings came from an 1814 sale from a “Lawrence Benson, Gentleman, to John Clendening, Merchant.” Mr. Benson was the great-grandson of Lawrence Kortwright, mentioned above.

The deeds to this property are measured in acres, roods, and perches. The terms “rood and perches” go back to the Romans and generally not used today, except in a couple of places that have deep English roots, including Jamaica (the Island).

Stokes describes the area In 1819, and the “fine house fifty feet square standing 250 feet back from Clendening Lane,” the connection to the Bloomingdale Road, west of the Clendening Farm. Stokes describes the property as having “a driveway gate at the SW corner of 105th and Ninth Avenue, with the mansion just south of 104th Street.”

Clendening Lane continued as a named place in the neighborhood for many years. Even as late as 1909, there was a property dispute involving the Lane, as reported in The New York Times. The Times story provides a detailed description of the Lane’s traverse: Clendening Lane branched off from Bloomingdale Road in the center of the 103-104 Block. (Bloomingdale Road ran between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway.) At 100 feet east of Amsterdam, Clendening Lane headed northeast to 105th Street, to midway between Amsterdam and Columbus, then east to what is now Central Park.

You can hover over a 1852 map of the Bloomingdale neighborhood and see the other property owners and the structures in place. On this map, the Clendening home has passed on to the next owner, Mr. Marshall, as discussed below.

In the 1863 D. T. Valentine’s Manual, The New York of Yesterday, there is a picture of the Clendening home in 1863 indicating the wrong location, at West 90th Street and Eighth Avenue. Of course, this could be a home that was given the wrong name, but the mansion’s existence is also noted on the 1867 Dripps map as on the corner of Ninth Avenue and 104th Street – one author suggests that it might have been moved to fit onto the grid laid out by John Randel

CLENDENING HOME from Valentine's Manual

CLENDENING HOME from Valentine’s Manual

DRIPP'S map c1867-68 with Clendening land marked, along with house now Mr. Marshall's

DRIPP’S map c1867-68 with Clendening land marked, along with house now Mr. Marshall’s


It’s been difficult to find information about the Clendening family since no definitive family history seems to exist. Nevertheless, numerous facts are available in newspaper articles and old books. Before he moved to Bloomingdale — which one author called his “retirement” — Clendening lived downtown on Pearl Street, between Maiden Lane and Beekman Street. In those times, most merchants lived above their shops. Based on his age — reported with his death announcement — Clendening was born about 1752. While his age made him eligible for military service in the Revolution, I did not find any record of service. One report of his death indicated that he was born in Scotland. A note in The Old Merchants of New York indicates that he imported Irish linens. In 1809, he is listed as an Inspector for the election of the City’s “Charter Officers.” He is also listed as one of several men who made loans to the United States Government in 1813, when the government sought lenders to fund the War of 1812; Mr. Clendening loaned $20,000. In 1816, he was named a Director of the Second United States Bank, serving under John Jacob Astor, President. In 1825, he is listed as a Director of the New York Contributorship, one of many New York City fire insurance companies.

John Clendening’s death was reported in The New York Gazette of January 29, 1836; his death had actually taken place two days earlier on January 27th. He was 84 years old. His funeral was at his residence, and the newspaper reported that “sleighs would be ready to take mourners to the funeral, leaving from St. Paul’s Church at half past eleven o’clock.” I have not been able to find his burial place; I’d thought he might have been interred in the St. Michael’s Church cemetery (later moved to Astoria), but did not find a record. However, not all St. Michael’s burials are listed.

Thanks to just one genealogy on the Rootsweb site, I found a list of his children, but no definite note of his wife’s name. He had seven children — two sons and five daughters — all born in New York City. They are:

James, born in 1791, who went into business as Clendening and Bulkley, importing Irish goods; Mary Ann, born in 1793, who died in 1807; John, born in 1795, reportedly remaining a bachelor; Margaret, born in 1797, who married Horace W. Bulkley, her brother’s business partner; Sally, born in 1799, who married William Hogan; and Jane, born in 1802, who married Mr. Kearny. The youngest daughter,

Letitia, born in 1807, married Stuart Mollan, Jr. of Petersburg, Virginia. There is a newspaper mention of her marriage in 1836 at the Clendening estate, performed by the rector of St. Michael’s Church, the Reverend Doctor Richmond. Leticia and Stuart had a son, John Clendening Mollan, born in 1837. On February 3, 1838, a news announcement was made of the child’s death at ten months, 14 days old. That announcement uses “Sharon, in Bloomingdale” as the place of death, naming the farm. Leticia died in December, 1838 with no burial place mentioned. Stuart Mollan died on March 20, 1861, and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery.

The John Clendening family is listed in the Federal censuses of 1790, 1800, 1810, 1820, 1830, and even 1840, after John Clendening’s death. In the earliest censuses, they are in downtown New York, in the “East Ward” and “Ward Three.” In 1810 and 1820, they are in “Ward Nine,” which is the lower west side, between Houston and 14th Streets. Starting in 1830, they are in Ward 12, which is the area north of 86th Street, the Bloomingdale “Village.” However, in 1850, the family “disappears” from the records. Perhaps that was due to the misfortune that occurred, described below.

According to news reports, the reason for the sale of the Clendening estate was the family’s financial losses, sustained when the Second United States Bank failed. In the Stokes book, John Clendening’s will was dated July 1829, and was “proved” on February 21, 1836. He left the Sharon Farm to his wife, along with an annuity. The remainder was left to his children. The writer of The Old Merchants of New York — a somewhat chatty book that some say plays a bit loose with facts — reports that the children fought over the estate and then decided to invest in the Second United States Bank. Other reports say that John Clendening was one of the largest investors in the Bank, and this would have been an important part of the estate left to his family.

Another diversion from the Clendenings: the Second U.S. Bank was chartered in 1816 based on the limited success of the First U. S. Bank that Alexander Hamilton had worked to establish, with it based on the Bank of England model. With all the renewed interest in Hamilton this summer of 2015 with a Broadway show, the subject of banking history doesn’t seem as dry and unimportant as it might have earlier.

Andrew Jackson became President of the United States in 1828; he was extremely anti-U.S. Bank. In 1832, Congress passed a bill to renew the Charter of the Second Bank which was due to expire in 1836. The President vetoed the bill, based on his view of the Bank being unconstitutional (despite previous rulings by the Supreme Court that it wasn’t), and “subversive of the rights of States, and dangerous to the liberties of the people.” In February, 1836, the U.S. Bank became a private corporation under Pennsylvania Commonwealth law. A shortage of hard currency followed, causing the “Panic of 1837,” which lasted some seven years. The Bank suspended payments in 1839 and was liquidated in 1841.

John Clendening’s death came just as the Bank’s charter was ending – although well before his death he knew it would cease. There’s no way of knowing of his efforts to save his fortune.

In December 1844, an advertisement appeared in the Commercial Advertiser in New York that, by order of the Court of Chancery, the estate of the late John Clendening, seized, would be divided into separate parcels and sold. The ad describes the estate, in the 12th Ward, as being “on 8th and 9th Avenues, and on 99th, 100th, 101st, 102nd, 103rd, 104th and 105th Streets.” The auction was scheduled for the 15th of January, 1845, at Halliday and Jenkins, on Broad Street.

The next mention of the Clendening estate is in a 1912 article in The New York Times about the “olde settlers” of the West Side. The article speaks with some wonderment of the value of the land as the Clendenning lots were sold off for between $9.50 and $55.00 each. The article states that the entire estate, including the house, only brought in $3,000. At the time of the article, in 1912, similar lots were bringing in $25,000.

Robert Marshall bought the Clendening home and some of the land. In the Daytonian In New York blog, in a piece written about the founding of the West End Presbyterian Church (at Amsterdam and 105 Street), the congregation is described as meeting in the “Marshall Mansion.” A search through the federal censuses in 1850, 1860 and 1880 located a Marshall family. The parents, Robert and Ann, were both born in Scotland, an obvious tie to the Presbyterian Church. The children were Hannah, James, Ann, Robert and Margaret. In all the census documents, there are servants listed with the Marshall family, usually Irish-born young women. In 1860, there is a listed gardener, John Montgomery, which suggests that there were grounds to tend around the house.

In the 1850 census, Robert Marshall is listed as a confectioner; in 1860 he is a “gentleman,” and in 1880, a “retired merchant.” A newspaper article in 1895 referred to him as a “real estate dealer,” and another article mentions the sale of a townhouse on West 88th Street that he owned. An 1891 newspaper article mentions a fire in a nearby stable (317 East 99 Street) “owned by Robert Marshall of 221 East 100 Street.” All the six “truck horses” died; four were owned by Marshall.

The Marshalls appear to have been involved with the Fourth Presbyterian Church at West End Avenue and 91st Street in addition to the West End Church. After they died, their daughter Margaret honored them with a Tiffany window in the Fourth Presbyterian Church’s north transept. The window is still there, but the church is now owned by the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation.

The New York Tribune published an article in June 1897 about the Marshall Mansion, just after Ann Marshall died at 87 years, calling her home “one of the most remarkable private houses in the city of New York.”

The paper named Ann Marshall one of the “belles of Old New-York”, originally from Aberdeen, Scotland. In New York, she lived with her father in an old Dutch mansion on Washington Street, marrying Robert Marshall in 1830. The Marshalls bought the Clendening mansion in 1845, along with six acres of land. They moved the house in compliance with the grid, locating it at Columbus and 104th. This article says that the name “Sharon Homestead” had been given by the Clendenings because the garden was filled with roses of Sharon. “The house was of the Colonial style, painted white and showing huge green blinds. It has a hall twenty feet wide and its furniture…would delight the soul of an antiquary.”

In the 1880 Federal census, Margaret is still living in her parents’ home, still a single woman. There is a record of her death in 1928, at age 84, when she was living at “86th and Broadway.” Her brother James died much earlier in New York; both are buried in Greenwood Cemetery. The news article about Ann Marshall says she was buried at Greenwood, so we might assume that Robert Marshall is buried there also.

In November 1897, the New York Tribune reported that the Marshall homestead “comprising the block front on the west side of Columbus Avenue between 103 and 104 Streets” was sold to Solomon Rothfeld for $230,000. It’s difficult to pinpoint when the Clendening/Marshall home disappeared. However, in a 1913 article in the Real Estate Record & Guide, there was an announcement that, at the SW corner of 104th Street, the Michael E. Paterno Realty Company was building a “house.”

The Clendening name lives on

In 1842 the Croton Aqueduct was completed, bringing fresh water to New York City. In the Bloomingdale neighborhood, a part of the system was above ground south of 110th Street. There, a thirty-foot wall was constructed between Ninth and Tenth Avenues – 100 feet west of Ninth (Columbus), according to Peter Salwen’s history.  Because it was in the area of the former Clendening farm, it became known as the Clendening Bridge or the Clendening Wall.

The Croton Water system's Clendening Wall

The Croton Water system’s Clendening Wall

A final use of the Clendening name — for another structure no longer in existence — was for the Clendening Hotel, located at Amsterdam Avenue and 103rd Street, on the southwest corner. That corner had an earlier hotel named the Kenesaw; one reference called it “a family hotel,” and a two-story frame structure. I haven’t found a record of the tear-down of the Kenesaw and the building of the Clendening Hotel, which was an “apartment hotel” popular at the time. The Real Estate Record and Guide notes that Judson Lawson purchased the Kenesaw in 1900. In 1906 Lawson leased his property — described as a seven-story and basement apartment hotel — to Ewen Hathaway of the Clendening Company. The description of the leased structure appears to be the same building as pictured in these postcard images of the Clendening. In 1908, a parlor, bedroom, bathroom suite for two persons rented for $4 or $5 a day, according to a newspaper advertisement. Eventually, the Clendening became a not-so-nice accommodation, and it was taken down. Today, the site is occupied by a 1965 structure that is one of the collection of buildings comprising the NHCHA project, Frederick Douglass Houses.

The Clendening Hotel at Amsterdam Avenue and West 103rd Street

The Clendening Hotel at Amsterdam Avenue and West 103rd Street

Postcard view of the Clendening Hotel

Postcard view of the Clendening Hotel


The New York Times archive

Old newspapers on

Census information on

Blog posts on

Museum of the City of New York: Randel Maps online

Salwen, Peter Upper West Side Story: A History and Guide New York, Abbeville Press, 1989.

On Google Books: “New York and Vicinity during the War of 1812-15 being a military, civic and financial local history of that period” Volume 1

On Google Books: “The New Yorker: A Weekly Journal of Literature, Politics, Statistics and General Intelligence” Volume 1 – 1836

On Google Books: Scoville, Joseph A., The Old Merchants of New York City published by Lovell in 1889, Volumes 3 and 4

On “Clendening” genealogy by Loraine Montferret

Real Estate Record and Guide online at Columbia University

Stokes, I.N. The Iconography of Manhattan Island 1498-1909 (v 6) New York: Robert H. Dodd 1915-1928. Online version.












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The Lion Brewery, the Lion Park, and the Lion Palace

This is the first in a series of posts about structures and other features of the Bloomingdale neighborhood that are no longer here. This post was written by Pam Tice, a member of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group’s Planning Committee.

For nearly 100 years, the sprawling Lion Brewery — and its nearby Park — took up the blocks 107 to 109 Streets between Ninth and Tenth Avenues, named Columbus Avenue and Amsterdam Avenue in 1890.

Built just after the Civil War, by 1879 the space included the Lion Park — a Beer Garden — on part of the 107-108 block east of Ninth Avenue. The brewery operations sprawled between Ninth and Tenth Avenues, including the brewery, the malt house where the barley was converted to malt, ice houses, stables, workshops and private residences.

Early image of the Lion Brewery

Early image of the Lion Brewery

Even considering its size and longevity, it’s been difficult to find images of the Lion Brewery. Searches online take you to a brewery of the same name in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. The West Side Rag published a post by Marjorie Cohen recently noting this same problem: Her essay includes a photograph of the brewery in the background of a photo taken from the (then) rising structure of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

The New-York Historical Society has an aqua-green glass bottle from the brewery in its collection.

Perhaps the reason for the lack of documentation of the Lion Brewery is because breweries in the late 19th century in New York were simply ordinary. There were 121 of them in the nineteenth century, and, even just before Prohibition began in 1920, there were 70. Much of the material I’ve used here, including that fact, is from The New York Times archive.

The original brewery in our neighborhood was built in 1858 as “the Lion Lager Bier Brewery” by Albert and James Speyers and a Captain Howard. The proliferation of breweries in the middle of the nineteenth century, some say, is because of the arrival of clean water in New York City, made possible by the building of the Croton Aqueduct. Of course there was also a growing population along with the continuing popularity of drinking beer.

In its early days, the Lion was producing 300 barrels a day. The operation included the main building, a malt house, a barrel storage shed, a stable, and a small dwelling house. This photograph of a dwelling on West 108 Street may be that structure. The first story about the Lion in the Times in October 1858, is about the fire that destroyed it. This was the first of a number of reports about fires in the brewery.

Houses near the Lion on West 108th. Photo from the Museum of the City of New York

Houses near the Lion on West 108th. Photo from the Museum of the City of New York

By 1863 Emmanuel (Max) Bernheimer and August Schmid, German immigrants, owned the Lion, along with other breweries in Manhattan and Staten Island. The Lion operation also included 50 New York saloons, often opening them and selling them to the lessee. When the anti-saloon movement agitated for cleaning up saloons in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the Lion Brewery worked to handle its saloons.

Many of the workers at the Lion were Bavarian Catholics. After spending some years celebrating Mass in the brewery, they helped build the Ascension Church, west of the Brewery on 107 Street. The church held its first Mass on October 17, 1895. This website includes a detailed history of the church and the school that grew with it:

By the 1870s, there were news reports of events, some involving military marches that would end with concerts and family picnicking at the Lion Park. At some point also, a “hall” was established at the southwest corner of Broadway and 110th Street, which soon became known as the Lion Palace. The West Side Association — which became the main advocate for building the West Side, including its transportation lines — had a meeting there in 1877. Mr. Bernheimer was elected as one of the group’s Vice Presidents.

In 1895 and 1898 there were fires at the Lion, both in the stables. The 1895 fire reported that there were 143 horses kept there; 40 of them perished in the flames. In the 1898 fire, it was reported that there were 200 horses, but all of them saved. These numbers indicate the size of the Brewery’s operation, and the great numbers of horses and wagons needed to deliver the beer around town.

But by 1895, there began to be reports that the Brewery was “casting a blight” on the neighborhood. The issue of immediate concern was that of “opening” West 108 Street. Lion Park had blocked the street with a fence, and an argument broke out between the Park’s lessee and real estate developers who complained that only “cheap tenements” could be developed on that block between Columbus and Central Park West, rather than the “handsome apartment buildings” they desired. The lessee of the Lion Park begged for two more years to operate until his lease ran out; at some point, the developers prevailed. Real estate reports for 1895 indicate that a portion of the Park land was sold; in 1898 another real estate article reports that the entire block on the east side of Columbus was sold and soon would be “eight 5-story flat houses and stores.”

1898 Map showing tenements on the east side of Columbus Avenue across from the Brewery

1898 Map showing tenements on the east side of Columbus Avenue across from the Brewery

August Schmid died in 1889, and his partner Emmanuel Bernheimer in 1890. Both were wealthy men, leaving significant estates. Bernheimer had three sons who had already begun to play important roles in running the Lion Brewery. Schmid had two daughters, but one died as a young woman. For the Schmid family, his wife Josephine took over the management role. Soon, she and the Bernheimer sons were arguing over operations, and, in 1901, they went to court. After lengthy arguments about the additional real estate that the company owned. Mrs. Schmid became the sole owner of the Brewery in 1903.

The Bernheimers established another brewery in Harlem at Amsterdam and 128 Street. The blog “Daytonian in Manhattan” covered it here:

Already rich from her own family inheritance, Mrs. Schmid became an even wealthier woman. This next part of the story is not about the Brewery, but it’s an interesting New York tale. Mrs. Schmid was an unusual woman in that she managed her own resources. The daughter of a brewer, she had developed the necessary management skills to run a brewery. While some reports call her “difficult” and “cunning,” others characterized her as “the daintiest brewer” and commented on her modish bonnets and fine dresses, her mansion, the extensive library she owned, and that she spoke French and German in addition to her native English.

She also began to deal in real estate, buying valuable parcels on upper Fifth Avenue. In September 1897 she bought a plot of land at Fifth Avenue and 62 Street, and then built herself a chateaux at 807 Fifth Avenue. This was the epitome of Gilded Age social-climbing. Her architect was Richard H. Hunt, son of Richard M. who designed the Association Residence that has become the Upper West Side’s youth hostel.

Mrs. Schmid's "castle" on Fifth Avenue at 62nd Street

Mrs. Schmid’s “castle” on Fifth Avenue at 62nd Street

Josephine Schmid’s financial actions provided lots of grist for the newspapers. In 1908, her only living child, Pauline, sued her mother over her take-over of the family fortunes, and a bitter trial ensued that resulted in a settlement. At this time, Josephine was the President and Treasurer of her corporation, and paid herself an annual half-million dollar salary.

Soon after that, in 1909, Josephine, who was now 50 years old, married a penniless Italian prince, Don Giovanni Del Drago of Rome. It was originally reported that he was 27, but then corrected to 47 years old. The Times ran a second front-page story that Del Drago wasn’t really a prince, although Josephine insisted upon being called Princess Del Drago until she died in 1937. The New York Times announcement of the couple’s arrival in Rome — uncertain of their acceptance into the royal family — referred to her as “the Brewer’s widow” and “the latest Dollar Princess.”

The Del Dragos began spending more time in Europe. They also had a summer estate in Tarrytown. By 1914, their turreted mansion on Fifth Avenue was purchased by the Knickerbocker Club and subsequently razed.

There were changes also at the Lion Palace. In 1906, Mrs. Schmid leased it to two theatrical men who planned to convert it from a music hall into a theater. This venture must have lasted only a short time, because the company they formed was in foreclosure by 1909. This also may have been a result of the new entertainment— the movies — that began to replace the theaters on upper Broadway. The Palace plot was sold in 1911 to William Fox Amusement Company which planned a “moving picture and vaudeville house.” Eventually the site became just a movie theater — the Nemo – as it appears on the 1916 real estate map.

Columbia University students made the Lion Palace — with its German cooking and Pilsner beer —a popular student hangout, and they must have been disappointed to see it changed.

In 1915, Mrs. Del Drago offered $2 million to the Queen of Italy to distribute to the families of soldiers who were fighting in World War I — perhaps her way of showing pleasure in becoming accepted by Italian royalty.

During the Progressive Era after the turn of the century, the anti-saloon movement slowed down the growth of New York breweries, and then, beginning in 1920, Prohibition shut down many of them. From 1920 to 1933, the Lion Brewery made near-beer (alcohol level one-half of one percent) as did a few others. The breweries in New York sought other ways to stay in business, seeking to make something else, such as the Rupert Brewery over on Third Avenue started making a malt syrup that formed the basis for candies. (One in Massachusetts even converted to making chocolate!) In 1920, the Lion brought suit against the Volstead Act, alleging its unconstitutionality, but did not prevail.

Lion Brewery truck

Lion Brewery truck

The Lion also developed a dye and chemicals company called the Noil Chemical and Color Works Inc. on West 107 Street (note Lion spelled backward).

By 1919, an H. A. Murray is noted as President of the Lion Brewery. He was Pauline Schmid’s husband — so perhaps we can conclude that Mrs. Schmid had settled with her daughter and passed along management duties to the next generation while she spent more time in Europe. When a large fire ravaged the brewery again on the Fourth of July in 1927, Mr. Murray, the President, had to return to the city from a polo match. A Times article quoted him speaking of the Schmid family’s early farm and mansion on the site of the brewery – erroneous family history.

It is also worth noting that the fire of 1927 was alleged to have been set by kids with firecrackers, a “tradition” having deep roots in this neighborhood that continues today. The fire was spectacular, shutting down the Columbus Avenue El for two hours, and drawing holiday crowds. Fortunately, it was reported, the wind direction kept the heavy smoke from the Woman’s Hospital over on 109th Street.

Pauline Schmid Murray and her husband were killed in an automobile accident in 1931, and their daughter inherited their interest in the Lion. It’s not clear how the corporate ownership evolved, but, in 1933 when breweries were re-licensed in New York State, the Lion began to produce beer again. Mrs. Del Drago died in 1937, leaving a million-dollar estate – down from the $10 million she was said to be worth before Prohibition.

By the time the Lion closed in 1942, it had become The Greater New York Brewery. A Times article in 1942 noted Robert Moses helping the United States government collect scrap metal for the war effort. Moses made the point that while household scrap was nice, a more significant amount could be collected in New York from such structures that the city was removing: the Old (1939) World’s Fair, old streetcar tracks, and scrap metal from old buildings, including the Lion and Dolger’s breweries. And that is what happened when the Lion was taken down.

Lion Beer Can

Lion Beer Can

Today, the Lion site is occupied by the Booker T. Washington School, or Junior High School 54, serving 800 sixth to eighth graders. The garages on West 108 are the left-overs of the old Brewery site.

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