November 6, 2019

Now and Then is a series of articles appearing regularly on our blog to make tenants aware of the rich and colorful history that occurred on the streets of our Manhattan neighborhood.  Once the center of New York social life and national political life, our neighborhood witnessed some of the epic events, firsts, building projects, and celebrities that signaled the beginning of U.S. power and influence.

Today, if you look across Madison Square Park from Kew’s Townsend Building you will see a tall black slab building. It marks the spot where the Metropolitan Museum of Art was founded 150 years ago.

In the 19th and early 20th Century, the area around The Townsend and St. James, now NoMad, was the heart of society and national political life. It’s no wonder then that Winston Churchill’s mother was born in the Jerome Mansion on the spot where the black tower stands today. The mansion later became the Union Club, the site of the meeting that brought the Metropolitan Museum of Art to life.

On the dismal rainy night of November 23, 1869, the city’s leaders travelled from all parts of the city by carriage. They included: William Cullen Bryant, the famous American romantic poet, journalist, and long-time editor of the New York Evening Post, who gave the keynote address; John Jay, president of the Union Club; and the club’s Art Committee. Also attending were officers of the National Academy of Design, the New York Historical Society, the American Institute of Architects, as well as prominent citizens in business and the arts, such as the President of Columbia College, the President of the Central Park Commission, leading architects, and powerbrokers.

These men determined that night that they would move ahead to create a museum worthy of the nation and the city.  Over the next few years, they quickly formulated the legal entity, began a collection, and started to exhibit.   Only 11 years later, on March 30th 1880, the Metropolitan opened its current permanent home—the original red and white Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould building, which is still the core of the museum.  (You can see the exterior of the original museum as a result of the last round of museum expansions and redesign, which made the exterior wall part of the European Sculpture Hall.)

In 1869, the museum had no collection, no money, and no building.  That’s a sobering fact as one walks through the museum today and realizes what a relatively small group of dedicated people can do to affect society’s life—we follow in giant footsteps.

October 23, 2019

From approximately 1869 until 1910, our neighborhood was New York City’s Theatre District. There were at least 14 theatre locations nearby—but many theatres were renamed, reopened, and/or rebuilt in the same location, so the actual number depends on how one counts. Our staff counted at least 29 differently named theatres, but the histories of many theatres are not complete so there may have been at least twice as many during these years.

Koster & Bial’s

Theatre owners and producers came to NoMad during the Gilded Age because of the proximate subway lines, grand hotels and leading restaurants.  Sounds a bit like our neighborhood today.

Augustin Daly

Impresarios such as Steele MacKaye, Augustin Daly, Lester Wallach, and Harry Miner dominated the scene, while actors such as Edwin Booth, putatively the greatest Shakespearean actor of the 19th Century, Sarah Bernhardt, and Eleonora Dusa wowed audiences. New plays premiered that are still popular today, including classics such as The Pirates of Penzance, The Mikado and H.M.S. Pinafore all by Gilbert and Sullivan and all of which opened to hugely favorable public and critical reaction.

Fifth Avenue Theatre

Adding to the excitement were the startling new inventions by the likes of Thomas Edison that appeared during this time, changing the theatre-going experience forever (read more).

In fact, it was the very presence of the Theatre District in our neighborhood that propelled the rise of Tin Pan Alley on 28th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues  The music from those shows feeding the publishers, and the publishers hawking their songs in the local theatres.

Harper’s Weekly Cover featuring Wallach’s Theatre

Sadly, not one of these theatres remain today.  As the city’s wealthy moved their residences uptown, the social center drifted North.  After 50 years in NoMad, the Theatre District followed, moving on to Longacre Square, now named Times Square.  Regardless, it is undeniable that our streets have a historical and exuberant past that, in many ways, echoes the present day character of NoMad.

September 20, 2019

Now and Then is a series of articles appearing regularly on our blog to make tenants aware of the rich and colorful history that occurred on the streets of our Manhattan neighborhood. Once the center of New York social life and national political life, our neighborhood witnessed some of the epic events, firsts, building projects, and celebrities that signaled the beginning of U.S. power and influence.

Walking the busy streets of NoMad today, it is hard to imagine carriage traffic, people fighting in the middle of the street over whether or not alcohol should be consumed, and a 54-year-old lady soberly dressed in black threatening others with a hatchet. Life certainly has lost some of its excitement and charm, but a hundred years ago that was the street scene in our neighborhood.

John L. Sullivan, the bruiser boxing champ, owned a saloon at 1177 Broadway, between 27th and 28th Streets. He certainly was no friend of Carrie Nation, who was famous for breaking up liquor bottles and bar tops with her hatchet in her drive for prohibition. In fact, he had told the press that if Nation ever bothered to stop by his place, he would “thrust her into a sewer hole.”

Whenever Carrie Nation, “The Kansas Saloon Smasher,” came to New York, she always stayed at the Victoria Hotel on 27th and Broadway, a leading hotel at the time. One day on the way back from City Hall, she stopped at Sullivan’s tavern, a half block from her hotel.

It must have been quite a scene as she sat in her carriage in front of Sullivan’s saloon and sent her card up to him. After a while, she was told he was asleep and could not be bothered. She insisted that he see her because “I don’t allow any man to stick me in a sewer hole — not while I have my hatchet with me.” The messenger responded, “Better not ma’m. Mr. Sullivan is a very dangerous man when he’s ‘roused, ma’m.”

Unimpressed, Mrs. Nation replied, “Tell Mr. Sullivan, then, that when I next come to town I will visit him and see if he’ll stick me in a sewer hole. I’ll see him and there’ll be a reckonin’.” Next morning, The New York Times recorded the events. It seems that even the most ferocious fighter of the day was afraid of her and despite Sullivan’s sheepish attempts at bluster, he couldn’t live down the incident.

August 27, 2019

Now and Then is a series of articles appearing regularly on our blog to make tenants aware of the rich and colorful history that occurred on the streets of our Manhattan neighborhood. Once the center of New York social life and national political life, our neighborhood witnessed some of the epic events, firsts, building projects, and celebrities that signaled the beginning of U.S. power and influence.

The oldest United States corporation is located at the corner of 29th Street and Fifth Avenue.   Remarkably it’s not a multinational corporation, a large oil company, or sprawling railroad; it is “America’s Hometown Church”—Marble Collegiate Church.

In 1628, four years after the founding of the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, Reverend Jonas Michaelius arrived from Holland to organize the Dutch Reformed Church (now known as the Collegiate Church). The first worship service was conducted in a gristmill on what is now South William Street, when the entire population of the city was less than 300. The first church elder was Governor Peter Minuit, who had recently purchased Manhattan Island from the Native Americans. Peter Stuyvesant, Director General of New Amsterdam, led worshippers to Sunday service.

When the British took over the city in 1664 and renamed it New York, they allowed the Dutch Reformed Church to continue its worship traditions. King William III granted the church a Royal Charter in 1696, making the Collegiate Church the oldest corporation in America. It is also the oldest Protestant organization in North America with continuous service for 382 years.

The current building, named “Marble” for its construction out of solid blocks of marble shipped down river from a quarry at Hastings-on-Hudson, was begun in 1851 and completed in 1854. When it was built the church was outside the city limits so the cast iron fence, still around the church today, was erected to keep cattle out of the churchyard. Marble Collegiate’s bells have tolled the death of every president since Martin Van Buren in 1862.

From the middle of the 20th Century until today the church has had a prominent role in the nation’s life. Norman Vincent Peale led the church for 52 years and was one of the most influential religious figures of the 20th Century, authoring 46 books, including the inspirational best-seller, The Power of Positive Thinking.

President Richard M. Nixon was a close friend of Peale’s, he attended Marble Collegiate, and his daughter Julie Nixon married David Eisenhower there in 1968. Pearle was also the reason the Trump family came to Marble Collegiate Church. Peale officiated at the first marriage of Donald to Ivana Trump in 1977. Lucille Ball married her second husband Gary Morton at Marble Collegiate, and Liza Minnelli married her fourth husband David Gest in the church on March 16, 2002 before a star-studded crowd and with Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor as witnesses.

Besides being the first corporation in the country, Marble Collegiate was the first church building in America to install hanging balconies without visible supporting pillars and the first to use closed-circuit color television for overflow worshipers.

July 9, 2019

Now and Then is a series of articles appearing regularly on our blog to make tenants aware of the rich and colorful history that occurred on the streets of our Manhattan neighborhood.  Once the center of New York social life and national political life, our neighborhood witnessed some of the epic events, firsts, building projects, and celebrities that signaled the beginning of U.S. power and influence.


A theatre stood just behind the Fifth Avenue Hotel, on 24th near Broadway, from 1865 until 1908. Its greatest years were under the management of Steele MacKaye who took over in 1877. MacKaye redecorated the interior and incorporated a number of brand new innovations including the double stage (allowing an entire set to be lowered into place), advanced lighting effects, folding auditorium chairs, and probably most astoundingly “air conditioning.”

Imagine the reaction of people in 1877, who had never experienced air conditioning before. Luckily, we don’t have to because we have a first-hand account of what it was like. An English novelist, Mary Duffus Hardy, noted:

“As the weeks passed on, the temperature became almost unendurable. The coolest place in all New York was the Madison Square Theatre. The thermometer had mounted to 100° when we received a box for an afternoon miscellaneous performance in aid of the Edgar Poe Memorial Statue. Among the many other things selected for the occasion was an abridged version of The Taming of the Shrew, when Edwin Booth consented to play Petruchio. Nothing less than a desire to see this celebrated actor would have tempted us to stir … armed with fans, smelling­ salts and sundry antidotes to fainting fits, [we] panted our way from Forty-fifth Street to a Sixth Avenue car, which landed us close to the theatre.

“Immediately on entering, we felt as though we had left the hot world to scorch and dry up outside, while we were enjoying a soft summer breeze within. Where did it come from? The house was crowded-there was not standing-room for a broomstick; but the air was as cool and refreshing as though it had blown over a bank of spring violets. We learned the reason of this. By some simple contrivance the outer air, circulating through and among tons of ice, is forced to find its way through a thousand frozen cracks and crevices before it enters the auditorium; thus a flow of fresh air is kept in constant circulation, which renders an afternoon in Madison Square Theatre a luxury during the hottest of dog days.”

The introduction of air conditioning was revolutionary, and today, we couldn’t imagine going to a theatre in summer without it. Listening to Ms. Hardy with her fans, smelling salts, and antidotes to fainting, we can appreciate the hazards of an afternoon of summer theatergoing in 1877 (particularly given the heavy clothes and strict clothing customs of the day). How fortunate we are today.

MacKaye’s ingenuity extended to other features of theatre life, too. There was the age-old theatrical problem of time-consuming scene changes—the “stage waits.” MacKay developed the “double stage,” which allowed a setting to be placed in position on a separate stage ready to be swiftly lowered into the proscenium opening when the script called for a change of scene. The previous scene was simultaneously lowered into the basement. This is something that is done many times every season now at the Metropolitan Opera, and without which the legendary magic at the Met could not be achieved.

MacKaye’s early interest in the potential of lighting effects to underscore the content of the play or establish a mood led to his experiments in gas lighting at the Madison Square. In later years, his theories were more influential and had much more pronounced success when incandescent lighting was brought into the theatres. While it is not completely clear, it may be that Edison installed his first theatre lighting at the Madison Square Theatre.

Finally, MacKaye invented the folding auditorium chair, the first major improvement in audience comfort since the addition of the cushion.

December 11, 2018

Just to the right of the main doors of the historic Radio Wave Building, an unassuming set of double doors leads to the basement coffee shop Patent Coffee. But after 5 p.m., just as evening is falling,  the space expands via a set of accordion doors that open up into a cozy brick-walled 34-seat cocktail lounge. Patent Coffee transforms into Patent Pending, a popular speakeasy dedicated to the spirit of invention.

The speakeasy draws its inspiration from inventor Nikola Tesla, who lived in this building at the end of the 19th Century when it was The Gerlach Hotel. Tesla used his rooms to transmit radio waves to his nearby laboratory.  Tipping its hat to significant moments or achievements in Tesla’s life, Patent Pending offers a variety of thoughtfully-mixed cocktails including: “Hit by a Taxi,” “Currents & Coils,” “Cosmic Rays” and yes, “Radio Waves,” among others. A selection of beers and wines are also available.

Getting into the speakeasy is an experience of its own. First, you don’t just walk in. The code 4927# typed into an electronic keypad will prompt the host to let you through the doors. From there, quite often there are waits of up to an hour and a half as standing room in the speakeasy is limited. (Patent Pending does not accept reservations—it’s first come, first served.) But once you’re seated, the dark, relaxing atmosphere and finely-crafted beverages provide the perfect backdrop for socializing with friends, a passionate date, or just unwinding after a long day at work.

Patent Pending
49 West 27th Street
New York, NY 10001
(212) 689-4002

Sunday – Wednesday: 5 p.m. – 12 a.m.
Thursday – Saturday: 5 p.m. – 2 a.m.

September 13, 2018

If you live or work in NoMad, chances are you’ve dined at (or at least walked by) La Pecora Bianca, the delightful Italian eatery in the historic St. James Building at 26th and Broadway. But save for a few faint reminders, one would never suspect that this site once was home to the Havana Tobacco Company, frequently described in its time as “the finest store in the world.”

Opened in 1904, the Havana Tobacco Company became one of the most popular New York cigar shops of its day. Surrounded by other fine shops at the top of Ladies Mile, and in the center of world-class hotels and the homes of high society, this store had to present an image of exclusivity and sophistication.  So, it wasn’t just the fine cigars and tobacco products that made it the “finest store;” it was the architecture and ambience.  The shops décor included: tall marble columns. ornate furnishings, luxurious cigar lighter stands, lush palm trees and greenery, and fine oil paintings depicting Havana Harbor. And of course, long rows of glass cases displaying the finest cigars money could buy. Everything about the interior of the store evoked the look and feel of an opulent tropical terrace, transporting patrons back to another time and place—back to old Havana itself.

New York’s Finest Architects

The style of the Havana Tobacco Company can be accredited to the combined work of the most noted architects of New York’s Gilded Age. The St. James was designed by Bruce Price, known for NYC landmarks like the American Surety Building and the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City.   The grand scale Price provided for the ground floor shops was enhanced by the classic but simple grandeur that was the hallmark of McKim, Mead & White.  The nation’s leading architectural firm, known for buildings like the original Penn Station and the Brooklyn Museum, among many others, created a powerful but retrained space that gloriously reflected Gilded Age style and elegance, branding the space perfectly for its wealthy local clientele and visitors from abroad.

Fine Landscape Paintings

For the upper walls surrounding the showroom, the tobacco company commissioned a mural comprised of seven or eight oil paintings by Willard Metcalf (1858-1925), a famed artist of the American Impressionist school best known for his landscapes. Metcalf reportedly traveled to Cuba in 1902 to create the original studies for the series, which depicted scenes from Havana Harbor, adding a tasteful touch of brilliance to the showroom.  Only one of the original Metcalf panels survives, and it is currently on display at The Art Institute of Chicago.

The Space Today

A few years ago, when La Pecora Bianca owner Mark Barak looked over this storefront as a possible location for his restaurant, he was intrigued by the story of the McKim, Mead & White cigar shop and sought to recapture at least some of the original feeling of the space. Unfortunately, not much of the original store survived the more than 100 intervening years, but Barak chose to build on the bones that were left.  If you look at photos of the dining room today compared to the historic photos of the cigar shop, it’s not an exact replica, but one can certainly see the resemblance.  Very few changes were made to the shape of the room and the current counter is placed as the original cigar counter was.  Perhaps most reminiscent of the original shop are the columns that La Pecora Bianca retained and its ceiling, which is classically beautiful while humanizing the scale of the enormous space.  Barak was largely successful at creating a modern functional space for the demands of a new age, while retaining key elements that still make the space graceful and charming just as they did back when Teddy Roosevelt was President.