The Slope of Murray Hill
Stretches of the Avenue—Murray Hill: a Slope in Transition—Early Astor Land Purchases—The Brunswick Building—A Deserted Clubland—Churches of the Stretch—The Marble Collegiate—The "Little Church Around the Corner" and its Story—When Grant's Funeral Procession Passed—The Waldorf and the Astoria—On the Hill in 1776—When the Red-Coats Loitered.
After its half-mile journey between the great, square sordid mountains of stone and steel that lie to the north of Fourteenth Street, Fifth Avenue emerges into the sunshine of Madison Square. There it draws in deep breaths of pure ozone before resuming its way as a canyon at Twenty-sixth Street. Reverting to the past, from the Square to Thirty-first Street, the lane runs through what was the Caspar Samler farm. North of that were the twenty acres that John Thompson bought in 1799 for four hundred and eighty-two pounds and ten shillings. A little later, a more familiar name appeared on the maps. In 1827 the Astor hand reached up to this then remote section, William B. Astor purchasing a half-interest, including Fifth Avenue from Thirty-second to Thirty-fifth, for twenty thousand five hundred dollars. While other real-estate investors who considered themselves astute were planning for the future by gobbling up stretches of land along the shore of the East River the Astors were buying across what was primitively known as the backbone of the island.
The sharp rise to what was the old summit and to the modified hill of the present does not begin until Thirty-third Street is reached. But there is perceptible a grade of a kind as soon as the Avenue leaves the northern line of the Square. Today it is a slope in transition. Here and there the change has been wrought. A modern structure reaches superciliously skyward. Beside it and below it the buildings of yesterday give the impression of feeling acutely conscious of their impending doom. They know. Their race is almost run. Tomorrow the old bricks will be tumbled down, the chutes will roar with their passing, and the air will be shrill with the steam drills and riveters ushering into the world the young giants that will take their places. At the northeast corner of Twenty-sixth Street, where the Avenue touches the Square, there is a vast edifice of surpassing ugliness. It is the Brunswick Building, on the site of the old Brunswick Hotel, once famous as the headquarters of the Coaching Club. At one end the principal establishment of one of those firms that have given the term "grocer" a new meaning, at the other, a great book-shop of international reputation, and between, a booking office where the pictures and maps in the show windows stir the passer-by to disquieting dreams on streams of Canada and Maine in the summer, and of semi-tropical verdure in the winter.
Now and again, on the way up the slope, there is a house, which, sturdily and stubbornly, has remained what it was built for, a place of residence, despite the encroachments of commerce. But there are only four or five such. Until a few years ago this was a section of Clubland with the Reform, and the Knickerbocker, the latter at the Thirty-second Street corner, and the New York, just above the Thirty-fourth Street crossing. But the clubs, too, have moved on to the north, and the stretch of today is a riot without order or design, tailors, automats, art shops, opticians, railway offices, steamship offices, florists, leather goods, cigars, Japanese gardens, Chinese gardens, toys, pianos, and even an antique shop or two, which have somehow found their way over from Fourth Avenue to the more aristocratic thoroughfare to the west, and where the visitor, like Raphael of Balzac's "Le Peau de Chagrin," may wander in imagination up and down countless galleries of the mighty past. At the Twenty-eighth Street corner there is a tall apartment house, retaining a sort of left-behind dignity; and there are two churches which belong to the Avenue's story, one of them on the Avenue itself, and the other in a side street, a stone's throw to the east. The first is the Marble Collegiate Church, which is at the northeast corner of Twenty-ninth Street, adjoining the Holland House. It is one of the six Collegiate churches that trace their origin to the first church organized by the Dutch settlers in 1628. Its succession to the "church in the fort" is commemorated by a tablet, and in the yard is preserved the bell which originally hung in the North Church.
Then, in East Twenty-ninth Street, is the rambling old Church of the Transfiguration, loved by all true New Yorkers irrespective of creed, under the name of the "Little Church Around the Corner." From it the actors Wallack, Booth, and Boucicault were buried, and in it is the memorial window to Edwin Booth, executed by John La Forge, and erected by the Players Club in 1898, in loving memory of the club's founder. Below the window is Booth's favourite quotation.
"As one, in suffering all: That suffers nothing; A man that fortune's buffets and rewards Hast ta'en with equal thanks." —Hamlet, III., 2.
Often as the story from which the church derived its familiar name has been told, no narrative dealing with New York would be quite complete without it. As it deals with Joseph Jefferson, let it be related in the words of the stage Rip Van Winkle's Reminiscences. Mr. Jefferson was trying to arrange for the funeral, and in company of one of the dead actor's sons, was seeking a clergyman to officiate. Here is his story:
"On arriving at the house I explained to the reverend gentleman the nature of my visit, and arrangements were made for the time and place at which the funeral was to be held. Something, I can hardly say what, gave me the impression that I had best mention that Mr. Holland was an actor. I did so in a few words, and concluded by presuming that this would make no difference. I saw, however, by the restrained manner of the minister and an unmistakable change in the expression of his face, that it would make, at least to him, a great deal of difference. After some hesitation he said he would be compelled, if Mr. Holland had been an actor, to decline holding the service at his church.
"While his refusal to perform the funeral rites for my old friend would have shocked, under ordinary circumstances, the fact that it was made in the presence of the dead man's son was more painful than I can describe. I turned to look at the youth and saw that his eyes were filled with tears. He stood as one dazed with a blow just realized; as if he felt the terrible injustice of a reproach upon the kind and loving father who had often kissed him in his sleep and had taken him upon his lap when a boy old enough to know the meaning of the words and told him to grow up to be an honest lad. I was hurt for my young friend and indignant with the man—too much so to reply, and as I rose to leave the room with a mortification that I cannot remember to have felt before or since, I paused at the door and said: 'Well, sir, in this dilemma, is there no other church to which you can direct me from which my friend can be buried?' He replied that 'There was a little church around the corner' where I might get it done—to which I answered, 'Then if this be so, God bless the Little Church Around the Corner,' and so I left the house."
A photograph from the collection of J. Clarence Davies, reproduced in the book issued by the Fifth Avenue Bank, shows Grant's funeral procession climbing the slope of Murray Hill, August 8, 1885, and passing the residences of John Jacob Astor and William B. Astor, on the sites of which is the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel of the present. The house of John Jacob was at Thirty-third Street, and that of William B. at Thirty-fourth Street, and there was a garden between shut off from the Avenue by a ten-foot brick wall. The Waldorf, named after the little town of Waldorf, Germany, the ancestral home of the family, occupies the site of the John Jacob house, and was opened March 14, 1893. Four and a half years later, on November 1, 1897, the Astoria came formally into being, and the two hotels linked by the hyphen and merged under one management. That point where Fifth Avenue and Thirty-fourth Street cross is one of the great corners of New York. It is the one that made the profoundest impression on Arnold Bennett: "The pale-pillared, square structure of the Knickerbocker Trust against a background of the lofty red of the AEolian Building, and the great white store on the opposite pavement." A city of amazement has been left behind. Here we are at the threshold of still another city. It is different at every hour of the day. But whether we see it in the sweet-scented dawn, or at high noon, or at the shopping hour, or later, when, to use Arnold Bennett's words, "the street lamps flicker into a steady, steely blue, and the windows of the hotels and restaurants throw a yellow radiance, and all the shops—especially the jewellers' shops—become enchanted treasure houses, whose interiors recede away behind their facades into infinity," it is ever the essence of our New York of Anno Domini 1918.
Then, in an instant, the Hill of today vanishes. The show windows of the great shops, gorgeous with display, the vast hotels, the clubs, the fluttering Starry Banners and Tricolours and Union Jacks, the stirring posters that bring the heart into the throat and send the hand down into the pocket for Liberty Loan or Red Cross, the line of creeping motor-cars on the asphalt, the swarming sidewalks, swim away in a mist, and in their place there is rolling woodland, and a silver stream, and in the distance, a great white house. The years drop away. A boy of eight, curled up in a big chair, is dipping for the first time into the pages of his country's history. His face is flushed, his eyes are bright. With that vividness that belongs to impressionable childhood, and to no other period of life he is seeing bits of the past that he will never forget. To the end of his days the rhetorical phrases will ring in his ears and the letters forming them will dance before his eyes.
Boston Common. The line of defiant Minute Men drawn up. The curt order, "Disperse, ye Rebels!" and the volley that followed so closely upon the words. This was the first blood shed in the American Revolution. The morning of an impending battle: the Continental leader exhorting his men. "There are the Red Coats! We must beat them today, or Molly Stork's a widow!" Again, the boy is being awakened from sleep in his bed in a quiet street of eighteenth-century Philadelphia. The voice of the watchman is crying the hour and the thrilling tidings. "Two o'clock in the morning! All's well, and Cornwallis has surrendered!"
Here, on the Murray Hill of May, 1918, the man becomes the boy once more. Perhaps the suggestion comes from one of the women's faces that are looking straight at him, beseechingly and rebukingly, from the posters that line the Avenue; the face of "The Greatest Mother in the World," or that younger face beyond which the eye perceives dim outlines of marching men in khaki. The veil with the Red Cross is transformed into a coiffure of powdered hair, crowning the countenance and figure of a grande dame of the eighteenth century. She is standing before the doorway of a great country house, smiling and beckoning welcome, and at the invitation officers on horseback halt the column of rapidly moving men. The soldiers break ranks and throw themselves down in the shade of the trees. The officers advance bowing, and enter the house. The lady is smiling.
The hostess with the powdered hair is Mrs. Mary Lindley Murray, wife of Robert Murray, British sympathizer and Quaker, and mother of Lindley Murray, the grammarian of later days; the house is the Murray Homestead, or the Manor of Incleberg, that in Revoluntionary times stood in the neighbourhood of what is now Park Avenue and Thirty-seventh Street; the Red Coats whose march westward she has interrupted are the troops of Lord Howe, in close pursuit of the badly demoralized soldiers of General Washington; the day is one of September, 1776.
A few weeks before the disastrous battle of Long Island had been fought. The Continental cause seemed at the point of immediate collapse. Day by day the list of deserters swelled. Washington, leaving his campfires burning to lull the suspicions of the confident victors, had transported his men across the East River. On September 15th the British began sending over boat-loads, landing them at Kip's Bay, where the Murray estate ended, now the easterly point of Thirty-fourth Street. In overwhelming numbers, fully equipped, and with elated morale, they began the pursuit of the shattered Americans. The detachment of Continentals left at Kip's Bay to oppose the landing had fled without firing a shot. Washington, watching the debacle, had spurred his horse furiously forward, striking the men with the flat of his sword, lashing them with his tongue, in vain attempt to stop the panic. He was on the point of advancing alone when his bridle-rein was seized by a young officer. In an instant, again completely master of himself, he was building new plans in the hopes of saving his army.
The situation on Manhattan Island was this. To the south was General Knox, in command of a fort known as Bunker Hill on an eminence of what is now Grand Street. Near-by was General Israel Putnam—probably less known to posterity (above all, to youthful posterity) for his qualities as a commander than for the mad dash down "Put's Hill" at Greenwich by which he escaped the closely pursuing Red Coats. With Putnam was Alexander Hamilton, in charge of a battery. To the generals Washington sent word to retreat to the north in order to effect a junction of forces. Knox withdrew men and cannon from Bunker Hill. The young man who guided Putnam's troops along obscure paths and by winding lanes close to the Hudson was named Aaron Burr. The busy Washington chanced to spend a night in the Murray home. If there had been any hesitation in Mrs. Murray's patriotism before, it vanished entirely under the grave charm of the Virginia leader. Henceforth she was heart and soul with the Continental cause.
Two days later the British came. Mrs. Murray knew the danger that threatened the Americans. Her woman's wit and woman's charm must save the hour. So smiling she stood in the doorway, curtseying and inviting. The day was hot; the officers thirsty. To the minds of the British, contemptuous of the prowess of the troops in ragged blue and buff, what difference would an hour or two make when the coup de grace was so easy to deliver? The lady was charming, grande dame, and her husband was known for devotion to King George. So they stayed and drank and drank again, while the American forces were meeting on the site of the present Longacre Square. A few days later came the Battle of Harlem Heights, where the Continentals gloriously redeemed themselves. The wine cups of Mrs. Murray made possible the victory of the "Bloody Buckwheat Field." Had not a lady with powdered hair been standing before the door of her house on Murray Hill, the signers of the Declaration of Independence might, instead of hanging together, have hanged separately.
Confessions of an Exiled Bus
After all, it was a hoary-haired scoundrel of a bus; a very reprobate of a bus; an envious, evil-thinking, ill-conditioned, flagrantly thieving, knavish blackguard of a bus. Under no circumstances am I proud of the acquaintance. But then, in extenuation, be it said that it was never anything but an acquaintance of Shadow-Land, conjured up, perhaps, by a material repast that had been palatable and indigestible.
Have you read Alphonse Daudet's delightful "Tartarin of Tarascon"? Are you acquainted with the "baobab villa," and the elusive Montenegrin Prince, who had spent three years in Tarascon, but who never went out, and who decamped with Tartarin's well-filled wallet; and the jaundiced Costlecalde, and the embarrassingly affectionate camel, and the blind lion from the hide of which grew the great man's subsequent fame, and all the other whimsical creations of the novelist's pleasant fancy? The book is one of my favourite books, one of the tomes that are taken to bed to pave the way to restful, happy slumber. Perhaps that night it had been the last volume to be tossed aside before turning out the light, for as I slept, to use the words of the tinker of Bedford, I dreamed a dream.
There was a consciousness of being jolted about abominably in a ramshackle vehicle. The surroundings were vague, as they always are in dreams. Low hills and sandy waste and sparse shrubs. Where was it, the "Great Desert," or some stretch in South America or in Mexico? In my dream I was dozing, trying to forget the painful bumping and twisting. A familiar voice brought me to with a sudden start.
"Say! Listen! Hey you! Wake up, can't you?" Far off as the voice seemed at first, there was a delicious, home-sickness-provoking, nasal twang to the accents.
"Who are you?" I asked sleepily.
"Who am I? Now that is a question. Don't you recognize me? Why I am one of the old Fifth Avenue buses that used to run from Washington Square up to Fifty-ninth Street. That's who I am."
"But why are you here?" I stammered. "What brought you to this strange corner of the world?"
"Believe me," the spluttering voice replied, "I am not here of my own will. You can bet your tintype on that, Mr. Washington Arch, or Mr. Hoffman House Bar, or Mr. Flatiron Building."
"Your mode of address is somewhat obsolete," I ventured. "Changes have taken place."
"Yes, I know. You want to be strictly up-to-date, like all the rest of the New Yorkers. As you say, changes have taken place. That is our unfortunate story. We were discarded, tossed aside, just as soon as they found that they could replace us by those evil-smelling, noise-making, elongated, double-decked children of the devil. Without a word, without a regret, they packed us off. Some of us were sent to the end of Long Island, some to Florida to haul crackers and northern tourists, some, like myself, to the uttermost ends of the earth. But the worst fate was that of those who stayed. They were sold to a department store, and kept to run between its door and a Third Avenue El. station, to be packed to bursting with fat women and squalling children from the Bronx. Think of their degradation! Think of their feelings when they reflect upon the days of past glory!
"It was hard," the confidences continued, "but I do not complain. We were growing old, no doubt of that. We were of yesterday, and you know the old saying of the ring that youth must be served. Even John L. learned that, and before him, Joe Coburn and Paddy Ryan. Then Jim Corbett learned it too, and freckled 'Bob' Fitzsimmons, and now there is a young fellow named Jim Jeffries who perhaps will find it out in his turn. You see, in my youth I was something of a patron of sport. I knew them all, and they are all down and out, and I am down and out." There was a plaintive whine in the spluttering, squeaky voice.
"We knew that our hour was passing. We read the story in the averted eyes of those who in earlier days we had regarded as our fast friends, or we heard it in the outspoken, contemptuous remarks of those who had no regard whatever for our feelings. To strangers, above all, were we objects of derision. Throaty, mid-western voices made disparaging comparison reflecting, not only on us, but on our fair city. Visiting Englishmen surveyed us through monocles and talked of the buses of the Strand and Regent Street. There was a French artist, a Baron Somebody-or-other, who afterwards wrote a book called 'New York as I Have Seen It.' He had married an American girl, the daughter of a comedian at whose clever whimsicalities my passengers used to laugh uproariously. I had carried him often—that actor, and knew him as one of the most genial and companionable of men. One day the Frenchman, accompanied by his father-in-law, stopped me at a street corner down near Washington Square, climbed up beside my driver, and rode to the end of the route. Here, thought I, is where I get a little appreciation. Here is a critic from the older civilization, a man with a proper reverence for the past, who can look beyond the freshness of varnish. I have a right to expect something in the nature of consideration from him. Bah! All he said was: 'Among the splendid carriages and the high-priced automobiles, perhaps to prove that we are in a land of freedom, the black, dirty, wretched omnibuses ply from one end of the Avenue to the other.' Honest now, wouldn't it jar you?
"I called you Mr. Washington Arch just now. I was wrong," the accents were now no longer plaintive, but raucous and sneering. If I had doubted before, there was now no questioning the old rascal's claim to recognition as a fellow New Yorker. "But I was wrong. You are Mr. Piker from Uptown Somewhere. Had you been Mr. Arch, you would have recognized me as soon as I did you. We real ones do not forget. But I have your number. Would you like me to tell you a few things? Oh, I have your dossier, all right. Let me see. The first time I carried you you were an infant howling abominably. You were lifted in somewhere in the 'Fifties,' and three blocks farther down a fat old man got out, muttering, 'Why don't they keep those brats off the stages!' The next time you were still howling. You were about six, and you had been taken to the old Booth Theatre at the corner of Twenty-third Street and Sixth Avenue, and had seen 'Little Red Riding Hood,' and when the wolf said, 'All the better to eat you with, my dear,' you burst into a frightened bawl, and had to be hurried out. Soon after I saw you on a balcony near the Square watching a political procession go by. Then there were a few years that I missed you, and then a period when I saw you often. I had grown rather to like you, until one Thanksgiving Day morning. You snubbed me direct. There were buses covered with coloured bunting in front of the Fifth Avenue Hotel. You climbed on one. Again you were howling, this time methodically, deliberately, in chorus with a number of other young lunatics. I tried my best to be friendly, but not a look would you give me. You were too busy shouting and waving a flag. Say, do you want any more of those little personal reminiscences?"
I did not. I mumbled a few words of lame apology, pleading the thoughtlessness of youth. The excuses were apparently taken in the proper spirit, for again the voice was tearful.
"Ah, but those were the good old days! Out here I love to think of them and to recall my youth. I am battered now, and my joints creak. But once I was all fresh paint and varnish, one of the aristocrats of city travel. How I used to look down upon the bob-tailed cars at the cross-town streets. Besides I was not merely one of the splendid Old Guard, I was the bus—the one of which they used to tell the famous story. Others may claim the distinction, but they are impostors, sir, rank impostors. I was the bus. What! You don't mean to say that you have never heard it?"
Humbly I acknowledged my ignorance, and listened to a tale that, I was assured, had once been told in every club corner and over every dinner table on the Avenue.
"It was nine o'clock of a blustery March night. Mulligan was not my driver on the trip, but Casey, who had been imbibing rather freely at the corner place of refreshment during the wait. Empty we left the starting point under the 'L. curve on South Fifth Avenue. Empty we crossed the Square. At the Eighth Street corner, in front of the Brevoort, we stopped. A gentleman and his wife entered. We proceeded. At Nineteenth Street we were again hailed. Three young men were standing at the curb. The one in the middle had evidently been drinking, for his head was drooping, and he was leaning heavily upon his companions. He was helped in and placed far forward, just under the coin box. Casey pulled the strap attached to his leg, closing the door, and we moved on, across Madison Square, past St. Leo's, up the slope of Murray Hill. At Thirty-seventh Street there was a tug at the strap, and one of the young men said a curt 'good-night' and alighted. We passed the old Reservoir, crossed Forty-second Street. Two blocks more and the second of the young men signalled. 'Good-night, Dick!' he said and was gone. As we resumed the journey the gentleman who with his wife had climbed aboard at Eighth Street noticed that the head of the third young man, the one apparently intoxicated, was sinking lower and lower. Thinking that he might be carried beyond his destination he stepped forward and touched his arm. 'We are passing Fifty-third Street,' he said. There was no response. He shook the shoulder and repeated the information. Suddenly he turned to his wife. 'We will get out,' he said quickly. 'But, George—' she began. 'We will get out,' he repeated, pulling the strap. As they stood under the lamp light at the corner the wife continued her protests. 'But there were four more blocks to go.' 'My dear,' said the husband, 'that young man's throat was cut from ear to ear!'"
"You are," I remarked crossly, "a most infernal old liar."
"Maybe, maybe," was the wheezy response.
"But I haven't said that it was true, have I? Nor again have I said that it wasn't. Strange things have happened on the Avenue. There have been nights of violence. Sometimes, on late trips, my nerves have jumped at the sound of some terrified cry. Often it has come from one of the most respectable of houses. Again, in broad daylight, I have seen startled faces pressed against upper windows. I have seen hands dropping notes to the pavement. Once in a while a passer-by has picked up one of those notes. But as a rule they were caught by the wind and whisked away. What was in those notes? That's what I want to know. Again, when it was dark, there has been the sound of running feet, and a panting man has jumped from the roadway to my rear step while we were in motion. The next morning there were stains on my cushions—the stains left by bloody hands. They never could wash them out. They never could wash them out."
There was a lurch as a wheel bumped down into a hollow in the rough road, and the exile fell to groaning and blaspheming.
"Ah, my rheumatic joints; my poor old bones! This climate!"
So the old Fifth Avenue bus complained of the rheumatism. I recalled that the diligence that carried M. Tartarin across the Algerian desert also gave vent to many "Ai's" about aching joints and sudden twinges. What creatures of imitation we are, to be sure!
"But it is the loss of old friends that hurts the most," so the confidences went on. "There was Mulligan, for example, of whom I was speaking just now—he of the long coat and the dented brown derby hat. Far up, near the end of the line, there was an old one-story frame roadhouse, that had been there in my father's time, in my grandfather's time, in my great-grandfather's time. Mulligan knew it well, and many the time, when he came out of it, he was swaying slightly, and had to pull himself up to the box by means of the seat rails. Then there were anxious moments, as we raced over the cobble-stones, and my wheels scraped other wheels to the right and left. In those days there was a strap, one end of which was attached to the driver's boot, and the other end to the door at the rear. When a passenger wished to alight he pulled the strap and the driver released his hold. Sometimes the young bucks—we called them dudes in those days—inside had been dining well, and were hunting for mischief. Two or three of them would grab the strap and pull with all their strength. My sides are creaky now, but they ache with laughing when I recall how Mulligan used to swear. Sometimes the strap gave and sometimes the driver' leg was twisted half off. Was that the origin of the expression 'pulling his leg'? I wonder! The fare was dropped into the box up in front. At first the driver was the one who made the change. Later the change was handed out in sealed paper envelopes. Mulligan was of the early days. What became of him? Oh, he went into politics.
"I'll tell you what you can do for me," the exile went on. "Some day, when you are back in the old town just drop into the Hoffman House bar and take a drink for me, all the time looking up at the pictures of the lovely ladies about to go in bathing in a beautiful brook in the woods."
"Stop!" said I, sternly. The piratical old plagiarist of a vehicle was about to begin filching from another source. There had been a guilty squeak in the voice that had roused my suspicions. "No doubt," I said, with pointed sarcasm, "among the many passengers you carried at various times was the late Mr. Richard Harding Davis. He was a literary man of parts, and wrote, among other books, a charming little story called 'The Exiles.'"
"What! Is he d——? I mean I never heard of the gent," was the brazen response. "There was a Davis, now, a Sebastian Davis, I think the name was, in the hair-oil business, if I am not mistaken. A little fellow, with mutton-chop side whiskers. But as I was saying, I don't know anything better than Fifth Avenue at Madison Square of a summer's night, with the hobos dozing already on the park benches, and people hanging round the entrance of the Fifth Avenue Hotel, and the men lined up three deep at the Hoffman bar, and the girls walking by on their way to dance the minuet at the Haymarket up at Sixth Avenue and Thirtieth Street. I said the minuet. Do you get me?" There was an evil chuckle. "Across the Square Diana is twinkling up there in the sky, and beneath, in the Garden, they are pulling off a middle-weight bout to a decision. Just round the corner, in the Madison Square Theatre, you can hear the clapping. The play is Hoyt's 'A Trip to Chinatown.' Listen:
"'Oh, the Bowery, the Bowery, They say such things and they do such things On the Bowery,'
"Or maybe it's:
"'You will think she's going to faint, But she'll fool you, for she ain't; She has been there many times before.'"
"I see," said I, for both the theft of ideas and the pretence of innocence were too flagrant; "that your memories are of what we lovingly called 'the golden,' and detractors called the 'yellow' nineties. We were both young once."
But the assumption of friendliness seemed only to irritate.
"The nineties! Why, I was an old man in the nineties! An old, old man! I wasn't a youngster in the eighties, or the seventies, for that matter. There's another one of the old Avenue buses on this line. No. 27. He says he is older than I am. He's a liar. Sometimes I think I am the oldest bus in all the world, and that I ought to be enjoying myself in the Smithsonian, instead of dragging out my existence bumping over boulders and prairie grass.
"Come to think of it," the old bus went on meditatively, "the Smithsonian does not appeal to me after all. I think that I would be better pleased in a corner of the Third Degree room down at Number 300 Mulberry Street, or in the Chamber of Horrors at the Eden Musee. For, as you may have noticed, I am partial to crime. It is the result of my bringing up. It is the excitement of my early days that I miss most now. When I first came out here it was with a feeling of pleased expectancy. I anticipated a daily hold-up. I had visions of stage robbers in cambric masks, and running gun fights, and horses in frightened flight, and my driver stricken to the heart and tumbling from his seat. But it is a degenerate and tame world out here. Give me little old New York."
"But the statistics—" I began.
"You do not know one-quarter. The police do not know one-half. But I know. You have read what the papers have printed, or what some retired Inspector has seen fit to tell in his Memoirs. You did not pass, night after night, the sinister house of the woman whose open boast was that, if she wished to, she could take half the roofs off the Avenue. You did not know how real that terrible threat was, for you never saw the cloaked men issuing from its doors bearing their ghastly burdens. You have heard of the Burdell murder but you never knew the real solution. You have read of the Nathan murder at the corner of the Avenue and Twenty-third Street. But you did not hear, as I heard, that piercing wail, or see the shaking figure that climbed on my rear step at Twenty-fourth Street and rode twenty blocks northward. A man once wrote an Australian story called 'The Mystery of a Hansom Cab.' My life had not one mystery but a score of mysteries. You think you know something of Fifth Avenue. What do you know of the killing the Girl in Green, or of Colt and the William Street printer, the Suicides of No. X Washington Square, North, or The Enigma of the Fifteenth Street House, or of The Case of Giuseppe and the Italian Ambassador, which was hushed up by orders from Washington and Rome, or The Affair of the Titled Sexton, or The Madison Square Tower Episode?"
But I was growing weary of the voice of the old impostor.
"Ever hear of Conan Doyle?" I asked.
"Now come to think of it, a drummer from Altoona left a paper copy of one of his books the last trip."
A Post-Knickerbocker Petronius
A Post-Knickerbocker Petronius—The Early Life of Mr. Ward McAllister—A Discovery of Europe—A Glimpse of British High Life—The Judgment of a Diplomat—The South and Newport—Organizing New York Society—The "Four Hundred"—Maxims of a Master and Maitre d'Hotel.
He does not reign in Russia cold, Nor yet in far Cathay, But o'er this town he's come to hold An undisputed sway.
When in their might the ladies rose, "To put the Despot down," As blandly as Ah Sin, he goes His way without a frown.
Alas! though he's but one alone, He's one too many still— He's fought the fight, he's held his own, And to the end he will.
—From a Lady after the Ball of February 25, 1884.
Mrs. Burton Harrison, in "Recollections, Grave and Gay," told of a visit made in 1892 as one of a party of invited guests travelling by special train to the newly built Four Seasons Hotel at Cumberland Gap, in Tennessee, where the directors of a new land company and health-resort scheme had arranged a week of sports and entertainments. About forty congenial persons from New York and Washington made the trip, the mountaineers and their families along the route assembling at stations to see the notabilities among them. The chief attraction, Mrs. Harrison recorded, seemed to be Ward McAllister, who had been expected, but did not go. At one station, James Brown Potter, engaged in taking a constitutional to remove train stiffness, was pointed out by another of the party to a group of staring natives as the famous arbiter of New York fashion.
"I want to know!" said a gaunt mountain horseman. "Wal, I've rid fifteen miles a-purpus to see that dude McAllister, and I don't begrutch it, not a mite."
All over the land there were yokels and the spouses of yokels and even the children of yokels, moved by a like interest and curiosity; while rural visitors to New York, and also New Yorkers born for that matter—if such a person as a born New Yorker actually existed—craned their necks from the tops of the Fifth Avenue buses in the hope of catching a glimpse of the great man, who, for a brief, flitting moment was an institution of as much importance as the Obelisk or the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
But so far as the great world beyond the Weehawken Hills went, Ward McAllister's was an ephemeral glory. It was a clear case of anachronism. He was born one hundred years too late, or two hundred years, or two thousand. His was the soul of the Roman Petronius, or of one of the Corinthian eccentrics, who strutted in St. James's Park or past Carlton House in the early days of the Regency, and gave colour to that otherwise grim England that was grappling for life with the Corsican; or of "King" Nash of Bath. It was the "King," perhaps, that he suggested most of all. But in the Carlton House circle he might have out-Brummelled Brummel, and supplanted that famous Beau as the object of the fat Prince's attentions and ingratitude. Indeed there was a flavour of Brummel's biting insolence in some of the sayings that were attributed to the New Yorker. For example, there was a well-known literary woman of New York, who had in some way incurred the arbiter's august disapproval.
"She write stories of New York society!" he said. "Why, I have seen her myself, buying her Madeira at Park & Tilford's in a demijohn."
When Thackeray was contemplating writing "The Virginians," he desired information about the personality of Washington, and applied to the American historian Kennedy. Kennedy began to impart his knowledge in the manner that might have been expected from a historian when the Englishman interrupted rather testily, "No, no. That's not what I want. Tell me, was he a fussy old gentleman in a wig, who spilled snuff down the front of his coat?" It was in some such spirit that I applied to that old friend of the fine Italian manner, and the profound personal and inherited knowledge of the ways and the men and women of New York. I did not, I explained, wish to be unkind, but the memory of that latter-day Petronius was one of the most mirth-provoking memories of my boyhood. Was he fair game for a chapter of a flippant nature? But why not? was the retort. He himself would have adored it.
Fame came to him through the newspaper reporter. It was a smaller New York, a more limited Fifth Avenue in those days, and Mrs. Astor ruled its society without any one to question her sovereignty. She was about to give a great ball, and Ward McAllister, as the self-appointed and generally accepted secretary of society, was in charge of the list of invitations.
To the reporter sent to interview him Mr. McAllister explained that, owing to problems of space, only four hundred cards were to be sent out, commenting: "After all, there are only four hundred persons in New York who count in a social way."
"And who are those four hundred persons?" asked the quick-witted reporter.
On that point Mr. McAllister was more reticent. But the reporter obtained the list of those who were to be invited to the ball, and the names were printed as those who constituted New York's "Four Hundred."
"Society," said my friend sagely, "needs to be managed just as a circus is managed. Of good family, with an independent income large enough to make him free from the necessity of work, and small enough to keep him from the time-using diversions of extravagance, with a knowledge of wines, and a bent for selecting the proper kind of buttons for the coat in which to attend a cock-fight, he was the man for his circle and age. A Brummel? Hardly that. There was nothing of the ill-starred Beau in his appearance. His influence was good, as Brummel's was occasionally good. You recall the saying of the Duchess of York to the effect that it was Brummel's influence which more or less reformed the manners of the smart young men who were notorious for their excesses, their self-assertiveness, their want of courtesy. He was more akin to the ill-favoured Richard Nash, whose wise autocracy helped so much in the redeeming of the city of Bath."
After all, whether it was part pose, or whether the man was quite sincere in his professed belief in the profound importance of what most of the world is inclined to regard as trivialities, he was always consistent. As a youth he went to live in the house of a relative, in Tenth Street, New York, when that neighbourhood retained a flavour of aristocracy. A legacy of one thousand dollars fell to him. It was his first legacy. A cannier soul would have made the money go a long way. He spent it all for the costume that he was to wear at the fancy dress ball that was to be given by Mrs. John C. Stevens at her residence in College Place. "I flattered myself that it was the handsomest and richest costume at the ball." A little later, in 1850, he went to San Francisco, to join his father in the practice of law. It was in the first days of the gold rush, when the city was in the making, and fabulous prices were paid for the commodities of life. In the make-up of a man there had to be a certain amount of stern stuff if he was to survive in that struggle for existence. Young McAllister prospered, and in the course of time built himself a house. "My furniture," he recorded, "just from Paris, was acajou and white and blue horse-hair. My bed quilt cost me $250. It was a lovely Chinese floss silk shawl." His talents as a giver of dinners were in evidence at that early age, and his father made use of them in connection with the law business. There was a French chef, at a salary of ten thousand dollars a year. High prices and scarcity served only as spurs to the young Petronius.
"Such dinners as I gave I have never seen surpassed anywhere," he complacently recorded in later years. Some one spoke to the elder McAllister of the admirable manner in which his son kept house. "Yes," was the sapient retort. "He keeps everything but the Ten Commandments."
Two years of California, and then he returned East. At that period of his life the idea of the Diplomatic Service as a career appealed to him. Mr. Buchanan was going to England as Minister, and Ward McAllister applied to President Pierce for the post of Secretary of Legation. He was persona grata with Buchanan, he had the influence necessary to push his petition, and the matter seemed settled. But just then along came his father, who wanted to be made Circuit Judge of the United States for the State of California. Two appointments at the same time to one family were out of the question, so the young man stepped aside as became a dutiful son. But see Europe he would, and if he could not go in the Government's service and at the public expense as a dabbler with official sealing wax, he would go as a private citizen. The record he preserved of that journey gives a marvellous picture of the man.
In London he met a Californian, in with all the sporting world, on intimate terms with the champion prize-fighter of England, the Queen's pages, and the Tattersalls crowd. Chaperoned by this curious countryman, McAllister's first introduction to London life took the form of a dinner at a great house in the suburbs. It was a strange house and a strange company, more in keeping with the eighteenth century than the middle of the nineteenth. The rat-pit, the drawing of the badger, the bloody battling of the bull terriers, the high betting, the Gargantuan eating and drinking and shouting, the smashing of glasses and plates, the imperturbable footmen in green and gold liveries calmly replacing in their chairs the guests overcome by strong potations—it was a picture for Hogarth's pencil at its best, or Gillray's at its craziest.
The intimation is that, in the course of this and similar adventures, McAllister was defraying his own expenses and those of his Californian companion. Provided it was the kind of life he wanted to see, it was money well spent.
Then he went off to Windsor, and there, at the village inn, dined with Her Majesty's chef and the keeper of the jewel-room. Again it was probably the visitor from across the seas who gave the dinner, as a result of which he was permitted to visit the royal kitchen, and see the roasts turning on the spits.
"I saw Prince Albert and the Prince of Wales that morning shooting pheasants alongside of the Windsor Long Walk, and stood within a few yards of them. I feel sure we ate, that day, the pheasants that had been shot by Prince Albert." Doesn't it read like a bit of Thackeray—say from the paper in "The Book of Snobs" on "The Court Circular" with its references to the shooting methods of a certain German Prince-Consort?
"A tiny bit of orange peel, The butt of a cigar, Once trod on by a Princely heel, How beautiful they are!"
Having exhausted England the young discoverer travelled to Paris and thence to Florence. There are believed to be a few art galleries in Florence and some monuments of historical interest. But about these Lochinvar did not disturb his head greatly. Instead he discovered a cook—"I paid the fellow twenty-four Pauls a day"—whose manner of roasting a turkey was most extraordinary. He cultivated the English doctor of the city and through him procured invitations to the balls given by the Grand Duke of Tuscany. The King of Bavaria attended one of these balls, and something very terrible happened. It was lese-majeste in its most virulent form.
The offender was an American girl who committed the crime while being whirled about in McAllister's arms. "I did it! I was determined to do it! As I passed the King I dug him in in the ribs with my elbow. Now I am satisfied." "I soon disposed of the young woman," recorded her partner of the dance, "and never 'attempted her' again."
There were other eccentric Americans at large in Europe in those days besides the fair belle of Stonington. One of them, in Rome, wore a decoration that excited the curiosity of his host, the Austrian Minister. His Excellency finally found the opportunity to refer to it questioningly. "Sir!" said the American, drawing himself up. "My country is a Republic. If it had been a Monarchy, I would have been the Duke of Pennsylvania. The order I wear is that of the Cincinnati." The Minister, deeply impressed, withdrew. In Rome McAllister found that the American Minister was in the habit of inviting Italians to meet Italians, and Americans to meet Americans. When asked the reason, he replied: "I have the greatest admiration for my countrymen: they are enterprising, money-getting, in fact, a wonderful nation, but there is not a gentleman among them."
In reading the blasting comment I am moved to wonder what manner of man the Minister was who took no shame in giving expression to such an opinion of his brethren of the western world. "And then," Thackeray might have written, "I sink another shaft, and come upon another rich vein of Snob-ore. The Diplomatic Snob, etc." Yesterday Americans travelling in other lands had every reason to resent a type of representative that had been sent abroad to uphold the honour and dignity of our flag; the uncouth manners, the shirt sleeves, the narrow intolerance, that told all too plainly the story of party reward. Yet, somehow, I rather prefer that man, unpleasant as he was, and humiliating to patriotic pride as he was, to the dandy and ingrate of whom Mr. McAllister told. I like to think that, however Europeans may have laughed and wondered at the yokel out of place, for the sycophant denying his compatriots was reserved the bitterest of their contempt.
From Italy McAllister went to spend the summer at Baden-Baden. The Prince of Prussia, later the Emperor William, was there. It pained the young American to find that the royal visitor was no connoisseur, gulping his wine instead of sipping and lingering over it. But there is haste to express intense admiration. "His habit of walking two hours under the trees of the Allee Lichtenthal was also mine, and it was with pleasure I bowed most respectfully to him day by day." The final touch to the McAllister education came at Pau, where he passed the following winter, and the winter after. He ran down to Bordeaux, made friends with all the wine fraternity there, tasted and criticized, wormed himself into the good graces of the owners of the enormous Bordeaux caves, and learned there for the first time what claret was. "There I learned how to give dinners; to esteem and value the Coq de Bruyere of the Pyrenees, and the Pic de Mars."
Thus equipped for the serious business of life as he conceived it, he returned home. He entertained old Commodore Vanderbilt at a dinner that caused the ex-Staten Island ferryman to remark: "My young friend, if you go on giving such dinners as these you need have no fear of planting yourself in this city." He was at first disappointed at the reception accorded him by his native city of Savannah. He had prided himself on giving that town the benefit of his European education. But there was a certain resentment at his attitude until "I took up the young fry, who let their elders very soon know that I had certainly learned something and that Mc's dinners were bound to be a feature of Savannah." Then came his coup. Certain noble lords were expected from England, the son of the Duke of Devonshire and the son of the Earl of Shaftesbury, and all wondered who would have the honour of entertaining them.
The British Consul counted on the distinction. "He was a great character there, giving the finest dinners, and being an authority on wine, i.e., Madeira, 'Her Majesty's Consul will have the honour.' I secretly smiled, as I knew they were coming to me, and I expected them the next day. This same good old Consul had ignored me, hearing that I had the audacity to give at my table filet de boeuf aux truffes et champignons. I returned home feeling sure that these young noblemen would be but a few hours under my roof before Her Majesty's Consul would give me the honour of a visit." He was right. The strangers had not been settled an hour when the tactful Briton rushed up the front steps. Throwing his arms around McAllister's neck, he exclaimed: "My dear boy, I was in love with your mother thirty years ago; you are her image; carry me to your noble guests." "Ever after," is the naive record of our hero, "I had the respect and esteem of this dear old man."
Let us get back to our sheep. The narrative has been rambling too far from Fifth Avenue, and it is with the arbiter of the Avenue that we have to do. Behold him launched, laughed at perhaps, occasionally, but feared and courted. He was at the ball given to the Prince of Wales in the Academy of Music, being the first after the royal guest to take the floor for the waltz.
He devoted an entire day in railway travel in order to procure a dress-suit, as he called it, in which to appear at a dinner to two English lords. He began to arrange for cotillon dinners, figuring the cost, checking off the invitations, standing at the door of the salon, naming to each man the lady he was to take in.
There was one point to which his subserviency to British visitors would not go. Gastronomically he was as sturdy a patriot as any farmer who blazed away at the Red Coats from behind the Lexington hedges. Stoutly he defended the "saddle" of venison instead of the "haunch." Our tenderloin steak was quite as good as the English rump. Of Madeira he once said, with the spirit of Nathan Hale, "You have none to liken unto ours."
That Prince of Wales who afterwards became George the Fourth, in the vigour of his youth, and the prime force of his invention, invented a shoe-buckle. The crowning work in the life of Ward McAllister was probably the institution of the F.C.D.C.'s, abbreviation for the Family Circle Dancing Class. The Patriarch Balls, of which the first were given in the winters of 1872 and 1873, were growing too large and were being monopolized by the married women. The new association was for the jeune fille, and was to be more limited and intimate. Its dances were held at Dodworth's, later Delmonico's, and in the foyer of the Metropolitan Opera House. The arbiter paid the price of his greatness. "From the giving of the first to the time of my giving them up, I had no peace either at home or abroad. I was assailed on all sides, became in a sense a diplomat, committed myself to nothing, promised much and performed as little as possible....
"My mornings were given up to being interviewed of and about them; mothers would call at my house, entirely unknown to me, the sole words of introduction being, 'Kind sir, I have a daughter.' These words were cabalistic; I would spring up, bow to the ground, and reply: 'My dear Madam, say no more, you have my sympathy; we are in accord; no introduction is necessary; you have a daughter and want her to go to the F.C.D.C.'s. I will do all in my power to do this for you; but my dear lady, please understand, that in all matters concerning these little dances I must consult the powers that be. I am their humble servant; I must take orders from them.' All of which was a figure of speech on my part." The arbiter would then diplomatically suggest the possibility of a friend of social influence, and make some allusion to family. That always started the fair visitor. The family always went back to King John and, in some instances, to William the Conqueror. "'My dear Madam,' I would reply, 'does it not satisfy any one to come into existence with the birth of one's country? In my opinion, four generations of gentlemen make as good and true a gentleman as forty. I know my English brethren will not agree with me in this, but, in spite of them, it is my belief.' With disdain, my visitor would reply: 'You are easily satisfied, sir.' And so on, from day to day, these interviews would go on; all were Huguenots, Pilgrims, or Puritans. I would sometimes call one a Pilgrim instead of a Puritan, and by this would uncork the vials of wrath."
To the credit of the post-Knickerbocker Petronius it must be said that he was ever content with his lot. If there were poses to laugh at, there were qualities to respect. A meaner soul might have turned the peacock prestige to financial account. "Had I charged a fee for every consultation with anxious mothers on this subject" (that of introducing a young girl into New York society) "I would be a rich man." A Wall Street banker visiting him in his modest home in Twenty-first Street exclaimed against the surroundings, offering to buy a certain stock at the opening of the Board, and send the resulting profits in the afternoon of the same day. Commodore Vanderbilt, who apparently never forgot that first dinner, once advised: "Mac, sell everything you have and put it in Harlem stock; it is now twenty-four; you will make more money than you know how to take care of."
But steadfastly McAllister refused to be tempted. So long as his cottage was a "cottage of gentility," why try to augment his fortune? "A gentleman can afford to walk; he cannot afford to have a shabby equipage," he once said. That distinction which he felt to be his was not to be impaired by his trudging afoot.
It is not in the pictures of his youth, winning his way into society to rule it; but come to ripe years, secure in his position, imparting his creed on points of social usage, with mellow dogmatism laying down the law in all matters of vintages and viands, that he is most impressive. "My dear sir, I do not argue, I inform."
It was that spirit that led to the dictum that made him famous. "My dear boy, there are only four hundred persons in New York who really count socially." It was as if he had said: "Decant all your clarets before serving them, even your vin ordinaire. If at a dinner you give both Burgundy and claret, give your finest claret with the roast, your Burgundy with the cheese. Stand up both wines the morning of the dinner, and in decanting, hold the decanter in your left hand, and let the wine first pour against the inside of the neck of the decanter, so as to break its fall." Doubtless, t'other side of Styx, his spirit has found congenial companions. I see his shade in dignified disputation with other shades. He argues with Brummel about the tying of a cravat, with Nash about a minuet, the proper composition of a sauce is the subject of a weighty dialogue with the great Vatel.
The Crest of Murray Hill
Stretches of the Avenue—The Crest of Murray Hill—The House of "Sarsaparilla" Townsend—A.T. Stewart's Italian Palace—The Knickerbocker Trust Company—The Coventry Waddell Mansion—A House at Thirty-ninth Street—The Present Union League—A Tavern of the Fifties—The "House of Mansions"—The Old Reservoir, and Egyptian Temple—The Crystal Palace—The Latting Tower—"Quality Hill."
Although the name it now bears and has borne for four or five years is the Columbia Trust Company, the building at the northwest corner of Fifth Avenue and Thirty-fourth Street is likely to be known and referred to as the Knickerbocker Trust for a long time to come. As such it was the storm centre of the great panic which shook the country in 1907, ruining many, shaking some of America's supposedly most solid fortunes, and involving a dramatic suicide. The story of the site goes back almost three-quarters of a century. There, at the beginning of the Civil War, was the residence of "Dr." Samuel P. Townsend. Originally a contractor, he had "discovered" a sarsaparilla, advertised it on an extensive scale, acquired a fortune and the nickname of "Sarsaparilla" Townsend. His house, a four-story brown-stone, was one of the wonders of the town. For some reason he did not live in it long, selling it in 1862 to Dr. Gorham D. Abbott, an uncle of Dr. Lyman Abbott of the "Outlook." For a number of years Dr. Abbott, who had been the principal of the Spingler Institute on Union Square, conducted a school there. Then A.T. Stewart, the famous merchant, bought the site. He found brown-stone and left marble. "Sarsaparilla" Townsend's pride and folly was tumbled to the ground, carted away, and in its place there went up the Italian palace that is still a familiar memory to most New Yorkers. It cost two million dollars. Stewart did not live long to enjoy it. But after his death in 1876, his widow occupied the palace until her death in 1886, when the property was leased to the Manhattan Club. There was a story to the effect that during the club's occupancy it was found necessary to make certain interior alterations. One of the committee in charge was an Irishman. He complained that the work was unduly expensive for the reason that "the woodwork was all marble."
But before Stewart demolished and built, and before "Sarsaparilla" Townsend built what Stewart later demolished, there had been a famous mansion in this neighbourhood. Thackeray, in one of his letters to the Baxter family, alluded to the long journey he was about to undertake in order to travel from his hotel to a certain famous house up in the country at Fifth Avenue and Thirty-seventh Street. That was the Coventry Waddell house, on land where the Brick Presbyterian Church now stands. Waddell was a close friend of President Jackson, and his fortune sprang from the services he rendered as financial representative of the "Old Hickory" Administration. In 1845, when he went "into the wilderness" to build, the Avenue, beyond Madison Square, was nothing but a country road lined with farms. It is told that when he was bargaining for the land, his wife sat under an apple-tree in a neighbouring orchard. Nine thousand one hundred and fifty dollars he paid for the tract, which ten years later brought eighty thousand dollars, and for part of which the Brick Church paid fifty-eight thousand dollars in 1856. The Fifth Avenue Bank monograph contains a print of the villa, as it was called, reproduced from "Putnam's Magazine." What the print apparently shows is the Thirty-seventh Street stretch, with the wicket fence near the corner, and the low brick wall extending westward beyond. The villa was of yellowish grey stucco with brown-stone trim, Gothic in style, and had so many towers, oriels, and gables, that when Waddell's brother saw it and was asked what he would call it, replied, "Waddell's Caster; here is a mustard pot, there is a pepper bottle, and there is a vinegar cruet." There were a conservatory and a picture-gallery, and the house stood considerably above the Avenue level upon grounds that descended to the street by sloping grass banks. A winding staircase led from the broad marble hall to a tower from which there was a fine view of the rolling country, the rivers to the east and west, and the growing city far to the south. There were celebrities other than the author of "Vanity Fair" who sampled the quality of the Waddell hospitality. For ten years the Waddells lived there, entertaining magnificently. Then came the financial crash of 1857, Mr. Waddell was one of those whose fortunes tumbled with the market, and he was obliged to sacrifice his estate. The villa was torn down, and the grounds levelled. "I remember," "Fifth Avenue" quotes Mr. John D. Crimmins as saying, "very vividly the old Waddell mansion. I was taken into it by my father the day they began to dismantle it, and remember very distinctly the courteous manner in which we were received by Mrs. Waddell, and how she regretted the destruction of her home. At that time the Reservoir was an attraction for the view it furnished. There were no buildings high enough to interfere, and visitors could get a bird's-eye view of the entire city and the Palisades. The neighbourhood at that time is well illustrated in the old New York print showing the Reservoir and the Crystal Palace, 1855. There were no pretentious houses north of Forty-second Street. It was interesting to see the drovers—tall men, with staffs in their hands, herding eight, ten, or twenty cattle—driving the cattle to market, generally on Sunday, as Monday was market day."
About the time that the Waddell villa was being pulled down there was going up, two blocks to the north, a New York residence that has endured to the present day. The original Wendell and the original Astor were partners in the fur trade, and at the time of the death of the late John Gottlieb Wendell his holdings in Manhattan real estate were second only to those of the Astors. There was a General David Wendell, known as "Fighting Dave," who fought in the War of the Revolution. The first Wendell and the first Astor, his partner, married sisters, and they bequeathed to their descendants the sound principle of buying land and buying beyond. The John Gottlieb Wendell of recent memory, a great-great-grandson of the founder of the family fortune, was distinguished for his eccentricities. Although he collected his own rents, would never give more than three-year leases, and could not be persuaded to part with a foot of his land holdings, he was characterized as "one of the squarest landlords in the city." In the old-fashioned brick and brown-stone house he lived in extreme simplicity. From the top of a passing bus may be seen the garden beyond the high board fence. Many covetous eyes of commerce have regarded it; many tempting offers have been made. But according to popular tradition Mr. Wendell clung to the garden because his sisters desired it as a place in which to exercise their dogs. Now, after the death of John Gottlieb, the three elderly sisters still live in the house, in a state of the same old-time plainness. They, with a married sister, are the sole heirs of the eighty million dollars in New York real estate left by their brother. The house, a few years ago, was assessed at five thousand dollars, the site is valued at two million.
Directly across the Avenue from the Wendell house is the Union League Club, on land that formerly was occupied by Dickel's Riding Academy, fifty years ago the fashionable equestrian school of New York. The early story of the organization will be found in another chapter. The present home at the northeast corner of Thirty-ninth Street was built in 1879-1880 at a cost of four hundred thousand dollars. The building is in Queen Anne style, of Baltimore pressed brick, with brown-stone trimmings, the interior decorations are the work of John La Farge, Louis Tiffany, and Franklin Smith, and the club's art collection includes Carpenter's Inauguration of Lincoln. The long room on the first floor facing Fifth Avenue, from the windows of which at any hour of the day may be seen comfortable-looking gentlemen blandly surveying the passing procession, is the Reading Room, decorated in Pompeian style.
On the corner above where the Union League now stands there was, in 1854, a small country tavern known as the Croton Cottage. It took its name from the Croton Reservoir, a block above, then on the other side of the Avenue. A yellow, wooden structure, with a veranda reached by deep stoops from the sidewalk, and surrounded by trees and shrubbery, it flourished by vending ice cream and other refreshment to those who came to view the city from the top of the Reservoir walls. During the Draft Riots in 1863 it was burned down, and Commodore Vanderbilt bought the site in 1866 for eighty thousand dollars, built a house, lived in it, and left it to his son, Frederick W. Vanderbilt. It is the Arnold, Constable site. On the same side of the Avenue as the Croton Cottage, in the block between Forty-first and Forty-second Street, was the Rutgers Female Cottage. This institution was first opened in 1839 on ground given it by William B. Crosby in Madison Street. The Madison Street property had been part of the estate of Colonel Henry Rutgers, of Revolutionary fame, after whom the college was named. In 1855 certain buildings known as "The House of Mansions," or "The Spanish Row," were erected opposite the Reservoir by George Higgins, who thought "that eleven buildings, uniform in size, price, and amount of accommodation, of durable fire-brick, and of a chosen cheerful tint of colour and variegated architecture," would suit the most fastidious home-seeker. In his prospectus to the public he informed that the view from the windows was unrivalled, as it commanded the whole island and its surroundings. But either "The House of Mansions" had some defect, or the situation was still too remote from the city. The project was not a success, and in 1860 the Rutgers Female College, incidentally the first institution for the higher education of young women in the city, moved from its downtown home and occupied the neglected buildings. Then there is the story of the great square opposite, running from Fifth to Sixth Avenues, between Fortieth and Forty-second Streets. The Public Library holds the eastern half of it now and Bryant Park the western. Like Washington Square and Madison Square the land once served as a burial place for the poor and the nameless dead. Between the years 1822 and 1825 that northern square was the Potter's Field. Then, on October 14, 1842, the massive Reservoir, which remained to see almost the dawn of the twentieth century, was opened with impressive ceremonies. The distributing reservoir of the Croton Water system, it occupied more than four acres, and was divided into two basins by a partition wall. The enclosing walls, constructed of granite, were about forty-five feet high. This vast structure, resembling an Egyptian temple, contained twenty million gallons of water. The Reservoir had been there eleven years, when the Crystal Palace, modelled after the London Crystal Palace at Sydenham, was formally opened July 14, 1853, by President Franklin Pierce. Six hundred and fifty thousand dollars was the cost of the building, which was shaped like a Greek cross, of glass and iron, with a graceful dome, arched naves, and broad aisles. Upon the completion of the Atlantic Cable in 1858 an ovation was given in the Palace to Cyrus W. Field. Beyond the Palace, to the north, was the Latting Tower, an observatory, three hundred and fifty feet high, an octagon seventy-five feet across the base, of timber, braced with iron, and anchored at each of the eight angles with about forty tons of stone and timber. The tower was the design of Warren Latting, and cost one hundred thousand dollars. Immediately over the first story there was a refreshment room, and above three view landings, the highest being three hundred feet from the pavement. The proprietors were as sanguine as the promoters of the Crystal Palace and the builder of "The House of Mansions" had been. They took a ten-year lease of the ground and counted on reaping a fortune. But like the other ventures the Tower was a failure. It was sold under execution and destroyed by fire August 30, 1856, twenty-five months before the burning of the Palace. In 1862 Union troops camped on the site of the latter building, and the ground became known in 1871 as Reservoir Park, which name was changed to Bryant Park in 1884.
Like other world-great cities, New York has many hearts. The spot that means the very centre of things varies according to mood, occupation, and manner of life. To high finance and those who play feverishly with it, the heart of the town is where Wall Street, running from Trinity Church down to the East River, is crossed by Nassau zigzagging into Broad. At high noon the colossal figure of Washington on the steps of the Sub-Treasury looks down on the centre of the earth. To the swarming thousands of the Ghetto, who seldom venture west of the Bowery, there is a point on the East Side that represents the pivot of things. There are descendants of the Knickerbockers who cling arrogantly to the corner facing the Washington Arch. Profound is the belief of the pleasure seeker in the lights, signs, theatres, and lobster palaces of Longacre Square. To others nothing counts as the trees and fountains of Madison Square and graceful Diana and the great clock in the Metropolitan Tower count. But in these stirring days of the spring and early summer of 1918, for the throb of the universe climb Murray Hill to a point on the Fifth Avenue sidewalk opposite the stone lions that guard the entrance to the Public Library. There, as nowhere else, has the quiet of other days been changed to the clamour of the present. To the passing thousands the uniforms of khaki or of navy blue and the blaring band are calling. "In this the vital hour let us show that the Spirit of '76 is not dead! Americans, to arms!" And yesterday it was "Quality Hill," of which Mr. Clinton Scollard sang:
"Quality Hill! Lo! It flourishes still, And who can deny that forever it will? A blending of breeding with puff and with plume; A strange sort of mixture of rick and mushroom. Some amble, some scramble, (some gamble), to fill The motley and medley of Quality Hill."
Giant Strides of Commerce
Giant Strides of Commerce—The Reasoning of M. Honore de Balzac—The Aristocracy of Trade—The Story of a New York Shop—When Fifth Avenue Began to Rival Bond Street and the Rue de la Paix—Shopping in 1901—Publishing Houses at the Beginning of the Century—Prices of Real Estate—Some Great Houses of the Present.
Once upon a time, so the story goes, a French publisher, planning an elaborate volume on the streets of Paris, went to Honore de Balzac, then at the height of his fame, to ask him to contribute the chapter on a particular thoroughfare—let us say, the Rue Une Telle, or the Avenue Quelque-Chose. The idea appealed to the fancy of the great man, and matters were going along swimmingly, until it came to the point of settling upon a price to be paid the novelist for his labour. "And now, cher maitre, we must consider the painful triviality of emolument." Without hesitation Balzac mentioned a figure that was simply staggering. It was a minute or two before the astonished publisher could gather his wits together sufficiently to protest and bargain. But Balzac was not to be moved. He explained that the sum named was not merely for the work but also for expenses that would be unavoidable in carrying on the work. "It is this way, cher Monsieur. To write about a street it is necessary to know it thoroughly. It is not enough to glance at the etalage, one must investigate the shop behind. Let us consider the street that you wish me to describe. As I recall it, first on the right is the establishment of B., the gunsmith. In studying his premises it will, of course, be necessary for me to purchase a rifle or a revolver and a box of cartridges. Next door to B., as you may remember, is the business of X., the perfumer. Luckily for you, Monsieur, a bottle of perfume is not expensive. But beyond that shop there is the one of Y., the furrier, and furs just now, as you doubtless know, are rather high. Of course, proceeding in my investigation, I shall be obliged to buy a ring at the jeweller's, a chapeau de forme at the hatter's, a pair of boots at the shoe-maker's, and a waistcoat at least at the tailor's. In view of such a condition I protest that the price I name for writing the article is astonishingly reasonable." Needless to say, M. de Balzac did not write the paper desired. The publisher managed to find another scribe who finished the task creditably without purchasing so much as a sheet of paper. But imagine the expense account that would be presented by a writer engaged to describe the stretch of shopping Fifth Avenue from Thirty-fourth Street to Fiftieth who considered it necessary to follow the method suggested by the creator of the Comedie Humaine!
Paraphrasing the saying of Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, three or four generations in the story of a New York store make an aristocrat of trade. There are names of commerce that stand out in the imagination of the New Yorkers like the names of great soldiers and statesmen. Solid, imposing, facing the Avenue at a corner that represents land value that is computed by the square inch, is the structure of Brown-Smith. In some cases the passer-by will search in vain for any indication of the name—the information being deemed wholly superfluous. It matters not in the least whether the commodity upon which Brown-Smith has reared its history be hats, or groceries, or furs, or jewelry, or silverware, or boots, or men's furnishings. The story of the enterprise, its growth and its migrations, is, in epitome, the story of the city.
The beginning of the tale, dealing with the first Brown-Smith, is the narrative of the Industrious Apprentice, coming to the growing town towards the close of the eighteenth century, a raw-boned country youth from New Hampshire or Vermont, finding after much tramping and many rebuffs employment which meant sleeping on a counter in the hours when he was not running errands, sweeping out dusty corners, and polishing up the handle of the big front door, slowly, persistently winning his way to promotion and pay, perhaps, by way of romance, marrying his employer's daughter, eventually setting up for himself and emblazoning the name destined to be great over the entrance of a shop in Catherine or Cherry Street, and there to purvey to the residents of the near-by fashionable Franklin Square. Then the development of the hundred years. The first migration, suggested and urged by an ambitious and far-seeing son, to a corner on remote Grand Street. That was probably the hardest and most radical step in all the history of the house, and there must have been strange doubts and misgivings in the soul of the founder, now grown grey, as he said good-bye to the familiar dwellings of Quality Row in Cherry Street and prepared to venture forth on unknown seas. Be sure that he took with him, as a sacred treasure, his first day-book, with its quaint entries of expenses and receipts. Very likely he did not long survive the change, and was never quite happy in it.
Probably, if you happen to be a patron of the Brown-Smith establishment, and scrupulously leave its communications unopened in the letterbox at the club, you received, three or four years ago, a little book, commemorating the centenary of the house. They differ from one another merely in form and detail—these souvenir booklets. In substance and flavour they are all pretty much the same. There are the old prints reproduced from Valentine's Manual, the allusions to the horse-propelled ferry-boats to Brooklyn, to the advertisement that appeared in a City Directory of one of the years of the fifties, to the attack upon the establishment during the stirring times of the Draft Riots of the Civil War, to the frequent extensions of business and the migrations that carried the name from Grand Street over to Broadway and Prince Street, thence up the great street to a point near Twelfth, then to Union Square, to Madison Square, and finally, to the stately and spacious edifice of the present, far up the Avenue. And who will venture to predict how many years will pass before that structure, today regarded as the last cry in the matter of architecture and convenience, will be outgrown and inadequate, and its situation hopelessly far to the south?
It was about 1901 that the movement began that was to transform Fifth Avenue from a residential thoroughfare into a shopping street beside which the vaunted glories of London's Bond Street and Paris's Rue de la Paix seem dim. In the Knickerbocker days the important shops of the town lined lower Broadway and the adjacent streets. Then it was to Grand Street that the ladies journeyed to barter and bargain for the latest fashions from the Paris whose styles were dominated by the Empress Eugenie. When Grand Street had been outgrown the shops moved northward to Fourteenth Street and Union Square. There are tens of thousands of New Yorkers whose childhood dates back to the early eighties who recall as one of the delights of the Yuletide season the visit to the revolving show in the window of old Macy's at the corner of Fourteenth Street and Sixth Avenue. For a decade or so Sixth Avenue was the shop paradise. Above Macy's were O'Neill's, and Simpson, Crawford and Simpson's, and Altman's, and Ehrich's, besides the countless emporiums of lesser magnitude. Macy's moved north to Greeley Square, and Gimbel's came to take its place on an adjoining corner, but the movement in bulk turned eastward at Twenty-third Street, lining the south side of that thoroughfare as far as Fifth Avenue. Some of the pioneers had ventured farther to the north, but Twenty-third Street was the centre as the nineteenth century came to a close.
A writer in the "Century Magazine," describing "Shopping in New York" in 1901, said that even then New York was known as a City of Shops just as Brooklyn was known as a City of Churches, and went on: "The district begins at Eighth Street, where the wholesale establishments end, and follows Broadway as far as Thirty-fourth Street. At Fourteenth Street and again at Twenty-third Street it diverges to the west until it strikes Sixth Avenue, including that part of Sixth Avenue only which lies between the two thoroughfares. From Broadway at Twenty-third Street, it makes another departure, running up Fifth Avenue and ending at Forty-seventh Street." When the department stores lined the south side of Twenty-third Street a number of the great book-shops were on the north side, near the old Fifth Avenue Hotel. Among such was the long-established Putnam, and adjoining that shop was the shop of the Duttons. Of the publishing houses that carried in their traditions back to Knickerbocker days Harper's was in the home of its beginnings and to which it still clings to the present time, the rambling structure hard by Franklin Square, while on Fifth Avenue, below Twenty-third, were the houses of D. Appleton and Company, Charles Scribner's Sons, and Dodd, Mead and Company, the last-named being the pioneer in the movement northward when it relinquished its corner at the Avenue and Twenty-first Street to try the slope of Murray Hill at Thirty-fifth Street on land that is now occupied by the Bazaar of Best and Company. The international house of Brentano, before it moved into its present headquarters in the Brunswick Building at Twenty-seventh Street, was in Union Square. Today Brentano's is the largest shop of its kind in the city, while Scribner's, on the east side of the Avenue at Forty-eighth Street, has been called "the most beautiful bookstore in the world."
In the new shopping district beginning at Thirty-fourth Street and running along the Avenue almost to the Plaza, like the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, so the saying goes, exclusiveness for the masses, Altaian was the pioneer. In view of what was then considered the prohibitively high price of real estate the projected invasion of the Avenue by the department stores was thought extremely hazardous. In 1901 the street still suggested the time when it had been lined by the dull, monotonous high stoops. Those old fronts had been knocked away, business had invaded many of the lower stories, but there still remained something of the former flavour. But property holders were awake to their opportunities. Inside lots twenty-five by one hundred feet on the Avenue were held at one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars, and corner lots correspondingly higher. Within two years these prices had doubled and trebled. Altman's, covering an entire block, eight stories in height, with an addition that rises twelve stories, is a stately guardian of the corner at which the Avenue becomes the Lane of magnificent commerce. The building, of French stone, was designed by Trowbridge and Livingston. Directly across the street is an entrance to McCreery's, although that establishment faces on Thirty-fourth Street. Above McCreery's, opposite the corner where the New York Club once had its home, and on property part of which was formerly the house of the Engineers Club, is Best's, once Lilliputian in more than one sense, but no more so. Thereafter every block has its imposing monument to commerce. Silverware is represented by Gorham's at Thirty-sixth Street. Furs in magnificent display fill the windows of Gunther's Sons between Thirty-sixth and Thirty-seventh. At the southeast corner of Thirty-seventh Street is Tiffany's. Information as to the nature of the merchandise in which the establishment deals would be superfluous, and the management is evidently of the opinion that the display in the windows tells the story to all the world, for the passer-by will look in vain for any lettering indicating the ownership. Instead, there is a bronze figure of Atlas, bearing a huge clock on his shoulders, adorning the facade of the edifice. The clock is the old Tiffany clock. Of American make, dating from 1850, it was for many years in front of the original Tiffany Building at 550 Broadway, near Prince Street. Then, in Union Square, it presided over the fortunes of the house, again to be removed to serve as guardian of the destinies of the present structure, which is of marble, adapted from the Palazzo Grimani of Venice, of which Ruskin once wrote: "There is not an erring line, not a mistaken proportion throughout its noble front." On the corresponding corner above Tiffany's is Bonwit, Teller and Company, and directly facing the latter on the west side of the Avenue is Franklin Simon and Company. Conspicuous on the next block are Lord and Taylor's, and Vantine's, the former Italian Renaissance, with vestibules finished in Bitticino marble and Travertine stone, ceilings of Guastavino tile, and aisles bordered with black Egyptian marble. Today this establishment represents the last cry in construction and administration. Adjoining it to the north is Vantine's, its dimly lighted and incense-scented aisles running between counters covered with rare and costly curios from the Orient.
Northward to the Plaza commerce has moved with giant stride. The march might be studied and pictured block by block, corner by corner, and page after page blackened with detail and description. Any one of a dozen or a dozen dozen shops of the Avenue might be made the subject of a fat volume. For the present purpose it is enough to mention a few of them by name, and in the order of march. At the south-east corner of Fortieth Street, on land that was formerly occupied by the residence of Frederick W. Vanderbilt, is the department store of Arnold, Constable and Company. It is the new home of a house that dates from 1827. To the west of the Avenue, on the north side of Forty-second Street, is Stern's. Other names that have a commercial significance, that are conspicuous in the stretch from the Public Library to the Plaza are W. and J. Sloane, the well-known rug house, on the east side of the Avenue, between Forty-sixth and Forty-seventh Streets; Davis, Collamore and Company (china and glass), Fifth Avenue and Forty-eighth Street; Duveen Brothers (antiques), 720 Fifth Avenue; Fleischman and Thorley (florists), respectively at 500 and 502 Fifth Avenue; the jewellers and silversmiths, Black, Starr, and Frost, 594 Fifth Avenue; Carlton and Company, 634 Fifth Avenue; Kirkpatrick and Company, 624 Fifth Avenue; and Gattle and Company, 634 Fifth Avenue; and such emporiums designed to delight the hearts of extravagant women as J.M. Giddings and Company, L.P. Hollander and Company, and Alice Maynard, all on the Avenue in the neighbourhood of Forty-fifth Street.
Beyond Murray Hill
Stretches of the Avenue—The Public Library—Temple Emanuel—The Draft Riots—The Coloured Orphan Asylum—The Willow Tree Inn—Remaining Residences—Clubs of the Section—As Seen by Arnold Bennett and Henry James—Three Churches and a Cathedral—The Elgin Botanical Gardens—Old Land Values.
O beautiful, long, loved Avenue, So faithless to truth and yet so true.
On the site of the old Croton Reservoir the cornerstone of the Public Library was laid November 10, 1902, and the building opened to the public May 23, 1911. To it were carried the treasures of the Astor Library on Lafayette Place, and the Lenox Library at Fifth Avenue and Seventieth Street. Designed by Carrere and Hastings, the Library was built by the city at a cost of about nine million dollars. It is three hundred and ninety feet long and two hundred and seventy feet deep, the material is largely Vermont marble, and the style that of the modern renaissance. The lions that guard the main entrance from the Fifth Avenue side are the work of E.C. Potter. The pediments at the ends of the front, the one at the north representing History and the one at the south Art, are by George Grey Barnard. The fountains are by Frederick MacMonnies. Above the main entrance are six figures by Paul Bartlett, in order from south to north, Philosophy, Romance, Religion, Poetry, Drama, and History. Augustus St. Gaudens, who was to have directed the choice of the sculptors and supervised the work died before the Library was completed.
Although consideration of the Public Library must necessarily be brief, a word should be said of the collection of paintings. The paintings comprise the gifts of three donors: James Lenox, whose collection of about fifty paintings was presented in 1877; the Robert Stuart Collection of about two hundred and fifty paintings, bequeathed by Mrs. Stuart in 1892; and some of John Jacob Astor's pictures, presented by William Waldorf Astor in 1896. Paintings of importance are, in the main room, Munkacsy's Blind Milton Dictating "Paradise Lost" to his Daughters, Sir Henry Raeburn's Portrait of Lady Belhaven, Copley's Portrait of Lady Frances Wentworth, Turner's Scene on the French Coast, Sir Joshua Reynolds's Mrs. Billington as Saint Cecilia, Gilbert Stuart's Washington, Horace Vernet's Siege of Saragossa, Raeburn's Portrait of Van Brugh Livingston; in the Stuart Room, Boughton's Pilgrims Going to Church, Schreyer's The Attack, Inness's Hackensack Meadows, Sunset, Troyon's Cow and Sheep, Detaille's Chasseur of the French Imperial Guard, Bougereau's The Secret, and Weir's View of the Highlands from West Point.
About 1825 the land on the east side of Fifth Avenue from Forty-second to Forty-fourth Streets belonged to Isaac Burr, whose estate extended along the old Middle Road. The present Seymour Building at the north-east corner of Forty-second Street is on the site formerly occupied by the home of Levi P. Morton, and before that by the Hamilton Hotel. Near the adjoining corner to the north is No. 511, the late residence of Mr. Richard T. Wilson, Jr. That number was once the home of "Boss" Tweed. Arrested for robbing the city, Tweed asked permission to return to his house for clothes. While policemen were guarding the Fifth Avenue entrance he escaped through a rear alley, made his way to his yacht in the East River, and sailed to Spain. Today unsightly advertising signs, thorns in the flesh of the Fifth Avenue Association, disfigure the north-west corner of Forty-second Street. Behind the signs there is an office building. Until a few years ago the Bristol Hotel stood here, and back in the days before the Civil War there was a small tavern on the site, while on the adjoining lot was the garden of William H. Webb, the ship-builder. Webb's house was at 504 Fifth Avenue, and 506 was once the home of Russell Sage.
The brown synagogue, Temple Emanuel, at the north-east corner of Forty-third Street, dates from 1868. The congregation was organized in 1845, first holding services in the Grand Street Court Room, thence moving in 1850 to a remodelled Unitarian Church in Chrystie Street, and again, in 1856, to a Baptist Church in Twelfth Street. The present structure, considered one of the finest examples of Saracenic architecture in the country, was designed by Leopold Eidlitz, and completed at a cost of six hundred thousand dollars. The materials are brown and yellow sandstone, with black and red tiles alternating on the roof. Within, near the entrance, are memorial tablets to Dr. Leo Merzbacher, first Rabbi, 1845-56, and to his successors, Dr. Samuel Adler (father of Felix Adler), 1857-74, and Dr. Gustav Gottheil, 1873-1903. The present Rabbi is the Rev. Joseph Silverman.
Back from the Avenue, on the west side, between Forty-third and Forty-fourth Streets, there once stood the Coloured Orphan Asylum. It was a square four-story building, occupying almost the entire block, and there was a garden in front extending to the road. The Asylum, which was under the management of the Association for the Benefit of Coloured Orphans, organized in 1836 by a number of prominent New York women, received from the city in 1842 a grant of twenty-two lots and erected the building in which the children were housed and taught trades. In the summer of 1863 there were between two hundred and two hundred and fifty children in the institution. Then Congress passed the Conscription Law. In the evening papers of Saturday, July 11th, the names of those drafted from New York were announced. Excitement seethed that night and all day Sunday. Monday the storm broke. The draft offices were surrounded by a mob, and as the first name was called a stone crashed through a window. That was the signal. The offices were rushed and the building soon in flames. The police were routed, and a squad of soldiers sent to their aid disarmed and badly beaten. Then the mob ranged, pillaging the house of William Turner on Lexington Avenue, firing the Bull's Head Hotel at Forty-fourth Street, and the Croton Cottage opposite the Reservoir, plundering the Provost Marshal's office at 1148 Broadway, and destroying an arms factory at Seventh Avenue and Twenty-first Street. Then some one in the mob cried out that the war was being fought on account of the negroes and the rioters started in the direction of the Asylum. When they reached the spot they found an empty building, for the alarm had been given and the children taken to the Police Station and later conducted under guard to the Almshouse on Blackwell's Island. But the structure they destroyed, and when they came upon a coloured man in the neighbourhood they hanged him to the nearest tree or lamp-post.
During the riot the draft-rioters made their headquarters at the Willow Tree Inn, which stood near the south-east corner of Fifth Avenue and Forty-fourth Street, and which at one time was run by Tom Hyer, of prize-ring fame. A photograph shows it as it was in 1880, with the tree from which it took its name in front, and the Henry W. Tyson Fifth Avenue Market adjoining it. "Fifth Avenue" quotes from Mr. John T. Mills, Jr., whose father owned the cottage: "My mother planted the old willow tree," said Mr. Mills, "and I remember distinctly the Orphan Asylum fire. The only reason our home was not destroyed was that father ran the Bull's Head stages which carried people downtown for three cents, and the ruffians did not care to destroy the means of transportation." There were many vacant lots in this section of Fifth Avenue at the time of the Civil War, and a small shanty below the Willow Cottage was the only building that stood between Madison Avenue and Fifth Avenue. On the north-west corner of Fifth Avenue and Forty-fourth Street, then considered far north, stood a three-story brick building. The stockyards were between Fifth Avenue and Fourth Avenue from Forty-fourth to Forty-sixth Street, and Madison Avenue was not then cut through. The stockyards were divided into pens of fifty by one hundred feet, into which the cattle were driven from runs between the yards. On the east side of Fifth Avenue, just above Forty-second Street, stood four high brown-stone-front houses, the first to be built in this neighbourhood. In the rear of these were stables that had entrances on Fifth Avenue. "Fifth Avenue" points to the Willow Tree Inn as illustrating the appreciation of Fifth Avenue real estate. "In 1853 this corner was the extreme south-west angle of the Fair and Lockwood farm, and was sold for eight thousand five hundred dollars. Here in 1905 a twelve-story office building was erected, replacing Tyson's meat market and the old Willow Tree Inn. The corner was then held at two million dollars. The property was bought in 1909 for one million nine hundred thousand dollars by the American Real Estate Company."
At No. 7 West Forty-third Street is the home of the Century Association, at the corresponding number in Forty-fourth Street that of the St. Nicholas Club, formed of descendants of residents, prior to 1785, of either the City or State of New York, and facing diagonally at Forty-fourth Street, are the establishments of Delmonico and Sherry. The site of the former restaurant was occupied from 1846 to 1865 by the Washington Hotel, otherwise known as "Allerton's," a low white frame building surrounded by a plot of grass. The rest of the block was a drove yard. Thomas Darling bought the entire block in 1836 for eighty-eight thousand dollars. David Allerton, to whom he leased part of it, ran the Washington Hotel during the Civil War. When the cattle-yards were removed to Fortieth Street and Eleventh Avenue the tavern's living was gone. John H. Sherwood, a prominent builder who contributed much towards developing upper Fifth Avenue as a residential section, bought the site and erected the Sherwood House. It was in the basement of the hotel that the Fifth Avenue Bank first opened for business. An interesting record of early rental values is found in the original minute book of the Bank. The Bank's offices in the basement of the Sherwood House were secured "at a rental of two thousand six hundred dollars per year, said rental to include the gas used and the heating of the rooms." There have been but four transfers of the corner upon which the Bank now stands at Fifth Avenue and Forty-fourth Street since Peter Minuit, in 1626, bought the island from the Indians for a handful of trinkets.
Despite the invasion of business there are many houses in this stretch of the Avenue that recall the tradition and flavour of the older New York. Between Forty-fifth and Forty-sixth, Nos. 555 and 559, respectively, are the residences of Mrs. James R. Jessup and Mrs. John H. Hall. At the north-east corner of Forty-seventh Street is the home of Mrs. Finley J. Shepard, formerly Miss Helen Gould. Between Forty-seventh and Forty-eighth live Captain W.C. Beach (585), Mrs. James B. Haggin (587), Mrs. Robert W. Goelet (591), Mrs. Russell Sage (604), Mrs. Ogden Goelet (608), and Mrs. Daniel Butterfield (616). On the next block, Charles F. Hoffman (620), and August Hecksher (622); and between Fifty-first and Fifty-second, William B. Coster (641), William B.O. Field (645), and Robert Goelet (647). Then, on to the Plaza, comes the sweep of the houses of the Vanderbilts, and the residence of Lewis Stuyvesant Chanler (673), Samuel Untermeyer (675), F. Lewisohn (683), H. McK. Twombly (684), William Rockefeller (689), Mrs. M.H. Dodge (691), W. Kirkpatrick Brice (693), Mrs. Benjamin B. Brewster (695), Adrian Iselin, Jr. (711), Mrs. N.W. Aldrich (721), John Markle (723), Mrs. Lewis T. Hoyt (726), H.E. Huntington (735), Mrs. Hermann Oelrichs (739), Joseph Guggenheim (741), and William E. Iselin (745).