The History of 177-179 Duane

seeking-new-york-by-tom-millerTom Miller, who writes about the history of Manhattan buildings at Daytonian in Manhattan, has allowed Tribeca Citizen to create a database of his Tribeca posts. If you enjoy these, and you will, then you should definitely check out his website, which also has write-ups about buildings all over the island. And don’t miss his book, Seeking New York: The Stories Behind the Historic Architecture of Manhattan—One Building at a Time.


Brothers William E. and Freeman Bloodgood made a good partnership. Freeman was a builder and his brother an architect. They established Bloodgood & Bloodgood which both designed and erected buildings—quite likely saving developers money.

As early as 1880, John I. Lagrave owned the commercial building at No. 179 Duane Street. In 1885 he and John J. Jenkins, who owned the structure next door at No. 177, embarked on a cooperative project. They hired Bloodgood & Bloodgood to design and construct a modern loft building on the combined properties.

Using the name F. & W. E. Bloodgood, the partners filed plans in March that year. They called for “one six-story brick store,” 50-feet wide, to cost $18,000, or just under $475,000 today. Their employers may have been stretching their finances a bit thin on the project. In August John J. Jenkins took out a mortgage for the full construction amount.

Completed within the year, the structure was an attractive industrial take on the neo-Grec and Queen Anne styles. The elaborate cast iron Corinthian columns expected in the storefronts of a generation earlier were gone, replaced here by geometric, paneled columns which upheld a beefy entablature and cornice. The upper floors were clad in red brick, highlighted by stone trim. Slim keystones were embellished with incised decorations, emblematic of the neo-Grec style. Queen Anne stepped forward at the top, where an elaborate terra cotta parapet took the place of a cornice. Here a row of tiles sprouted large, stylized sunflowers.

The building became home to Clark, Chapin & Bushnell, wholesale grocers. As was common, the firm painted its name across the front of the structure.

As the 1890s dawned, Clark, Chapin & Bushnell, like most of its neighbors, became the victim of corrupt cops. As drays pulled up to deliver or load crates of goods, policemen would move in, demanding payment for “the use” of the sidewalk.

In 1894, the State Senate established the Lexow Committee to investigate police corruption. While some businessmen were reticent to testify, no doubt fearing retribution, that was not the case with Clark, Chapin & Bushnell.

Horse-drawn drays that pulled up to the sidewalk of Clark, Chapin & Bushnell, created an opportunity for corrupt cops.

On June 22, the firm’s manager, Andrew J. Wellington, testified “We were very much annoyed by the police about one year ago. A policeman came into the store and said that if wanted to back our trucks across the sidewalk there was a party in authority who would have to be paid. A man called the next day. He was not in uniform and I did not know him. He said there was a regular fee to be paid, generally $50, for houses having so much frontage on the street, but ours would be $25.” The payoff would equal $700 today.

The labor unions which were taking root at the time gained power by the turn of the century. The disparate interests of the workers and management sometimes boiled over into ugly and violent clashes. When teamsters went on strike in December 1905, Clark, Chapin & Bushnell refused to give in to their demands. They simply fired those on strike and hired new drivers. It did not sit well with the union. But, recognizing the potential of danger to its new employees, the firm put an armed guard on each truck.

Early in March, 1906, the strike seemed to have been settled, and the guards were released. The union men then launched a series of attacks, landing ten drivers in the hospital, one of whom would not survive. In that case, a gang jumped onto his truck, beat him with heavy cotton bale hooks until he was unconscious, then threw his body into the street.

Then, at around 4:15 on the morning of March 14, a massive explosion occurred at the Duane Street building. The New York Times reported “The entire shipping department was destroyed by the explosion. The dynamite was thrown through a door opening on the street, the wire screen to which was wrenched off on Monday night and the glass panel broken.” The Evening World said “The vibration was so great that it was heard for a radius of half a mile.” Damages were estimated at $1,000, about 28 times that much today.

Ericsson F. Bushnell placed the blame on the shoulders of what today seems an unlikely target. He ranted to reporters “I believe that if any one man more than any other can be blamed for the labor outrages of to-day that man is Theodore Roosevelt. He has given the hoodlum element in labor circles the swelled head by interfering in coal strikes and by consorting with strike leaders.”

The ongoing labor feud may have contributed to the heart attack suffered by the firm’s principal partner. On April 25 The Times reported that “Frederick C. Clark, head of the firm of Clark, Chapin & Bushnell, 177 Duane Street, one of the oldest tea importing firms in New York City, died in his home in this city this afternoon of apoplexy.”

The union had not yet made its point. On July 22, just before midnight, a second bomb exploded. The New-York Tribune reported “An attempt was made last night to wreck the warehouse of Clark, Chapin & Bushnell, wholesale grocers, at No. 177-179 Duane street. Dynamite was used.” The damage was less severe this time. “A hole about big enough for a cat to crawl through had been torn in the lower part of the steel sheathed oak doors. In the stone flag which made the threshold of the door a jagged hole about a foot long and four or five inches wide had been torn straight through into the basement.”

After two bombings, Police Officer Artemus Fish was posted on the block to keep watch on the building. He thwarted a third attempt on the night of August 6 when he saw 24-year-old John Malone and 23-year-old Morris McAleer approach the building, and then loiter there. Both had been employed as truck drivers for Clark, Chapin & Bushnell before the strike.

Fish walked up, flashed his shield, and ordered the men to “beat it.” He later explained the men replied “Beat it? We’ll beat you for a change.” They then pulled out heavy metal truck spokes from their trouser legs and began pummeling the officer. His cries for help were heard by two other beat cops, who arrived just in time. Fish was nearly unconscious and bleeding from head wounds and other injuries. Both men were captured and charged with the March bombing.

The union’s violent methods did not work. On the contrary, they steeled the already-adamant Ericcson Bushnell against organized labor. He was in the courtroom the following day and, according to The Sun, “He declared his firm would fight them with its last dollar if necessary and never would recognize the union.”

In 1909, Clark, Chapin & Bushnell was joined in the building by Drose & Snyder, wholesale butter and eggs merchants. Headed by Charles F. Droste and James H. Snyder, it had branches in Newark and Paterson, New Jersey. The firm not only moved in, but purchased the property. Clark, Chapin & Bushnell remained on until around 1914.

The new owners replaced the outside advertising with their own.

Charles F. Droste kept himself busy. In addition to being the head of one of the largest egg and butter operations in the Northeast, he was president of the American Paper Goods Co. and the Troy Cold Storage Co., and a director in Rock Island Butter Co. and Lawlor & Cavanaugh Co.

Reporters regularly sought his expertise to explain fluctuations in the market. When egg prices dropped in 1911, he explained prices were driven by supply and demand—there were simply too many eggs that year. “I do know that our warehouses are full of goods, and there is no market for them, and that we are facing a new season.” Eggs, unfortunately for wholesalers, were not like coats or shoes—they lasted only so long. And when prices skyrocketed in 1916, Droste was once again called upon by reporters. He told Dairy Produce what he had said five years earlier—it was all supply and demand. “There are comparatively few eggs in the warehouses than were there in April…so that the eggs we now have in storage cost us considerably more than those in April.”

While elevators were a welcomed convenience in the early 20th century, there were few if any safety regulations. Many elevators in industrial buildings did not have doors or gates, a condition that regularly resulted in injuries and deaths. On December 8, 1919 The Evening World reported that Teresa Vindora had died in the Duane Street building. “She was working on the fourth floor and it is believed she peered into the elevator shaft to look for a car and lost her balance.”

Charles F. Droste died on April 19, 1920, but the firm continued on without its well-known head for another five years.

On June 17, 1927, The New York Times reported the cheese importer Otto Roth had leased No. 177-179 Duane Street “for a long term of years and the building will be extensively renovated to suit the requirements.” In calling the lease “a long term of years” the newspaper was not wrong by a long shot.

Thirty-five years later, on August 5, 1963, The Times wrote “There are so many cheeses in this world that it would be virtually impossible to catalogue them all. However, if a cheese is produced on a fairly extensive commercial basis, it is likely to be on the list of Otto Roth & Co.” The firm was celebrating its 100th anniversary at the time, and dealt in more than 300 varieties of cheese from about 15 countries. The article’s author, Nan Ickeringill, described each floor of the Duane Street building as “cheese-perfumed.”

Each of the cheeses demanded different care. Cheddars sat on racks as they aged. “We age the Cheddars here for about a year before selling them,” explained president Benjamin Villa. “After the cheeses have been cured, they are dipped into dark paraffin to distinguish them from unaged cheeses.”

Ickeringill wrote, “In another room, Provolone cheeses festooned the ceiling in quantities reminiscent of balloons at a New Year’s Eve dance.” On a lower floor were “sacks of cartwheel-sized” Swiss cheeses.

But even as Ickeringill wrote her article, changes were coming to the old egg and butter district. In 1979 the Harry Wassermann bakery operated from No. 177. Its puff pastries were recommended by Dublin-born chef Pat Moore for authentic steak and kidney pie. Next door was Damon Brandt’s gallery of tribal and ancient art.

In 1998, the “cheese-perfumed” building which for for 113 years had been home to wholesale grocery and dairy merchants was converted to two cooperative apartments per floor. Despite terrorist explosions and a century of neighborhood change, the facade of William E. Bloodgood’s handsome loft building survives essentially intact.


Photo credits from top: Daytonian in Manhattan; New York—The Metropolis, 1902; New York Produce Review & American Creamery, 1909.