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The Union Square Theatre on East 14th Street was constructed within the walls of the Union Place Hotel (later, the Morton House) in 1871. In 1887, a year after taking over the management, James Hill made extensive renovations to the exterior and interior of the theater.

In Part I of the Old New York cat story, we met Union Square Jim, the large, blue-eyed, orange tabby mascot of the old Union Square Theatre in New York City. Jim was born in the theater sometime around 1886, a year after James Hill took over as manager of the theater.

Jim was certainly well-loved by all the actors and stage hands — especially when he performed his many tricks for them — but his favorite person was janitor Michael Sweeney. Every night as Michael made his rounds, Jim would be at his side.

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The old Union Square Theatre, located at 58 East 14th Street, is noted in the top left quadrant of this 1885 map. The adjacent Star Theatre (previously Wallack’s Theatre; demolished in 1902) is just south on Broadway at 13th Street. 

The Great Fall

One afternoon during the summer of 1887, a skylight on the roof of the theater sprung a leak during a heavy rainstorm. Michael reportedly went on the roof to fix it, and he took his feline friend along to get some fresh air and sunshine.

As Michael was in the progress of repairing the skylight, he heard a loud crash. Looking up from what he was doing, he saw that Jim had fallen through another skylight and was frantically trying to hang on to the framework with one paw.

Right before Michael’s eyes, Jim lost his “grip” and fell down about 80 feet to the center of the auditorium below.

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Jim fell about 80 feet from the roof skylight to the auditorium seating of the Union Square Hotel.

Michael rushed down the stairs and ran into the auditorium, where he found Jim lying motionless between two rows of chairs. Micheal carried the unconscious cat into his room, where he tended to his feline friend as best he could with alcohol and bandages.

Two weeks later, Jim was alert and back on his feet again, making the rounds with Michael as if the plunge from the roof had never happened. On September 26, 1887, he made his accidental stage debut during opening night of The Henrietta, a romantic comedy written by Bronson Howard and produced by the comedians Stuart Robson and William Henry Crane.

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James M. Hill took over the Union Square Theatre in 1885.

The Union Square Theatre Fire of 1888

On the afternoon of February 28, 1888, a fire broke out in a loft between the ceiling and roof of the auditorium of the theater. The flames were discovered just before 1 p.m. by stage carpenters and painters, who had been working on the stage with Ben Teal, the stage manager. James Hill was also in the building at the time; one of the stage hands ran into his office to warn him of the fire.

Union Square Jim was in the basement of the building, but no one came to warn the cat as he slept peacefully in his wicker basket.

The large fire caused extensive damage as it burned through the partitions that separated the theater from the Morton House (all the hotel guests had been safely evacuated). The two upper stories of the hotel facing Union Square caught fire, and the roof of the theater was demolished.

When the firemen got the fire under control at about 4 p.m., the walls of the hotel and theater were still intact.

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Most of the damage to the theater was caused by the freezing water, which destroyed the seats, curtains, and stage scenery.

Union Square Jim Is Saved

“Has anyone seen Jim?” Michael Sweeney asked everyone when he arrived on the scene later that afternoon. When no one answered, Michael asked one of the firemen to help him find the mascot cat.

Using a lantern, the two men made their way through the basement corridor to the dressing room where Jim spent his days sleeping. There, in the flooded room, they found Jim perched on top of his basket, trying to stay dry with no means of escape in sight.

That evening, there was a reception in honor of Jim at the Criterion, followed by a “general jollification” at the Hotel Hungaria across the street.  James Hill told everyone he would have the theater reopened on March 26 with Syndey Rosenfeld’s A Possible Case.

Three months after the fire, The New York Times reported:

“Jim was in troubled spirits and was moving about with an air of dejection. The chaotic and unsafe condition of the old building since the fire drove the petted darling Jim to the narrow confines of the property room in the rear of the theater, as dark and uninviting as a tomb. He was kept by himself in this room, on a 15-foot chain. He has been slowly withering in spirit and flesh in this chilly back room, and last week refused to eat at all. This alarmed the old stage hands, and after a solemn council it was decided to take Jim each night to the Madison Square Theatre in the hope that it would revive his health and spirits.”

Jim’s mood did change as soon as he saw his old friends at the theater. According to the news article, “He purred, jumped from chair to tables, frisked about the carpet, and peeked through the curtain from time to time to watch the assembling audience.”

One night during the performance of A Possible Cause, Jim decided to take the stage again, this time leaping onto the lead actor during a very dramatic scene. Jim brought the house down with laughter as he purred and licked the actor’s head and forehead in “a delirium of delight.” Although he was led off stage, there were many bursts of laughter as the drama progressed, and, after the last curtain, repeated calls were made for the theatrical cat to come and take a bow.

I do not know for sure what happened to Jim, although a story about him in the book “Lady Lee and Other Animals Stories” by Harmon Lee Ensign suggests that he died at the Madison Square Theatre in a very dramatic fashion when he pounced on some flames on stage (an actresses’ dress caught fire when she walked too close to the gas lights). I have a feeling the author made this up (a small news article in the May 5, 1890, issue of The Sandusky Register suggests that Jim died from an illness after an unsuccessful visit with Dr. Dovey, a veterinarian on 4th Street.

The Demise of the Union Square Theatre

A year after the fire, the Union Square Theatre reopened. It had been almost completely rebuilt to the designs of John Terhune and Leopold Eidlitz (although some of the design was by Charles P. Palmer, the manager of the property). Because of the cramped site, Palmer developed a horseshoe balcony that rose in the center to make good use of the high, narrow space. The interior was painted in old gold and ivory, and the proscenium arch (the part of the stage in front of the curtain) featured a large medallion with a painting of Shakespeare. The hand-carved cherry chairs were upholstered in electric blue.

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In the 1890s, the old Union Square Theatre was a vaudeville theater operated by B.F. Keith and Edward Albee. NYPL Digital Collections

In 1893,  Benjamin Franklin Keith and Edward Franklin Albee,  the most powerful and successful vaudeville producers of their time, purchased the lease for the Union Square Theatre and completely remodeled it. The offered continuous vaudeville — George M. Cohan made his New York debut on its stage.

In 1906 the theater exhibited some early motion pictures; in 1908, it was converted once again to showcase only films. As B.F. Keith’s, the theater dabbled in “the most dubious activities that a picture house can indulge in,” according to The New York Herald Tribune (alluding to racy films and lectures about sex.)  The theater was sold and renamed the Acme in 1921, which featured primarily Soviet Russian films.

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In May 1920, the old Morton House (then called the Hotel Churchill), B.F. Keith’s theater, and Union Square Hotel were sold at auction for the benefit of the Courtlandt Palmer heirs. The theater continued to run films until 1936, which is when the ground floor was  divided for some dry goods stores, destroying the orchestra section of the auditorium.

In 1986, the Philips International Corporation acquired the site and completely vacated the buildings. Demolition of the theater began in 1989, and, a few later, as the building was peeled away, this amazing photograph revealed the ruined remnants of the old Union Square Theatre  — complete with its finishes still brown with smoke from the fire that almost took the last of the nine lives of Union Square Jim.

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Here is 58 East 14th Street today. Photo by P. Gavan

 

 

 

Part I of an Old New York Cat Story

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This is not Jim, but I can imagine him looking quite similar to this vintage theatrical cat.

Like most cats that became the popular mascots of New York City police stations, fire stations, hotels, and theaters in the 1800s and 1900s, Jim began his life as a vagrant cat without friends or influence.  It didn’t take him long, however, to win the hearts of the managers, actors, and patrons of the old Union Square Theatre.

In fact, one might say he literally stole the show.

As a reporter for the Detroit Free Press wrote in a feature story about the cat on August 14, 1887, Union Square Jim was “either an exceptional cat or a proof of my ignorance concerning the kind.” The reporter noted that the large sorrel cat (think “Morris” from the old 9-Lives commercials) was first and foremost a sociable cat who loved human companionship.

Jim made his home under the stage of the Union Square Theatre at 58 East 14th Street (between Broadway and Fourth Avenue), which at that time was under the management of James M. Hill. His favorite person was janitor Michael Sweeney, but he also enjoyed visiting all the members of the acting companies in their dressing rooms before every performance.

Jim could also do quite a few tricks – for example, he could “sing,” shake paws, and stand on his hind legs — and he found himself in the spotlight on more than one occasion. Let’s just say that Jim had a knack for turning a sorrowful and serious drama scene into a comedy act that brought down the house with laughter and howls of delight.

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The Union Square Theatre opened on September 11, 1871. This photo was taken between December 1, 1874, and June 15, 1875, which is when “The Two Orphans” starring James O’Neill (father of Eugene) ran at the theater (then under the management of Albert M. Palmer).  NYPL Digital Collections

Our story begins in 1886, in an unused dressing room at the Union Square Theatre. There, according to the book “Lady Lee and Other Animals Stories” by Harmon Lee Ensign, a quiet brindle cat named Roxy gave birth to five kittens. The kittens were discovered by janitor Henry Sweeney, who cared for the mother cat for several weeks so she in turn could feed her kittens.

According to Ensign’s version of the story, the mother cat was severely injured (broken ribs and other injuries) when a disgruntled actor kicked her against a corridor wall. Although she suffered greatly, Roxy cared for her kittens for five more days until she passed away.

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The interior of the Union Square Theatre

Within a few days, four of the five kittens also died (Henry tried to save them, but he did not know how). The smallest survived, and within a few weeks, poor little Jim was a bright and mischievous kitten.

Now, I have no historical proof of this specific part of the story — author Ensign, a New York animal rights supporter and philanthropist, may have taken liberty to embellish the tale of Jim’s birth for his book — but it makes for a good narrative.

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A color illustration of the photo of the theater shown above. NYPL Digital Collections

As a kitten, Jim spent most of the day under the stage, either in the dark passageways or in the dressing room. At night, after the final curtain came down and the crowds dispersed, Jim would follow Henry on his janitorial rounds. Man and cat would walk together from the cellar, where the scenery was stored, to the roof, where the moonlight came streaming through the skylights.

During their time together, Henry taught Jim many tricks, like standing erect, walking and “boxing” on his hind legs, and flicking his tail to the left or right on command. Jim was quite intelligent, and over time he also learned how to put on a show by weeping in mock mews, posing like different actors, and performing numerous acrobatic tricks.

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Madame Helena Modjeska

A few months after his first birthday, Jim was introduced to the theater proper, where he mingled with stagehands, actors, and other prominent people of the New York theater world. He was cuddled and coddled by his admirers and friends, who all considered him the mascot of the institution. And he was welcomed by manager James Hill, who considered him a good-luck charm for the theater (Jim would discharge any employee who tried to harm the cat, after giving the employee a lecture on animal cruelty).

One of Jim’s biggest fans was Madame Helena Modjeska, a renowned actress who specialized in Shakespearean and tragic roles. She gave him a wicker cradle stuffed with rich bedding materials. Jim was quite partial to this bed, and reportedly would not sleep anywhere else.

Jim also had a lady admirer in Bangor, Maine, who once sent him a plump package of catnip, which, according to The New York Times (February 19, 1888), he enjoyed “with the relish of an epicure.”

Union Square Jim Makes His Stage Debut

On September 26, 1887, The Henrietta, a romantic comedy written by Bronson Howard and produced by the comedians Stuart Robson and William Henry Crane, opened at the Union Square Theatre. Jim also chose to make his debut on the stage that night. According to a story in The New York Times, Jim got a bit frisky on stage and almost spoiled a scene.

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Stuart Robson as Bertie the Lamb in The Henrietta at the Union Square Theatre in 1887. NYPL Digital Collections

Robson and Crane were angry at the large orange tabby at first, but they came to love Jim over the next few months. They even offered to buy Jim from Manager Hill and sought to have his name changed to Henrietta. Mr. Hill had to decline because one, Jim was a male, and two, he brought good luck to the theater (at least up to that time…)

A Brief History of the Union Square Theatre

In 1871, Sheridan Shook, a former butter and cheese merchant and collector with the Internal Review Service under Abraham Lincoln, signed a ten-year lease with Courtlandt Palmer, a wealthy hardware merchant and real estate speculator who owned what was then called the Union Place Hotel.

Shook renamed the hotel the Maison Doree and hired chief constructor H.M. Simons to build a variety (vaudeville) theater within the walls of the hotel. Construction began on May 1, 1871, and in a few months, a a 55- x 140-foot theater that could seat about 1,500 people replaced what had been the grand dining room of the Union Place Hotel.

The main entrance to the theater was on 14th Street and a separate entrance to the gallery and stage was on Fourth Avenue.

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The Union Place Hotel, on on the southwest corner of Broadway and 14th Street, was constructed in 1849. In 1871, the Union Square Theatre was constructed within the walls of the hotel. That year, the hotel was renamed the Maison Doree by Sheridan Shook. In 1881, it was renamed the Morton House Hotel. NYPL Digital Collections  

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Here’s an earlier illustration of the Union Place Hotel, immediately to the left of Broadway. Grace Church on Broadway and 11th Street is in the background.

The new theater opened on September 11, 1871, under the management of Robert W. Butler, a variety manager and former proprietor of the American Concert Saloon at 414 Broadway. One year later, Albert M. Palmer, Shook’s clerk at the IRS, took over. Under Palmer’s management, the theater operated as the Union Square Theatre Stock Co.

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From 1871 to 1881, the old Union Place Hotel was called the Maison Doree. In this photo from that period, you can just make out the hotel name; just to the left, you can see the Union Square Theatre. 

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Sheridan Shook

The Old Peter Stuyvesant Farm

The land on which the Union Place Hotel and adjunct Union Square Theatre occupied was once part of a 33-acre farm owned by Cornelius T. Williams, the son of Mary Magdalene Tiebout and Edward Williams, and the stepson of the late Cornelius Tiebout, a New York merchant.

Tiebout had acquired the land in 1748 from one of Peter Stuyvesant’s heirs. He built a farmhouse near the present-day intersection of East 18th Street and Park Avenue South, and named his estate Roxborough.

The land had originally been conveyed to Stuyvesant in 1651 by the Dutch West India Company. Stuvesant’s farm extended from the Bowery to the East River between present-day East 3rd Street and East 30th Street.

UnionSquareSouth1828This 1885 painting by Albertis Del Orient Browere depicts Union Square, looking south from today’s 14th Street, as it appeared in 1828. The Union Place Hotel was constructed 20 years later, right about where the white house stands. 

In 1811, when the Commissioners’ Plan established Manhattan’s street grid, the area around Union Square was mostly farmland, as pictured above. In addition to the grid, the Commissioners’ Plan provided for a public square called Union Place at the intersection of the Bowery and Broadway, just to the west of the Williams’ property. In 1832, additional land was acquired for the park, which opened to the public as Union Square in 1839.

The Final Years of Jim and the Union Square Hotel

In Part II, I’ll share some more amazing stories about Jim, the Union Square Theatre cat, and about the final years of the old hotel.

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The old Guion/Rathbone house in Washington Heights around 1910, when it was still occupied by the Arrowhead Inn.

In June 1912, New York City Police Commissioner Rhinelander Waldo created a new 42nd Police Precinct to serve the people of the rapidly developing northern tip of Manhattan along the shores of the Hudson and Harlem rivers.

As I mentioned in Part I of this Old New York police story, the new precinct was bounded by 165th Street, the Harlem River, Dyckman Street, and the Hudson River. It also included the Harlem River Speedway, which was located between 155th and 165th streets.

Although a brand-new, two-story brick loft building at 1389 St. Nicholas Avenue was leased by the city to serve as a temporary police station for the precinct, the hot and stuffy building was not suitable for sleeping in summer months for the men on call.

Thus, in July 1913, the 196 foot patrolmen and 25 mounted patrolmen of the new 42nd Precinct moved into a rambling, 3-story frame home reportedly built in the 1860s by William Howe Guion (of the Guion line of European steamers), and, later, occupied by Robert C. Rathbone (a successful insurance broker who served with the New York Militia during the Civil War).

The home and wooded property, bounded by Haven Avenue, Fort Washington Avenue, West 176th Street, and West 177th Street in Washington Heights, had commanding views of Riverside Drive and the Hudson River.

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Sergeant Major R.C. Rathbone served with the Seventh Regiment, New York Militia, during the Civil War. 

For the next 10 years, the men of the 42nd Precinct lived in rural luxury in what became known as the best station house in New York City.

During their time off, the men enjoyed swimming, boating, gazing at the neighbor’s cows, gardening, and playing handball and lawn tennis. Some of the men, like Sergeant John McCullum, were members of the Metropolitan Boat Club, and these men practiced their skills by rowing canoes to the Jersey shore.

(The New York Sun once reported that the men of the 42nd Precinct had “greatly reduced their girth” after living at their new location for about a year.)

They also enjoyed the company of Sir Tom, the station cat (aka rat catcher), and Lady Alice, one of the many hens that lived on the grounds and who adored spending time with her policemen friends.

And, if they were lucky, they may have even had a chance to meet Diamond Jim Brady, W.C. Fields, or any of the many other famous people who were the good friends of their neighbor next door, Ben Riley, the popular proprietor of the Arrowhead Inn.

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The 42nd Precinct police station and Ben Riley’s new Arrowhead Inn on the old Hopkins/Haven estate are clearly marked on either side of W. 177th Street in this 1914 map. Northern Avenue is today’s Cabrini Boulevard and the Boulevard Lafayette at left is present-day Riverside Drive. 

For the men of the 42nd Precinct, landing a beautiful old mansion overlooking Riverside Drive on the banks of the Hudson River was a matter of being in the right place at the right time. I guess you could say they had both Ben Riley and Benjamin Altman to think for their good fortune.

The Hendrick Oblienis Farm

In the late 1600s, the hilly region of Washington Heights was known as the common lands of Jochem Pieter’s Hills (the land to the east, between present-day Broadway and the Harlem River, was called Jochem Pieter’s Flats.)

Captain Jochem Pietersen Kuyter, a sea captain under the King of Denmark, came to America in 1639 with his friend Jonas Bronck and other pioneers. He obtained a grant of 400 acres from Director General Kieft and built a thatched-roof house somewhere in the vicinity of 125th Street. He and his wife were killed by Native Americans in March 1654, in retaliation for a massacre at Corlear’s Hook in 1643, in which 40 Natives were killed.

In 1691, one of the men who was allotted a portion of Jochem Pieter’s Hills was Joost van Oblienis, one of the earliest settlers in Niew Haerlem. The Oblienis farm extended from about 170th to 185th Street, from the Old Post Road (Broadway) to the Hudson River. Their homestead was in the area of today’s West 176th Street, between Fort Washington Avenue and Broadway.

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The Hendrick van Oblienis property is clearly noted this map. Archaeological remains of the old homestead were discovered when 176th Street was opened on vacant land between Broadway and Fort Washington Avenue in the early 1900s. 

When Joost van Oblienis passed away in 1706, his son Hendrick came into possession of the farm. Thirty years later, his son Johannes, the Constable of New Haerlem in 1736, took over the farm. In 1769, Hendrick sold the upper tract to Blazius Moore, a tobacco farmer; the lower part went to his son, also named Hendrick.

This lower tract, bounded by present-day West 173rd and West 178th streets, passed to Jacob Arden, a butcher, during the Revolution. I’m not sure who owned the land between Arden’s death in 1798 (he died in what was then the Hamlet of Kakeat in Rockland County — today this area is the called Montebello in the Town of Ramapo), but I do know that by the 1860s, a portion of the property was owned by William Howe Guion, who constructed the house that would become home to the 42nd Precinct in 1913.

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Jacob Arden, a New York City butcher, took over the van Oblienis farm and homestead around 1775, during the start of the Revolutionary War. The homestead was located near today’s West 176th Street between Fort Washington Avenue and Broadway. NYPL digital collections.

Ben Riley’s New Arrowhead Inn

Fast forward to sometime around 1908, which is when Benjamin Altman of department store fame (B. Altman and Company) leased the old Guion property and house to Benjamin Crawford Riley, the proprietor of the Arrowhead Inn, a popular roadhouse for high-society horsemen.

When his lease expired in September 1913, Ben Riley purchased the large W.H. Summervile (or Somerville) home and two-acre plot one block north on Haven Avenue for about $160,000 (this property was previously owned by John Milton Hopkins and his wife Augusta Haven Hopkins). Ben added a bungalow-style hotel to the site, and he remodeled the existing house to feature a restaurant that could seat about 1,000 people.

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The new Arrowhead Inn on the former Hopkins/Haven property fronted Haven Avenue just north of West 177th Street. The police station was across the street on the south side of West 177th Street.

Although B. Altman had originally intended to improve his real estate holdings and sell the land to developers, for some reason he changed his plans. Instead, he leased “the old Arrowhead Inn” to New York City for use as temporary headquarters for the 42nd Police Precinct.

The Policemen Save Each Other and Their Hens

Fast forward again three years to the morning of January 15, 1916.

At about 10 a.m., Ben Riley noticed flames coming from the second story of the police station. He ran to house and called out to Lieutenant Sauder, and then he sounded the fire alarm.

The 20 men who had been gathered in the assembly room went into action. They first woke up the still-sleeping policemen in the smoke-filled dormitory on the second floor, and then they headed up to the top floor to awaken Captain Abram C. Hulse. A few other men released all the hens from their run, which adjoined the building. (Hopefully someone also saved Sir Tom, the station cat.)

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This small house, constructed in 1861, was across the street from the police station on the west side of Haven Avenue at West 177th Street. NYPL digital collections.

While the policemen waited for the firemen to arrive, they set up a bucket brigade. In short time, the seat of the fire on the second floor was extinguished and the building was saved. (A faulty chimney flue was determined to be the cause.) The men spent the next hour or so rounding up Lady Alice and her sister hens.

The old house continued to serve as a “temporary” police station for the next seven years. But by 1923, when many of the country mansions along Fort Washington Avenue were being replaced by large apartment houses to meet the city’s housing shortage, it was time for Ben Riley and the men of the 42nd Precinct to leave their rural home in Washington Heights.

The 42nd Precinct Moves

FortWashingtonAve_HatchingCatIn the late 1800s and early 1900s, Fort Washington Avenue was known as the best speedway ground for trotters. In this photo from about 1910, the property of the old Arrowhead Inn would have been down the street on the right. (Note the “For Sale” signs on the property in the foreground on right). NYPL digital collections.

 In October 1923, Ben Riley sold his block of land bordered by 177th, 178th, Haven Avenue, and Northern Avenue (now Cabrini Blvd.), and opened a new Arrowhead Inn in Riverdale, Bronx, at 246th Street and Henry Hudson Parkway. Less than a year later, in January 1924, three six-story brick apartment buildings designed by Gronenberg Leuchtag, architects, appeared on the site of the beautiful old inn.

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The new six-story apartment buildings that replaced the Arrowhead Inn on the north side of West 177th Street (including the Ethel Court Apartments at 851 West 177th) were built in 1924 by B.L.W. Construction Company. They featured all the latest amenities, including garbage incinerators and dining alcoves. The building fronts were a tapestry of brick and terracotta. Way in the background is the approach to the George Washington Bridge. NYPL digital collections.

In August 1923, under the watch of Acting Captain Alphonse S. Rheaume, the 42nd Precinct moved into the headquarters of the 40th Precinct (later called the 32nd Precinct) at 152nd Street and Amsterdam Avenue. Plans called for the construction of a new station house at 182nd Street and Wadsworth Avenue, but until that was completed, all of Manhattan north of 152nd Street was covered by the station at 152nd Street.

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Here’s a rear view of the old 42nd Precinct police station on a wintry day in March 1923, just five months before the property was sold to developers. NYPL digital collections.

Sometime around 1922 — just before the move to 182nd Street — the 42nd Precinct was renamed the 17th Precinct. Today, it is known as the 34th Precinct, and the station is located at 4295 Broadway at West 183rd Street. The men and women of the precinct no longer have a view of the Hudson River, and I seriously doubt they have any hens (maybe they have a cat), but I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them still enjoy swimming and boating when they’re off duty.

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In 1924, the policemen of the old 42nd Precinct traded in their country home on the Hudson River for this traditional police station on Wadsworth Avenue and West 182nd Street. Today the building is home to the Bea Fuller Rodgers School. 

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In 1924, construction began on 227 Haven Avenue, which occupies the site of the former Arrowhead Inn/42nd Precinct police station. The building still stands today. NYPL digital collections. 

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Here’s another view of the new apartments at 227 Haven Avenue (far left). The old frame house in the foreground is the Howland farmhouse, which was demolished in 1933. When this photo was taken in 1927, West 175th Street (foreground) had been laid out, but not yet cut through. Today, this is the northwest corner of J. Hood Wright Park. NYPL digital collections.

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These apartment buildings, on the west side of Haven Avenue between West 17th and 178th streets,  were condemned by the city and demolished in the 1950s to make way for a new approach to the George Washington Bridge (the apartment buildings on the east side of the street were also demolished.) NYPL digital collections.

The End of the Arrowhead Inn

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Benjamin Riley

Sometime in the 1950s, the apartments that replaced Ben Riley’s Arrowhead Inn on the northeast corner of Haven Avenue and West 177th Street were demolished to make way for a new approach to the George Washington Bridge, which opened on October 25, 1931.

By this time, Ben’s new Arrowhead Inn was doing very well up in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, at the intersection of West 246th Street and the Henry Hudson Parkway.

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The Arrowhead Inn in the Bronx. The area looks surprisingly similar today.

In 1940, Ben moved his inn one final time to Yonkers, at 385 Tuckahoe Road. Four years later, on February 18, 1944, The New York Times reported that the 73-year-old inn keeper had died during an early-morning fire in the two-story brick inn.

Apparently, he had made it as far as the second-floor hallway when he was overcome by smoke. His wife, Rose Wallace Riley, her brother and wife, Jack and Mary Wallace, and a headwaiter who worked at the inn were rescued by the firefighters (Rose escaped the second floor via a ladder).

ArrowheadFire1944_HatchingCatBen Riley died in a hallway on the second floor of his Arrowhead Inn in Yonkers in February 1944. Today, garden apartments occupy this site. 

HavenAve_HatchingCatToday, what was once the site of the great lawns Ben Riley’s second Arrowhead Inn is now occupied by ramps for the George Washington Bridge and a small park (not visible). This looping road leading to West 178th Street is all that remains of this section of Haven Avenue, which once ran all the way to 181st Street.

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Here’s an aerial view of the former site of the van Oblienis farm, Jacob Arden farm, W.H. Guion homestead, R.C. Rathbone homestead, Arrowhead Inn, and 42nd Police Precinct.