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East Village Building Named for President Felled by Anarchist; Also Home to ‘Hope,’ and Art By Koons

No. 111-115 East 7th Street is one of the more striking tenements in the East Village.  First of all, it’s seven-stories.  It’s also covered in beautiful Renaissance Revival detail.

The McKinley, 11-115 East 7th Street — a salute to the fallen president?

There’s much more to this landmarked structure than that, however.  It’s name appears to be a salute to a recently-fallen U.S. President, struck down by an anarchist inspired by a resident of the very neighborhood in which the building is located.  In later years, the building inspired the founding of one of our city’s great social service agencies for seniors, as well as helping to launch the career of one of the most renowned artists of the last half-century.

No. 111-115  East 7th Street was built in 1901. The face of the handsome apartment building has openings to the inner courtyard and Ionic column fronts on the windows at the 2nd and 3rd floors.  This seven-story, nine-bay wide Renaissance Revival-style apartment house was built to house 56 families. Previously this lot had a house on it starting in 1854, which was replaced by the current building in 1901.

The seven-story brick apartment house is essentially two buildings with a shared base and uniform front facade with open windows between the two linked buildings. Decorative stone and terra-cotta window surrounds, string courses, spandrel panels, quoining, a stone balcony at the sixth story and other decorative features are found throughout the front facade. A bracketed cornice with ornate frieze is found at the roofline.  It is located in the East Village/Lower East Side Historic District. The facade features a stone-clad first story with the name, “McKinley” placed over the central entrance.

If you’re wondering where the name came from, so were we.  We can’t be sure, but on September 6, 1901, President William McKinley (born January 29, 1843) was shot while visiting the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York; he died eight days later on September 14.  This and every other building in the East Village has an entry on our wildly popular East Village Building Blocks, our online tool which provides invaluable information about every one of the over 3,000 properties in the East Village.  On our East Village Building Blocks webpage for this building, you can see the plans filed for construction of the building in April, 1901. This likely meant it was not completed until late 1901 at the earliest, probably after the assassination.  This would tend to indicate there is a good chance the building was given this name to commemorate the recently fallen president.

McKinley was only the third U.S. President to be assassinated, after Abraham Lincoln and James A. Garfield, and the penultimate, followed by John F. Kennedy (though attempts were made on Gerald Ford by Charles Manson follower Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme and Sara Jane Moore, and Ronald Reagan by Jon Hinckley Jr.).  Since then no similar plots have been publicly attempted.

McKinley’s assassination shocked the nation, and led to the Secret Service being charged with protecting the security of U.S. Presidents, as well as some tough new laws and ugly backlash against those suspected of seditious or dangerous activities just for expressing dissent.

Photo by Wally Gobetz https://www.flickr.com/photos/wallyg/ Creative Commons use.

McKinley’s assassin was Leon Frank Czolgosz, the child of Polish immigrants who grew up in Michigan.  Following the loss of his job in the Panic of 1893, Czolgosz turned to anarchism, a common political philosophy among politically engaged people in the late 19th century.  Czolgosz sought to kill President McKinley, whom he saw as a symbol and embodiment of the power structure which, to his mind, oppressed him and most of the rest of the world.

Czolgosz (l.) and Emma Goldman; both were anarchists, but only one was an assassin.

It was anarchism and anarchists, Czolgosz claimed, that motivated him to shoot McKinley.  In fact, Czolgosz claimed that he was particularly inspired by East Village radical Emma Goldman, whom he had seen and heard speak.  As a result, Goldman was jailed and questioned for three weeks by police after the assassination, before being released without charges.

Czolgosz was caught, tried, and quickly convicted of the murder and killed by the electric chair on October 29th, 1901.

Hope - A Memoir ebook by Bernard Warach

I also found this building playing a prominent role in Bernard Warach’s book, HOPE: a memoir.  He writes as the child of young, poor Polish immigrant parents who lived on the Lower East Side, and grew up celebrating a life of freedom, despite facing seemingly insurmountable odds during an incredibly challenging time in America. Through anecdotes and personal reflections, Bernard traces the remarkable life journey that eventually led him into fifty years of service with the United States Department of Agriculture and as founding Executive Director for the Jewish Association for Services for the Aged (JASA).

Early childhood memories grow faint. But some recollections remain vividly inscribed on my mind’s eye, recurring again and again. I lived in one place from the age of four, from 1925 until my graduation from college in 1940. That place was a tiny flat, apartment 67, at 111 East Seventh Avenue [sic] in the McKinley Apartments, mid-block between First Avenue and Avenue A. I enjoyed a very small bedroom of my own at the south end of the apartment off the kitchen.  It was a private place, and I could even close the door. Early on my father bought a secretary for me, to my great delight. The secretary could be closed, and there were bookshelves with two glass doors. I had a floor lamp. This was my private refuge in which I could escape the troubles of the day and in which I could read and study. Then there was my bed and a window overlooking the areaway between 111 and 115 East Seventh Street, perhaps fifteen to twenty feet away. Our neighbors were quite visible across the way, though drawn window shades made for privacy. Early morning the sun streamed down from the east over the sixth-floor parapet of my neighboring tenement house building. I remember being roused early at a quarter of six in the morning by the tolling of the church bells at the St. Stanislaus Cathedral adjacent to our building.

The rent was $52 a month.

Reader Andrea K shared this in a neat comment on the Building Blocks site:

I grew up in this building. I lived here from 1950 through 1971 when I graduated from college. For much of that time there was a candy store/ice cream parlor on the ground floor (street level) on the left side owned and run by May Puciata and a fur dealer on the right side store. It was the only building on the block with an elevator. We lived on the 6th floor in the front which was a bright sunny apartment since it was taller than the building to the west which was the nuns’ residence. To the north and west we had a great view of the Empire State Building.

Anyone can comment on a building on the Building Blocks site, so share your story there.

The building was also home to one of a number of art galleries in what was for a time the absolute hotbed of creativity in New York City, including the notorious “International With Monument” (no. 18 below):

According to the OCTOBER 1999, VOL. 38, NO. 2 issue of Art Forum:

“By the fall of 1986, a good litmus test of where you fell on the art-political spectrum was how you felt about International With Monument. Feared by some, hailed as the neighborhood’s salvation by others, the ponderously monikered gallery on East Seventh Street between 1st and A was known foremost as the outpost for Neo-Geo, the notorious non-movement whose lack of prior historical status did not exempt it from accusations of killing off the bohemian camaraderie that typified the first wave of East Village galleries. Begun in 1984 by three artist friends (Kent Klamen, Meyer Vaisman, and Elizabeth Koury) who named their new business after a partly obscured sign found in the basement, the tidy storefront locale garnered major attention in 1985, with the first individual gallery exhibitions of Peter Halley and Jeff Koons. (Although Koons had already achieved a sliver of notoriety…”

Today, the restaurant Ladybird is located in that ground floor.

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