Why Isn’t This Landmarked?: 112 Fourth Avenue
Part of our blog series Why Isn’t This Landmarked?, where we look at buildings in our area we’re fighting to protect that are worthy of landmark designation, but somehow aren’t landmarked.
The five story Italianate style cast-iron loft building at 112 Fourth Avenue was constructed in 1872 by the renowned architect Griffith Thomas for the Estate of Samuel J. Hunt. Thomas’ nearby 827-831 Broadway are individual NYC landmarks, and his work is well represented in designated historic districts in SoHo, NoHo, Tribeca, and Ladies Mile. Austere in its design, No. 112 exemplifies the elemental simplicity of much early cast iron architecture, which is prominent in the surrounding neighborhood. Much like other buildings in Village Preservation’s proposed historic district south of Union Square, 112 Fourth Avenue is linked to a number of prominent publishers, artists, and political figures, as well as civil rights, social justice, leftist, labor, and Jewish histories. And so we have to ask: why isn’t this landmarked?
Ridabock & Co.
First on the long list of noteworthy one-time occupants of 112 Fourth Avenue is Ridabock & Co., prominent American manufacturers of and dealers in uniforms and equipment of the 19th century. Today, their products are found in several renowned museums and institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New-York Historical Society, and the National Museum of American History.
Henry Atwell Thomas
Renowned artist and lithographer Henry Atwell Thomas (1834-1904) was also located at 112 Fourth Avenue in the late 19th century. A painter by training, Thomas began his career around 1860, with a printing press called Crow, Thomas & Eno Lithographer Company. The Company specialized in the chromolithographic printing of district maps, prints relating to American history, playing cards, administrative documents, product labels, and show posters.
Around 1873, Thomas opened his own studio, producing portraits of many of the most distinguished actors and artists in New York. In 1886, the American Academy of Music made him its official portrait illustrator. Thomas changed his company name to HA Thomas & Wylie Lithographer Co in the 1890s, and in 1897 won a poster competition from among 500 entrants organized by the Belgian newspaper L’Éclair. During the Art Nouveau era, Thomas printed the works of many designers such as Maxfield Parrish and Ernest Haskell.
Publishers, Radicals, and Civil Rights
112 Fourth Avenue also housed a series of significant publishers, like many of the buildings in the neighborhood south of Union Square (see here and here). As was common in this area throughout the 20th century, these publishers were involved with a number of leftist, labor, civil rights, and social justice figures and efforts. Their work illuminates the rich interconnections between these different movements, and the ways these movements relied upon, and grew within and alongside, the publishing industry.
Macmillan & Co. Publishers, now one of the world’s largest and oldest continuously operating publishers, was located at 112 Fourth Avenue in the late 19th century. According to an 1893 publication of Science, the books that emerged from Macmillan that year included a number of scientific texts, with titles such as Measurements in Electricity and Magnetism, The Visible Universe, and Pioneers of Science.
The Academy Press, while here, also published a number of fascinating volumes, including In Non-union Mines: The Diary of a Coal Digger in Central Pennsylvania by Powers Hapgood (1921) and Agreement Between Clothing Manufacturers of Chicago and Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America: Establishing an Unemployment Insurance Fund (1923). One of its most striking publications was the 1923 book The Real Chinese in America by J.S. Tow, the Secretary of the Chinese Consulate General of New York. Through this publication, Tow sought to confront and combat the widespread prejudice and discrimination experienced by Chinese Americans.
While located at No. 112 in 1921 the Academy Press published Triumphant Plutocracy: The Story of American Public Life From 1870 to 1920 (later retitled Imperial Washington) by South Dakota’s first Senator, Richard F. Pettigrew. The book was a searing indictment of the American political system by the iconoclastic and somewhat quixotic lawyer, surveyor, and land developer turned Senator, who was indicted under the Espionage Act during World War I for encouraging young men to resist the draft. Pettigrew was a fierce critic of American imperialism and the United States’ takeover of Hawaii and the Philippines against the will of the residents of those islands. Some notable quotes from the book include:
- “Capital is stolen labor and its only function is to steal more labor”
- “The early years of the century marked the progress of the race toward individual freedom and permanent victory over the tyranny of hereditary aristocracy, but the closing decades of the century have witnessed the surrender of all that was gained to the more heartless tyranny of accumulated wealth.”
- “Under the ethics of his profession the lawyer is the only man who can take a bribe and call it a fee”
- “The sum and substance of the conquest of the Philippines is to find a field where cheap labor can be secured, labor that does not strike, that does not belong to a union, that does not need an army to keep it in leading strings, that will make goods for the trusts of this country”
- Of the Republican Party (which he left): “It had come into being as a protest against slavery and as the special champion of the Declaration of Independence, it would go out of being and out of power as the champion of slavery and the repudiator of the Declaration of Independence.”
- “The Russian Revolution is the greatest event of our times. It marks the beginning of the epoch when the working people will assume the task of directing and controlling industry. It blazes a path into this unknown country, where the workers of the world are destined to take from their exploiters the right to control and direct the economic affairs of the community.”
While Macmillan & Co. and Academy issued critical and persuasive political texts from this address, another publisher at 112 Fourth Avenue held a political message at the heart of its mission. The New York Call, a socialist daily newspaper that ran from 1908 until 1923, operated here, alongside its parent organization, the Workingmen’s Cooperative Publishing Association. The New York Call bears tremendous significance as the first English-language Socialist newspaper in New York, and only the second in the country.
Because of its Socialist affiliations, The New York Call was targeted in a number of ways throughout its existence. In 1917, the Postmaster General of the United States determined that the newspaper violated provisions of the Espionage Law, prohibiting it from second-class mailing status. Then, on May Day 1919, the newspaper’s office at 112 Fourth Avenue was violently attacked by an organized mob of 100 soldiers, sailors, and marines. The group chose several known Socialist targets, but the most serious of their attacks was at the offices of The New York Call. At least 12 people were significantly injured, and police reportedly did little or nothing to stop the violence.
One of The New York Call‘s most remarkable contributers was the political cartoonist, radical journalist, and leading member of the American Communist Party Robert Berkeley “Bob” Minor (1884 – 1952). Minor was previously the highest paid cartoonist in America, but left that lucrative work to join left-wing publications and causes, including The New York Call. He eventually ran for multiple political offices as part of the Communist Party, including a 1924 bid for U.S. Congress in Illinois, a 1928 bid for U.S. Senator in New York, a 1930 and 1940 bid for Congress in New York, a 1933 bid for Mayor of New York City, and a 1936 bid for Governor of New York. As a a leader of the Communist Party, Minor was responsible for the Party’s “Central Committee for Negro Work,” and oversaw the Communist attempts to build unity with Marcus Garvey and his “Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League.” Minor suffered a heart attack in 1948 and was bedridden during the time of McCarthyism when his fellow leaders of the American Communist Party were arrested and imprisoned. Owing to his frail health, the United States government chose not to proceed against him.
The Progressive Zionist League and Hashomer Hatzair
More recent residents of 112 Fourth Avenue include the Progressive Zionist League and Hashomer Hatzair. The League was founded in 1946 by U.S. graduates of the Hashomer Hatzair, a Zionist youth movement established leading up to World War I. The League was envisioned as a public-private framework that would influence American opinion and the establishment of the Jewish state through the values of Hashomer Hatzair. After several organizational evolutions and mergers, the League is today known as Partners for Progressive Israel. PPI advocates for peace between Israel and its neighbors, an independent Palestinian state, and a more just and equitable society in Israel, particularly through the engagement of American Jews.
Protect the Area South of Union Square
Together, the many notable people and organizations associated with 112 Fourth Avenue provide a glimpse into the dynamic history of the neighborhood as a center of art, commerce, movement organizing, and publishing. Given the increased pressure on the area exacerbated by the construction of the 14th Street Tech Hub, the demolition of the St. Denis Hotel (80 East 10th Street), and the completion of the woefully out-of-scale tech office tower at 808 Broadway, the time is now for the city to act to protect 112 Fourth Avenue and its surrounding neighborhood, an incredibly historically rich but endangered area.
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