11 January 2008

History in a Starbucks: 38 Park Row

Whenever Starbucks opens a franchise below 14th Street in Manhattan, the address can't help but be loaded with history. Case in point: 38 Park Row.

This is the Potter Building. It is the second to go by that name. The first, home to the New York World, went down in flames in 1882. Mr. Potter smarted up with his replacement structure. It's the first building in New York to have used fireproof cast and pressed terracotta in its ornamental facade. It was also the first to use a structural steel framework. And there it is, 124 years later, still standing.

Being so close to City Hall, the Potter Building was chock full of lawyers. And where you find lawyers, you find scandal. The annals of New York history seem to be replete with stories of 38 Park Row legal eagles being indicted and jailed, or committing suicide before the authorities had a chance to do so.

In 1905, lawyer Herbert Valentine, with offices at 38 Park Row, shot himself in the head at the Hotel St. Andrew, Seventy-second Street and Broadway. Sometimes, lawyers cause other people to commit suicide. In 1915, "laywer-actor" (what the hell is that) Lorlys Elton Roger caused some women a whole lot of trouble. Already married in to a lady in Chicago, the serial philanderer set up house in Manhattan with one Ida Sniffen Walters-Rogers and her two kiddies. When Roger's first wife found out, he decided to go back to her, causing Ida to despair, poison her two children and attempt suicide with bichloride of mercury. She was successful in the first task, not so much with the second. Roger was divorced by his real wife and indicted as a white slaver. Ida was tried for the deaths of her kids and found insane.

A more curious bit of trouble for a 38 Park Row lawyer happened in 1902 when Mrs. Frederick L.C. Keating, wife of wealthy attorney Keating, started stealing a bunch of stuff for no reason, at places like B. Altman. When arrested by a detective, she denied having shoplifted, but then confessed. She blamed her transgression on "The Girl and the Judge," a play by Clyde Fitch she had seen on Broadway a few weeks before, in which the central character was an old mother who shoplifted. "Ever since I've been unable to keep myself from stealing anything I could carry away from the stores." Relatives said she was suffering from "nervous prostation."

No comments: