Once upon a time in the section of lower Manhattan which is now known as the Financial District, Moore St. was just a little bit more than it is now. Currently it’s simply an easy to overlook, dark, little street. More like an alleyway, she is almost hidden in between Pearl and Water, cowering in the shadows of McDonald’s and the now glassed over U. S. Army Building that houses a gym and a Starbucks. At one time though it extended to South Street.
See, a little over 50 years ago before we had to suffer through gentrification there was something called “urban renewal” and the city had a fabulous idea for this part of town. What they were gonna do see, was get rid of all of the stores and bars and dirty old tenements that served who they perceived were the financially disadvantaged folk, some of whom had lived there for years and years. Ya know what they were gonna do? They were gonna replace it all with brand new tenements for these same people only now they couldn’t go to their favorite bar or diner or haberdasher anymore. This modern new complex was going to be called “public housing” AKA “the projects”.
According to Wikipedia, “In 1959 the City of New York attempted to acquire through eminent domain the land under this development as part of the Battery Park Urban Renewal Area. The plan involved consolidating several blocks into a “superblock” for public housing. When that plan fell through the city hoped to entice the New York Stock Exchange to relocate to the property. However the owner of the property—the firm of Atlas McGrath—successfully sued to retain their land, claiming they were more than willing to develop the site privately.” The result of this was that a bunch of streets were consolidated and a bunch of old buildings were razed and up went One New York Plaza. Hooray.
One small section of what became One New York Plaza were the addresses 6-7 South Street, 7 being right on the corner of Moore. This was the South Ferry Hotel with a restaurant/bar on the first floor. In 1899 there was a huge fire and the whole block almost burned down to the ground but the inn survived. The hotel was owned by Jeremiah C. Murphy & Co. and the eatery was called Harry & Joe’s. A menu from 1900 advertises porterhouse steak with mushrooms for 90 cents – a double oder will cost you $1.40. For 10 cents more you can have spinach on the side and then add a bottle of Guinness Dublin Stout for 25 cents. For dessert, coffee and pie will cost you 10 cents. No free bread though, that’s a nickel.
Of course, being situated right on the East River near docks and ferries, you could find all kinds of soldiers and sailors there. An article from the New York Evening Telegram on January 24th, 1891 says it was “kept constantly full of captains of sailing ships and their wives.” It goes on to describe the rebirth of this old commercial building into a hotel in 1889, prior to that it was one of four old warehouses. It was leased to the brother of Richard Murphy, probably the Jeremiah C. mentioned earlier, and the interior was entirely gutted. It was replaced with 75 “large, comfortable rooms… with everything in the way of furniture new.” One such sailor who visited the hotel was Leander Matson. He was born in Russia about 1870 and in March of 1911, the young man who was stationed at Ft. Hancock, NJ, was staying there “hoping to be sent to the Mexican frontier.” Well, instead they claim he went a little nutty, busted out of his room in his pajamas and ran up South Street for almost half a mile. Not to worry though, he was caught, put in a straight jacket and sent to Bellevue.
A picture I found in the NYPL Digital Archives is what inspired this blog. Not being sure of copyrights and all that jazz, I didn’t post the original, but you can find it here http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/id?723229F When this picture was taken in February of 1915, No.’s 5, 6 & 7 South St. were owned by Julius Roetgger. He and his wife Caroline were born in Germany and came to America around 1885. In 1900, Julius is a saloon keeper and my internet research leads me to believe he took a 6 year lease on the property in May of 1908. A few months after this picture was taken, Julius filed for bankruptcy. He died in 1925 and his obit doesn’t mention his hotel.
6 South Street was also home to a barber shop and the jewelry store of Joseph Lempert, watchmaker. He was born in 1896 to Russian immigrants and both his father, Judah and one of his brothers, Benjamin were jewelers too. I don’t know what became of Joseph, but in a picture from 1934 you can zoom in to see that his store is now a restaurant and you could get a hair cut in the barber shop next door for a quarter. The February 11th, 1944 edition of the NY Evening Post has a story – dare I even say it -of a slacks wearing female bootblack! Why yes, it’s true. Mrs. Vernell Borchin and her husband John owned the barber shop next to the hotel and the Mrs. took up the shoe-shining duties because of the shortage of available boys to fill the position, they all being busy serving our country in WW2. In the morning, Mrs. Borchin would go to a barber school in the Bowery and was planning to give up shining shoes when she graduated. I don’t know if she ever did.
Although our buildings survived fires in 1899, 1913 and 1922, a crazed sailor, bankruptcy, a few episodes of asphyxiation by gas (Chester Thomas in 1899, John Gorman in 1907), more than one owner and a scandal here and there, they could not survive progress and it’s wrecking ball. I couldn’t say what the area was like nor what the condition of these edifices were in 1959 when the powers that ran this metropolis decided it was time for them to go. For all we know they could have been rat-infested hell holes that honestly and truly needed to be gotten rid of. What I do know is that they had character. If you go there now, you will find only what you see in this boring picture I took the other day: