"HISTORIC HALL" APARTMENT HOUSE MURALS--MANHATTAN, NY
Although there are no photos of the original lobby of the "Historic Hall" apartment house, at least the description remains to tantalize us. In 1909, according to an article in The Trenton [N.J.] Evening Times,1 architect Albert P. Morris designed Manhattan's "Historic Hall" apartment house. The interior, main floor decoration was conceived by Charles B. Upjohn, chief of the design staff at the Trent Tile Company, and the matt-glazed murals were painted by the artist Norman E. Rulon. Charles Lawshe oversaw the production of the tiles. According to the Evening Times article the first tile mural "...produce[d] a picture of New York City...as it appeared in 1407, true to nature and within a space of five feet six inches by four feet six inches... ." The second tile mural "...reproduce[d] an old print showing Harlem, from Morrisania, in 1647, in a panel of three feet six inches by two feet six inches... ." The third tile panel "...present[ed] an accurate likeness of the trees planted in New York by Alexander Hamilton in 1802, inside [a border] of two feet six inches by nine feet... ." Further, "The floor of Historic Hall, in the main corridor, is to be covered with tile, in the design of a damask rug, in 24 colors, embracing a space of ten feet...six inches by eleven feet. The fine, old-fashioned fireplace, too, is to be of tile, and the words Historic Hall in superior ceramic mosaics are to be placed beneath the...mantel."
Materials Used/Technical Information (size, manufacturer, etc.):
The tile murals were manufactured by the Trent Tile Company of Trenton, N.J., which was one of the major producers of art tiles in the United States in the late 19th-early 20th centuries. "The Trent Tile Company was first organized as the Harris Manufacturing Company, c. 1882, but soon changed its name to Trent. By 1892 Trent operated 20 kilns...and by 1910 employed 300 workers. By 1912 Trent ran into difficulty and was placed in receivership. ...The company...was closed...[in 1939]. ...The years prior to World War I, and especially the 1880s and 1890s, were the heyday of Trent's production of art tile. Isaac Broome, who had worked for the Etruria Pottery of Trenton and for the Ott & Brewer Pottery, was Trent's designer and modeler from about 1883 to 1885, when he left Trent to help organize the Providential Tile Works. According to Edwin Atlee Barber, Isaac Broome left enough art tile designs at Trent that many were still being made in the 1890s. Another major artistic influence at Trent was William Wood Gallimore..., and English modeler of portrait busts and vases, [who] came to work at Trent in 1886 and stayed for six years. ...Also, about 1905 Charles Babcock Upjohn, who had worked for Weller Pottery [in Zanesville, Ohio] and the Cambridge Art Pottery as a designer and modeler..., joined the Trent Tile Company."2
Does Installation Still Exist?
As far as can be determined, only the tile "rug" may still exist.
If Not, What Happened?
Location of Installation:
I attempted to locate this building, first by searching the "Manhattan NB Database 1900-1986"3 for the architect's projects in 1909 and in the surrounding years. The most promising result out of three buildings found for Mr. Morris was one built in 1909 on the East side of St. Nicholas Avenue, approximately 248 feet North of 155th Street. In addition, an article in the New York Daily Tribune4 locates "the Historic Hall apartment house in St. Nicholas avenue opposite l56th street". I then went to search for the apartment building and the tile installation. I concluded that the "Historic Hall" apartment house was most probably located at 940 St. Nicholas Avenue in Manhattan on the NE corner of West 156th Street. A second apartment house on the SE corner of West 156th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue (936-938 St. Nicholas Avenue) could also have been the Historic Hall apartment house, but it is less likely than the former address. After looking at these buildings I found a brief article from 1913 which placed the "Historic Hall" apartment building at 928-930 St. Nicholas Avenue.5 When I went there I found what could have been the tile "rug" mentioned in the 1909 article above.
Additional Information, Websites, Citations:
1"Trenton Advances Ceramic Interests To Extent Never Before Approached In U.S.", The Trenton Evening Times, Tuesday, September 7, 1909, p. 1.
2Michael Padwee, "The Manufacture of Ceramic Tiles in Trenton-Part 2: The Trent Tile Company (1882-1939)", Trenton Potteries, the Newsletter of the Potteries of Trenton Society, Vol. 4, Issue 4, December 2003, pp. 1-2. (http://potteriesoftrentonsociety.org/publish/Vol%204%20Iss%204%20December%202003.pdf)
3Office for Metropolitan History, "Manhattan NB Database 1900-1986", accessed May 16, 2012, http://www.MetroHistory.com.
4"Activity Shown In West Side Districts", New York Daily Tribune, May 1, 1910, p. 12, column 2.
Many of the Trent tile molds are in the possession of the Trenton City Museum at the Ellarslie Mansion in Cadwalader Park.
5Real Estate Record and Builders' Guide, Vol. 92, No. 2374, September 13, 1913, p. 496
Color photos courtesy of Michael Padwee.
Submitted by and Year:
Submitted by Michael Padwee (tileback101'at'collector.org) in May 2012.