Thursday, 4 December 2008


The Potter Building at 38 Park Row

Park Row is located in the Financial District and was previously called Chatham Street, and during the late 19th century it was nicknamed Newspaper Row, as most of NYC's newspapers located here to be close to the action at New York City Hall.

The Potter Building, is the second to go by that name. The first, home to the New York World, went up in flames in 1882. Mr Potter smartened 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 and the first to use a structural steel framework. And Mr Potter was right - 126 years later, it is still standing.

It will be noticed that nowadays the ground floor is a Starbucks coffee shop and like many of their locations below 14th Street, is loaded with history.

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.

There was 38 Park Row lawyer Herbert Valentine, who shot himself in the head in his hotel on Broadway in 1905. In 1915, "lawyer-actor" (whatever the dickens that is) Lorlys Elton Roger caused some women a whole lot of trouble with his serial philandering resulting in his rejected mistress poisoning and strangling her two children but botching her attempt at suicide with bichloride of mercury. The mistress Ida Sniffen Walters-Rogers was tried for the death of her two kids and committed to a institution for the criminally insane. Roger was divorced by his real wife and indicted as a white slaver.

Another curious happening was when in 1902, Mrs Frederick Keating, wife of wealthy 38 Park Row attorney Keating, was arrested by a store detective at B Altman, for shoplifting. At first she denied shoplifting 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 aging mother who shoplifted. "Ever since I've been unable to keep myself from stealing anything I could carry away from the stores." It was a good job that she hadn't seen "Irma la Douce"! Relatives said she was suffering from "nervous prostration."

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