A blog about architectural tiles, terra cotta and other ceramic surfaces, architectural glass and ornamentation in and around New York.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Trent in New York--Part III, Historic Hall Apartment House

A 6" x 18" Trent art tile
panel (3-6" tiles) from a fireplace.
(Author's collection)
     To me the most interesting and tantalizing Trent tile installation mentioned in the September 7, 1909 Trenton Evening Times article (see Trent-Part I) was the tiled panels and floor in the "Historic Hall" apartment house in Manhattan. The newspaper article describes these murals as follows: 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." 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. Ceramist Charles Lawshe oversaw the production of the tiles.
     When I first read of this apartment house, I began searching for it on the internet. All I had was the name, not the address. I found one newspaper article that mentioned the Historic Hall apartments: "Activity Shown In West Side Districts", New York Daily Tribune, May 1, 1910, p. 12, column 2, which placed the building "in St. Nicholas avenue opposite l56th street." I then went to Christopher Gray's excellent website, Office for Metropolitan History, and read his article, A Guide to Researching the History of a New York City Building.
      Since the building was designed by the architect Albert P. Morris and built in 1909, I next searched for the architect's new buildings (NBs) for 1909 and the surrounding years in the "Manhattan NB Database 1900-1986", accessed through Christopher Gray's website. Three new buildings were listed for Albert Morris. The most promising result out of these three buildings was one built in 1909 on the East side of St. Nicholas Avenue, approximately 248 feet North of 155th Street. 
     I then took a trip to St. Nicholas Avenue and 155th Street and roughly measured 248 feet from 155th Street. I found myself in the middle of 156th Street. The building I focused on was at the NE corner of West 156th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue--940 St. Nicholas Avenue. Another building on the SE corner became my second choice--936-938 St. Nicholas Avenue. I managed to gain entry to the ground floors of both buildings, and decided that the three tile murals, "rug" and mantel would have fit better in 940 St. Nicholas Avenue.

     940 St. Nicholas Avenue
Entrance, 940 St. Nicholas Avenue, Manhattan

A large public area on the ground floor near the St. Nicholas Avenue entrance

Entry hallway at the West 156th Street entrance

936-938 St. Nicholas Avenue
Entrance, 936-938 St. Nicholas Avenue

Internal courtyard to apartment entrance

One of the interior hallways
          Trent created at least one other pictorial tile rug that has been described in print, although no photos are known to exist. An undated and unpaged article, "Curious Indian Legend Designed in the 'Mat'" in a Trenton Sunday Advertiser, states:
          I have asked both the Potteries of Trenton Society, which has an excellent database of the ceramic companies operating in Trenton, NJ, and the Tile Heritage Foundation for information about the Kline Barber Shop and the Historic Hall building, but neither had any new information.

     (The Tile Heritage Foundation recently mentioned my historic tile installations website and this blog in their E-Newsletter.)

A Trent fireplace surround recently seen on eBay

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