The ultra high-rise Corinthian apartment house and an unused, sterile First Avenue garden frontage dominate its 38th Street block. 50 years back, the pavement roared with smoke-spewing buses headed in and out of the old East Side Airlines Terminal, bound for Idlewild.
The express truck warehouse at the northwest corner of First Avenue was long ago converted to office uses, and at # 325 a mauve-brick building houses the Philippine mission to the United Nations, its several street-side entrances hinting of a former use.
Barefoot and filthy, a bareheaded boy in ill-fitting, unbelted knickers stares at the camera,in the second shot, standing on the sidewalk in front of # 325 on a late afternoon in 1904. His pals surround him, a lone, braided girl striding by. Perhaps they’re taunting him, the two youngsters in sailor frocks and nautical caps standing around him, somewhat better off. On the stoop of #325 a gaggle of boys roosts, sporting skimmers, pushing at the western entrance door to the building, their school day at nearby P.S. 49 finally over. In the distance, the iron superstructure of the 2nd Avenue elevated train,appears (demolished in 1942), along with a gas-lit street-lamp. All we see in the photo is long gone excepting #325, its history and origins obscured by the years, a rare remnant amongst today’s icy glitter.
Mrs. Anderson (1850-1921) and her brother, Joseph Anderson, inherited an eight figure fortune, rumored to be as much as $32,000,000, in equal shares from their father. Jeremiah Milbank, whose success in his Front Street Grocery burgeoned into a fortune based on milk dsitribution and banking. Married at age 3thirty-seven to artist A.A. Anderson (whose studio was located in the roccoco Bryant Park Studio building that still stand on the south side of Bryant Park on the 6th Avenue corner), Mrs. Anderson donated a large share of her inheritance to charity. She and her husband lived on East 38th Street also, but at the fashionable 5th Avenue end. Their residence at 6 East 38th Street undoubtedly included more than enough plumbing to avoid even the servants needing to use their mistress’ charity facility near the East River docks. Her largesse also included deeding three and one-half acres of prime Morningside Heights land between Claremont Avenue and Broadway from 116th to 119th Streets to Barnard College for construction of the Milbank Quadrangle at the northern end of the campus as well as Milbank Hall thereon, in memory of her mother Elizabeth Lake Milbank. Millions more were given to Barnard and to Teachers College of Columbia University to fund science instruction for women and other academic purposes.
Money could not buy everything, though: In 1892, Elizabeth tried to impose her friend Dr. Francis Kinnicutt (Secretary of the Children’s Aid Society) as the director of a new medical pavilion at The Roosevelt Hospital, with his successor to be chosen by the “medical staff” of Columbia University, Roosevelt demurred, and the donation was aborted. The Milbank name is ensconced in the annals of New York philanthropy, physical reminders ever present in Morningside Heights and elsewhere in the metropolitan region. 105 years after its founding, funds originally provided by Elizabeth Milbank Anderson continue to support the operations of the Milbank Memorial Fund, which, according to its website “is an endowed operating foundation that works to improve health by helping decision makers in the public and private sectors acquire and use the best available evidence to inform policy for health care and population health. What we take for granted today in New York for all but our poorest and usually homeless residents was once neither easy nor commonplace. The very basis of public health, a daily bath, and clean laundry facilities were made available to legions of Gashouse District residents by the Milbank largesse. It’s hard to believe when one stands on the sidewalk. #325′s stoops once teemed with needy visitors. Today they’re all but silent. Imagine those days.
Benjamin Feldman is the author of Butchery on Bond Street: Sexual Politics and The Burdell-Cunningham Case in Antebellum New York and Call Me Daddy: Babes and Bathos in Edward West Browning’s Jazz Age New York. His essays have appeared in The New Partisan Review, Ducts literary magazine, and on his website, The New York Wanderer.
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