This article originally appeared in Bedford + Bowery on December 20, 2017.
Elizabeth McCormick and Julia Gross likely never met. But, as students at the “well known” St. Brigid’s Academy at 315 East 10th Street, they both made the same walk between Avenues A and B to a rowhouse nestled in the center of the block. They would have looked up and seen the same quatrefoils leaflets visible today on the molding of the rusty-brown parapet and around the front door. Perhaps, like wistful students all across the city, the girls stared dreamily out of one of the nearly dozen windows overlooking Tompkins Square Park, half-listening to lessons on Dutch immigration to the city or how the land the school stood on was once a farm that Petrus Stuyvesant, the director-general of the Dutch West India Company, had owned.
James Whitlock and Franklin Baylies first built the unassuming four-story rowhouse as a residence in 1848, but after almost no time under private ownership, a succession of schools, aid societies, cultural associations, and community programs operated from within its brick walls. Today, it is once again a residence, now with 12 apartments. However, for over a century, young women—girls, really—with direct connections to this property faced kidnapping, gaslighting, theft, rape, prostitution, and abuse, but in many cases also found the fortitude to fight back.
ST. BRIGID’S ACADEMY — 1856–1920
Eight years after the building’s construction at 315 East 10th Street, the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul purchased the residential property. It was just across the square from the St. Brigid’s Roman Catholic Church at 119 Avenue B, where the nuns had recently opened a school. Seventeen years later, in 1872, they purchased its pair at 313, envisioning not only a convent for the sisters, but an exclusive academy for girls, complete with dormitories, as an extension of the day school. At the new location, the sisters educated an average of 200 select Catholic and non-Catholicyoung women each year. Between the ages of seven and 18, they were “the daughters of the middle classes,” as the New York Herald described them. Graduates of St. Brigid’s (sometimes spelled “Bridget’s”) Academy include Josephine Byrnes, who became a nun; Catherine Rohan, a nurse and member of the Catholic Women’s Service League; and the actress and songstress Elizabeth McCormick.
McCormick not only received the highest honors from St. Brigid’s, but proved herself a capable and versatile performer within a year of her graduation. Acting under the stage name Beatrice Norman in the role of Reta in her 1890 debut “Under the Upas,” she stunned audiences with her range and flexibility. In a review from the New York Dramatic Mirror, critics wrote that “her future is most promising,” foreseeing a career of playbills, roses, and acclaim before her. She acted in numerous plays in the decades that followed, including “A Stranger in a Strange Land,” “A Railroad Ticket,” “Rally Round the Flag,” and as the heroine in the acclaimed “Yon Yonson” in 1899.
Late one Saturday night in April 1895, Gross was walking her friend Mamie Leopart part of the way to the Leopart home on East 16th Street, when, in Gross’s recounting, a young man called out to Julia by name. He presented her with a letter he said was from her brother in Pennsylvania, stating he was in New York but had fallen ill. Gross did not know that this same brother had arrived in the city that evening and was waiting at home to greet her. The letter said she should follow the stranger, who then led her to a house downtown. There, he led her upstairs to a windowless bedroom and locked her in.
He left and returned sporadically to pass her oranges and other small bits of food. She refused to eat. He laughed at her resistance, she told The World, and mocked her, saying she’d happily eat before he’d let her go. Once when he entered the room, Gross was able to steal the key from the outside lock while his back was turned. As he left, she quickly ran to the door, slammed it hard and locked it from the inside, waiting until the next morning, after she was sure he was gone, before she unlocked the door and made her escape.
By the time she returned home Monday morning, she had been gone for two nights and a day. Appeals from the family to the police had turned up nothing. Half-starved and exhausted, Gross stumbled up the stairs of her family’s tenement and told them of “a bewildering jumble of slim young men with glossy mustaches, imprisonment in dark rooms and a thrilling escape.”
She repeated her tale at the police station. Accompanied by her brother, she led the officers to what she believed was the house, but although it contained a room matching her description (“a boarded-up inner room, with no windows”), she stated emphatically that it wasn’t the room where she had been held. At that, the police concluded she was lying. Her parents agreed. The police investigation continued, but the lead detective doubted they’d find anything.
That night, frustrated by their disbelief and her parents’ threats to send her to House of the Good Shepherd reformatory, Gross went to bed sullen and angry, refusing even to undress. At 5am the next morning, her parents went to check on her and found that she was missing once again. This second mystery was quickly solved when her mother peered out the kitchen window to the ground below: she had fallen from the fourth-floor window and died in an apparent suicide.
Other reports of her death depicted the story of her abduction as little more than a cover for the “wild conduct” of a “wayward girl.” Even if she had been abducted, the Washington, DC, Evening Star seemed to suggest, it was the result of the “flirtations” she had told her friends about, including receiving a box of chocolates from “a nice man with a beard.” The day after her death, The World reported that the “pretty sixteen-year-old” had chosen “death before shame.” Her funeral took place on May 1, 1895 at St. Brigid’s Church, the Irish Catholic church affiliated with the academy at 315 East 10th Street.
The Sisters of Charity continued to operate the academy until around 1917, but eventually closed its doors. The buildings stood empty until 1920, when the sisters sold it to Leopold Horowitz, the secretary of a matzoh manufacturing company started by his father, Jacob. The bakers had been purchasing properties across Manhattan, including 156 and 158 East 98th Street and 341 and 343 East 133rd Street. Adding 313 and 315 East 10th Street likely seemed like a sound business plan, especially at a time when the Lower East Side was becoming the epicenter of Jewish life in New York. Alas, both properties were sold less than a year later: the first, to the Independent Stryjer Benevolent Society (a Ukrainian Jewish aid organization) and the second, to the Russian Society “Nauka.”
RUSSIAN SOCIETY “NAUKA” — 1921–1980
Anna Kunzler was a diligent, enterprising young woman, and in 1926 the 18-year-old often worked late into the night at the Siberia Restaurant operating out of the basement of 315 East 10th Street, owned at the time by the Russian Society “Nauka.” The restaurant had opened following a surge of Eastern European immigration to the East Village after the predominantly Irish Catholic and German residents began moving to uptown Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens at the beginning of the 20th century.
“Nauka” was an intellectual and aid society founded in 1905 and dominated by those loyal to the ousted Czar Nicholas. The organization renovated the building to operate as their clubhouse and meeting hall. Mirrors and “vivid paintings of old Russian folklores—stories of ravens and wolves, of forests and shepherds”—festooned the walls of the dining room, wrote the New York Evening Post. At the restaurant, just 50 cents could buy a customer five courses of hearty foods reminiscent of home, and so it remained popular despite the troubles and violence that had led the owners to hire Wallace Patkuow, a special policeman, to guard the premises. In 1923, for example, police arrested the 21-year-old Anthony Natcello, who gave his address as 315 East 10th Street, for stealing cars from the theater district.
On May 16, 1926, on what was otherwise an ordinary Sunday night, criminals snuck through the restaurant’s kitchen as the manager, Alexander Dirko, was preparing to close, taking $125 out of the register—more than $1,500 in today’s dollars. He gave the waitress Anna Kunzler her $18 weekly salary and left another $15 in the register so that she could make change for the last few diners. Patkuow, the guard, was sitting at a table, perhaps running his fingers over the diamond ring in his pocket and thinking of the woman he loved.
At that point, the four thugs entered through the back door on 11th Street, came into the dining room and snuck up behind Dirko first, forcing him to relinquish the full $140. The other men lined the 15 patrons and Patkuow up against the wall. From the officer, the robbers took the diamond ring, valued at $85, a $25 watch and another $85 in cash and, with the take from the patrons, pocketed $800 in property and cash. Newspaper reports added that one of the thieves pushed Kunzler against the wall, “dipped” into her apron pocket, and took her wages despite her protestations and pleas. And that was not all.
The man “then looked at her closely, and another of the gang came toward her.” The first told the other to take her into the kitchen. He grabbed her arm and tried to drag her to the back of the restaurant. She knew what those men planned to do to her behind the closed kitchen door. So, she fought.
She broke free, but the men pursued her and knocked her to the ground. When she stood, blood streaming down her face, she continued to fend off their attempts to pull her to the kitchen, striking and kicking repeatedly with all her strength. Once again, she broke free and made a dash for the door, but one of the men rushed her and hit her over the head with the butt of his revolver. She fell, senseless. Believing they had killed her, the four men fled to a waiting car.
Kunzler was rushed to the hospital along with a customer who had also suffered injury. Her condition was reported as serious. The fracture to her skull was not fatal. In fact, she went on to join the Evangelical Deaconess Hospital Society for maintaining the new hospital off Chauncey Street, have a son, and live with her husband until her death in 1955.
In 1929, the Russian Society “Nauka” merged with the Russian Consolidated Mutual Aid Society, known as ROOV, the acronym of its name in Russian. The organization occupied 315 East 10th until the 1960s, giving out small loans to its members and holding meetings of workers unions and political organizations in its performance hall. A small school providing lessons in Russian language, music, and history ran on the premises after normal school hours.
While instructors tried to keep politics out of the classroom, ROOV itself did not hide its anti-Bolshevik stance. In return, the communists despised the organization for its nationalist bent. ROOV wrote in its weekly page for the Russian-language newspaper, Rassviet (The Dawn), that its mission was to “preserve the Russian language and traditions among the Russian people in America.” The organization also wrote against Soviet imperialism and condemned communists as “bloodthirsty hooligans.” The Ukrainian American Youth Association found support and a base for its operations at 315 East 10th in the 1950s, and in 1960, ROOV adopted the name, Organization for Defense of Four Freedoms for Ukraine.
But the organization struggled to pay off debts that had been plaguing it since the 1940s. In 1976, the organization sold the building to a real estate company which assumed their mortgage. The building sat empty until 1980, when it was purchased by the Educational Alliance. Founded in 1889 as a settlement house for recent Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, Educational Alliance turned 315 East 10th into a shelter for the legions of runaways then crowding into the East Village.
EDUCATIONAL ALLIANCE — 1980–2011
Educational Alliance started Project Contact to combat drug abuse and “street delinquency” in 1964. After receiving a federal grant in 1972 to “add residential, day treatment, and outpatient services,” they were able to expand the services they offered to young runaways like 18-year-old Viola and 15-year-old Alexis, both of whom a Westchester newspaper profiled. In the summer of 1980, both girls stayed at the “shelter for runaway and homeless youth” that the organization ran at 315 East 10th.
Since the 1960s, the streets around Tompkins Square Park had seen more than its share of runaways and vagrants. But unlike those of earlier decades, the nearly one million young people—typically between the ages of 14 and 16—leaving home at the end of the 1970s and beginning of the ‘80s were often escaping “family stress ranging from simple conflict to abuse and incest,” wrote a reporter for the Gannett Westchester. In short, they were running from, rather than to, something.
Qalam Alonzo was a 20-year-old runaway housed by Project Contact in 1993. She told the New York Times, “I come from an abusive home and I was running wild. I was experimenting with drugs. I had no idea of where to go or what to do.” But on the advice of a friend she joined the program, and they supported her through earning her G.E.D. diploma. By 1994, she was working as a counselor at the Educational Alliance, helping other wayward girls and boys regain their footing, and planned to attend Buffalo State to study liberal arts. She completed her degree in 2017. Educational Alliance still serves thousands of New Yorkers each year, but in 2011 it sold 315 East 10th to real estate developers for $3.7 million.
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On January 10, 2012, 315 East 10th was rezoned from a commercial property to become a residential building once again. One week later, mere hours before the entire block of East 10th between Avenues A and B was designated a historical district, the city approved Ben Shaoul of Magnum Management’s proposed alteration to rowhouse 315. He planned a rooftop addition of at least one floor, which opponents argued would “ruin the streetscape’s aesthetic line,” the New York Times reported.
After a few apparent delays, the construction was completed, limited to the creation of a rooftop terrace complete with skylights, a grill, and metal tables and chairs perched at the rail looking out across Tompkins Square Park and the New York skyline. With the controversy surrounding the renovation resolved and no disappearances, murders, nor muggings reported at the address for over a decade, things at 315 East 10th Street appear to have settled, at least for now.