Thursday, February 11, 2016

"Till Lower Manhattan comes to Brooklyn"

In the Scottish play, Shakespeare uses the three witches to give the doomed Macbeth, a false sense of security by promising, among other things, that he need not worry till Birnam wood comes to Dunsinane, a physical impossibility.  Another unlikely movement of the earth's surface would be shifting the tip of lower Manhattan into the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, but what's impossible physically can take place metaphorically.  None of this, it's safe to say, was on the minds of the people who gathered at the Real Estate Exchange in lower Manhattan on May 20, 1886.  Among those present were Civil War veteran, George Bissell and his wife, Charlotte, James Quick and his wife as well as other relatives and friends of the Quick family which had deep roots in New York City.  So deep, in fact that they went all the way back to the 17th century when Manhattan was New Amsterdam, a Dutch colony before it became a British colony in 1664.  Like most of the Dutch immigrants trying to make a new life in a new world, the Quicks were involved in different commercial enterprises including real estate development at the extreme southern end of Manhattan Island. The purpose of the gathering at the real estate exchange, more than 200 years after the Quick family had arrived on these shores, was to witness the sale of two properties, all that remained of the estate of William Quick who had died more than 60 years earlier in 1823.

An early 18th century map of lower Manhattan

The properties in question were located at 473 Greenwich Street, apparently a residence, and more importantly, a commercial property at 41 Broad Street in the heart of New York's and increasingly the country's, financial district.  According to a 1914 article in the Wall Street Journal, the property on Broad Street was acquired by Jacobus Quick in 1698 and was used for a number of different commercial purposes.  The building that was on the site in 1698 lasted a long time including surviving the fire of 1835 which was important and not just from the owner's perspective.  Reportedly the fire was stopped not long before it would have reached 41 Broad which at that time was being used to store a large quantity of brandy which if it had caught fire would have made what was already a major disaster even worse.  Ironically after the surviving that cataclysmic event, just thee years later, the building at 41 Broad was destroyed in the explosion of some saltpeter stored in the building across the street. A new four story brick building was erected on the site and it was that property, along with 473 Greenwich that was about to come under the auctioneer's hammer.

Drawing of a Dutch grocery, purported in one publication to be the building at 41 Broad Street

 It may seem strange that it had taken over 60 years to sell these properties after the prior owner's death, but at least in the case of 41 Broad Street, it represented the 19th century equivalent of a pension.  At a time when sound long term investment alternatives were very rare, rent generating real estate was a relatively safe way of providing long term income.  By 1886, the four story brick building was renting for $5,000 a year, roughly the equivalent of something like $100,000 today with the income being divided among William Quick's heirs. And unlike many people, then and now, William was not only very clear about who he wanted to provide for, but also took the time to spell it out in detail in his will.  The two properties would first benefit William's widow, Sarah, who died in 1833 with the estate to then be divided equally among his four children, James, John, Maria and Joanna.  Even more specifically William's will provided that if any of his four children died without issue, that is, without children, their share reverted back to the remaining children and/or their heirs.

A map of Broad Street and area around 1914

As fate would have it, of the four, only James had children, but the details of William's will didn't stop some of the heirs from trying to subvert their father's intentions.  James Quick had died not long after his father, leaving three surviving children and their families.  Also deceased by the early 1880's were James' siblings, John and Joanna, who had, in fact, died without issue, leaving only Maria who at 81 was also childless.  For whatever reason, however, both John and Joanna used their own wills to try to leave their 1/4 interest in the properties to their surviving sister, Maria.  The net result would have been that Maria would have 75% of the income/assets for the balance of her life with only 25% going to James' heirs instead of the 75% (and at some point 100%) to which they were entitled.  Not surprisingly at least one of James Quick's heirs, not only objected, he filed a lawsuit against these clearly illegal actions as well as against his other relatives, just in case anyone else had similar ideas.  Once the matter got into the legal system in 1883, the court decided, probably with little debate, that the William Quick's original intent was clear and couldn't be changed.

What happened next isn't known, but it seems most likely the heirs decided they wanted money now rather than a share of the rental income so they agreed to have the properties sold with 41 Broad Street going for $81,000 and 473 Greenwich for $15,000 or a total of $96,000 before commissions which probably reduced the net proceeds to around $85,000.  If you've read this far and can't figure how any of this is related to Brooklyn and/or baseball, the Quick heir who instituted the law suit was one James T. Ebbets, the older brother of future Brooklyn Dodger magnate, Charles Ebbets.  Mrs. George Bissell was Charlotte Ebbets, the oldest of the Ebbets children.  Both the maternal (Dutch) and the paternal (English) lines of the Ebbets family go back literally hundreds of years in New York City. By the time of the property sale, three years after the lawsuit was resolved, Maria Quick had died so the full amount went to James Quick's three children and/or their descendants. It seems likely that the estimated net proceeds of $85,000 would have been divided equally so that the Ebbets family would have gotten about $28,000 which again would have been divided equally among the six Ebbets children so that Charlie would have received about $4,700.

Charles Ebbets about 1920

Charles Ebbets' share in the proceeds is not without significance as in October of 1920, the Brooklyn baseball magnate told Frederick Boyd Stevenson of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle that his share was the beginning of the $125,000 he had accumulated by the time he started buying the land on which Ebbets Field was built.  If the share was a little as is indicated above, it's a little hard to see how Ebbets could have come up with over $120,000 more since he certainly wasn't making that kind of money from baseball.  However much Ebbets received as his share of 41 Broad Street, he must have winced more than a little in 1903 when it sold for $200,000 more than twice the 1886 price and then for $300,000 just three years later.  But in the end, however, no matter how much or little Ebbets got out of 41 Broad Street, an historic part of old New York, or at least its financial equivalent was now part of an even more historic ballpark in Brooklyn.

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