X hits on this document





8 / 50

While Simpson apparently continued to make “high grade pianos” following the Wheelock sale, the l o c a t i o n o f h i s f a c t o r y i n t h e e a r l y 1 8 8 0 s i s u n c l e a r . B e t w e e n 1 8 8 1 a n d 1 8 8 5 , S i m p s o n & C o m p a n y c o n t i n u e d t o m a i n t a i n a s p a c e , l i k e l y a s h o w r o o m , a t 5 E a s t 1 4 t h S t r e e t w h e r e i t h a d b e e n s i n c e 1 8 7 6 b u t t h e c o m p a n y was also listed at 127 East 129th and 232 East 40th Streets, neither of which appears to have been the location of a substantial factory. These addresses do, however, link Simpson in the early 1880s with the respected tuner Stephen Brambach, who would play a crucial role in developing Estey’s first pianos; Brambach was located next door to Simpson between 1881 and 1883, and in the same building in 1884. 79

In 1885, the Estey Organ Company of Brattleboro, Vt. was hitting its peak.80 By the end of the 1880s, the firm, which had been founded in 1866 by Jacob Estey, would be the world’s largest producer of reed or- gans. Thousands of these instruments found their way into American parlors every year; they were also being distributed, by 1890, to Africa, Asia, Australia, and South America, and to major European cities. Despite the company’s success—it was described, in 1886, as doing “an immense business, amounting to over one million dollars annually”81—and its rapid growth—production rose by a factor of seven between 1865 and 1886—the organ business was in decline. The piano business, however, was booming; and, likely noticing the 1882 entry of the renowned organ maker Mason & Hamlin into piano manufacturing, Estey and the company’s other prin- cipals, including Levi K. Fuller and Jacob’s son Julius, decided to take the same path. 82

Estey became a piano manufacturer by forming a partnership with Simpson, who was named president of the new Estey Piano Company; the Simpson piano was essentially re-branded as the new Estey model. Simpson, of course, had been a pioneer in Bronx piano manufacturing, and this may have played a role in Estey’s decision to build its plant on the North Side. A.B. Ogden & Son was hired to design the factory, but S i m p s o n m a y h a v e h a d s o m e i n f l u e n c e o v e r i t s a p p e a r a n c e a n d f o r m , a s h e h a d d a b b l e d i n a r c h i t e c t u r e , a l t e r - i n g h i s h o m e o n W e s t 1 2 9 t h S t r e e t i n 1 8 8 2 t o g i v e i t a p i c t u r e s q u e e x o t i c i s m . 8 3 W o r k b e g a n o n t h e l a r g e factory with modern appliances,” as it would later be described, in August of 1885; it was completed, at a cost of approximately $40,000, in February of 1886.84 While the factory was under construction, Estey Piano de- cided to construct three more buildings that would extend its complex by an additional 80 feet along Southern Boulevard. These brick structures, designed by Ogden’s firm and completed at the same time as the main factory, were a one-story extension, a one-story shed, and a two-story stable. 85

Estey Piano prospered in its early years, as “Estey grand and upright pianos soon became a dominant factor in the piano trade,” according to Alfred Dolge, who added that they often “carried off highest awards for

superior construction and workmanship.”86

In 1887, the trade publication Musical Courier wrote that the

Estey Piano Factory was “one of the most complete in the country”; two years later, it called the firm’s upright a m o s t b e a u t i f u l s p e c i m e n o f p i a n o m a n u f a c t u r i n g , o f w h i c h E s t e y w o u l d f i n d n o d i f f i c u l t y i n d i s p o s i n g While trade journals’ opinions should be considered with caution, in the best musical circles in the land.”87

those of the respected piano tuner and regulator Daniel Spillane may be more reliable. Five years after the Estey Factory opened, Spillane called its piano “a very excellent instrument,” adding that “much of the techni- cal and musical merit of these pianos is due to the competency and skill of [Stephen] Brambach, who is a gentleman of fine musical and mechanical sensibilities [and] … one of the best tuners in New York.”88 Al- though Brambach had apparently started his own piano company in 1885,89 he remained involved with Estey in 1890, originating “all new ideas in the mechanics and acoustics of the Estey piano.” Brambach’s brother Carl, “one of the most expert and artistic tuners and toners in the country,” was also employed by Estey Piano, according to Spillane. 90

Business was good, and only four years after the Estey Piano Factory opened, it underwent a huge ex- pansion.91 In May of 1890, work began on a 100-foot-long east addition that would result in the demolition of the extension, shed, and stable on Southern Boulevard, and create the unified five-story, 200-foot-long Bruck- ner Boulevard façade that remains essentially unchanged today. The architect of this addition, which was completed in October of 1890 at a cost of about $23,000, was John B. Snook & Sons.92 This firm, then one of New York’s most prolific, traced its origins to the arrival of John B. Snook (1815-1901) in the United States, from England, in 1835. By 1842, Snook was working with Joseph Trench, and the two helped introduce the Anglo-Italianate style to New York with buildings such as the A.T. Stewart Store at 280 Broadway (1845-46, a Designated New York City Landmark). One of Snook’s best-known works was the first Grand Central Termi- nal (1869-71, demolished); in 1887, he took his three sons, James Henry (1847-1917), Samuel Booth (1857- 1915), and Thomas Edward, and a son-in-law, John W. Boyleston, into his office, and changed his firm’s name

  • -


Document info
Document views81
Page views81
Page last viewedTue Oct 25 02:00:03 UTC 2016