The mysterious mosaic at 88 University Place

University Place is only seven blocks long—but this Greenwich Village street has its share of historic plaques.

One marks the Hotel Albert, the spectacular Victorian Gothic “French Flats” opened in 1887 between Tenth and Eleventh Streets that was a haven for creative types before becoming a co-op in the 1980s.

At 113 University Place is a bronze tablet dedicated to the New York State Militia’s Ninth Regiment, which fought in the Civil War. And at number 90, a sign marks the walkup building where poet Frank O’Hara lived in the 1960s.

But there’s another, more unusual marker in front of the 1900s-era loft building at 88 University Place (at left) that carries some mystery.

This one is a mosaic. “Kaliski & Gabay 88” it reads, in a funky blue and white tile typeface.

Who were Kaliski and Gabay? Fine arts auctioneers who operated their business here auctioning paintings, rare books, rugs, and other items as early as 1914; that’s the earlist reference I found of the fine auction house Arthur Kaliski and Richard Gabay founded.

The place was really rocking in the first half of the 20th century. Kaliski died in 1946 at age 63, but his Brooklyn Eagle obituary stated, “his performance every Friday and Saturday, except holidays, was regarded as a good show and drew crowds of more than 200 persons at a time” to the University Place auction house.

This 1947 newspaper ad makes note of their auctions (and a GR phone number!).

At some point around 1950, it seems the auction house shut down. Today, it’s a WeWork, and I wonder if the workers here ever think about the names they have to step past to enter the building.

[Fourth image: New York Herald, December 1922]

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8 Responses to “The mysterious mosaic at 88 University Place”

  1. keenanpatrick424 Says:

    I remember the Albert from the late 60’s early 70’s.Many of the rock acts stayed there when they had gigs in the city.

    • Mykola (Mick) Dementiuk Says:

      Must have seen a slew of rockers and groupies in the 60s-70s, I worked at Grove Press on 11 St & University. Had a clear view of the Albert backdoor on 11 St, which the rockers always used. Funny, but the only one I recall at the time was Tim Buckley, I guess he was a folk singer with complicated tunes, he OD’d very young. Can’t recall many others, I’m sure they staggered by.

      • keenanpatrick424 Says:

        Tim had an amazing vocal range and good songwriter.He was an open generous man and always had the time to talk especially about guitars. His son Jeff was also talented singer/ songwriter. Paul Butterfield also comes to mind from those days.Another open and friendly guy.In those days musicians didn’t have entourages and bodyguards – was easier to have a conversation with days.And Grove Press and Barney Rossert(sp.) were vanguard of free speech.

  2. Cathleen E. Newsham Says:

    Very interesting! I’m a mosaic artist and will check it out next time I’m in the neighborhood. Thanks for the info!

  3. Frank Says:

    So cool … have never noticed this after many years walking past it. The Albert was where Skip Spence of Moby Grape took a fire axe to the door of his bandmate’s room and was committed to Bellevue.

  4. Clark Whelton Says:

    I remember the French restaurant that was located in the Albert Hotel on the corner of University and 11th Street from circa 1958 to 1968. Their advertising emblem was a small Eiffel Tower outlined in blue neon, which sat outside their door at 42 East 11th. This dining establishment, which was run by a mysterious “French refugee” named Joseph Brody, was known as the Cafe Albert. It featured an eye-catching sidewalk sign that read, “All the Steak You Can Eat… $2.95.” One evening a friend named Paul invited me to join him in testing this seemingly impossible claim. I had chicken but Paul ordered steak. His first serving was modest in size, slightly overdone and a challenge to carve. Paul then asked for seconds. The waiter paused ever so slightly, clearly signaling “you’ll be sorry,” and brought Paul a leathery strip of something that might once have been beef. Paul carved and chewed manfully, and asked for thirds. This time the waiter served a fairly generous hunk of burned and blistered fat, with perhaps two square inches of anonymous meat attached. The entire staff was now watching, along with patrons at nearby tables. Picking up his knife, Paul said “I’m not going to give them the satisfaction,” and began to slice. Somehow he got it all down, except for a gobbet of gristle, which he was still chewing as, to scattered applause, we made our exit.

  5. keenanpatrick424 Says:

    Great story! Paul certainly got quantity if not quality for his $2.95 LOL

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