Lets say you’re a Vanderbilt, a Belmont, or a Delano, or a member of one of New York’s other super rich families at the turn of the century.
You have your mansion on upper Fifth Avenue, and for fancy dinners, only Delmonico’s will do. But when it come to transportation, polo, and racing, where do you get your horses and carriages?
The Van Tassell and Kearney Horse Auction Mart was one option.
Formed as a general auction house in the 1870s, the company began specializing in show horses and fine carriages for the city’s elite, operating several equine auction buildings along East 13th Street.
With the era of the horse still in swing in 1903, Van Tassell and Kearney commissioned a new showroom and auction building at 126-128 East 13th Street.
After knocking down three row houses, the architects were tasked with creating a lovely structure roomy enough to show and stable horses but so elegant that it attracted the city’s wealthiest clientele.
The new building, completed in 1904, was an unusual beauty. “The central arched window is set within a wide coved band that widens and becomes more three-dimensional near the top,” wrote the Landmarks Preservation Commission in its 2012 report deeming it a city landmark.
“Crowned by a prominent cartouche and keystone, this feature may have been influenced by the dramatic forms associated with the Art Nouveau style, or perhaps, the padded oval collars worn by horses.”
The horse auctions were short-lived. The building hosted its last one in 1916, a victim of the automobile age. The Vanderbilts and their brethren were now racing cars, not equines.
In subsequent years it housed a candy factory, a vocational school, and from 1978 to 2005 the studio of painter and sculptor Frank Stella, who cleaned and restored the facade.
Today it’s a dance center, I believe, and one of the last remaining buildings in New York intended for staging horse auctions, a necessity when horses powered the city.
[Second image: MCNY, 1910; fourth image: The Rider and Driver, 1893]