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West Harlem Historical Driving Tour, W. 155th to W. 125th St.: Sugar Hill, Hamilton Heights, Manhattanville
Item 3 of 12

Joseph Loth founded a silk mill in 1875 on Greene Street in Manhattan to manufacture mainly ribbons. He built a new factory here on Amsterdam Avenue in Sugar Hill that opened in 1886. The brick building is three stories tall and a block long. Loth's "Fair & Square Ribbons" were very popular and sold in stores across the country. About 600 people worked in the Philadelphia red brick building, creating 165 shades of ribbon in 14 widths and multiple styles. Loth died in 1900 and the business moved from this factory in 1902. Loth's son, Bernard converted the vacant Amsterdam Avenue factory building into general loft space in 1904 and added ground floor, cast iron storefronts. Commercial spaces were added along the Amsterdam Avenue ground floor and continue as businesses today. The upper floors are a charter school. You can still see the "ghost" of the painted sign advertising the company's ribbons on the whitewashed brick facade at the rear corner on W. 150th Street.

Photo of Loth Silk Mill in 1892 book on New York City (King p. 907)

Building, House, Sky, Facade

1877 trademark of "Fair & Square" brand silk ribbons by J. Loth & Co. (U.S. Patent Office)

Brown, Font, Ball, Emblem

Loth Silk Factory (green arrow) on 1894 map (Bromley p. 43)

Rectangle, Map, Font, Parallel

Joseph Loth left Hartford, Connecticut for New York City in 1862. J. Loth & Co. trademarked "Fair & Square" as their brand name for silk ribbons in 1877. In 1877, Loth lived at 212 E. 20th Street in Manhattan. The company added a trademark in 1887 of "Fair and Square" for silk dress goods, ribbons, velvets, plushes, and ties. Patterson, New Jersey held the most silk ribbon manufacturing factories in the U.S. in the late nineteenth century, but New York City was second. The main competition was from factories in England. J. Loth & Co. kept their SoHo offices and wholesale showroom at 28 Greene Street and manufactured "gros grain and segar" ribbon from an industrial building in West Midtown at 494 Broadway. The company sold wholesale only instead of directly to consumers, but advertised extensively.

The new factory for J. Loth & Company in the 1880s was designed with a footprint resembling a backwards "K" with the longest side along Amsterdam Avenue. It was one of the first industrial buildings in the area, which was mainly residential. While factories typically were designed by engineers in that era to accommodate machinery, the Loth Mill needed an architect to keep the building in line with New York City's building codes. Czech-born Hugo Kafka emigrated to the United States to assist in designing the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, and then opened an office in New York City. Kafka placed the angled, narrow wings of the Loth factory with large, glass windows to take advantage of natural light; under the floor were long drive shafts and electrical wiring for the electric lighting. The wings were under 30 feet wide to eliminate the need for structural supports or fire walls that would block space needed for mill machinery. A brick frieze on the W. 151th Street side reads "Silk - Ribbons"; a frieze on the corner of Amsterdam and W. 150th used to read "Joseph Loth & Co."

In the late 1890s, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Loth donated cash, silk ribbons, and silk remnants to The Home for Aged and Infirm Hebrews of New York, located at West 105th Street near Columbus Avenue. The Loths, who lived then at 884 St. Nicholas Avenue in Manhattan, were life members of the Home, as were their sons Bernard and Henry A. Mrs. Loth served the Home as a trustee from 1873 to 1874.

Joseph Loth died in 1900 and the factory on Amsterdam Avenue was vacant several years later, although the business continued under Henry A. Loth with a factory in Norwalk, Connecticut. Henry served as chairman of the Ribbon Manufacturers of the United States in 1912 (a division of the Silk Association of America). Behind the Amsterdam Avenue building, a skating rink was built in 1906 and a "moving picture show" in 1907. The central entrance of the former factory on Amsterdam Avenue used to feature a clock tower but the tower was destroyed by fire in 1916 (see the photo below). The Lofts sold the building in 1928. The structure came to house garment and furniture operations.

Anthony Morfesis owned the building by 1989 and considered rebuilding the clock tower. The ground floor along Anderson Avenue continues to contain commercial businesses, including Wimpy's Restaurant & Pizzeria, Guzman Barber Shop, and Amsterdam Mini Market. Upstairs includes the New Heights Academy Charter School, established in 2006 as the first charter school in their district. The school has an enrollment of over 750 students in grades 5 to 12.

Anonymous. For the Improvement of the Ribbon Trade. The American Silk Journal, vol. 32, no. 8, 49 - 50. Published August 1st 1912. Google Books.

Brazee, Christopher D. West Harlem: A Neighborhood Historic Resource Survey. New York, NY. West Harlem Community Preservation Association, 2018.

Goulding, Lawrence G. & Co. Goudling's New York City Directory for the Year Commencing May 1st, 1877, Ending May 1st, 1878. Volume III. New York, NY. Lawrence G. Goulding & Co., 1877.

Gray, Christopher. "The Loth Silk Factory: A Ghost Coming to Life in Washington Heights." New York Times (New York) August 6th 1989, 10 sec, 6-6.

Historic Districts Council. Joseph Loth & Company Silk Ribbon Mill, Six to Celebrate. Accessed October 29th 2021.

Home for Aged and Infirm Hebrews of New York City, Board of Trustees. Annual Report for the Year ending April 1st 1899. New York, NY. Clarence S. Nathan, 1899.

Jacobson, Brian R. Studios Before the System: Architecture, Technology, and the Emergence of Cinematic Space. New York, NY. Columbia University Press, 2015.

King, Moses. King's Handbook of New York City: An Outline History and Description of the American Metropolis. Boston, MA. Moses King, 1892.

Loth, J. & Co.. Trade-Mark Registration No. 5,041, U.S. Patent Office Trademarks. August 14th 1877. Accessed October 30th 2021.

Loth, J. & Co.. Trade-Mark Registration No. 13,945, U.S. Patent Office Trademarks. January 4th 1887. Accessed October 30th 2021.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Google Books: King's Handbook of New York City by Moses King


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