Part II of a Parkville Precinct Tale
I recently told an old New York story about Max, one of five talented young pups from Belgium that comprised the first authentic police canine squad in America. Max rose to hero status in 1907 after leading police to an unconscious man near Parkville, Brooklyn, only a few months after the dogs had arrived in New York. This next story about the Parkville police dogs features some amazing dogs, fascinating New York City history, human and equine tragedy, and some good old high-society scandals and murder. Enjoy.
An invitation to Madison Square Garden
News of Max’s heroic deed on that cold January night must have traveled fast, because two weeks later, Max and his fellow New York Police Department canines were invited to make their public debut and compete for a special Westminster Kennel Club (WKC) prize at Madison Square Garden.
The dogs were attending a finishing course in what was then a remote district in the Bronx when the invitation arrived. Police Commissioner Theodore Bingham agreed to sponsor the dogs and Lt. George Wakefield, who was in charge of the dogs’ training, also agreed to assist at the show.
“The latest European novelty”
February 14, 1908, was a Valentine’s Day to remember for the 5,000 spectators at the 32nd annual Dog Show at Madison Square Garden. According to reports, despite all the special classes and championship competitions, the police dogs were the biggest hit of the day. Everyone there wanted to see the latest European novelty –- the police dog.
When the dogs arrived in the big hall, the rails of the arena were lined “ten deep with interested spectators.” The balconies and galleries were also more crowded than they were for the rest of the show. The only attendees missing from the big hall were the 2,000 other dogs competing in the show. Whether out of jealousy or just pure canine rivalry, the veteran show dogs let out a chorus of yelps and barks for almost 10 minutes, throwing the amateur police dogs into utter confusion.
The outlaw who performed with the dogs at Madison Square Garden was a volunteer who had been working with the dogs during their training.
Parkville Police dogs wow crowd with their skills
With the other dogs finally settled down, Max and his pals were able to demonstrate their training. Under the control of a leash, muzzle, and a police officer in uniform, they obediently marched to the rear of the ring and lined up as the crowd clapped and cheered.
First up was Nogi, the one all-black dog of the squad. Unfortunately Nogi did not enjoy the fanfare and was too disturbed by his surroundings to perform. (Either that, or his police performances were highly overrated, according to The New York Times reporter.)
Next was Jim, a brindle Airedale terrier, who won over the crowd when he dashed across the arena in pursuit of an “outlaw” who appeared from a small box-house when an officer threw open the door and blew his whistle. Jim weaved in and out of the man’s legs, causing him to fall repeatedly, and then jumped on his back.
Although all the dogs performed the same exhibition, the crowd decided that Jim and his handler, Patrolman Patrick Shelly, were the winners. Lady, who was handled by Charles Bierman, received second prize and Donna, handled by Patrolman J.A. Key, took third place. Nogi and Max, both heroes on the streets late at night, were simply not destined to shine in the spotlight.
Best in Show: I Need a Remedy, Remedy, Remedy
In 1908, the same year the Parkville canine cops made their grand entrance to New York society, a Smooth Fox Terrier named Ch. Warren Remedy won the most-coveted Best in Show award. It was the second time she won, having received the inaugural Best in Show award in 1907. Warren Remedy went on to win one more time in 1909, making her the only dog ever to win three Bests in Show at the Westminster Dog Show.
Ch. Warren Remedy is the only dog ever to win three Bests in Show at Westminster.
As an aside, Warren Remedy’s owner was Winthrop Rutherfurd, a New York socialite and direct descendent of Peter Stuyvessant. In addition to showing his fox terriers, Rutherfurd was known for his romance with Consuelo Vanderbilt (daughter of William Kissam Vanderbilt, whom you’ll read more about later), his affair with Ava Astor (the married daughter of John Jacob Astor IV), and his marriage to Lucy Mercer, a former mistress of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
The Westminster Hotel
Sometime around 1876, a group of “sporting gentlemen” began meeting regularly at the bar of the Westminster Hotel in Manhattan to brag about their hunts and their purebred dogs. These men formed a kennel club, bought a training area and kennel, and hired a trainer.
The Westminster Hotel, located at Irving Place and East 16th Street, was a fashionable establishment at the time and quite in vogue with English travelers. So the story goes that when the men couldn’t agree on a name for their new club, someone suggested they just go ahead and name it after their favorite hotel bar. One can imagine these men all clinking their glasses together and saying, “I’ll drink to that!”
In 1902, the Westminster Hotel was sold under foreclosure to Metropolitan Life. The building was sold again in 1909 to George Borgfeldt & Co., chinaware and doll importers, and demolished to make way for an 11-story, Italian Renaissance loft building. Today that building houses the NYC Human Resources Administration/DSS.
In 1877, the Westminster members established their first clubhouse in what they called “an ancient mansion” in Pascack, New Jersey. During their first meeting on December 7, 1877, the main item of business was a vote to incorporate. Several prominent men took part in this vote, including Dr. William Seward Webb, a Pointer breeder; George De Forest Grant, a Wall Street banker; Henry Bergh, founder of the ASPCA; yachtsman C. Oliver Iselin of America’s Cup fame; William M. Tileston, kennel editor of Forest & Stream, and Civil War hero General Alexander Stewart Webb, who served as President of the Westminster Kennel Club from 1877 to 1887.
Madison Square Garden II
The Madison Square Garden where the Parkville pups made their debut in 1908 is not the same world-famous arena as we know it today. It wasn’t even in the same location.
The arena was originally called Barnum’s Great Roman Hippodrome, aka, Barnum’s Monster Classical and Geological Hippodrome. It was located on the site of former passenger depots for the New York and Harlem Railroad and the New York and New Haven Railroad at Fourth Avenue (today’s Park Avenue South) between 26th and 27th streets. These two depots, collectively known as the Union Depot, were the inspiration for a Grand Central, where different rail companies would use the same centralized facility.
The original mid-line depot for the New York and Harlem Railroad was destroyed by fire. This 1860s view shows a spacious, castle-like building that replaced the 1845 structure.
In 1873, two years after the first Grand Central Terminal was built at 42nd Street, P. T. Barnum and a group of investors leased both rail stations from Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt. The two depots were joined and enlarged to create a grand exhibition space –- the Hippodrome.
The 400 x 200 foot open-air Hippodrome featured an oval track and a single tier of seats and benches that accommodated 10,000 people. It also had a canvas canopy that was raised over the arena in wet weather – that’s better than Yankee Stadium today.
By 1875, Barnum had sold his lease to Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore, a bandmaster who served in the Union Army during the Civil War and composed “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.” Gilmore was apparently a happy guy (couldn’t resist), who decorated the Hippodrome with shrubs and flowers and renamed it Gilmore’s Garden. In addition to flower shows, beauty contests, and revival meetings, the First Annual N.Y. Bench Show of the Westminster Kennel Club also took place at Gilmore’s Garden in 1877.
Following the death of Commodore Vanderbilt, grandson William Kissam Vanderbilt took back control of the arena, which he renamed Madison Square Garden and opened on May 31, 1879. One year later, tragedy struck.
On April 21, 1880, the Hahnemann Hospital fair was in full swing at the Garden, with about 800 people in the building. (Hahnemann Hospital was a homeopathic facility established in 1869 and located at 657 Park Avenue, between the Seventh Regiment Armory and Hunter College). At about 9:30 p.m., a newly constructed, 100-foot wall facing Madison Avenue gave way, falling outwards. Two horses in the street were instantly killed, and about 20 people were injured. Three women, whose bodies were crushed and mangled beyond recognition, were also killed: Maria Ann Connolly, Anna Bradford Clark Hegeman, and Anna L. Willets. One man, WKC founding member William M. Tileston, died at St. Luke’s Hospital. It was just six days before he was scheduled to serve as manager of the 1880 Westminster Dog Show.
Vanderbilt eventually sold the drafty old arena to a syndicate that included J. P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, James Stillman, and W. W. Astor, who demolished it to build a new arena. The new Garden, shown in the color postcard above, was designed by noted architect Stanford White. (You may recall that White had also designed a restaurant for Louis Sherry on Fifth Avenue, which was the scene of the famous Horseback Dinner in 1903.)
William M. Tileston, manager of the Westminster Kennel Club, three women, and two horses were killed when a wall at Madison Square Garden collapsed on April 21, 1880.
The new Madison Square Garden II was 200 feet by 485 feet and featured the largest main hall in the world, with permanent seating for 8,000 people and floor space for thousands more. The building also had a 1200-seat theater, a concert hall, the largest restaurant in the city, and a roof garden cabaret, where, incidentally, the building’s architect was murdered.
On June 25, 1906, Stanford White was killed by Pittsburgh millionaire Harry K. Thaw, the husband of White’s young lover — Gibson Girl Evelyn Nesbit — while White was attending the Garden’s rooftop theater, Cafe Martin.
Despite its importance to the New York cultural scene in the early 20th century, the second Madison Square Garden was demolished by the New York Life Insurance Company, which held the mortgage on it. In its place they built a new headquarters building in 1928 — the landmark Cass Gilbert-designed New York Life Building, which features a “can’t miss” pyramidal gilded roof and occupies the full block between 26th and 27th Streets, Madison Avenue and Park Avenue South.