Here’s a placid scene at #605 West 42nd Street in 1940, just west of 11th Avenue in Hells Kitchen. Well into the 1980s, this was a somewhat sketchy part of town, with plenty of gang activity and crime. It appears that the building on the left has just been constructed and there’s a restaurant, helpfully named “Restaurant” on the right. A painted ad on 11th Avenue advertises for Jabez Burns & Sons, founded 1864.
There were two notable Jabez Burns in recorded history, an uncle and nephew. The first Jabez Burns (1805-1876) was an influential British preacher, one of the first to say that abstinence is next to Godliness and thus, helped set off the mid-1800s temperance movement in England and the USA and ultimately resulted in the USA’s Constitutional amendment legislating Prohibition from 1920-1933.
Jabez Burns the Younger was the son of the preacher Burns’ brother, William. He arrived in the USA with his mother in 1844 and was apprenticed to coffee merchant Henry Blair. In the 1850s, he devised a calculator to process complicated transactions. He and his sons founded his coffee business in 1864, and a coffee roaster he invented was purchased by the Arbuckle Brothers, who distributed Yuban from their warehouses in DUMBO in Brooklyn. Jabez Burns & Sons remained in business until 1960.
As you may expect, 605 West 42nd currently looks nothing like 1940. A glassy residential tower, Sky, now occupies this site.