Very, very faintly the letters RUBEL CORP appear on the pediment of this 2-story garage-like building on West 21st St. Also on the pediment are these winged wheels. My first guess was that this was a car dealership, and I tried to make out Buick in the letters in the pediment. But no, it's Rubel. The building was built in 1930 by the Rubel Corp., Samuel Rubel, pres., 937 Fulton St., Brooklyn. It is a 2-story brick garage, 125 by 98 ft., and was designed by Henry J. Nurick, 44 Court St., Brooklyn. The Rubel Corp. sold coal and ice, and used this building for a garage. There are New York Telephone Directory listings for Rubel Corp. at this location for the years 1930 through 1934.
Over the years Rubel Coal & Ice had numerous locations in Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx. A photo by Percy Loomis Sperr (1890-1964) dated 1930 in the New York Public Library's Digital Collections shows a Rubel sign on a building at 9th Ave. & 15th St.
Samuel Rubel (1881-1949) was an immigrant from Russia in 1904. In the 1920 U. S. Census his occupation is described as "Coal Miner & Ice Retailer." Quoting the New York Times (12 May 1949, p. 33) "Mr. Rubel emigrated to this country in 1904 from Riga, Latvia, at the age of 21. He started his career selling coal and ice with a horse-drawn wagon in the tenements in the East New York section of Brooklyn."
From his obituary in the New York Times (30 Apr 1949, p. 13): "The career of Samuel Rubel verged on the fabulous... His first route was the north side of Watkins Street, in the East New York section. He covered it with a horse and wagon... Up the tenement stoops Mr. Rubel personally carried his cakes of ice and bags of coal. His next move was to a coal platform, with an office on Pitkin Avenue. 'That year I started selling to other peddlers,' he said later... In 1925 he bought the majority stock of the Ice Service Corporation and also two other firms... Two years later his firm was merged with the Commonwealth Fuel Company and the Putnam Coal and Ice Company. The new concern, the Rubel Corporation, of which he became head, then had thirty-five coal pickets, forty ice factories and fifty coal and ice stations in the greater city. The same year Mr. Rubel bought the Ebling Brewery then in trouble with prohibition authorities for the manufacture and sale of beer. He planned to convert it into an ice-cream factory."
Rubel was still president of Ebling Brewery at the time of his death (undoubtedly it reverted to legal production of beer with the repeal of Prohibition in 1933) and his net worth was estimated at $8,000,000. A 32-room home in Roslyn, Long Island, was destroyed by fire in 1946. Rubel died at a later mansion called Sunset Hall in Ridgefield, Conn. The Rubel contents of Sunset Hall were sold at auction by the Parke-Bernet Galleries, 980 Madison Ave., Oct. 1950. An interesting history of Sunset Hall can be found at acorn-online.net. Apparently it was once considered as a site for the United Nations headquarters.
Most biographies of Rubel give his year of immigration as 1904, but this one in the New York Times, 12 Feb. 1927, p. 27, gives a slightly different account: "Coming here as an immigrant from Russia in 1906, he was working for $3 a week in a Brooklyn stovepipe factory when he quit because of his inability to get a half dollar weekly raise, and started peddling coal from a sack in the tenement district. By the next season he was able to buy a pushcart to sell ice. In 1910 he was able to buy a full carload of coal and by 1912 had started his first coal and ice yard." Yet another version appears in an earlier Times story, 20 Jan. 1927, p. 1: "Samuel Rubel, who began is career as a peddler of coal and ice in 1902 and who took his first carload of coal from a siding in 1910, will be President of the corporation" (speaking of the newly consolidated Rubel Corp. of Jan. 1927).
Throughout his life Rubel was involved in what seems like an endless round of lawsuits, accusations and other legal difficulties. None, however, seems more interesting than an early matter involving an employee of his coal and ice company. In Feb. 1912 Rubel appeared in court to press charges of forgery and grand larceny against Dora Nachumowitz of 573 Blake Ave., Brownsville, Brooklyn. According to the New York Times, 4 Feb. 1912, p. 4, "Miss Nachumowitz was formerly bookkeeper for the company. It developed at the hearing that Rubel had promised to marry her, but the engagement had been broken. She then sued him for breach of promise. The suit is still pending." Miss Nachumowitz was accused of indorsing a check for $50 payable to the company, then not entering the payment on the company books. She was held for a grand jury, but was released on providing $1000 bail. What happened to the case later I do not know, but subsequently Miss Dora Nachumowitz became Mrs. Samuel Rubel. She was still his wife at the time of his death, and was the primary beneficiary of his estate. Two daughters shared with her the $3,726,859 left after taxes. Dora N. Rubel re-married in 1959 (to Louis Daitch of the Daitch Supermarket Chain).
This image dated 1929 of the Rubel Coal & Ice facility at Franklin Avenue near Sullivan Place, Brooklyn, is found on the New York Public Library's Digital Collections.
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