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Guide to the James N. Wells' Sons Records
1700s-1981 (bulk, 1820s-1930s)
 MS 599

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
(212) 873-3400


New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Larry Weimer and Elise Winks

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on September 17, 2021
Finding aid written in English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Descriptive Summary

Creator: James N. Wells' Sons (New York, N.Y.)
Creator: Wells, James Nicholas, 1790-1860
Creator: Moore, Clement Clarke, 1779-1863
Title: James N. Wells' Sons records
Dates [inclusive]: 1700s-1981 (bulk, 1820s-1930s)
Abstract: James N. Wells (1790-1860), his descendants, and the real estate firm of James Wells' Sons were central figures in the development of the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City's Manhattan borough. Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863) was a major landowner in Chelsea, which takes its name from Moore's estate, and Wells was Moore's agent in the development and management of the properties. The properties of Moore's heirs and extended family were managed by Wells's son, grandsons, and successor businesses into the twentieth century. This collection, with extensive real estate transaction documentation, provides an in-depth view of the property holdings of the Moore family from the 18th to early 20th centuries, and the intricacies and long tail of generational wealth transfers.
Quantity: 44 Linear feet in 39 boxes of various sizes.
Location: Materials are stored offsite and advance notice is required for use. Please contact manuscripts@nyhistory.org prior to your research visit to coordinate access. Keep in mind that it will take between two (2) and five (5) business days for collections to arrive, and you should plan your research accordingly.
Language: The bulk of the documents in the collection are in English, with a few in French and German.
Call Phrase: MS 599

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Biographical / Historical

James N. Wells (1790-1860), his descendants, and the real estate firm of James Wells' Sons were central figures in the development of the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City's Manhattan borough. Although the firm of James Wells' Sons did not appear by that name until the 1890s, it traced its existence back to 1819 and its founder, carpenter James Nicholas Wells. (The firm no longer exists after being subsumed by other firms in the late twentieth century.)

By 1817, James Wells was buying property on Vandam and Varick streets and building houses especially, it appears, in what was then the city's 8th Ward, or in what is now the West Village and areas to the east. By 1830 or earlier, Wells was known, perhaps both by professional reputation and by church or religious affiliation, to Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863). Known to later generations as the author of "A Visit from St. Nicholas," Moore was a landowner of the family estate known then as "Chelsea," the name that continues to be attached to that area of Manhattan. To at least some extent, Moore consulted with Wells on the disposition of the property. In the end, Moore retained the property and appointed Wells as his agent for handling the development, construction, leasing, and management of Chelsea, as well as of Moore's personal transactions. Wells's business relationships grew beyond Moore, though perhaps because of that reputable connection, to include others, including as agent for Columbia College when it sought to lease its developed properties in what is now midtown Manhattan during the 1840s and 1850s. He had a sufficient reputation that he was a collector for a Building Fund in the early 1830s for the Protestant Episcopal Church of St. Peter's. Part of a sizable family himself, Wells's reach extended in the 1840s to the new town of Matagorda in the independent Republic of Texas, where his son-in-law Abner Lee Clements was involved in building the first Episcopal church in Texas.

Wells died in November 1860. One of his several children, James N. Wells, Jr., was also a carpenter and by that time was likely about 40 years of age. In his will, Wells bequeathed to his son the office and all the things needed to continue the real estate business (see Wells's will in Box 29). Wells, Jr. did so, perhaps in partnership with his father's brother-in-law, William Roome, whose name appears on checks and business correspondence with Wells Jr. through the 1860s. Clement Moore died in 1863, shortly after Wells Sr., leaving his estate to various descendants. With this the Wells-Moore relationship passed into a second generation, with Wells Jr. handling property and other financial matters for various Moore descendants and relations, both for Chelsea holdings and beyond, such as assisting Moore's son, Benjamin (1818–1886), with building a house in Sing Sing, New York (now Ossining).

Wells Jr. died in 1892, and his two sons, James N. Wells III and William J. Wells became the third generation of Wellses in the real estate business. It was at this time that the business then took on the name James N. Wells' Sons, continuing to handle business for the extended Moore descendants and other real estate matters. The Wells family connections ended early in the twentieth century with the death of James Wells III in 1908 and his brother William in 1913. In 1908, William had taken James P. Eadie on as partner. Eadie had joined the firm in 1893, shortly after the death of Wells Jr. With William's death, Eadie continued the business. Among the deals brokered by the firm during Eadie's tenure (on behalf of Clement Moore descendants) was the lease to Henry Mandel in the 1920s that led to the construction of the London Terrace apartment building, one of the largest in the world at the time.

Through multiple generations, the Wells business was run as a sole proprietorship or partnership. Only in 1931 was the firm incorporated under Eadie. And coincidentally or not, it is about this point in time that the collection, which holds primarily documents from the 1810s into the early twentieth century, begins to close, with far fewer documents from the later twentieth century. At some point in the 1930s, the firm changed location, from its building since the 1830s at 191 Ninth Avenue to one at 340 West 23rd Street, the address that successor firms continued to occupy. Eadie ran the business until his death in 1942 and it continued on with a succession of officers with longstanding ties to the firm.

In 1977 James N. Wells' Sons was acquired by another Chelsea real estate operator, Paul E. Gay, though Gay had been in the city and the business only since the 1960s. With the acquisition, the new firm was named Wells & Gay. Gay died in 1989, at which point the building and the business was acquired by realtor Elizabeth Stribling, who had been in the field since 1980. The merged entity was called Stribling, Wells & Gay Associates, and around 2000, the Stribling firm generously donated this collection of historical documents to N-YHS. The Stribling firm was acquired and became part of yet another real estate firm, Compass, around 2019.

(The above note was based on various on-line sources including, among others, the New York Times archive and Wikipedia, and documents in the collection.)

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Scope and Contents

The collection includes the business records of James N. Wells (1790-1860) and those of his son, James N. Wells, Jr., and of his grandsons, who operated under the name of James Wells' Sons. The collection is rich with documentation concerning Clement Clarke Moore's (1779-1863) finances and the development and management of his properties in what is now the Chelsea section of Manhattan, and that of Moore's family members and heirs. Moore family records in the collection extend back to the 1700s and geographically beyond New York City, including to the Kayadarosseras Patent in upstate New York. Among the surnames associated with Moore (and other Moores) are Clarke, Ogden, and Taylor, and records related to the finances and properties of these names appear throughout the collection.

The Wells family amassed a substantial number of documents in support of their work for the extended Moore family so it can be difficult to perceive whether any set of documents was related to the Moore family or to other matters that the Wells family handled. For example, many files relate to the senior Wells's work for arranging leases, furnishings, and other matters for Columbia College, reporting to trustee G.M. Ogden, a prominent Moore-related surname in the collection. Nonetheless, the records include many matters handled by the Wells, perhaps especially Wells senior, unrelated to Moore, such as his construction of a house for John Adriance on Grand Street in 1821-22 or his support in the 1840s for his son-in-law Abner Lee Clements's effort to build a church in Matagorda, Republic of Texas. One surname that appears frequently in the collection is Ray, as in Richard Ray, Robert Ray, Mary Ray de Courval, and the related Marie Madeleine Isabelle de Courval, with extensive documents for the management of their estates and properties ranging from the mid-1800s into the mid-twentieth century.

Documents in the collection include rental agreements/leases, deeds, and other indentures; correspondence, including to/from Clement Moore; survey maps of lots, primarily in Chelsea; specifications for buildings or aspects of buildings, such as masonry or plumbing; title abstracts; invoices/bills and account statements for construction material, cartage, fixtures, utilities, assessments for utilities, dry goods, property taxes, and more; insurance policies; lists of property owners and rent rolls; cancelled checks and check stubs; wills; legal filings; and more related principally to property acquisition, development, ownership, disposition, and wealth transfer through generations.

The collection is not processed and the contents have only been skimmed for content. The content of most of the boxes is generally the same: files with a broad mix of the document types noted above, ranging widely from the early 1800s into the early 1900s, most of which seem to relate to Moore and his family through generations and their properties, though other names, such as Ray, Southard, and Storm appear. Some attempt was made in the box level notes to identify materials of interest beyond Moore, such as those concerning Columbia College, the Protestant Episcopal Church of St. Peter, or the General Theological Seminary, but these cannot be relied on exclusively. Date ranges are approximate as they are based on skims.

Arrangement

The collection is unprocessed and there is no overall arrangement to it. Files on particular matters, that relate to particular properties or individuals, or that hold particular formats (e.g., checks, leases, etc.) can be found across multiple boxes in the collection. Nonetheless, the documents are foldered and accessible, and in many cases, folder content relates to a particular matter.

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Access Points

Subject Names

  • Moore, Benjamin, 1748-1816

Document Type

  • Business records.
  • Cadastral maps.
  • Financial records.
  • Indentures.
  • Insurance policies.
  • Leases.
  • Letters (correspondence)

Subject Organizations

  • Columbia College (New York, N.Y.)
  • General Theological Seminary (New York, N.Y.)

Subject Topics

  • Administration of estates.
  • Church buildings -- Matagorda (Tex.)
  • Landlord and tenant -- New York (State) -- New York.
  • Real estate development.
  • Real property -- New York (State)

Subject Places

  • Chelsea (Manhattan, New York, N.Y.)

Family Name(s)

  • Moore (Family : Moore, Benjamin, 1748-1816)

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Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

Open to qualified researchers. Materials are stored offsite and advance notice is required for use. Please contact manuscripts@nyhistory.org prior to your research visit to coordinate access. Keep in mind that it will take between two (2) and five (5) business days for collections to arrive, and you should plan your research accordingly.

Use Restrictions

Taking images of documents from the library collections for reference purposes by using hand-held cameras and in accordance with the library's photography guidelines is encouraged. As an alternative, patrons may request up to 20 images per day from staff.

Application to use images from this collection for publication should be made in writing to: Department of Rights and Reproductions, The New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024-5194, rightsandrepro@nyhistory.org. Phone: (212) 873-3400 ext. 282.

Copyrights and other proprietary rights may subsist in individuals and entities other than the New-York Historical Society, in which case the patron is responsible for securing permission from those parties. For fuller information about rights and reproductions from N-YHS visit: https://www.nyhistory.org/about/rights-reproductions

Preferred Citation

The collection should be cited as: James N. Wells' Sons Records, MS 599, New-York Historical Society.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of the firm of Stribling, Wells and Gay Associates, 2000.

Processing Information

At time of acquisition, various conservation steps were taken with the collection and the documents were placed in archival folders and boxes. But no processing, in terms of arrangement or otherwise rationalizing the content of the collection, has been done. In 2020 and 2021, surveys of the content were made by archivists Elise Winks and Larry Weimer for this summary finding aid.

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Container List

Container 1     Title Date
Offsite-Box: 1 Box 1

Scope and Contents

Bulk of the box contents date from 1820s-1860s, with some bills and other documents from 1899-1901. One document dates from 1933, a legal filing for a will/estate settlement that relates to Ogden matters (see box 2). The 1820s documents include, among other matters, the building of a house by Wells on Grand Street for John F. Adriance and a contract by which Peter Perrine apprenticed himself to Wells. Documents from the 1850s include those that relate, among many other matters, to Wells's work for Columbia College trustee G.M. Ogden in leasing out lots on 48th Street. There are also some documents in connection with the Hudson River Rail Road.

1818-1901, 1933
Offsite-Box: 2 Box 2

Scope and Contents

About one-half of the contents dates from the 1820s-1860s. These relate mostly to the Moore properties, but also include personal bills (millinery, groceries, tuition, subscriptions, etc.). There is a subscription book (1831) recording funds collected for construction of the Protestant Episcopal Church of St. Peter.

The second half of the box dates from the 1930s-1940 and relate to investments, taxes, estate matters, etc. for various Ogden family members (e.g., Francis L. Ogden, Gertrude H. Ogden, Clement M. Ogden, et al.). Attorneys William Harison and Thomas H. Hewitt appear here. Maps from 1930 of the Moore properties are here. Some documents are in French, including those related to X-rays (in the file) and medical matters for a Mr. Ogden (1938).

1830s-1860s, 1930s-1940
Offsite-Box: 3 Box 3

Scope and Contents

Includes Wells's copybook of outgoing letters and other documents related to the Protestant Episcopal "French Church," or de Esprit (1830s). There are more documents concerning Wells's work for Columbia College (1860s), specifications for masonry for Benjamin Moore's country house at Sing Sing/Ossining, and Francis Ludlow Ogden-related matters (1900). Along with the usual assortment of Clement Moore documents are specifications for a bulkhead to be built from 19th-24th streets and an 1830 map of lots on 24th street.

1830s-1900
Offsite-Box: 4 Box 4

Scope and Contents

Includes, among the usual Moore and other matters, some documents concerning Columbia College properties and James N. Wells' Sons accounts with Marie Madeleine Isabelle de Courval (1906-09).

1817-1909
Offsite-Box: 5 Box 5

Scope and Contents

Includes, among the usual Moore and other matters, a drawing/plan by Wells, Jr. for a church to be erected at Matagorda, Texas, along with related correspondence (1840s).

1820s-1894
Offsite-Box: 6 Box 6

Scope and Contents

In addition to the usual Moore and other matters, there are specifications for a banking house on Wall Street for the Manhattan Company (undated), various documents related to the Theological Seminary (1830s-40s), correspondence with Abner Lee Clement and others concerning the church in Matagorda, Texas (1840s), and documents concerning Mary Ray de Courval (1860s).

1820s-1890s
Offsite-Box: 7 Box 7

Scope and Contents

Includes many blank church pew deeds for St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Manhattan. Among the many matters are those related to Richard Ray estate (1870s), Francis Ogden (1890s), and Benjamin Moore (1870s-90s)

1871-1900
Offsite-Box: 8 Box 8

Scope and Contents

Includes, among other matters, Robert Ray matters from the 1840s-1901; Moore matters, especially for the 1890s; and bills, etc.

1840s-1901
Offsite-Box: 9 Box 9

Scope and Contents

Includes a typical assortment of bills and checks, with various rentals, Moore and Ray matters, etc.

1839-1898
Offsite-Box: 10 Box 10

Scope and Contents

Includes the usual assortment of checks, and other transactional documents, mostly from the 1880s-90s, though there are Moore documents from the 1830s, and others ranging to about 1917.

1830s-1917
Offsite-Box: 11 Box 11

Scope and Contents

Benjamin Moore's will is in this box (1879).

1860s-1907
Offsite-Box: 12 Box 12

Scope and Contents

An inventory of furniture at Miss Wood's house in Newport, Rhode Island (1867) is in this box.

1840s-1905
Offsite-Box: 13 Box 13

Scope and Contents

Includes, among many other matters, those related to the Theological Seminary, including plumbing specifications.

1830s-1907
Offsite-Box: 14 Box 14

Scope and Contents

Includes, among many other matters, documents related to Columbia College (including 1850s sewer connections); the Theological Seminary; description of carpenter's work for a Gothic house to be built at Tarrytown for William Paulding, with related documents (1840s); book of "exact copy" of accounts of Wells as executor and trustee of Thomas Southard estate, 1860s-80s; and Benjamin Moore's house at Sing Sing/Ossining.

1840s-1900
Offsite-Box: 15 Box 15

Scope and Contents

Includes, among many matters, documents related to the Theological Seminary, Clement Moore's bulkhead, and those concerning Francis L. Ogden.

1850s-1908
Offsite-Box: 16 Box 16

Scope and Contents

Includes, among other matters, those related to the Ogdens.

1850s-1939
Offsite-Box: 17 Box 17

Scope and Contents

Includes, among other matters, documents concerning Columbia College (1850-60s) and Robert Ray.

1840s-1906
Offsite-Box: 18 Box 18
1840s-1900
Offsite-Box: 19 Box 19

Scope and Contents

Includes, among other matters, documents concerning Robert Ray; several historical documents from the 1780s-circa 1816 related to Reverend Benjamin Moore, including the 1816 document naming his son, Clement Moore, as executor; and Moore family holdings in upstate New York, including a map of the Kayaderosseras Patent.

1780s-1907
Offsite-Box: 20 Box 20

Scope and Contents

Includes, among other matters, documents related to the Theological Seminary; specifications for Benjamin Moore's house in Sing Sing/Ossining, 1850s; and the establishment of a Chelsea stage line, with a list of subscribers, 1830s.

1830s-1899
Offsite-Box: 21 Box 21

Scope and Contents

Includes, among other matters, documents related to Columbia College, especially regarding furnishings of buildings (1850s); and Theological Seminary.

1840s-1876
Offsite-Box: 22 Box 22

Scope and Contents

Includes, among other matters, documents referring to James N. Wells, Jr.'s partnership (dissolved in 1843) with fellow carpenters Samuel Smith and William H. Smith; and Columbia College.

1828-1880
Offsite-Box: 23 Box 23

Scope and Contents

Includes, among other matters, the lease agreement between Trinity Church and Wells for 27 lots on Hudson, Barrow, Greenwich, and Christopher streets. A few documents from the 1930s relate to the Ogdens and include report cards for D.D. Ogden and programs from Sunningdale School (U.K.?).

1820s-1903, 1930s
Offsite-Box: 24 Box 24

Scope and Contents

Includes, among other matters, Theological Seminary. The 1930s documents are primarily insurance policies on various properties.

1860s-1932
Offsite-Box: 25 Box 25

Scope and Contents

Includes, among other matters, a typed copy of Clement Moore's will. A printed version is found below in box 26. These are helpful for identifying relevant family and in-law surnames (Ogden, Clarke, Taylor, as well as Moore), and related property lots in Chelsea and elsewhere.

1844-1907
Offsite-Box: 26 Box 26

Scope and Contents

Includes, among other matters, documents from the 1700s concerning the Kayadarosseras Patent, including a map and field book survey for Mrs. Mary Clarke; a printed version of Clement Moore's will; and Francis L. Ogden's notes taken during recitation at Columbia College Law School regarding Parsons on contracts and Blackstone's commentaries.

1700s, 1851-1940
Offsite-Box: 27 Box 27

Scope and Contents

Includes, among other matters, legal filings, inventory, and other documents concerning Catherine V.C. Moore, who was sent on "retreat" apparently due to mental health issues (i.e., referred to as "lunatic" in the documents), 1870s-80s.

1846-1908
Offsite-Box: 28 Box 28: Checks

Scope and Contents

This box holds only bundles of checks from various years.

1832-1900
Offsite-Box: 29 Box 29

Scope and Contents

Includes, among other matters, the sale of property on Vandam and Varick streets to Wells (1817), with passing mention of the Tontine coffeehouse; the will of Abraham Storm (1832, died 1833); and the will of James N. Wells (1860).

1817-1906
Offsite-Box: 30 Box 30: Checkbooks and account books

Scope and Contents

This box holds many small account books, circa 1840s-circa 1902, with most appearing to date from the 1850s-60s. There are also several checkbooks/stubs from the 1880s.

1840s-circa 1902
Offsite-Box: 31 Box 31: Account books

Scope and Contents

This box holds many small account books.

circa 1837-1939
Offsite-Box: 32 Box 32: Accounting records and correspondence

Scope and Contents

This box holds the following items: Account book (1860-61); Day book (1860-79); Cash receipts book (2 volumes, 1888-1901); Office supplies(?) expense record (circa 1910s-1950s); and a letterbox of correspondence for correspondents A-L (1927-1929). The other letters for 1927-29 are somewhat scattered in files in other boxes.

1860-1950s
Offsite-Box: 33 Box 33: Artifacts, newspapers, forms

Scope and Contents

This box holds the following: 2 newspapers from 1981: 23rd Street Association 50th anniversary supplement to Town & Village and Empire State Building 50th anniversary commemorative issue from Real Estate Weekly; a few blank forms; and the following artifacts: Printing woodblocks for James N. Wells' Sons letterhead and other text, pencils, metal container (possibly for carrying field notebooks), and 6 corporate seal stamps for 340 Realty Corp, Chelsea Ventures Inc., 511-19 St Corp, Momac Corp, 13th Avenue and 24th Street Corporation, and London Terrace Corporation.

1981, undated
Offsite-Box: 34 Box 34: Checkbook stubs, etc.

Scope and Contents

Box holds: Checkbook stubs from dates approximately 1827, 1830-1832, 1837-45, 1853-56; record of rental or other property-related receipts, 1858-59; patent application to Great Britain by Clement Moore Ogden for "improvements in or relating to collapsible chairs," 1938; blank forms for loft leases and for store leases, 1942.

1827-1859, 1938, 1942
Offsite-Box: 35 Box 35: Various

Scope and Contents

Box holds: hand drawn & colored map of the Chelsea properties owned by Clement C. Moore's descendants, as of 1938; hand drawn & colored copy of a 1834 Chelsea area map, related to a legal matter involving Robert Ray and Richard Ray; two indentures and related documents from Clement Moore, 1827-36; pages of the New-York Mirror Advertiser, 1832; Clement Moore rent roll, 1828-29; statements of legal fees from Walther Lutz of Germany in estate matters, 1936-37 (documents in German); blank forms of general releases by corporations; Ross F. Eadie's certificate of membership in the Industrial Real Estate Brokers Association, 1964; 506 West 21st Street lease from Barbara H. Jones to Joseph Wellwood, 1875; several letters, 1858-59; a Time Inc reproduction of an 1855 booklet "Moore's St. Nicholas," 1951.

1827-1964
Offsite-Box: 36 Box 36: Various

Scope and Contents

The box holds a large number of indentures (leases, deeds) concerning Clement Moore and his heirs, and perhaps others; various accounts and records of transactions; hand drawn property maps; printed maps (many fragmenting) of land and lots in New York and elsewhere (including those related to Columbia College); a broadside for a farm sale; a Clarke family genealogy, circa 1850s (Clement Moore's maternal grandfather); and various sketches. Also there are 4 identical copies of a vintage photograph of the exterior of James N. Wells' Sons offices at 191-193 9th Avenue between 21st and 22nd streets (circa 1930).

1830s-1890s, circa 1930
Offsite-Box: 37 Box 37: Land Book of the Borough of Manhattan, New York City. Desk & Library Edition

Scope and Contents

1927 edition published by G.W. Bromley & Co., with corrections made to plates from 1929-1934 as listed at front of volume.

1927-1934
Offsite-Box: 38 Box 38: Atlas of the City of New York, Borough of Manhattan. Volume 2. 14th Street to 59th Street

Scope and Contents

Republished by G.W. Bromley & Co in 1957, with corrections to plates made and listed at front of volume through 1979.

1957-1979
Offsite-Box: 38 Box 38: "Maps shewing a proposed exterior street along the Hudson River from Hammond Street to 135th Street in the city of New-York"
undated
Offsite-Box: 39 Rolled items

Scope and Contents

Includes 1 blueprint (1930), with telephone-related details for a building, likely London Terrace apartments; map of property of Mary Clarke heirs; and blueline drawings for James N. Wells' Sons of Chelsea area street map.

1930, undated
Offsite-Box: 39 "Map of Lands in the 12th Ward of the City of New York Belonging to the Estate of Cornelius Ray, Dec'd"

Scope and Contents

Certified copy of an 1834 map, entered into chancery as a partition map in the matter of Robert Ray and Richard Ray vs. John A. King and others, with an 1844 addition covering the area west of 11th Avenue.

circa 1844
Offsite-Box: 39 3 rolled objects. Restricted due to fragility

Scope and Contents

Map: "Moore, Franklin & Robinson, DeKay, Eckford and Clarke Estates." Map: "Map of the Common Lands From 26th Street to 43rd Street, showing the Old Streets and Plots as Surveyed and Mapped in 1796 by Cassimer T.H. Goerek, City Surveyor, and the Distance between those Old Streets and our Present Streets" by J.B. Holmes, City Surveyor, July 1872 Rolled item: labeled on outside as "North River View." Not unrolled due to fragmenting.

1872, undated
Offsite-Box: 39 Unidentified fragments of blueprint(s)

Scope and Contents

Restricted. The fragments require conservation humidification, flattening, and piecing together before use. It is not clear if the fragments are from one or multiple blueprints. One fragment indicates it is from 1930. Another indicates it is from a first floor plan, and various fragments indicate that the plan includes space for several stores.

1930, undated

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