Monday, October 14, 2019

The Lost Cassius M. Wicker House - 599 West End Avenue

The For Sale signs in the windows date this photo to 1923.  Brilliant stained glass transoms can be seen at the second and third stories.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

On October 1, 1887 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide pointed out that architect J. H. Taft was "working on plans for ten first-class brown stone and brick residences, to be built by Squier & Whipple."  Joseph H. Taft was highly busy at the time on the Upper West Side; and this project may have actually been for one of his major clients, William Earl Dodge Stokes, who sometimes disguised his involvement by using the names of other builders' or developers' on the building applications.

Whoever was behind the project; it would result in Taft's producing ten upscale homes that wrapped the southwest corner of West End Avenue and 89th Street.  The Record & Guide projected that "these dwellings will exhibit some of the most satisfactory architectural work on the west side."

Squier & Whipple added to the confusion by listing itself as "architects and builders" of the house in an advertisement for the row in the West End Avenue Association's 1888 brochure "West End Avenue."  It described the design of "dwelling houses" as "Old English, enriched with sculptured panels and carved stone around doors and windows."  Upscale details inside included "Cabinet trim of Mahogany, Oak and Ash on each and every story.  Hard wood floors.  Perfect sanitary plumbing, all first-class"

Although the advertisement described the style as "Old English;" the houses were in fact a mixture of styles that included a melding of Queen Anne and Flemish Renaissance Revival, with Dutch stepped gables and dormers, turrets and stained glass.  Each cost an average of $20,000 to build--about $563,000 in 2019 dollars.

All ten homes were sold in 1888, before the last going for just over $1 million in today's dollars.  The showpiece of the row was the 80-foot wide corner house, No. 599 West End Avenue.  Its impressive entrance portico above a dog-legged stoop faced West 89th Street.  The undressed brownstone of the first floor provided a contrast to the red brick facade above.

The purchaser of No. 599 seems to have overextended himself and the house was quickly lost to the New York Life Insurance Co. in foreclosure.  On May 12, 1890 Cassius Milton Wicker bought it for $41,500 (just under $1.2 million today).

Wicker moved into the house with three children, Henry Halladay, Lucy Southworth, and Cyrus French.  Wicker's wife, the former Augusta Carroll French had died a year earlier.  Also living in the West End Avenue house was Wicker's widowed mother, the former Maria Delight Halladay.

Cassius Milton Wicker, Prominent and Progressive Americans, 1902 (copyright expired)

Wicker's career was wide-flung.  The 1903 Geneological and Family History of the State of Vermont called him a "railroad president and manager, financier and investigator."  Born in in Vermont on August 25, 1846, three of his ancestors had arrived on the Mayflower--Mary Chilton, Elder Brewster and William Latham.  He had gone west at the age of 21, settling in St. Louis where he became involved in the Star Union Railroad Line.  By the time he moved to New York City in 1887, he was vice president of the Colorado Eastern Railroad.  Now he was an executive in several railroad and surface car lines, a partner in Wicker Brothers, bankers and brokers, a vice-president of the Washington Savings Bank of New York, chairman of the board of the Bank of Discount, and a director in several other banks and corporations.

The Wickers' summer estate was The Locusts near North Ferrisburgh, Vermont.  The Successful American said "The old New England homestead has been enlarged and added to by its present occupant, as only a dweller of a city can appreciate and adapt the suggestions of Nature to a country habitation."

Henry Wicker was 14-years old when the family moved into No. 599.   Before many years he would be dipping his toe into social affairs.  On January 1, 1893 The New York Times reported on the New Year's Eve party of the young Brock sisters.  "A gay company of young people clad in fantastic costumes was the old year out last night at 265 West Seventy-third Street as the guests of Miss Edna Brock and Miss Georgie Brock.  There were about seventy-five masqueraders present."  Among the youthful heirs with prestigious names like Stokes, Seward, and de Peyster was Henry Wicker.

Henry studied at the preparatory Berkeley School where he was well-known for his athletic prowess both as a football and baseball player.  The Sun described the boy as "a tall, manly fellow, handsome and muscular."

The year after the Brock sisters' party, Henry graduated from the Berkeley School and was accepted at Yale for the following fall.   The family did not go to The Locusts that summer, but leased a cottage at Swampscott, Massachusetts, on the ocean.  The Sun described the area saying "The beach at Swampscott stretches out to meet Massachusetts Bay, and every cottager there possesses on or more boats."

Henry wanted a boat, too.  According to The Sun, "He had long known how to swim, he pulled a strong oar, and was a fairly good sailor, so his father bought for him a large dory, rigged with a leg-o'-mutton sail."  Nearly every day that summer Henry spent hours on the water and became a familiar sight to the local fishermen.

The family had a house guest as the summer drew to a close.  On Tuesday morning, September 11, Henry invited his cousin, "Miss Halladay," to sail with him to Marblehead.  The family was seriously concerned when they had not returned by dinner time; but just as they were about to start a search the two walked in.  As it turned out the water became so rough that Henry wisely pulled the boat into a fishing settlement and they walked home.

The following day Cassius and his mother had business to take care of, so it was arranged that all the young people would go to "The Willows," described by The Sun as "a sort of Coney Island on a small scale."  Henry told his sister and cousin that while they went to the train station to see their father and grandmother off, he would rush over to retrieve his dory.  He promised he would be back before they returned.

But he was never seen by the family again.

The girls went on to The Willows, leaving word with a servant to have Henry join them there.  When they returned at 3:00 he had not shown up.  At 5:00 the girls went to the fishing hamlet and inquired about him.  He had been seen sailing off toward Egg Rock, about five miles distant.  The fishermen were only a little concerned that there had been a "wind flaw," or sudden gust, that morning.  The Sun reported "If the flaw had struck the dory--well the old fishers gravely shook their heads."

Two days later, at 11:00 on Wednesday morning, the fishing schooner Acacia saw Henry's dory bottom-up.  Tugboats were chartered to patrol the waters and shores to no avail.  Four months later the family abandoned all hope.  On January 12, 1895 a brief noticed appeared in The New York Times:

Lost at sea, off Marblehead, Tuesday, September 11, 1894, Henry Halladay Wicker, aged 18 years, 7 months, and 2 days, eldest son of Cassius M. Wicker, and of Augusta French Wicker, deceased.

Henry's body was never found and his name was carved into the granite monument in the family plot in the North Ferrisburg, Vermont cemetery, "Henry Halladay Wicker, lost at sea off Marblehead."

Maria Delight Wicker died in the West End Avenue house on April 9, 1903.  Her funeral was held in the drawing room the following afternoon.  She was buried in the North Ferrisburg cemetery, near Henry, on the next day.

At the time of his grandmother's death, Cyrus was 19-years old, attending Yale.  Like his brother, he proved himself athletically, earning attention for his abilities on the track and as an oarsman.  He gradated with honors in 1905 and went on earn his law degree from New York Law School in January 1907.  That same year he received a "special certificate" in International Law from Columbia University.  

On March 10, 1907 The New York Times reported that he was appointed a Rhodes scholar and "will enter Balliol College at Oxford."  The following year Cyrus updated his classmates, writing in the 1908 History of the Class of 1905:

I take tea regularly now at half after four, have a private 'scout' who brings in the morning tub and serves breakfast and lunch within my own rooms in Balliol College, and I go to lectures in great Gothic halls with Elizabethan ceilings and windows glowing with mediaeval blazonry.

I have grown almost used to my clothes, which are of genuine Harris tweed with five pockets on the outside and large leather buttons; have joined the Dramatic Society here, the American Club and the Oxford Union, and have tried 'soccer,' cricket, and lately and disastrously, punting on the Isis.

Cyrus focused on International Law at Oxford.   On January 17, 1909, The New York Times foreign correspondent in Berlin reported "Cyrus French Wicker, a graduate of Yale and a Rhodes Scholar of Balliol College, Oxford, has come to Berlin to act as private secretary to Ambassador [David Jayne] Hill.  He expects to return to Oxford for the Spring semester."

In the meantime, Cassius Wicker's name appeared in print for a surprising incident.  In addition to his many positions in railways and banks, Wicker owned real estate.   Among his holdings was a building at No. 118 West 49th Street, where he rented rooms to Polish actress Madame Alexandra Viarda in October 1909 "so that her company might have a place to rehearse 'Die Braut von Messina,'" according to the New-York Tribune on December 25.

The actress did not prove to be an easy tenant, prompting the Tribune to say "What with bickerings between landlord and tenant and soliloquies of sweeping passion from morn until night, Vicker [sic] has lived under a constant strain for some time."   Wicker again confronted the actress on December 23 after she and her company took over a storeroom in the building not included in their lease.  

Witnessing the conflict was the actress's manager, 27-year old Baron Frederick Joseph von Schiller.  A native of Germany, Von Schiller had drawn attention to himself a few years earlier when he joined the Unites States Army, but, according to The Evening Telegram, "growing tired of barracks life, he deserted."  He was arrested and sentenced to three years in the military prison on Governor's Island.  Just eight months before the confrontation between Wicker and Viarda, he had been pardoned by President Taft after much lobbying from Madame Viarda.

While Wicker and Viarda argued heatedly, von Schiller lost his temper.  "During the argument Von Schiller rushed up and struck Wicker so the latter told the magistrate and threw him over a trunk," reported the New-York Tribune.  The article said "Cassius M. Wicker has no sympathy with the tragic muse when it comes to being thrown over a trunk by one of its devotees...Wicker promptly took his grievance to Magistrate Kernochan, in the West 54th street court, and had his alleged assailant arrested yesterday on a charge of assault."

Von Schiller was convicted and fined $10 (about $285 today).  But worse for him was the embarrassment caused when the publicity prompted a closer look at the baron.  A week later, on January 3, the New-York Tribune informed its readers that while von Schiller "declares himself to be a descendant of Germany's famous poet, and inasmuch as this assertion has received widespread publicity, it may be just as well to state in the most emphatic manner that his pretensions are entirely without foundation."  Not only was he not related to poet Friedrich Schiller, neither was he a baron.

With only he and Lucy still in the West End Avenue house, Wicker placed it on the market that November.  It was sold a month later to Ada B. Callender who almost immediately leased it to the Hamilton Institute for Boys.  An announcement in The New York Press on August 30, 1911 read "The 20th year of the Hamilton Institute for Boys will open in its New Home at 599 West End Av."  The academy offered college and commercial preparation courses.  Its founder and principal, N. Archibald Shaw, Jr. and his wife moved into the mansion.

Advertisements offered "Visual Instruction in History, Geography and Science.  Lessons prepared at school.  Gymnasium, Outing Classes, Athletic Field."  That curriculum broadened with the United States' entry into World War I.  An advertisement on October 6, 1918 noted "Special Military preparation for boys 15 to 19."

It was about the same time that the Institute got a new landlord in Catherine F. Smith.  The school would have to find a new home after March 1922 when the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that "Mrs. C. F. Smith leased to a tenant, for a term of 21 years, the 4-sty and basement stone dwelling 599 West End av."   

That tenant was the Columbia Preparatory School, which operated from one block away at the northwest corner of West End Avenue and 88th Street.  It was run by headmaster and owner, F. Arthur Clawson.   The New York Times reported "The building will be entirely remodeled and every modern convenience and equipment installed for classrooms, dormitories, gymnasium, swimming pool, dining quarters and outdoor kindergarten."  The article added that the school would retain possession of its other building, "as a girls dormitory."

The Columbia Preparatory School's 21-year lease was soon curtailed.  On July 18, 1923 The New York Times reported that Catherine Smith had sold the house to "an investor, who will improve the site with a ten-story apartment."  The selling price was $75,000, about $1.1 million today.

By then No. 599 was the last hold out along the West End Avenue block.  Demolition permits were issued in 1924 and architect brothers George and Edward Blum managed to designed the 12-story apartment which squeezed itself into the domestic footprint of the Wicker mansion.

photograph via

Saturday, October 12, 2019

61 Grove Street and Its Remarkably Re-Built Corner

A seam running up the corner of the building testifies to the amazing plastic surgery performed in 1914.

In 1890 brothers John and Philip Goerlitz contracted architect Franklin Baylies to design a flat house on Grove Street in Greenwich Village between Bleecker and West 4th Streets.  The five story building would extend through the block, having entrances at both No. 61 Grove and No. 76 Christopher Street.  John Goerlitz was a contractor as well as a developer, so it is most likely that he was responsible for the construction.

Baylies's completed building was clad in red brick and trimmed in brownstone and terra cotta on the main, Grove Street elevation.  The openings of the top floor top floor were embellished with terra cotta tympana and fanciful carved portrait keystones.  Terra cotta panels were inserted within the ambitious tin cornice.  The Christopher Street side was similarly treated, although the brick here was beige--creating an even more striking color contrast between the materials.

The cost of construction was significant.  In April 1891 the brothers took out a $100,000 mortgage from The German Savings Bank--around $2.85 million today.

Tenants in the new building were a mixed bag--from blue collar workers like Edwin S. Payne, a seaman to professionals like Abraham Webb, an attorney. 

The fifteen families living at No. 61 were panicked on the evening of July 21, 1895 when a fire broke out in the basement.  The New York Herald explained "A match, thrown by some one into the front apartment of Janitor David Rinoler, had set some drapery ablaze and Rinoler, finding that he could not master the flames with buckets of water, caused an alarm to be turned in.  The tenants became frightened and rushed out on the fire escapes.  This caused some one in the vicinity to believe that the whole building was on fire and another alarm was sent in."  The fire was quickly extinguished and the damage was estimated at about $15,400 in today's dollars.

The Christopher Street elevation wears beige rather than red brick.
One resident at the turn of the century seems to have had a hard time retaining a job.  William T. Engesser placed a position wanted at in the New-York Tribune on December 30, 1900 for "Collector--Young man, 21, as collector with reliable firm; at present employed with jewelry house."  A month later he was looking for a position with a "reliable firm, with change for advancement; good penman, figurer, neat, quick, trustworthy."  No mention was made of his collector job.  And then on December 18, 1902 his advertisement read "Young Man, 22, at anything; neat, quick, trustworthy; business experience; references, bond; good education; no cavassing."  Possibly thinking his youth was working against him, his ad a month later added three years to his life and greatly broadened his background:  "Young Man, 25; neat appearance; good education and character...experienced selling and collection, shipping receiving and stock; trustworthy, a hustler."

An ugly feud between two families erupted around the time of Engesser's latest advertisement.  According to The Sun on March 1, 1905 "Social rivalry, it is alleged, had much to do with discord that prevailed."  It started when the Dugan family purchased a piano--an expensive item at the time--around 1903.  Their neighbors, the McCormicks responded by buying a piano too.

The Sun reported "The Dugans at first seemed to have rather the better of it.  Then the McCormicks added a fiddle to the family equipment and every one felt that they had gained a distinct lead."  But, said the article, "It was not for long."

"In May, 1904, the Dugans went to a concert in Tammany Hall.  They not only went to it; but Mrs. Dugan sang at it.  Further, there is the authority of Mrs. Dugan herself for saying that she frequently went to the theatre and that carriages drew up to take her there and in bringing her home.  But when the Dugans made a trip to Europe last summer—then it was, according to Mrs. Dugan, that the relations, already strained, snapped, and war in real earnest began."

In retaliation, according to the Dugans, the McCormicks "operated on their piano morning, noon and night" and "cooked fried liver and onions and boiled cabbage with their dumbwater shaft open."  The McCormicks retorted "that the Dugans caused small boys to ring their doorbell, and that an effort has been made to kidnap the family fiddle."

Edward Dugan was a special policeman and B. McCormick worked in a boiler factory.  Neither husband seemed much interested in their wives' feud until Dugan began receiving anonymous letters described as "very offensive in tone."  Mrs. Dugan had her neighbor arrested and the two women aired their grievances against one another in court.  The Sun noted "The husbands were there, too, but no one paid any attention to them."

Far more significant upheaval than piano music and fried liver was on the horizon.  At the time real estate agent Charles C. Hickok was lobbying to have Seventh Avenue, which began at 11th Street, extended south to Varick Street.  The project would necessitate the demolition of scores of buildings and portions of others.  Years of pressure paid off an in 1913 the extension began in concert with the construction of the 7th Avenue subway.  The project annihilated No. 63 Grove Street and shaved off a triangular corner section of No. 61.

When the dust had settled owner Jennie Messing hired architects Wortmann & Braun to fix the problem.   Their plans, filed in May 1914, were unexpectedly sensitive to the original designs.  In fact, during demolition the carved elements were salvaged to be incorporated into the rebuilding.  The result was seamless (other than the still-visible seam).   A three-sided bay included in the renovations projected over the new corner store.

In 1914 repairs were being made to the cut-off corner.  from the collection of the New-York Historical Society
Among the tenants in 1947 were Anthony Hintz, his wife Maisie, and their two-year-old son, Edward.  Hintz worked on the docks as a "boss stevedore."  The industry was controlled by the mob, making his job potentially dangerous if he stepped on the wrong toes.  And he did.

When Hintz answered his door on January 8, 1947 a barrage of shots rang out.  He fell to the hallway floor, struck by six bullets.  Neighbors, alerted by the gunshots, heard Maisie scream "Who shot you?" and Hintz answer "Johnny did it."

Despite the close-range wounds, Hintz lingered in the hospital for 25 days--more than long enough for him to make "death-bed declarations" against his attackers.  He identified John M. "Cockeye" Dunn as "the man who shot me," and Andrew Sheridan and Daniel Gentile as accomplices.

The individual trials went on for a year before all three were convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to the electric chair early in 1949.

Maisie remained in the Grove Street apartment, remarrying not too long afterward.  Around 3:00 on the afternoon of March 17, 1953 she went upstairs, leaving Edward, now eight years old, playing on the street.  In retrospect, it was a cavalier move, considering that she told investigators "she had received telephone calls threatening violence to her son."

The following day The New York Times reported that Edward "disappeared yesterday from the street in front of his home."  The article said Maisie "was near collapse when she reported his disappearance to detectives at 11:40 P. M."  A 13-state alarm was issued for the "chunky seventy-pound youngster" as described by The Times.

The terrifying situation had a happy ending--at least for Maisie.  The following morning just before 8:00 police found the boy sleeping in the cab of a truck around the corner.  "The boy said he had spent the night in the truck cab because he was afraid of being punished for staying out late," explained The New York Times.   It is more than possible that he was punished anyway.

For years during the second half of the century the corner store was Grove Drugs; and in 1974 the retail space on Christopher Street became home to Boots & Saddle, a gay bar.  

Around 1997 Taka, a "tiny sushi bar," opened at No. 61 Grove Street.  On November 21 that year The New York Times praised chef Taka Yoneyama's presentation.  "She will decorate tuna with leaves of edible gold, and stuff squid with spiced cod roe and cut it into pinwheels."

After decades on Christopher Street Boots and Saddle was replaced by Hakata Tonton, an Asian restaurant which stretched through to the Grove Street space formerly occupied by Taka.

Wortmann & Braun's 1914 rebuilding of the lost corner was so perfectly done that it fooled even the Landmarks Preservation Commission.  In its 1969 Greenwich Village Historic District Designation Report, the commission stated "The building was specifically designed for an oddly shaped corner lot."

photographs by the author

Friday, October 11, 2019

The William Gale, Jr. House - 118 East 37th Street

Around 1859 developers Arnold & Mowbray completed a row of five 20-foot wide homes on East 37th Street between Park and Lexington Avenues.  Faced in brownstone, they rose four stories above a rusticated English basement level.  The latest word in domestic architectural taste, the Italianate-style homes featured arched pediments over the double-doored entrances, molded enframements around the elliptically arched openings, and complex cornices.

William Gale, Jr. purchased No. 118.  In 1850 he had become a partner in the renamed William Gale & Son, the silverware manufacturing firm founded by his father, William Gale, Sr.  Around 1821 his father was perhaps the largest silverware manufacturer in the country.  His 1826 invention of roller dies that impressed full designs on flatware put him at the front of the industry.

This chased silver tea service from 1866 is stamped William Gale Jr. on the bottom; indicating it was produced after Wm. Sr.'s retirement.  photograph via Heritage Auctions

Born in 1825, Gale was a young man, about 34 years old, when he purchased No. 118.  Upon the retirement of William Gale, Sr. in 1866 the running of the firm was passed to him.  That same year he left East 37th Street.  On March 3 he placed an advertisement in The New York Herald reading:

For Sale on Murray Hill--A four story and basement high stoop brown stone House, in thorough order, on south side of Thirty-seventh street, between Park and Lexington avenues.  Inquire of William Gale, Jr., 487 Broadway

The house was offered for sale again in April 1888.  Two months earlier the 88-year old widow living here had died.  It was purchased by Gardner Greene Howland, Jr.  His father Gardner G. Howland, Sr. and uncle, Samuel Shaw Howland, had formed G. G. & S. S. Howland in 1816, which became one of New York's most prominent shipping firms.  The brothers could boast that their family had arrived in America on the Mayflower.

Gardner, Jr. was an attorney and member of Howland & Aspinwall, the successor of G. G. & S. S. Howland.  He was apparently able to balance his legal practice with the shipping company demands.  When publisher James Gordon Bennett negotiated repairs on his country house in 1887, Howland was listed as his attorney.

His family's social importance was evidenced in the 1885 edition of What To See and Where To Buy in New York City.  Howland's name and the 37th Street house were listed under "Select List of Prominent People."

No. 118 was sold on August 1, 1895 to Bayard Tuckerman, who paid $38,000 (about $1.17 million today).  He and his wife, the former Annie Osgood Smith, had four children, May, Elizabeth, Bayard, Jr., and Joan.  Their country home, Sunswick, was in Ipswich, Massachusetts. 

Born on July 2, 1855, Tuckerman was schooled in Switzerland at the Pension Roulet, graduated from Harvard University in 1878, and then studied in Paris.  An author and historian, by the time he purchased No. 118 he had written the History of English Prose Fiction, the Life of General Lafayette, The Diary of Philip Hone and William Jay and the Constitutional Movement for the Abolition of Slavery.  His memberships in the Century, the Sons of the Revolution and the Society of Colonial Wars reflected his academic interests and family heritage.  

In 1898 he accepted the position of lecturer on English Literature at Princeton University.  He would retain the post through 1907.

Social columnists reported on the movements of the family.  On December 16, 1901, for instance, The New York Herald reported "Mrs. Bayard Tuckerman and Miss Elizabeth W. Tuckerman, of No. 118 East Thirty-seventh street, have cards out for Wednesdays in December."  The announcement informed socialites that the women would be "at home" on those days and available to receive.

On June 10, 1905 the New-York Tribune reported "Two prominent families of New-York and Philadelphia were united to-day by the marriage...of Miss Elizabeth Wolcott Tuckerman to George McIntyre Elkins."  The wedding took place in Ipswich, Massachusetts, and the article noted "Among the guests were many from Philadelphia, New-York, Washington, Newport, Boston, Albany and summer residents from many other places who are now at the North Shore."

The Tuckermans announced the engagement of Joan to Evans R. Dick, Jr. on August 14, 1910.  The New York Times reported "The engagement was announced at Ipswich, where the Tuckermans are spending the Summer."  This would be another socially-important match.  The article added "Mr. Dick's sister, Miss Mildred Dick, lately married Stuyvesant Fish, Jr., of New York."  

The wedding took place in Sunswich on July 22, 1911, "in the presence of a large gathering of relatives and friends," according to The Times.   "The couple left after the ceremony on a wedding tour."  As with many wealthy newlyweds, it was a long honeymoon.  On July 17, 1912 the New-York Tribune reported "A daughter was born a few days ago to Mr. and Mrs. Evans R. Dick, jr., at their place in Cheshire, England."

In 1914 the Tuckermans began spending the winter seasons elsewhere.  That year and the following season they leased the furnished house to Col. F. N. Lawrence.  The winter season of 1916-1917 saw Winthrop Burr taking the residence.

Bayard, Jr. had graduated from Harvard in 1911.  On June 20, 1916 he married Phyllis Sears, whom The New York Times rather brashly called "one of the richest heiresses on the North Shore" at Beverly, Massachusetts.   The article said that she was "daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Herbert M. Sears, with millions in her own right and heiress to many more."

Bayard Tuckerman published his latest book that year, A Sketch of the Cotton Smith Family of Sharon Connecticut."  It would be his last work from the 37th Street house.

On February 2, 1917 The Sun reported that Tuckerman had sold the house to Eugene Hale, Jr., "who will occupy."  The announcement noted "The property is subject to the Murray Hill restriction," which prohibited commercial use of the house.

Born in 1877, Hale was an 1898 graduate of Yale University.  He was by now a member of the stock brokerage firm of Pendergast, Hale & Co.  He had married Eunice Terry on November 15, 1906.  Hale came from a political family--his father was a former senator from Maine and his brother, Fred Hale, was currently a senator from that state.

The Hales moved into the Murray Hill house at a time of worldwide conflict.   Two months later, on April 6, the United States entered World War I and a month after that the 41-year old Eugene Hale shocked society and Wall Street when he joined the Army.

It was not a rash decision.  On May 4, 1918 The Sun explained "More than a year ago he went to France at his own expense and in the interest of making things more comfortable for the fighting men he established and conducted right under the German guns a canteen for the soldiers in the trenches."  Hale had taken over the "one remaining room of a the only remaining house" in a destroyed French village as a "free restaurant."  He brought in two Frenchmen as cooks, and served coffee and cocoa, hot soup and sandwiches to the soldiers.  He stayed there five months before turning the operation over to the two Frenchmen.

The article noted that the new private "will be sent at once to Camp Devens at Ayer, Mass., because in the opinion of the War Department officials he will have better opportunity there to associate with the New England rookies."  Left alone, Eunice spent time with her family.  On June 30, 1918 the New-York Tribune reported "Mrs. Eugene Hale, jr., whose husband is a member of the National Army, is to spend part of the summer with her parents, the Rev. Dr. and Mrs. Roderick Terry, at Linden Gate."

The end of the line for No. 118 as a private home came in 1949 when architect Ralph E. Leff designed alterations for owner Joseph Aronson.  Completed in 1950 they resulted in a triplex apartment in the basement through part of the second floor, one apartment on the remainder of that level, and one apartment each on the third and fourth floors.

photographs by the author

Thursday, October 10, 2019

The New York Bible Society (Svensky Kyrkan) Bldg - 5 East 48th Street

Merchant James Talcott was the founder of James Talcott Co., described in 1907 by Who's Who in New York City as "controlling the output of about two hundreds mills of foreign and domestic manufacture of woolens, cottons, silks, etc."  He was, as well, a director in several corporations and a bank.  Educated at Williston Seminary, he and his wife, the former Henrietta E. Francis, gave generously to charities throughout his life.  He was a founder of Northfield Seminary in Massachusetts and the couple funded a professorship of religious instruction at Barnard College (Henrietta was a trustee of that institution).  Upon his death in 1916 he left Henrietta a fortune of more than $3.8 million.

Within the next year she made massive gifts to worthy causes including funds for the land and construction of a new building for the New York Bible Society.  The society was a venerable institution, formed in 1809.  Its main purpose was to acquire and distribute copies of Bibles and Testaments.

On February 19, 1919 the New-York Tribune reported that Ella L. Hawk had sold the 26-foot wide converted house at No. 5 East 48th Street.  Rather than demolish the old structure, the New York Bible Society hired architect Wilfred E. Anthony to make massive alterations.

Early in his career Anthony had been employed in the architectural offices of Cram, Goodhue & Ferguson--best known for its Gothic Revival style churches.  Upon setting off on his own, Anthony brought that expertise with him, modifying the Gothic style to the changing times.  

The New York Bible Society published a quarterly magazine, The Bible in New York.  The feature article in its February 1921 issue began "No description can give an adequate idea of our new Bible House at No. 5 East 48th street, New York.  It must be seen in order to be appreciated."

A roofed gallery originally connected the upper turrets. The Architectural Record, December 1921 (copyright expired) 

Anthony had produced a striking limestone-faced structure arranged in three vertical bays.  His 1920's take on the Gothic style has been called "streamlined Gothic" and he touched it with occasional Arts & Crafts elements, especially in the top floor gallery and the two-story barrel-shaped reading room in the center section.  

The central panel originally reading "Bible Society"has been replaced; but the"Talcott Building"panel survives.
Although it was the height of a six-story building, there were technically only four floors.  Both the ground floor reading room and the assembly hall above it were double-height.  Tall Gothic arches culminated in leaded glass windows.  Directly above the central window a picturesque Juliette balcony clung to the facade.   The end bays rose to form octagonal turrets, connected originally by a charming roofed gallery.

The Reading Room rose two stories. The Architectural Record, December 1921 (copyright expired) 
The building was dedicated on April 25, 1921.  It began with a religious service at the Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas on 48th Street and Fifth Avenue and concluded at the new building.  The New-York Tribune reported "A special police escort arrested traffic in Fifth Avenue while the assemblage crossed to the Bible House."  A bronze table in the main hall was unveiled that evening which read:

In recognition of the active interest which Mr. James Talcott has always taken in the distribution of the Scriptures, this building is given to the New York Bible Society.

On September 10, 1921 The Publishers's Weekly wrote "Nothing is lacking in equipment to make this a real center for religious work in New York.  Besides the large salesroom, there is an auditorium which will accommodate at least two hundred persons, spacious committee rooms, which adjoin a dining-room and kitchen, and a section given over to hospital flower service, with devices in which flowers may be kept fresh."

The Reading Room - Architecture & Building April 1921 (copyright expired)
Architecture magazine called it "one of the most interesting and suitable small business buildings in New York."  The Fifth Avenue Association agreed, awarding the New York Bible Society Building second prize in the "alterations" category.  Architecture commented in its December 1921 issue, "We should have [been] inclined to put it number one, for it seems an especially happy and appropriate design for its purposes with its elements of ecclesiastical Gothic."

The auditorium was also used for presentations and lectures.  On December 19, 1921, for instance, The New York Herald announced "Dr. A. C. Gaebelein will lecture on 'The Disarmament Question in Light of the Bible."

Rev. Dr. George William Carter, the General Secretary of the society, lived in the building.   Along with the hundreds of Bibles that were routinely distributed, he took note of current events and reacted with special presentations.  Before President Warren Harding attended the Conference on the Limitation of Armament in October 1921, he received a Bible.  The New-York Tribune reported that it "is said to be one of the finest prints of the Scriptures published."

This show of the Reading Room was apparently taken before the area was completely set up.  Architecture & Building April 1921 (copyright expired)
And after Captain A. E. Matthews died aboard the United States Shipping Board freighter Hatteras, Carter read reports that "there was no Bible on board for use in the burial service."  Rev. Carter immediately announced "that his society would present one or more Bibles to every vessel of the United States Shipping Board and that he would have the name of the ship placed in gold letters on the front of the Bible," as reported by The New York Times on January 5, 1923.

Architecture & Building April 1921 (copyright expired)
The number of Bibles distributed by the Society was prodigious.   And the process was sometimes done with flair.  On April 10, 1926 The New York Times reported "Carrying 7,000 Bibles which they will place in hotels, 1,000 young people will march up Fifth Avenue tomorrow afternoon under the auspices of the New York Bible Society...The consignment will bring the total number of Bibles distributed in hotels by the society to 77,000.  The paraders will have a police escort."  That year the Society circulated nearly one million copies, printed in 67 languages, in New York City alone.

The gifts prompted by current events may have sometimes been more about public relations and positive publicity than religious outreach.  A month after Colonel Charles Lindbergh thrilled the world with his non-stop flight from New York to Paris, newspapers nationwide reported that the New York Bible Society had presented him with an Oxford Bible.  The cover was imprinted in gold lettering:

Presented to
Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh
in recognition of
Faith, Courage, Heroism,
by the 
New York Bible Society,
June 13, 1927

In October 1959, the year of its 150th anniversary, the Society announced how it intended to fight the scourge of juvenile delinquency.  New York City was plagued with teen gangs defined along racial and ethnic lines.  Puerto Rican gangs "rumbled" with Italian gangs; whites with blacks.

The New York Times reported that it had "allocated 5,000 Bibles, 10,000 Testaments and 25,000 Scripture portions in English, Spanish and Italian for distribution in the city's racial tension areas."  The article explained "The society rightly took the position that with a Bible in every home in the troubled sections, 'the prospects of a peaceful and Christian solution' to the youth crime problem are brighter."  

The New York Bible Society operated from its distinctive headquarters until 1978 when the building was sold to Svenska Kyrkan, or the Swedish Seamen's Church.  The group had been founded on Water Street in 1873.

Minimal alterations to the building were made.  Today Svensky Kyrkan operates a café, holds Swedish language classes, and celebrates mass every Sunday.  Little changed inside and out, the building is one of Manhattan's hidden treasures.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

The Wm. J. McGinley House - 420 Convent Avenue

In 1897 developer Mary Cahill was erecting two nearly identical rows of houses on Convent Avenue--Nos.408 through 418, and Nos. 420 through 430.  They were separated by West 148th Street.  Designed by architect John Hauser, the residences were a happy marriage of the Renaissance and Romanesque Revival styles.  The two anchor homes on the corners were, of course, the most desirable with windows on three sides (an ample service alley behind the houses provided an unusual amount of light and ventilation to the rear).

Despite its Convent Avenue address, the entrance of No. 420 was situated squarely on 148th Street above a dog-legged stoop.  A mirror image of No. 418, the basement and first floor levels were faced in rough-cut limestone.  Hauser carried the material the full height of the Convent Avenue elevation.  The upper floors were clad in beige brick and the pressed metal cornice was decorated with foliate-filled panels.

No. 420 became home to Walter H. Tappan and his wife, Jennie.  The couple had married on April 15, 1895 and had a one-year old child, Herrick Ogden at the time the house was completed.  In March 1902 a second child was born, Eleanor House Tappan.

Tappan was a banker and a director in the Vergennes Realty Co.  Jennie involved herself in social activities and was a member of the Washington Heights Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.  She hosted an afternoon reception for its members on November 16, 1914.  On its page titled "Society and Its Charities" the New York Herald noted "There will be a musical programme and historical papers will be read."

The following year Jennie was elected a vice-president of the Washington Heights Day Nursery.  The organization not only made it possible for women to work, but found them jobs as domestic servants.  The New York Times mentioned on December 15, 1915 "The Day Nursery now has a membership of more than 200, and during the past year has taken care of 10,000 children."

Following the Tappans at No. 420 was the family of William Joseph McGinley.  He and his wife, Mary Ann, had seven  children: Paul J., William V., Aaron M., Helena (better known as Helen), Frances, Florence and Mary.  

Unlike Jennie Tappan, Mary Ann's interest were in business.  She bought and sold real estate.  William was Supreme Secretary of the Knights of Columbus.  

His was a significant post, evidenced when Madison Square Garden hosted 6,500 wounded or convalescent veterans at the circus on April 13, 1919.  The Sun reported "One of the biggest and gayest detachments was chaperoned from General Hospital No. 1 on Gun Hill road by the Knights of Columbus...On the trip to the Garden the long string of cars rolled down Convent avenue, where it was reviewed by Supreme Secretary William J. McGinley and other K. of C. officials from the McGinley home at 420 Convent avenue."

Her father's elevated position provided little Helena a rare opportunity on September 10 that year.   The entire city turned out to see war hero General John J. Pershing lead his troops down Fifth Avenue.  The parade briefly stopped in front of St. Patrick's Cathedral where Archbishop Patrick J. Hayes and Cardinal Mercier, "the hero priest of Belgium," would greet the general.  Before the troops arrived, Helen presented the cardinal with a bouquet of roses.

"He accepted them graciously and, indicating a cluster of American beauties the girl held in her arms, inquired: 'And the other flowers, tell me, now, who are they for?'" reported the New-York Tribune.

"They are for General Pershing, Your Eminence," she replied.

Earlier that year the Knights of Columbus offered to commission a portrait of General Pershing to be presented to the French Government.   A letter arrived on April 21 from artist Gustave Klammerich, a German artist who had fought in the war.  "I desire to paint the portrait of Gen. Pershing," he wrote, "and assure you of a good job as I have admiration for the soldiers of America and their commander."

William McGinley was succinct in his response.  He told reporters "the portrait is going to be made by an American artist."

It was not the last gift to France initiated by the Knights of Columbus and spearheaded by McGinley.  In 1920 50,000 of the 100,000 Knights who had served in World War I contributed to fund a statue of the Marquis de Lafayette to replace the statue of Frederick the Great in Metz.   McGinley said that the K. of C. "had the happy thought that the dethroned statue might be replaced with a statue that would combine French and American tradition."

Interestingly, Hauser made one of the limestone gateposts higher than the other, following the rise of the steps.
The esteem with which McGinley was held was evidenced on April 10, 1921.  At the annual communion breakfast at the Church of Our Lady of Mercy at Fordham University, he was presented with a $3,000 diamond ring and a $2,500 silver service set.  The lavish gifts would be equal in value to more than $77,000 today.

Not long afterward it appears the McGinley family relocated to New Haven, Connecticut.  Their former home was being operated as a rooming house by 1924 when Jane Forestall was living here.  She was fined $10 for driving without a license in July that year; The New York Telegram adding she "is said to be a Belgium actress."

The motion picture industry was fast moving to the West Coast in the 1920's, but the Famous Players-Lasky studio was still in Astoria, Queens when "talkies" began replacing silent movies.  It was a change not welcomed by all employees.

One of them was Ernest DeValera, who rented a room at No. 420 in 1928.  The studio had asked the police for extra protection "as the result of complaints made that the work of installing new equipment for 'taking-movies' has been threatened with interference," reported the Daily Star on August 29.

The policeman who had been on duty the previous night noticed DeValera drive by the building.  Then again.  And again, until he had circled the property five times.  "While he was questioning him, the patrolman said, DeValera became abusive and used boisterous language," reported the Daily Star.  He was charged with disorderly conduct.

A most disturbing incident occurred just outside the house on February 25, 1937.  Albert Victor lived nearby on West 141st Street and made his living as a "rag picker."  That morning he noticed a cardboard box on the sidewalk in front of No. 420, and stopped to open it.  He was horrified to find a dead infant inside.  The New York Post described it as "a stillborn white girl baby wrapped in cheesecloth.  The body had been there only a few hours, physicians say."

Alicia Lawrence had leased the rooming house for many years when it was placed on the market in August 1943.  She purchased the property and initiated a renovation, completed in 1949, that resulted in a doctor's office in the basement, two furnished rooms on the first floor, three on the second and four furnished rooms on the third.  The Certificate of Occupancy noted "Doctor to reside on premises."

That was Dr. Eric Thompson, a dentist who lived and operated his practice practice here at least through 1973.

Surprisingly, much of John Hauser's elements--including the delicate carvings over the basement stairs, survive.  photos via
In 2008 No. 420 was reconverted to a single family home.  Astoundingly, much of the interior detailing had survived.  It was offered in 2012 for $3.5 million.

photographs by the author