Wednesday, December 8, 2021

John Gifford's 1879 Flat Building - 70 West 11th Street


In the first years of the 1850's the West 11th Street block between fashionable Fifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue was a mix of architectural styles.  Handsome Greek Revival homes co-existed with quaint two-and-a-half story Federal style brick homes of a generation earlier.  Wealthy broker James N. Gifford inherited vacant lots on the west end of the block, and in 1853 began construction on four opulent Italianate style residences at 62 through 68.  But Gifford initially left the westernmost plot, 70 West 11th Street, empty--most likely because of its peculiar dimensions.  The odd shape was a result of the abutting, triangular shaped cemetery of the Congregation of Shearith Israel, which had been there since 1805.

The venerable little burying ground sits hidden behind a low wall.

Finally, in 1879, Gifford began construction on a modern, upscale apartment building on the parcel.  Completed the same year, the five-story structure stepped delicately around the lines of the old cemetery, creating a quirky contortion of angles.  Its cutting-edge neo-Grec design featured architrave  window frames and a robust cast metal cornice.

There were just five apartments in the building--one per floor--each with seven rooms and a bath.  A janitor (today we would call him a superintendent) and his family lived in a basement apartment.  

That janitor was George Scheier in 1884.  Around the corner on Sixth Avenue was the Jefferson Market Courthouse, and Scheier was there on September 6, attempting to explain himself to Justice O'Reilly.  He had been arrested and charged with attempting suicide.

After a bitter quarrel with his wife, Scheier had swallowed Paris Green, a highly toxic powder used as a rat poison.  His wife found him in time, and summoned a doctor who saved him.  Now, unless he could convince the judge he had not really meant to kill himself, he would be incarcerated.  (Attempted suicide was a jailable crime.)   The New York Herald reported that he "was very pale, but tried to look unconcerned yesterday, as he leaned against the bar at the Jefferson Market Police Court."

The judge asked him, "What did you want to kill yourself for?"

"I didn't," Schier replied, "It was only a joke.  My wife and I quarreled last night, and I took the Paris Green to make her come round."

"And your wife saved you from the undertaker by getting a doctor to work a stomach pump this warm weather," scoffed the judge.  Schier was held behind bars awaiting his trial.

The residents of the building were well-to-do professionals, like physicians John H. Huddleston and James E. Briggs.  On March 11, 1886 Briggs, too, would be before a judge, facing very serious charges.  

Dr. Etienne C. Vidal had been called to 159 East 52nd Street to attend to an 18-year-old servant girl, Sarah Wilson.  She was "suffering from the effects of malpractice," said The Sun.  It was a polite term for an abortion.  She told Dr. Vidal that Briggs "had operated on her six times."  While she refused to identify the father, she said "her trouble was caused by a young bricklayer with whom she had been keeping company."  While Dr. Briggs denied the girl's story, he was held in $2,500 bail awaiting trial.  The amount , equal to more than $70,000 today, reflected the gravity of the charge.

Occupants were paying $60 per month in 1894 for their suites, or just over $1,850 today (an enviable rent for an entire floor by a 21st century perspective).

Among them was the Eben H. Moore family.   Born in 1834, Moore was a banker and broker with Rolston & Bass on Broad Street.  He had married Lucy Green Cleaveland on April 7, 1857.  They had three children, Henry (who died in 1881 at the age of 21), Helen Maria and Elizabeth Putnam.

Lucy was a fascinating figure.  She was born in Cleveland, Ohio, a town founded by an ancestor.  When she was still a teenager, she traveled alone to the South to teach.  But with anti-Northern passions high in the pre-war years, she "encountered so much unfriendliness," according to a friend years later, that she resigned.  After their marriage, the Moores moved to Dubuque, Iowa, finally settling to New York City in 1886.

On October 28, 1896 Moore nearly lost his life.  He was on Fulton Street when a Broadway streetcar smashed into an express wagon "and threw it against Eben H. Moore, sixty years old," wrote the New York Herald.  Moore's wounds were attended to and the conductor of the streetcar was arrested.

By the turn of the century, Edward T. Suffern had lived in the apartment house for several years.  His ancestor, John Suffern, had founded the town of Suffern, New York in 1796, and his spinster sister, Janette, still lived on a cottage of the old family estate, formerly called New Antrim.  

Suffern was extremely close to another resident, Caroline Thompson, the wife of Marion Thompson.  Newspapers later explained her frequent visits to his apartment by saying she "kept house for him."

Caroline, known familiarly as Carrie, suffered a terrifying encounter on Saturday afternoon, May 4, 1901.  She was sitting in the front room at 1:30 when she heard a noise in the dining room.   She rushed in to find an intruder, John Jackson.  The New-York Tribune reported, "When she asked him what he wanted he answered by reaching into his pocket and pulling out a treacherous looking dirk.  He then told her to keep quiet, and still facing her, he backed out into the hall."

As soon as the door was closed, Carrie screamed for help.  The janitor, Louis Meizer, was in the hallway and tried to catch the would-be thief but "Jackson made a desperate lunge at Meizer with his knife, and the janitor retreated."  Jackson ran down West 11th Street with the janitor and several other residents "in full pursuit."  A detective, who was on patrol at the time, joined in the chase and captured Jackson at Fifth Avenue.

Lucy Greene Cleaveland Moore died in St. Luke's Hospital a few days before Christmas in 1904.  A friend wrote to the New-York Daily Tribune, saying that her life "had been one long of devotion to people and good causes."  The letter said in part, "With a mind finely cultivated and excellent in faculty, a heart of the richest quality, and an energy of body that almost never paused, she expended herself in all her rare powers on the needs of others."  She was 67 years old.  

The following year, on July 18, 1905, Edward T. Suffern died.  When the details of his will were published, readers were shocked.  It included the clause, "To the person known as my sister, Janette Suffern, I give absolutely nothing whatever."  He made special note that "We have been practically dead to each other, except so far as business relations compelled recognition, most of our lives, and it is my wish, desire and firm intention that this condition shall continue after my decease."

He left the entire contents of his home to Carrie Thompson, "my best friend," as well as $10,000 (more than $300,000 today).  He anticipated Janette's contesting of the will and said that should anyone do so, it should be known that his wishes were made "after mature deliberation."

His posthumous treatment of his sister was, was in many ways, cruel.  The Evening World wrote, "'Blood is thicker than water,' runs the old adage, but there is a lonely gray-haired woman living in a little cottage nestling at the foot of the Ramapo Mountains in Suffern, N.Y., who has lost all faith in the ancient proverb."  Because he had left all his "residuary estate, real and personal" to the Catherine Henrietta Suffern Fund of Christ Church in Suffern, Janette's residency in the cottage of the old family property was in jeopardy.

She told a reporter, "For more than thirty years we have gone our different ways, he leading a gay life in New York, which is one of the most wicked spots on earth, and me trying to live down by a humble existence all the shadow his manner of life brought on the name of Suffern."  She said "if there is one spot on it [i.e., the Suffern estate] that is dear to me it is the old homestead.  This my brother has seen fit to deprive me of, and for this I will probably contest the will."

Janette, incidentally, was still living in the little cottage a year later when she was arrested.  In May, she became "involved in a dispute with a neighbor, Mrs. Conklin," according to the New-York Tribune.  It was serious enough that Janette was arrested and fined the equivalent of $750 today.  That would have been the end of it if the feisty woman had kept her thoughts to herself.

"As she was leaving the courtroom Miss Suffern directed some remarks to the justice that made him hot under the collar," said the article.  The judge slapped her with a contempt of court charge and sent the elderly woman to jail for five days.

By now 70 West 11th Street was attracting artists.  In 1905 noted wood engraver and illustrator Andrew Varick Stout Anthony and his wife, the former Mary W. Walker, lived here.  He did engravings for the Illustrated News and Harper's, and from 1886 to 1889 had supervised the fine arts editions of the Boston-based publishing company, Ticknor, Fields, and Osgood.  Anthony died in Newton, Massachusetts on July 2, 1906.

On June 25, 1908, following their marriage, composer Charles Ives  and his bride, the former Harmony Twichell, moved into 70 West 11th Street.  He was making a living at the time in the insurance field, having formed Ives & Co. with his friend Julian Myrick a year earlier.  According to William R. Everdell in his 1997 book The First Moderns, the weekend after moving in, "Ives took Harmony back to the [Housatonic River] valley, and there he had a vision.  Five years later that vision would become 'The Housatonic at Stockbridge,' part of the dauntingly original orchestral masterpiece called Three Places in New England."

Living in the building from 1908 through 1913 was illustrator John Wolcott Adams and his wife, the former Frances Pendelton Sheldon.  A descendant of two American Presidents, Adams was educated at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and the Arts Students League of New York.

John Wolcott Adams, from the collection of the Library of Congress

By 1917 Harold de Wolf Fuller, the editor of The Nation, lived at 70 West 11th Street.  His neighbor, Lucien S. Breckenridge left to fight in World War I that year.  A captain with the 308th Infantry, he saw intense action in the Meuse-Argonne offensive, the deadliest battle in American history with 350,000 casualties.

Breckenridge was ordered to cross the Meuse River with his battalion on October 14, 1918 near Grand-Pre, France.  The bridges had all been destroyed and, according to the U.S. Army later, he "personally reconnoitered the banks of the river in utter disregard for his own safety until he found a ford."  Breckenridge then led his command across the river "under intense machine-gun and artillery fire"  He had returned to 70 West 11th Street in 1919 when he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

Another artist, Kitty Price Jenkins, lived in the building at the time.  A sculptor, her pieces were displayed in the annual exhibit of The Society of Independent Artists.

Not affiliated with the arts was Tenement House Commissioner John J. Murphy.  He had been living in the Bronx until the fall of 1918, when he moved into 70 West 11th Street.  He had not been there many days before his ire was raised.

The former tenant had left his telephone there.  Murphy told The Evening World, "Before that was discontinued, I notified the telephone company that I would take over the contract of the old tenant.  The change involved no labor of any sort.  But I was told I could have no service until I paid $10 as an 'installation' fee."  Since he still had service at his old address, he asked if he couldn't simply have it transferred.  "Either of these changes would have meant absolutely nothing except an alteration in the new telephone directory.  But the telephone company told me nothing could be done until I had paid the $10."

Murphy was understandably put off.  The fee would amount to around $175 today.  With the telephone company obdurate, he "sent a protest to Washington."  No one responded.  And so Murphy informed the telephone company that "rather than submit to such an unjust charge, I would do without a telephone in my home."  The reaction:  "They shrugged their shoulders."

And so now, although he said it was "inconvenient" not to have a home telephone, Murphy made his point by going phoneless "as a matter of principle."

The population in the apartment of Fred Michaels and his wife grew by one following a tragic incident in 1938.    Michaels was a close friend and fishing buddy of animal dealer William H. Lindeman, who lived across the street at 63 West 11th Street.  Lindeman had never emotionally recovered from the death of his wife two years earlier, and not even the companionship of a dachshund puppy named Mr. Snookums alleviated his grief.  To ensure the puppy's safety, on May 4 the 55-year-old closed it in a front room with all the windows opened wide.  He then went to the kitchen, opened the gas jets, "and sat down to die," as reported by The New York Sun.  

He left a note saying "whatever occurred is by my own doing.  My pup, see that no harm comes to him and place him where he will be no risk.  He will get a good home with Mrs. Michaels if she is permitted to keep him."  Mr. Snookums took up residency across the street at 70 West 11th Street.

Today there are two apartments per floor in the building.  The architectural elements of the first floor have been shaved off,  and the doorway altered.  But, overall, the building with its wacky footprint and more than its fair share of drama is intact.

photographs by the author has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Emery Roth's 1930 San Remo Apartments - 145-146 Central Park West


photo by Bilby

The once magnificent San Remo Hotel on Central Park West and 75th Street, opened in 1891, was decidedly out of fashion by the 1920's, when modern Art Deco buildings were luring residents.  And so it was not especially surprising when The New York Evening Post reported on November 28, 1928, "An apartment house representing an investment of about $7,000,000 is to replace the San Remo apartments, on Central Park West, and adjoining dwellings on Seventy-fourth and Seventy-fifth Streets."  

Senator Henry W. Pollock had assembled a syndicate for the massive project.  A year later, on October 24, the Stock Market crashed.  With construction of the luxury structure well underway, the investors must have been nervous at best.

On September 13, 1930, The Sun reported, "the San Remo, the twenty-six-story, twin-towered apartment building, overlooking Central Park scheduled for occupancy October 1.  The building, which commands striking views, is an example of the modern trend of architectural treatment as applied to finer apartment construction."  The article said the suites would range from six to sixteen rooms, "with simplex tower apartments of six rooms, one apartment to a floor, and duplex tower apartments of fifteen rooms, each occupying two tower floors."  There would also be a maisonette--a street level two-bedroom, two-bath apartment with a private entrance.

The syndicate had hired Emery Roth to design the San Remo.  Born in Hungary in 1871, he was responsible for several medium height apartment buildings before designing the 41-story Ritz Tower with Thomas Hastings in 1926.  When hired for the San Remo, he was at work on the Eldorado Apartments and Beresford Apartments, also on Central Park West.

For the San Remo, Roth turned to the Late Italian Renaissance.  Writing in the New Yorker, architectural critic George S. Chappell said, "the Italian baroque [is] skillfully adapted to modern conditions...The proportions are well-studied and the warm light brick used above the limestone substructure give a delightful effect."  Chappell was taken with the treatment of the towers, topped by Corinthian temples and 22-foot-high copper lanterns.

An advertisement in The New York Times touted:

Every detail of these sumptuous apartments has been carefully planned to make living in them the last word in luxury.  Only private homes have ceilings as lofty as these and rooms as spacious.  Every chamber [i.e., bedroom] has its own colored tile bathroom and is well-supplied with deep closets.  Many have dressing rooms too.  The long galleries and living rooms with fireplaces offer splendid decorative possibilities....Up in the towers are apartments such as New York has never before seen with windows on all four sides and views of Central Park, the Hudson, and Westchester.

The Sun noted that the interior garden had been designed by horticulturist Lou R. Strauss, Jr., and the lobby by decorative artist Theodore Hofstatter.

photo by Wurtz Brothers, from the collection of the New York Public Library

Among the initial residents were Herbert Sondheim, owner of the upscale clothing company that bore his name, and his fashion designer wife, the former Etta Janet Fox.  The year they moved into the San Remo, a baby boy was born, Stephen Joshua Sondheim, who would become the world's most renowned composer-lyricist of the 20th century.

A grainy photograph shows the Sonheim dining room, "decorated by Thodlow with Hepplewhite and Sheraton furniture."  The New York Sun, March 7, 1931

The family of Sol Brill were also initial residents.  Brill was the owner of fifteen motion picture theaters and president of the Meserole Securities Company.  Sharing the apartment were his wife, Sadie, and their daughters Hortense and Lillian.  When he died on January 26, 1932, his estate was estimated at around $16.8 million in today's dollars.

Also living here at the time was Sara Shubert Davidow, the widow of theatrical manager Edward Davidow.  Sara came from a theatrical family, her famous brothers being Lee, Jacob (J. J.), and Sam S. Shubert.

Rival motion picture executives Jack Cohn and Joseph R. Vogel lived in the San Remo by 1935.  Cohn was a vice president of Columbia Pictures and Vogel was vice president of Lowe's Theaters.  Vogel's sister, Adele, was also a resident (in a separate apartment).  She was described by The New York Sun as "one of the few women stock brokers in Wall Street."

Perhaps the first celebrity to sign a lease was Jack Dempsey, former boxing champion and, now, restauranteur.   He and his wife, Broadway singer Hannah Williams, moved into an 11-room apartment in May 1936.  Hannah was the pugilists' third wife.  They would have two children while living in the San Remo.

Dempsey nearly lost his life on June 29, 1939.  He had been too sick to attend a boxing match a few days earlier, but it did not seem serious.  But that night, while he and two friends were playing cards in the apartment, Dempsey collapsed.  He was taken to Polyclinic Hospital suffering from gangrenous appendicitis.  The following day doctors told reporters he was "still in a critical condition."  Dempsey's personal representative, Billy Taub, said that "Dr. Brennan told him shortly after the operation that Dempsey escaped death by an hour."

In the meantime, things were often rocky within the Dempsey household.  Hannah later related her husband's alleged abuse.  She recounted a time when he complained that the food bills were too high and called the cook and a maid in.  "Don't take orders from Mrs. Dempsey," he told them, "she's crazy half the time."  

And on one occasion, when she returned home after being out with her sister and two female friends, he accused her of adultery.  "He pushed me down on the bed and held his fist up, and started to bring it down," she told a judge.  She pleaded for him not to strike her, but he punched her face, giving her a black eye.  "He said he was going to kick me downstairs and out of the house," she recounted.  The couple divorced in 1943.

In January 1939 world famous actor John Barrymore and his wife, Elaine, signed a lease.  It came at an inconvenient time, since 60 San Remo employees--elevator operators, maintenance men and attendants--had walked out on October 28, 1938.  Pickets were marching outside the San Remo when the Barrymores moved in.  Nevertheless, services were being carried out by replacements, denounced by the Building Employees' Industrial Union as "scabs."

photo by Clement Bardot

Labor negotiations in the 1920's and '30's often involved violence.  In February 1939, the problems at the San Remo nearly was tragic for one resident family.  The sympathies of wealthy attorney Harry Bijur and his wife, the former Madeline Ryan (daughter of multi-millionaire Thomas Fortune Ryan), were on the side of the workers.  For three months Madeline had been providing monetary assistance and food for 23 San Remo striking employees.  By now, she and her husband had donated around $4,000--nearly $75,000 in today's money--to the men and their families.  Their charitable and political stand did not sit well with the union that supplied the replacement workers.

On February 3 Madeline received a phone call saying, "Mrs. Bijur, get that picket line off the street.  I'll break your neck and throw you and your boys into the furnace."  One of the couple's sons, 15-year-old Ryan, was away at the Cheshire Academy in Cheshire, Connecticut.  The following day he received a telegram telling him his mother had been killed and his father injured.  It directed him to take a specific train to the city.

The school's headmaster, however, was suspicious, and called State Troopers to accompany the boy.  The delay caused Ryan to take a later train.  Later in the afternoon, an automobile carrying three men pulled up in front of Ryan's dormitory, but left suddenly when the headmaster, Arthur N. Sheriff, came out to investigate.  The failed kidnapping did not intimidate the feisty Madeline Bijur.  She sent Ryan "to a hideaway in Connecticut with a bodyguard of detectives," according to the New York Post on February 6, and told reporters, "If by this scare they think they have me licked, they are all wrong.  I'm going out on the picket line myself."

The long list of celebrity residents continued with former vaudeville and Broadway entertainer Eddie Cantor.  Following mid-century, well-known groundbreaking photographer Diane Arbus lived here as did actors Tony Randall, Dustin Hoffman and Mary Tyler Moore.  The widely talented Carl Van Vechten was a resident by the first years of the 1960's.  His impressive resume included critic, author, portrait photographer, and "discoverer of young or overlooked talent," according to The New York Times.

The San Remo was converted to co-ops in 1972.  The affluence of the owners was evidenced on June 15, 1973 when thieves made off with $200,000 worth of jewelry from the apartment of Eugenia Gladstone.  (That figure would top $1 million today.)

Following the conversion, The New York Times noted that Madonna had been rejected by the board, but "boldface residents," like Dianne Keaton and Steven Spielberg had been accepted.

The long list of famous names in the San Remo continued.  Motion picture star Rita Hayworth lived here until her death in 1987.  Her apartment was bequeathed to her daughter, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan.  Apple Computer founder Steve Jobs purchased a tower duplex in 1982, but never moved in.  After spending years renovating it, he sold it to singer Bono.  In 1986, following his marriage to actress Victoria Tennant, Steve Martin purchased and joined two apartments.  (Following their divorce in 1994 he had them separated and soundproofed.)  At one point, Barry Manilow sublet his apartment to actress Raquel Welch.

In 1986, motion picture producer Robert Stigwood put his 28th floor, 14-room apartment on the market.  Designer Calvin Klein and his wife Kelly hoped to purchase it, but were rejected by the co-op board "because The San Remo was afraid they'd throw wild parties," according to Klein's biographer Steven Gaines.  Instead, Stigwood sold it to actor Bruce Willis and his wife, Demi Moore.  (Around that same time, the couple purchased the maisonette, apparently for investment purposes.)  The couple did major interior renovations, eliminating almost all of Emery Roth's detailing in favor of "Southwestern Mission."

The Willis-Moore renovations went as far as replacing the windows.  photo by Tony Cenicola/The New York Times, May 5, 2017

Over the years the San Remo has been home to a seemingly endless list of celebrities--Donna Karan, Zero Mostel, Peter Allen, Aaron Spelling and Hedy Lamarr among them.  Emery Roth's twin-towered structure earned individual landmark status in March 1987.

photo by Downtowngal has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

Monday, December 6, 2021

The Lost Deaf and Dumb Institution --50th Street and Madison Avenue


from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Deaf-mute children in the early decades of the 19th century had little hope.  Considered stupid and inferior by most, their only means of eking a living later in life would most likely be through begging.  But hope came with the French Sign Language, developed by Charles-Michel de l'Épée, and in 1814 the first American school for the deaf was founded in Hartford, Connecticut.

In the spring of 1818 the Rev. Abraham O. Stansbury, who came to New York from the Hartford school, was appointed the first teacher of the New York Deaf and Dumb Institute.  It opened on May 12, 1818 with four students.  Initially funded by donations and what tuition parents could afford, the school grew.

By 1825 the need for a permanent building was evident, but the State Legislature was not easily moved.  And so, on March 26, Azariah C. Flagg, the superintendent, loaded students on a train and headed to Albany to prove they were intelligent and being educated.  The Register reported, "The scholars of the deaf and dumb institution in New-York...were exhibited in the Assembly chamber, yesterday afternoon, before the members of the legislature, and a large concourse of ladies and gentlemen.  The progress of these mutes, in education, is wonderful and highly gratifying."  

Legislators asked the children questions, like, "What is the purpose of the Lobby?"  These were translated into sign language and answered on a slate.  The Albany Daily Advertiser editorialized, "We hope the legislature will be governed by this mute Lobby, if they never were by a noisy one, and give a good round donation."

The newspaper got its wish.   The cornerstone of the Deaf and Dumb Institution was laid in October 1827.  Construction would take two years.  The 1857 History of the New York Institution for the Deaf and Dumb said, "the Institution was removed in the spring of 1829, to the new building erected on Fiftieth street, then quite out of town, on an eminence surrounded by open fields and woods."  The architect had produced a handsome Federal style building three stories tall above a high basement level.  The wide flight of stone steps was protected by a columned portico.

from the collection of the New York Public Library

The enrollment upon moving into the new building was just over 50 students.  The success of the school was notable and just two years later there were 82 students, 56 of whom "were beneficiaries of the State," according to the 1857 historian.

The students received a similar education to that of public schools--writing, reading, mathematics, history and such--but equally important was the trade department.  The mute and hearing-impaired would still face discrimination and misunderstanding after leaving the institution, and knowing how to earn a living was crucial.

As part of their schooling, students were occasionally taken on outings and on what today would be called field trips.  In December 1839 they were taken to the Broadway Circus, for instance, and on December 26, 1845 they were taken to see Rembrandt Peale's large moral painting The Court of Death, executed in 1820.  Two days earlier, the New-York Daily Tribune had remarked, "those who are there at that hour will witness one of the most interesting scenes it is possible to conceive.  Heretofore this painting has made the most marked and lively impression upon the Deaf and Dumb--all the more striking in that they were unable fully to express the intense emotions it excited."

An 1835 print suggests that the original peaked roof was removed and a central tower erected, giving the building a more Georgian look.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

As the school grew, the building became inadequate.   In September 1847 the directors petitioned the legislature "for a grant of sundry lots of land adjacent to the institution."  As always, the request sparked "a warm debate for and against granting the prayer of the petitioners," as worded by the New York Herald.   The money was eventually forthcoming and additions were made to the building.

As a condition of the original agreement with the State, four times a year an "exhibition" of the students was held to prove their progress.   The remote location of the facility was evidenced on November 19, 1852.  In reporting on the exhibition, The New York Times wrote, "A train of cars left the city at 11 o'clock, for the accommodation of visitors, of whom there was a large and most respectable attendance."  The children were paraded before the audience to answer questions or otherwise show their education.  The article noted, for instance:

A very interesting dialogue (interpreted by the teacher) followed, between Master Barnes, of Utica, and Master Hicks, Long Island, in which the one contended that Bonaparte, and the other that Washington, was the greater and braver man--fully showing considerable knowledge of history.

At the time, despite three enlargements, the building was again being taxed.  In 1855, as recalled in the History of the New York Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, "it was in contemplation to enlarge it a fourth time.  Meantime, the rapid growth of the great city was threatening to hem in the Institution with a dense population; for whose convenience streets were opened through its grounds; and the space available for fresh air and exercise became very seriously restricted."  And so, 37 acres of land in Washington Heights was acquired and construction was started on a new facility.

In 1857 the Institution moved to its new location and leased the old campus to Columbia College, then located on Murray Street at Broadway.   The site may well have been chosen by the college's trustees because it already owned a large tract of land adjoining the old Deaf and Dumb Institution.

In 1801 physician David Hosack had opened the first public botanical garden in the United States, the Elgin Botanic Garden.  When he could no longer afford to support it, he sold the land to the State of New York.  It was given to Columbia College in 1814, after which the gardens were abandoned and they returned to untamed brush.

On April 1, 1857 The New York Times remarked, "There is a lively time now in the College building, preparatory to a change of quarters."  The article noted, "By the terms of the late sale of their property, the College may hold possession until the 10th of May, but they are anxious to get away as soon as the alterations now going on in the up-town edifice are completed."  The old Columbia building, completed in 1760, was demolished.

The cornerstone of that building, bearing the date 1755, "together with other particulars of the foundation, in Latin, and rudely cut," was salvaged.  It was used as the cornerstone of the new Columbia Chapel on the uptown campus, reported the New-York Daily Tribune on August 22, 1857.

The Evening Post, on May 11, 1857, wrote, "The new location of the Collège is a delightful one...The old Asylum Buildings have been altered somewhat, repaired, and greatly improved."  Indeed, the New-York Daily Tribune described the updated interiors saying:

The lecture-rooms, library, chapel and residences of the President and the Professors, are very commodious.  The lecture-room of Professor McCulloh, the present head of the department of Chemistry and Physics, is particularly attractive, being painted in fresco, having the seats of the students rising circle above circle around the demonstrating table, and furnished with a beautiful dome of glass to admit light.  

The Evening Post noted, "A beautiful lawn slopes from the College southward down to 49th Street, and is ornamented by some fine old trees.  This will be for the present the main entrance to the College, but as soon as the more extensive grounds northward to 50th Street can be graded, laid out, and properly embellished, the principal entrance will be in that direction."

An extension earlier erected by the Deaf and Dumb Institution is evident in this print.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

The chapel was furnished with an organ.  Here the President sat on "the library chair of Dr. [Benjamin] Franklin, which contains a brass plate in the back an account of its fortunes since left by the philosopher," wrote the New-York Tribune.

The city's gradual northward expansion was evidenced the following year when the cornerstone of St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue and 50th Street, a block away, was laid.  

At the time, the school was pressing to increase the viability of its property for a property campus.  Fourth Avenue (later Park Avenue), which now ran through a portion of the old Botanic Gardens plot, "has prevented a determination of the plans for the new edifices," said the New-York Tribune.  "If the street can be shut up, a most beautiful and ample design can be carried out."

While that issue was being debated, Columbia College continued to expand.  In 1860 a baseball game against New York University initiated intercollegiate sports.  The next sport to be included was football, and in 1873, rowing, or crew.

Among the earliest buildings added was the President's House, at right.  photo courtesy John Shekita

The issue of Fourth Avenue was settled and in 1862 the President's House was erected.  One-by-one the campus enlarged, the School of Mines going up in 1872, and enlarged in 1880 and 1884; the Library and Law School was completed by 1884, and Hamilton Hall by 1880.  The old Deaf & Dumb Instruction building, slowly engulfed by the modern campus, was relegated to administrative uses.

The days of the venerable building were numbered when this photograph was taken in 1882.  photo courtesy John Shekita

By 1892, when the college acquired land in Morningside Heights and began plans to move its campus, the old Deaf and Dumb Institution building had been demolished for nearly a decade.

many thanks to reader John Shekita for prompting this post has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

Saturday, December 4, 2021

The 1848 Daniel Stinson House - 122 West 13th Street


In 1848, after completing a row of Greek Revival houses on West 13th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, builder John Hanrahan bought land on the opposite side of the street from the estate of Elizabeth Walsh and began a similar row of six houses.  Three stories high, they were faced in red brick above a brownstone basement level.

No. 98 West 13th Street (renumbered 122 in 1868) became home to Charles E. Grant.  Born on March 16, 1811, he had married his wife, Jane, around 1837.  The couple had two sons.

Sadly, Jane died five days before Christmas in 1852 at the age of 35.  Her funeral was held in the house on December 22, followed by a service at the 13th Street Presbyterian Church.

Shortly afterward, Charles took his sons west to Illinois.  The 13th Street house became home to William H. and Maria W. Morris.  The comfortable lifestyles of the residents along the block were evidenced in help wanted advertisements placed by Maria.  One, on September 28, 1858, read, "Wanted--By a family of two, a perfectly competent waitress and chambermaid who understands sewing; very best reference required."  And six months later,  on March 22, 1859, she was looking for "A seamstress by the day, in a private family; one who understands fine sewing, and can bring good references."

When she placed that advertisement, Maria had just given birth to the Morris's first child, William Henry.  Tragically the baby died at two months of age and the parlor was the scene of another funeral on May 7.

At the time, Daniel Stinson had served in the United States Army since 1821.  Born in Dunbarton, New Hampshire in 1797, he came to New York City at the age of 22 and in 1822 entered the United States Army's Quartermaster's Department.  With the outbreak of Civil War, the 64-year-old was made assistant Quartermaster.  

Three years after the end of the war, in 1868, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton promoted him to the rank of colonel "for faithful and meritorious services during the war."  By now, Stinson and his wife, the former Maria V. W. Churchill, had lived in the West 13th Street house for four years. The couple, who had married on December 17, 1828, had no children.

Not surprisingly, Daniel Stinson was deeply patriotic.  Following the shooting of President James A. Garfield in 1881, Stinson read that an Akron, Ohio newspaper had launched a "one-cent subscription" to raise funds for a gift of appreciation for Captain C. A. Cook who had slapped the mouth of a man named Morrison "for wishing Garfield would die."  The fund drive asked for a penny from each reader to help purchase a gold watch for Cook.  Stinson did far better than a penny.  The Summit County Beacon reported on September 14 that he had sent in $10--more than $250 in today's money.

In the summer of 1891, Stinson fell ill and his condition quickly deteriorated to pneumonia.  On August 22, The Fall River Daily Herald entitled an article "Died In The Harness" and reported, "Colonel Daniel Stinson is dead.  Up to this week he was able to be about and attend to his affairs although he was 94 years old."  The article noted that he "was for more than fifty years connected with the quartermaster's department of the United States army in New York city."

Maria remained in the house until her death on June 10, 1893.  As had been the case so many times in the past, her funeral was held in the parlor three days later.

The Stinson estate sold 122 West 13th Street on December 30. 1894 for the equivalent of about $592,000 today.  It became home to art dealer Roland F. Knoedler, proprietor of M. Knoedler & Co.

Knoedler's father had co-founded the firm in 1846.  In 1903 The Finance and Commerce of New York and United States wrote, "When the business was first established the late M. Knoedler was the only connoisseur who sold original oil paintings from the various European schools.  American art owes a great deal to him, for from the beginning he devoted great attention to American paintings, and fostered and encouraged native art." 

Knoedler's gallery was by now famous for selling Old Dutch and Italian art and 18th century English paintings.  Works by Sir Joshua Reynolds, Gainsborough, Titian and Rembrandt were among those that were displayed on its walls.

In 1923 Sir William Orpen's portrait of "The Dean of the Art World" "attracted much attention at the last Royal Academy exhibition in London."  The Spur, October 15, 1923 (copyright expired)

Early on Saturday evening, June 30, 1900 a messenger frantically knocked on the door of 122 West 13th Street hoping to find Knoedler at home.  Unfortunately, he was not in.

Earlier that day Mary E. Hurst had visited the Fifth Avenue gallery to browse among the artworks.  Just before noon its manager, Mr. Rose closed the gallery for the day.  Neither he nor his five employees realized that someone was still inside.

When she realized she was alone, Mary left the gallery.  The inner hallway door had a spring lock which closed behind her and the heavy street door was securely locked.  Mary was trapped in the small vestibule.

The New York Herald reported, "Fashionably attired women driving in Fifth avenue alighted from cabs and broughams and gathered in front of the door trying to comfort the imprisoned woman, who, in tones that grew weaker every moment, begged to be liberated, as she feared she would faint or suffocate."  Dozens of patrons of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel across the avenue swarmed the sidewalk in front of the Knoedler & Co. gallery.

Mary was finally rescued by a policeman who entered the mansion of Mrs. Edward King, next door, made his way across the roof of the Knoedler building and pried open the scuttle.  Eventually he was able to retrieve Mary Hurst and bring her up to the roof and back through the King residence.

Roland Knoedler spent more and more time in Paris (much of it spent searching out masterpieces for his prime client, Henry Frick).  By 1909 Dr. Waldo H. Richardson was living in 122 West 13th Street.

It was sold to Domenica Cella in 1914, who leased it to Dr. William C. Halleck in 1916.   The 66-year-old physician had just walked out on his wife, Elizabeth, to whom he had been married since 1877.  The couple had seven children.

In February 1917, Elizabeth very publicly filed for divorce, naming "Madam Ruth Hausman" as the other woman.  She told the courts that her husband's income was as much as $10,000 a year--around $200,000 today.

Following the divorce, William and Ruth were wed, but it would not be a long-lasting marriage.  Dr. Halleck died in the 13th Street house on March 6, 1920.

Domenica Cella sold No. 122 that year to Charles I. Taylor.  In 1941 it was converted to apartments.  Although a coat of 20th century paint that peels away from the brick and brownstone gives the house a neglected look, many details surprisingly survive--like the interior shutters of the parlor and second floors, the paneled entrance doors, and the cast iron balcony.

photographs by the author
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Friday, December 3, 2021

The 1861 Henry Shaw House - 157 East 78th Street


In 1860 painter John Turner paid $500 each (about $16,000 today) for the lots at 157 through 161 East 78th Street.  He and builder Henry Armstrong partnered as Turner & Armstrong to erect three charming, brick-faced houses on the plots.  Armstrong was, most likely, responsible for the design.  Builders often referred to style books or, simply, relief on their own devices, rather than consulting a professional architect.

The identical two-story, 18-foot-wide homes were influenced by the Italianate style, with tall French windows at the parlor floor and handsome bracketed cornices.  A stone stoop originally rose to the entrances.  

The homes were completed in 1861, but it was not until 1863 that 157 East 78th Street was sold--possibly a result of the outbreak of Civil War.   Henry Shaw paid $4,000 for the residence, about $85,000 today.  It is unclear what Shaw's profession was.  He retained possession until April 17, 1869 when he sold the house to Jacob Weinman for a stunning profit.  The $11,500 Weinman paid would be equal to $225,000 today.

Jacob Weinman was a notions dealer.  Notions merchants offered a variety of goods, many of which were related to sewing, like ribbons, buttons, and buttons.  But other small items, like collar stays, pocket knives and mirrors were also offered.  Weinman's was a large business and he operated three stores, at 149 Duane Street, 486 Second Avenue and First Avenue near 16th Street.

A some point Weinman added a third floor in the form of a stylish, slate-shingled mansard.  Its three full-height dormers lined up with the openings of the lower floors.

As the end of the 19th century neared, the Weinmans took in a one or two boarders.  Isaac Eisner, a dry goods merchant, lived in the house in 1899, and "Miss M. Krebs" boarded with the family in 1900.  She apparently had no living family, at least not in New York.  When she became engaged to William S. Eisenberg in June that year, the New York Herald could simply say that "Announcement is made."

Having lived in the house for more than three decades, Jacob Weinman sold it to Dr. George W. Sweeny and his wife, Helen, on April 21, 1904.   Sweeny would not enjoy the house especially long, he died on August 3, 1908. 

Helen sold 157 East 78th Street to Jacob F. Liebler before the year's end.  He resold it to Charles W. Trippe, a partner in the brokerage firm Trippe, Thompson & Co., established in 1908.  He and his wife, the former Lucy Adeline Terry, owned and lived in the combined houses steps away at 163 and 165 East 78th Street. 

In 1914, Trippe seriously considered demolishing 157 East 78th Street.  In April 1914 he hired architect Howard Major, Jr. to design a three-story replacement dwelling on the site.  Major placed the cost of construction at about $535,000 in today's money.  

But Trippe changed his mind.  Instead, he had Major make $7,000 in "alterations."  The changes included removing the stoop and installing a Gothic-style entrance at the former basement level.  The 1861 French windows were converted to eight-paned replacements.

Major's brick entrance can be seen behind the parked car in this 1941 photograph.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

The house was leased to Fanny Hart Vail Ashmore.  Her husband, Sidney Gillespie Ashmore, had been a Professor of Latin at Union College until his death in 1911.  

Fanny came from a prominent family in Troy, New York and maintained a country home in South Ashfield, Massachusetts.  With her in the 78th Street house were her two children, Sidney Beckwith, born in 1898, and Betsy, born in 1903.  

As World I raged in Europe, Sidney joined the U. S. Army.  From July 6 through August 10 he was a private at the "on-duty military training camp" at Fort Terry on Plum Island, New York.  

In Sidney's absence, Joseph Newman was renting a room in 1917.  He could not have been more different than Sidney Ashmore.  The 23-year-old was arrested on June 4, 1917 in a "conscription riot," as described by The Sun.   The New York Times said it started out as a "protest against the selective draft law."  But after the speeches, "several anarchists and other agitators jeered a passing detachment of unarmed National Guardsmen."  When someone called the soldiers "a lot of bums," fighting broke out.  Newman was held on $100 bail until his hearing in the Morrisania Police Court.

In the meantime, Sidney Ashmore had been deployed to France with the United States Army Ambulance Service.  He returned to East 78th Street following the war.  In August 1919 Fanny purchased the house from the Trippes.

Fanny Ashmore died on April 5, 1928 in the 78th Street house.  Her funeral was held in St. George's Church two days later.  Surprisingly, Sidney became engaged to Frances Grant Titsworth just four months later, in August.  The wedding in fashionable Grace Church took place on October 26, despite the groom's being in mourning.

Dr. J. Ives Edgerton and his wife, Lillian, soon moved into 157 East 78th Street.  Born in Aiken, South Carolina, Edgerton was an adjunct professor of gynecology at the New York Polyclinic Medical School.   

While her husband tended to his medical practice, Lillian tended to her garden.  She proudly opened them as part of the Exhibition of City Gardens on May 22, 1938 for the benefit of the Anne Brown Free Kindergarten and Nursery School.  Her garden was among five in the category "Where the Owners are the Gardeners," covered by a $2 ticket.  The announcement described Lillian's as a "Garden with outlook on two neighboring Gardens (House one of the oldest in this section)."

Dr. Edgerton died on May 8, 1941 "after a long illness," as  reported by The New York Times.  He was 70 years old.  Three years later Lillian sold 157 East 78th Street to author Brendon Gill.  In reporting the sale, The New York Sun mentioned, "It contains twelve rooms and four baths."

In December 2016 renovations to the exterior of the house were initiated.  Today the awkward Gothic-style entrance is gone.  The new doorway is harmonious with the other two houses of the 1861 row, both of which also lost their stoops.

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