Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The Amos F. Hatfield House - 120 East 19th Street


Despite its 25-foot width, the house has an abnormally narrow entrance.

Amos F. Hatfield and his family were living at No. 92 Lexington Avenue in 1851, several blocks north of the recently-completed Gramercy Square.  Hatfield was president of the Pacific Insurance Co. and a director in the Pacific Bank.  Within two years the family would be living in the new brownstone residence at No. 78 East 19th Street (renumbered 120 in 1865).

The 25-foot wide Italianate style home reflected the affluence of the new neighborhood.  The windows sat within molded architrave surrounds.  A cast iron balcony most likely fronted the long parlor openings.  Interestingly, the entrance was rather understated.  Rather than the more expected foliate brackets upholding an arched pediment, the doorway received the exact decorative treatment as the windows.  Also surprising in a house intended for a wealthy owner, the entrance was narrow, with room enough for just one door (and barely wide enough to get large furniture inside).

Hatfield filled the house with the best quality furnishings and decorative items.  An inventory listed custom made furniture by Alexander Roux and Léon Marcotte, two of the foremost cabinetmakers in America, as well as "magnificent bronzes, clocks and other costly furniture."

Shortly after the family moved in a burglar attempted to break into the house.  The scare prompted Hatfield to arm his servants.  Then, on the night of August 24, 1854, a thief (most likely assuming the family was at their country home) tried again.  The Evening Post said "an audacious attempt was made to force open the hall door of the residence of A. F. Hatfield, means of a 'jimmy,' or some similar implement of burglars."  The article served to warn other would-be crooks.  "Had the gentlemen succeeded in gaining an entrance, a warm and rather unexpected reception was awaiting them, which would have astonished their proverbial cool."

The Hatfields left East 19th Street in 1857.  Dry goods merchant Samuel T. Addison lived in the house for one year after which time it was purchased by James Madison Plumb and his wife, the former Jeannette Frances Yale.  The Plumbs had one son, James Neale Plumb, who was a partner in his father's extensive importing firm, J. M. & J. N. Plumb & Co.  

In 1861 James married Sarah Ives, the daughter of the president of the Manufacturers and Merchants' Bank, Abram Ives.  The marriage nearly did not happen.  Sarah's affairs were handled by Alexander Masterson who tried valiantly to derail the romance.  He denounced Plumb to Sarah and her father "as a professional gambler," according to The New York Times.  Later Plumb complained "From that time on, Masterson intrigued against him, endeavoring to undermine his wife's confidence in him."

James brought his bride to the East 19th Street house.  Sarah's personal fortune would soon outweigh her husband's after she inherited part of her father's estate of about $18 million in today's money.  Their son, J. Ives Plumb was born in the house in 1863.  His sister Marie would be born in 1865,  and Sarah Lenita in 1870.  

In the meantime, Alexander Masterson was relentless and, according to The New York Times later, he paid "a governess in Plumb's employ to poison the minds of the latter's children against him."

J. M. & J. N. Plumb suffered serious financial troubles in 1868.  The following year the extended Plumb family left the East 19th Street residence.  

The Plumb-Masterson drama was not over by any means.  Sarah died in 1877.  J. Ives was married in 1885 and on April 20, 1888 Maria and Sarah Lenita left their father's house never to return.  Both commenced litigation against him to remove him from any control over their financial affairs.  It was eventually too much for Plumb to contend with and on May 3, 1899 he arranged a meeting with Masterson during which he emptied a revolver into the man he felt had "conspired to ruin him."  Plumb's lawyer said "his mind had become unbalanced by brooking on his wrongs."

In the meantime, beginning in 1870, the former Plumb house was being operated as an upscale boarding house run by Allen M. Hopkins.  The refined tenor he intended to set was reflected in his professional listing in city directories.  While he placed "boardinghouse" next to his name in 1876, by 1879 he was calling himself a "steward."

His tenants were professional, including clerk Lloyd F. Montgomery and his wife, Nina T. who were here from at least 1872 through 1874.  They were the victims of a slick thief, Jacob Stuyvesant, alias De Pyster, alias Comstock, alias Shanksmare, in the fall of 1872.  The Evening Telegram explained on November 1 that he "was in the habit of engaging rooms at what is generally known as a fashionable boarding house.  While the boarders were at their meals, he would make a tour of inspection through the house, and quietly pick up all the valuables he could find in the several rooms."  His mannerly demeanor and fine clothes kept him above suspicion.

On one evening in October Stuyvesant disappeared from No. 120 East 19th Street, taking with him jewelry belonging to Nina Montgomery worth $5,000 in today's money.  (He was arrested later that month after having robbed several other boarding houses.)

Around 1897 No. 120 became a private home again when it was purchased by Bernard C. Amend and his wife, Bertha.   Amend was born in Germany in 1821 where he studied chemistry under Baron Justus von Liebig.  He came to the United States in 1846 and a year later was employed in the drug store of Dr. William H. Milnor.

After Milnor's retirement Amend and a partner, Charles Eimer purchased the business, renaming it Eimer & Amend.  Bernard Amend transformed the small drugstore into a much larger concern, the New York Herald later explaining, "the business developed from a retail store into a small jobbing concern, the firm being among the first importers of crude drugs and specialties from Germany, high grade chemicals and Norwegian cod liver oil."  By the time Amend purchased the 19th Street house, his company was known nationally for importing glassware and supplies for laboratories.

Bernard and Bertha had a daughter and four sons.  In 1897 Eimer & Amend was reorganized with Bernard as senior partner and his sons, Otto P., Robert F., Charles, and Adolph L. as directors.  Charles Eimer was no longer involved in the firm.

Bernard G. Amend New York Herald, April 7, 1911 (copyright expired)

Bertha died in the house on February 2, 1903 at the age of 80.  At the time only Robert was still living in the house with his parents.  

In 1904 Adolph's wife died and he and their daughter moved into the home of his widowed mother-in-law, Pauline Drastler, at No. 59 West 87th Street.  Then, in February 1910, he remarried and brought his new wife and daughter to No. 120 East 19th Street.  Things were working out well for Adolph and his family, but uptown Pauline Drastler was emotionally devastated.  The New York Times said Adolph's marriage "seems to have grieved Mrs. Drastler."

On July 31 Adolph received a letter from Pauline "telling him of her intention to commit suicide," as reported by The New York Times.  By the time it arrived the 62-year old had already died by inhaling gas.  A reporter arrived at the 19th Street house that evening and spoke to the new Mrs. Amend.  The New York Times said simply, "Adolph Amend, the son-in-law of the dead woman, could not be seen."

In February 1911 Bernard Amend hired architect James Spence to install an elevator in the house.  The expensive project, costing more than $83,000 in today's money, was no doubt a result of Amend's advancing age.  He would not have the opportunity to use it very much, however.  He died in the house on April 6 of "infirmities to age," according to the American Druggist and Pharmaceutical Record, at the age of 90.

The Amend house soon became a high-end rooming house.  Among the earliest and most colorful residents was Ida Minerva Tarbell, who moved in around 1913.  By then Tarbell already had a brilliant career.  Educated in the Sorbonne, she was hired by McClure's Magazine in 1894.  Her series for that magazine, "The History of the Standard Oil Company," was perhaps her first investigative reporting and it contributed to the breakup of that monolithic firm, found to be in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act.

With World War I raging, No. 120 East 19th Street became the Red Cross House for Nurses in September 1918.  The News Letter published by the American Red Cross explained it was "where recreational facilities will be provided for the Army, Navy and Red Cross nurses passing through New York...It will be arranged as a clubhouse, and will be fitted up with lecture rooms, writing rooms, reading rooms and sleeping quarters."

Through it all, Ida M. Tarbell retained her rooms.  During the war she served on President Woodrow Wilson's Women's Committee on the Council of National Defense. 

Ida M. Tarbell from the collection of the Library of Congress

The Red Cross left No. 120 following the end of the war, but Tarbell stayed on for decades.  She became part owner and publisher of The American Magazine and was a prolific author.  Among her works were eight books on Abraham Lincoln.  During World War I she served on the Women's Committee of Woodrow Wilson's Council of National Defense, and in 1921 was a member of President Warren G. Harding's Unemployment Conference.

Ida Tarbell was working on her autobiography, All In The Day's Work, in 1937.  That year, on November 4, a reporter from The New York Times visited her here.  He opened his article (which appeared the next day on her 80th birthday), saying "Ida M. Tarbell, biographer of Abraham Lincoln and historian of the Standard Oil Company, sat yesterday in the old-fashioned apartment at 120 East nineteenth Street."

She told him that she was enthusiastic about Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, but was worried that he "has probably gone too fast and undertaken too comprehensive a program, for she pointed out that the government can move no more quickly than it can educate the people towards its aims."

Tarbell moved permanently to her summer home in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1940.  She died in the Bridgeport Hospital on January 6, 1944 at the age of 86.

At some point the stoop was removed from No. 120 East 19th Street.  Rather amazingly, at a time when Victorian detailing was routinely shaved off, none of the crisp window enframements were destroyed.

A renovation completed in 2000 resulted in the stoop being restored.  There were now a duplex apartment in the basement and parlor levels, two apartments each on the second and third floors, and another duplex on the fourth and new penthouse level (unseen from the street).

photographs by the author

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

The John E. Burris House - 38 West 94th Street


By 1888 the 64-year old Increase M. Grennel was well-known in New York City real estate circles.  He most often worked as a one-man operation--acting as developer, builder and architect.  That year, on February 25, The Record & Guide, noted that Grennel "intends to erect about ten private dwellings on the south side of 94th Street."  The journal's estimate of 10 houses was based on an expected width--especially in this upscale neighborhood just off Central Park West--of 20 feet.  But Grennel squeezed in two more residences by shaving two feet off the width of each plot.

The long row was completed the following year, a playful collection of Queen Anne style houses splashed with elements drawn from a historic grab bag.  No. 38 was a bit more somber than most of its neighbors.  Romanesque Revival influences appeared in the rough-cut cladding of the basement level and stoop, in the chunky, undressed quoins and keystones of the windows, and in the pensive Viking portrait of the entrance keystone.   The double dormers of the slate-tiled mansard, with their pressed metal pediments (now replaced), were pure Queen Anne.

It became the home of the well-to-do R. W. Myer family, who maintained a summer home in Long Branch, New Jersey.  Two grown sons lived with their parents, one of whom, Alfred J. Myer, joined the well-known Pach photography studio as an assistant operator in 1880.  A young woman, Georgiana Hilke, also worked in the studio.  The World commented, "Those who came in daily contact with Myer say that he was much in love with Miss Hilke."

Early in 1895 Alfred was diagnosed with heart trouble following a frightening attack.  He recuperated at the home of his physician, Dr. Anna G. Hilke.  It was most likely not a coincidence that Dr. Hilke was the sister of Georgiana, who also lived there with their mother.  

Alfred soon returned to work and on Saturday afternoon, February 16 he was taking a group photograph of Columbia University students when a fire broke out elsewhere in the studio.  "Miss Hilke was the first to give the alarm and ran into the room where the young operator was at work," said The World.

The following Monday, Myer returned to the studio, and "spent most of the day among the ruins."  Afterward he went to the Hilkes house where his already odd behavior became problematic.  "He attempted to embrace Miss Hilke and threatened her mother and the doctor," said The World.  He became violent to the point that the women called for help.  After a few men quieted him, Myer's brother was called for who took him home to the West 94th Street house.

The next morning, at around 6:30 Alfred again became violent.  The family was forced to call an ambulance and he was put in a strait-jacket and taken to the Manhattan Hospital.  The World entitled an article "Photographer Insane" and reported, "He was removed to the insane pavilion at Bellevue Hospital and will be committed to the insane asylum on Blackwell's Island to-day."  The prospects for a young man committed to an insane asylum in the 1890's were grim.

The house soon became home to Dr. John E. Burris and his wife, Catherine C. (known as Kate).   Born in 1849, Burris had served in the Civil War and received his medical degree in 1876.  The couple had a daughter, Madeline Grace.  A twin, a  boy, had died during childhood.  

Like many well-heeled families, the Burrises took in a boarder.  Living with them in 1899 was stockbroker William H. Leaves who had recently separated from his wife.  Leaves was despondent over his marital problems.  On October 13, 1899, the Morning Telegraph reported, "Leaves, who is about 50, came home last night delirious from the effects of liquor.  He raised a great disturbance and went through the house, shouting and pounding on the doors."  He was finally quieted and put to bed.  But early in the morning he started up again on the stoop.  "In the interests of comparative quiet, Mrs. Burris succeeded in getting Leaves back to his room, on the third floor front," said the article.

The Burrises got him back to bed and had barely reach the parlor floor when Leaves began calling for the doctor.  They rushed back up to find he had slashed his throat with his razor.  The Morning Telegraph noted that he had "considerately held his head over his washbowl when he used the razor.  His shirt front was somewhat mussed up, though."

Leaves was not fatally injured and he was removed to J. Hood Wright Hospital.  The Burrises apparently began looking for a new boarder.

Kate's name appeared in the newspapers for all the wrong reasons in the spring of 1902.  The New York Herald reported on March 6, "Complaint was made by wealthy residents in West Ninety-fourth street last Monday to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children that a little girl was being badly treated in the house of Dr. John E. Burris, of No. 38 West Ninety-fourth street."

A special agent had canvassed the neighbors, who told him that "the girl was forced to do most of the hard work in the house, and that she was cleaning the brown stone steps of the stoop Tuesday, when Mrs. Burris came out and kicked her," as reported by the New York Herald.  Agent Fogerty went to the house and was taken down to the kitchen to see the girl.  "There, perched upon a chair, stood a girl, who looked to be ten or eleven years old.  Her head was abnormally large and her body small and thin.  Laboriously she was washing a large pile of dishes, which were placed on a table beside the sink.  Whether the child had been brought up in ignorance or was demented Fogerty was unable to say," said the article, "but he found to his surprise that she could not even count her fingers, that she did not know how long she had been at the house, or where she had come from."

According to the New York Herald, the girl went along with Fogerty "with much pleasure" to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.  A reporter knocked on the door of No. 38 West 94th Street that evening where "he met a man who said he was Dr. Burris, but who refused to make any statement."

Grennel's row was a variety of materials and styles.  The Burris house is at the far right.

Dr. John E. Burris died in the house on September 10, 1914 at the age of 68.  Kate, who received the bulk of his estate estimated at around $4 million in today's money, remained in the house and their "palatial" country home, as described by The Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

Madeline Grace was married by now, the wife of William H. Witte.  They lived on what The Brooklyn Daily Eagle described as a "small farm at Junction and Jackson avenues, Long Island City."  In the summer of 1917 Madeline fell ill and Kate temporarily moved in with the Wittes to take care of her.  Before long it was she who needed the help after she suffered a stroke which confined her to a wheelchair.

When Kate's sisters, Maria Sullivan and Georgiana Zeiner, learned that an attorney had been called to the Witte residence to amend Kate's will, they flew into action.  Fearing that they had been cut from the will, they sued.  It was the start of a very ugly court case.  

On September 21, 1917 The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported on the sisters' testimony that following Dr. Burris's death, Kate "gave herself up to the influence of drugs and drink," that the Wittes held her prisoner in their home where she lived "in fear and dread," and that they had forced her "by fraud and deceit" to bequeath her entire estate to them.

Most shocking, though, was Georgiana's testimony that Madeline Grace was not even Kate's daughter.  The New York Times said she testified that "thirty-two years ago Mrs. Burris practiced a deception upon Dr. Burris by getting new-born twins from a mid-wife which she made the doctor believe were her own children."  The idea that a medical doctor would not have examined his own wife at any time during her pregnancy was ludicrous, of course.  The New York Times continued, "When this testimony was given Mrs. Burris could hardly be restrained.  She tried to get out of her invalid chair to reply to her sister."

Kate, now 70-years-old, was compelled to be wheeled into the Queens County Supreme Court on October 19, 1917 for a competency hearing before a jury.  The following day The New York Times reported that she had been declared sane and that the court dismissed the sisters' story of the substituted twins.

The West 94th Street house was sold to merchant Moses Greenewald.  His residency was short-lived and by the early 1920's the house was operated as a private boys' school.  According to the Daily News, Professor William L. Leonard "gives special tuition for Annapolis and West Point entrance examinations."  

Leonard's students came from prosperous families and were well trained in proper demeanor.  But that all gave way to chaos on the last day of the term on April 17, 1923.  The Daily News reported, "To celebrate the occasion the fifty boys...gave a display of egg-throwing and furniture smashing which upset the whole neighborhood."  The situation became an outright rampage.

"Policeman Joseph Epstein, who ran to the school on hearing the riot, was greeted with an egg," said the article.  "A chair followed, but he dodged."  Four boys were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.  One imagines that the punishment they received at home was as bad or worse than that meted out by Magistrate Goodman the following Monday.

In 1927 the school closed and sisters Camile F. and Alice S. Gerrard leased the house with an option to buy.  Instead it was purchased by Frank Barbieri in 1930, who resold it the following year to Alfred W. Herzog.  It appeared for a while that the end of the line for the former Burris house was on the horizon.

The cornice was lost and pressed metal pediments replaced in the 20th century

Herzog simultaneously purchased No. 36 next door.  He already owned Nos. 40 and 42, giving him a 71-foot long frontage--a potential site for an apartment building.  If Herzog intended to redevelop the parcel, it never came to pass and No. 38 survives as a single-family house.  The exterior appeared as the home of Jodie Foster's character in the 2002 film Panic Room.

Jodie Foster's character climbs the stoop in a scene from "Panic Room."  photo via

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

Monday, May 10, 2021

The Lost Henry H. Cook Mansion - 1 East 78th Street


As the turn of the century approached, other structures began rising around the massive Cook mansion.  American Architect and Building News (copyright expired)
Born in 1822 in Cohocton, New York, Henry Harvey Cook was the son of Constant and Maria Whitney Cook.  His self-made father had started life as a blacksmith and farmer, but rose to become a judge, banker (president of the First National Bank of Bath, New York), and railroad contractor.  Cook attended an academy in Canandaigua, New York, then struck out in "mercantile pursuits in Bath [New York], and was highly successful," according to the 1898 Prominent Families of New York.
He married Mary E. McCay and the couple would have four daughters, Maria Louise, Sarah McCay, Frances Howell, and Georgia (known as Georgie) Bruce.  In 1875 Cook moved his family to New York City where he focused on railroads.  He became a director in the Union Pacific, the New York, Lake Erie & Western, and the Buffalo, New York & Erie Railroads.

Henry Harvey Cook, from the Library & Archives, Canada, Pennsylvania

The Cook family moved into a comfortable mansion at 8 West 53rd Street, just off Fifth Avenue in the neighborhood sometimes referred to as Millionaires' Row.  But (possibly before almost anyone else) Henry Cook recognized that inch-by-inch commerce was moving up Fifth Avenue.  In June 1879--years before mansions would begin rising so far north--he purchased the entire block from Fifth Avenue to Madison, and from 78th to 79th Street from Don, Barlow & Co.  The Record & Guide reported the selling price as $575,000--about $15.2 million today.

It was not until July 1881 that architect William Wheeler Smith filed plans for the new Cook mansion on the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 78th Street.  He projected construction costs at the equivalent of just over $5 million in today's money.

from the collection of the New York Public Library

Construction of the mansion, which engulfed six building lots, took two years to complete.  Smith had produced a massive Second Empire style palace--its three colors of granite, blue, red and white, creating striking visual interest.  Surrounded on two sides by gardens behind a stone fence, the mansion's entrance was located at 1 East 78th Street.  The three principal floors were capped by a steep two-story hipped roof. 

The New-York Tribune praised the mansion, saying it "is considered by many architects to be one of the best types of architecture in dwelling houses."  Not everyone was as pleased.  Writing in the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide, a critic said the shear mass of the house made it "respectable in spite of its monotony and the irrationality of its detail."

Cook's purchase of the entire block was far-sighted and calculated.  With sublime patience he waited for millionaire buyers to migrate north, as he knew they eventually would.  By owning the block on which his own mansion sat, he could pick and choose his neighbors.  And he had restrictive codicils written into the deeds, the New-York Tribune later saying, "Mr. Cook exercised no little discrimination, only selling property to those who agreed to build high class dwelling houses on their lots...By these methods it became a certainty that the class of dwelling houses to be built on the block would not be equalled [sic] by a similar type of house in any other block in this city."

By the time the family moved in only Georgie was unmarried.  But that would change on February 4, 1891 when the mansion was the scene of her wedding.  The Buffalo Courier reported, "Miss Georgia Bruce Cooke [sic], daughter of Henry H. Cooke [sic] of New York City, was Carlos Manuel de Heredia, son of Leoncio Gabriel de Heredia of Paris, France."  The article added, "The groom belongs to an old and distinguished Spanish family."  Upon their return from their wedding trip the newlyweds moved into 1 East 78th Street.

The Cook family had always summered in Lenox, Massachusetts.  Cook's first estate there had burned to the ground in the winter of 1843.  In 1893 Henry began construction on a new summer mansion on his 380-acre estate, Wheatleigh.  Designed by Peabody & Stearns and completed in 1894, the New-York Tribune described it as "an Italian villa, one of the largest and handsomest country places in Lenox."  (It is routinely, and erroneously, described as a wedding present for Georgie and Carlos.)

Wheatleigh was a sprawling, 33-room mansion.  As with their 5th Avenue mansion, Mary and Henry shared it with the De Heredias.  original source unknown

The end of the Cooks' self-imposed isolation from society began to end in 1895 when Cook sold the first of his plots.  Two years later, in reporting that Isaac Dudley Fletcher had purchased the  northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 79th Street, the Buffalo Evening News noted that Cook's "plans for an entire city block of exclusive residences, each one owned by its occupant, are in a fair way of success."  The sumptuous mansions of Stuyvesant Fish, Edmund C. Converse, and Frederick Gebhard were already completed or being constructed.

In 1902, The Sun would comment, "Mr. Cook was the owner many years ago of a tract known to old citizens as 'Cook's cow pasture.'  The tract is now the site of several of the finest residences in Fifth avenue."

In the meantime, the Cooks and the De Heredias were socially inseparable.  They summered together in Wheatleigh and co-hosted entertainments in the Fifth Avenue house.  On January 28, 1898, for instance, The New York Times reported, "A musical affair of widespread social interest yesterday was the afternoon reception given by Mrs. Henry H. Cook and Mr. and Mrs. Carlos M. de Heredia, her son-in-law and daughter, in Mrs. Cook's big Fifth Avenue residence at Seventy-eighth Street."  (Among those on the impressive guest list that afternoon were the John Sloanes and the William Sloanes, the Frederick W. Vanderbilts, the Anson Phelps-Stokes, and the Charles Laniers.)   And on January 28, 1900 the newspaper announced, "Mrs. Henry H. Cook and her daughter, Mme. de Heredia, will give the first of two 'at homes' at their residence, 1 East Seventy-eighth Street."

Georgie's carelessness prompted an incident of amateur sleuthing on the part of a well-heeled attorney in the winter of 1898.  The Sun reported on February 12, "Mrs. Carlos M. De Heredia of 1 East Seventy-eighth street went shopping on Friday of last week and left her purse in her carriage in front of 21 West Twenty-third street.  The purse contained $20 in money, a gold chain, and a pencil studded with sapphires and diamonds.  When she got back to the carriage, the purse was gone."

As it happened, lawyer H. O. Swain glanced out the office of a friend in that same building and noticed two men open the carriage door and grab something.  He rushed to the street, but the men were gone.  A week later, he was back at the friend's office and, once again, he saw the same men remove a bundle from a carriage.

"Without waiting to explain to his friend, Swain hurried to the street, but the men were nowhere in sight," reported The Sun.  He found them on the corner of Fifth Avenue and followed them.  At 29th Street Swain saw Policeman Perego and explained what he had just seen.

"Well, I'll grab one of them," said the officer, "and you take the other fellow."

The attorney had now become not only an amateur detective, but an unofficial deputy.  Officer Perego got his man almost immediately, but Swain, who was perhaps less in shape, had to run five blocks before overtaking his captive.

The Cook mansion was the scene of the De Heredia's opulent tenth anniversary celebration on February 4, 1901.  The New York Herald reported that the couple "observed the anniversary by giving a reception, followed by a vaudeville performance, a supper and informal dance."  The article said, "Mrs. de Heredia...received her guests in the grand hall, just at the entrance to the drawing room.  There was a plentiful display of spring flowers and palms in the different rooms and hallway.  The guests filled the drawing room and overflowed into the hallway."

from the collection of the New-York Historical Society

The New York Press added, "The big drawing room was converted into a theatre with a stage fitted with footlights and other accessories...The floral decorations were handsome, and friends remembered the host and hostess with grotesque trifles of tin."

The Cooks and De Heredias were at Wheatleigh on July 11, 1902 when Mary died at the age of 75.  Newspaper reports that her death came "suddenly" suggest a heart attack.   The funeral was held in Lenox after which a special train was hired to take the family and Mary's body to Woodlawn Cemetery.

On May 1, 1903 The Sun reported that St. Thomas's Episcopal Church "is to have a new $25,000 organ," donated by Henry H. Cook.  "The organ is to be a memorial to Mr. Cook's wife, who died about a year ago," said the article.

Henry's health had begun to fail shortly after Mary's death.  The New-York Tribune commented on his condition during the summer season of 1905 saying he "had been very feeble."  It was most likely Henry's illness that delayed the family's returning to New York that year.  They were still at Wheatleigh in October when pneumonia set in.  He died there on October 10 at the age of 83.  As had been the case with Mary, his funeral was held in Trinity Church in Lenox and a special train transported the casket and the family to Woodlawn.

Cook's will left a total of $90,000 to charities, including $50,000 to St. Thomas's Church (about $1.5 million today).   The Metropolitan Museum of Art received much of the substantial Cook collection of paintings and sculpture.

The four daughters each received an income of $15,000 per year for six years and after that $2.5 million in cash.  "Each is to receive $10,000 in cash in addition to other bequests, and their husbands and children have also been liberally provided for under Mr. Cook's will," reported The New York Times.  Georgie also inherited Wheatleigh.  The article noted, "The executors are empowered to sell the Cook home at 1 East Seventy-eighth Street in case they are unable to rent it."

On July 23, 1907 The New York Times reported that tobacco tycoon James B. Duke had married the beautiful Southern widow, Nanaline Holt Inman.  The newspaper noted that the groom had purchased the Henry H. Cook mansion for $1.6 million “as a present for his bride.”  It went on to say “it stands on one of the most exclusive blocks in the city, and the Dukes’ near neighbors will be Payne Whitney, H. H. Rogers, and Stuyvesant Fish.”

Negotiations for the property stalled, however, but finally in August 1909 Duke finalized the purchase for $1.25 million--more than $36 million today.  Although he initially hired C. P. H. Gilbert to remodel the hulking mansion; he soon changed his mind.  Instead he commissioned Philadelphia-based architect Horace Trumbauer to design a replacement house.  

The exquisite and costly interiors of the Cook mansion were ripped out and resold.  The oak paneling that had cost Cook $55 per section was sold off at $3 each.  An Italian fireplace and mantel sold for $300.  Cook had paid $15,000 for it.  The contractor paid to demolish the structure called it, according to architectural historian John Tauranac, “the best-built house ever torn down in New York City.”

photograph by the author

Trumbauer's magnificent Italian Renaissance Duke mansion survives on the site today. has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

The General Jose Artigas Statue - Spring Street Park


The extension of Sixth Avenue south of Carmine Street in 1925 left dozens of triangular plots where the new thoroughfare cut through existing blocks.  One of these, bounded by the avenue to the east, Spring Street on the north and Broome Street to the south, eventually earned the name SoHo Square.  

Two decades later Sixth Avenue, at the prompting of Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia, was renamed the "Avenue of the Americas" to honor Pan-American ideals.   The renaming ceremony in October that year included a parade of 4,000 World War II veterans.  Colorful medallions--300 of them--depicting the coats of arms of Latin American countries were hung from the avenue's lampposts.

Within a few years two statues of Latin American  heroes--liberator Simon Bolivar and Argentine General José de San Martin--were moved to the entrance to Central Park at the head of the Avenue of the Americas.  They were joined by a monument to Cuban patriot José Julian Marti in 1965.  Two other statues would be installed along the route, those of Juan Pablo Duarte at Canal Street and  José Bonidacio de Andrada at the edge of Bryant Park.

SoHo Square got in on the act when the the Banco de La República del Uruguay and Carlos  Páez Vilaro announced their gift of a statue to General José Artigas to the city.  It would be the second cast of the larger-than-life bronze placed in front of the Uruguayan National Bank in Montevideo in 1949, created by sculptor José Luis Zorrilla de San Martin.

Born in 1764, Artigas was born into a wealthy, landowning family.  He became a military commander in 1897 and in 1810 joined the Junta determined to break Spanish dominion over Montevideo.  Named the Chief of the Orientales in 1811, he based his provisional government on the principals of the United States' founding fathers.  His government was overthrown in 1820 and he died in exile in 1850.  Nevertheless, his movement survived and eventually resulted in the First Republic of Uruguay.

The 11-foot-tall statue was cast in Uruguay in 1987, but it would be a full decade before its unveiling in SoHo Square.  Finally, on September 24, 1997, the dedication took plate.  The 2,640-pound work stands upon a pink granite base designed by Maria Cristina Caqulas.

The statue arrived at a troubling time for the Avenue of the Americas.  New Yorkers had never embraced the name change and had continued referring to the thoroughfare as Sixth Avenue.  La Guardia's grand scheme had lost any luster it originally had.  Writing in The New York Times on January 18, 1998, David Kirby noted, "When Sixth Avenue was officially renamed Avenue of the Americas in 1945, it was lined with colorful medallions bearing the coats of arms of the hemisphere's nations.  Now many are missing and those that remain are rusting and neglected on lampposts at either end of the thoroughfare."

The avenue had been renovated in the early 1990's, at which time most of the signs were taken down and put in storage.  The city was wrestling with the question of whether the cost of restoration and reinstalling even made sense.  Nevertheless, according to Kirby, "The Parks Department plans to put a Uruguay medallion on a lamppost near a small park on Dominick Street, where a statue of the Uruguayan hero Jose Artigas was installed last September."

In 2016 there were just 22 medallions hanging along the avenue, whose street signs now included a supplementary "Sixth Avenue" sign.  But while Mayor La Guardia's grand plan seems to have been deteriorating, that was not to be the fate of the statue of General José Artigas.

In May the following year ground was broken for a renovation of SoHo Square that would include its being renamed to Spring Street Park.  The statue was removed for restoration and upon its return, was placed in a more prominent spot.  

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Friday, May 7, 2021

The Wm. Augustus Read Mansion - 4 East 62nd Street


On June 8, 1881 James R. Breen and Alfred G. Nason sold their just completed brownstone house at No. 4 East 62nd Street to Henry Albertson Van Zo Post.  Breen & Nason were not only the developers, but the architects of the four-story, 27-food wide mansion.  The sumptuousness of the residence was reflecting in the sale price--the equivalent of $1.86 million today.

Born in May 1832, Post came from an old Knickerbocker family.  An engineer, the year he purchased No. 4 East 62nd Street he founded the Railroad Equipment Company, which manufactured locomotives and train cars and parts.  He was also a partner in the banking firm of Post, Martin & Co.

Post's first wife had died in 1860 and he was now married to the former Caroline Burnet McLean.  He had two daughters from his first marriage, and six more children with Caroline (one, Maud Evelyn, died in infancy).  One more child, Henry Burnet Post, would be born in 1885.

Son Edwin Main Post was 22-years-old in 1892 when The Sun announced, "A very pretty wedding to occur at the very opening of the month of roses will be at Tuxedo Park, when Miss Emily Bruce Price and Mr. Edwin Main Post will be married."   The ceremony took place in the Price's summer residence.  Two of Manhattan's wealthiest young bachelors were among Edwin's ushers, Gordon Norrie and Theodore A. Havemeyer.  The bride would go on to become an nationally recognized authority on etiquette as Emily Post.

Caroline was actively involved in the Suffragist Movement and on April 24, 1894 she hosted a "parlor meeting" in the 62nd Street house.  Her guest speaker was Harriet Stanton Blanche, the daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton.   In her comments that afternoon she said, "These Brooklyn ladies who are protesting against woman suffrage must be dreaming."

The parlor was the setting of daughter Caroline Beatrice's wedding to Regis Henri Post the following year, on March 5.  The couple were distant cousins.   Regis Post entered politics and they would live for years in Puerto Rico after President Theodore Roosevelt first appointed him Auditor of Puerto Rico and later Governor.

On March 20, 1897 The Record & Guide reported that Henry A. V. Post sold "the valuable four-story stone front dwelling" to William Augustus Read.  It was indeed valuable, The New York Times placing the sale price "at between $90,000 and $100,000."  The lower amount would be equal to about $2.86 million today, nearly double what Post had originally paid.

Before moving in Read commissioned the architectural firm of Clinton & Russell to completely remodel the house.  The stoop and front were removed, and a gleaming limestone façade replaced the outdated brownstone.  Designed in the neo-Italian
Renaissance style, the sedate design featured arched pediments over the fourth floor windows and massive carved lions' heads between the top floor openings.  French doors at 
second floor opened onto an iron-railed balcony.

American Architect & Building News, June 2, 1900 (copyright expired)

A banker, Read was a partner in Vermilye & Co. at the time.  Born on May 20, 1858, like Henry Post he came from an old American family, his ancestor William Read arriving in Massachusetts in 1635.  

Read's wife, the former Caroline Hicks Seaman, also had deep American roots and was a member of the National Society of Colonial Dames.  When the couple moved in they a one-year old, Duncan Hickshad, and twin toddler boys, William Jr. and Curtis Seaman.   Shortly after moving in another son, Russell Bartow, was born.  He arrived in 1898 and was quickly followed by Caroline Hicks the in 1899.

Caroline Read with her twins in 1895.  original source unknown

The Read family kept expanding.  Bancroft was born in 1901, but tragically died in infancy, followed by Bayard Whitney in 1902, Mary Elizabeth 1904,  and Kenneth Bancroft in 1906.  Sadly, Kenneth died the same year.

The mansion's library was filled with Read's exceptional collection.  A long-time member of the Grolier Club, American Biography said he was "well known as a discriminating collector of manuscripts, rare editions of books and fine bindings, and he possessed a library of unusual value, both by reason of the character of the books and manuscripts, and the artistic beauty of the bindings in which they were preserved."

The family's country estate, Hill Crest, was in Purchase, New York.  They, nevertheless, spent time in other fashionable summer resorts.  In 1900, for instance, they leased the Kneeland Cottage in Lenox, Massachusetts.

In 1904, after being with Vermilye & Company for nearly three decades, Read founded the banking firm of William A. Read & Co.  The firm specialized in bonds, American Biography noting that Read "had a rare knowledge of the values of securities and his advice was sought by many individual and corporate investors."

The number of Read children belied the fact that wealthy couples slept in separate rooms.  It was a situation that tested Caroline's mettle in the early morning hours of February 14, 1907.  At around 1:00 she was awakened by a noise and called out, "Is that you, Will?"  Getting no answer she got out of bed and opened the bathroom door.  The New York Times reported, "For a moment she was able to see nothing.  Then gradually she made out the form of a man clinging to the upper frame of the window."

A more faint-hearted woman might have screamed, or even fainted.  But Caroline was irately offended.  "What do you want?" she demanded.  The intruder said, "I'm just looking for a place to sleep and something to eat."

Caroline walked directly to the burglar alarm in her bedroom and pulled the switch, and then went to William's room.  By then the would-be burglar had made his escape.  Before long East 62nd Street was teeming with police.  The feisty socialite had prevented a burglary, although the perpetrator was never found.

Nevertheless, William apparently did not take the close call lightly.   Less than two months later, on April 10, The City Record said he had applied for the appointment of "Mr. Ohlson as a Special Patrolman, with permission to carry a pistol."

William A. Read fell ill on March 27, 1916 and died in the 62nd Street mansion a week later, on April 7.   Caroline and the unmarried children continued to live in the mansion.

With the outbreak of World War I Caroline's four sons enlisted in the United States Navy's aviation service.  In 1918 Curtis and Russell Bartow were in France, Duncan was a flight instructor in the Government's aviation school in Florida, and William was training at the Boston Tech Flying School.  

On March 1, 1918 the New-York Tribune reported, "When the authorities at Washington learn the truth, Mrs. William Augustus Read, of 4 East Sixty-second Street, will then learn whether or not her son, Ensign Curtis F. Read, of Yale, '17, lies buried in France or is still flying with the United States naval aviation forces in foreign water."  The confusion was not cleared up until May when Brooklyn Life reported that Curtis had been killed "in an air flight near the Belgian coast."  The article noted, "The service flag which flies over the door of Mrs. Read's residence...carries stars for three more sons--all in aviation work."

Daughter Caroline Hicks Read was active in "canteen work" during the war.  That was possibly how she met Navy aviator Lt. Archibald G. McIlwaine II.  Caroline's introduction to society occurred in the 1919-1920 winter season, and was quickly followed by her mother's announcing the couple's engagement on March 22, 1920.

Russell Bartow Read, now a doctor, was married to socialite and "Junior Leaguer" Hope Williams the following year.  The newlyweds lived at No. 4 East 62nd with Caroline.   In 1927 Hope did what was the unthinkable among the high society set--she tried her hand at acting.  And she was a hit.  The Daily News said "she made her Broadway debut in support of Madge Kennedy in 'Paris Bound,' and won such high praise she was immediately scheduled for stardom."

Hope Williams, from the collection of the Library of Congress. 

Success on the stage did not translate to harmony at home.  On December 8, 1928 the Daily News reported, "The Rialto has become the dividing line in another society romance."  The article noted after Hope achieved theatrical fame, "Matrimony rapidly faded into the background."  Only months after first stepping foot on the stage, Hope obtained a divorce.

Caroline Read entered the Presbyterian Hospital in the spring of 1929 for an operation.  She died there on May 1 at the age of 60.   The mansion was combined internally with No. 6 East 62nd Street in 1931 by architect John Hamlin for the York Club.  The renovations, completed in 1932, resulted in what the Department of Buildings deemed a "residence club with sleeping accommodations."  It noted that the properties were "separate buildings under the same ownership."

6 East 62nd Street.

The club was the scene of weddings, dinners and social events throughout the coming decades.  On November 24, 1940, for instance, The New York Times reported on the coming "tea dance to be given Dec. 2 at the York aid of the British-American Ambulance Corps."  And on June 20, 1948 the newspaper announced, "The Herb Society of America, with headquarters at the York Club, 4 East Sixty-second Street, will hold its annual meeting tomorrow."

In 1985 the combined houses were converted to sprawling duplex apartments known as Curzon House.  A two-bedroom apartment in 1991 rented for $8,500 per month--more in the neighborhood of $16,000 today.   Outwardly, little has changed to either mansion.

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