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
no permission to reuse the content of this blog has been granted to

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.

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

Thursday, December 2, 2021

The William J. Roome House - 266 West 21st Street

Once home to the well-to-do Roome family, graffiti mars the sorely abused house today.

William J. Roome was born In Greenwich Village on August 1, 1800 to Jacob P. and Nelly Hogland Roome.  An attorney, he married Jane Maybie on September 6, 1820.  Around 1840 he moved his family into the recently-completed house at 188 West 21st Street (renumbered 266 in 1865) in the Chelsea district.

At just two-bays wide and three-and-a-half stories tall, the Roome house was a scaled down version of the grander Greek Revival homes rising throughout the neighborhood.  Instead of the high brownstone stoops seen in those residences, the entrance to the Roome house sat atop a one-step porch.  It nevertheless boasted an impressive brownstone cornice above the entrance and attractive rope carving framed the doorway.  Molded stone lintels graced the openings and a dentiled cornice ran along the roofline.

The house was well-filled.  William and Jane had nine children--Eleanor, Jane, Jacob Peter, Julia, Catharine Emily, William Henry, Abraham P. Maybie, Edwin LeChevalier, and infant John Howard.  One of the young women, probably Eleanor, was highly involved in the New-York City Tract Society, an organization that published and disseminated Christian literature.  Its 1842 report listed "Miss Roome" as a manager of the Female Branch of the society.

In addition to his legal practice, William J. Roome was highly involved in local politics (he was associated with Tammany leaders), and in 1845 was appointed a Commission of the Alms House.  He served as a commissioner of the Board of Education, as well.

Jane married bookkeeper Benjamin Arrowsmith Hegeman on May 8, 1844.   Despite what must have been somewhat crowded conditions, the newlyweds moved into the West 21st Street house.  The situation was amplified around 1847 when a room on the ground floor was outfitted as William J.'s law office and William H.'s real estate office.  (Although William H. continued to operate his business from the office, by 1847 he had moved his residence to 232 West 20th Street.)

In June 1852, Jane and Benjamin Hegeman had a daughter, Eleanor.  It may have been that event that prompted them to move nearby at 186 West 24th Street before very long.

The West 21st Street house was the scene of heartbreak in January 1853.  John Howard Roome died on January 14 just two months before his 11th birthday.   His funeral was held in the house three days later.

Another tragedy within the family occurred the following year when two-year-old Eleanor Hegeman died.  (Interestingly, after Jane Roome Hegeman died in 1878, Benjamin married her sister, Catherine Emily.)

As the population of the Roome house diminished, Jane and William began to take in boarders.  On August 7, 1855 an advertisement in the New York Herald read:

Two Gentlemen and their Wives, or Four single gentlemen, can be accommodated with board at 188 West Twenty-first street.  No other boarders.  Terms $5 per week.  The use of a piano, and, if desired, instruction in music and the French language, without charge.  Bedrooms unfurnished.

The weekly rent would be equivalent to around $155 today.  

Although William J. and his son kept their first-floor office in the house, in 1856 the family offered it for rent.  The ad reflected its amenities:

House to Let--That three-story and attic brick house No. 188 West 21st-st.; has gas, bath, water-closets, range, bells &c.  Gas fixtures belong to the house, which will be put in complete order.  Rent $600 to a good tenant.

The bells mentioned in the advertisement referred to the servant bells located in various rooms.  The yearly rent would equal about $19,000 today.

The Roome families dispersed.  William and Jane moved to West 15th Street, and William H. went to Bethune Street.  The 21st Street house saw a succession of tenants for a few years.  The Sulzbacher family lived here in the late 1850's.  Both Henry and Lewis Sulbacher were affiliated with the clothing firm Sulzabacher, Rosenthal & Co. on Liberty Street.

The Martin Furey family moved in around 1862.  An upholsterer, his son Nicholas Edward attended the New York Free Academy while they lived here.

Strong V. Moore, who had previously lived in Brooklyn, leased the house in 1864.  He owned a billiard parlor on Crosby Street.  He was joined in 1867 by Richard P. Moore, most likely a brother.  Richard made his living as a surveyor.  The Moores remained through 1877.

The house was then operated by Frances Donaldson as a boarding house.  Living with her were Emilius A. Donaldson, a publisher, and Julius A. Donaldson, who made his living as a clerk.  Frances had two boarders in 1878, John Green, who operated a tea shop on Ninth Avenue; and coal merchant George Tuthill.

An advertisement on August 16, 1879 described, "Nicely furnished cool and pleasant front rooms, $1.50, $2.50, $3; private house; modern improvements."

William J. Roome had died earlier that year, on April 1879.  William H. continued to lease 266 West 21st Street to the Donaldsons and to operate his real estate business--now with his son William J.--from the first floor office.

William Henry died in 1881.  William J. Roome inherited both his father's business, and the former family house at 226 West 21st Street.

Among Frances Donaldson's boarders in 1884 were lithographer John K. Gardner and his wife.  Gardner was walking along West 23rd Street on September 24 that year when a bizarre accident occurred as he was passing by the new Eden MuseeThe Albany Times reported:

There was the usual number of children and passers-by yesterday afternoon opposite the Eden Musee in Twenty-third street near Fifth avenue.  Suddenly there was a crash, a cry from the startled children, a thud upon the pavement, a spurt of something red and warm against the marble steps of the building, and then a rush of people from across the street until a large crowd was surging in front of the entrance.

Atop the second story balustrade of the Eden Musee were four enormous marble urns.  One of them had crashed to the pavement, "the two hundred odd pounds of its weight having crushed the life out of an unfortunate gray-haired man who had just before been passing," said the article.  That unfortunate man was John K. Gardiner.

Atop the balustrade can be seen the massive stone urns, one of which fell directly onto John K. Gardiner.  from the collection of the New-York Historical Society

The newspaper said, "Mrs. Gardner, who was completely unnerved by the shock, said last night that her husband left home at mid-day to look for employment, as he had for some time been out of work."  The manager of the Eden Musee came to 266 West 21st Street the night of the accident to give his condolences to Mrs. Gardner, and offered to pay for "a fitting burial."  The Albany Times added, "He has also promised to look after the needs of the widow, who is left entirely destitute."

In 1894 William J. Roome moved his real estate office to 410 Sixth Avenue.   Now living in Plainfield, New Jersey, he hired architect P. F. Brogan to update the 21st Street house in 1896.  His vague plans leave the details of the renovations unclear, but quite possibly had to do with improved plumbing and such.

In 1897 James Richardson was making a comfortable living by robbing boarding houses.  The 28-year-old "had as many aliases as there are days in the week," said the New York Herald on January 24.  His appearance and demeanor fooled dozens of boarding house landladies.  "In appearance he could easily represent himself to be a clerk or salesman with a comfortable salary," said the article.  "His method of operating was to apply at a boarding or furnished room house, between three and four o'clock in the afternoon...As the mistress of the house was serving her boarders at dinner her new comer would ring the bell and ask to be shown to his room."

Richardson always came with two large bundles, presumably containing his clothing, and he would announce his trunk would arrive shortly.  And always, when he did not come down to dinner, the landlady would find him gone from the room, but because the bundles were still there, she was not suspicious.  Later, when boarders realized they had been robbed, the bundles would be untied and found to be filled with straw. 

In January 1897 Detective Devine "was informed that a man believed to be the much-wanted thief was at No. 226 West Twenty-first street," reported the New York Herald.  "The detective hurried there, only to find that the man had left the house five minutes before with a boarder's coat."  The slippery crook was captured a week later, having successfully robbed at least 35 boarding houses.

Irish immigrant Jane Malloy worked in the house as a servant, but was discharged in the summer of 1898, possibly because of her drinking.  She appeared at the back door on the morning of June 12 and was refused entrance.  The New York Herald reported, "She was apparently under the influence of liquor and refused to move."  It seems that, at least as far as the 45-year-old woman was concerned, her options had run out.  There in the rear yard, "She took a small bottle of [carbolic acid] from her pocket and drank its contents, dying before the ambulance arrived."

Another case of desperation occurred in October 1900.  Margaret Quinn had taken a room at 268 West 19th Street on October 5.  The following day she was taken to Bellevue Hospital.  Around October 21 she had her trunk taken to 266 West 21st Street.  The 22-year-old had good reason to relocate.

What no one in the 19th Street boarding house realized was that Margaret Quinn was pregnant.  The baby was born on October 7 and she and the infant were discharged on October 13.

On October 22, a Mount Vernon merchant, W. Sherman Lees, was riding his bicycle along the woods on Pelham Bay Park Road when he heard a baby crying.  Going into the woods, he found an infant girl, "blue and pinched with cold," according to the Buffalo Evening News.  He took the child to the Mount Vernon Police.  A physician said "it had probably been in the woods for the greater part of the night and that it was nearly frozen." 

Margaret Blair was traced through the child's underskirt, marked "Bellevue Hospital, 31."  At 266 West 21st Street she denied having abandoned her child, but could not produce her, insisting, "It is being taken care of and that is all I care to say."

That was not explanation enough for police and she was arrested.  At the station, "she said that she was too poor to take proper care of it herself and that she had sent it to a foundling asylum."  When that story proved untrue, "she declared that she had given the baby to her mother-in-law."  That alibi, also, fell flat.  She finally confessed.

"I was penniless and unable to take care of the child after I left the hospital, so I went to the foundling asylum at 68th Street and Lexington Avenue and wanted to leave the baby there, but they refused to accept it."  She professed to have then gone to her mother-in-law's home (her husband, she said, had abandoned her when she became pregnant), but she was not home.

In desperation, she took a streetcar to the area near Mount Vernon, "and walked a long distance until I got in the woods.  I laid the baby down near a street and went back to the car and returned to the city."  The Buffalo Evening News said, "The woman showed no pleasure when she was told that the baby had been rescued, and was not only alive, but was getting along well."  Margaret Quinn was arrested on charges of abandonment.

The house was being operated as a rooming house as late as the Depression years.  In the second half of the century it contained unofficial apartments (there was never a Certificate of Occupancy granted).  Among the tenants in 1974 was Jorge Gonzales, who met a grisly end that year.

On June 7, he and Gonzolo Roman visited the apartment of Louis Gandot next door at 264 West 21st Street.  Something happened that prompted Roman to pull a knife, fatally stabbing Gonzales and critically wounding Gandot.  The murderer was captured shortly afterward three blocks away at Eighth Avenue and 18th Street.

The surviving elements--like the remains of the rope carving--hint at the former elegance of the Roome house.

Much of the architectural integrity of the narrow Greek Revival house survives under a coat of gray paint.  Although greatly abused and despite its unfortunate replacement door, details like the rope carving, lintels, and the dentiled cornice survive after more than 180 years.

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

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

The 1910 J. M. Lowden & Co. Building -- 143-145 West 15th Street


In April 1909 Eliza Jencks Lowden purchased the two high-stooped houses at 143 and 145 West 15th Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues.  Four months later architect H. C. Pittman filed plans for a seven-story warehouse to cost $65,000--just under $2 million in today's dollars.

Eliza was the wife of James Morton Lowden, head of J. M. Lowden, Inc.  The firm operated operated warehouses for freight headed to or coming from steamships and freight trains, and this site would be one of them.

Completed the following year, Pittman's utilitarian building could almost be mistaken for a school.  A subtle blend of Colonial Revival--seen in the discreet splayed brick lintels and their stone counterparts at the sixth floor, for instance--and Arts & Crafts, it was faced in yellow brick.  The central section of the second through sixth floors was unified by metal infill that framed the windows and provided paneled spandrels.  Four brick piers added dimension to the top floor where terra cotta shamrocks announced Lowden's monogram.

Eliza J. Lowden died on June 26, 1913, leaving her entire estate to her husband.  Included was 143 West 15th Street, valued at $2.3 million in today's money.

James was one of the 65 members of the New York Team Owners' Association, "who have 1,500 horses and auto trucks hauling freight," according to Trade and Transportation in 1913.  The steamship lines and railroads by now had established their own freight warehouses and not-so-subtlety tried to edge out their competition.

In November 1913, James Lowden testified before the Interstate Commerce Commission in Washington D.C. with the New York Team Owners' Association, along with its president, secretary, and another member.   Among their complains, according to Trade and Transportation, was "that the carriers show favoritism to certain team and truck owners, allowing them to drive past teams having prior position in line."

Typical of J. M. Lowden & Co.'s clients was the Blackstone Valley Co.  In its May 1920 issue, The Motor Truck described the problem of freight headed for Philadelphia from New York.  To avoid the delays faced by freight barges, or "lighters," attempting to pass through the Raritan Canal, the firm contracted J. M. Lowden & Co. to truck their freight.  The article said "two or three trucks from that concern run daily to Philadelphia with shipments taken from Rhode Island to New York by boat."

James Morton Lowden had died a few weeks before that article, on April 18, 1920.  The firm continued, operated by its directors, but changes were coming.  By the end of the year the Segwick Machine Works shared space in the building.  Perhaps to accommodate its new tenant, J. M. Lowden & Co. relocated its main offices to West 22nd Street.

The warehouse received a shipment of textiles late in 1924.  On December 24, The Evening Post reported, "Robbers, it was learned today, forced their way into the warehouse at 143 West Fifteenth street last Friday and carried off more than $60,000 worth of woolen and worsted material.  The goods were the property of about thirty woolen mills."  The massive theft would equal $908,000 today.

The gutsy burglars, according to detectives, had forced open a side door, then "opened the double front doors from within, had backed an automobile truck inside the warehouse, and had driven it away loaded with rolls of cloth."  The detectives added, "There was no watchman in the warehouse."

J. M. Lowden & Co. operated from the building into the 1930's.  Sedgewick Machine Works remained until 1943 when the building was sold on April 1.  It became home to the Jurgensen Mfg. Co., makers of kapok-filled life preservers.

In 1941 an overhanging freight awning sheltered trucks as they were loaded and unloaded.  A painted sign for J. M. Lowden & Co. survived on the side.  photo via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

Around 1955 the H. B. Davis Corporation moved in.  The firm filled the warehouse with a variety of goods, then printed a mail-order catalog.  But the business was a bit different than normal mail-order firms.  The sample catalogues were sent to potential investors.  An advertisement in Billboard on May 7, 1955 said, "Space is provided on the cover for the imprinting of your own name and address.  This catalog costs you nothing and it puts you in a business that can repay you thousands of dollars!"  

Potential clients were urged, "Distribute your own catalog of name brand merchandise through your sales force, or take orders with it yourself."  The orders were then filled by H. B. Davis Corporation and sent directly to the consumer.  The concept worked and H. B. Davis Corporation operated here until 1968 when the Salvation Army took over the building.

The warehouse was converted to the Salvation Army's archives, research center, and certain offices.  The freight canopy was removed and the ground floor remodeled.

Just before 6:45 on the morning of September 7, 1972, Brigadier William Benton and Captain Ivor Rich, the financial secretary for Greater New York, waited on the West Hempstead platform of the Long Island Rail Road.  Benton, according to The New York Times, was the "newly appointed men's social service secretary for The Salvation Army's Eastern Territory." 

The men were headed to 145 West 15th Street where Benton was to start his first day on the job, taking over from Lt. Colonel William Charron.  Sadly, the 59-year-old would never make the trip.  Before the train arrived he suffered a fatal heart attack on the platform.

The Salvation Army remained in the West 15th Street building until 1991 when it became headquarters for the Puerto Rican Family Institute.  The organization was founded in 1960, according to the Encyclopedia of Minorities in American Politics, "to meet the health needs of Puerto Rican and Hispanic families within the United States."  The group operates mental health clinics, migrant family assistance and "social work, educational, psychiatric, and psychological services." 

On June 9, 1991 The New York Times reported that the performance of Charge It Please at the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater on West 47th Street would benefit the Puerto Rican Family Institute.  "Proceeds will be used to renovate the institute's new building at 145 West 15th Street," said the article.

The Institute remains in the building.  And while the ground floor has been necessarily and significantly altered, H. C. Pittman's handsome 1910 design survives intact on the upper floors.

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

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Auguste Namur's 1888 Queen Anne Style 146 and 148 West 94th Street


In January 1886, Benjamin F. Romaine bought a 220-foot-long stretch of land from John J. Brown that included a three-story wooden house, most likely a farmhouse.  The undeveloped setting along West 94th Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues (later renamed Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues) was  evidenced in the deed which noted, "north side [of]  Apthorpe's Lane."  That east-west carriage road had accessed the 200-acre Charles Ward Apthorpe estate along the Hudson River in the 18th century, and ran through the middle of the blocks that are today 93rd and 94th Streets.

But change was most definitely coming to the area, as evidenced by the price Romaine paid for the parcel.  The $58,000 price tag would equal about $1.65 million today.  He was already making a mark on the developing Upper West Side, seemingly always working with architect Auguste Namur.

Pierre Auguste Namur was born in Luxembourg in 1837 and graduated as an engineer from the Ecole Centrale des Arts et Manufactures in Paris in 1855.  His work as an engineer was interrupted by the Franco-Prussian War.  According to a family member, he was captured and sentenced to ten years of hard labor by the French.  Rescued by the Germans, he escaped to America in 1873.  In America, it does not appear that he ever used his first name.  After working as a civil engineer for several years, he was listed as an architect in 1879.

He would not file plans for Romaine's project until April 1887.  They called for seven four-story "brick dwellings with stone and terra cotta trimmings."  Each of the 19-foot-wide homes would cost the equivalent of $395,000 today to construct.

Completed in the summer of 1888, they were designed in the newly-popular Queen Anne style.  The two models were configured in an A-B-A-B-A-B-A pattern.   The "A" houses, of which 148 was an example, featured a sharply angled bay at the parlor level.  The paired windows of the second and third floors shared a common stone lintel with a square-headed drip molding more expected in a Gothic Revival design.  Namur reintroduced Queen Anne with a single large terra cotta tile within each lintel.  The slate shingled attic level was fronted by a parapet and tall dormer.

The "B" designs, including 146 West 94th Street, replaced first floor oriel with a large arched window, nearly the width of the parlor inside.  It and the arched entrance wore stone eyebrows.  A quilting of terra cotta tiles above the parlor floor openings spread along the row, visually uniting the houses.  The openings of the second and third floors of the "B" houses were set within a projecting brick-and-stone frame.  Here, too, Namur stepped away from Queen Anne with Renaissance Revival style terra cotta ornaments.  A full-width brick gable with two arched windows and a terra cotta rondel fronted the attic.

Romaine did not sell the houses, but leased them.  His advertisement on September 20, 1888 read, "To Let--136 to 148 West Ninety-Fourth St--4 story and basement; built for investment; near L station."  Interestingly, four years later when both 146 and 148 became available, Romaine placed slightly different rents on them--charging the equivalent today of $4,280 per month for 146, and $4,400 per month for 148.

Most likely because Romaine preferred to rent and not sell, both houses saw a succession of residents.  In 1894, William D. Weeks and his family lived in 146.  Like many New Yorkers at the time, Weeks had become an enthusiast of the bicycling fad.  It was a hobby that could be enjoyed only by the well-to-d0.  The average cost of a bicycle in 1894 would top $2,000 in today's money.  But on November 1, Weeks would have to look for a new bike.

On the prior evening there was a "bicycle parade" on Fifth Avenue along Madison Square.   The Morning Telegraph reported that a cab driver named Carroll "was driving west through Twenty-sixth street, toward Fifth avenue, at 8:30 last night, when suddenly there was a smashup.  Driver, horse, carriage, bikes and bicycle riders were all in the mix."

Among the three bicyclists extracted from the tangle was William D. Weeks.  Carroll was arrested, but he brought three witnesses with him to confirm his innocence.  "He said the three complainants, who were waiting for the bicycle parade to put in an appearance, were scorching and ran into him."  The term referred to street racing, which was, of course, illegal and dangerous.  The police sergeant was not especially sympathetic.  Although he let Carroll go, he said that "the three victims should sue the liveryman to recover the cost of their wheels."

Living next door at 148 West 94th Street was the Louis Friedman family.  Born in German, Friedman was a partner with Morris Deutsch in the fur business, Friedman & Deutsch.  His marriage to Cecilia Eger--one of a Jewish man and non-Jewish woman--was unusual at best.  The couple had two daughters, Ella and Clara.  Living with the family was Louis's unmarried sister.  Florence D. Friedman was a vice president of the Council of Jewish Women.  

Ella was an artist.  She may have been conflicted by the differing religious views of her parents, and was affiliated with the non-denominational Society for Ethical Culture.  Not quick to wed, when Ella married Julius Oppenheimer on on March 23, 1903, she was 34 years old.  Six years later, now widowed, Cecilia Friedman left 148 West 94th Street and moved into the Oppenheimer apartment.

In the meantime, at the turn of the century 146 West 94th Street was being operated as a boarding house.  Among the residents was Dr. Allan Blair Bonar, former resident physician at the Incurable Hospital on Blackwell's Island.   He left the 94th Street house following his marriage to Carolina A. Busick on September 5, 1901.

Another boarder in 1900 was Jacob Gabow, a diamond setter for Tiffany & Co.   Born in Russia, he had met his wife, Annie Goldstein, there while working for her father's diamond-setting business.  The couple came to America in 1890.  According to The Morning Telegraph, in 1894 Jacob "sent her home on a visit, saying he would send her money to come back to America, but never did so."   Around October 10, 1900, Annie and her father arrived in New York, looking for her missing husband.  The newspaper said, "they traced Mr. Gabow to 146 West Ninety-fourth street."  Absence, it seems, had not made Jacob's heart grow fonder.

On October 23, a judge ordered him to pay Annie $10 from his $75 per week salary.  He refused and was incarcerated.  The Morning Telegraph explained, "Unless the diamond setter gives his bond or deposits the cash with the Charities Department he will remain in jail."

Boarding in 146 West 94th Street in 1902 were Grace Povey, an unmarried piano teacher; artist Drew A. Farnsworth; and the less-respectable Sidney H. Carter.   

On May 5, 1903 The New York Times titled an article "Nest of Poolrooms Under One Roof" and reported, "With sledges and hammers a raid was made yesterday afternoon on what the police say was the biggest and finest poolroom the city has known in years."  As used in this case, the term did not refer to the billiards game, but to illegal horse betting.  The astounding operation at 35 West 27th Street, described as "a maze of blind stairways, hallways and concealed doors," had been carefully planned to deceive outsiders.  

Passing through a laundry, police overcame a myriad of obstacles, including fake doors that opened onto brick walls, and dead end hallways.  There were heavily fortified and "handsomely furnished" rooms on each floor, outfitted with blackboards, telephones, racing sheets and "other poolroom paraphernalia."  After battering a doorway on the second floor, they found Sidney H. Carter.  "He seemed to be in charge of the place," reported The New York Times.  "Carter denied he had anything to do with the running of the rooms, but was locked up."

In 1915 Benjamin F. Romaine leased the two houses to Charles Griffin, whose wife, Susan Griffin, now operated both as boarding houses.  At some point after 1917, Griffin purchased the properties.  When he sold 148 West 94th Street in August 1926, The New York Sun noted that the new owner "will alter and occupy it."

With its stoop removed, 148 West 94th Street (right) was home to a school.  via NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

Part of the alteration was the removal of the stoop.  The house was converted to the Birch Wathen School, with an apartment on the top floor.  The private institution had been founded by Louise Birch and Edith Wathen five years earlier.  In 1930 the school expanded into 146 West 94th Street and eight years later it purchased that building from George B. Griffin, presumably the son of Charles and Susan.  

The school remained until 1962, when it moved into the former Herbert N. Straus mansion at 9 East 71st Street (later home to billionaire financier Jeffrey E. Epstein).   The renovation and conversion of 146 West 94th Street to apartments that year most likely involved the removal of the stoop.  An alteration to  one apartment per floor next door occurred in 1965.  That same year the five other houses in Auguste Namur's 1888 row were demolished for an apartment building.

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

Monday, November 29, 2021

The Lost Chauncey M. Depew Mansion - 27 West 54th Street

The gas lamps that perched at the base of the stoop were a notable feature.  The New Metropolis, 1899 (copyright expired)

During the Civil War, Dr. William Alexander Hammond served as the Surgeon General of the United States and in 1862 was promoted to the rank of brigadier general by Abraham Lincoln.  In 1864, at the age of 36, Hammond moved to New York City and opened his private practice.  Hammond counted among his patients some of Manhattan's wealthiest citizens.  

On October 12, 1872 the Real Estate Record & Guide reported that the architectural firm of D. & J. Jardine had file plans for a "three-story Philadelphia brick first-class-dwelling" for Hammond.  Located on the north side of West 54th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, the 37-feet-wide mansion was completed the following year.

The Jardines had turned to the French Second Empire style.  The original three stories had become four.  A wide stone stoop rose to the nearly centered entrance, which was flanked by Ionic pilasters and capped by a classical pediment.  The two-story midsection featured an angled bay and the fourth floor, above a prominent cornice, took the form of the slate-shingled mansard crowned with delicate iron cresting.

Dr. Hammond's reputation was such that when Michael C. Kerr, Speaker of the House of Representatives became too ill to carry on his duties in February 1876, he and his wife traveled to New York City.  The New York Herald wrote, "Mr. Kerr's purpose in visiting this city was to place himself under the treatment of his physician, ex-Surgeon General William A. Hammond, of No. 43 West Fifty-fourth Street."  (The address would be renumbered 27 in 1905.)

Dr. William A. Hammond, from the collection of the Library of Congress

The year 1888 was a significant one for Hammond and his wife, the former Esther T. Chapin.  It started when the two of them appeared in the Jefferson Market Police Court to identify Samuel Jenkins (alias Jennings, alias Richard Stone).  The Hammonds were on a Ninth Avenue streetcar, returning from the theater, on the night of December 27 when the doctor was jostled and his gold watch stolen.  The valuable timepiece was worth more than $9,800 in today's money.  It is unclear if Hammond got his watch back (although it is doubtful).

The couple was back in court on October 18.  They had gone to their summer home in Long Beach, New Jersey on July 4, "leaving their be cared for by the cook, Julie, and the butler," said The Evening World.  But, the article continued, "Their departure was the signal for a grand jubilee and ball held in the house by Julie and her friends, and the French cook at once was made famous by her wine dinners, dancing and songs."

Word reached Long Beach and Esther returned to New York and fired Julie Arnaud, paying her up to that date.  Amazingly, the dismissed cook sued Esther, saying she "had been hired up to the end of September" and was due extra pay.

That year the Hammonds sold the mansion to Chauncey Mitchell Depew and his wife, the former Elise Ann Hegeman.  The price  of $125,000 reflected the high-end tone of the block.  It would equal slightly more than $3.5 million today.

Depew's was a household name.  Educated as a lawyer, he became the attorney for the Vanderbilt railroads, and a year before purchasing the West 54th Street house was elected president of the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad.  He had, as well, served in the State Assembly in 1862-1863, and as New York Secretary of State in 1864-1865.  The Depews had a nine year old son, Chauncey Jr.  Their summer estate was at Scarborough-on-Hudson, New York.

Entertainments in the Depew house were frequent and notable.  On November 28, 1891, for instance, The Sun reported, "Mr. and Mrs. Chauncey M. Depew, last evening, gave an elaborate dinner party at their house."  The guest of honor was British Member of Parliament William Lehman Ashmead Bartlett Burdett-Coutts.  Sitting around the table were members of the highest echelon of Manhattan society.  The article said:

Mr. and Mrs. Depew's guests were: Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt, Dr. and Mrs. W. Seward Webb, Mr. and Mrs. Richard H. Wilson, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Clews, Mr. and Mrs. John J. Wyson, Mr. and Mrs. Byam K. Stevens, Mrs. Paran Stevens, Mrs. Marshal O. Roberts, Miss Whiting, Col. Cuthbert Larking, and Mr. Ward McAllister.

An elaborate Esthetic period chandelier hangs over the dining table.  photo by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Shortly after that dinner party Elise contracted influenza.  She had successfully recovered from the disease in 1889, however this bout had come "in a more virulent form," according to the New-York Tribune.   Two years later she was still in poor health.

In 1890 Depew's portrait had been painted by Adolfo Muller-Ury.  Now, in 1892 the artist was brought back to create a companion portrait of Elise.  It may have been her weakened condition that prompted Depew to commission the work.

The family referred to the back parlor as the "white and gold room."
photo by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Elise had sat for him only a few times before she and Chauncey traveled to Fortress Monroe, Virginia.  Her condition had noticeably declined when they returned around May 1.  The New-York Tribune reported, "Mrs. Depew had been almost continuously confined to her bed after her return."  A week afterward, she died on May 7 at the age of 45.

Depew was high affected by his wife's passing.  His private secretary, H. C. Du Val, received the many callers who arrived at the house the following day.  He told a reporter, "[Depew's] silent grief at this terrible blow is touching, but he has borne it so far without flinching...There never perhaps were two persons more bound up in each other than were Mr. Depew and his wife.  No matter where he was, on land or sea, in Europe or in the most distant parts of this country, his first thought was for her, and hers for him."

Adolfo Muller-Ury continued work on the portrait.  One can imagine the emotional impact on Depew when it was delivered two months after Elise's death.  

The narrow "music room," with its upright piano, would have been for family purposes only.  A grand piano sat in the more public front parlor.  

Dainty gilded chairs and more comfortable upholstered pieces sit below an intricately stenciled ceiling.  
photos by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

On May 2, 1897 The New York Times published a two-page spread on the Depew mansion, the interiors of which it called "a marvel of taste and refinement."  In the main hall were an 18th century tall case clock, and towards the rear a Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington.  "The broad stairway that leads to the floors above is guarded day and night by a warrior dressed in a full suit of armor and carrying a buckler and sword."

The reception room, off the main hall to the left, "is filled with paintings, bric-a-brac, and souvenirs that [Depew] has collected here and there in his trips to foreign lands."  Among the items was a valuable bronze statuette of Napoleon, "said to be the only figure extant of the great Corsican as First Consul," said the article.

The Reception Room.  A corner of the Muller-Ury portrait of Chauncey Depew is visible at the left.  photo by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Across the main hall was the parlor, filled with antique furniture.  Here hung the Muller-Ury portraits.  Behind the parlor was the "white and gold room," a sitting room outfitted in French furniture and a "magnificent chandelier of cut glass."

But the dining room, according to The New York Times, "is one of the most beautiful rooms in the Depew house.  It is papered in dark turkey red.  All of the chairs are handsomely upholstered in leather."  Below the ceiling was a row of mottoes "appropriate to a dining room" in various languages.  One, in French, said "Appetite is the best sauce," for instance.  The bronze dining room chandelier, like all the fixtures in the house, was electrically lit.

Chauncey Mitchell Depew - from the collection of the Library of Congress

By the time of the article, Depew's nieces, Anne Depew Paulding and Charlotte N. Hegeman, were living with with him.  On January 23 that year he "gave one of the most largely attended receptions of the season," according to The Sun, for the young women.  The article noted, "A Hungarian band was stationed in the niche in the central stairway and screened by exotics...A suite of fives rooms was thrown open.  The second drawing room is in white and told.  An elaborate buffet was served in the third large room, which is the dining room."  Depew had issued 2,000 invitations and, once again, the cream of New York society attended.  Among those listed were Mrs. William B. Astor, Mrs. Herman Oelrichs, Mrs. William Rhinelander and the J. Oakley Rhinelanders, the Stuyvesant Fishes, and scores of others.

In 1899 Depew was elected to the United States Senate, a post he would hold until March 1911.  His residency in the West 54th Street house was now, understandably, periodic.  Nevertheless, in 1901 he hired architects Ludlow & Valentine to do "interior and exterior alterations" of the house.

An Egyptian frieze ran below the ceiling of the Depew library.  photo by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The updating of the residence may have been in anticipation of his marriage.  On December 29, 1901 The New York Times reported, "The marriage of Senator Chauncey M. Depew to Miss May Palmer took place at noon to-day at the American Church [in Nice, France]."  It was, in fact the second ceremony.  Because the bride was Roman Catholic, a wedding at Notre Dame in Nice had taken place the day before.

At the end of Depew's term in the Senate and following the 1911 summer social season, on November 12 The Sun reported, "Mr. and Mrs. Chauncey M. Depew are now at their home here, 27 West Fifty-fourth street and are likely to give numerous dinners during the winter."  And, indeed, they did.  Among the most anticipated entertainments were May's annual birthday dinners for her husband.

Esthetic period bedroom furniture shares space with an Empire-inspired chandelier.  
photo by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The Depews spent part of the winter of 1927-28 in St. Petersburgh, Florida.  On the train home in late March, Depew "caught a chill," according to his physician, Dr. H. Lyman Hooker.  It led to a bronchial condition and a fever.  That developed into bronchial pneumonia.  The 94-year old died on April 5 after having been ill only a week.

Chauncey Jr. lived in the house until his death in 1931.  His father's library, his paintings and art objects were then sold at auction.  The mansion sat empty for two years before being leased by the estate.

On October 14, 1933, The New York Times reported that the mansion "is to be turned into a rooming house."  The article explained, "the house contains thirty-two rooms, and some of these will be turned into one and two room apartments...The imposing character of the entrance hall, with the great staircase, will be left untouched, also the shelves in the library, which once contained Mr. Depew's collection of rare volumes and bound volumes of his own speeches."

The venerable house survived until 1939 when it and its neighbors on either side were replaced by an apartment building, called Regent House, designed by George F. Pelham.

photo via has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog