Friday, November 28, 2014

The Samuel Shaw Mansion -- No. 280 West End Avenue





In 1887 developer William J. Merritt began an ambitious project on the developing Upper West Side just east of Riverside Drive.  Like many other real estate moguls who bought up long rows of property for speculative homes, he planned 18 high-end houses lining both sides of West 73rd Street between West End Avenue and Broadway.  Merritt’s completed residences were intended for well-to-do merchant class families—except for the mammoth mansion anchoring the northeast corner of West End Avenue and 73rd Street.

Designed by Charles T. Mott, the house took two years to build.  The somewhat somber looking Romanesque Revival mansion featured rounded, tower-like oriels at the corners which were connected by a long iron balcony at the third floor (no doubt a great temptation for Victorian children).  A matching, smaller balcony sprouted one floor above.  Merritt placed the three upper stories of brown brick on a sandstone base.  While the centered entrance was at No. 277 West 73rd Street, most future owners would prefer to use the address of No. 280 West End Avenue.


Merritt could not have hoped for a more prestigious buyer of the newly-completed mansion.  In 1889 the Harvard College Class of 1874 Fifth Report of the Class Secretary reported that Ulysses Simpson Grant and his family was “latterly” living at No. 277 West Seventy-Third Street.  Despite the General’s short-lived residency (the family had moved on within the year), the house would wear his name for decades.

Following Grant in the house was the electrical pioneer and inventor, Frank J. Sprague.  Among his important advancements was the invention of the trolley system.  He held the positions of Vice-President with the Sprague Electric Railway and Motor Company, and consulting engineer of the Edison General Electric Company. 

Following a meeting of the Electrical Club on February 26, 1891, during which he spoke, The Evening World wrote “Mr. Sprague is an alert-looking man, with a clear gray eye, and knows as much about electricity as any one hereabouts.  Electricity is a mine not yet half explored, and, if I mistake not, Mr. Sprague is a miner who will bring from it great things.”

Gruesome boars watch over the entrance.  Two bottle-glass windows survive above.
Sprague’s wife, Mary, had strong opinions about electricity as well—as least concerning the poles which supported electric wires.  The title to the mansion was in Mary’s name and she had no intention of having a falling telephone pole damage her property.

During a major winter storm in January 1891, most of the poles of the Metropolitan Telephone and Telegraph Company on 73rd Street between The Boulevard (later renamed Broadway) and West End Avenue crashed to the ground.  The poles were 70 feet high and 20 inches in diameter with 17 cross arms each, carrying ten wires.  When the heavy poles fell, one damaged the residence of D. S. Lamont and another crashed onto the stoop of W. L. Trenholm.

The Sun reported on January 28 “The poles which remain are being propped up and the company proposes to use them again.  Mrs. Sprague objects, contending that the wires should be put under ground.”  Mary sued the telephone company and won an injunction restraining the firm from erecting or maintaining poles or wires on the block.

Frank chimed in on the problem of telephone poles in the high-class neighborhood.  The Sun said that he felt “These are a serious obstruction to light and air, and one of them stands in front of his wife’s house on the corner of West End avenue and Seventy-third street.  He is afraid it will fall, as it was cracked and warped by the recent store, which leveled to the ground all of the poles on the street from the Boulevard to West End avenue.”

The house became home to Eli Perkins, a former Southerner who ranted in The Tariff Review in 1894 “Dog-on your Yankee patriotism!  We have Southern patriotism and brains, and now enough of you Yankees have voted with us to put us in power.  We are the nation, too, and you Yankees are out.”

By the turn of the century Perkins was gone and the socially-visible James G. Marshall and his wife had moved in.  The Scottish-born merchant and broker was a member of McIntyre & Wardwell.  Within only a couple years of Marshall’s purchase of the house, the firm would become McIntyre & Marshall.  The wealthy couple owned a country estate in New Jersey and was noted for their many thoroughbred racing and show horses.

While the Marshalls enjoyed a clear view of the New Jersey palisades from their western windows when they purchased the house; it would be short-lived.  In 1901 millionaire Charles M. Schwab purchased the entire block from Riverside Drive to West End Avenue, from 73rd to 74th Streets.  The Marshalls’ view would become one of a rising block-encompassing chateau.

In the meantime, the couple carried on with the activities expected of Manhattan’s wealthiest citizens.  Tally-ho parties, or coaching parties, were a favorite pastime of the upper-class and on May 13, 1903 James G. Marshall took the reins of a four-in-hand coach.  In the coach were his wife, Mrs. Helen Wood of Pittsburgh, Mrs. Theodore Hostetter, real estate dealer R. Lawrence Smith and two grooms.

The party was headed to Van Cortlandt Park and things were going merrily until the coach reached the top of the hill at 181st Street and Amsterdam Avenue around 3:30.  A street car came rapidly over the hill and smashed into the rear of the coach.  Mrs. Wood was thrown from the coach and severely injured.  One of the grooms, John Witherton, was tossed out in front of the street car.  Caught by a fender, he was dragged about 60 feet and was also seriously hurt.

Marshall told police that he was driving the coach at about no more than six miles an hour; but that the trolley was speeding along at as much as 12 miles per hour.  “The motorman, as I see it, must have willfully disobeyed orders,” he said.

Mrs. Wood had been at the top of the coach, directly behind Marshall.  As she was thrown to the ground, she briefly caught hold of a railing, which helped to break her fall.  Nevertheless, she struck the wheel and her face hit the ground first. 

The groom suffered worse injuries.  The New York Times said “Witherton was pushed along roughly by the fender, being mashed all the time against the cobblestones.  At last he was thrown off the track unconscious.”

In the meantime the female passengers of the trolley car “became frightened and many of the women screamed.”  The havoc was increased by the terrified horses which threatened to bolt away.  Police controlled the frightened animals and the injured were removed to the hospital.

Marshall decided not to press charges against the motorman.  He took the coach back to the stables, then took Mrs. Witherton to the hospital to see her husband.  “Mr. Marshall gave orders that the groom should be taken to his home, at 280 West End Avenue,” said the newspaper.

The Marshalls were summering at Buzzard’s Bay, Massachusetts in 1905 when the mansion was burglarized.  The New York Times ran a headline on September 2, 1905 “Thief in Old Grant House.”

The mansions of New York were fertile ground for burglars in the summer.  Many were totally closed and those that we not had only one or two servants as caretakers.  Twenty-seven year old Emil Edwards was a struggling sculptor and, armed with a glass cutter, candle and revolver, he headed for 280 West End Avenue on the night of September 1.

Entering through a third story window, he helped himself to a gold bracelet, two gold chains and two gold fobs, three pairs of opera glasses, a gold-and-silver vase, and other expensive items.  He almost got away with his hefty haul.

As he sneaked out of the house, he saw Policeman Leehane standing at the corner of West End Avenue and 73rd Street.  He ducked into the mansion’s sidewalk moat. A man approached the officer saying “Did you hear something drop?”

“Yes, it sounded like a bolt,” replied the officer.

He investigated and, looking down over the five foot wall, saw Edwards crouching in the shadows.  He ordered the burglar to “come out of there” and received the response “Guess I might as well; you’ve got the drop on me.”

At the 63rd Street Station House, Edwards admitted his guilt, saying “I was down and out; I’ve been hungry for three days.”

By April 29, 1909 when Marshall sold the mansion, Charles Schwab had stolen the limelight from Ulysses S. Grant.  In reporting the sale the New-York Tribune’s headline read “Deal Near C. M. Schwab’s Home” and noted that the $100,000 property “faces the home of Charles M. Schwab.” 

Marshall had sold the house to Samuel T. Shaw, the proprietor of the Grand Union Hotel.  He was nationally-noted for his art collecting and the walls of the Grand Union were hung with American art.  Among the artists he patronized were William M. Chase, Childe Hassam, Theodore Robinson, Charles W. Eaton and Emil Carlsen.  By World War I it would reportedly be the largest collection of American art in the nation.

Shaw’s deep involvement in the art world was reflected in his memberships in the Society of American Artsts, the National Academy of Design, the National Art and the Salmagundi Clubs.  A year after moving into the 73rd Street house, Shaw purchased another mansion at No. 41 West 74th Street.  This would become the clubhouse of the Fakirs’ Club which he founded.  “The object of the club, which has been in existence for two years, is to encourage the embryo artist after he leaves school and before he enters the commercial world,” said the New-York Tribune on December 23, 1910, the day after the clubhouse’s house-warming.

While Shaw collected art and ran his hotel, his wife, the former Joan Baird, entertained in the house.  Receptions and afternoon teas were regularly reported in society pages until 1914 when Joan unexpectedly died.

Two years later, on October 4, 1916, The New York Times wrote “The many friends of Samuel T. Shaw, the patron of art and former hotel proprietor…will be interested to learn that he is to remarry.”  Now retired, he had proposed to the Italian-born widow Madame Amalia Dalumi Luzzatto.

“It will mark the culmination of a romance which began when Mr. Shaw took up the study of foreign languages, not so very long ago, principally of Italian.  Mme. Luzzatto, who gives private instruction in that language, was his teacher.”

As automobiles replaced horses on the streets of New York, the under-regulated and under-trained motorists caused havoc on the crowded streets.  On August 18, 1919 alone police reported that no fewer than 50 pedestrians had been struck and one killed by automobiles.  Among the injured was 25-year old Frank Festero, one of the Shaw’s household staff, who was “run down at Broadway and Seventy-second Street,” according to The Times.

In May 1920 Amalia Shaw embarked on a project to redecorate the Victorian interiors.  She commissioned architect Fred R. Hirsh to renovate the mansion.  The Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide reported on May 29 that the alterations would include “remove staircases, stairs, partitions, new cellar, stairs, addition, entrance hall, coal room, servants’ room, toilet rooms, reinforce ceiling.”  The ambitious project was estimated to cost the Shaws $20,000—about a quarter of a million dollars today.

The Grand Union Hotel had been closed in 1914 and in 1926 the American Art Galleries auctioned off the bulk of Samuel T. Shaw’s collection.  Some of the best examples of American art in the country, however, remained on the walls of No. 280 West End Avenue.

When Amalia Dalumi Shaw died in the house on April 1, 1940, Palmina Sestero and Amalia Sestero were living here as well.  The two women received generous bequeaths, leading to the assumption that they were relatives.  The Sesteros were still sharing the house in 1944 when The Times reported that “Mr. and Mrs. A. Ernest Sestero announce the engagement of their daughter Amalla Faustina to Allan John Melvin.”

Early in 1945 Samuel Shaw became ill.  On February 10 the 84-year old art collector died in the house on West 73rd Street.  The estate soon sold the mansion to Henry Goelet, who quickly resold it on January 6, 1946.  It was sold again in October to the 280 West End Avenue Corporation.  That sale brought the mansion's long life as a private home to an end.

Within the year it had been converted to two spacious apartments per floor.  While most mid-century conversions were unsympathetic to the interiors, this was not brutal.  Much of the architectural detailing was preserved.

Leaded and stained glass, Corinthian pilasters and an Italian Renaissance fountain survive -- http://www.corcoran.com/nyc/Listings/Display/973168
The exterior of the mansion remains remarkably intact.  The light moat where a burglar once tried to hide from a policeman has been filled in and its five-foot wall lost; and other expected changes like replacement windows have been made.  Yet the Shaw mansion is a vivid reminder of a time when the imposing homes of wealthy New Yorkers lined the avenues of the Upper West Side.

non-credited photographs by the author

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The 1916 Silk Exchange Cafe -- No. 47 E 29th Street


The Arts & Crafts architectural details were obliterated in a 2014 makeover.


When the esteemed dentist, Dr. Elbert Todd, died in his handsome four-story home at No. 47 East 29th Street on January 8, 1902, the neighborhood was in flux.  Fifteen years after beginning his practice, Todd had purchased the house in 1876.  Sitting between Madison and Park Avenues, it was just a few blocks removed from the Fifth Avenue and Murray Hill mansion districts.

Dr. Todd’s first wife had died in 1881; but he remarried.  A grown son, Ezra Washburn Todd, was also a dentist.  At the time of his death, Todd’s 14- and 17-year old daughters lived in the house with him and his wife, Caroline.  Friends and family who pulled up to the East 29th Street house for the doctor’s funeral in stylish black carriages would have noticed that the private homes on the block were being converted for business purposes.

By now even Fifth Avenue had changed below 34th Street.  Not only had upscale shops like art galleries and dressmakers taken over the brownstone mansions; but many had been replaced by commercial structures.  Only four months after Dr. Todd’s funeral an advertisement appeared in the New-York Tribune seeking bachelor tenants for the house.  “Large rooms, newly furnished; bath on each floor; gentlemen only; house in charge of caretaker.”

For the next decade the Todd family continued to lease the house as a boarding house for respectable single men.  Then in October 1912 the Real Estate Builders’ Record & Guide announced that it had been leased to the Proudman Realty Co. “for business purposes.”

The altered building served as offices for tenants like John Arschagouni, a homoeopathic doctor.  But the upper-most rooms were apparently still being rented as living quarters.  Matylda Neiman, called “a pretty Russian girl” by The New York Times, was living here in 1913.  Although she was employed at the Martha Washington Hotel, she heavily augmented her salary by picking pockets.  When she was arrested on January 11 that year, the newspaper’s headline announced “Detectives Flock to See Pretty Girl.”

Matylda was an expert at her craft.  One detective estimated that her daily take was around $605—in the neighborhood of over $13,000 today.  Matylda answered flatly, “You don’t know that.”

But soon neither the pick-pocketing Neiman nor Dr. Arschagouni would be listing No. 47 East 29th Street as their address.  While the millinery and garment districts had inched north of 23rd Street on the West side of Fifth Avenue; the silk district was engulfing the neighborhood around the Todd house.  Silk merchants and jobbers bustled along the once-placid streets, hurrying to their offices and showrooms.

On May 20, 1916 the Record & Guide reported that Caroline M. Todd had commissioned architects Gross & Kleinberger to replace the old brownstone with a “two-story brick restaurant building.”  Before the first brick was laid, she had leased the property to the Silk Exchange Café.

The architects produced a no-nonsense commercial building clad in variegated brick.  A cast iron-framed storefront nestled within the brick piers.  The charm of the structure was in its creative brickwork, most notably the herringbone pattern between floors, and the grouped set of windows at the second story.

The herringbone pattern of the brickwork, the inset stone panels and the grouped upper openings created the charm -- Google Maps, May 2009

Perhaps it was limited funds that caused Caroline Todd to erect a two-story building rather than a modern loft and store structure.  Her restaurant would cost her just $12,000 to build; significantly less than a large commercial structure (nevertheless a substantial quarter of a million dollars today for the widow).  Or she may have simply been a shrewd businesswoman.  The Silk Exchange Café would thrive in the little building for years.

If the second floor was originally intended as part of the restaurant; that plan quickly fell through.  In March 1917 silk dealer Seville & Jonas leased that space for its offices.  Three years later Arrow Silk Mills, silk jobbers, was doing business there. 

Apparently the silk business was not all work and no play.  In 1921 Max E. Klein, principal of Arrow Silk Mills, was sued by William J. Smith Silk Company.  At the trial on February 6, 1922 Philip Getzoff was called as a witness for the defendant.

Getzoff was asked if he had visited Klein’s place of business on Saturday, January 31, 1920.  He testified that he had, and that along with Max Klein, there were six other men in there.  The attorney then asked Getzoff what the men were doing when he arrived.

“They were shooting a game of crap dice.”

In the 1920s journalist O. O. McIntyre fascinated readers with his syndicated column “New York Day by Day” in which he chronicled his observations about everyday Manhattan.  On January 1, 1926 he turned his attention to the Silk District, clearly describing the sweeping changes since Elbert Todd purchased his home exactly 50 years earlier.

“The silk district is in the upper East Twenties.  I notice a Silk Exchange café, a pool parlor and a shoe shine stand catering exclusively to the men who deal in silks.”

But by mid-century the silk district had essentially disappeared from the east side of Fifth Avenue.  The Silk Exchange Café became home to Design Techniques by 1954; a home furnishings retail store where fabrics and wallcoverings could be purchased.

Then in 1989 the little building returned to its original purpose.  Just around the block on Park Avenue was Park Bistro, described by The New York Times in November that year as an “immensely popular French restaurant.”  The owners branched out, taking over No. 47 (which it preferred to call a “townhouse”) and opening Park Avenue Gourmandises.  Where silk jobbers had lunched on corned beef  and crap games went on in the second floor, now trendier New Yorkers purchased “pastries, croissants, cheese and prepared imported foods.”

The gourmet store would remain in the building for years; replaced after the turn of the 21st century by Red Sky, a sports bar and restaurant popular for its roof deck.  But that, too, of course, would not last.  It closed sometime around 2013.


Through it all the tiny little café building had survived remarkably intact.  Then the overlooked relic of the Silk District received a cosmetic updating that effectively obliterated all of the structure's Arts and Crafts charm.

non-credited photographs by the author

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Fleitmann & Co. Bldg. -- No. 484 Broome Street

 
Long before construction on the hulking office and warehouse building at the corner of Broome and Wooster Streets was near completion, it had already been leased.  On September 27, 1890 the Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide announced that Frederick Southack “has leased for a term of ten years to Fleitmann & Co. the six-story iron and brick building…at an annual rental of $23,000.”

The Fleitmann brothers, Ewald and Hermann, arrived in New York from Germany in 1864.  They established their silk importing business at No. 490 Broome Street.  Now, a quarter of a century later, Fleitmann & Co was among the largest commission merchants in the city.  In addition to the massive building rising on the site of their original store, there were four branch offices in the city.

The Fleitmann building was designed by another native German, Alfred Zucker, who turned to the rabidly popular Romanesque Revival style.   Completed in 1891 it was a fortress as welcoming as it was foreboding.   Zucker challenged the observer to focus on any single component.  


Two yawning, three-story arches at ground level would have stolen the show, were it not for the cast iron-framed groupings of openings at the uppermost floors.  These sat on an arcade of squat engaged brick columns.  The architect put stone carvers to work producing ornamental details—rope carving, rich capitals, and an elaborate stone cornice, for instance—with special attention to the figural sculptures.    These ranged from the tradition faces that served as brackets below the third floor, to the whimsical.   Snarling winged beasts ( some ferocious, at least one looking more like a house cat), shared the façade with serpentine monsters devouring their own tails.

Disinterested faces stare down onto Broome Street.
Before Fleitmann & Co. could move in, the unfinished building was sold.  On October 18, 1890 the Record & Guide reported that William F. Weld “of Boston” had purchased the “six-story Tiffany brick front warehouse” for $326,000.  Weld paid the equivalent of $8.6 million today for the structure.

As with its satellite locations, Fleitmann & Co. leased some space at No. 484 Broome Street to related firms.  Later, in 1902, the New-York Tribune explained “The annexes of the firm are occupied by merchants who, trading under their own names and styles, are associated in their dealings in many ways with and financed by the firm of Fleitmann & Co.  These merchants in their respective branches of the trade deal in every conceivable kind of merchandise exploited in the drygoods business—gloves, millinery, specialties, linings, panne velvets, umbrella silks, tailors’ trimmings, tie linings, tie silks, clothiers’ linings, hatters’ satins and trimmings, mercerized satins and a variety of every species of fabric.”

Within the first few years in the new building, tenants would include M. Bloom, who advertised in The Sun on June 14, 1892 for “Experiences Girls wanted on sample cards.”  Others were Max G. Cavalli, “merchant;” William E. C. Bradley, “dry goods merchant;” and Anton I. Quanz, importer and exporter who lived at the Hotel Endicott.

The New-York Tribune published a sketch, completed with trolley rails in the street, on New Year's Eve 1902 -- copyright expired
As the turn of the century approached, Hermann Fleitmann returned to Hamburg.  He died there on March 27, 1899 at the age of 74.  Ewald continued running the business, assisted by Frederick T. Herman C.  and William M. Fleitmann.  Henry T. Fleitmann used the address, but he was more interested in breeding Scottish Terriers than in silk goods.

A 1898 advertisement listed the large assortment of goods the company offered  (copyright expired)

By now the Fleitmann & Co. partners had amassed sizable fortunes and the firm continued to expand.  The New-York Tribune said “No leading drygoods firm in New-York City is more closely identified with the wonderful march and progress of that branch of trade than Fleitmann & Co…As leaders in the domestic lines of drygoods the firm of Fleitmann & Co. is just as universally and favorably known as importers.  While carrying an enormous stock of domestic goods, the firm imports the richest and finest qualities of silks, ribbons, velvets, malines, chiffons, satins, woolens, worsteds, cloaking and broadcloths, the output of the greatest manufactories and the most renowned looms of Europe and Asia.”

A bizarre winged beast shares space with a self-devouring monster.

Running the massive Fleitmann & Co. building required several large boilers in the basement and a competent maintenance crew.  Charged with the responsibility of maintaining the boilers in 1901 was 50-year old engineer Richard Kruse.   Working with him on April 1 was 28-year old Henry Otten, a “fireman.”

That day Kruse was negligent; failing to notice the rising pressure in one of the boilers.  He was standing near the engine room door when the boiler exploded.  The engineer leaped for the door, landing on the floor outside.  Young Henry Otten was not so lucky.

“The fireman was on the other side of the boiler and not near enough to the door to escape,” reported The New York Times the following day.  “He was flung to the floor, and when found later lay dead within a few feet of where he stood when the cock blew out.”  Otten had been scalded to death by the steam and boiling water.

“The engineer was found outside and arrested by two detectives.  His face and neck were black when he was taken to the station house and technically charged with homicide.”

In 1905, while the Herman Fleitmann family was away for the summer, the “youthful highwayman” known as “Sand Rock” Smith visited their home at No. 42 West 77th Street.  He held up the maid at gunpoint.  The terrifying event caused the Fleitmann’s caretaker to take steps to prevent a similar crime.

In order to make the mansion look lived in, he lit the gas jets in some of the upper rooms before nightfall each night.  It had an unexpected effect.  On the night of September 4 residents in the high-end Manhattan Square Hotel noticed lights on in the second floor.  Knowing the family was away, they feared the house was being looted.  Calls came in to Police Headquarters.

Detectives from the West 68th Street station house surrounded the mansion.  Several climbed over the fence in the rear and up to the roof.   All the doors and windows were locked, so the police broke into the rooftop scuttle.    The cops swarmed through the house, but found nothing disturbed.

“Then a well-disposed person across the street told them that the caretaker had lighted the gas on his usual rounds for the night and that his care had caused the light and the alarm,” said The Times.  The caretaker’s clever ploy to fool crooks backfired, resulting in damage to the house by well-intentioned police.

The following year Ewald Fleitmann died.  In addition to his position with Fleitmann & Co. he was a director in several corporations and banks.  Before long the remaining Fleitmann partners would consider moving from their long-time headquarters.

On January 30, 1912 The Sun mentioned that “Fleitmann & Co. is dickering through Douglas L. Elliman & Co. for a long lease of the store, basement and first two lofts in the building to be erected...at the southwest corner of Fourth avenue and Twenty-sixth street, opposite the [Madison Square] Garden.”  The dickering worked out and Fleitmann & Co. moved into the new Hess Building.

For nearly a year its old headquarters building sat vacant.  Finally on December 13, 1913 the Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide reported that Kaplan Wood Stock Co. leased the building “for a term of years at a slightly reduced rental.”  The paper noted that Kaplan Wood Stock “operates three large mills in Massachusetts [and] will occupy the building for storage of stock and show rooms after extensive alterations are completed.”

Despite extensive alterations and a lease of “a term of years,” the new tenants did not last a full year.  In September 1914 the 52,000 square foot building was leased to the American Tobacco Company.    The firm stayed in the old Fleitmann building for years.  It was sold in 1946 to the Art Craft Finishers.

The pine floors, industrial pressed ceilings and cast iron column capitals still remain -- http://www.renthop.com/listings/484_broome_street/3w/1736239

As the 20th century drew to a close the Soho neighborhood had become filled with galleries and trendy shops.  The hulking Fleitmann & Co. building followed suit.  Today the sidewalk level houses chic shops, while sprawling residential lofts engulf the upper floors where bolts of silk and “cloaking” were once stored.

non-credited photographs by the author

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Queen Anne Sisters at Nos. 251-255 W. 70th Street



In the last two decades of the 19th century, developers on the Upper West Side grabbed up long rows of property and erected speculative rowhouses.  Quite often their architects created enclaves of harmonious structures that flowed together almost as a unit—each standing on its own merit; but architecturally similar to its neighbors.  In 1885 architect W. H. W. Youngs would go a step further.

Developer E. Stanton Riker commissioned Youngs to design three rowhouses on West 70th Street, Nos. 251 through 255.  The playful Queen Anne style had caught on among those daring enough to step out of the more formal residential box; and Youngs turned to this style for the houses.  His design resulted in the three residences pretending to be one grand home.

Completed in 1886 the brick, brownstone and terra cotta houses rather surprisingly rejected the asymmetry associated with Queen Anne.  Youngs liberally splashed Romanesque Revival into the design in the form of hefty arches at the parlor floor (including the great span that served as the entrance for No. 253) and a gaping arch below the central, terra cotta-filled gable.  He successfully created the illusion of a single, imposing mansion.


The three houses became home to upscale, respectable families.  By 1895 when Michael Giblin sold No. 251 to John Noble Golding, the Rev. Claudius M. Roome and his wife lived next door and Harvard graduate John O. Powers lived in No. 255.

John Noble Golding was a highly respected real estate broker with an office at No. 9 Pine Street far downtown.  Educated at Trinity School, he was a member of the Lawyers’, Army and Navy, Colonial, New York Yacht and the New York Athletic Clubs.  Golding was also a member of the American Geographical and Numismatic Societies.

Not only was Golding responsible for massive real estate deals like the Equitable Company’s purchase of its Nassau and Liberty Street site; the sale of the Roman Catholic Orphan Asylum on Fifth Avenue for $125 million, and the New York Yacht Club’s property; he sold sites to some of Manhattan’s wealthiest citizens for their mansions.  Included in his client list were Edward Berwin, Charles T. Yerkes, Howard Gould, Stuyvesant Fish, Perry Belmont, George Baker, Joseph Pulitzer and Thoams F. Ryan to name just a few.

As was the case with all the wives of moneyed businessmen, Mabel Golding busied herself with charities.  One of her favorites was the House of Refuge for Women, at Hudson, New York.  The children of these impoverished women were often overlooked and in 1898 Mabel sent off eight bibs, books, wagons and other toys to the House of Refuge.

The year before her donation, Claudius M. Roome, living next door, had been appointed the new curate of Christ Church, then standing at the corner of the Boulevard (later renamed Broadway) and 71st Street.  Born into a prominent old Dutch family, he graduated from Columbia College and Columbia Law School.  Having practiced law for a few years, he gave it up to enter the General Theological Seminary.

Roome’s father had been an important businessman and it was most likely the family's wealth rather than his church salary that enabled him to live in the upscale home.

The outwardly-serene home life of the Goldings, with their daughter Mabel, was shattered in 1904 when John Golding moved out.  Finally, in 1910, Mabel filed a separation suit to ensure her financial survival.  The New-York Tribune published the scandalous headline “Wife Sues J. N. Golding.  Manager of Astor Estate Defendant in Separation Suit.”

Millionaire real estate man John N. Golding would tire of his wife.  The Successful American, January 1903 (copyright expired)
Unexpectedly at the time, the title of the 70th Street home was in John’s name, not his wife’s.  Mabel, with no legal expectations of income, testified that John Golding had $3 million in real and personal property.  The terms of the separation required him to convey the title to Mable and to continue paying off the $15,000 mortgage.

The unsuspecting Mabel Golding was no doubt shocked and humiliated when, in 1918, the house was sold at auction for $14,000—less than the mortgage which her husband had decided not to pay.  She took her husband to court again, suing for the $15,000 (about $220,000 today).

Her millionaire husband apparently came through and Mabel and her daughter retained possession of the house.  She would remain in the house another two years before selling it in April 1920.  Although the new owner, Taylor Holmes, promised he “would occupy,” he resold it a month later.

Hiding under the vines that crawl up the facade, the pressed metal bay can be seen in autumn.  http://www.luxurynewyorkcondominium.com/condo/251-west-70th-street-new-york

By now Rev. Roome had moved on and F. K. Kraetzer, Jr. owned No. 253.  Mrs. R. A. Du Foureq was leasing it at the time that Mabel Golding moved away.  A year earlier No. 255 had fallen victim to a trend that was sweeping over the Upper West Side.  In 1919 real estate operators Houghton Company announced that the house was “being altered into small suites.”

That year The Cornell Alumni News reported that Ensign William F. Tufts had been released from active service in the Naval Reserve and “is now with the McCandless plant of the Westinghouse Lamp Company.”  He was among the first tenants in the newly-converted house.   Another resident held a related job.  M. H. Naigles, XV worked in the installation department of Western Electric Co. “on the automatic phones.”

Nos. 251 and 253 held out as single family homes for a few more years.  In 1937 the former Golding house was home to Mr. and Mrs. Frank Seitz.  The couple had met a colorful acquaintance through a mutual friend around 1930.  Mrs. Muriel Du Pont Bergman told them she was the illegitimate daughter of Delaware Senator T. Coleman Du Pont. 

Now, following the senator’s death, Mrs. Bergman appeared with a letter showing that she had inherited about $40 million from the estate.  Happy and excited, she asked the Seitz couple if they would loan her $15,000.  If so, she would generously repay them with $1 million from the inheritance.

The couple turned over their entire life’s savings to Muriel Bergman.  On August 28, 1937 the 50-year old con artist was arrested in Portland, Oregon on charges of forging the inheritance letter.

Two years later the Seitzes were gone and the house was sold at auction.  It was won by Gus Trachtenburg for $5,700—a fraction of the $17,000 assessed value.  It was converted in 1941 to two apartments in the basement, three furnished rooms on the first floor, and four furnished rooms on each floor above.  In 1945 No. 253 was divided into apartments; two per floor except the third floor which had four furnished rooms.

At least one relic of Mabel Golding's house survives.  http://olshan.com/property.php?id=6557
By the 21st century Youngs’s brilliant design had been viciously abused.  Only a few of the stained glass panels survive, a regrettable picture window was installed on the third floor of No. 255, and the stoops of the end houses were removed.  Nos. 251 and 253, still apartment buildings, were joined internally in 1978.


Despite it all, W. H. W. Youngs’s arresting triple residence still manages to catch the eye.

non-credited photographs taken by the author