Thursday, July 24, 2014

The 1899 Chas. Hudson Mansion -- No. 3 East 76th Street

An electric street lamp sits across the street from the newly-completed mansion.  The J. J. Wysong mansion would rise on the vacant Fifth Avenue lot next door.  In the background another Fifth Avenue mansion is under construction.  photo by Wurts Bros from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
As the 19th century drew to an end, Charles I. Hudson was doing well for himself.  He had formed the brokerage firm of C. I. Hudson & Co. with partner Albert H. De Forest in 1885, had garnered a substantial fortune, and lived with his family in a handsome home at No. 36 West 52nd Street.  In 1894 he was one of the millionaire founders of the Thousand Islands Club, a private summer community “which embraces in its membership a number of well-known New-Yorkers,” as described by The New York Times.

Now, in 1898 like many other wealthy New Yorkers, Hudson looked to move uptown near Fifth Avenue and Central Park, away from the encroaching commerce.  He purchased the lot at No. 1 East 76th Street and laid plans for a fine new mansion.  His choice of architects is a matter of contention.  The Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide mentioned on April 13, 1918, “Hiss & Weekes were the architects.”  Generations later the Landmarks Preservation Commission would credit Brite & Bacon with the design.

Whoever was responsible, the result was striking.  In 1899 the five-story neo-Jacobean residence was completed.  The regal composition was distinguished by a two-story bay of leaded casements that supported a carved-stone balcony.  The brick and stone façade culminated in a decorative parapet that hid the fifth floor from the street.  Although the mansion was a commodious 30-feet wide, an areaway between it and the property at the Fifth Avenue corner allowed the luxury of windows in  the western wall.

Hudson and his wife, the former Sara Kierstede, had four sons:  Percy Kierstede, Hans Kierstede, Charles Alan, and Hendrick.  With no daughters in the house, Sara Hudson was relieved (or deprived) of debutante entertainments.  She was highly visible, however, in the charitable events and causes expected of Manhattan socialites.  The family spent the summer seasons at its country estate at East Norwich, Long Island.

The family was doubtlessly embarrassed when Charles Hudson’s name appeared in newspapers for a physical confrontation on the floor of the Stock Exchange on March 5, 1900.  When a “telephone boy,” Florence E. Finnegan, upbraided Hudson for selling sugar below the price he was given, trouble ensued.

“Mr. Hudson is a man of middle age, and Finnegan has just attained his majority,” said The New York Times the following day.  The millionaire was unaccustomed to back-talk from a boy and became enraged when Finnegan answered “That won’t do, Mr. Hudson.  The order was 98-1/2 and I don’t turn in not’in’ different, see?”

After what The Times described as a “lively discussion” Hudson reached his breaking point.  “Mr. Hudson swung and landed with his right on Finnegan’s right eye.  The telephone boy fell, and when he got up he was without his glasses, but he had blood in his eye, figuratively and literally.  A crowd had to keep them apart.”

Hudson was suspended from the Exchange for 30 days—the maximum penalty possible.

The wealthy family of Mr. and Mrs. Charles M. Lea lived in Philadelphia; but as their daughter Majorie Vaughan Lea approached marrying age, they spent more and more time in New York City.  Marjorie’s debut into society took place in New York the same year that Charles Hudson had his skirmish with the young Finnegan boy.

Marjorie and her parents spent the following winter season in New York; and by October 1902 she and Percy Kierstede Hudson were engaged.  That same month Charles Hudson purchased a new private carriage house at No. 178 East 73rd Street.

Less than eight years later the remaining Hudson boys would begin leaving home.  In May 1910 Hendrick was married to Helen Morgan Frith.  Five months later on October 14, the engagement of Hans to Ethel Le Roy De Koven was announced and Charles’ wedding to Eleanor Granville Brown would soon be in the planning stages.

 Perhaps it was their sons’ impending marriages that prompted Charles and Sara to sell their impressive mansion in May 1910--or it could have been the construction of the newly-completed J. J. Wysong mansion on the Fifth Avenue corner that prompted the sale.  As the Wysong house went up, the Hudsons lost their view “overlooking Fifth avenue” that the Record & Guide had noted.

Whatever the reason, on May 15, 1910 The New York Times reported that Hudson had sold the house for $300,000—a satisfying $7 million by today’s standards.  The purchaser was Robert Franklin Adams.

With the construction of the Wysong mansion, the house numbers along the 76th Street block changed.  Rather than take the prestigious Fifth Avenue address, the new mansion took No. 1 East 76th Street.  That meant that the Hudson house became No. 3 and so forth down the block.

Adams was Vice President of the Adams Manufacturing Company.  A member of the exclusive University, Lotos and New York Yacht Clubs; the motorcar enthusiast was also a member of the Automobile Club of America.  A year after purchasing the house, Adams’ shiny limousine would be the victim of a runaway horse and cart.

On April 8, 1911 a horse attached to an ash cart was spooked in front of No. 36 West 52nd Street.  The driver was thrown from the cart and the panicked horse galloped onto Fifth Avenue, “narrowly missing several carriages,” reported The New York Times the following day.

“As the runaway tore down the avenue there was a wild scampering of autos and other traffic,” said the newspaper.  As the horse tore down Fifth Avenue with the ash cart careening behind, it approached Robert Adams automobile parked at the curb at 46th Street.  “The horse tore the running board from its side and threw out the chauffeur, Charles Bender.”  The collision slowed the animal enough that mounted Patrolman Plagge was able to get the horse under control.

Adams and his wife, the former Lona O’Brien, had two children, Edith and Robert.   While Sara Hudson had no opportunity to throw debutante entertainments, Lona Adams would.  Edith’s coming out was celebrated in 1913 and the entertainments ended with a reception in the house on December 30.

Three years later on February 2, 1916 Edith was married to Jules Glaenzer in St. Thomas’s Church on Fifth Avenue.  The wedding would be followed by “a large reception,” according to The New York Press two weeks earlier.

The following March Edith was back in the 76th Street house for the birth of her baby.  In 1917 the wealthy were most often still seen by doctors in their private homes; rather than hospitals and clinics.  In May Robert Adams Glaenzer was born in his grandparents’ mansion.

Only a few days later the engagement of Robert to Jennie Frances Marston was announced.  As with the Hudson family, perhaps the childrens’ leaving the house was cause enough to sell.  Adams sold the house for $225,000. 

In 1929 No. 3 East 76th Street was owned by Mrs. Dorothy G. Pagenstecher.  I. N. Phelps Stokes had recently purchased the ten-story apartment building at No. 952 Fifth Avenue, around the corner.  On April 28, 1929 the New York Times reported that he had bought the Pagenstecher mansion “to protect the light of the apartment house.”  He paid Dorothy Pagenstecher $200,000 for the property.

Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes was not merely the son of fabulously wealthy Anson Phelps Stokes; he was an architect and partner in the firm Howells & Stokes.  At the time of the purchase he had just completed the authoritative 6-volume work entitled The Iconography of Manhattan Island.  He had married Edith Minturn in 1895 and the couple was immortalized by one of their wedding gifts--a double portrait by John Singer Sargent.

The newly-weds were immortalized in their wedding gift portrait.  Unlike so many of Sargent's society portraits, the Stokes are wearing casual clothing --

On December 27, 1931 Stokes transferred the title to No. 3 East 76th Street to Edith.  The mansion was converted to apartments—two each on the first four floors and a penthouse on the fifth.  The upscale apartments were home to equally-upscale tenants for decades.

Somewhat unexpectedly in residential design, the date of construction was carved within the ornately-carved Jacobean-style cartouch.
Then in 2004 the Hudson mansion was purchased by the Hewitt School and converted to classrooms.  The private girls’ school uses the house as its “lower school” for grades kindergarten through 4.  Despite its current use and expected alterations—the wonderful bronze entrance doors are gone, the first floor window has been converted to a doorway, and the servants’ entrance now contains a rather commercial-looking door—the wonderful and unusual neo-Elizabethan house is greatly intact.

non-credited photographs taken by the author

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The 1929 Tammany Hall -- No. 100 East 17th Street

photo by Alice Lum
At the end of the 19th century, Tammany Hall was nothing like the benevolent organization organized in Philadelphia in the 18th century.  By the time a New York branch was formed The Society of St. Tammany, or Columbia Order, had spread throughout New England.

It was not until the presidential campaign of 1800 that Tammany involved itself in politics, actively supporting the Jefferson-Burr ticket.  A year later the first New York Tammany Hall was erected, on Frankfort and Nassau Streets.  It was replaced when the organization moved northward and opened the new Hall on July 4, 1868 on 14th Street.

By the turn of the century Tammany Hall was hugely powerful and often corrupt.  It was in total control of the Democratic Party in New York County and often raised the wrath of reformers and religious leaders alike.

In the 1920s Governor Al Smith joined in an attempt to reform Tammany Hall.  Nightlife-loving Mayor Jimmy Walker’s open defiance of Prohibition offended the governor.  The battle between the two politicians shook the foundations of Tammany.  According to Mary M. Stolberg in her Fighting Organized Crime,  “By 1929 the split between Smith and Walker had further weakened Tammany Hall.”

One of Walker’s counte rmoves was to abandon the old Tammany Hall—a symbol of graft and corruption.  Three blocks to the north, opposite the northeast corner of Union Square, sat the Westmoreland Apartments, constructed as a hotel in 1877.  The old structure was razed in 1928 to make way for a new patriotic-themed hall Tammany Hall.

Wide World Photos published a view of the anticipated structure in August 1928 entitled "The New Home of the Society of Tammany" (copyright expired)
Architects Thompson, Holmes & Converse in conjunction with Charles B. Meyers reached back to the organization’s early Federalist roots.  The Union Square elevation was meant to invoke the original Federal Hall where George Washington had taken the Oath of Office.  Typical neo-Georgian and neo-Federal elements distinguished the design and reflected Colonial America.  The bricks were custom-made in Virginia and a 1929 advertisement by the Old Virginia Brick Company in Salem, Virginia, stressed the patriotic theme:

“How fitting, therefore, that in this building should be used bricks made in the Virginia Jefferson so proudly served.  Likewise in the same size, and made in the same kind of cherry and maple moulds as those of his beloved Monticello, 30 years in its building, and where Jefferson lived for a full half century.”

High on the 17th Street side a carved plaque sits against the custom-made Flemish bond brickwork -- photo by Alice Lum

Not everything would look back to the Jefferson period.  Inside, the black marble floor, the wrought iron railings and curved staircase were rescued from the old 14th Street Hall.  The interiors were furnished with reproduction Empire period furniture, white enameled paneling and mahogany woodwork.

The official opening of the new building, which cost $350,000, was held on July 4, 1929.  Interestingly, the now-Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt shared the spotlight as chief speaker with Alfred E. Smith.  Both Roosevelt and Smith were Democrats; but both shared their ardent disdain of Tammany Hall. 

In 1929 Manufacturers Trust Company took space at street level.  Note the clever adaptation of fan lights into the square openings.  photo from the collection of the New York Public Library

The year following the new building’s completion Governor Roosevelt instigated an investigation into the scandals and alleged corruption.  The heretofore highly popular Mayor Walker was forced to resign in dishonor and Samuel Seabury, who headed the magistrates’ courts, suddenly resigned due to “ill-health.”

Things only got worse for Tammany Hall when Roosevelt became President in 1932.  And in 1933 the new mayor, Fiorello LaGuardia, joined forces with the President to take apart the Tammany organization. 

In 1939 the Federal Writers’ Project’s New York City Guide remarked “When the organization wins at the polls, club leaders and district workers swarm to the Hall for a rousing election night celebration, but such joyful gatherings have been infrequent in recent years.”

A terra cotta medallion depicts a "Liberty Cap."  -- photo by Alice Lum
By 1943 the diluted organization could no longer afford to pay the mortgage on Tammany Hall.  That summer it sold the building to Local 91 of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union.  The Union made interior alterations to accommodate its needs.  Offices were built out and the auditorium stage was enlarged.  It was officially opened with a concert and dedication ceremony on December 18, 1943.  Ironically both Jimmy Walker and Fiorello LaGuardia were there.  Sharing space did not mean that the pair had reconciled, however.

LaGuardia told reporters “This building was built under the Walker Administration and put out of business—or on the bum—by the LaGuardia Administration.”  He added “You know, I wouldn’t change the name of the building…I would keep it as a permanent monument to the change that came for the City of New York when a mighty, ruthless organization lost the building to an organization of the people.”

In 1947 Local 91 dedicated the 1000-seat auditorium to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, renaming it the Roosevelt Auditorium.  For years its use was offered to other unions and organizations for meetings and rallies.  On March 16, 1983 cabdrivers voted on a strike here; on December 30, 1981 cemetery workers authorized their strike against 70 cemeteries; and on October 29, 1964 firemen turned down the $900 pay increase which had been accepted by the NYPD.  That same month 250 delegates of the Teamsters Union ignored the pressure from Jimmy Hoffa and voted to endorse John F. Kennedy for President.

By 1962 the auditorium was also being used by the “Roosevelt Yiddish Theater.”  Here Max Perlman produced plays like Don’t Worry, Brother, and A Honeymoon in Israel

In 1984 the Roudabout Theater signed a long-term lease for the auditorium with the International Ladies Garment Workers Union.  The theater group was at the time at No. 333 West 23rd Street.  It commissioned architect Robert Asscione to refurbish the interior structure.

“The auditorium will be renovated for the Roundabout company into a 499-seat facility with no seat more than 40 feet from the stage,” reported William G. Blair of The New York Times on July 1, 1984.

The $850,000 in renovations were completed  early in 1985 and the opening was held on February 1.  In attendance were E. G. Marshall, Jim Dale, Kate Burton and Tovah Feldshuh among others.  On February 13 the first production was staged, Playboy of the Western World.  Over the near few years significant performances and productions included A Man for All Seasons starting Philip Bosco and Charles Keating; Dorothy Laudon in The Matchmaker; Room Service, directed by Alan Arkin and starring Mark Hamill, and a revival of Raisin in the Sun which was aired by PBS in 1986.

Following the Roundabout, the auditorium was leased somewhat briefly to Raymond L. Gaspard.  His Union Square Theater staged eight productions.  Then in 1994 the New York Film Academy leased space here.  The film and acting school had been founded two years earlier by producer Jerry Sherlock.   Its graduates have included comedians Damon Wayans and Damon Wayans, Jr.; actress and figure skater Sasha Cohen; and “Glee” actor Chord Overstreet.
Above the entrance "The Society of Tammany" is carved into the stonework.  photo by Alice Lum
In 2001, after nearly 60 years of ownership, Local 91 sold the building to Liberty Theatres, Inc.  In 2013 it was designated a New York City Landmark.  Although retail spaces have been carved out of the rusticated limestone base, above street level the handsome Federal design survives.  It is the last relic of a political organization that tried hard, and unsuccessfully, to disguise its gang-like activities behind a patriotic veil.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The 1820 Boddy House -- No. 105 Mercer Street

photo by Alice Lum
Three decades after the Treaty of Paris that ended the American Revolutionary War, the residential edge of New York City had pushed northward, engulfing the fields and farmland that in nearly another two centuries would be known as SoHo.  Among the new streets was relatively east-west-running Mercer Street, named in honor of Brigadier General Hugh Mercer, who died from wounds he received in the Battle of Princeton.

In 1819 construction began on a two-and-a-half story brick house at No. 105 Mercer Street.  Completed in 1820 it shared the Federal style elements of many of its neighbors—Flemish bond brickwork, prim dormers within the pitched roof, and a shallow brownstone stoop above an English basement.  The builder distinguished No. 105 with especially fine details.  The carved brownstone lintels of the openings and entrance altered plain panels with decorative vermiculated blocks.  An extremely finely-leaded fanlight over the door radiated delicate spokes within an intricately carved frame.  Fluted Ionic columns flanked the paneled door.

Along with the delicate molding and lacy iron fan light, close inspection reveals carved rosette panels on the underside of the arch -- photo by Alice Lum

While the house was by no means a mansion, these features elevated it beyond one intended merely for a working class family.  Mary Boddy, who was the original owner, was listed as a “seamstress.”  More likely she was a dressmaker, unless she were married to a successful merchant or craftsman.  There were numerous seamstresses at the time.  Needlework was among the most common professions for women and seamstresses most often worked at home or for a dressmaker, earning scant wages.

Dressmakers, on the other hand, were experienced and accomplished.  They were responsible for producing (and often designing) an entire garment and the best dressmakers were paid handsomely.  Only a dressmaker could afford to purchase and maintain a handsome home like No. 105 Mercer Street.
photo by Alice Lum

The neighborhood would enjoy its respectable nature for three decades before its homeowners moved northward.  In the 1850s commerce had caught up to the district; but not in an especially good way.  It not only became the center of entertainment; but many houses became boarding houses, often with shady character.  Greene, Mercer and Crosby Streets during this period constituted New York’s most notorious red light district.

Current writers continuously brand No. 105 Mercer Street as one of these brothels.  Reports of police raids and arrests do not mention the address.  However the suicide of a young woman who lived here in 1853 may support the theory.  The lives of prostitutes more often than not ended tragically; often in suicide. 

On Sunday June 14, 1853 the 19-year woman old left No. 105 Mercer with a friend, Grace Howard.  They walked to the drug store at No. 125 Greenwich Street where she purchased “an ounce of laudanum and a shilling’s worth of vitriol,” according to The New York Times a few days later.

Disconsolate, she had “declared that she would destroy herself on more than one occasion.”  She returned to the Mercer Street house where she drank the poison.  Someone rushed to the home of a nearby physician, Dr. Chalmers, but he was not home.  “Another physician was applied to,” said The Times, “who sent two powders to be taken in warm water.  The powders were of no service, and the poor girl died shortly after.”

The newspaper’s reluctance to give the girl’s name—in view of the suggestion that No. 105 was a disorderly house—was summed up in the final line of the article.  “The deceased…has highly respectable connections residing in the City.”

The dangerous and sordid character of the neighborhood was evident in February 1863.  Two doors away, the house at No. 101 Mercer Street had been converted to a saloon, as had the neighboring house at No. 99.  Edward Dodge lived at No. 105 and on Friday night, February 6, at around 8:30 or 9:00 he heard pistol shots coming from the rear yards.

Immediately after, Dodge heard the rapping of a policeman’s club on the sidewalk—the signal for additional help.  Two days later he told a jury “I went into the street and followed the officer in No. 99 where I saw deceased lying dead in the bar-room.”

The “deceased” was a deserter from the Union Army named Reid.  He had been tracked to the saloon at No. 101 Mercer by Clark W. Beach, a detective and Inspector of the Recruiting Department; along with Police Officer Brady.  When they attempted to arrest Reid, he “started to run through the hall toward the back door,” according to Beach’s testimony. 

Reid jumped the fence into the yard of No. 99 and was shot three times by the policeman.  Reid stumbled into the backdoor of the bar and pleaded with Philip Loew, the bartender “Philip, help me, I am shot.”  Loew testified “I handed him a glass of water, but before he could drink it he fell to the floor, and soon afterwards expired.”

The owner of both houses at No. 105 and No. 103 was Gustave Herter.  In July 1864, the year after the shooting of Reid, he began work on enlarging the basement areas of both properties.  “As is usual in such cases, an excavation was made under or near the sidewalk,” reported The New York Times on June 23 a year later.

At around 1:00 a.m. on July 13, 1864 Amos M. Butler was walking alone along the sidewalk and fell into the construction hole.  Court papers would explain that he “was found in one of these excavations nearly suffocated, and survived only a few hours after being taken out.”  A year later Herter was in court defending himself against the $5,000 law suit filed by Butler’s widow, charging him with neglect.

Mrs. Butler alleged that “there having been placed there no sufficient and proper guards, he fell into the excavation, and was, by the fall, so badly injured that he died in a few hours afterward.”  Herter’s lawyer argued that Butler was simply drunk.

He told the jury that “the excavation was well and sufficiently protected, and that none but a very negligent or reckless person could have fallen into it.”  He added that “at the time of the accident, deceased was grossly intoxicated, and that his death was caused by his reeling and stumbling through the guards which had been placed there.”

The Times reported that “Much effort was made by the defence [sic] to show that deceased was a habitual drunkard, and especially on the night in question that he was grossly intoxicated, and not capable of taking care of himself.” 

The low character of the neighborhood was finally transformed by the 1870s.  Metal ware manufacturer Cassidy & Sons had taken over both No. 103 and No. 105 Mercer Street by 1875.  The company apparently dealt in affordable household items, for on March 1 of that year it advertised in The Sun for “a first-class spelter caster.”  Spelter was an inexpensive alternative to bronze or silver.

The roof was raised to a full floor.  The dark scar is evidence of a missing cornice -- photo by Alice Lum

It may have been Henry Scheib who raised the attic to a full floor, as evidenced by the change from Flemish bond to regular bond brickwork.  For some reason the paneled lentils were carefully copied and the exact proportions of the openings below reproduced.  (It is possible that two of the lintels are the originals from the parlor level.)

Scheib advertised as a “Printer, Stationer and Lithographer” and the 1891 History and Commerce of New York said “This gentleman is an expert…making a leading specialty of mercantile printing and account books to order and has been established in the business here since 1890.  His business premises are thoroughly equipped and well stocked in all departments.”

The show window that replaced the parlor openings displayed “stationery of every imaginable description, including all the most recent novelties of home and foreign production, and the assortments are always full, complete and choice.”

Henry Sheib’s stationery store would not last another year here, however.  In 1892 the former house was headquarters for Erdody and Gerhardt, furriers.  Mercer Street had become, by now, the center of the fur trade.  The firm not only manufactured its furs on premises, but sold them here as well.  On January 13, 1892 a fire on the first floor resulted in its loss of $1,200 in merchandise (about $30,000 today); and $300 damage to the building.

Fur dealers continued to make No. 105 their home for years.  In 1896 G. Margulies was in the building, employing three men; and in August 1898 H. Judenfreind & Son, “manufacturers of furs and fur trimmings” moved here from Great Jones Street.

For nine years starting in 1901 A. Halpern & Co., manufacturers of “hats and caps” operated from the building.  Its five employees each worked an average of 59 hours a week.  Then, in 1909, No. 105 Mercer Street was headquarters for the contracting company of C. J. Degurle.  The Plumbers Trade Journal commented that year “C. J. Degurle…is very busy with several alteration jobs.  He is doing work on the new bridge tunnel connections for the Bradley Contracting Company.”
In 1934 No. 105 had a large shop window.  photo from the collection of the New York Public Library
The SoHo district suffered more than half a century of neglect.  Small businesses and factories continued to use the buildings; many of which were abused and suffered decay.  Change came again beginning in the 1960s when artists discovered the old lofts.  In 1965 a 23-year old jewelry designer stumbled across the vacant, dilapidated No. 105 Mercer Street.  There were no windows on the upper floors and inside chunks of plaster littered the floors.  She rented the house for $150 per month after the landlord installed utilities, a toilet and a sink.

The designer stayed on for five years before marrying and moving on.  In 1980 the building was converted to an “Artists-Conjunctive” dwelling.  Technically a single-family home; the Department of Buildings called it “Joint living work quarters of and for artists.”  The Department stressed “At least one (1) occupant shall be an artist certified  by the New York Department of Cultural Affairs.”

The former shop window had been renovated to a more residential opening -- photo by Alice Lum

Considering its varied past and many uses, the survival of the building’s Federal details is nothing short of miraculous.  Dwarfed by the large cast iron and brick loft buildings around it, it is an unexpected relic of a nearly forgotten period in SoHo history.

photo by Alice Lum

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Lost St. Leo's Church -- No. 12 East 28th Street

A mansarded house nestles up to the church building.  The vacant lot with the picket fence would become the site of the House of Repose for the Stranger Dead.   photo Nickerson's Illustrated Church, Musical and School Directory (copyright expired)
Father Thomas J. Ducey was accustomed to rubbing shoulders with the upper class.  Born in Ireland in 1843, he came to the United States at the age of five.  His mother found employment as the housekeeper for the wealthy bachelor James T. Brady (not to be confused with “Diamond Jim” Brady). 

Just three years after the family arrived, both Ducey’s parents died.  The millionaire adopted the orphaned boy and the eight-year-old’s life took a remarkable change, of course.  Historian Lately Thomas mentions in his 1967 book Delmonico’s, A Century of Splendor, “This early association had given Ducey a tenuous connection with the world of wealthy, and as a priest he had devoted himself to the spiritual welfare of that class.”

In fact, Brady had hoped that Ducey would follow him in the legal profession; but as the New-York Tribune later explained, “the call to the priesthood persisted.”  But even after he was ordained, Ducey lived in Brady mansion and when the lawyer died in 1869, the priest inherited a fortune.

In 1880 the Fifth Avenue neighborhood around East 28th Street was lined with the mansions of some of Manhattan’s wealthiest citizens.  Just six blocks to the north sat the staid brownstone homes of William and John Jacob Astor.  What the neighborhood did not have was a Catholic church. 

That year Cardinal McCloskey appointed Father Ducey pastor of a newly-founded parish—St. Leo’s.  On December 12, 1880 The Sun remarked that “its wealthy parish” was a “neighborhood that has long needed” a Catholic sanctuary.  The newspaper estimated the Catholic population in the parish to be about 10,000.

It was the perfect setting for the moneyed priest.   He was well-connected with the city’s richest Catholics, was personal friends with the Delmonico family, and maintained a country estate in St. James, Long Island.  The New York Times estimated that the cost of the new church structure, including the site, would cost “something over $100,000” (more than $2 million today), but “owing largely to the energy and popularity of the Rev. Thomas J. Ducey, who was appointed Pastor its success has been more than assured.”

The cornerstone was laid on August 15, 1880 at Nos. 11 and 13 East 28th Street.  The Sun reported the following day that “The floor of the uncompleted church was thronged and the street outside was blockaded by men and women.”  A month later the New-York Tribune advised that “A pretty little edifice is being erected for St. Leo’s Roman Catholic Church.”  By anyone else’s estimation, this would be anything but a “pretty little edifice.”

Architect Lawrence. J. O’Connor had designed a Gothic Revival structure of rough-cut brownstone.  Fifty-feet wide and 100 feet long, its strictly symmetrical central mass was offset by a soaring octagonal tower with stone bandcourses and a sharp conical cap.  An immense pointed-arch stained glass window dominated the façade.  The spacious sanctuary would contain 100 pews to accommodate the estimated 2,500 parishioners, according to The New York Times.

In the 19th century it was common for parish women to hold bazaars and fairs to raise money for the building funds.  While other churches sold baked goods and hand-made doilies; the articles sold at the St. Leo’s Church Fair during December 1880 were a bit more upper crust.  The Sun, on December 12 noted “The display of articles for sale at the fair is remarkable handsome, and very valuable objects are to be raffled for.  Among these are $1,000 in gold, and a fine brougham and $1,200 team of bay horses, with handsome harness.  A richly mounted sword is offered to that officer of the city militia who obtains the most votes.”

On April 24, 1881 The New York Times anticipated the dedication of the new building.  “By next Sunday the church will be almost entirely completed.”  The newspaper said “The ceremonies at the dedication of St. Leo’s Church…will be very imposing…The cards for admission are being rapidly secured, it being arranged that the number shall be limited to the seating capacity of the church.”

The Times described the interiors of the structure that seven months earlier the New-York Tribune had deemed “a pretty little edifice.”  “It is handsomely finished inside, the chancel in inlaid stone and the nave in plain.  The ceilings are elaborately frescoed.  The altar is one of the handsomest in the City, and was the gift of a gentleman of the congregation.”  The magnificent white marble altar had been executed by Theiss & Janssen.  The firm, located at No. 413 East 25th Street, engaged some of the premier stone carving craftsmen of the day.

A turn-of-the-century postcard showed the magnificent frescoes and stained glass.

Father Ducey received four “splendid sets of vestments” from a “lady of the congregation” according to The Times.  The priest would be well arrayed—the cost was estimated to be about $40,000.

Among the major contributors to the building fund were the Delmonico brothers, owners of the fashionable Delmonico’s restaurants.  At the funeral of Lorenzo Delmonico on September 7, 1881, just five months after St. Leo’s opened, Father Ducey noted that he had contributed $5,000 to the church.

Father Ducey would often be found in Delmonico’s and he earned the nickname of the “apostle to the genteel.”  According to Lately Thomas, diocesan authorities would sometimes raise their eyebrows at the jokes inspired by the pastor, such as “Why is St. Leo’s like a certain theater on Fourteenth Street?”  Answer:  “Because it has a tony pastor.”

A year after the church was dedicated The Sun reported that “the parish has grown and prospered to such an extent that another priest has been found necessary…which makes three priests who are now regularly stationed” at St. Leo’s. 

In the meantime, finishing touches were still being done.  “The interior…is being frescoed and decorated throughout,” reported The Sun.  “A new organ, of large size, is being placed in position in the loft, over the front entrance.”

Like other wealthy New Yorkers, Father Thomas Ducey enjoyed his summers away from the city.  As a rule, the more fashionable churches closed during the summer months as their congregants shuttered their mansions and escaped to Newport or country estates.  On May 22, 1883, the day before Father Ducey left for Europe, the men of St. Leo’s enjoyed “a pleasant gathering” at Delmonico’s in honor of the priest.

The New York Times reported that “St. Leo’s is to-day one of the strongest Catholic churches in the country, and Judge Daly, in presenting to Father Ducey a handsome purse of money to cover the expenses of his trip abroad, gave him the credit of putting the church on its present substantial basis.”

The charismatic priest gave over $100,000 of his own money to St. Leo's Church -- King's Notable New Yorkers 1896-1899 (copyright expired)

A year later the high-profile priest narrowly evaded personal scandal.  On May 23, 1884 a Deputy Sheriff was stationed outside the home of banker John C. Eno at No. 46 Park Avenue.  Eno was accused by Anson Phelps Stokes of embezzlement from the Second National Bank.  Servants reported that the banker was sick in bed.  The Times said the following morning that “During the evening a number of persons of both sexes, apparently friends of the family, entered and left the house.  Father Doucey [sic], of St. Leo’s Church, was also seen to enter and leave the house twice during the evening.”  When Ducey left the house at 10:30, he told the Deputy that Eno was not at home.

The following day, after a warrant for Eno’s arrest had been issued, officers entered the house to arrest him.  “Every nook and corner and room and closet in the house was carefully searched, and at the end of half an hour the deputies looked at one another in blank amazement.  John C. Eno was not in the house”

Suspicion that Father Ducey had abetted Eno’s escape were strengthened when the priest himself disappeared.  Canadian authorities were notified and Detective John Fahey, of Montreal, became suspicious of a man “accompanied by a gentleman bearing the appearance of a Catholic priest.”  Eno had taken the alias of McCluskey and Robert Pinkerton of Pinkerton’s Detective Agency told reporters that he was “of the opinion that Father Ducey has been the active agent in furthering Eno’s escape.”   He attributed “his successful flight to the skillful plans of the priest after the house had been searched.”

Through Detective Fahey’s work, Eno was arrested and Father Ducey returned to New York.  His popularity and reputation were enough for the some to excuse him.  “The Rev. Father Ducey, who is brought into this unfortunate predicament, is well known in this city as an able and learned priest, whose ministrations have been unusually successful,” said a reporter for The Times on June 1, 1884.  Rather than depicting Ducey as abetting an escaped criminal; the newspaper described him as a loyal ally.  “Since Mr. Eno got into trouble Father Ducey has been a firm friend to him, visiting him often during the time when his house was being watched by the Deputy Sheriffs.”

The editor of The New York Times was less charitable than his reporter.  On the same day that the story ran, an editorial complained “The Rev. Father Ducey, of St. Leo’s Church, appears to have aided him in his flight and accompanied him to administer comfort and consolation in his exile…it is a fine business for a minister of the church which professes to exercise a special rigor upon offenders against the criminal law.”

Father Ducey had restored his slightly-tarnished character by 1892 when The Evening World praised his stance against what the newspaper termed “dives.”  The priest told a World reporter “Such nests of crime spread moral contagion in the community.  In the neighborhoods where they exist they must be constant instructors in vice to the young.  If the young are corrupted what hope have we for the future?  Corrupt children cannot be the founders of pure families, and if families are corrupt, what hope is there for Church or State?”

A different view of the interior shows elaborate stencil-work and another exquisite window.  photo by Byron Company, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

By now the neighborhood around St. Leo’s had changed.  William W. Astor’s mansion had been demolished to make way for the Waldorf Hotel and Fifth Avenue’s millionaires were moving northward.  As the wealthy congregation dwindled, church finances suffered.  In April 1892 Father Ducey informed the quartet choir that its services were no longer needed.  According to The Sun on April 2, “he told the quartet that the reason he intended to dispense with their services was that the church was compelled to reduce expenses and could not afford to pay $5,000 a year for its music.”

By 1906 the condition had worsened.  The Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide noted on September 15 that year “The whole neighborhood has become one of hotels and apartment houses.”  But despite a bank foreclosure and sale of church property to satisfy a mortgage earlier that year, the periodical felt that rumors of “the passing of St. Leo’s Church” were “deemed by well-informed persons to be premature.”

Indeed the rumors were premature and, in fact, the following year St. Leo’s purchased the adjoining lot.  The Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide reported “it is said that it will be used as a site for a new building to be used for church purposes.”  The “church purposes” would be unique.

Father Ducey recognized a need for a temporary resting place for the bodies of businessmen, tourists and other out-of-towners who unexpectedly died while in the city.  He founded the House of Repose for the Stranger Dead, described by the New-York Tribune as being “open for the temporary home of the dead of any race or creed pending the arrival of relatives of friends.”  Father Ducey instructed “The chapel for the repose of the dead must be used to carry out the corporal and spiritual works of mercy as a resting place for the dead who die in hotels and may need the kindly charity of Christian consideration before interment, Catholics and Protestants alike.  Its use must be limited to the dead who die in the district between 23d and 59th streets and Broadway to Fourth avenue.”

By the time the French nuns arrived, St. Leo's had lost its pointed spire and the street was lined with apartment houses and hotels.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

In 1908 a group of 14 French nuns arrived at St. Leo’s Church.  They made up the only branch of the Society of Marie Reparatrice in America.  While 12 of the nuns were teaching parish children, two prayed at the altar rail.  There was never a time of the day when two of the devoted nuns were not at prayer.  “Their prayers are never for definite, concrete things not even for the success of their mission and settlement work or the repose of the souls of the dead,” explained The New York Times a few years later.  “They pray always that mankind may be saved from the burden of its sins; that reparation may be made for the world’s evil; that men and women may become better and gentler and more spiritual, and life a holier thing.”

The same year Father Thomas Ducey showed the first symptoms of intestinal disorders.  A year later, on August 22, 1909 he died at his 15-acre country estate.  The body was returned to Manhattan for the elaborate funeral at St. Leo’s Church.  The New-York Tribune remembered his high-class ways.  “Beloved by men and women of note, of culture and of wealth, a favorite guest at dinners, brilliant, witty, an art critic and raconteur of rare attainments, he was liked equally by those in and out of his own religion.”

Father Ducey’s will left nearly his entire estate, about $1.5 million today, to St. Leo’s Church for which he had “labored like a slave in every way for its usefulness.”  The will instructed that all the priest’s silverware be melted “and made into a chalice ciborium for holy mass.”

The drastic change in the neighborhood was reflected in a New-York Tribune article on May 17, 1914.  “One of the most picturesque spots in the city, located in the centre of the shop and club district, within a few steps of seething, skyscraping office buildings, big hotels, the clang of cable cars, the whiz of motors and the eddying gayety of Fifth av., is old St. Leo’s Church, in East 28th st., so long famous under the pastorage of the late Father Ducey.”

“This church, since Father Ducey’s death, has become the chosen sanctuary for harassed men and women, many of them evidently of wealthy and position, who steal away to this quiet spot as refuge from their various woes, their social duties, their physical ills and their hearts torn by the various troubles that come to all those whose lot is cast among the active conflicts of life, no matter what their situation”

The article reflected on the sisters of the Society of Marie Reparatrice, called “The Blue Nuns” because of their picturesque robin’s egg blue habits.  “The Sisters give that impression of refinement and culture which we associate with women in the social world.  They have culture, manner and charm in no small degree.”  In 1910 the sisters were given the church and in 1914 the former rectory was converted to a convent.

The church was the scene of a surprising series of crimes in September 1915.  Mrs. Catherine Northrup, alias Mrs. Randolph Fitzhugh, of Virginia, checked into the Holland House with luggage containing a significant wardrobe.  Within the next two weeks a flurry of robberies had been reported from within St. Leo’s Church.

Detective Beadle finally cracked the cast on September 23 after becoming suspicious and trailing the woman.  Catherine Northrup would enter St. Leo’s, sit behind a female worshiper, and when the congregation knelt in prayer would reach over the pew and remove money from the woman’s purse.

She then returned to the hotel, changed clothes, and headed back.  Detective Beadle followed her movements all day on September 22 when she repeated the process four times.  The New-York Tribune reported two days later, “She appeared at St. Leo’s again yesterday morning, Beadle said, and when she left the church the fourth time went to the Holland House, changed from the light costume to a dark one, and went to the church one more.  Each time she sat in a different part of the building.”

“The woman, who is also known as the ‘church robber,’” said the newspaper, “was held in $1,000 bail by Magistrate Cobb in Yorkville Court after she had pleaded not guilty.”

As the 28th Street neighborhood continued to change throughout the 20th century, the handsome brownstone church remained.  Although its sharp spire was lost early in the century, the St. Leo’s survived virtually intact until 1986 when it was demolished for a 13-floor hotel at the rear of the plot.  The site of the church is now an open plaza for the Madison Belvedere Apartments.

photograph by the author

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The James Cox Brady Mansion - No. 10 East 76th Street

In 1881 construction began on a row of ten four-story brownstone-fronted houses on East 76th Street off Central Park.  Stretching from No. 10 through 28, they were designed by architect John G. Prague for speculative developer William Noble.  Completed a year later, they reflected the high-tone flavor of the neighborhood where already the mansions of Manhattan’s wealthiest citizens were rising along nearby Fifth Avenue.

By the early 1890s No. 10 would be home to the Charles Cleveland Dodge family.  A member of the extended Phelps and Dodge families who had made their immense fortunes in copper mining, Charles had distinguished himself during the Civil War as one of the youngest Brigadier Generals in American military history.  Now he was a partner in the Phelps Dodge Co. and President of the New York and Boston Cape Cod Canal Co.

On February 23, 1892 the house was the scene of a significant society wedding.  Daughter Ethel Cleveland Dodge was married to William Cary Sanger of Brooklyn.  The large wedding party included some of society’s most prominent names—among the bridesmaids were Edith Morgan, Helen Stokes, Juliana Cutting, and Lelia Alexander. 

The New York Times reported on the event saying “The ceremony took place under a large bunch of Easter lilies suspended from the ceiling.  To reach this spot, the bride and groom walked between the fourteen bridesmaids who formed an aisle.  The seven on one side wore pink gowns and those on the other wore white.”

In January 1895 the house was sold for $48,000 (about $1.3 million today) to Michael Coleman.  Coleman almost immediately turned it over to the recently-widowed William S. Scarborough.  The 82-year old retired lawyer was living in Connecticut; yet upon the death of his wife that year he moved to New York City.   As a young lawyer in Cincinnati, Scarborough had given help to another young attorney, Rutherford B. Hayes.  Later, the New-York Tribune would remember “When Hayes became President, he offered Mr. Scarborough a mission to the Sandwich Islands.”

Scarborough lived here for just under five years.  The elderly man died in the house on East 76th Street in November 1900.  Private services were held in the parlor on November 28 before the funeral in Connecticut two days later. 

Among William Scarborough’s five sons was Charles, described by The Evening World as “a prominent clubman and paper merchant.”  Around the time his father moved into the house on East 76th Street, Charles was being seen with Mrs. Anna V. Gibbs.  Now Mrs. Gibbs moved into the Scarborough house.

Charles R. Scarborough, himself, lived further south at No. 234 West 42nd Street.  He was in business with his brother at No. 27 Beekman Street. And if friends and neighbors saw Charles come and go from No. 10 East 76th Street, they thought little of it.  Mrs. Gibbs was a respectable widow and Charles had a reputation as a well-bred businessman. 

But since June 6, 1895 the pair had a close-held secret that only Anna’s two sisters and three of Charles’ brothers knew about.  

On October 16, 1902 The Evening World spilled the beans.  “To the doubter who thinks woman is not capable of keeping a secret reference can be made to Mrs. Charles R. Scarborough, who for seven years has given her friends the impression that her name was Mrs. Anna V. Gibbs.”

The newspaper hinted that the secret marriage had to do with the will of Anna’s former husband.  “The story most frequently told deals of a will in which it is stipulated that the beneficiary must not remarry.”  But if clarification was to be had, it was not coming from Charles nor Anna at the moment.  The wealthy paper merchant “has stepped out of the city until his friends recover from the shock of the announcement,” said The Evening World, adding “Mrs. Scarborough is a partial invalid and will not see visitors at her home, No. 10 East Seventy-sixth street.”

By the time of Charles and Anna’s shocking revelation the neighborhood was quickly changing.  The brownstones, while only two decades old, were architecturally out of fashion.  Moneyed buyers snatched up the Victorian homes to either raze or transform into modern mansions.

Dora and Alfred Schiffer had lived next door at No. 12 since 1898.  Now, in 1903, they purchased No. 10 and three years later, on March 31, 1906, the Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide announced their intentions of melding the two structures into one lavish mansion.  The periodical stated that architects Schwartz & Gross would design five-story “brick and stone front and rear extension” to the two buildings along with redesigning the floorplan at a cost of $100,000. 

Apparently the Schiffers rethought their grand scheme.  Scaling down, they focused on No. 10 and a year later remodeling along the designs of Schwartz & Gross began.  The old brownstone reemerged in 1908 as a grand Beaux Arts mansion that held its own with its exclusive neighbors.

Four floors of limestone rose to a slate-covered mansard.  French doors and multi-paned windows on the second through fourth floors created a refined presence on the block.  Tragically, Alfred Schiffer died without seeing his home completed.  And Dora never moved in.  She sold the completed mansion to financier James Cox Brady.

The young banker had graduated from Yale University just two years earlier, the same year he went into business with his well-known father, Anthony N. Brady.  In 1905 he had married Elizabeth Hamilton, daughter of Judge Andrew Hamilton. 

The young and wealthy newlyweds moved into the new mansion in 1908 and things for the couple seemed idyllic.  Then, on March 3, 1912 Elizabeth boarded a New York, New Haven & Hartford express train.  She would not return home.  The train crashed and Elizabeth Brady was among the fatalities.

Society was surprised two years later when, on October 15, 1914, Brady married Lady Victoria May Pery, daughter of the Earl and Countess of Limerick.  The New York Times remarked “Outside of the relatives and a few intimate friends of Mr. Brady and Lady Pery the couple’s engagement had been kept secret, and the announcement of the wedding…came as a surprise to most of their friends.”

They were married at Sea Verge, the summer estate of Brady’s brother, Nicholas in Monmouth Beach, New Jersey.  Because of the war, the original wedding plans which called for the ceremony to be held at the bride’s family’s Dromore Castle were scraped.  Newspapers made note of the difference in ages—Brady was 32 and his new wife was 20.

The Bradys divided their time between the East 76th Street house and what The New York Times called their “elaborate Summer home known as Hamilton Farms” near Gladstone, New Jersey. “It is one of the show places of the Somerset Hills,” the newspaper would later say.  Shortly after the wedding he purchased the yacht Atlantic and the late Alfred W. Vanderbilt’s stable of coach and harness horses.  He also purchased No. 12 East 76th Street, next door, from Dora Schiffer that same year.

As time passed, James Cox Brady was not only co-executor of his father’s $70 million estate; but was a trustee and director in nearly a dozen firms, including the Chrysler Corporation and Central Union Trust Company of New York.

But tragedy would also end Brady’s second marriage.  Just two years after the wedding Victoria contracted influenza and died.   A widower for the second time, James Cox Brady lived on in the 76th Street mansion with his children and staff.

Then on October 3, 1920 word was received from London that Brady had married again.  

In 1913 The Times had launched a contest to find “the typical American girl of today.”  Hundreds of photographs poured into the newspaper and a jury of seven artists selected one to publish on the front page of the December 7, 1913 edition.  The winner was 18-year old Helen McMahon from Long Island.

Now the former American Girl of Today had been married in Westminster Cathedral to one of America’s wealthiest men.  Unlike Brady’s former wives, she was neither titled nor rich.  “Her parents, Mr. and Mrs. J. T. McMahon, are both dead and she has been living with her brother, J. T. McMahon, and sister, Florence, in Twentieth Street, Flushing," reported The Times.

The newlyweds arrived in New York on November 14, 1920 on the Cunader Imperator.  The passenger list included Countess Jacques de Lesseps, sculptor Jo Davidson, and Theresa Oelrichs (who was sick throughout the voyage).  But it was Brady and his wife who had the Imperial Suite on the liner.  The New York Times noted “Mr. Brady and his bride had the biggest declaration of dutiable articles on the Imperator, amounting to nearly $17,000.”  The new Mrs. Brady was undoubtedly preparing for her new life in society—the dutiable purchases would amount to about $185,000 today.  And as she departed the ship reporters made note that she “wore a long fur coat with toque to match.”

Helen Brady took up the role as mother and socialite and in 1924 the debutante entertainments for Jane Hamilton Brady stretched on for months.  They climaxed on December 26 when the Bradys hosted “one of the largest of the holiday dances at Pierre’s.”  Prior to the dance a dinner for 50 guests was held in the mansion.

Three years later Jane’s marriage to Frederick Strong Moseley Jr. of Boston was one of the years prominent social events.  The wedding took place at the Hamilton Farms estate on June 23, 1927, and was conducted by the Bishop of Trenton.  Among the high-powered guests were Mr. and Mrs. Walter P. Chrysler, the Alexander Van Rensselaers and Mr. and Mrs. Charles E. Merrill, Jr.

Only five months later James Cox Brady was dead.  He had become ill the first week of November and his condition worsened to pneumonia.  He died in the 76th Street house at the age of 45 at around 2:00 in the afternoon of November 10.  “His passing was so sudden that one of the children, Miss Ruth Brady, who was visiting a relative in Albany, was able to reach the bedside only a few minutes before the end,” reported a newspaper.

Prior to the funeral two days later dozens of friends and former associates paid their respects.  “Four rooms of the house were banked high with hundreds of floral designs,” reported The Times the following day.  Brady’s bronze coffin was transported to the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola on Park Avenue and 84th Street where more than 2,500 mourners awaited.  Following the procession into the church, along with the family, were Governor Al Smith, Major General William N. Haskell, and 96 nuns from Villa Marie Convent in Trenton, founded by Brady.

The service was conducted by Cardinal Patrick Joseph Hayes, assisted by a delegation of fifty priests, including the Bishop of Trenton; Bishop John J. Dunn of the Diocese of New York; and clerics as far away as Boston.  “The funeral cortege consisted of more than a hundred automobiles and was headed by a motorcycle police escort en route to the Grand Central Station,” said The Times.  A special funeral train carrying 1,500 persons, including the Cardinal, took the body to Albany.  “Three truckloads of flowers were also taken on the train.”

Helen McMahon Brady shared the more-than $20 million estate with her husband’s three daughters and son.  Among the real estate he left Helen were the two houses on East 76th Street and Hamilton Farm.  She remained in No. 10 and a year later in November announced the engagement of Ruth Brady to the Hon. Michael Simon Scott, son of the Viscountess Encombe and brother of the Earl of Eldon.

In 1946 the Brady family sold the house.  It was the end of the line for the distinguished mansion as a private home.  Later that year it was converted to two apartments per floor, with a doctor’s office at ground level.  In the mid 1950s it housed an art gallery.

From the street, however, the Brady mansion is little changed—a handsome relic on a (mostly) beautifully preserved block.

photographs by the author