Friday, January 24, 2020

The Unrecognizable 1847 Moses Maynard, Jr. House - 13 Gramercy Park So.

The first houses began rising around the recently-completed Gramercy Park (or Gramercy Place as it was sometimes called) in the early 1840's.  Among them was No. 13 on the south side of the park, finished in 1847.  The brownstone-fronted residence was an ample 27-feet wide and rose four stories above the high English basement.  Italianate in style, its pair of French doors at the parlor level opened onto a wide cast iron balcony.  It boasted at least one cutting-edge amenity--running water supplied by the new Croton Reservoir.

No. 13 is seen as it originally appeared in this 1877 print.  It sits to the right of the highlighted Samuel Tilden residence.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

The house (which was occasionally referenced by the East 20th Street address of 114) became home to the family of Moses Maynard, Jr.  An alderman at the time and the secretary and treasurer of the Long Island Railroad Company, Maynard was, like all his Gramercy Park neighbors, wealthy and prominent.

He appears to have conducted much of his city-related business from his home.  On September 5, 1849 the Board of Aldermen passed a resolution to widen Dey Street by ten feet--a project which would affect many property owners.  An announcement in the New-York Daily Tribune advised that any objections be made in writing and sent to Maynard "at his house, No. 13 Grammercy [sic] Park."

On July 30, 1855 Maynard, called "a well-known citizen" by The New York Times, died in the Gramercy Park home.  His funeral was held there the following day.

By 1860 lawyer Edward M. Willett had moved his family into No. 13.  A member of the firm Willett & Grieg, he was married to the former Amelia Ann Stephens.  (Willett had been a Columbia College classmate and good friend of her brother, John Lloyd Stephens, who is remembered for finding and mapping Mayan ruins in 1839.)

On the night of December 9, 1868, Thomas F. Barton forced open a rear window and entered the house.  He quickly gathered up two overcoats, and six silver napkin rings and other articles worth, according to Willett, $145 (about $2,650 in today's money).  The burglar's desperate circumstances were evidenced in that among the those "other articles" was a pair of Willett's shoes. 

A week later, on the night of December 15, Barton tried again at the home of a neighbor, politician Samuel J. Tilden.  Caught in the act, he was arrested.  When he appeared before the judge he was wearing Edward Willett's shoes.  Blamed for a string of other burglaries, he was sentenced to seven years in State Prison.

The Willetts remained at No. 13 until the spring of 1884 when they sold it to Frank Work, Jr. and his wife, Emma.  The Real Estate Record & Guide pointed out that the purchase came "with right to use Park" and reported the sale price at $50,000--about $1.32 million today.  Before moving in the Works had "interior alterations" done.  They apparently went no further than cosmetic updating since no architect was involved.

Frank Work, Jr. was a partner in the brokerage firm of Work, O'Keeffe & Co. at No. 68 Broadway, with Samuel J. O'Keeffe.  James H. Work, Frank's attorney brother, served as the firm's counsel.  James Work and Samuel O'Keeffe involved themselves in a shady $7,000 loan transaction with William F. Croft in January 1889.  It ended in the courts and was most likely a significant factor in the collapse of Work, O'Keeffe & Co. in 1891.

On July 9, 1892 The Evening Telegram reported that the Works had sold "No. 13 Gramercy Park (virtually No. 114 East Twentieth street)" to John E. Dowdin for $70,000.  The price, equal to just under $2 million today, reflected the constant--actually increasing--property values along the Park.

Cowdin and his wife, the former Gertrude Cheever, had a daughter, Ethel, and two sons, Elliott Channing and John Cheever.  Their summer home was in Tuxedo Park and they would later add a country estate in East Norwich, Connecticut.  

An 1879 graduate of Harvard, Cowdin was the president of the Grand Street Realty Company.  But it was for his polo abilities that he was perhaps better known.  His many awards and championships would earn him a posthumous place in the Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame in 2007.

On January 13, 1894 the Cowdins received a sudden and unexpected house guest.  A close friend of the family, Baron Rudolph de Wardener, left Brentano's bookstore on Broadway around 4:00 that day and climbed aboard a streetcar.  Because of the crowd trying to file into the car, he stepped onto the front platform.

The Sun reported "The car started, and just as the Baron was about to open the front doors to get inside, the wheels of the car struck the curve just below Seventeenth street, and the Baron was thrown violently from the platform and ten feet into the street."  The article said diplomatically that he "is a heavy man" and the force of the fall broke his arm in three places and crushed his elbow.

In excruciating pain, he was taken by cab from one doctor's office to another for a hour--but none was home.  "Finally, when almost unconscious from pain and loss of blood, he succeeded in finding Dr. Robert F. Weir" who treated him, according to the article.  Because the Baron lived on Long Island, "he was taken to the house of his friend, John E. Cowdin, No. 13 Gramercy Park, where the fractured bones were set, though the elbow was so badly shattered that little could be done for it."  The Cowdins' guest remained until January 25, when it was necessary to remove him to St. Luke's Hospital.

Entertainments in the Cowdin house were often lavish.  On February 23, 1895, for instance, the New-York Tribune reported "Mrs. John E. Cowdin, of No. 13 Gramercy Park, will give a fancy-dress dance to-night."  

A less elaborate event took place on January 14, 1900.  Gertrude was a pianist and, according to the New-York Tribune, "well known in musical circles."  That night she gave a small dinner party for the Polish pianist and composer Ignancy Jan Paderewski and his wife, Helena. "It was an informal affair and limited," said the New-York Tribune.  Among the guests were the Cowdins' across-the-park neighbors, Henry W. Poor and his wife and conductor-composer Walter J. Damrosch and his wife, Margaret.

Ethel was introduced to society at "a large reception" in the house on December 14, 1905.  The debutante's social status was evidenced in the surnames of the girls who assisted in receiving, including Roosevelt, Fish, Atterbury and Tuckerman.

In the spring of 1908 Gertrude sailed to Europe, quite likely to shop for fashions for the coming summer season.  In April John received an urgent telegram to sail immediately "because of the illness of his wife."  His steamship docked on May 3.  According to the New-York Tribune, "Mr. Cowdin arrived in Paris a few hours before his wife died."  

On May 17 Cowdin arrived back in New York on the French liner La Touraine with Gertrude's body.  Her funeral was held in the Gramercy Park house the following morning.  The New York Evening Telegram reported that it was attended "by a large gathering of well-known people, including a delegation of members of the Colony Club," which she had helped found.  The article noted that among "the collection of beautiful floral tributes was a wreath of white carnations bearing the card of Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt."

Ethel was married to Charles Morgan in St. George's Church on June 4, 1910.  The Evening Telegram noted that "Owing to the family being in mourning, the reception which will held following the ceremony at the home of Mr. Cowdin, No. 13 Gramercy Park, will be very small."

Two years later there would be two more Cowdin weddings.  On June 5, 1912 John Cheever Cowdin was married in California, and about two weeks later, on June 24, his father married Madeleine Knowlton.  The wedding, which took place in the home of the bride's mother, was small and "was followed at 4 o'clock by a reception, for which about 300 invitations were sent out," said The New York Times.

Four years later Cowdin hired architect Adolph Mertin to remodel the Gramercy Park house into apartments.  Mertin's extensive plans, filed in January 1916 called for a new facade, elevators, and extending the building to the rear.  

The completed make-over left no hint of the former brownstone.  The stoop had been removed and the entrance moved to the former English basement level.  It was recessed within an arched opening which held a charming sculpture of a youth.  Each of the apartments had vast studio-type windows that looked out onto the Park.

An advertisement offered a three-room and bath apartment in 1917 for $1,700 per year; or about $2,775 a month today.  Interestingly, among the initial residents was John Cowdin's still unmarried son, Elliott.  Also in the building were the families of Hendrick Suydam, Dr. Edward Rufus, and Henry Lee Hobart.

The Hobarts, whose country estate was at East Hampton, Long Island, were socially visible.  Henry's wife, Marie, was a sometimes playwright, and the author of the "St. Agnes Mystery Plays."  In May 1920 she hosted a luncheon at the Waldorf-Astoria to announce the engagement of their daughter, Margaret Jefferys Hobart, to the Very Rev. George B. Myers, dean of Holy Trinity Church in Havana, Cuba.

Expensive automobiles line the curb as a woman in a fur collar strolls by Gramercy Park around 1940.  photo via the NYC Department of Records & Information Services
Engineer Adolphe H. Wenzell and his socialite wife, the former Zillah Townsend Thompson, were living here in 1922 when Zillah's shocking secret was leaked to the press.  On June 17 The New York Herald reported "Another young woman of society has decided to go on the stage.  Following the modern idea that every one should have an avocation, Mrs. Adolphe H. Wenzell...will embark upon a professional career the coming season."

"Mrs. Wenzell at her home last night rather reluctantly admitted that the report of her stage aspirations was correct," said the article.  Zillah made it clear that Adolphe was comfortable with the move.  "In all my plans and aspirations I have the fullest support of my husband.  He is an engineer and in his business has to do a good deal of traveling.  We are completely in accord in the idea that a woman should have some useful and serious work to do in the world."

Well-to-do tenants continued to make No. 13 their home over the next decades, like author and actor John W. Vandercook who moved in with his new bride, the former Jane Perry, in 1938.

A renovation in 1995 resulted in a total seven apartments within the building.   As it did in 1917, Adolph Mertin's bold transformation makes its own statement among its 19th century neighbors.

photographs by the author

Thursday, January 23, 2020

The 1906 Morgan Library - 33 East 36th Street

photo by Beyond My Ken

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries it was not uncommon for millionaire collectors to have art galleries included in the plans for their mansions; or to built opulent gallery buildings adjoining already standing residences.  In 1903 financier J. Pierpont Morgan, Sr. took the concept to a new level.

Morgan and his family lived in the brownstone mansion on the northeast corner of Madison Avenue and 36th Street, built for John Jay Phelps in 1853.  Behind it, at No. 33 East 36th Street, was the former home of William Bird.  On February 1, 1902 The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that Morgan had purchased and demolished that home and hired McKim, Mead & White to design a "two story marble library."  Charles Follen McKim was the principal architect of the structure, the cost of which was estimated at $300,000--about $8.83 million in today's dollars.

As the project got off the ground, Morgan expanded his holdings around his mansion.  Within a month of the death of Mrs. William E. Dodge in March 1903 he purchased her house, No. 225 Madison Avenue, directly next door to his.  And in November 1904 he purchased the Anson Phelps Stokes house on the northern corner of the block as a gift to his son, J. P. Morgan, Jr. and his wife.  Mrs. Stokes had an asking price of $1 million on that property.

A nicely dressed man surveys the construction site from atop a rock.  The backs of the Morgan mansion (left), the Dodge house (center) and the Phelps residence can be seen.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Construction on the library and gallery was not completed until June 1906.  The the design the Morgan Library was an amalgamation of bits and pieces of Italian Renaissance structures--sort of an architectural Lego project in marble with stunning results.  McKim's inspiration for the entrance, for instance, came from both the 16th century Villa Medici and the Villa Giulia.

The Villa Medici, built around 1544 for Cardinal Ricci via
The top level of the Nymphaeum of the Villa Giulia, designed by Bartolomeo Ammannati for Pope Julius III was a model for the entrance.  photo by Mongolo1984

McKim's biographer, Alfred Hoyt Granger later said "Mr. Morgan gave Mr. McKim a free hand to do anything he liked, which shows what the great financier's opinion was of the great architect."  The lavish budget was reflected inside.  The entrance Rotunda was based on the Villa Madama in Rome.  Artist Harry Siddons Mowbray based his designs on those of Raphael and Pinturiccio.  The complex marble floor was a near copy of one found in the Villa Pia in the Vatican gardens.

The sumptuous ceiling of the Morgan Rotunda -- photograph by Purpleturtle52-KH
The through the doorway of the Rotunda can be seen Morgan's library.  Two of the four marble pillars can be seen, each costing $60,000 at the time, according to a contemporary report.  photo via the Morgan Library & Museum
The largest of the spaces was the library--built to house Morgan's astonishing collection of rare books.  The inlaid Circassian walnut bookcases, the study ceiling and a few doors were the only wooden elements in the building--a reflection of Morgan's intense fear of fire.  

The bronze grills of the bookcase doors matched the exquisite bronze fencing outside.  A construction worker confided to a reporter from the New-York Tribune, "Every one of those bars in the fence was twisted by hand.  That costs money, but Mr. Morgan wanted it made by hand.  I know it cost a good deal, because the bronze doors, with twisted bars, which he had made for the bookcases cost $550 a pair, and one of the panels of that fence would make three pairs of those doors."

Mowbray was also responsible for the decoration of the ceiling, inspired by that of the 16th century Church of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome.  Among the decorations were constellations significant to Morgan--the signs of Aries (Morgan's birth sign) and Gemini (that of his wife, Frances Louisa), for instance.

Above the mantelpiece, designed in the Renaissance style, is the 16th century tapestry The Triumph of Avarice.  photograph by Pingthing
Leading off the library was J. P. Morgan's office, or "study."  It was here that he conducted much of his business away from his Wall Street office.  Unlike the library mantelpiece which was fabricated for that space, this one was a 15th century antique.  The leaded windows were brought from Switzerland and date from the 15th through 17th centuries.  Most impressive, perhaps, is the ceiling which was imported from Florence.

from the collection of the Library of Congress
photo via the Morgan Library & Museum
The Record & Guide was impressed, saying "the Library Building for J. Pierpont Morgan, Esq., in design and construction, marks an era in the Renaissance of classic work."  Alfred Hoyt Granger said "In this building restraint and discrimination are carried to the nth power." 

Morgan's concern about fire went well beyond the use of fireproof materials.  As the structure neared completion in June 1906 a reporter who stopped by the site was told:

The building is entirely fireproof.  The walls are about four feet thick.  There is a heavy wall of Tennessee marble, and then a space of fourteen inches between it and the interior brick wall.  Inside is a vault of 1-1/2 inch steel, in which to keep the most valuable of the old manuscripts, some of those Mr. Morgan picked up in monasteries, etc...There is a sliding shutter of asbestos to cover each window.  The shutters are hung on counterbalancing weights, so that one man could raise them all in a few moments.  They slide down into grooves in the wall.

Fire understandably continued to prey on the mind of Morgan.  His collection of artwork and manuscripts was irreplaceable.   Within a year of the library's completion, he announced he would be demolishing the Dodge mansion which, he felt, sat too close to the library behind.  The Record & Guide explained "Mr. Morgan evidently realizes the danger to these treasures that might arise from a burnable structure adjoining the museum.  His idea is to secure an open space all around it, by removing the Dodge mansion, which covers the middle of the block on the Madison av. side, and stands between the museum and the avenue."

Rarely did outsiders other than those meeting with Morgan in his study see inside the library.  But there were notable exceptions.  

President William Howard Taft was in town in February 1910.  Although Morgan was abroad, his personal attorney Lewis Cass Ledyard took Taft on a private tour of the library.  The President was partly prompted by the recently painted portrait of Morgan which hung in the study.  It was executed by Peruvian artist Carlos Baca-Flor and The Evening Telegram said "The artist has been recommended as the one to paint the official portrait of President Taft to be hung in the White House with the paintings of other Chief Executives."  Taft told reporters he was "pleased with the work."  He and Ledyard spent half an hour browsing the other artworks.

President Taft came to the Morgan library to inspect this portrait.  from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

A January 1912 Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, arrived in New York with his wife, Princess Louise Margaret of Prussia, and their daughter, Princess Patricia.  The third son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, he and his family were fêted with the usual string of receptions, luncheons and dances.  

On January 23 The Evening World reported that on the previous day they "went to the home of J. P. Morgan and inspected the Morgan library and galleries."  The Morgan children where their hosts.  "They were met at the entrance by Mr. and Mrs. J. P. Morgan, Jr., Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Satterlee, Miss Ann Morgan and Mrs. Hamilton, another daughter of the financier, who escorted them through the Morgan private museum."

J. Pierpont Morgan, Sr. died on March 31, 1913.  At a time when funerals were routinely held in the drawing rooms of the deceased, Morgan's took place in the study he loved.  On April 13 The New York Times reported "In the red and gold west wing of the white marble Morgan library building...the body of J. Pierpont Morgan rested yesterday.  During the day members of the family and a few of the intimate friends of the dead financier visited the room where the body lies."

For a few years J. P. Morgan, Jr. continued to use his father's study.  On September 11, 1915, for instance, the New-York Tribune reported "In the library in Thirty-sixth Street where the late head of the house of Morgan made financial history and where but a year ago plans were made to prevent the United State being drained of its stock of gold, the first of a series of conferences between the leading bankers of Europe and the United States was held yesterday."

Then, in February 1924, Morgan presented the building and its collection to the public "in memory of his father," according to the Putnam County Republican.  The newspaper said "Both the library, which consists of 35,000 rare volumes and is known as perhaps the finest private collection of books and manuscripts in the world, and the Renaissance marble palace in which it is lodged...were conveyed outright by Mr. Morgan to a board of six trustees, of which he is president."

Henry Fairfield Osborn, president of the trustees of the American Museum of Natural History told the New York Evening Post "I consider it the most important gift in the world of literature ever made in the history of the City of New York, and it is destined to exert a very great influence on American literature."

photograph by Beyond My Ken
Of course, it was just the first step in the evolution of the private collection to "one of the world's foremost collections of manuscripts, rare books, music, drawings, and ancient and other works of art," as worded by the Library's website.  A succession of expansion projects take center stage on Madison Avenue; however the exquisite marble 1906 structure remains an architectural treasure.  As Alfred Hoyt Granger said in 1913, "There is no more beautiful monument to the memory of either Mr. Morgan or Mr. McKim than this library on Thirty-sixth street."

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The Edward W. Sparrow House - 41 East 68th Street

By any estimation Edward Wheeler Sparrow had already led a remarkable life by the turn of the last century.  Born to well-to-do parents in Ireland, he came to America in 1858 at the age of 12.  Traveling West he landed several jobs, including being a page in the Michigan State Legislature and a clerk in a dry goods operation.  As he saved his money, he invested in real estate, eventually owning valuable Lansing, Michigan property, including 16 blocks in downtown Lansing.

In the 1870's the young man partnered with William Knoll, establishing saw mills and extensive lumber operations in the Northwest.  He lived, according to the National Cyclopedia of American Biography, "the life of a frontiersman."  Before moving to New York City, in addition to his lumber and real estate interests he had helped organize the City National Bank in Lansing (which he headed for 20 years), developed iron resources in Brazil, and was president of the Lansing Wheelbarrow Co.

Sparrow married Helen Therese Grant in 1896, and the couple had a son, Edward Grant Sparrow.  Just three years after their marriage Theresa died.  On June 30, 1903 Edward married Margaret B. Beattie, daughter of cleryman Charles Beattie.  Margaret was well-educated, having attended Vassar College.  They would have one daughter, Margaret Alicia.

In 1910 Sparrow purchased the older house at No. 41 East 68th Street, formerly home to John Terry Gardiner and his wife.  On May 25 the New-York Tribune reported that the architectural firm of Parish & Schroeder had filed plans for a six-story mansion on the site.  "The facade will be of brick, with trimmings of limestone," said the article.  The plans placed the cost of construction at $60,000--about $1.65 million today.

photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
The architects created a neo-French Renaissance residence that left no doubt about the wealth of its owner.  Above the rusticated stone base a full-width balustrade gave the impression of a balcony.  The corniced windows of the restrained second and third floors made no attempt at ostentation--that was left to the top levels.  Intricately carved panels flanked the fourth floor openings.  An ample fascia decorated with carved shields ran below the stone cornice which doubled as a balcony to the steep two-story mansard.

Edward Sparrow would not enjoy his new mansion for long.  The 67-year-old fell ill in the winter of 1913, and died in the house on February 21.   A funeral was held in the mansion on February 24, and another in Lansing, Michigan, where he was buried, the following day.

Edward Wheeling Sparrow (original source unknown)
Sparrow had apparently anticipated his impending death and signed his will just five days before.  He managed to control his $3 million estate (more in the neighborhood of $78.5 million today) even after death, putting it in trust with specific directions as to how it was annually distributed to his heirs.  Margaret, for instance, was to receive "a sum not to exceed $50,000 a year" (about $1.3 million today), and Edward's allotments increased as he reached certain birthdays.  Sparrow guarded five-year old Margaret's coming inheritance from any fortune hunters.  Her money, said the will, was "separate and apart from the control or influence of any husband."  Should she die, the money was to go to her children.  If she were childless, it reverted to Margaret and Edward.

The will included life warnings for the children:

I charge upon my son, Edward Grant Sparrow, the practice of economy and that he refrain from ostentation or display, as such practices are not in keeping with the pursuit of learning and are always offensive to good manners and gentlemanly demeanor, and I wish here to impress upon both of my children and especially upon my son the desirability of acquiring a thorough knowledge of business as is practicable.

Unexpectedly, given that she was still in mourning, Margaret and the children arrived at the fashionable Hotel Wentworth in New Castle, New Hampshire six months later.  On August 23 The Sun noted that several members of society had arrived by automobile, including "Mrs. E. W. Sparrow, Edward Sparrow and party, in an Alco."

Margaret was a summer resident of Lenox, Massachusetts where she regularly leased Home Farm, the estate of the deceased William A. Slater of Washington.  And as the "camping" fervor swept society in the years just before the outbreak of world war, she once again hired hired Parish & Schroeder to design "a wooden camp" at Old Forge, New York in 1917.   (Other than pine trees, lakes and occasional passing ducks, the term "camp" for high society had little to do with the term as used today.)

As Margaret's camp was under construction, she and Margaret Alicia, who was now old enough to be listed in society columns, went to Lenox.  Edward joined the Marine Corps. in 1917 and fought overseas.  When he came home in August 1919, The Sun reported that he was "visiting his Home Farm."  Two months later on October 19 The Sun reported that Margaret had given a "farewell luncheon at the Lenox Club for twenty-six guests before closing Home Farm and returning to New York this week."

It was the last time Margaret would close Home Farm.  Two weeks earlier the New-York Tribune had reported that she "is likely to purchase Sunnycroft, the country place of the late Mrs. George Griswold Haven."

By the terms of her father's will, Margaret Alicia could not touch her fortune until her thirtieth birthday.  In the meantime her mother had to make do with the $2,000 per month the girl was allowed.  At the equivalent of $28,000 today, Margaret feared it was not a large enough amount with which to clothe and adorn a girl approaching her debutante years.  In January 1923 she went to court to plead for more money for the 15-year-old.  Given Margaret's own income, the judge was unmoved.  The New-York Tribune reported somewhat sarcastically, "Miss Margaret Alicia Sparrow must makeshift on $2,000 a month for the next 15 years."

Margaret Alicia's debut was unexpectedly understated.  She was introduced to society at a tea in the 68th Street house on December 21, 1926.

Margaret established another summer estate near Locust Valley, Long Island around this time.  She and Margaret Alicia traveled as a pair, appearing in society columns for years as they entertained and moved between their residences.

Like her mother, Margaret Alicia attended Vassar.  She became especially interested in supporting the Girls Scouts of America (a favorite cause of her mother), and was an avid sportswoman.  The New York Post described her as being "interested in riding and hunting and is a familiar figure at the smart sports events held during the year on Long Island."

On April 14, 1936 her mother announced Margaret Alicia's engagement to George Hale Pulsifer.  The wedding was held on the grounds of the Locust Valley mansion on June 12 that year.  The New York Post described "a natural setting of green, with trees and shrubs in the background, but with no special floral decorations and no altar."

In 1950 Margaret moved permanently to Locust Valley.  She died there on July 22, 1958 at the age of 88.

When she left the 68th Street mansion it was converted to apartments, two each on every floor but the top, which held one.  The service entrance was altered to a window and it may have been at this time that the handsome areaway fencing was removed.  The top floor apartment was divided into two in 1968.

photographs by the author

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

An Elegant Shell - Keith's 81st Street Theatre, Broadway at 81st Street

Born in Dundee, Scotland, Thomas W. Lamb arrived in New York in 1883 at the age of 12 and went on to study architecture at the Cooper Union.  Eventually, after working as a buildings inspector for the City, he established his architectural office, Thomas W. Lamb, Inc.  His first commission for a theater came in 1909 from William Fox, who was involved for the fledgling moving picture industry.  Within eight years he had designed three more motion picture theaters on Times Square.  

On March 26, 1913 The American Architect reported that Lamb had filed plans for a "3-sty theatre and stores to be erected on the corner of Broadway and 81st St. for the Fulton Building Co."  Construction costs were projected at $130,000, or about $3.4 million in today's terms.

Unlike Lamb's projects for William Fox, the 81st Street Theatre was intended mainly as a vaudeville venue, with "photo-plays" as an added attraction.  It was completed by the end of April the following year.  The Broadway section which held the lobby, ticket booths and lounges was three stories tall.  Its dignified neo-Classical style facade was executed in white terra cotta and featured soaring double-height arches flanked by columns and separated by tall Corinthian pilasters.  The auditorium directly behind was clad in dull red brick which purposely did not compete with the Broadway showpiece.

The theater opened on May 25, 1914, this ad calling "one of the finest vaudeville and photo-play theatres in New York City.  The Evening World, May 25, 1914 (copyright expired)

In its July 1914 issue Architecture and Building beamed "The new Eighty-First Street Theatre...which has just been opened, is decidedly a step forward in the erection and equipment of a modern vaudeville and photoplay house.  The amount of study which has been given and the taste displayed throughout this entire structure is evident, even to the exterior of the building which is of matt [sic] glaze white terra cotta."

The lobby was lit by solid brass sconces and hanging fixtures "of white glass in Adam's design."  Architecture and Building, July 1914 (copyright expired)
The lobby was paneled in Caen stone--a marble-like material--and its ceiling was decorated in "delicate clouded effects."  The critic said "On entering the theatre one is impressed with the harmony and refined richness of the entire color scheme."  The carpeting and the curtains were deep red.  The seats were upholstered in Spanish leather dyed to match.  Above the audience was a large mural depicting music and dance.  Architecture and Building commented that it "introduces just a sufficient amount of color to give a rich note to the entire color scheme."  

The main ceiling panel depicted Music and Dancing.  Architecture and Building, July 1914 (copyright expired)
Acts in vaudeville theaters changed often and patrons visited more than once a week.  The proprietors of the new theater quickly established a clever gimmick to keep its customers coming back.  On July 2, 1914 The Evening World reported "At the Eight-first Street Vaudeville and Motion Picture Theatre, the management lends umbrellas to patrons in rainy weather."

A highly unusual event took place on September 25, 1918.  Members of the Screen Club staged a benefit for its house fund.  Moving Pictures magazine reported "Many picture people were present.  The proceeds for the club came from the sale of souvenir programs and autographed photographs, also the difference in the advance of seat prices."

None of that would have prompted press coverage.  But then at 11:00 four audience members were selected and brought on stage.  While the audience watched, a motion picture was made.  Moving Pictures explained "The film was to be 500 feet in all, and will be shown at the theatre October 15-17."

The management was rethinking its programming by the spring of 1919.  In March Variety wrote "This theatre divides its program with a feature picture, playing three [vaudeville] acts at either side of the film.  Through that the theatre confesses that first it is a picture house rather than vaudeville, and secondly it prefers pictures."

On September 1 that year the management of the theater was turned over to B. F. Keith, who immediately changed the name to B. F. Keith's 81st Street Theatre.  That was the only initial change.  Vaudeville reported "The house will open with six acts and a picture, without a headline attraction billed."  There were two performances each day, "placing it in the big time class," said the trade journal.

Columbia Daily Spectator, December 3, 1919 (copyright expired)

Audiences showed their disapproval of vaudeville performers by tossing pennies.  On November 1, 1920 a group of well-dressed young men in the orchestra section were caught by booking agent Charles Stockhouse "casting pennies on the stage during the turn of Clayton and Lennie," as reported in Vaudeville.  Stockhouse went to the street and found a policeman, who arrested the youths.

As it turned out, they were not neighborhood rowdies, but college boys "home from school on an election day week-end vacation."  The night court judge "reprimanded the penny throwers, stating to them they stood in no different position before him, though they were sons of wealthy fathers, than any other culprit," reported Vaudeville.  "He warned them if a further complaint was lodged against either they would receive a jail sentence."

The neo-Classical design of the exterior was carried on within the auditorium.   Architecture and Building, July 1914 (copyright expired)
Patrons enjoyed the works of the best directors and most celebrated screen stars here.  On January 11, 1920, for instance, The New York Herald announced "At B. F. Keith's Eight-first Street Theatre the feature will be Cecil B. De Mille's 'Male and Female,' with Miss Gloria Swanson in the lead.  There will be six vaudeville features in addition to the feature."

Among the live acts in February 1928 was Rudy Vallée and his musical group, the Connecticut Yankees.   The crooner was the equivalent of a pop star of today and drew masses of screaming female fans.  The crush of devotees on opening night caused traffic to come to a halt on Broadway.  He mentioned the incident in his 1930 memoir, Vagabond Dreams Come True, calling it "the tremendous outburst we received."

Stores lined the street level in this 1915 photograph.  photo by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
At mid-century the venue had become a full-time motion picture theater, operated by Howard Hughes's R. K. O. Pictures.  The New York Times theater critic was less than thrilled with The Lisbon Story on September 6, 1951.  Saying that the film "arrived from over the water yesterday afternoon at the R.K.O. Eighty-first Street Theatre, British National Film, the company responsible did neither continent any great favor."  He concluded his critique saying "Anyone who pays good money to see this one deserves the boredom he'll get in return."

Then, in December 1953, CBS-TV announced it had leased the property.  The venue was converted to its first color television studio.  Among its most memorable productions here was the 1957 Rodgers & Hammerstein Cinderella starring Julie Andrews.  It was the only musical written by the partners expressly for television.

The elegant terra cotta building, now named the Reeves television studio, seemed doomed in November 1984 when it was sold to a developer for $11 million.  The Landmarks Conservancy pronounced the structure "an excellent example of early classical and elegant movie palace building form."  The following spring, however, The New York Times reported "But the landmarking effort was never pursued."

It was only the developers, Louis V. Greco, Jr. and Peter Gray, who had formed the Landmark Restorations Company three years earlier, who saved the front of the building.  When they purchased the building the television soap opera "Search for Tomorrow" was still being taped there.  The firm announced plans for a 22-story apartment tower, Renaissance West, designed by Beyer Blinder Belle behind the gutted Broadway section.  The New York Times remarked "Landmark Restorations has made a specialty of projects with a preservationist character, or at least a sensitivity to history."

At a time when developers are demolishing vintage structures at an alarming rate, it is refreshing that at least the shell of Thomas W. Lamb's handsome 1914 theater was preserved by one of them.

photographs by the author

Monday, January 20, 2020

The Lost Buck's Horn Tavern - Broadway and 22nd Street

In 1864 Valentine's Manual of New York City published a depiction of the tavern as it appeared in 1812. On the veranda railing can be seen the large set of buck's horns from which the inn took its name.   from the collection of the New York Public Library

In the 18th century travelers into and out of New York City had essentially two choices if traveling by land--the Eastern Post Road on the east side, and the Bloomingdale Road, opened in 1703, which ran diagonally to the upper west portion of the island.  The Bloomingdale Road would eventually connect with Broadway, taking on the latter's name.

At intervals along both roads were roadhouses--places where horses could be rested and fed, coach passengers be housed for the night, and food and drink obtained.   In 1716 the Horn family purchased land from the widow of Solomon Peters at what would become the southeast corner of Broadway and 22nd Street.  By the second half of the century John Horn's Buck's Horn Tavern stood on the site.  The inn itself was a handsome Georgian-style clapboard structure two stories tall fronted by a prominent porch and veranda.  As with other roadhouses, it was a complex of buildings including a stables to accommodate the vehicles and horses of travelers.

Although the Buck's Horn was remote, according to Suzanne Hinman in her The Grandest Madison Square Garden, "In 1783 Horn's tavern hosted General George Washington." 

Historian Stephen Jenkins commented in 1911 that the Buck's Horn Tavern was "spoken of in 1816 as 'an old and well-known tavern.'"  Decades before Manhattan would be graded, the buildings sat "about ten feet higher than the present grade."  

By the beginning of the 1830's the city had expanded far enough northward that on December 30 that year an announcement was posted in the New York Evening Post that going forward political meetings of the 12th Ward would be held at Buck's Horn Tavern.   

Coaching parties were a favorite pastime among New York's upper class and the Buck's Horn Tavern, by now operated by P. Shepherd, was a popular stop by the early 1840's.  In his The Greatest Street in the World: The Story of Broadway Old and New, Jenkins recalled:

It was a favorite road-house for those who drove out upon the Bloomingdale Road (Boston Post-road)...The drivers of that day used to come as far as the Buck's Horn, then turn through the quiet and lovely Love Lane [later West 21st Street] to Chelsea, and thence by the river road through Greenwich village back to the city across the Lispenard meadows.

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

Shepherd added to the attraction by having "ten pin alleys" installed around this time.

Westchester thoroughbred horse breeder and racer Abraham Miller took advantage of the inn's popularity with well-heeled patrons when he offered a renowned racehorse for sale.  On October 23, 1841 he advertised in The Spirit of the Times "The celebrated Stallion FACTOR, the sire of Greenwich Maid, Dolly, and Caty Q and other fine trotting horses, well known on the Turf, is offered for sale on accommodating terms."  The advertisement noted "Factor may be seen at Shepherd's 'Buck's-horn Tavern,' corner of 22d street and Broadway."

A year later, on September 6, 1842, tragedy befell the old hostelry.  The New York Herald reported "Between four and five o'clock yesterday morning, a fire broke out in a building between 21st and 22d streets, occupied as a tavern, kept by P. Shepherd, and called the 'Buck-horn Tavern."  The blaze quickly spread from the wooden building to the two large stables.

Henry C. Platner, a wealthy upstate visitor from Cherry Valley, New York, was one of the boarders and his team of valuable horses was in the stables.   One man, possibly a stable employee, did his best to save the panicked animals.  The New York Herald reported "We regret to say, a gentleman named Campbell, was severely injured by a kick from one of the horses he was endeavoring to rescue from the flames."  The Eagle added "He was considered to be in a dangerous state yesterday."  All four horses, valued by Platner at $1,000--nearly $32,000 today--perished.  

The following day The Sun reported on the devastation.  "The Buckhorn Tavern, in Broadway, above 21st street, kept by Mr. Shepherd, together with the stables and out-houses, was destroyed by by fire...Mr. Shepherd estimates his loss at $1000, no insurance."  Along with the buildings, Shepherd "lost his fixtures, ten-pin alleys, $800 worth of furniture, and a gold watch worth $160," said the New-York Daily Tribune.  (A reporter from The New York Herald doubted that the valuable watch was lost in the flames.  "Mr. Shepherd's watch, no doubt, was stolen.")

Abbey's Park Theatre was erected on the site of the Buck's Horn Tavern in 1874.  When it, too, burned to the ground in 1882, it was replaced by the Brooks Brothers building.  The sleek structure on the site today was completed in 1986.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

The 1827 House at 46 Carmine Street

Around 1827 carpenter Albert Berdan began construction on a three-and-a-half story house at No. 46 Carmine Street.  It is nearly doubtless that he worked in concert with another carpenter, James D. Brower, and with Seba Bogart who respectively erected Nos. 42 and 44 Carmine Street at the same time.  The completed dwellings were essentially identical.

Like its neighbors, No. 46 was faced in red brick and trimmed in brownstone.  Its peak roof was pierced by a single dormer.  Further evidence that the three builders had worked together came on February 2, 1828 when auctioneer James Bleecker announced he would be selling the two new houses, Nos. 44 and 46, at a single auction.

The house initially saw a quick succession of owners.  It was sold four times between 1828 and 1834 when Kemp Godfrey purchased it.  He would retain possession for more than three decades.  

Mary Armstrong was leasing the house from Godfrey in the mid-1840's.  He may have been unaware of the goings-on here at the time.  On July 22, 1846 The New York Herald reported that Mary had been arrested and "indicted for keeping a disorderly house at No. 46 Carmine street.  Justice Roome committed her to prison."  

After that the dwelling became a rooming house.  But the removal of Mary Armstrong's brothel had not eliminated questionable nature of the tenants.  On February 25, 1850, for instance, The Evening Post reported "James Price, a boy bout 14 years of age, was found concealed in a house 46 Carmine street, last night.  He was arrested by officer Philip Journeux."

The ground floor was converted to a shop around 1855.  On May 31 the following year an advertisement in The New York Herald read: "To Let--The store and room adjoining, 46 Carmine street; has gas, counter, cases, &c; suitable for a millinery or other light business; rent $225 a year.  Also a neat room to a single lady or gentleman."

The monthly shop rent would be equal to around $575 today.  It was low enough to lure Mrs. Melville to relocate her millinery shop from Broadway.  

A cleverly worded ad slightly pretended to be a notice to a friend.  The New York Herald, December 4, 1856 (copyright expired)

She touted the low overhead as the reason for her affordable prices in a December 1857 ad:

A Cheap Rent and The First Quality of millinery--Ladies, misses, and children's hats and bonnets of the latest New York and Parisian styles, superbly arranged and beautifully Mrs. Melville's 46 Carmine street

The tenants' names continued to appear in newspapers for the wrong reasons.  Patrick Cassidy lived here in 1864 when he was seriously wounded in a bar fight.  On June 3 the New-York Daily Tribune reported "A row occurred late on Wednesday night, in the saloon of Patrick Gilbrire...during which Patrick Cassidy was stabbed three times in the head and once in the arm, by John Burns." 

The proprietor of the store where Mrs. Melville had sold hats now dealt in "fancy goods."   Fancy goods stores were slightly different from dry goods stores in that they also offered ribbons, stationery, inkstands, and such.  The owner remained until the fall of 1871 when he advertised "For sale cheap--the stock and fixtures of a fancy goods store, doing a good business; cheap rent."  The shop became home to the roofing office of W. R. Barnett.  His business was such that this was one of two locations in Greenwich Village.

The Commercial Register, 1874 (copyright expired)
In 1876 there were four roomers living upstairs.  Ellen Hanley and Catharine Rose were both widows.  John Williams was listed in directories simply as "laborer," and Charles Kron was a carpenter.

In 1881 John Murray, a machinist, landed a job in the Fire Department's repair shop.  His salary was $3 per day, or about $1,560 a month in today's dollars.  

Francis Davidson was here around the same time.  He tended bar at McKeever Brother's saloon a block away at No. 15 Carmine Street.  He ran afoul of the law on Sunday night June 15, 1884 when he served a glass of beer to undercover officer George H. Stephenson.  Davidson, "who appeared to be in charge," was arrested for selling alcohol on a Sunday and held on $100 bail.  Ironically, the New York Herald reported "One [McKeever] brother is an inspector of the Board of Excise, and the other an officer in the Third Civil District Court."

Thomas Wheatley and his wife, Mary, lived here in 1896.  The 56-year old made his living as a carpenter.  He was physically abusive to Mary, according to other tenants who informed police he struck her.  On the morning of July 5 neighbors saw Mary and later reported that she "was well."  But she would not survive the day.

Wheatley left their rooms at 2:00.  He later told a judge that "he left his wife in the house all right in the afternoon, and went out for half an hour.  When he returned, she was dead,"  according to the New York Evening Telegram.  Neighbors suspected murder.  Wheatley put the blame on liquor.  He told Magistrate Flammer, "She would drink whiskey and eat no food," recounted the newspaper.  "He had no doubt she had died of alcoholism."  The court was not so certain.  The judge remanded Wheatley on suspicion of murder pending the coroner's investigation.

Frederick Conrad, alias Frederick Roberts, and James Andres, alias James Roberts, shared a room the following year when they embarked on a campaign of crime and terror.  Posing as brothers, they were 19- and 25-years-old respectively.   The burglars avoided apprehension by breaking into homes in Westchester County rather than New York City.  On October 25, 1897 The World entitled an article "Booty By Wagon Loads" and detailed their eight-day crime spree in several cities.

"The Westchester Burglars" operated from No. 46.  The World, October 25, 1897 (copyright expired)
Following their arrest The New York Herald explained "in a room at No. 46 Carmine street the plunder was stored.  The pawnshops in the neighborhood offered a ready means of disposing of the goods."  The article added that "In the room at No. 46 Carmine street the detectives found a kit of burglars' tools and 120 pawn tickets."

Another 19-year old thief was Archibald Costello, whose brother, John, lived here.  On Saturday night January 6, 1900 Sarah Connors was walking alone Carmine Street near Bedford when Archibald snatched her bag.  According to The New York Press, "After getting the pocketbook Costello ran to his brother's home in No. 46 Carmine street."  But he had not anticipated the spunk of his victim.

The Morning Telegraph continued "Miss Connors picked up her skirts and sprinted in hot pursuit of the thief...Policeman Jackson, who had joined in the chase, pursued him into the rooms of John Costello."  Costello, according to The New York Press, "refused to open the door for the policeman, saying it was his home and castle."  Officer Jackson did not agree with that argument and broke in.  The "young robber was dragged, howling, from beneath a bed and placed under arrest," said The Morning Telegraph.

At least from 1902 through 1903 the ground floor held a butcher shop.  In 1904 John Elrand and his wife, Mary, moved their second hand furniture shop into the space from a little further up on Carmine Street.  The couple and their three children occupied the rooms in the rear of the shop.

According to The Evening Telegram on April 11, 1905, "they were able to make a fairly good living.  The man is said to leave the management of the business in the hands of his wife."  He also left the preparation of his lunch in her hands and he expected it daily at noon.  On Monday, April 10, it was not ready.

Irate, Elrand called Mary into the shop and expressed his displeasure by firing a bullet into her temple.  "He then ran to the yard in the rear of the building and turned the weapon on himself, inflicting three wounds in his breast," reported The Telegram.  Mary staggered outside to the sidewalk where she collapsed.  The youngest son, John, had seen the entire incident and ran for help.  The Call reported "They were taken to St. Vincent's hospital, where it is said that both will probably die."

It is unclear whether either or both of the Elrands perished; however John, Jr. who witnessed the tragedy, was still living in No. 46 as late as 1911.

That same year the Spinosa family lived at the address.  Their 16-year old daughter, Jennie, worked in a clothing factory at No. 9 Bond Street.  Trouble began brewing that year when one of the tailors, Joseph Nuccio, became enchanted with her.  Jennie's repeated rebuff of his attentions may have partially had to do with his physical deformity.

The 18-year old Nuccio, however, was not one to take "no" from a female.  After asking her to marry him several times over a few months, he finally resorted to her mother.  On September 30, 1911, he appeared at their rooms ready to extort a positive response.  "With him he had a revolver, a dagger and a bottle of poison, reported The New York Call.  Nuccio had underestimated Jennie's mother.  The article explained "Mrs. Spinosa lives on the third floor of 46 Carmine street and looks muscular enough to throw Joe downstairs."

The following day Jennie's uncle accompanied her to work "to tell Joe to stop making love to her."  Nuccio did not respond well to the advice.  "When Joe became belligerent the uncle, who is twice the tailor's size, tucked him under an arm and carried him, kicking and squawking, to the Mulberry police station."  Nuccio was held in $500 bail "to keep the peace."

But that peace would not last.  Two years later, on November 6, 1913, he was sent to the Tombs in default of $10,000 bail (a staggering $262,000 today).  He had attacked Jennie with a knife.  "It was said by the police that Nuccio, who is a hunchback, slashed the girl's throat on October 20 because she refused to marry him," reported The New York Call.

A 1937 renovation resulted in a single residence above what was then a carpenter store.  Tied back curtains suggest a well-kept apartment.  Note the horse-drawn laundry wagon.  via NYC Department of Records & Information Services

Before Jackson Pollock would make his mark on the art world he called No. 46 home from 1932 to 1933.   He moved into the two-room apartment of his brother and sister-in-law, Charles and Elizabeth Pollack, "over Elizabeth's acid objections," according to the 1989 biography Jackson Pollock: An American Saga by Steven W. Naifeh and Gregory White Smith.  The brothers squeezed their studios into the tight space.

In 1937 architect Federick S. Koeler was hired to renovate the building into a single family home above the store level.  That configuration lasted until 1960 when another project resulted in one apartment on each of the upper floors.

The top floor apartment was placed on the market in 2014 for $1.25 million--a figure inconceivable to the shady characters who lived in the building a century earlier.  With true real estate agent bravado, the listing noted that it "was once owned by Aaron Burr."  Of course, Burr had fled New York more than two decades before the house was erected.

photographs by the author