Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Engine Co. 74 and Hook & Ladder 25 -- 207 West 77th St

In 1894 W. B. Baldwin spent $8,000 to build his new two-story brick stable at No. 205 West 77th Street.  The significant outlay suggests that the stable was a fine building.  But it would not last long.

The city soon acquired Nos. 205 and 207 West 77th Street in a condemnation procedure.  Baldwin was probably not overly put out.  The awards and costs to the city amounted to $34,468.70 for both properties.  On January 2, 1900 the titles were passed to Fire Department.

From 1879 to 1895 Napoleon LeBrun was responsible for designing New York’s fire houses.  Two years later Tammany Hall chose the relatively obscure team of Vincent Slattery and Arthur Horgan to design selected civic structures.  The West 77th Street station would be counted among them.  Newspaper accounts more than hinted that Horgan & Slattery were deeply involved with the Tammany corruption and graft.

By December 1901 the combined fire house for Hook and Ladder 25 at No. 205, and Engine Company 74 at No. 207 was completed.  The Report of the Buildings Superintendent listed the cost of construction at $57,675.00—about $1.5 million by today’s standards.

More attractive than their own character was the architects’ design for Engine Company 74 and Hook & Ladder 25.  Brick and limestone came together in an double Italianate palazzo with Beaux Arts splashes.  Recessed balconies provided an elegant air and triangular pediments above the cornice bore giant shields with the Fire Department monogram.

Not long after the building's completion some event prompted Hook & Ladder 25 to festoon its house.  Engine Company 74 was obviously not so inclined.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The work of turn-of-the-century firemen was especially dangerous.  The majority of buildings were still lit by gas; getting to a fire on streets with little traffic control, teeming with street cars, carriages, pedestrians and automobiles was treacherous; and buildings were constructed with few regulations.

An ingenious pulley system made for rapid harnessing of the horses.  The brass pole can be seen to the right and in the rear is the tender.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The year 1904 was a fearful example.  On February 9 the firemen were rushing to a fire in a 4-story brownstone at 95th Street and Columbus Avenue.  The hook and ladder truck, the chief’s buggy, the fire engine and the tender had to cross the street car tracks on Columbus Avenue.  A streetcar heading north came to an abrupt and unexpected halt.

“The Chief’s buggy, the hook and ladder and the engine had all cleared the car,” reported The Evening World.  “At the near side of Eightieth street the car came to a sudden stop.  Johnson tried his best to clear it but he could not prevent the collision.  As he struck the car the tender listed and he fell from his seat to the street.  There were five men on the tender, but only two of them were hurt.”

Bystanders took the two injured firemen into a drug store while the rest of the crew rushed to the fire.  The men were removed to Roosevelt Hospital.

Rather fearsome faces adorn the keystones of the truck bays.

Four months later, on June 13, 1904 the men of Hook & Ladder 25 headed to a fire in the six story building of the New York College of Pharmacy on West 68th Street.  The fire started when a five-gallon container of nitric acid, packed in straw and sawdust, cracked in the cellar.  “This caused almost immediate combustion, and the packing burst into flames,” explained the New-York Tribune the following day.

Firemen were able to extinguish the flames; but the fumes of the nitric acid had filled the cellar and risen to the upper floors.  Captain P. J. Graham took several men upstairs to search for fire and to open windows. 

“They had reached the upper floor when Captain Graham fell,” said the newspaper.  “Several others followed him quickly. [Fireman Charles] Reich had turned about and started for help.  When he reached the head of the stairs leading to the ground floor he too fell over.”

As firemen continued to try to rescue their comrades, they too fell victim to the noxious fumes, until six men lay on the floor unconscious.  Finally, “with difficulty, on account of the fumes,” all the men were pulled to safety and were revived.

In March 1906, according to The City Record, “additions and alterations to quarters of Engine Company 74 and Hook and Ladder Company 25” were done.  Apparently the changes were made to the interior or to the rear; for the façade was unaltered. 

Nearby at Nos. 219 through 223 West 77th Street was the five-story stable and “district station” of the Department of Street Cleaning.  The firemen noticed fire in the building on July 29, 1910 at the same time that Patrolmen Kear and Blass, passing by, saw it.  The policemen sent in an alarm and the fire fighters rushed to the blaze.

The stubborn blaze had already encompassed the third floor and soon reached the fourth.  The fourth and fifth floors were used for storing hay and supplies, adding to the fury of the flames.  While the fire fighters fought the conflagration, which now was spreading to the fifth floor and punching through the roof, the policemen from the West 68th Street Station turned their attention to the 81 horses inside.

“They ran to the basement, where some of the animals were, and succeeded in getting them up a runway to the street level, where they were driven out by the liberal use of the officers’ nightsticks.  Then the rescuers ran upstairs to the first floor and got out a number of horses quartered there.  These animals were also drive to the street in safety,” said the New-York Tribune.

The fire was extinguished after about an hour of “hard fighting” and now the police were taxed with what the Tribune called “a round-up” of the horses.  All but five were caught.

Young boys in knickers watch as Engine Company 74 gallops by -- photo from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
In 1916 Fire Commissioner Adamson sought to modernize the Fire Department with “motor apparatus.”  He told reporters that “tractor engines and hook and ladder trucks” would be a cost savings because they would be maintained and operated at a third of the cost of horse-drawn equipment.  Engine Company 74 was among the first to have engine modified with a gasoline motor.

“The front wheels of horse-drawn engines and hook and ladder trucks are being taken off and a two-wheel motor substituted at a cost of $3,600,” explained The New York Times on July 4, 1916.  The Commissioner added that replacing the 803 horses that still lived in firehouses would be of service to the fire fighters who shared their living space.

“In pushing motorization the Commissioner has considered the health of the men as well as the great saving it would effect.  The presence of horses in a firehouse makes it impossible to maintain ideal sanitary conditions in the living quarters of the firemen.”

The heroic actions of the fire crew were at no time more evident that on February 9, 1920 when the five-story private hospital at West End Avenue and 77th Street caught fire.  Most of the 36 surgical patients were confined to their beds.  The Evening World noted that “The sanitarium is one of the most exclusive in the city and has a long waiting list.” 

The janitor, Max Blumenberg, who found the blaze in the cellar around 7 a.m. was afraid of panicking the patients so he attempted to put out the fire himself rather than send an alarm.  It was a mistake.

The fire got out of hand and spread to a ventilation shaft leading to the roof.  There were no fire escapes on the 77th Street side of the building and nurses and patients were clustered at the windows when Hook & Ladder Company No. 25 arrived.  Ladders were raised to the upper floors and one-by-one those trapped inside were rescued.  Other fire fighters rushed inside to pull patients out who could not be reached by ladders.  There were no injuries or fatalities that day.

Hook & Ladder Company No. 25 received its 30 minutes of fame in 1956 when a color television movie entitled F.D.N.Y was filmed.  The New York Times, saying that the Fire Department “sometimes considers itself the forgotten service among those protecting New York,” explained that the movie—to be aired on local channels—would help citizens understand the work of the Department.

“The picture will show the selection, training, work and home life of the firemen,” it wrote.  The men of Hook & Ladder No. 25 were used as actors in the simulation of a rescue.

The darkest day for the men stationed here came on September 11, 2001.  In the monstrous attack on the World Trade Center buildings Ladder Company 25 lost six brave souls: Matthew Barnes, John Collins, Kenneth Kumpel, Robert Minara, Joseph Rivelli, Jr., and Paul Ruback.

In 2003 a refurbishing of the century-old structure was necessary.  Sometime around 1975 the flamboyant cornice was removed; no doubt because of danger due to disrepair.  Now the weight of modern fire equipment threatened the integrity of the main floor.  A $4 million renovation was initiated under the supervision of architect David Prendergrast.

Simple arched pediments replace the missing cornice.  The flaming torch in the carved cartouche is a fire department symbol.
The result was a restored façade that preserved Horgan & Slattery’s opulent design.  Prendergrast replaced the missing cornice with shallow arched pediments that compliment the design.  While the dealings between Tammany Hall and the architects may have been shady, the result is a handsome remnant of the turn of the century on the Upper West Side. 

non-historic photographs taken by the author

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The 1845 Skidmore House -- No. 37 E 4th Street

The Bond Street neighborhood in 1844 was already well established as an affluent residential enclave.  Nearby on Lafayette Place was the white marble LaGrange Terrace, where wealthy homeowners like John Jacob Astor lived.  Over a decade earlier the handsome Federal style mansion of Seabury Tredwell had been erected on East Fourth Street.

Now Tredwell’s cousin, Samuel Tredwell Skidmore began construction of his own mansion, just three lots east of his cousin’s.  He commissioned newly-arrived English architects Thomas Thomas and Son to design the upscale home.  Unlike Tredwell’s Federal style mansion, the Skidmore home would be in the recently popular Greek Revival style.  Red brick contrasted with the brownstone details.  An especially elegant portico featured free-standing fluted Ionic columns.  The entrance, with its sidelights and transom, was marked by a highly unusual paneled door which pretended to be double doors.

Thomas Thomas and Sons' original 1844 watercolor and ink drawing is in The Winterthur Library in Winterthur, Delaware.

The house at No. 369 Fourth Street (later renumbered 37 East Fourth) was completed in 1845.  The Greek Revival style eliminated the peaked, dormered attic in favor of a low-ceilinged full floor with small windows.  Here the Skidmore servants would live, including Mary Ann Banks.  The nurse, who came to live with the family in 1830 after having worked for Skidmore’s good friend, attorney John R. Townsend, would have her hands full.  Skidmore and his wife Angelina had eight children.

The same year that construction began on the Skidmore house, William Sloane opened his carpet store at No. 245 Broadway.  From its opening, Sloane’s shop catered to the carriage trade and it appears his was the first to offer Persian rugs in New York City.  Two of the luxurious carpets would end up in the Skidmore house.  In 1845 Samuel Skidmore purchased two Persian rugs from Sloane for $25 each – in the neighborhood of $750 each today.

Skidmore was the head of Skidmore & Co., a wholesale drug firm at No. 58 Cedar Street. His friend, John R. Townsend had been Judge of the Superior Court in 1844.  So well respected was he that when he died two years later the members of the bar wore mourning for 30 days.  The Townsend family recognized Skidmore's integrity and astute business sense and put the significant estate in Skidmore’s hands.

The extent of Skidmore’s own fortune was evidence on September 18, 1860 when he came to the financial aid of the City.  New York City was $3 million in debt and on August 11, 1860 the Common Council passed an ordinance whereby private citizens and companies could buy city stock.  Called “The Floating Debt Fund Stock of the City of New-York,” it was hoped to liquidate the city’s debt.  Skidmore purchased $2,000 worth of stocks—more in the neighborhood of $55,000 today.

By now the Skidmore children were maturing and a nurse was unnecessary.  But the Irish-born Mary Ann Banks was elderly and, according to The New York Times, was “looked upon as one of the truest and most faithful friends of the family.”  Samuel Skidmore told Banks she could stay on in the house as long as she pleased.

Although Samuel Skidmore was active in Trinity Church and since 1845 had been a vestryman there, Mary chose St. Ann’s Church and was confirmed there in 1860.  Around a year later Mary’s brother arrived to visit.  He calculated that his sister’s age at the time was around 83 years old.  “In regard to her age, Mr. Skidmore said that she had always insisted that she was born a short time before the Declaration of Independence,” said The Times.  Mary Ann Banks was fond of retelling the story of the day she had shaken hands with General George Washington, and said that she frequently would see Martha Washington on the street.

Fearing she would be a financial burden, the aged woman was concerned that she would have enough money to pay for her own funeral expenses.  She took $100 to the Bleecker Street Savings Bank and deposited it as her nest egg for when the time came.

Skidmore’s business and fortune continued to grow.  By 1871 he was President of the Howard Insurance Company of New-York and would become a trustee of the U. S. Trust Company.

Skidmore's insurance company suffered heavy losses in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 -- New-York Tribune, October 12, 1871 (copyright expired)

In October 1875 the Skidmore’s faithful servant, Mary Ann Banks suffered a stroke which left her paralyzed.   Her mental faculties were unimpaired, however, and she wanted desperately to see the Centennial Exhibition being planned for 1876 in Philadelphia.  It would not be.

On June 27, 1876 The New York Times reported “Mrs. Mary Ann Banks, who had lived with the family of Mr. Samuel T. Skidmore, of No. 37 East Fourth street, for over forty-five years, and who has said to be more than one hundred years old, died at his residence yesterday morning.”  Mary’s concerns about her funeral expenses were unfounded.  The $100 she had left in the bank years earlier had grown to $250.

Her funeral was held in St. Ann’s church on June 27 at 10:00 a.m.; after which she was buried in the Skidmore family lot in Greenwood Cemetery.

Skidmore himself was aging and within the year he requested to be relieved from his duties of the Townsend estate “on account of his feeble health and his advanced age,” as explained by The Times on March 16, 1877.  The family refused to have an accounting of the estate, saying that Skidmore’s flawless ethics made it unnecessary.

Townsend’s son, John D. Townsend, told the court, “More than 30 years ago Mr. Skidmore accepted at the hands of my dying father the trust which he is to-day prepared to resign…Yet from that day to this he has, without one cent of remuneration, and with a fidelity to the memory of his old friend, and faithfulness to his widow and children unsurpassed, continued to exercise his trust until now.  He leaves it increased in value, and bears with him in his later days the affectionate regards of those to whom he has been thus devoted.”

Samuel T. Skidmore lived for another four years, dying in the house on November 8, 1881.  By now the once-elegant neighborhood was falling victim to commerce.  The wealthiest families had long ago moved northward and the spinster Tredwell sisters at No. 29 and Angelina Skidmore were among the last of the private homeowners on the block.  Angelina stayed on in the house for just two more years, selling it in 1883.

The portico and entrance reflected the wealth and social position of the Skidmore family
It appears that by 1893 the Skidmore residence was being operated as a boarding house.  In 1892 a teen-aged Lillian Payne met Arthur Payne.  The New York Times would describe her as “a daughter of the tenement house, but is as pretty and as attractive a young woman as could be found in a day’s march.”

In order to make a living the girl learned “skirt dancing” and the newspaper said on July 10, 1893 “it was then she met Arthur Payne, an electrician about twenty-eight years old.  He is a handsome fellow, and the two were married about twelve months ago.”

The couple moved into No. 37 East 4th Street; but the honeymoon was soon over.  Payne shortly neglected Lillian “and her friends say that she was obliged to go back to skirt dancing to pay the rent for their little home and buy food.”  Eventually Payne “tired of her” and the couple separated, Payne remaining in the 4th Street apartment.

Although Lillian had her husband arrested around March 1893, her witnesses failed to show up and the case was dropped.  He convinced her to move back with him at the beginning of July, saying he would support her so she would not have to continue dancing.

The night of Saturday, July 8 was Lillian Payne’s last night of skirt dancing.  She left the theatre in Jersey City and reached home around 2:00 in the morning.  She found her irate husband waiting for her.

Arthur Payne demanded to know where Lillian had been, and when she explained she had come straight from the theater he retorted, according to The Times, “Don’t give me any bluffs.  You know you’re lying.”

Before Lillian could reply Payne seized her by the throat and threw her against a wall.  When she pleaded with him, he “gave her a terrible kick in the abdomen,” said the newspaper.  Severely injured, the teen made it out of the apartment and onto the street; but she lost consciousness in front of No. 85 East 4th Street.

It was not until around 3:00 that morning that Policeman Wichman found Lillian unconscious on the rain-wet pavement.  She was taken into the home of Dr. C. E. Hirsch where she finally regained consciousness and told the policeman what happened.

“Dr. Hirsch administered opiates, and then the policeman arrested Payne,” said The Times.  In court he denied assaulting his wife and said she came home intoxicated.  The judge held him without bail.

In the meantime, Lillian was taken back to the apartment.  The New York Times said “In a small bedroom at 37 East Fourth Street yesterday Lillian Payne, a young wife not yet out of her teens, lay suffering great agony in spite of all that medical science could do to alleviate her pain.”  The newspaper hinted that the girl could die.  “There is a grave possibility that the husband may have to answer to a serious charge.”

While the once proud home continued to house renters, the rear of the building was used as a factory by 1895.  That year the Annual Report on Factory Inspection listed Harry T. Kremer’s artificial flower factory here, employing seven men and one female.  In 1901 the space was used by Spitz & Co., manufacturers of “muff linings.”  Spitz’s small operation employed three men and eight women and, like Kremer, surprisingly hired no one under the age of 16.

Hannah Rosenberg purchased the house in 1936 and would hold onto the property for more than three decades.  In 1966 Ralph H. Holmes bought it from Rosenberg, paying $35,000.  He announced his plans to convert it to “three apartments, a duplex for himself, and two rental units on the upper floors.”

The new owner’s admirable plans and the subsequent landmark designation in 1970 would seem to have guaranteed the structure’s future.  Nothing could be farther from the truth. 

The house survived relatively intact through the 1970s.  In 1973 Barbara Hirschl opened Touchstone on the first floor, an art gallery “for artists who’ve never had a New York gallery show.”  New York Magazine said on April 30, 1973 that to see the artwork “in this long room with its two fireplaces, elegant white walls, high ceilings and hand-carved pine windows and doors, is to know just why  Barbara did it.”

A year later The New York Times art critic John Russell agreed.  In reporting on the opening of Otello Guardacci’s exhibition here, he said “This is one of the prettiest houses in town, built in 1845 and still blessed with its original carved doorways and window frames.”

But when Sol Goldman took possession of the vintage building, things declined rapidly.  Once the largest private landlord in New York City, Goldman died in 1987.  Little by little the landmarked house was allowed to disintegrate.  Landmarks Preservation Commission Chairman Robert B. Tierney issued a statement saying “We tried for years to get them to do the right thing by this building, but the owners refused.”  A building inspection in 1995 noted that it was “open to the elements.”

In 2010 the AIA Guide to New York City lamented “with each edition of this Guide less remained [of the house].”  The Samuel T. Skidmore mansion was near collapse.  In 2002 the roof had caved in.  Within the previous few years, according to Margaret Halsey Gardiner, executive director of the Merchant’s House Museum (the old Seabury Tredwell house), “with each passing year and each fire and each wall collapse” more of the original elements—shutters, doorknobs, the stairway newel post—were spirited away .

Finally the Landmarks Preservation Commission sued the estate of Sol Goldman.  Tierney said “after it became clear to us that they had no intention of taking care of this historically significant building, we sued.” 

Justice Walter B. Tolub of the State Supreme Court issued his ruling in December 2004.  The owners were ordered to “permanently repair and restore the exterior.”  Tierney hoped the ruling would send “a clear message that demolition by neglect will not be tolerated.”

The Atlantic Development Group leased the abandoned house, the windows of which were by now bricked up.  Working with the Landmarks Preservation Commission and conservationists, the firm of Gerner Kronick & Valcarcel Architects studied period houses and Thomas Thomas & Son’s original drawings.

When this photograph was taken in the late 20th century, the house was just beginning to show neglect -- from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Although the original details evident when Touchstone gallery was here had been ripped out or lost through fire and decay; the exterior was intact although highly abused.  By November 2010 the $4 million restoration and conversion to apartments was completed. 

Amazingly, the Skidmore house—snatched from devastation at its final hour—is reborn.  A reproduction cast iron fence approximates the original and six-over-six windows fill the openings, once bricked shut.  The sidelights and transoms of the entry have been restored and, most miraculous, the original door survives.

photographs taken by the author

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Lost Luther Clark Mansion -- No. 18 Gramercy Park

photograph from Old Buildings of New York 1907, (copyright expired)

Luther C. Clark was born in Easthampton, Massachusetts on the Fourth of July 1814 to Bohan and Mary White Clark.  By the time he married Julia Crawford on August 10, 1843, Samuel B. Ruggles’s ambitious project of a high-end neighborhood called Gramercy Square was well underway.

Sixty years earlier, while Clark’s grandfather Enoch White was a lieutenant in the Revolutionary Army, the Gramercy Square area was part of James Duane’s 20-acre farm known as Gramercy Seat.  The name was said to come from the Dutch Krom Moerasje, meaning “Crooked Little Swamp.”  In December 1831 Samuel Ruggles purchased a portion of the swampy land, then spent an astounding $180,000 to drain the swamp and haul away innumerable cart loads of earth.

In 1844, the year following Clark’s wedding, the park had been fenced and landscaping begun.  Mansions began rising around Gramercy Square.  One of the handsomest would be Luther C. Clark’s brownstone home at No. 18, erected in 1853.

The stately red brick home with its tall mansard roof sat on the south side of the park, at the western corner of Irving Place.  Tall floor-to-ceiling parlor windows opened onto ornate cast iron balconies.  Above the high stone stoop the entrance was deeply recessed behind two fluted Corinthian columns about 12 feet tall.  These and their flanking carved pilasters upheld the hefty entabulature with its highly decorative cresting.

photo Columbia Alumni News 1918-1919 (copyright expired)

Clark was, by now, a well-established banker and member of the firm Clark, Dodge & Co.  He and Julia would have six children; George, Ellen, Arthur, Louis, Julia and David.  On March 20, 1854, just a year after moving into the No. 18 Gramercy Square, 10 year old Ellen died.  Two years later, on August 5, 1856, the family would lose 4-year old Arthur.

Clark, Dodge & Co. did much of its business in gold.  It was a circumstance that would cause problems.  On October 1, 1864 Luther C. Clark appeared before Justice Dowling to testify against Loring W. Watson regarding one such incident.

Watson had been a cashier with the firm for many years.  His trusted position gave him the opportunity to embezzle $12,000 (although Clark suggested “that a close examination of their books might show a larger amount”).  Watson’s take in Civil War period dollars would translate to more like $175,000 today.  He attempted to make his escape on the steamship City of London on Saturday, October 1 when he realized his theft had been detected.

Before the steamship left the pier, Police Captain Jourdan and Sergeant Quinn rushed aboard and arrested the clerk.  They found $450 in English gold  on him, “this being, probably, all that he had saved from the large amounts of his employers’ money, with which he had speculated at the gold board,” presumed The Sun two days later.

As Luther Clark prepared an affidavit, Loring Watson explained that he needed the funds because “he had been drawn into difficulty solely through speculation in stocks.”  The judge was unmoved by his reasoning.  “He was committed,” said The Sun.

photo Columbia Alumni News 1918-1919 (copyright expired)
When the Civil War draft lottery was initiated, the wealthiest of New York families managed to purchase their sons’ exemption.  It was not the case with the Clark family.  Three weeks before Watson’s embezzlement had been detected, on September 4, 1864, 20-year old George Crawford Clark’s name was drawn in the draft lottery.

In January 1866 the firm of Ludwig C. Meyer sent a $5,000 bag of gold to Luther C. Clark.  The New-York Daily Tribune explained two months later that it “was lost in some way between the two.”  Meyer insisted that the bag of gold was delivered.  Clark, Dodge & Co., said the opposite.  Now, on Saturday March 17 a jury had to try to discern who was telling the truth.

The newspaper put it in simple terms.  “The chief question was as to whether the gold was lost before or after its delivery to the defendants.”  Meyer sued for more than the intrinsic amount of the loss; asking for $11,719.96 in damages.  Clark and his partners were no doubt stunned when on Sunday morning the jury “rendered a verdict for the full amount claimed…to which the Court added an allowance of $500.”

When Luther Clark died in 1877, only three of his six children survived him.  He left an estate of $200,000—nearly $4.5 million today—of which half went to his widow and the remainder divided equally among Louis, Julia and David.

Julia, daughter Julia, and 13-year old David remained in the Gramercy Park mansion.   The younger Julia was married on November 11, 1879 to Samuel Phillips Blagden in the Madison Square Church.

Early in 1883 Julia Clark took on Charles Byrnes as assistant butler.  Not long after he arrived she noticed that little by little items were missing—“various articles of jewelry, one or two pocket-books, and considerable money,” said The New York Times.  Nearly a year later she estimated that the mysteriously disappearing cash and objects amounted to more than $1,000.

Suspecting that the thief was one of the servants, the shrewd widow did her own detective work.  She marked a bill and left it in a conspicuous place in the house.  It disappeared.  Having narrowed down the field to one suspect, she called police to arrest Charles Byrnes. 

“In Byrnes’s possession were found not only the marked money, but one of the stolen purses and a pawn-ticket, which is supposed to represent a diamond ring valued at $600, upon which Byrnes had realized only $125,” reported The New York Times on February 3, 1884.

On April 30, 1895 the 72-year old Julia C. Clark opened her house for the wedding of her niece, Alice Townsend Crawford to Richard Tighe Wainwright.  The family’s social standing was reflected in the names among the wedding party—including Beekman, La Farge, Colt, Livingston and Norrie.

Decades earlier, when Luther C. Clark’s mansion was first completed, a wisteria vine was planted.  Now, on December 3, 1899, the New-York Tribune remembered “It was planted fifty years ago, at which time the house was newly built and the Clark family took possession of it.  The small sprig soon put forth its tender shoots, and as soon as the tendrils were long enough they were trained to run along the iron fence.  Gradually they began to wind in and out of the pickets, and the vine, prospering, grew so strong and sturdy that all attempts to dislodge it failed.”

Now the immense and venerable plant had grown “as large in diameter as a good sized tree” in places.  The Tribune writer was amazed that the wisteria vine had proven to be stronger than the iron fence.  “In places it has taken a firm hold on the rails, completed surrounding them, and several times by the strength of its grasp it ha s lifted the fence from its foundations.”
The New-York Tribune published a photograph of the unusual wisteria growth on December 3, 1899 (copyright expired)
Julia Clark’s wisteria was somewhat of a curiosity for visitors to the area.  “It became extremely luxuriant, and now has to be trimmed frequently, and it is a little difficult to determine whether the fence is growing out of the vine or the vine from the fence, for a complete union seems to have been effected between the two.”  The newspaper said that during the blossoming season it was “one of the ornaments of the neighborhood.  As a prank of nature it is always interesting.”

Suddenly, on Monday November 12, 1900, after nearly half a century in the house, the 81-year old Julia Crawford Clark died in her home.  Before long the block would be known for its high-end clubs.  The former Potter mansion at No. 16 had become the clubhouse of the Players years earlier.  Now the Clark home and the Tilden mansion at No. 15 would follow suit, becoming the Columbia University Club and the National Arts Club respectively. 

On April 7, 1905 the Columbia University Club announced it had purchased the Clark mansion for $150,000.  “The alterations to the Gramercy Park house will cost $10,000,” reported the New-York Tribune.  “The club has now a membership of eight hundred and it is believed that the purchase of the Gramercy Park home of the club will tend materially to increase that number.”

Four bottles of champagne await as properly-dressed Columbia alumni prepare to hoist the flag on the roof of their new clubhouse -- photo Columbia Alumni News 1918-1919 (copyright expired)
The Columbia Alumni News would later say "The interior of this venerable pile was skillfully remodeled by Architect Ken Murchison, and, on September 7, 1905, the Club put its new house in commission with appropriate ceremonies."

Not long after the housewarming, an open-air dining room was constructed over the rear yard and the Clark stable, facing Irving Place, was converted into squash courts.  It was here that Columbia would battle opponents like Harvard in high-class squash matches.

Only three years later the club had so “lustily” grown that additional space was needed.  “In 1908 thirteen of the Club architects busied themselves over plans for enlarging the old house,” said Columbia Alumni News, “but, however cunningly they contrived, the result was the same—no enough room could be found.”

Plans would drag on for a decade before the Columbia University Club moved on.  It appeared that the end of the line for the Clark mansion had come on March 25, 1917 when The New York Times reported that it was to be razed to make way for the Gramercy Park Studios.  The 14-story structure would provide “unobstructed north light for artists” 

The proposed Flemish Revival "Gramercy Park Studio" building was never realized -- The New York Times, March 25, 1917 (copyright expired)

The newspaper said “The old house there, remodeled several years ago for the Columbia University Club when it bought the property, is one of the finest remaining residences of the time when Gramercy Park was one of the fashionable dwelling sections of the city.”

Nevertheless “Studio apartments of this sort are at a premium in the Gramercy Park section,’ said The Times.  The proposed building, designed by Charles W. Buckham and D. Everett Waid, already had several apartments rented at the time of the announcement.

But for whatever reason, the Gramercy Park Studio project never went forward.  Instead the Army and Navy Club of America moved into the Clark mansion.  But the love affair between the club and the vintage residence would not last.

On September 18, 1920 the Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide noted “The present clubhouse at 18 Gramercy Park has long been unsuited for entertaining the hundreds of officers who annually come to New York.  During the war members found it very inadequate.  Naval officers of this and the other allied countries were entertained at the New York Yacht Club, but Army officers in New York during those trying days found hotels overcrowded and themselves without a home to which they could go for suitable accommodations.”

As the organization’s new $3 million clubhouse was being completed, the Clark mansion was sold to an investor.  The New York Times reported on June 29, 1921 “The building is to be extensively remodeled into small apartments and the squash courts building will eventually be remodeled into duplex studio apartments.”

Well-to-do families moved into the renovated mansion; but that arrangement, too, would not last.  On June 13, 1926 the sale of the building was announced.  The Rosman Corporation revealed its intentions to erect a 16-story “restricted modern residence exclusively for women.”

photo Samuel H. Gottscho, January 11, 1928, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York 

Designed by Mungatroyd and Ogden, the Parkside was completed in 1927.  Women paid $3.50 a night in 1939 for one of the 300 rooms and full hotel services.

Today the Parkside still stands.  It was renovated in 2013 by Zeckendorf Development and Robert A. M. Stern into 16 lavish, luxury residences—one of which sold that year for $16.575 million.  Another, with four terraces and two pools was purchased by Houston Rockets owner, Leslie Alexander for $42 million.

The somewhat awkward looking building has survived longer than its predecessor did—a fact that proves that it is often neither architectural beauty nor historical interest that dictates a structure’s endurance in Manhattan.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The 1901 Scholle Mansion -- No. 46 East 74th Street

No. 46 East 74th Street was one of eleven identical Italianate brownstone rowhouses erected by developer Melville J. Scholle in 1870.  Four stories tall above a deep English basement, the handsome house was designed by brothers David and John Jardine.  The men would be highly active in the development of the Upper East Side throughout the rest of the century.

The house was first owned by the Hazelhurst family and it would quickly be the scene of intense sorrow.  Little Charlotte A. Hazlehurst, the eldest daughter of Thomas and Mary, was two years old when the house was built.  She died there on February 22, 1873 at the age of five.  Friends and family filed through the crepe-draped door the following Saturday morning for the little girl’s funeral.

Thirteen years earlier, in March 1860, British-born Isaac Phillips and Adeline Cohen were married by the bride’s father, Rev. Hartwig Cohen.  Not extremely long after Charlotte Hazelhurst's death the couple moved into No. 46 East 74th Street where their family would eventually include eight children.  Phillips was a wholesale fur dealer at No. 60 Broadway and was wealthy enough not only to afford a comfortable brownstone; but to have wedding portraits painted.

The portraits of Adeline Cohen Phillips and Isaac Phillips were painted around the time of their 1860 wedding --

By 1877 son Samuel Mendes Phillips was attending New York City College.  Of his successful siblings, Jacob Campbell Phillips would go on to study art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art School, the Art Students League, and in the private studio of William M. Case.  Naphtali Taylor Phillips would later become Deputy Controller of New York City.

Before long the house was home to the unmarried invalid, Julia Sand, who lived here with her brother.  When President James A. Garfield was shot on July 2, 1881, Julia was overcome with concern for the Vice President, Chester A. Arthur, who lived in New York near Gramercy Park.

Although the two had never met, Julia sent encouraging messages to Arthur.  One read in part “Disappoint our fears.  Force the nation to have faith in you.  Show from the first that you have one but the purest of aims.”  Arthur so appreciated her voluntary counsel that he paid a surprise visit to the house.

According to Candice Millard in her Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President, “After dinner on August 20, 1882, a highly polished carriage pulled up to the front door of number 46 East Seventy-Fourth Street…Sand was inside, stretched out on the sofa, having ‘disdained roast beef and scorned peach-pie,’ when she suddenly heard a man talking to her brother in the front parlor.  She was just ‘wondering who that gentle-voiced Episcopal minister…might be’ when President Arthur walked into the room.  Arthur would stay for nearly an hour, pleased to finally have a face-to-face discussion with one of his most trusted advisers.”

When Chester A. Arthur visited Julia Sand the homes along the block were identical copies of one another -- photograph from the collection of the New York Public Library
Within the decade the house passed on to George Hillard Benjamin, a patent attorney with offices at No. 45 Broadway.  Benjamin and his wife, the former Jane Seymour, had three daughters.  Like all wealthy socialites, Jane entertained often.  Such was the case in April 1896 when “Mrs. George Hillard Benjamin and Miss Benjamin of 46 East Seventy-fourth Street have sent out cards for a reception for April 30,” as noted in The New York Times society columns.

Jane Benjamin would not live past the age of 46.  She died in the house on Sunday, October 24, 1897.  Her funeral was held in the house two days later.

Not long after the expected period of mourning, George remarried.  On Wednesday June 14, 1899 the Buffalo Evening News reported that George and his bride, the former Grace Holt Tremaine, “sail on the 28th for a summer abroad, returning in the autumn, when they will reside at No. 46 East Seventy-fourth street.”

A socially high-profile event would take place in the Benjamin parlor on November 7, 1900 when daughter Mary was married to Henry Huttleston Rogers, Jr., the son of immensely wealthy oil tycoon.  Cherie Burns, in Searching for Beauty: The Life of Millicent Rogers, says Mark Twain sent a note to Mary that read “Dear Miss Benjamin, I feel a deep personal interest in this fortunate marriage because I helped to rear Harry Rogers and make him what he is.”  He joked that he had considered sending her diamonds, but could not find any fresh ones in this year’s crop.

Twain’s jocular offer of diamonds would have been superfluous, anyway.  The New York Times reported that Mary wore “a collar of diamonds and pearls, the gift of H. H. Rogers, Sr., and a diamond pendant, the gift of the bridegroom.”

The following year on May 7 the Benjamin family sold the 74th Street house to Melville J. Scholle.  As it had been previously, the title was put in the name of Scholle’s wife, Jennie.  A wealthy broker and member of Scholle Brothers, Scholle would also take on the responsibility of Secretary of the Beth Israel Hospital Dispensary.

By the time the Scholle’s took possession of the house, the block was undergoing rampant change.  New homeowners were razing or remodeling the old brownstones into up-to-date mansions.  A year earlier the Scholle’s next door neighbors, the Ehrenreiches, became involved in an ugly court battle when Frank Froment remodeled the house on the other side, No. 50.  Moses and Hannah Ehrenreich took Froment to court over a matter of 4 inches of party wall.

It was an object lesson, apparently, for Melville and Jennie Scholle.  Within a month of purchasing No. 46, the Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide noted that the two families had come to an agreement about their party wall.  That having been settled, Scholle went to work demolishing the old brownstone.

He commissioned Robert D. Kohn to design a modern home with all the conveniences of an Edwardian residence.  Kohn produced a Beaux Arts beauty of red brick and limestone.  The bowed lower three floors featured a second floor balcony accessed by French doors.  Above the large third floor balcony, the upper two floors could arguably called more English than French, rising to a dignified classical pediment.

The Ehrenreich family lived in No. 48 (middle).  Scholle demolished an identical house to build No. 46 (left).  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

By January 11, 1902 the Record & Guide announced that the $25,000 structure was “ready for roof.”  Ten months later Julius F. Munckwitz, called by the periodical “the long-established and reliable painter and hardwood finisher,” had completed the interior work on the mansion.

Jennie Scholle was actively involved in charities, among her favorites being the Stony Wold Sanatorium.  The facility in the Adirondacks was “for the care of women and children suffering from tuberculosis in the incipient stage,” according to Health News in February 1915.  

By the time the Scholle family moved into the East 74th Street house the children were growing up.  The family traveled to Berlin during the summer of 1909 where they visited Melville Scholle’s brother, Gustave, the Third Secretary of the American Embassy.  Only a matter of months later, in January, the engagement of Mildred to Joseph Sidenberg was announced.  The wedding took place in March 1910.

When World War I erupted in Europe, Robert Scholle enlisted with the American Ambulance Corps and in 1918 he was stationed in France.  By the time he returned to New York, the Scholles would be living at No. 55 West 55th Street.

Early in July 1919 the No. 46 was sold to Charles Sprague Sargent, Jr. for $100,000—about $1.25 million in today’s dollars.  Sargent had married Dagmar Wetmore seven years earlier and was a member of the brokerage firm Kidder, Peabody & Company.

The Sargents would not stay long in their new home.  On November 11, 1922 The Record & Guide reported that another moneyed stock broker, Henry L. Finch, had purchased the house from Sargent.  Finch was married to Mary Farquhar Baker, the daughter of fabulously wealthy banker Stephen Baker.

Within the year Mary and Henry would welcome a fourth son into the family, both in the house in June 1923.  The birth did not prevent the couple from boarding the steamship Paris on August 11 that year “for a trip abroad,” as reported by The Times.  Two months, on October 29, they returned on the Majestic.

Like Jennie Scholle before her, Mary Finch had a pet charity.  On May 14, 1929 the New York Evening Post described her as “one of the attractive women in the younger married set who devote a large part of their time to charity.  She is especially interested in the House of Rest and she is president of the Junior Auxiliary of that institution.  Mrs. Finch, who is an enthusiastic horsewomen, will spend the summer in Red Bank, N.J.”  In fact, year after year newspapers would report on Mary’s activities in organizing the annual Butterfly Ball held by the Junior Auxiliary of the House of Rest.
The Finches would remain in the house through the 1950s as one-by-one the sons married and left home.  For several decades beginning in the mid-1960s it was the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Ivory Coast to the United Nations. 

Today Melville Scholle’s handsome Beaux Arts mansion is little changed on a block that, for the most part, is an amazing time capsule of Edwardian mansions.

photos by the author

Friday, September 12, 2014

The 1853 Springsteen House No. 130 Charles St.

In 1833 carpenter and wood inspector John Springsteen move into the rented, wood-framed house at No. 132 Charles Street.  By now Greenwich Village, a sleepy hamlet a dozen years ago, was quickly developing into a thriving community north of New York.  Springsteen’s two brothers, Levi and Joseph, were also in the construction trade and when John purchased the house 16 years later, they all moved in together.

Joseph was a mason and, like his brother John, Levi Springsteen was a carpenter.  In 1853 the men remodeled the house, raising the pitched roof to a full third floor.  At the same time they replaced the stable next door at No. 130 with a handsome but unassuming brick dwelling.  A roomy 29-feet wide, it rose three stories above an English basement--an unpretentious working-class version of the recently-popular Greek Revival style.

John and Levi stayed on in the wooden house while Joseph moved into the new house at No. 130.  Just two years later John died, leaving the two brothers as next door neighbors.  Joseph rented at least one room in the brick house and as the Civil War drew to a close Andrew Yale, a “carman,” was living in the house.

Joseph was apparently quite successful in his trade.  On Thursday January 13, 1870 at around 3:00 in the afternoon the family was away from the house and burglars broke in.  The New York Herald reported that “a sneak thief or thieves entered and stole $500 in money from a bureau drawer on the first floor; also two silk dresses and furs valued at $600.”  The cash alone would amount to about $8,600 today, and Mrs. Springsteen’s high-end apparel over $10,000.

Neighbors had noticed “three young men” loitering about the house at the time of the robbery and descriptions were furnished to the police.

When Levi Springsteen moved out of No. 132 in 1872, Joseph moved in; giving his son Charles the use of No. 130.  Joseph Springsteen retained ownership of both properties, however.  Charles brought worry and a bit of embarrassment to the family in the spring of 1876 following some trouble in Jacob Peth’s barroom at 536 Hudson Street; just a block away at the corner of Charles Street.

Charles was drinking in the saloon around 11:40 on Wednesday night, May 31, when the bartender, Albert Kessler, and truck driver George Louglan got into a dispute over payment for some drinks.  “George Louglan sprang over the counter and assaulted him (the bartender), and Peth interfered,” reported The Sun.  “Then Charles Springstein [sic] grappled with Peth and in the struggle they made for the door and both got out on the sidewalk.”

In the meantime, Dr. A. G. Chadsey was walking down Charles Street and heard the smashing of glass in the barroom.  The Sun said that he “immediately afterward saw a man running out closely followed by another man.  The pursuing man halted at the door.  Just then he saw the flash and heard the report of a pistol, and the man who first ran out of the barroom fell near the outer edge of the sidewalk.  The bullet entered the man’s right eye, and the Doctor thinks that the wound is fatal.”

The man struck by the bullet was Charles A. Springsteen.  The newspaper noted that “Springstein [sic] is about 23 years of age, and is of a very respectable family who have been residents of the Ninth Ward for many years.”

Police Officer McCarthy heard the shot and ran to Peth’s barroom, but found the door tightly bolted from inside.  With the assistance of another policeman, Roundsman Rannie, he forced the door; but the men on the other side pushed back as vigorously.  Officer McCarthy’s fingers were smashed in between the door by the men inside trying to prevent the policemen’s entrance.

After the officers finally broke in, Peth, Kessler and Louglan were all taken into the station house.

In the 19th century fatally-wounded victims of crimes were interviewed for “ante-mortem depositions.”  The theory was that a dying man would not lie and his death bed testimony was admissable in court.  On June 5 Coroner Eickhoff arrived at No. 130 Charles Street to take the ante-mortem deposition of Charles Springsteen.  The good news was that the young man appeared to be reviving; the bad news was that his testimony was no longer legally dependable.

“On arriving at the house Eickhoff found that Springsteen was not in immediate danger, and his statement was not taken,” reported The New York Times on June 5, 1876.

Two years later Joseph Springsteen moved back into No. 130—again.  Things for the Springsteen family in the house continued quietly until Joseph himself ran into trouble in March 1898. 

At No. 80 Sixth Avenue was The West Side Club, run by “The Allen” a notorious criminal who ran illegal gambling operations known as “poolrooms.”  The term did not refer to the game of pool; but to horse race betting.

On March 8 Police Captain Chapman, Sergeant Walling and 15 policemen headed to the West Side Club in plain clothes by different routes.  They were armed with axes and jimmies.  Police broke down the barred front door with an axe.  In a clubroom upstairs were a 27 men looking innocent enough.  But when a series of backrooms was broken into, they found 168 more men and “It was in those that the real business of the place, the police say, was done,” reported The Sun.  “Tables with wires attached, that had been used by telegraphers, were found there…Capt. Chapman says he saw a lot of cards such as are used by bookmakers burning in [a stove].”

A total of 196 men were arrested.  “All but one of the prisoners was held.  The exception was Joseph Springsteen, 84 years old, of 132 Charles street, who said he went to the place with a friend, who, he thought, went there to bet on the races.”

The Springsteens continued to rent at least one room and at the turn of the century the family of Owen Murphy was living here.  Murphy died in the house at the age of 45 on August 23, 1901.  His 11-year old daughter Anna died here two years later.

The elderly Joseph Springsteen lived on in the house he built more than half a century earlier until 1904.  It passed on to Charles, and then to Walter F. Springsteen; but was lost in foreclosure in 1914.

The building was operated as a rooming house and changed hands twice before Miriam Meredith Taylor purchased it in 1927.  In April of that year she converted it to “non-housekeeping apartments.”   No. 130 Charles saw a rapid turnover in ownership—it was bought and sold every year between 1930 and 1933.  At the time it was listed as having “seven studio apartments.”

The neighborhood was decidedly blue-collar during the mid 20th century, as evidenced by tenants like Meyer Abrams, a truck driver who lived here for several years in the late 1930s.  Then in 1964 it was reconverted to a single-family home by owners Mary Frank and Virginia Siep. 

The simple, unassuming doorway testifies to the working class status of the family that built it.

In 1979 it was renovated again by owner Bruce Whyte who placed the dining room in the English basement, a library and living room on the first floor, and two bedrooms each on the upper floors.

Both of the Springsteen homes are in a remarkable state of preservation—reminders of a time when Greenwich Village was a separate community.

photographs by the author