Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The James M. Townsend House - 318 West 75th Street


The house to the right was constructed simultaneously for James W. Townsend, Jr.

Mansion architect C. P. H. Gilbert was busily designing a number of townhouses on the Upper West Side in 1895.  Unlike the rows of speculative houses rising throughout the district, most of Gilbert's were direct commissions.

Late that year the architect was hired by James M. Townsend and his son to design side-by-side homes at Nos. 318 and 320 West 75th Street respectively.   Gilbert treated the two homes independently with no attempt at melding the designs.

The James Mulford. Townsend home would stand slightly taller than No. 320.  Its sandy-colored brick upper floors sat on a limestone base.  Its somewhat rigid Renaissance Revival design was softened by delightful carvings of scallop shells and squiggly ribbons below the third floor cornice.  The shell-and-ribbon motif was repeated in the panels between the fifth floor windows; and a line of shells decorated the primary cornice.

Townsend was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1852.  He graduated from Yale University in 1874 and then from Columbia Law School.  He married Harriet Bailey Campbell, the daughter of Professor John Lyle Campbell of Washington and Lee University, on November 15, 1882.   Theirs would be a large family.  The couple had six children--Harriet Campbell, James Mulford, Jr., John Campbell, Edward Howard, and twins Virginia and Donald.

The Townsends maintained a summer home at Pelham Manor, New York; described by The New York Times in July 1896 as "one of the most secluded localities on the Sound."  The article mentioned "No trade is carried on inside the manor limits."

When James Mulford Townsend moved into the 75th Street house, he was the senior member of the law firm Townsend, Avery & Button.  from Men of Progress, 1898 (copyright expired)
Townsend's social status was evidenced in his club memberships.  Men of Progress in 1898 said "He is identified with many of New York's most prominent clubs."  Among them were the University, the Colonial, the New York Athletic and the Barnard Clubs.

Harriet's entertainments in the house were not lavish.  Society columns commented on teas and receptions rather than sumptuous dinners and dances.  Such was the case on February 26, 1900 when she hosted an 11 a.m. lecture by Mrs. Ruutz Rees on "Buddhism."

The Townsends remained at No. 318 until early in 1909 when it was sold to Dr. Frederick Merwin Ives.   An unlikely combination of physician and civic engineer, he was born in Rome in 1866, where his well-known sculptor father, Chauncey Ives, maintained his studio.  Ives had graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1889 and was married to Edith Wetherill, a graduate of Bryn Mawr College.

The couple had not lived in the home long before one of their servants was the near-victim of a robbery.  James Hanley had fallen asleep under a tree in Fort George Park on the evening of June 22, 1910.  His reverie was abruptly broken by uninvited movements.  He awoke "to find a sailor in full uniform bending over him and fumbling at his pockets," reported The New York Times the following day.  "He noticed, too, that his gold chain, worth $10, was missing."

Hanley jumped up and wrestled with the sailor, drawing the attention of a passing policeman.  The uniformed man was arrested and Hanley's watch chain was found in his pocket.  At the station house the crook said he was Thomas Doyle, attached to the U.S. cruiser the Franklin, and he had come to New York from the Norfolk Navy Yard on furlough.  The police were not quick to accept his story, telling reporters they "believed he is one of several fake sailors who beg in uniform for a living."

When the United States entered World War I Ives joined the Medical Department of the Army, with the rank of captain.  It may have been his absence that led to the 75th Street house being leased.  In September 1919 Albert Gran rented it.  But if the couple intended to return, it does not appear they ever did.

On July 30, 1920 an advertisement in The Sun offered "Charming rooms, overlooking Hudson, two doors Riverside Drive."  And then on September 7, 1923 The New York Times reported that Edith had sold the house for $65,000--more than $930,000 today.

The buyer was real estate operator Henry Schwamm.  Reports said he purchased it "for a client."  Apparently the client was himself for he and his wife, Clara, moved in.  Like Ives, Schwamm was multi-faceted.  In addition to his real estate business, he was an authority on medical and dental jurisprudence and wrote extensively on the subject.

The couple had five children, Gustave, Sidney, Blance, Camille and Frances.  They received the privileges of well-to-do families and extensive education.

When son Gustave's engagement to Norma June Wexler was announced in December 1932, for instance, newspapers noted he "was graduated from the College of Arts and Pure Science and the School of Law at New York University."   Gustave was still living at home and practicing law at the time.

The Schwamm's well-educated daughters Camille and Blanch attended the Institut Fisher at Montreux, Switzerland.   Camille then studied at Syracuse University, and New York University.  Blanche went on to Columbia University's Teachers College.

Dr. Henry Schwamm died at the age of 64 on July 22, 1943.   Three years later the house was converted to apartments, two on each floor except the top, which had three.



Despite the unfortunate apartment entrance doors and an inexplicable coating of paint over the limestone of the first floor, C. P. H. Gilbert's stately design endures between two other contemporary Gilbert houses.

photographs by the author

Monday, November 19, 2018

The Lost Latting Observatory - 42nd Street and Bryant Park


A sliver of the Crystal Palace can be seen at far right, across 42nd Street.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

London's 1851 Great Exhibition in Hyde Park was a sensation.  In response New York City launched its own international exposition two years later, housed in an engineering marvel--the Crystal Palace.   The exhibition took up the western half of what would become Bryant Park, behind the massive Croton Reservoir which faced Fifth Avenue.

There would be another amazing feat of engineering at the fair, the Latting Observatory across 42nd Street from the Crystal Palace.  Waring Latting envisioned a soaring tower--the highest structure in the city--from which fair visitors would get magnificent views of Staten Island, New Jersey and Long Island.  Designed by architect William Naugle, it would rise 315 feet, with landings at three levels.  The 75-foot square base tapered to about 8 feet at the pinnacle.  A contemporary pamphlet claimed that 2,000 people could "be accommodated at one time on its various landings."

As the tower rose in the spring 1853 a committee (or "jury") of citizens was sent to decide on its safety.  The men reported to the Board of Aldermen on April 24.  "A number of the Jury being practical builders, the matter was submitted more particularly to their judgment, and the opinion of all of them was that the structure in question is being erected upon correct principles, and will be perfectly safe for the purposes for which it was designed," reported The New York Times.

The reason the towering wooden structure was sturdy enough for the jury's approval was Naugle's ample use of iron bracing.  The diamond-pattern of the girders created strength and stability.  In June 1853 The Plough, The Loom, and the Anvil remarked on the engineering breakthrough and published a detailed explanation of the intricate design logistics.  The article added:

This structure deserves careful consideration in various respects.  It is a capital exhibition of architectural skill, and as such commends itself to the study of all practical artisans in that department.  Again, it is worthy of attention as the highest structure, we believe, on the continent; and thirdly as an observatory which commands an entire view of New-York and its environs.

The structure cost $150,000 to construct--nearly $5 million today.   Visitors climbed a winding staircase; however The Plough, The Loom, and The Anvil assured it was "so constructed as to tire, by the ascent, much less than one would anticipate.  The frequent landings furnish convenient opportunities for rest, and present sufficient inducements to detain the visitor, even though he may not need to rest."

Among those who agreed was the reporter from The New York Times who climbed the tower on opening day, June 30.  "The ascent is a little fatiguing, but it improves digestion."  

If fatigue was at all an issue for the reporter, it was quickly forgotten when he reached the summit.  "We must confess, that on ascending this tower yesterday, we were not prepared for the wonderful panorama which was presented to our view.  We were told that our eyes could sweep from forty to sixty miles through space, and we scarcely doubt the assertion."


The view from the top.  In what is now Bryant Park, the Crystal Palace is seen at right, the Croton Reservoir at left.  from the collection of the New York Public Library
The writer mentioned the towns he could see from the top--Morrisania, Flushing, and Newark--as well as the Verrazano Narrows and Sandy Hook.  "Are these human beings that are walking beneath us?  The are.  They are very small, are they not?  But when Jersey City, and Hoboken, and Weehawken are almost footstools for your tower, of what account are human beings?"

The journalist rather dramatically concluded "And let only the sun crown with its rays the landscape and seascape that you behold and you may no longer desire to ascend the Alps or Andes."

Two days after the Latting Observatory opened both it and the Crystal Palace were threatened by violent weather.  The following day The New York Times reported that "a violent storm in the afternoon, accompanied by sharp lightning, a fierce hurricane through a section of the City, and the heaviest hailstorm known in this vicinity for many years, prostrated several buildings in the neighborhood of the Crystal Palace, and crushed a large number of persons beneath the ruins."

A team of reporters from the newspaper rushed to the fair site to see if the glass exhibition hall was shattered by the hailstones and if the Latting Observatory still stood.   A giant merry-go-round had been demolished, a tall brick wall next to the Observatory was blown down, and an entire block of wooden buildings on 44th Street being constructed "for saloons, refreshment rooms, &c." were destroyed.  But both the Latting Observatory and the Crystal Palace emerged nearly unscathed.

"The Latting Observatory withstood the blast nobly," reported The Times.  There had been a large number of workmen around 200 feet up when the hurricane hit.  "They were quite surprised to reach the ground in safety," said the article.  "In the saloon under the tower the plaster upon the ceiling is slightly cracked, and in one or two places has fallen off; but, with this exception the tall structure shows no sign of injury, and still stands, 'like Atlas, unremoved.'"

The journalist declared "So severe a test so well sustained, will tend greatly to increase public confidence in the solidity of this unequalled tower."

A few weeks after the tower's opening, its directors announced additional attractions.  A powerful "Drummond Light" was to be affixed to the top, which would be visible from sea and for miles around.  On the topmost landing a "monster telescope" was being installed which would afford visitors close-up views of sites 60 miles away.  Numerous other telescopes were positioned on the other landings along with exhibitions liked "dissolving views, cosmoramas, scientific and optical instruments, works of art, and many other objects of interest, useful and attractive," as reported by The Times on July 27.  The directors intended "not only to make this Observatory the highest structure upon this Continent, but to make it an object of special interest to all."

In September 1853 a brilliant comet, visible to the naked eye, could be seen in the night skies.  One astronomer in particular, Professor Jewett, foresaw doom.  He warned residents of the New York area that the comet would come crashing to earth, causing annihilation.


from the collection of the New York Public Library.

To ensure that citizens were forewarned, The New York Times put reporters atop the Latting Observatory and the spire of Trinity Church to watch for the incoming missile.  On September 12 the newspaper cautioned "Recollect it's got all day to come in, and at the rate of 30,000 miles a minute it can get over a good deal of ground in twenty-four hours."  The reporter suggested that his readers take the opportunity to end their lives on a charitable note.

"If, after reading the prophecy of Professor Jewett, and while laboring under a disagreeable uncertainty as to your personal safety, you committed a good deed--gave a poor woman a loaf of bread or an orphan some of your old clothes--don't take them back again until after 12 o'clock to-night, because there's no knowing what may happen."

The article naively advised "If you should hear any strange noise during the day, don't stop to look up, but put on your hat, and run as fast as you can, and if you can make better time than the Comet, you may escape."

At 2:30 that morning, just before the paper went to press, a panting reporter rushed into the news room from the Latting Observatory.  "He says that after levelling his opera-glass for several hours, and following the Comet all over Creation, he noticed a pause."  The Times concluded that the comet would not obliterate New York City.

When the city decided to erect a monument to George Washington, Waring Latting offered to erect another observatory on the Battery.  This one would be double the height of the original--topping off at an astonishing 600 feet.  Not everyone was quick to agree with the proposal.  Alderman Voorhis said he "was a lover of Washington, as were all good citizens, but he did not want to mix up the name of Washington with that of Latting--a mere speculator."

Those opposed to the idea may have been considering the fate of the existing Latting Observatory.  Shortly after the Exhibition closed in 1854, the structure was taken over by the Hydeville Marble Works, which chopped 75 feet off the top.   Once touted as a world class attraction, on October 20, 1855 The New York Times wrote "The Latting Observatory is converted into a shot tower."

Shot towers created shotgun ammunition by dropping molten lead through enormous sieve-like bowls.  As the drops of metal fell, they formed perfect spheres and upon hitting a large vat of water at the bottom, solidified to round shot balls.  The Observatory's somewhat humiliating new function would not last long.

Late on the night of August 30, 1856 fire broke out in the cooper shop of M. & E. Connolly on West 43rd Street.  It spread "with rapidity on every side," according to a newspaper.  The conflagration engulfed many buildings and destroyed more than $150,000 in property.  On September 1 The New York Times reported "The 'Latting Observatory' was completely destroyed, and the Crystal Palace was saved with much difficulty."


from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
But, interestingly enough, the legacy of Waring Latting's ground-breaking structure was yet to come.  Among the visitors to the tower in 1853 was French architect Gustave Eiffel.  William Naugle's structural ironwork stayed with him.  And when the French Government announced a contest on May 2, 1886 for an entrance tower for the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1889, Eiffel hearkened back to the Latting Observatory.  

In an article entitled "The New York 'Eiffel' Tower of 1853" Engineering News compared the two structures.  "The Latting Observatory was simply a well-braced 'observation mast,' rising fro an extremely ugly base, built without regard to beauty of form and for a purely commercial purpose.  The Eiffel Tower, on the other hand, while also primarily designed for the collection of fees from visitors, was in itself a thing of surpassing grace."

The article noted "It is only due to M. Eiffel to say that while he acknowledges that the original idea of a 1,000-ft. tower was borrowed from America, he has so improved upon this idea that his structure is as far beyond the proposed iron tower of 1878 as that structure exceeded the wooden tower of 1853."

And so, while the Latting Observatory stood for only three years, its design planted the seed for one of the most recognized structures in the world.


Another tower, the Grace Building, sits on the site today.  photo by WestportWiki


Saturday, November 17, 2018

The Simon Bolivar Statue - Central Park at 6th Avenue




On April 17, 1921 the New-York Tribune noted that "Bolivar Hill," a knoll in Central Park near 83rd Street and the West Drive "has been for thirty years the center of a drama which had the elements of human interest, passion, gossip of the art world, comedy, tragedy and wasted fortune, to say nothing of international relations."  It all had to do with the Venezuelan Government's frustrated attempts to have a fitting memorial to Simon Bolivar in the park.

In 1883 it had commissioned Venezuelan sculptor Rafael de la Cova to create a monument to the hero.  Bolivar is credited with gaining independence from Spain for not only Venezuela, but Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru and Panama.    The completed statue, a gift to New York City, was dedicated on June 17, 1884.  On one side of the pedestal was the single word "Bolivar" and on the opposite "Venezuela to the City of New-York, 1883."

At the time The New York Times reported "Upward of 2,000 people witnessed the unveiling of the statue of Gen. Simon Bolivar, in Central Park, yesterday afternoon, and most of them were obliged to stand patiently beneath the pelting rays of the sun."  When the drapings came off the speeches and ceremony went on as planned.  Parks Commissioner Egbert Viele diplomatically pronounced "This statue is not merely a work of art...It is a tribute of esteem from a young republic of South America to her sister in the North."

But in fact everyone, perhaps more so the Venezuelan representatives, were aghast.  Rafael de la Cora's Boliva was a stiff, comic looking figure--what was a century later termed a "monster-piece."

The 1883 statue was, in a word, hideous.  (image from a vintage stereoscope card)
Before long the President of Venezuela, Joaquin Crespo, decided that the statue was "not fitting."  In 1896 his government commissioned Giovanni Turini to execute a replacement.  Completed in 1898, it was no more acceptable.  The New-York Tribune later said "Turini's Bolivar was modeled after a statue at Caracas, a pompous figure seated stiffly on a conventional Roman horse."

The New York Times politely said "A new statue ordered from another sculptor was not altogether satisfactory," while The National Sculpture Society "flatly rejected" the ungainly statue.  It was put in place.  The Venezuelan government refused to pay Turini his agreed-upon $75,000 commission (a rather stunning $2.3 million in today's money).  The New-York Tribune remarked "only $8,000 was paid."

In 1897 the Parks Commission could abide the hideous De la Cova statue no longer and "condemned" it, as worded by The New York Times.  The stone pedestal sat empty for 19 years until on the morning of April 4, 1916 New Yorkers awoke to find a bronze grouping of hounds in place.  In the dark of night a group of about a dozen men helped William Hunt Diedrich hoist his Levriers, or Greyhounds, into place.

Park police were not amused and the following day The New York Times reported "the playing dogs of Paris were thrown ten feet to the ground and 'damaged almost beyond repair.'"  Deiderich lamented that the Parks police had treated the gift "as a pretty woman sometimes spurns a flower."

Deidrich was perhaps unaware that the Venezuelan government had plans for the pedestal.  That year it sponsored a global competition to select a sculptor for a third stab at a respectable rendering of Bolivar.  Art critic Alexander Woollcott, writing in The Delineator a few years later remarked "Venezuela wanted to place a monument to him in Central Park, particularly as a quite painful equestrian statue of Bolivar had previously been taken out of that playground and hidden somewhere by New York's Municipal Art Commission."

Twenty artists competed and the winner was surprising, indeed.  Born in Ogdensburg, New York in 1869 Sally James Farnham had no artistic training.  The daughter of a U.S. Army colonel, she had traveled throughout Europe and Japan as a child where her father took her to art museums.  At the age of 32 she was hospitalized, recovering from a long illness.  The mother of three was bored and her husband, George Paulding Farnham, a jewelry designer for Tiffany & Co., suggested she use modeling clay to while away the time.

After her release from the hospital, Sally kept up her clay modeling.  As it turns out she was a long-time friend of Frederic Remington.  She took him a figure of a Spanish dancer, asking him if it were any good.  "Well, I'll be," he reportedly responded.  "I don't know how you learned it...but she's full of ginger.  Keep it up, Sally."  And she did.

At a time when female sculptors were rare, Farnham received the prestigious commission.  She worked on the 15-foot Bolivar statue in a rented Brooklyn studio while she simultaneously went through a divorce.  She depicted Bolivar in full military dress astride his prancing horse.  The South American described the statue in April 1921 as "shown in the attitude of acknowledging the shouts of an applauding populace, a gallant figure of a soldier and a gentleman."

Sally James Farnham at work in her Brooklyn studio.  The caption reads "The largest statue ever made by a woman." The Delineator, May 1921 (copyright expired)

Five years after winning the contest plans were made for the dedication.  Art critic Alexander Woollcott said Farnham's Bolivar outshown even Anna Hyatt Huntington's Jeanne d'Arc in Riverside Park.  "But this is a loftier figure, this one of Bolivar."  He called the Venezuelan gift a "towering monument that enters the annals of American sculpture as the largest work by a woman which history anywhere records."

The dedication was to be no small affair.  On April 17, 1921 the New-York Tribune announced that "Last week the great bronze was put in place on Bolivar Hill.  President Harding has accepted the invitation to assist at the unveiling on Tuesday."

Five days earlier The New York Herald had begun reporting on the luminaries already arriving in New York for the ceremony.  Dr. Estaben Gil-Borges, Venezuelan Minster of Foreign Relations, along with his wife and three children, arrived on April 11.  On the same ocean liner were five other high-ranking Venezuelan officials.  The newspaper added that now Charles E. Hughs, the Secretary of State, would be joining the President at the unveiling along with other cabinet members.

The unveiling ceremony, on April 19, was grand.  The Presidential party was escorted from the Waldorf Astoria by United States marines, soldiers and sailors and a detachment of sailors from the Brazilian battleship Minas Geraes.   At the park a squad of New York State Guardsmen fired the Presidential salute.  Two little girls, 7-year-old Patricia Paez MacManus and her sister Mariquita Paez MacManus, granddaughters of General Jose Antonio Paez, an associated of Simon Bolivar, pulled the cords to unveil the statue.

This time there was no disappointment.  Sally James Farnham's statue was deemed masterful.  The South American wrote "The bronze horseman fashioned by Mrs. Farnham is declared by all who have seen it to be a great work of art, worthy of our great city."

The Bolivar statue became the site of annual celebrations of the liberator's birthday.  But the beloved statue appeared threatened when President Franklin Roosevelt formed his War Production Board.  On August 7, 1942 Roosevelt endorsed a program to scrap bronze statues and recycle their metal into weapons of war.

The New York Times explained "At his press conference he agreed with reporters that some of the statues and the guns used as monuments would serve a more useful purpose if junked...Some of the statues, he said with a smile, could be replaced after the war with--and here he paused to cough apologetically--something more artistic."


Art critic Edward Alden Jewell, writing in The New York Times on March 7, 1943, warned patriotic New Yorkers not to be too hasty.  "Supposing an inclusive call for scrap bronze to have been sounded, which of the hundreds of statues in our city are to be deemed of particular worth and which are not?  More simply put which are good and which are bad?"  He said "Before Art gives Mars the green light," the merits of the city statues should be weighed  Jewell compiled a jury of one sculptor; an architect; a "widely known collector," Chester Dale; a painter and himself to do just that.

The group was brutally honest in its condemnation of some statues which it said "should go into war's caldron."   Not surprisingly, the Bolivar statue passed with the esteem of the cultured and knowledgeable crew.  (As it turned out, very few bronzes were lost to the war effort.)

In 1945 Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia prompted the city to rename Sixth Avenue "The Avenue of the Americas" to honor Pan-American ideals.  A new plaza was designed in Central Park at the head of the avenue and on November 15, 1948 The New York Times announced plans had been approved by the United States State Department to move the statues of Simon Bolivar and Jos√© de San Martin to either side of its entrance.  The idea quickly became a political issue.

On September 11, 1949 Oren Root, candidate for Manhattan Borough President, railed against the project's high cost.  He saw no logical reason to move the statues and said "the amount seemed excessive and that the $495,000 might better be used to rehabilitate some school or hospital."

It created a stalemate that was broken by the Venezuelan Government.  On October 19 Parks Commissioner Robert Moses announced that Venezuela had "formally requested" the statue to be moved and offered to pay all expenses.  The $190,000 necessary to move Bolivar left the city taxpayers with a substantially reduced bill.

The second unveiling of the Bolivar statue, on April 19, 1951, was only slightly less impressive than the first.  A parade up Fifth Avenue included 3,000 marchers, 360 Venezuelan military cadets, and American and Venezuelan dignitaries who rode in automobiles.  Five bands joined in the procession as did hundreds of school children.

A crowd estimated at 15,000 pushed in to witness the unveiling.  The New York Times, April 20, 1951
But the best was to come.  The estimated crowd of 15,000 heard a message by President Harry Truman before G. Suarez Flamerich, President of Venezuela, unveiled the statue by pressing a button at Caracas, almost 2,000 miles away.


As had been the case for three decades, the yearly ceremonies on Bolivar's birthday continued for years.  One of the first important sculptures by a female artist, Sally James Farnham's monumental Simon Bolivar holds a commanding spot at the entrance to the Central Park.

photographs by the author

Friday, November 16, 2018

The Thomas and Isabelle Fowler Mansion - 39 East 68th Street




Around 1871 developer John C. Thompson erected a row of seven 25-food wide brownstone-fronted homes at Nos 37 through 49 East 68th Street.   On December 25, 1880 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that eminent New York attorney Benjamin F. Dunning had transferred title to No. 39 to "Isabelle D., wife of Thomas P. Fowler.  The transaction was listed as "gift." 


The Fowler house is at the right.  from the collection of the New York Public Library
Isabelle was Dunning's daughter, and the house was an delinquent wedding present.   On April 26, 1876 she had married Thomas Powell Fowler.   To be fair to Dunning, the newlyweds had lived in the house since their marriage; he just took awhile to transfer the title.

Born in Newburgh, New York in 1851, Fowler was the son of Isaac Sebring Fowler and the former Mary Ludlow Powell.  A lawyer, a single case in 1880 may have been responsible for Fowler's career changing directions.  He represented William H Vanderbilt in his battle for control of the Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati & Indianapolis Railroad.  In 1881, just months after moving into their new home, Fowler was elected director of the Chenango and Allegheny Railroad.  By 1884 he was a director of the West Pennsylvania and Chenengo Connecting Railroads and of the New York, Ontario and Western.  In 1886 he was elected president of the latter railroad.

Thomas Powell Fowler - The Black Diamond, January 3, 1903 (copyright expired)
The Fowlers would have seven children; daughters Ruth, Isabel, Katherine, Eleanor, and sons F. Dunning, Ludlow and Thomas.  The family maintained a summer estate, Belair, upstate near Warwick.

Fowler, of course, did not abruptly abandon his legal career.  Interestingly, he not only represented industrial moguls like Vanderbilt; but what today would be deemed a "celebrity" clientele.  On November 22, 1882, for instance, The New York Times reported "Mr. Thomas Powell Fowler, the legal adviser of Mrs. [Lily] Langtry, gave that lady a lunch yesterday afternoon at his residence, No. 39 East Sixty-eighth-street."  The world-famous actress was not the only well-known theatrical name on the guest list.  Oscar Wilde was there as well.  The Times noted "Covers were laid for 12, and the menu was prepared by Pinard.  The parlors were elaborately decorated with flowers."

A luncheon on November 23, the following year had a broad mixture of guests.  The guest of honor was London railroad magnate James McHenry and among the guests were Lord and Lady Bury, artist Albert Bierstadt, novelist Bram Stoker (best known for his Dracula, published in 1897), publisher Charles Scribner and several military generals.  The Times noted "Behind the palms in the drawing-room were placed large Louis Quatorze candelabras, lighted with red wax candles, producing a charming effect...Stub's orchestra played a selection of operatic music during the lunch, being hidden behind a mass of ferns and flowers."

The Fowlers' names routinely appeared on the passenger lists of steamships headed to Paris or London.  But while at home, Isabelle, like all wealthy wives, involved herself in worthy projects.  She was corresponding secretary for the Association for the Relief of Respectable Aged, Indigent Females in the City of New York, for instance.

As the turn of the century neared, her attention turned to her growing daughters and their debuts.  She was no doubt infuriated when the New-York Tribune inexcusably transposed her daughter's middle and last names on December 13, 1899.  "Mrs. Thomas Powell Fowler of No. 39 East Sixty-eighth-st., will give a reception at her home on Saturday afternoon next, December 16, to introduce her daughter, Miss Isabel Fowler Wilson."

Isabelle was among the socialites involved in running the Cotillion of Eighty.  Originally a dancing class for privileged young women, it grew to include country parties, dances at places like Delmonico's, and theater parties.  Isabelle routinely acted as a chaperon for the events.

The first of the Fowler children to marry was Isabel.  Her engagement to Francis F. Palmer was announced in September 1903.  The newlyweds moved into a mansion at No. 74 Riverside Drive.  She would assist her mother in receiving the guests at Katherine's debutante dance at Delmonico's two years later.  The Sun remarked on December 17, 1905 "The big ballroom was adorned with palms and flowers."

As Katherine's sisters grew into young womanhood, they slipped into their own social positions  On January 21, 1906 the New-York Tribune reported "Mrs. Thomas Powell Fowler and the Misses Fowler will hold receptions on Tuesdays, January 23 and 30, at their home, No. 39 East 68th-st."

Eleanor was the next to make her debut.  Following a reception in the house in December 1908 was followed by a dinner and theater party, "to which about forty young people were invited," wrote the New-York Tribune.

Katherine's marriage to Dunlevy Milbank in 1910 was quickly followed by Eleanor's wedding the following year.  Like her sisters, her marriage to Albert F. Maurice took place in St. James's Protestant Episcopal Church on Madison Avenue.

By now the old brownstone house, a blend of Italianate and neo-Grec styles, was noticeably out of architectural fashion.  In 1913 the Fowlers commissioned Fred H. Dodge to give it a significant facelift.  The result, a six-story limestone-faced American basement mansion left no hint of its former self.  The focus of the two-story rusticated base was not the understated entrance, but the piano nobile, or second floor.  Here three sets of French doors, set within arched openings, were faced by stone balustraded balconettes.    The nearly unadorned third through fifth floors featured exaggerated keystones which required no other ornamentation.   The sixth floor took the form of a copper-sheathed mansard behind a stone balcony which was upheld by a bracketed cornice.  Inside were 28 rooms and nine baths.

On June 27, 1915 The Sun reported that Isabelle had arrived at Tuxedo Park.  By the end of the summer season she had joined Thomas at Belair.  It was there, on October 12, that he died at the age of 64.

Isabelle lived on in the 68th Street house with her unmarried children.  She and Ruth moved among society as a pair.  On June 9, 1921 the New-York Tribune reported "Mrs. Thomas Powell Fowler and Miss Ruth D. Fowler have closed their home at 37 [sic] East Sixty-eighth Street, and are at their country place at Warwick, N.Y."  Later that season, in September, the newspaper noted they had arrived at Lenox.

F. Dunning had by now moved to San Francisco.  His brothers, Ludlow and Thomas drew little attention to themselves.  Immediately upon graduating from Princeton University in 1917 Ludlow had served in the U.S. Navy during the war.  In 1921 he graduated from New York University's Law School.  When his engagement to Elsie Larned Blatchford was announced on April 5, 1926, The New York Times mentioned that he was "the brother of Thomas Powell Fowler of that address."  The newlyweds moved into No. 39 with the Fowler family.

Entertainments in the house focused most often on charitable works, such as the annual Lenten sewing classes of the Greer Club, an organization founded in 1920 "to maintain a residence for girl students and serve as a community centre for young people of the Episcopalian faith."  It was possibly his consideration of the privacy of his family that prompted Thomas to hold his entertainments elsewhere.  When he hosted a dinner on July 18, 1928, for instance,it was held at the Ritz-Carlton.

Ludlow was a respected attorney with Battle, Levy & Newman in 1939 when he became one of several victims of scam artist Paul Finkelstein.  The 30-year old walked into the law office and claimed he could provide choice liquors at $15 a case below than the market price.  Fowler was impressed and gave Finkelstein $100 (more in the neighborhood of $1,760 today).  "He instructed the caller to deliver the goods at his up-State home," wrote The New York Times on November 4, 1939.

A few days later Finkelstein returned to the office, telling Fowler the truck had overturned, sending the prized booze onto the pavement.  But he assured him that he would replace the order, and slickly managed to increase it by another $85.  It was the last Fowler heard of Finkelstein until he was arrested on Fowler's complaint.

Perhaps not wanting his name linked to excessive drinking, Fowler gave his name as Ludlow S. Flolet, while correctly listing his 68th Street address.  At the time of Finkelstein's arrest The Times noted "The police said they learned of other victims and that the man had a 'sucker list,' in his pocket."

At mid-century the third generation of Fowlers were coming of age at No. 39 East 68th Street.  Katherine and Dunlevy Milbank sold their lavish mansion at No. 1026 Fifth Avenue and moved back into the Fowler house where they had started their married lives.  And following Francis Palmer's death, Isabel and her son, George moved in.

On January 27 1951 Ludlow S. Fowler, Jr. was married to Elinor Alice Michaelsen.  The ceremony took place in St. James's Church, where his aunts had been married and where his grandparents' funerals had taken place.  George Palmer's engagement to Elizabeth Jackaman was announced on October 9, 1959.

One week later, on October 16, Dunlevy Milbank died at the age of 81.  He left Katherine one-half of his estate, including their Charleston, South Carolina, home.  The Presbyterian Hospital received $1 million and Yale University was left a $250,000 bequest.

The following year, on August 11, Ruth Dunning Fowler died in the house where she was born 83 years earlier.  Ludlow died on April 12, 1961.  Somewhat shockingly, Ludlow S. Fowler, Jr.'s wedding took place in the house the following month, on May 27.   It was a striking breach of mourning protocol and The Times noted "Because of the recent death of the bridegroom's father, only the immediate families attended the ceremony."

Katherine was the last of the Fowlers to occupy No. 39.  On April 13, 1967 The New York Times reported "Mrs. Katherine Fowler Milbank, a patron of music and a benefactor of young working women here, died of a heart attack yesterday morning in the East Side town house in which she was born 82 years ago, on March 4, 1885."  The article added "The six-story, whitestone house at 39 East 68th Street, where Mrs. Milbank lived all her life, was a wedding present to her mother and father in 1876."  Like almost all of the religious events in the family, her funeral was held in St. James's Episcopal Church.  She and Dunlevy had donated its spire bells and carillon in memory of her parents; and the cross was a memorial to Ludlow.

In November 1967 the house was sold to attorney Roy Marcus Cohn for $325,000 cash--around $2.4 million today.  Cohn lived in the upper floors and moved his law offices, Saxe, Bacon & Bolan, into the house.  Cohn had made himself a household name as the chief counsel for Senator Joseph McCarthy during the Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954, as a U.S. Department of Justice prosecutor in the espionage trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and as corporate lawyer for a budding Donald J. Trump.

 It was not long before Cohn's name appeared in the press for unflattering reasons.  On November 23, 1968 The Times reported "Roy M. Cohn was indicted yesterday on charges of wire and mail fraud, and of conspiring to pay a state court official $75,000 to obtain favorable results in suits...A 10-count indictment returned by a Federal grand jury here also charged Mr. Cohn, a lawyer-financier, with filing false reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

When Donald Trump was charged by the Justice Department of violating the Fair Housing Act in 1973 (it alleged he "made false 'no vacancy' statements to African Americans for apartments), Cohn represented the developer in a $100 million countersuit against the Government.  It called the charges "irresponsible and baseless."  He lost the countersuit and settled out of court.  Another of Cohn's highly-visible clients was Rupert Murdock. 

Federal investigators charged Cohn three times in the 1970's and '80's with misconduct, including witness tampering and perjury.  But his real problems began in April 1986 when he was sued by the Federal Government for $7 million in income taxes, interest and penalties.  The New York Times, on April 4, said it was the climax of an "unusually long tax dispute between the Internal Revenue Service and Mr. Cohn, who has represented many well-known clients, ranging from millionaire developers to reputed mobsters."

Cohn denied he owned either No. 39 East 68th Street or his Greenwich, Connecticut country home and called the charges "a pile of baloney."  Nevertheless he was soon disbarred for unethical conduct.  Before the case could be settled, Cohn died of AIDS on August 2, 1986 at the age of 59.  Aware that his death was imminent, the embittered lawyer intended to get posthumous revenge over the Government.  Roger Stone was quoted by The New Yorker journalist Jeffrey Toobin saying, "He told me his absolute goal was to die completely broke and owing millions to the I.R.S.  He succeeded in that."



On October 15, 1987 No. 39 was sold for $3.7 million "with most of the money being held under court order pending the outcome of an income-tax case," as reported by The Times.  It was the end of a colorful chapter in the house, which continues as a single-family residence today.

photographs by the author

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The 1891 Hicks Building - 73 Warren Street



In 1890 the parish of St. George's Episcopal Church had owned the 25-foot wide property at No. 73 Warren Street for decades.  That year, on November 26, the trustees sold it to Lewis Coon and his wife, Amalie, for $32,500.  It was a significant amount, more than $900,000 today.

The title was put in Amalie's name; and the couple wasted no time.  Just three days later The Engineering and Building Record announced that architect G. A. Schellinger had filed plans for a "brick store" to replace the old three-story building on the site.  The projected cost was set at $1.1 million in today's dollars.

Completed within the year, Schellinger's six-story structure was a confusing, if delightful, mixture of styles and materials.  An elegant cast iron storefront of three arched openings graced the ground floor.  The rough-cut granite blocks at this level suggested Romanesque Revival; but the shallow capitals of the side piers included delicate neo-Classical swags.


The Romanesque Revival motif was carried on through a four-story arch and hefty undressed granite lintels.  Then Schellinger added intricate terra cotta panels in the Renaissance Revival style above the second and third floors, and Corinthian terra cotta capitals to the long piers.  The ruddy red Roman brick gave way to a quilt of Queen Anne style tiles at the fifth floor, perfectly matching in color.  Five stone pilasters at the top floor upheld what must have been an impressive cornice.

The Coons sold No. 73 Warren Street to Ratcliffe Hicks on March 23, 1892.  Hicks, who lived in Connecticut, had already lived a fascinating life.  Born in 1843, he began practicing law in 1864.  When only 23-years old he was elected to the State Legislature and served several terms.  He was largely responsible for the abolishment of the death penalty in Connecticut.  He purchased the Warren Street building, in part, to house the New York office of the Canfield Rubber Company of which he was part owner with Jared H. Canfield.

A consummate marketer, Hicks devised an innovative exhibition at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair to promote the Canfield Seamless Dress Shield.  Victorian women's garments were unforgiving in hot, humid weather, causing perspiration in the most refined of wearers.  Underarm sweat was not only embarrassing, but damaged expensive fabrics.  The rubber Canfield Seamless Dress Shield promised to solve the problem.

Sadly, according to this advertising postcard, the woman at right failed to use an underarm shield.
The Canfield Rubber Company's exhibition included two full-sized wax figures--one of Jared Canfield, the other a working girl.  They were depicted seated at a table, with Canfield explaining how the dress shields were made.  In conjunction, Hicks kicked off a startling marketing campaign.

On August 6 The New York Times reported "A very interesting feature of the exhibit is that the Canfield Rubber Company, whose factory is at Bridgeport, Conn., while its principal offices are at 73 Warren Street, New-York, offers three free Cook excursion tourist tickets to Europe and return for the best three guesses by ladies as to the number of its shields sold in the world during the year 1893, the number sold in the United Stats during 1893, and the number sold in Europe during 1893."

If the winners preferred cash rather than the trips, they would received $500, $300, and $200 in gold.  The Times added "It requires all guesses to be mailed to 73 Warren Street, New-York, prior to April 1, 1894."

The Canfield Rubber Company did not occupy the entire building,  In 1893 a floor was leased to the newly-formed printing firm of Redfield Brothers.  Founded by brothers Judd H. and Tyler L. Redfield, it would become one of the leading printing firms in the city.  The fledgling firm remained here only a year, moving to No. 25 Park Place, in the printing district, in 1894.

While Ratcliffe Hicks had his office in New York, he continued to make his mark in Connecticut.  In 1894, for example, he established the Ratcliffe Hicks prizes for students of the Agricultural College in Storrs.  The prizes were awarded annually to essay writers.  That same year, in May, he donated $5,000 to the city of Hartford for the erection of a monument to Frederick S. Brown.  He would go on to establish the Ratcliffe Hicks Industrial and Educational School at Tolland.

The well-traveled millionaire published Observations in 1900.  The book "deals in a fascinating manner with European Countries and Customs," according to a advertisement, and "has received the highest testimonials from the reading public."

In the meantime the store space was home to Dr. P. Harvey Flynn's veterinary supply store.  Unlike the rawhide bones and doggie sweaters carried by such retailers today, the products sold had more to do with the thousands of horses that populated Manhattan.  He, like his landlord had done, came up with a solution to a ubiquitous problem in 1899.

Runaway horses were dangerous, killing or injuring numerous people per year.  Flynn invented the My Little Giant Controller, a type of bit which he guaranteed to stop and control any skittish horse.  While he marketed the gadget as "completely humane," his description in The New York Times on March 25, 1899 said the horse "will not run; he cannot run; the pain caused by a steady pull is too intense to permit him to fight against it."

The Horse Review, October 31, 1905 (copyright expired)
Flynn insisted "I know that I have been saved from accident, possibly from death, while driving spirited horses, by the use of this simple contrivance."  And he urged "It is an appliance that should be on every harness, used by a woman particularly."

Around the same time Thomas Leeming & Company moved into an upper floor.  Leeming had come to New York in 1883 and formed the commission house.  The firm remained in the Warren Street building until Leeming's death in 1902.

Of Ratcliffe Hicks' several homes was an estate near Pasadena, California.  He had built the house there in 1898; but decided to sell two years later.  His advertisement for the property in April 1900 noted "For fuller description of location and advantages of La Crescenta, send for circular.  Plans can be seen at office of owner, Ratcliffe Hicks, Hicks Building, 73 Warren St., N. Y."

Before Hicks died in 1906 he had sold the building to John H. Browning and Canfield Rubber Company had moved out.  In 1907 the marine supply firm of F. S. Banks & Co. operated from the building and submitted proposals to the United States Navy's Isthmus Canal Commission.  Among the items for which the firm hoped to land contracts were hoisting chains, 16,500 pounds of "black iron chains," "yawls or row boats," skiffs and oars.

The Motor Appliance Co. of America was in the building by 1911.  Like F. S. Banks & Co., it dealt in marine supplies, like boat motors, carburetors and the like.

Motor Boating, May 1911 (copyright expired)
Through the World War I years the building saw tenants come and go, including the Page Belting Company and the Neal & Scott Co., Inc. who took floors in 1913, and the Bissell Carpet Sweeper Company which moved in in 1916.

In 1920 the property was purchased by the Carbondale Sponge Company.  The firm dealt in sponges and chamois.  It leased the store that year to the National Twist Drill and Tool Company.  Other tenants sharing space with Carbondale in the 1920's were the Supreme Printing Company on the fourth floor and F. H. Hobbs on the second.

Major change came in 1942 when Edwards Employment Agencies, Inc. bought the building.   Directly across the street at No. 80 Warren Street the large Employment Agency Center Building had recently opened.  Edwards Employment Agencies joined what The New York Times on May 19 called "the recent movement of many similar enterprises from Sixth Avenue."

The president of Edwards Employment, Stanley Knapp, announced the building would "be extensively altered to fit it especially for the concern's own needs."   The company hired the well-known architectural team of Boak & Paris to do $35,000 in interior "modernization work," as described by The Times on June 15. (The comprehensive make-over would equal more than half a million dollars today.)  Sadly, the cornice had been lost sometime before the firm's purchase of the building, replaced by a gruesome parapet.


Now called the Edwards Building, the renovated structure was formally opened on June 13, 1942.  It was one of two locations for what The Times called "one of the largest industrial employment services in the country."  The Warren Street location catered to job hunters in the "mechanical, industrial, building and real estate fields."

The employment agency would remain in the building through the 1950's.  In 1966 the Newspaper Guild of New York went on strike.  Composed of unions of typographers, or "pressmen," the strike crippled several of Manhattan's newspapers.   On June 21 the Guild's strike bulletin announced "that The Journal-American and The World-Telegram strike headquarters had been consolidated at 73 Warren Street."

No. 73 Warren Street was one of the earliest of the Tribeca loft buildings to be converted to residential space.  In 1977 a vending machine business occupied the ground floor; while upstairs were one "living-work" quarters per floor for artists.  In 1985 the description was changed to one "loft dwelling" per floor, removing the restriction of artist use.

U. S. Telecom, a computer network design firm, was in the shop space at the turn of the century.  The attacks on the World Trade Center were devastating for the company.  According to its president in June 2002, the resulting drop in business, "and damage to equipment and furnishings stemming from the trade center's destruction, had resulted in nearly $500,000 in losses."

In 2012 Mulberry & Vine signed a lease on the ground floor space.  It was described by The New York Times' Florence Fabricant as offering "self-service cafe fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner," in 2013; and Alexis Lipsitz Flippin gushed about its "tasty, healthy prepared foods" in her 2014 book Food Lovers' Guide to Manhattan.


Mulberry & Vine remains in the space. while upstairs there is still one apartment per floor.  Schellinger's striking brick and terra cotta design is a show-stopper on the street.  Its lost cornice is as lamentable as the rest is joyous.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Educators, Plotters and a Poet - 156 Waverly Place


photo via streeteasy.com
Alfred S. Pell owned substantial amounts of land around Greenwich Village in the first decades of the 19th century.  Civic minded, he was partly responsible for the development of Washington Square from a potters' field to an exclusive residential enclave by selling 2.5 acres of his land at a nominal price (reportedly giving up a potential $5.3 million in profits in today's money by doing so).  Pell died on an ocean voyage in 1831.

In 1838 his estate began selling off portions of his real estate, including eight building plots along Waverley Place (the second "e" in Waverley was dropped around the turn of the 20th century).  Lambert Suydam, former president of the Manhattan Gas Light Company, purchased the property and began construction of eight 22-foot wide homes (one of which, No. 158, would was for himself).

Completed the following year the Greek Revival houses were three and a half stories tall, faced in red brick and trimmed in brownstone.  Identical to its neighbors, the stone stoop of No. 156 rose to a muscular entrance that upheld a simple entablature.  The graceful doorway featured paneled pilasters with palmetto capitals, narrow sidelights and an ample transom to allow sunlight into the foyer.

Although the entablature has been removed; the elegant entrance is intact.

Pedimented window lintels took the design a small step above the norm; but it was the attic floor which demanded the attention of the passerby.  It was faced with a stepped wooden architrave under a frieze of bull's-eye windows encircled by carved wreaths.  An intricate leave and tongue molding run along the underside of the cornice.

George B. Powell seems to have been Lambert's first tenant at No. 156.  A well-to-do merchant, his office was at No. 123 Broad Street.  The Powells moved on early in 1852 and Suydam began looking for a new tenant and neighbor.  His advertisement on April 29, 1852 read:

TO LET--The three-story and attic built House No. 156 Waverley-place, near the 6th-av., and adjoining the residence of the owner, having bath room, gas pipes, range, &c., with other modern improvements...Apply to L. SUYDAM, No. 158 Waverley-place.

A succession of residents came and went over the next decade.  Albert N. Hayes was here in 1856 when the city published his name in the local papers for owing $6.34 in personal taxes for 1854.  And by the early 1860's it appears that there were several boarders in the house.

Charles Farley lived here in 1864.  A clerk in the Custom House, he was called to testify in the forgery case against an acquaintance that year.   He was in the uncomfortable position of explaining that while John Wilson, Jr.'s reputation was "bad," he remained friends with him for three years.

Both R. G. Hoyt and Michael Cotter lived at No. 156 in 1865.  Hoyt was drafted into the Union Army on March 17 that year.  A month later Cotter encountered problems of his own.   The Greene Street neighborhood was, perhaps, the most notorious in the city for its brothels and "vile dens."  Early in the morning of April 22 Cotter left a place familiarly known as the Smithsonian.   Three men, John H. Eddington, Charles H. Daniels and Charles S. Cowing, followed him.

Just as Cotter reached Houston Street the trio attacked.  The New York Times reported "they robbed him of a gold watch and $150 but as they were making their escape Cotter laid hands on the fellow that had the watch, and thereupon the confederates returned to aid their companion."  Not only was Cotter knocked to the pavement, kicked and beaten, but the thieves took the renewed opportunity to steal a diamond pin from his vest.  The thugs were later apprehended.

No. 156 was sold at auction in February 1866 for $10,900--about $175,000 today.  It continued life as a boarding house.  Among the new owners' tenants was John Kirby, here by 1868.  He was sincerely interested in the plight of the Irish farmers, and wrote to The Cultivator & Country Gentleman that year asking in part:

Will you...either give or say which books, &c, shall give me all information necessary to enable a part of some twelve to fifteen Irish farming immigrants, who have a little money--capital, as well as labor--to decide as to which State they had better go to...I think Iowa or Southern Missouri is a good place for them to settle in.

In the 1870's the house was home to several respectable, unmarried school teachers like Annie Dunn, who taught in the Primary Department of School No. 17; Elizabeth M. Barnes, a teacher in the Girls' Department of Grammar School No. 56 on West 18th Street; and S. Elizabeth Wandell, who taught in P.S. No. 24 on Horatio Street.

The boarding house was being operated by Mary S. Jordan when 75-year old Professor William Darling took the front parlor in January 1880.  Born in Scotland, Darling was professor of anatomy in the medical department of the University of the City of New York, and in the 1850's had been the chief assistant to Dr. John M. Carnochan, in charge of the Emigrant Hospital on Staten Island.  Darling stayed on in the house only three months; but that short period would involve Mrs. Jordan in an ugly contest over his estate in court five years later in .

Following his death in December 1884, a will was presented to the courts by Amelia Delacroiex which gave his entire estate to his "esteemed friend, Mrs. Amelia Delacroiex, of Yonkers" and appointed her as executrix.   Not everyone was convinced the will was legitimate and it was contested.

To make matters more complicated, Mrs Delacroiex had vowed that Darling had no living relatives.  On January 16, 1885 The New York Times said that Darling's heirs were "springing up to contest the will."  Among them was Catharine Lefferts, who claimed to be a long-lost daughter.

Mary Jordan's involvement had only to do with the claims of Amelia Delacroiex.  She testified to a heated exchange behind closed doors between her and Darling which she could not help overhearing.  Delacroiex, she said, had called the educator "a stingy old miser" and threatened that if he did not will her his money she would sue him for breach of promise."

Darling cautioned the woman to "keep still or the people in the house will turn us out," to which she replied "What the hell do I care for the people in the house?"  It was shocking language for a proper gentlewoman.  On the stand Mary Jordan said "It is not best to repeat what else she said I do not think."

Amelia prevailed while Catharine Lefferts's claims were struck down.  The Victorian all-male jury was no doubt swayed by the defense's description of the doctor and Catharine's true father.  "The decedent was a man of very large education and culture, occupying positions of trust; while the contestant's father was shown to be illiterate and a laboring man, and had served a sentence for incest."

No. 156 was still listed as a "private dwelling" in 1910 when it was sold to Gerhard Miller.

A tenant in 1918 brought more shocking press coverage.  The Nationalist Movement in India encouraged natives to rebel against British control.  Sailendra Nath Ghose was suspected of backing insurgent activities in his homeland.  On March 17 his rooms were raided and he was arrested.  Three days later the New-York Tribune reported "More arrests are looked for by the Federal officials in the Hindu plot to free India, which was revealed by the arrest on Monday of Sailendra Nath Ghose, a Hindu, and Agnes Smedley, his American girl companion, who were leading spirits in the proposed uprising."  The article added that papers found in Ghose's room "gave detailed information as to the plans of the plotters.

Ghose and Agnes Smedley (described later by the Tribune as "a California girl") were charged with distributing seditious books and pamphlets.  They were held in the Tombs on $10,000 bail--around $163,000 today.  On April 1 they were indicted "for alleged complicity in a conspiracy to violate the espionage act, and also for acting as agents for a faction of a foreign government not recognized by the United States."  Sailendra Nath Ghose's travails were not without reward.  He would later rise to the position of president of the Indian National Congress of America.

Two of the charming bull's-eye openings were replaced by double-hung windows in the 20th century.
Greenwich Village was the home to many of the political and social fringe; so Ghose's choice of the Waverly Street location was not surprising.  Neither was the fact that Helen Todd was leasing a room in the house by 1920.  Her outspoken--and not always appreciated--political views made the newspapers in 1921.

Called by the New-York Tribune a "champion of Russia," she attended a meeting of the National Civic Federal at the Hotel Astor on January 13.  Among the speakers were the former Secretary of Commerce, William C. Redfield, and James P. Holland, president of the New York Federation of Labor.  While Holland spoke, Helen began shouting over him, or as the newspaper worded it, she "waved a verbal red flag."

"She got action right away.  As soon as the audience heard enough of her impassioned oratory to realize that Miss Todd was rebuking Holland for his assertion that labor opposed recognition of Soviet Russia, or trade with the nation, a storm of hissing and booing broke out."

Holland quieted the audience.  "Don't hiss any woman.  Let her talk.  I'll answer her."  But he did not get that chance.  Helen stormed out of the room, yelling the entire way.  Her last recognizable words were "You have no right to refer to people as long-haired and short-haired.  You____"

At the time of Helen's outburst, Greenwich Village was well-known for its subterranean tearooms.  The basement of No. 156 had been converted to one such spot, known only by the address.  The Greenwich Village Quill published a long list of the district's hideaways, including "156 Waverly Place--Tea and refreshment, also gilded ceiling."

The most celebrated of the residents of No. 156 came briefly in 1923.  According to biographer Daniel Mark Epstein in his What Lips My Lips Have Kissed, Edna St Vincent Millay lived here that year; and at least two letters from the poet survive with the address.

In 1969 No. 156 was officially renovated to apartments--one each in the basement, first and fourth floors, and two on the second and third.  It was possibly at this time that the brownstone entablature over the doorway was removed and two double-hung windows installed in the attic floor, destroying two of the marvelous bull's-eye windows.

When famed photographer Berenice Abbott shot the doorway of No. 156 in 1947, the entablature was still intact.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
The third quarter of the 20th century saw Greenwich Village emerge as the center of Manhattan's gay culture.  Across the street from No. 156 was Waverly And Waverly, a gay nightclub.  The establishment's music and entertainment did not sit well with tenant Cheryl Fein, who lived on the second floor.

She complained in court that Waverly And Waverly was staging shows without a cabaret license.  She could see people applauding through her vertical blinds, she told the court, proving there was a show going on.  The staff and patrons of the nightclub were apparently accustomed to Cheryl's spying.  She said the bartender would wave to her from the bar.

No. 156 is perhaps the best preserved of Suydam's 1839 row, recalling a time when Waverly Place was home to well-to-do residents.

photographs by the author

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Francis F. Palmer House - 74 Riverside Drive



One alteration of which architect Clarence True would not have approved is the maw-like garage carved into the ground floor.

Clarence True was perhaps the most prolific of the Upper West Side architects in the late 19th century, credited greatly for molding the architectural personality of the district.  So successful was he that he formed his own development firm, the Riverside Building Co.  The arrangement not only increased his profits, but guaranteed complete creative freedom.

In 1898 he began construction on two rows of  upscale homes--on West 80th Street and around the corner along Riverside Drive.  As he most often did, True designed the residences in a pleasing blend of styles.  No. 74 Riverside Drive, for instance, was overall Elizabethan Revival, but wore an ornate Flemish Renaissance Revival gable, with corresponding stepped gables to the side.

The parlor level was accessed by a short stone stoop which led to a shallow portico which doubled as a balconette at the second floor.  The mellow red brick of the facade was sharply contrasted with white stone.

A close look reveals the home's original entrance portico (fourth from the corner).  from the collection of the New York Public Library

The row was completed in 1899 and No. 74 sold for $62,000 (just under $1.9 million today).  The buyer appears to have been over-optimistic about his financial abilities, however.  Less than two years later Henry G. Atwater foreclosed on both No. 73 and 74.  He was not looking for a profit when he put No. 74 back on the market on January 19, 1902.  Calling it "A new 5-story steam-heated American basement residence," his asking price was $62,000--exactly the same as in 1899.

Unfortunately for Atwater, there were no buyers.  It would be over a year before the side-by-side houses were sold.  Finally, on April 8, 1903 the New-York Tribune reported on their sale.  The article went on to say that the 25-foot wide homes "are so designed that all the rooms have windows facing Riverside Drive.  There is a deep court between them which makes this possible."

The buyer of No. 74 was Francis F. Palmer whose engagement to Isabel Fowler would soon be announced.  Isabel was the daughter of railroad magnate Thomas Powell Fowler.  The couple's lifestyle would be greatly enhanced when Palmer was elected to membership in the Stock Exchange in November 1906.

Despite their noteworthy wealth and social position, the Palmers rarely appeared in the society columns.  They lived relatively quietly in the Riverside Drive home until July 1910 when it was sold to Dr. Louis Neumann, who paid $80,000 for the mansion--just over $2 million today.

Neumann's career spanned much more than medicine.  Born in 1869 he was an 1898 graduate of Bellevue Hospital Medical School and for years served on the faculty of Cornell University's medical college.  But his passion for boating outshone his love for medicine.

In 1904 he founded Motor Boat magazine, and in 1907 had partnered with his mother-in-law, Louise N. Prial, his brother-in-law, Louis Prial, and his brother William Neumann to form the Motor Boat Publishing Company.  Beginning in 1904 he was an active member of the Columbia Yacht Club, the New Rochelle Yacht Club and the New York Motor Boat Club.  His yacht Marie was a constant entrant in the boat races on Long Island Sound.

The broad-based doctor's interests did not stop there.  He was president and treasurer of the Heinebund Singing Society and a member of the New York Athletic Club.  He filled the Riverside Drive house with his well-known collection of Chinese ivories, bronzes, and antique Oriental rugs.

Louis was not alone in the new home.  Both his widowed mother, Margaretta, and his mother-in-law (also a widow), moved in.

It was Louise Prial who was most active among society.  On May 20, 1913, for instance, The New York Times reported that she gave "a musical entertainment" for the benefit of the Children's Fresh Air Fund in the house.  And the following February she hosted "a small dance last night at her residence, 74 Riverside Drive, for Miss Frances Vollmer.  There were about fifty guests."

By now the American Medical Directory listed Neumann as "not in practice."  He focused on publishing, adding the magazines Bicycle News, Tractor and Trailer, Ignition-Carburetion-Lubrication, and Cyclecar Age, to his publications.

Neumann sold No. 74 to the Seventy-seventh Street Construction Company in 1920.  It would mean the end of the line for the resplendent home as a single family residence.  On September 4 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide announced "The new owner will remodel the structure into small apartments."

The tenant list in the converted mansion was a strange mix.  Among the earliest residents was British actress Gladys Cooper who, by now, was seen both on stage and screen. She drew press attention in 1926 not for a theatrical performance, but for her shocking appearance at a police station.  Gladys had been at the Princetonian Club (a gambling spot previously raided by police) where she was injured in "an accident."  To prove her claims, she opened her fur coat to show the officers her bruises.  She wore nothing but her underwear under the coat.

Actress Gladys Cooper was, perhaps, the most colorful of the tenants.  from the collection of the Library of Congress
Bronia Cherin shared an apartment in the building with her brother in 1928.  The 25-year old writer, who was born in Russia, went to the Municipal Building on May 16 that year with her fianc√©, 61-year old butcher Leopold Samuel.  Just as the two paid the $2 fee for a marriage ceremony to be held in the Municipal Chapel a reporter approached them.  For some reason the couple panicked.  

The New York Times reported "Immediately they cancelled the arrangements for the marriage and left the building.  They refused to say whether they would be married elsewhere."  The relentless reporter followed Samuel to his home, where he refused to comment.  And at No. 74 Riverside Drive he was told that Bronia and her brother had moved out.


In 1929 the neighborhood had noticeably changed.  from the collection of the New York Public Library.
The early 1930's continued to see a variety of tenants.  The offices of the new New York Opera Repertoire Company were established in an apartment in April 1932.  An announcement urged "American singers desiring an audition may call at the temporary offices at 74 Riverside Drive."

Living here at the time was Mrs. Kurt Gloeckner, the founder and president of the Five Arts Club, and Thornton W. Allen, composer and publisher of sheet music and head of the Thornton W. Allen Co.  Allen and his wife, the former Elsie Guy, would remain here until his death in Cape Cod in 1944.

While the tenants in the building seem to have been mostly upstanding and respectable, one apartment was used for a more nefarious purpose.  On October 24, 1942 an apartment was raided and Howard J. Cook was arrested on charges of bookmaking and operating a "poolroom."  The term had nothing to do with billiards, but referred to illegal horse race gambling.

The musical tradition set by Thornton W. Allen continued when the Top Record Co. moved into No. 74 in 1945.  By 1948 Spin Records, Inc. had its offices in the building and by 1953 Crease Music Corporation was here.  Although the building was converted to two apartments per floor in 1971, Top Music Publishers, Inc. still had its offices here in 1972.


Although some of True's interior details survive, like elements of the entrance hall and a mantel with built-in nick-knack shelves, most has been obliterated.  photos via corcoran. com
A subsequent renovation in 1977 resulted in two and three apartments per floor.   The alterations of the ground floor to accommodate a garage and the covering of the roof tiles with tar are, indeed, regrettable.

photograph by the author