Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Percival Kuhne House - 7 East 78th Street

In 1879 banker and railroad tycoon Henry H. Cook purchased the entire block between Fifth and Madison Avenues, from 78th to 79th Street for $500,000 (roughly $13 million in today's money).  The property was undeveloped and it would be nearly two decades before Manhattan's millionaires would make it that far up Fifth Avenue.   The far-sighted Cook knew they would come.  He erected his own gargantuan mansion at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 78th Street.

Because Cook owned the entire block, he was able to choose his neighbors and ensure his property values were secure.  The New-York Tribune explained years later "He has divided the remaining land and sold it parcel by parcel to desirable purchasers who would erect uniformly handsome houses."  Those buyers had no choice in the matter.  Cook wrote restrictive covenants into the deeds which demanded that only private homes in a "splendid style" be erected.  

Among those buyers would be Percival and Lillian Kuhn.  On April 23, 1899 the New York Herald reported "Mr. Percival Kuhne has bought a beautiful dwelling further up town, just out of Fifth avenue, and bounding the Park, which he and Mrs. Kuhne will probably occupy before hot weather sets in."  The reporter got the facts slightly wrong.

The Kuhnes, who lived at No. 32 East 39th Street in a rapidly changing neighborhood, had indeed purchased the property at No. 7 East 78th Street on what had become known as the Cook Block.  But there was no "beautiful dwelling" on the plot; it was a vacant lot.   Three months later, on July 18, the New York Journal and Advertiser set the record straight.  "Percival Kuhn is to build a five-story brick dwelling...costing $25,000 at No. 7 East Seventy-eighth street."

The Kuhns had chosen the firm of Hoppin & Koen to design their 25-foot-wide mansion; quite possibly because Francis L. V. Hoppin was a personal friend of the couple.  The firm would produce for the Kuhnes a refined and stately Beaux Arts style residence.

Tall, exquisite fencing enclosed the areaway, anchored by imposing urn-topped stone posts.  A four-step porch rose to the the arched doorway within the limestone base.  A full-width balcony with elegant iron railings fronted the three sets of French windows at the piano nobile.  Their architrave stone frames were topped by carved pediments; the central example a broken arch that embraced a bulbous cartouche and scrollwork.

A single carved lily adorns each side of the gate posts.

A smaller balcony fronted the grouped center openings of the third floor, beneath a balustraded stone Juliette version at the fourth.  The mostly unadorned fifth floor sat above the projecting limestone bracketed cornice.

Percival Kuhne was born on April 6, 1861 to Frederick and Ellen Miller Kuhne.  His father had co-founded the banking house of Knauth, Nachod & Kuhne.  Percival attended the University of the City of New York, then continued his studies in Germany.  Upon his return in 1884 he entered his father's banking firm.
Percival Kuhne - The Redemption of New York, 1902 (copyright expired)
In 1893 Kuhne married Lillian Middleton Kerr, daughter of George J. Miller, "a descendant of an old and aristocratic English family," as described by Milo T. Bogard in his 1902 The Redemption of New York.  The couple was highly visible in society both in America and Europe.  The Successful American noted "Mr. and Mrs. Kuhne were the only American guests present at the wedding of Princess Helen of Orleans to the Duke d'Aosta, in July, 1895...Besides the Orleans family, all the English royal family except the Queen were present."

The couple had a daughter, Gwendolyn, and the family summered at various fashionable resorts.  While away during the summer of 1900, construction on their mansion was completed.  On October 22 The Evening Telegram noted "Mr. and Mrs. Percival Kuhne, who are now at Lakewood, N.J., will take possession of their new residence at No. 7 East Seventy-eighth street, in about the second week in December."  The timing was perfect--the height of the winter social season.

Except that the house was not totally finished yet.  

So while the painters and decorators put the final details on the interiors, the Kuhnes took a suite at the Savoy hotel.  It turned out to be a costly few weeks stay.  On February 26, 1901 The Morning Telegraph ran a first-page headline "Banker Kuhne Robbed Of A Fortune in Gems."

The article explained "Percival Kuhne, the banker, was despoiled of diamonds worth $150,000, which he kept in his apartments at the Savoy Hotel, on the morning of Feb. 2."  While the Kuhnes were at the theater, burglars had entered their suite and made off with the loot, worth more than $4.5 million by today's calculations.  It was at the time the largest private robbery in police history.  The article noted that Kuhne "is very wealthy and is particularly fond of diamonds."

For two weeks police could find no clues nor suspects.  Photographs of the missing jewelry were distributed to pawn shops and finally a break came.  On the morning of February 25 "Judge" Lewis anxiously stood in line at a pawn shop. The Morning Telegraph described Lewis as "shabbily dressed and seemed very nervous."

When his turn came to approach the clerk, Lewis pulled a bulky package from his pocket.  "The negro opened it nervously and drew out a brooch set with an immense turquoise and covered with fourteen one-half karat diamonds."  Lewis asked $200 for Lillian's stolen pin, valued at $2,500.  The clerk quickly recognized it from the police photographs and stalled Lewis by pretending to negotiate a price.  Meantime, another clerk ran outside to find a policeman.  "McAleenan appeared to be busy examining the stones in the meantime, and Lewis was greatly surprised when a policeman entered the door and placed him under arrest."

It did not take long for investigators to determine that Lewis was an unwitting pawn (or in their words "only a tool").  The real thief appeared to be a bellboy at the Savoy, Morris Orman (whom The Sun felt obligated to say "is also a negro").  He had left his job at the Savoy Hotel shortly after the burglary.

Orman had offered Lewis money to pawn the items and, in fact, was waiting on the sidewalk outside the pawnshop when the police arrived.  He made his escape, leaving Lewis to his fate.  When police went to Orman's apartment, they found it empty and the former bellboy had disappeared.

Shockingly, a newspaper reported that Kuhne admitted "when he and his wife went to the theatre on the night of the robbery they did not lock their door.  All a thief had to do was to enter and help himself." 

Shortly after the Kuhnes moved into their new mansion Lillian's name appeared in unflattering print.  Socialites looking to raise money for charitable causes often threw afternoon bridge parties.  It was a time-tested and enjoyable fund-raising practice.  But in March 1901 the rector of Grace Church embarked on a mission to "put an end to society gambling, at least among men and women who call themselves Christians," as reported in The Chicago Tribune.  

The article noted that one socialite, who preferred to remain anonymous and who would welcome the end of the practice, listed the names of leading society women at a recent party.  Among those "good people" was Lillian Kuhne.

Keeping up with the Kuhnes' movements was nearly a full-time job for society columnists.  On August 24, 1902 the New-York Tribune reported that they had hosted a "gay party" at the Country Club in Narragansett Pier, Rhode Island; and on June 19, 1903 The Evening Telegram announced "Mr. and Mrs. Percival Kuhne, of No. 7 East Seventy-eighth street, will soon leave for Cedarhurst, L. I., where they have taken a cottage for the season."

In the winter season between those trips, entertainments were hosted at No. 7 East 78th Street.  Among them was a dinner party on January 27, 1902.  The guest list included socially recognized names like Livingston, Phipps, Kipp and Phelps, as well as the Kuhnes' friend and architect Francis L. V. Hoppin

On July 1, 1907 The Daily Standard Union, a Brooklyn newspaper, announced that Percival, Gwendolyn, and "Mrs. Kuhn and maid" had sailed for Europe for the summer.  Shortly after their return a disturbing rumor hit the newspapers.  On October 14, 1908 the New York Herald reported "Friends of Mrs. Percival Kuhne...learned yesterday that she had been placed for treatment in a sanitarium at Larchmont.  The Kuhnes' residence at No. 7 East Seventy-eighth street, has been closed and Mr. Kuhne has gone to a hotel to live."

The family issued a denial, saying "The fact is that Mrs. Kuhne and her daughter have been out of the State on a pleasure trip during the past week."  But, in fact, things were dire.   Percival kept the 78th Street house shuttered and brought his wife and daughter to the Plaza Hotel suite.  It was there, on September 30, 1909, that Lillian died.

Kuhne sold No. 7 to the 49-year-old publisher Ormond G. Smith and his wife, the former Grace H. Pellett.  Smith's father, Francis S. Smith, was a co-founder of Street & Smith.  Upon his father's retirement in 1887, Ormond had taken over running the firm, which published inexpensive novels and popular magazines.  Among the impressive list of authors published by Street & Smith were Horatio Alger, Isaac Asimov, Theodore Dreiser, Jack London, Upton Sinclair and O. Henry.

Interestingly, they shared a mutual close friend with the Kuhnes--Francis L. V. Hoppin, whose firm had not only designed the 78th Street house, but Shoremond, the Smiths' country estate in Oyster Bay, Long Island.
The Smiths' Oyster Bay mansion was designed in 1912.  The Architectural Record, December 1916 (copyright expired
The Smiths welcomed a son, Gerald Hewitt Smith, on September 28, 1912.  Grace did not take long to bounce back and reenter the social swirl.  Like Lillian Kuhne, she entertained the top levels of society and the Hoppins were frequent guests.  On November 7, 1912, for instance, The Sun reported "Mrs. Ormand G. Smith gave a dinner last night at her home, 7 East Seventy-eighth street, afterward taking her guests to the Moulin Rouge.  Among them were Mr. and Mrs. Francis L. V. Hoppin, Miss Lola Robinson, Mr. and Mrs. James H. Kidder, E. De Peyster Livingston and Frederick Townsend Martin."

Although the Smiths' summer estate was truly grand, they changed scenery in January 1921 when Anne Vanderbilt, widow of William K. Vanderbilt, sold them Stepping Stones, her Jericho, Long Island estate.  The New York Times reported on January 19 that Smith "is reported to have paid about $500,000 for the property.  Mr. Smith recently sold his country place at Oyster Bay...for about $1,000,000."

The New-York Tribune printed this frustratingly grainy photo of Stepping Stones on January 23, 1921 (copyright expired)
The Times added "Located in the picturesque Wheatley Hills, Stepping Stones is one of the notable places of the section...The house, which occupies the crown of a hill that overlooks the estate, was built by privately prepared plans by John R. Hill, under the personal supervision of the late William K. Vanderbilt."

Grace would enjoy only two seasons at Stepping Stones.  She became ill in the fall of 1922, and died in the 78th Street house on January 13.  The Evening Telegram noted "Her death was unexpected, although she had been ill for some time."  Grace's entire estate, valued at about $1.53 million, was left to her husband.

By the time of Grace's death, Ormond was highly involved in the French Institute in the United States, an organization whose goal was "the diffusion of the knowledge of French culture."  Smith, who was the group's vice president, had been educated in France and held a life-long affection for the country and its way of life.  

When the Duc de Trevise visited New York in December 1925, Ormond hosted a dinner party in the 78th Street house.  Not surprisingly, among the high-ranking guests that evening was Francis L. V. Hoppin.

Ormond's work for the French Institute did not go unnoticed abroad.  In December 1927 he was made an Officer of the Legion of French by decree of the French President.  After rising to president of the institute, in November 1929 Ormond donated a new six-story building to the group at Nos. 22-24 East 60th Street.  

It was just one of many considerable philanthropic gifts.  He donated $40,000 to the construction of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and $25,000 to the French Hospital, for example.  He was also a vice-president of the New York Eye and Ear Hospital and the New York Free Dispensary.

On the night of April 17, 1933 Ormond Smith suffered a fatal stroke in the 78th Street house.  He was 72-years-old.  Gerald, who was away at Princeton University, received half a million dollars (more in the neighborhood of $9.7 million today), which was held in trust until his 21st birthday.

The young man retained ownership of No. 7 until the fall of 1940 when he sold it "for occupancy."  In reporting the sale The New York Times remarked that it "contains an electric elevator" and noted the upscale tenor of the street.  "It is in the same block as the residences of Mrs. James. B. Duke, John D. Ryan and Winthrop W. Aldrich.  At the corner of Madison Avenue is the home of the late Stuyvesant Fish."

Henry Cook would no doubt have been seriously displeased when the house was converted to apartments in 1946.  It now held two "doctors' apartments and offices" on the first floor, and two apartments per floor above.  The renovations included a horrific sixth floor addition that snubs Hoppin & Koen's regal design.

photographs by the author
many thanks to reader Phyllis Winchester for suggesting this post

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The 1889 John B. Gleason House - 34 West 88th Street

In 1889 speculative developer James J. Spaulding completed a row of 19 brick and brownstone-faced homes on the south side of West 88th Street, between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue.  They were, by any estimations, remarkable.

Architects Thom & Wilson had created a string of harmonious, yet individual, 23-feet wide homes whose architectural personalties drew from album of historic styles--Renaissance Revival, Romanesque Revival and Gothic Revival.

Thom & Wilson designed a striking row.  No. 34 is left of center, behind the silver car.

At No. 34 two hefty stone newels decorated with carvings of ribbons and roses introduced the wide stoop.  Above it the double-doored entrance was flanked by caryatids with innocent Victorian faces.  Leafy brackets upheld the Renaissance-detailed entablature and cornice, which morphed into a pseudo balcony at the second floor.

The hallway window at the second floor was framed in stone quoins supported by volutes carved with dainty draping and ribbons.  Fluted Corinthian pilasters separated the three grouped openings on this level.  A lushly-carved arched pediment perched above a molded cornice.  The third floor windows wore Renaissance-inspired pediments.  Thom & Wilson saved a delightful surprise for the top floor, where a telamon and a caryatid shared the job of upholding the pressed metal Queen Anne style cornice.

The house became home to the family of John B. Gleason, a partner with his father, William Gleason, and C. P. Collier in the law firm of W. & J. B. Gleason .  

Gleason, who graduated from Yale University in 1876, would be linked to some of New York's most publicized cases.  He went on to defend, for instance, Mary F. Wilmerding in 1898.  She deemed insane by her wealthy husband, John C. Wilmerding, Jr., and committed to the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum; although with no real evidence of insanity.  And in 1914 he would defend Harry K. Thaw in his trial for murdering Stanford White.

But in 1895 Gleason had another matter on his mind.  Bicycling had taken American by storm and there was no place in New York City more popular for "wheeling" than Riverside Drive.  But getting from the smooth-faced Boulevard (later Broadway) to Riverside Drive meant navigating the unpaved east-west block.  Mud and ruts made the one-block journey difficult.

On March 1 he and scores of others signed a petition urging the Board of Aldermen to pave one "short block," 108th Street between Broadway and Riverside Drive, with asphalt "so connecting those two smooth roads for bicycles and light vehicles."

Gleason's wife, in the meantime, slipped into the routine of women in society.  On February 24, 1896 The Press listed her as among "Some of those receiving to-day."

But, rather surprisingly, on August 20 the following year the New-York Daily Tribune reported that No. 34 "was sold in the plaintiff, the Equitable Life Assurance Society, for $36,400."  The buy-back price would equal just over $1 million today.

The company made money on the deal when it sold it to "a Mrs. Segelken," as reported in The New York Times on September 27, 1898, for $40,000.  It was not uncommon in the late 19th century for real estate buyers to use pseudonyms for anonymity, at least temporarily.  It appears that "Mrs. Segelken" was in actuality Anna M. Fink, wife of Henry J. Fink.

The well-to-do couple had two children, Clara and Charles.  By the time they moved into the house Clara was a young woman and before long was highly visible in the young Upper West Side set.  It was she, more than her mother, who entertained most often in the 88th Street house.

On January 13, 1900, for instance, The Evening Telegram reported "The fourth meeting of the West End Euchre Club was held at the home of Miss Clara Fink, No. 34 West Eighty-eighth street last evening, followed by refreshments and an informal dance."

The West End Euchre Club may have been short-lived.  On December 2 that same year the New York Herald noted "The first meeting of the Fleur de Lis Euchre Club was held on Wednesday evening at the residence of Miss Fisk, No. 34 West Eight-eighth street.  This club is one of the most popular on the west side."  (How the newspaper decided it was so popular after the first meeting is unclear.)

Clara continued her interest in fledgling social clubs.  On February 3, 1901 the New York Herald mentioned that she had "entertained the members of the Avo Club" on the previous Tuesday afternoon.  This one, too, would not last long.

On December 2, 1901 The Sun explained "The Avo Club is an organization which was formed about a year ago by thirty young women of the upper West Side and met once a week to talk over things in general.  While there was no rule against marriage, there was a tacit understanding that the cares and responsibilities of matrimony were out of keeping with the objects of the club."

That, it turned out, was the fatal flaw.

After a year one member announced "that she had other engagements and presently she got married."  Then another, and another, until eight more engagements had been announced.  Included in that list was Clara Fink.  The newspaper concluded "it looks as if the Avo Club was doomed."

Clara's wedding to Howard Franklin Mead would take place the following spring.  On April 13, 1902 The New York Herald reported that "One thousand invitations to the ceremony have been issued by the bride's parents."  The article added "Miss Fink is a popular member of the younger set and this season has been seen much in society."

Clara Fink in her wedding dress.  New York Herald April 13, 1902 (copyright expired)
The wedding took place in All Angels' Church on April 30.  The Evening Telegram said the bride was "attired in an elaborate costume of duchesse lace."  A "large reception" was held in the 88th Street house.

A far more somber ceremony was held in the parlor in February, 1919.  After being ill only a short time, Anna died in the house on February 7.  Her funeral was held here three days later.

Henry and Charles were, apparently, already deep in negotiations for the formation of a new firm.  Just three weeks later the Henry J. Fink Co., Inc. was incorporated.  The new endeavor was described as "jobbers and merchants in woodenware, hardware, household furnishings."  But Henry would not live to head it very long.

Five months later, on August 2, 1919, the New-York Tribune reported that the estate of Henry J. Fink had sold No. 34 to Dr. Thomas F. Reilly.

Reilly and his wife, Kathryn, had four children, Lucille, Eileen, Paul and Thomas, Jr.  Born in Pennsylvania, Reilly had graduated from Lafayette College in 1893 and received his medical degree from Bellevue Medical College four years later.  He converted a room in No. 34, most likely in the basement level, for his private practice.

By now Reilly was considered an "authority and lecturer on certain phases of medicine," according to The New York Times, and was on the faculty of Fordham university.  He was, as well, the president of the board of Fordham Hospital, vice president of the board of St. Vincent's Hospital, and sat on the board of St. Elizabeth's Hospital.

Dr. Reilly's good standing resulting in his being the personal physician of eminent figures like the Right Reverend Monsignor Edward N. Sweeney, pastor of the Church of the Ascension.  While living here he wrote complex medical articles, like his "Hitherto Undescribed Signs in Diagnosis of Lethargic Encephalitis," published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1920.

The Reillys remained in the house until April 1930, when they moved to No. 160 Riverside Drive.  The 59-year-old doctor died there just seven months later, on January 24, 1931.

In the meantime, the 88th Street house had been a scene of unspeakable tragedy.  It was now the home of the William and Catherine McDonald family. The couple had four children, James, who was 14; William, 12; four-year-old Kathleen; and Mary.

On December 7, 1930, as Catherine made an apple pie Kathleen played on the kitchen floor.  The busy homemaker did not pay much attention to the child as she turned her attention to preparing the rest of the family's dinner.

That evening Catherine served the pie, but "finding an odd taste both to the piece at her plate and the unserved portion in the kitchen," according to the New York Evening Post, she ate only a bite.  Within a few hours both her husband and Kathleen were sick.

Suspicious, Catherine checked the kitchen where Kathleen had been playing.  A bag of roach powder was missing.  Panicked, she administered an antidote and summoned a physician.  Tragically, the 39-year-old William died just after midnight.  The rest of the family were recovering by the following day.

During the Great Depression the house was again lost in foreclosure.  The United States Trust Company sold it in 1940 to David M. Madden.  It remained a single-family home until 1971 when it was converted to one apartment per floor.

One of the apartments was home to a highly-unusual--perhaps shocking--business in the mid-1970's.  DMC offered women instruction in freely expressing their sexuality.

New York Magazine November 7, 1977
Other than replacement windows, the striking 1889 rowhouse is outwardly essentially unchanged--its wonderful figural carvings standing guard after more than 125 years.

photographs by the author

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Lost Marianna Ogden Mansion - 266 Madison Avenue

The Architectural Record, July 1896 (copyright expired)

Born in Walton, New York on June 15, 1805, William Butler Ogden would have a varied and impressive life.  Upon his father's death he took over the running of the family real estate business while still a teenager.  At the age of 30 he was elected to the New York State Assembly; but following his one-year term went west to Chicago.  In 1838 he became that frontier town's first mayor.

Ogden was highly instrumental in connecting Chicago to the East, promoting and investing in the Illinois and Michigan Canal; then founding the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad.  He later become president of the Union Pacific Railroad which linked Chicago to the West coast.

Following the Civil War Ogden purchased an estate in New York as a second home.  Ogden family historian Laura Wheeler explained in 1907 "Mr. Ogden's business interests causing him to spend so much time in New York, he determined upon possessing an eastern residence.  This was consummated in the spring of 1866 when he purchased of J. Kennedy Smyth a handsome Gothic villa called 'Boscobel' at Fordham Heights, Westchester Co., N.Y. and adjoining High Bridge."  The High Bridge, a graceful Roman style aqueduct designed by James Renwick, Jr. and completed in 1848, was a popular destination for weekend promenades with its stunning river views and natural landscape.

Ogden added to the property, extending it to ten acres, landscaped it and added a conservatory, stables and greenhouses.  The fruit orchards and flowerbeds at his Chicago estate, Ogden Grove, were duplicated.  Laura Wheeler wrote "The many gabled house is of blue-stone, with Ohio freestone trimmings, and surrounded by broad verandas, from which well-shaven lawns slope down the hill."

Frequent guests at both Villa Boscobel and Ogden Grove were Ogden's close friend, John Arnot, his wife Harriet, and their grown children John, Jr. and Marianna.   Ogden was a life-long bachelor and when there, Marianna often acted as hostess to his other guests (like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Samuel J. Tilden).

Not long after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, Ogden became "weary of business," according to Wheeler, and "retired to 'Boscobel' to spend the remaining years of his life, and enjoy a well-earned repose."  Now in his early 70's, the bachelor finally turned his focus from business to romance.

On February 9, 1875 he married Marianna Tuttle Arnot.  The 50-year-old bride was 20 years younger than the groom.  Theirs would be a short marriage.  At 2:00 on the morning of August 3, 1877, William Butler Ogden died at Villa Boscobel.  The Chicago Inter Ocean reported "His physicians informed him his death was at hand--not more than a few hours.  The dying man received the last sacrament of the Church, and quietly awaited his end."

Marianna lived on in Villa Boscobel.  In 1888 she erected the Arnot-Ogden Memorial Hospital in Elmira, New York, where she was born, as a memorial to her father and her late husband.  

The wealthy dowager was not sequestered from society in her suburban estate.  She annually leased a cottage in Newport, for instance.  

But then in 1893 she stepped into the Manhattan limelight.  Marianna purchased the vintage home of Dr. Cornelius R. Agnew at the northwest corner of Madison Avenue and 39th Street and hired the Boston firm of Peabody & Stearns to design an up-to-date replacement.

Completed in 1894, its entrance was on 39th Street above a sideways stoop.  A deep light moat which provided light to the basement was protected by a solid stone wall.  The rusticated limestone base was sparsely decorated, with only a few carvings on the understated entrance.  The second and third floors were clad in brick and trimmed in stone.  A Palladian window on the Madison Avenue side boasted Renaissance carvings and a deeply-recessed shell within the arch.  In stark contrast to the 18th century inspired lower floors, the top floor behind a handsome stone balustrade took the form of a French mansard.

The firm of Davis, Reid & Alexander had handled the interior decorations.  The Real Estate Record & Guide reported on November 24 "One of the details especially noticeable is the introduction of Venetian glass mosaic for mantle facings."

The Architectural Record called the house "most original" and "certainly quite typical of the good modern house of our Eastern cities."

Marianna's decision to built in the city was most likely prompted by the erection of the Washington Bridge.  Opened on December 1, 1888 it connected Manhattan and The Bronx at 181st Street.  Suddenly Villa Boscobel was less tranquil and bucolic.

And the precise location may have been prompted by its proximity to the home of her sister, Fannie, who was married to millionaire George G. Haven.  The Haven family lived at Nos. 24-26 East 39th Street, essentially across the avenue from Marianna's new home.

The Madison Avenue mansion, like Villa Boscobel had been, was closed late every spring as Marianna traveled to her homes at Newport and Lenox.  She was at Newport on September 16, 1900 when the New-York Tribune reported "Mr. and Mrs. George Griswold Haven have deferred their departure for Lenox owing to the illness of Mrs. Haven's sister, Mrs. William B. Ogden, who is seriously sick at her cottage."

About three weeks later, on October 7, the newspaper reported "Mrs. William B. Ogden, who has been quite ill here for some weeks, was able to return to her New-York residence this week, travelling in a special car."

Marianna arrived in Lenox from Newport around September 14, 1904.  After taking a short drive on the 27th, she complained of trouble breathing.  The New-York Tribune wrote "A physician was summoned and her sister, Mrs. George Griswold Haven, was called."  The following morning she seemed to have rallied.  But then, "as Mrs. Ogden was about to take some nourishment, she suddenly expired."  The 84-year-old had suffered a heart attack.

In reporting her death The New York Times mentioned "After Washington Bridge was opened Mrs. Ogden lived but little at Boscobel, preferring her residence at 266 Madison Avenue."  

The bulk of her estimated $20 million estate was left to Fannie.  But, possibly because she anticipated that her favorite niece, Marion Haven, would soon marry, she left the Madison Avenue mansion to her.   On November 2 the New-York Tribune reported "Mr. and Mrs. George G. Haven and Miss Marion Haven arrived in town from Lenox yesterday, and are at Mrs. William B. Ogden's house."

Marion Arnot Haven's engagement to Forsyth Wickes was announced not long after, on January 21, 1905.  The ceremony in St. Bartholomew's Church took place on April 27.  It was a social event.  The New York Times reported "The wedding was one of the most largely attended of the year, over 1,000 invitations having been issued for the church ceremony."  The Sun rather coarsely added that Marian "was the richest bride of the season."

The newlyweds spent two months at Tuxedo, New York, then sailed for Europe for the summer.  The New York Times advised "next Winter they will occupy the house at 266 Madison Avenue, inherited by Mrs. Wickes from her aunt, Mrs. W. B. Ogden."

The long honeymoon was advantageous, since the New-York Tribune advised on March 16 that the mansion "will be entirely refurnished and redecorated and will probably not be ready for the young people until the autumn."

Forsyth Wickes had spent much of his youth in France.  He had graduated from Yale in 1898 and Columbia Law School two years later.  He would become senior partner in the legal firm of Wickes, Riddell, Bloomer, Jacobi and Mcguire.

When the newlyweds moved in, as seen in this 1905 photograph, nothing about the mansion had changed outside.  The American Architect and Building News, April 22, 1905 (copyright expired)
The Wickes' social rounds in Lenox, Newport and Manhattan were brought to a halt by World War I.  Forsyth enlisted in the U. S. Army in the summer of 1917 and became a captain in the Infantry later that year.  Before the end of the year he was deployed to France.  Following the Armistice he was sent home in December 1918 and returned to civilian life the following month.   He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, the French Legion of Honor and the Croix de Guerre.

A cultured and avid collector of 18th century French paintings and porcelain, he filled the Madison Avenue house with treasures.  Decades later his collection was listed among the 26 "most outstanding" in the world.

But by the time Forsyth returned from the war, the Madison Avenue neighborhood was noticeably changing from an upscale residential enclave to a commercial thoroughfare.  On November 15, 1919 the Record & Guide reported "The Forsyth Wickes residence a four story building at 266 Madison av...with a two-story stable in the rear has been leased for twenty-one years for business purposes."  The lease came with a $13,000 per year rent--just under $190,000 today.  The deal was possible only because, as pointed out by the New-York Tribune, "The house is outside the Murray Hill restricted zone."

Amazingly, however, nothing was changed to the exterior of the mansion.  It retained the appearance of a private residence while firms like Roberts & Thompson, silk merchants, and the National Automobile Chamber of Commerce operated from within.

In 1923 there was little hint that the former mansion was anything but a residence.  On 39th Street is Marianna Ogden's former stable.  photograph from the collection of the New York Public Library
Despite the 21-year lease, the once-elegant home was doomed.  It was demolished in 1923 to be replaced by the 19-story 266-272 Madison Avenue.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

The Henry Heide Co. Bldg - 14-16 Harrison Street

Born in Germany in 1846, Henry Heide immigrated to America at the age of 20, just after the end of the Civil War.  After briefly running a grocery store he found his true calling--making candy.  In 1868 he founded the Henry Heide Candy Company.  The firm obtained a patent in 1875 for a "new and improved preserve composition for macaroons."  Heide's almond paste would be touted as "the finest article ever invented for maccaroons [sic] and general baking purposes" by Illustrated New York in 1888.

Henry Heide in his later, prosperous years.  from the collection of the Science History Institute
On April 29, 1881 Heide purchased the two wooden houses at Nos. 14 and 16 Harrison Street from Aymar Embury.  He paid $15,500 for the properties--about $380,000 today.  Six months later, on October 29, the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that architect George Da Cunha "is at work on plans for a stone building to be built in Harrison street, between Hudson and Greenwich streets, for Henry Heide.  It will be of brick with stone trimmings, 40x100, and will cost $30,000."  The total cost of the project now amounted to what today would equal about $1.15 million.

Completed the following year, Da Cunha's candy factory was a handsome blend of neo-Grec and Queen Anne styles.  The first floor, above a raised loading dock, was faced in cast iron.  Here architectural details, like the pyramidal caps of the end piers, mimicked those of the upper cornice.  The windows of the second through fourth floors wore neo-Grec lintels supported on stepped brick corbels.   At the fifth floor the arched openings sat below projecting brick eyebrows.  The Queen Anne style stepped in with triangular, dog-tooth spandral panels below a honeycomb frieze formed by recessed bricks.  Above the cast metal cornice was a triangular pediment.

After more than 135 years, Henry Heide's painted announcement "Almond Paste" survives above the loading dock.
The firm's success and growth prompted Heide to lease No. 18 Harrison Street in the spring of 1886.  Architect Thomas R. Jackson was hired to connect the buildings internally.

Two years later Illustrated New York described the combined premises as "divided into manufacturing and sales departments, equipped with every modern appliance for rapid and successful production and perfect in convenience of arrangement for inspection and sale."  By now, said the writer, Henry Heide Candy was "One of the most prominent and best known houses in this line of industry in New York."  

The firm's astounding growth was evidenced in the comment "Mr. Heide has a new building in course of erection, which will connect the rear of this building through to Franklin Street, and which will be six stories high."  When completed, the candy factory was an unlikely pasting together of three separate buildings.  And then in 1891 Heide added yet another property, the adjoining Nos. 181-183 Franklin Street.  The four joined buildings comprised about 50,000 square feet.

Artistic brickwork was used to create the details of the upper floors.  
At the time Heide's bookkeeper was a young German man, Otto Kuhn.  In the days when many transactions were conducted in cash, his was a highly responsible position.  In February 1891 he approached Heide and asked "if he could be spared for a few months to take a flying trip to Europe," according to The Evening World.  (The term "flying trip" referred to its short length and had nothing to do with the yet-to-be-invented airplane.)

The 27-year-old married man may have initially intended to skip town to avoid prosecution.  The Evening World reported that not long after his departure Heide "discovered that money was missing, and an investigation of Kuhn's books, it is alleged, revealed a shortage of about $1,000."  It was a significant amount, equal to about $28,500 today.

If Kuhn had intended to remain in Europe, he changed his mind.  Detectives learned that he was aboard the White Star steamship the Britannic headed to New York and on April 10 were at the dock to meet it.  "Kuhn admitted that he had stolen the $1,000," reported The Evening World, "and squandered it in gambling houses and high living."

More serious troubles came in the form of another German-born employee, candy packer Charles Miller.   After the night watchman, August Loeffler reported that the 25-year-old Miller was a loafer, he was fired "for neglect of duty."  Enraged, Miller was bent on revenge.

On the afternoon of April 18, 1894 he sneaked into the factory and hid in the cellar.  Miller silently waited until the employees had gone home and night fell.  About 1:00 a.m. he attacked.

The following morning, according to The Sun, "the body of the night watchman was found in the basement of the factory.  His skull was crushed in, and several ribs were broken."  The cash drawer had been emptied of $17.

Charles Miller had been in the United States eight years when the murder was committed.  The Sun, August 10, 1894 (copyright expired)
Miller may have gotten away with the murder had he not remained in the vicinity.  The Sun said "he was seen hanging about the neighborhood of the factory.  Some one noticed blood on his clothes, and remembered that he had been discharged on account of the watchman's report three weeks before."  He was arrested on suspicion and confessed at Police Headquarters.

Police released a chilling description of the crime.  "Miller lay in wait for his victim and hit him on the head with a heavy hammer.  Then maddened by the sigh of blood, he had jumped on the body, breaking the ribs."

The story of Charles Miller ended in even more violence and tragedy.  After occupying cell 67 in The Tombs prison four months, he was found by a jail keeper on the morning of August 9 with his throat slashed by a razor.  Miller was still alive and taken unconscious to Bellevue Hospital.  Surgeons valiantly attempted to save his live, but he died there within a few hours.  How he obtained the razor to commit his gory suicide was never discovered.

Almost unbelievably, the Henry Heide Candy Co. had again outgrown its immense factory building.  Now, in 1895, Heide obtained the real estate at the corner of Hudson and Vandam Street and began construction of a cutting-edge structure.  When completed the factory had a daily capacity of 250,000 pounds of confectionery products.  (As an interesting side note, in the first half of the 20th century the Henry Heide company would introduce the gummy candies Jujyfruits and Jujubes, a staple for movie goers for decades.)

Henry Heide retained ownership of the four buildings on Harrison and Franklin Streets, and after the candy company moved out they were separated.  Nos. 14-16 was leased to Edward D. Depew & Co., wholesale grocers.  

Edward Depew advertised on a jutting sign at the front and a painted ad on the western elevation.  Note the now-lost pediment.  New York, the Metropolis, 1902 (copyright expired)

The residency of Edward D. Depew & Co. was relatively short-lived.  On December 30, 1908 the New York Produce Review and American Creamery reported "The Harrison Street Cold Storage Company has secured a twelve years lease on the six story and basement brick buildings at 14 and 16 Harrison street."  The article said the structure "will be entirely refitted for modern cold storage...The new plant will be insulated with cork board from the Armstrong Cork Company of Pittsburg."  The Harrison Street block was developing into what would be called the "butter and egg district" and the journal commented that the building would be "carrying butter and eggs."

Henry Heide hired architect Nelson K. Vanderbeck to upgrade the building for his tenant in the spring of 1911.  Vanderbeck's plans called for "cast-iron columns in 6-sty refrigerating warehouse."  

Five years later, in July 1916, Heide liquidated all of his Franklin Street and Harrison Street properties, selling them to the Red Diamond Realty Corporation.  The new landlords leased the building to the Merchants Refrigerating Co.  

In 1918 to The New York Butter Packing Co. rented space from that firm.  The New York Produce Review and American Creamery explained that The New York Butter Packing Co. would "receive, store and deliver butter and eggs" from the address.  It was a depot of sorts for the firm, its large packing and shipping plant being located at Newcomerstown, Ohio.

Two years later the New York Butter Packing Co. merged with C. F. Bullard's Cudahy Packing Co. to form C. F. Bullard & Co.  The American Produce Review reported that its offices would be at No. 171 Duane Street, and it would use the Harrison Street building as its warehouse.  "The new concern will handle butter, cheese and eggs."

As mid-century approached the J. S. Hoffman Company, cheese merchants, leased the building.  On May 7, 1945 The New York Sun reported that the firm had purchased the building, along with the two structures at Nos. 179 through 183 Franklin Street.  And once again the structures were internally connected.  The deal amounted to $1.75 million in today's dollars.

By the last quarter of the 20th century artists were displacing cheese, egg and butter dealers in the block's vintage loft buildings.  The former Henry Heide Candy factory was converted to "joint living/work quarters for artists."  There was one residence per floor through fourth story, with a duplex above.  It may have been around this time that the pediment was removed.

The duplex became home to a celebrated occupant.  In 1977 playright Edward Albee purchased the space, filling it with modern art masterpieces by the likes of Chagall and Kandinsky, as well as a collection of African art.   

Albee posed in the Harrison Street duplex for The New York Times.  photo by Sara Krulwich, The New York Times, June 16, 1991
The long wooden dining room table, where Albee reportedly wrote portions of his plays, was the scene of script readings, and the vast open space saw rehearsals.  Once a year Albee threw his anticipated Christmas party attended by stage and screen royalty like Marlene Deitrich, Kathleen Turner and Lauren Bacall.  Albee's summer estate was in Montauk, Long Island.

The Harrison Street duplex was for decades the home of one of America's greatest playwrights.  photos via Douglas Elliman Real Estate 
Edward Albee died on September 16, 2016, having won three Pulitzer Prizes for Drama and two Tony Awards for  Best Play.  Among his best-known works were The Zoo Story, The Sandbox, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and A Delicate Balance.  

Albee's 4,515 square foot duplex was recently placed on the market for $7.5 million.  In the meantime, the former candy factory is little changed--other than the lost pediment--including the permanent awning over the loading dock.

photographs by the author
many thanks to Douglas Elliman agent Tom Titone for showing me around the Albee apartment 

Friday, May 17, 2019

The Schumacher & Ettlinger Building - 32-36 Bleecker Street

In 1796 the plot of land at what would become Bleecker Street between Mott and Mulberry Streets was part of Anthony Smith's farm.   But by the decade following the Civil War the blockfront sat within a vibrant commercial area.  At No. 36 Bleecker Street was the shop of Bauch & Gougelmann, who advertised "Artificial human eyes made to order on reasonable terms."

As early as 1880 Louis Ettlinger owned the properties at Nos. 32 through 36.  A partner in Schumacher & Ettlinger, lithographers, in 1882 he commissioned architect Edward E. Raht to erect a modern printing house on the site.   Completed three years later, the massive red brick structure was an industrial take on Romanesque Revival (although oddly enough the marble upper story lintels were holdovers of a generation or two earlier).  It wore a Second Empire mansard roof, and a beefy cast iron storefront faced Bleecker Street.

The heavy machinery and stock had barely been moved into the new building when disaster struck in the form of a devastating fire.  The Report of the Fire Department of the City of New York documented: "The fire was caused by spontaneous combustion of oily rubbish carelessly thrown into the waste-paper room in the basement."

Fighting the inferno required twenty fire engines.  The Philadelphia Inquirer reported "The colony of Italians and other inmates of the tenement houses adjoining the building on Mott street were hurried from their homes, and were no sooner out of the way than two five-ton water tanks fell from the roof of No. 34, carrying with them portions of the roof and front and side walls...When the roof fell in the sparks flew up, and fell again half a mile away."

The article said "The large building was entirely gutted and the valuable machinery was pretty well destroyed.  The total loss is about $350,000 of which $100,000 is on the building."  The financial loss was staggering, nearly $9.5 million today.

Edward E. Raht was called back to design the extensive repairs, which included completely rebuilding the topmost floors.  This time he forewent the marble lintels on the Bleecker Street elevation, opting for segmental-arched openings.  The projecting central portion of the front was given Queen Anne touches in the form of dog-toothed brick panels.  Romantic medieval corbel courses decorated the fifth and sixth floors.  

The extent of the rebuilding can be seen in the change in fenestration beginning at the fifth floor.

There would be one more remodeling to come.  In 1892 Louis Ettlinger hired the architectural firm of Schickel & Co. to add a top floor, as reported in the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide.  Although mostly unseen from the street, the addition showed off with a Queen Anne style multi-level parapet.

The enlargement of the building may have been prompted by Schumacher & Ettlinger's merger with other printers.  In its January 1892 issue, The American Art Printer reported that "a lithographers' trust has been formed consisting of the firms of George S. Harris & Sons...Schumacher & Ettlinger, the Knapp Company, F. Heppenheimer's Sons, Geo. H. Buek, and the Giles Company...The trust will be known as the American Lithographic Company."

Scientific American Building Edition, April 1897 (copyright expired)
In 1897 Louis Ettlinger sold the Bleecker Street building.  Schumacher & Ettlinger, as part of the American Lithographic Company, moved to East 19th Street.  In its place now was the wholesale paper firm, Henry Lindemeyr & Sons.

The company sold printing papers to publishers, lithographers, and other large printing establishments.  It would remain in the building for decades, advertising in March 1924 that its papers were "tested for printing, folding and binding qualities."

In 1930 the building was leased by another wholesale paper firm, Aaronson Brothers.  Their move was reported in the Paper Trade Journal, which noted "they are occupying the entire building, a six-story structure with basement having a total floor area of 70,000 square feet."  Like Henry Lindenmeyr & Sons, Aaronson Brothers would operate from the building for decades.

Before the dawn of the 21st century the personality of the neighborhood changed.  Now known as Noho, factories were nudged out as galleries, restaurants and residential spaces engulfed the district.

Stillman Development International purchased the Schumacher & Ettlinger building and embarked on a $70 million conversion to a total of 20 condominiums, led by Morris Adjmi Architects.  The project was named the Schumacher, an unintentional snub to Louis Ettlinger who, in fact, was the owner of the building when Schumacher & Ettlinger was here.

On July 26, 2013 Robin Finn wrote an article in The New York Times entitled "Call Me Mansion."  It explored the recent trend among developers to term large multilevel condominiums as "mansions."  Included in the article was the Schumacher, still under construction, which would include four such spaces.

Finn questioned the feasibility of these houses-within-apartment buildings.  "Few are functional yet, but that didn't stop the modern art fancier Alberto Mugrabi, whose family owns the largest private collection of Warhols in the world, from contracting to buy not just one but two of the four mansions offered by prospectus at the Schumacher...Once combined they will provide him with a 9,000-square-foot playpen/gallery and his very own front door.  Maybe two."

Even Mugrabi struggled with the term.  "When I think of mansions I think of the Frick, or a humongous house on the Upper East Side.  I guess I'm going to have one of my own downtown, but I probably won't call it my mansion.  I'll call it home.  Or my pied-à-terre."

Developer Roy Stillman defended the term at the Schumacher, where the four triplex mansions ranged in price from $6.75 million to just under $11 million.  "These homes convey Old World grandeur.  From a subjective perspective, I can say that they are bona fide mansions and pass the straight-face test."  (Mugrabi's two-mansion purchase cost him $18.6 million and came as a "white box," without interior walls or finishes.)

The Schumacher's lush interiors make it difficult to envision printing presses and bales of paper. images via

The Schumacher got a highly visible resident in actor Jonah Hill in May 2016.  The actor, producer and director paid $9.16 million for his 3,280-square-foot apartment with four bedrooms and as many baths.

The careful restoration of the more than 130-year-old structure brought it back to its handsome Victorian appearance.

photographs by the author