Friday, October 24, 2014

Village Charm -- No. 243 West 4th Street

In the 1920s Greenwich Village was the center of New York’s bohemian life.   For more than a decade artists, musicians, poets and writers had been lured to its winding, quaint streets.  Along with the colorful denizens came subterranean tearooms, wine cafes and picturesque restaurants.   And by the ‘20s upper or middle-class residents from uptown (known as “slummers” by the locals) flocked to these haunts for daring evenings out.

Dante Gerelli and his wife lived in the handsome Italianate rowhouse at No. 49 Charles Street, on the corner of West 4th Street.   Rather than convert the basement level to a restaurant, as so many enterprising property owners were doing, the 36-year old Italian commissioned Vincent M. Cajano to design a two-story extension behind the house.  The architect’s office was nearby at No. 239 Bleecker Street and he focused much of his work in the Village.

Completed in 1927, it was a charming sandy-colored brick structure with a decidedly Mediterranean flavor.  Cajano used rough-textured brick to give the building an aged, rustic feel.  Arched windows above the two entrances—one for the residence upstairs and one into the restaurant—were graced with delightful iron Juliette balconies.  A matching balcony stretched the width of the centered triple window between them.   The Southern Italian motif was continued in the false roof of clay tiles that projected from the parapet and in the heavy wooden doors with beaten iron strap hinges.

The new building took the place of two small dwelling houses, No. 241 having been the home of W. H. Crawford in the 1880s.  In order to imply age, Cajano may have gone out of his way to make his two story structure appear to be a converted carriage house.

The little restaurant building looked, in 1933, little different than it does today.  photo from the collection of the New York Public Library
While Dante and his wife lived in the large house on Charles Street, Anthony Gerella (building documents may have misspelled his surname) was living above the restaurant.  The Gerellis were here until January 1937, when Dante sold the property to neighbor Joseph Barile, who lived at No. 59 Charles Street.

The little building continued to serve as a restaurant at ground level and apartment above for decades.  In 1951 when Leo Tagalos married Jean House, a New Orleans native, the couple moved in upstairs.

Then in 1969 the quaint little building was converted to two duplex apartments.  That arrangement would be short-lived, and just three years later it was renovated into a single family home.  The charismatic little building is little changed since 1927.  And, as Vincent Cajano intended, it looks for all the world as if it has sat on West 4th Street for half a century longer.

photos by the author

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Rosenbaum Mansion - No. 5 East 73rd Street

In 1865 the Bonesteel family’s house at No. 5 East 73rd Street was in turmoil.  Just across Fifth Avenue Central Park was under construction, shattering the quiet home life that living this far north should have provided.  The blasts used to clear the land no doubt splintered Victorian nerves within the household.

Wilhelmina Bonesteel was teaching in the Primary Department of School No. 53 on 79th Street, between Second and Third Avenues when, on December 5, 1865, her brother Teunis, was drafted into the army.

By the late 1880s when Manhattan’s wealthy had already begun inching northward along the park, the Bonesteel house was one of the oldest in the neighborhood.  It seems that 1889 was a difficult one for many homeowners and on December 21 that year the Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide reported “Still another foreclosure sale was No. 5 East 73rd Street…on which over $50,000 is due and which was disposed of to A. S. Rosenbaum at $51,250.”  The winning bid for the dated home would amount to about $1.25 million today.

Albert S. Rosenbaum was a former tobacco merchant who had retired and gone into the hotel business.  He was proprietor of the Hotel Albert, at No. 42 East 11th Street; and the Hotel Stephen just steps away at No. 48 East 11th Street.  The 58-year old had arrived in America from Cassel, Germany when he was 18 years old.

It was 1849, the Gold Rush was at its peak, and the enterprising young man saw opportunity.  Rather than settling on New York’s Lower East Side with other German immigrants, he set off for California.  The New York Times later said “by dint of great business tact, shrewdness, and industry [he] rapidly accumulated money, which he invested advantageously in San Francisco real estate.”

Armed with a handsome fortune, Rosenbaum returned to New York to run his tobacco company.  He became a Director of the Manhattan Loan and Trust Company, along with other financial institutions, and was highly involved in surface railroad companies like the Third Avenue Surface Railroad Company.

Rosenbaum and his wife had a son and four grown daughters.  One of them would live here only about a year.  On November 12, 1891 at 6:30 in the evening “over a hundred friends of Mr. and Mrs. Albert S. Rosenbaum assembled in the large reception room at Delmonico’s, Fifth Avenue and Twenty-sixth Street, to witness the marriage of their daughter, Annie Sophie Rosenbaum, to Solomon Kalten Lichtenstein, a young lawyer of this city,” said The Times.  The large assemblage testified to Rosenbaum’s social position and included names like McCreery, Schwab, and Rothschild.
The wealthy hotel man would not enjoy the 73rd Street house for many years.  At 3:30 on the morning of February 18, 1894 he suffered a fatal heart attack.  In reporting his death, The New York Times mentioned “Mr. Rosenbaum was sixty-three years old, and was one of the wealthiest Hebrews in this country.”

By the turn of the century things along the 73rd Street block were changing.  As Fifth Avenue filled with lavish mansions, the old-fashioned brownstones on the side streets were rapidly being razed or remodeled into high-end residences.  In 1901 powerful publisher Joseph Pulitzer demolished five rowhouses abutting the Rosenbaum house and began construction on his massive McKim, Mead & White-designed palazzo.  The architects included a service alley between the properties.  It would be as advantageous to the Rosenbaums as to Pulitzer.

That same year, most likely prompted by Pulitzer’s improvements next door, the Rosenbaum family razed No. 5.  Architects Buchman & Fox prepared plans for a magnificent five-story Beaux Arts mansion.  What the house lacked in width (at just 21 feet), it made up for in elegant design.  As a result of Pulitzer’s service alley, the house was a rare free-standing structure.

Each level of the French-inspired design vied amiably for attention.  The grand portico with its dramatic arched pediment was supported by blue-toned marble columns.  Directly above a stone balcony bowed out from the façade.  Above the three floors of rusticated stone ornate brackets supported a projecting cornice, and a copper clad mansard capped it all.  The Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide reported the cost at $35,000—about $930,000 today.

The house was completed in January 1902.  The family had constructed the mansion as an investment rather than a home and quickly leased it to Ailene Hostetter “for a term of years.” 

Ailene’s husband, Theodore, was being treated in a sanitarium on Park Avenue.  A pharmaceutical manufacturer, Hostetter augmented to his millions by gambling.  The Los Angeles Herald said he had “the reputation of being the boldest plunger New York has ever seen.”

Originally from Pittsburg, “Tod” Hostetter was described by another gambler, David Johnson.  He said Hostetter had “all kinds of money and the instincts of a sport.  He would bet on anything from a dog fight to a boiler explosion, and he bet them as high as the cat’s back.”

Ailene Hostetter settled into No. 5 East 73rd Street as her husband’s condition deteriorated.  He died in August that year, leaving his widow to deal with claims of over $1 million in gambling debts.

By 1906 the mansion was occupied by a much less controversial family.  On April 12, 1904 the 26-year old William Armistead Moale Burden, son of I. Townsend Burden, was married in St. Thomas’s Church.  The prominence and wealth of his family would have made the Fifth Avenue wedding an important event; but his choice of brides made it socially momentous.  Florence Vanderbilt Twombly was the daughter of the fabulously wealthy Hamilton McKay Twombly and the granddaughter of William H. Vanderbilt.

“Both the bride and bridegroom were exceeding popular in the younger set in society,” said The New York Times.  Unlike some society matches, the marriage of the athletic Burden (he was Captain of the Varsity football team at Harvard) and Florence Twombly was based on true romance.  After Ailene Hostetter moved out of No. 5, the newlyweds moved in.

Tragedy struck the young couple when, on Tuesday, February 6, 1905 their new-born daughter died of pneumonia.  Following the appropriate period of mourning, they resumed their social lives and on November 14, 1906 The New York Times reported that they had returned to the East 73rd Street mansion for the winter season.

On the afternoon of December 9, 1908 Florence gave birth to a baby boy in the house.  It was a welcomed spark of joy in the Burdens’ tragic lives.  For about a year William Burden had suffered a disease which, according to The New York Times, “baffles physicians in diagnosing.”  On October 1, 1907 he retired from the Stock Exchange firm of James D. Smith & Co. citing his health as the reason.

When Burden suffered his first attack, which resulted in high fever, he traveled to Europe to recuperate.  While there he had a relapse.  William and Florence returned to New York where the attacks recurred repeatedly.

Only weeks after the baby’s birth, his condition took “an alarming form and forced him to keep to his bed,” reported The Times.  His frustrated doctors tried unsuccessfully to diagnose the problem.  “The only name they can give it is chronic recurrent fever,” said the newspaper.  “They have not yet been able to ascertain its cause or to devise a treatment for it.”  At 11:00 in the morning on February 2, 1909 the 31-year old millionaire died in the 73rd Street mansion.

Florence and her two sons, William and Shirley, continued to live in the mansion.  Three years later on July 6, 1912 the Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide mentioned that the A. S. Rosenbaum estate had renewed the lease “to Mrs. F. A. V. Twombly” for “a term of years.”

In June 1920 Florence purchased the magnificent Jonathan Thorne mansion at No. 1028 Fifth Avenue at the corner of 84th Street, putting the title in William Jr's name.  After nearly two decades of renting the Rosenbaum house, the Burdens moved on.

Taking their place was the family of William Whalen.  Whalen was nearly killed the following year when he was traveling in a two-car train on the Second Avenue El.  A steel subway train had been parked overnight at the Fisk Avenue Station in Queens and had just been switched to the main track as rush hour approached.   The motorman of Whalen’s wooden train, George Kessler, did not see the tail lights of the motionless subway train and crashed into it.  “The first car of the moving train was demolished,” reported the New-York Tribune on November 10, 1921.  Kessler was in that car and was listed among “the most severely injured.”

The Rosenbaum Estate would retain ownership of the mansion until October 1930 when it was sold to W. Barton Baldwin for $135,000 (nearly $1.8 million today).  Baldwin had been living at No. 33 East 65th Street.  The purchase came just in time for daughter Lelia’s wedding reception.

The wedding of Lelia and Francis H. Tomes took place in St. Bartholomew’s Church on June 16, 1931.  The New York Times said the church “was a garden of Spring flowers.”  The newspaper described the elaborate floral decorations saying “pink rambler roses trailing over trellises concealed the side walls, and the windows were banked with the bright blossoms.  White Spring flowers were massed in the chancel against a background of lofty ferns, and clusters of white stock, snapdragons, sweet peas and feathery asparagus ferns had been fastened to the ends of alternate pews along the main aisle, making a white and green floral lane through which the bridal party passed”

Following the ceremony the reception was held in the 73rd Street house where “an orchestra of Markels played.”

It would all play out again five years later when, on March 23, 1936, the Baldwins announced daughter Ruth’s engagement to George C. Sharp.  The couple was married on April 30 in St. James Church.

The New York Times lamented on July 2, 1940 “Another fine old East Side residence shortly will become an apartment house as the result of the sale of the five-story building at 5 East Seventy-third Street, once the home of W. Barton Baldwin.”  The newspaper reported that the property was valued at $102,000 and “contains an automatic elevator and other special appointments.”

Within the year the conversion was completed; resulting in a doctor’s office on the first floor, two apartments on floors two through five, and a penthouse, unseen from the street.  To modernize the building, a glass block entrance was added.  Happily, sometime after 1981, it was removed.

Buchman & Fox’s eye-catching mansion survives nearly intact.  It remains a high-end multi-family residence and still holds its own with the palatial Pulitzer mansion next door.

photo by the author

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Orchid -- No. 170 West 78th Street

In 1890 not only was the Upper West Side developing as sewers were laid and mass transit extended to the area; but apartment living was becoming more widely acceptable.  On the east side of Central Park apartment buildings would be known by their addresses; on the west side they more often took names, like The Dakota, The Wyoming and The Chatsworth.

Construction began that year on one more:  The Orchid.  Owner-developer Lorton Horton was busy in the area, having erected a multi-use structure containing a store, apartments and stables two years earlier at No. 371 Amsterdam Avenue.  He chose architect Frank A. Rooke for the project.

Now Horton sought the architect’s talents again.  He owned the adjoining property encompassing Nos. 373 and 375 Amsterdam Avenue and rounding the corner to No. 170 West 78th Street.  For this site Higgs & Rooke would produce a massive Romanesque Revival block of tan brick, stone and pressed metal.  Stores lined the street level along Amsterdam Avenue and a grand entrance for the “French flats” faced 78th Street.

New York architects, especially on the Upper West Side, were taking note of the city’s Dutch roots at the time.  Flemish Revival churches, schools and houses cropped up as quaint reminders of Manhattan’s beginnings.  Higgs & Rooke gave their nod to the movement with centered Dutch stepped gables on both elevations. 
A monumental arch sitting on clustered columns provided the 78th street entrance.  Exquisite carvings filled the spandrels and the address was handsomely carved into the stone.

The pressed metal bay windows, too, strayed from the Romanesque with swags and other floral motifs and unusual hefty beaded engaged columns at the third floor.  But the residential entranceway within the rough-cut stone base, there was purely medieval.  The deep-set, sturdy stone arch sat on clustered columns.  Exquisite snarled carving filled the spandrels and the street number was beautifully incised into the keystone.

Beaded, thin columns, festoons and ribbons made up the pressed metal decorations.
The Orchid filled with respectable middle and upper-middle class families, like the widowed Mrs. George Wesley Spencer and her daughter, Evelyn Grace; Edwin H. Hammer who was the New York agent for Keasbey & Mattison, makers of Bromo-Caffeine; and Dr. Robert W. Eastman; all of whom were among the initial residents.

On October 27, 1891 Mrs. Spencer’s apartment was the scene of Evelyn’s wedding reception.  Earlier that day she had married William Henry Blaine, a relative of the Secretary of State, James G. Blaine.  The Sun noted that “Miss Spencer wore at her throat a blazing diamond pendant, a present from the bridegroom.”

As privileged children of society neared their teen years they would need to learn to dance.  Debutante balls and cotillions were in their futures; and every well-heeled member of society would be expected to perform adequately at society’s many dinner dances each season.  On November 26, 1893 The New York Times mentioned “As the season lengthens the dancing classes increase in number, much to the satisfaction of the juvenile members of society.”  The newspaper noted that “Mills Lillian Barry of 170 West Seventy-eighth Street has arranged to give a series of dances in Hodgson’s Assembly Rooms” on Fifth Avenue to groom youngsters in dancing.

Dutch gables coexist with Romanesque elements in the hefty design.

Along with Dr. Good, several other physicians made The Orchid their home, such as Dr. Robert W. Eastman, and Dr. Philip R. Moale who was in the building by 1895. 

Dr. Good was still in the building at the turn of the century and after midnight on May 20, 1900 he received a frantic knock on his door.  Mrs. Ellen Wessels lived nearby at No. 2183 Broadway and pleaded for his help.  Her brother-in-law, Dr. Charles Smith Collins, who also lived at the Broadway address, was in trouble.

The Times explained “Dr. Collins had been ill for several weeks and had been in the habit of taking drugs to ease his pain and induce sleep.”  Around 10:30 that evening he had taken “a quantity of chloral.”  Mrs. Collins awoke to find her husband struggling to breathe and in distress.  The New-York Tribune reported “Dr. Good made every effort to counteract the effect of the poison, but failed to do so, and Dr. Collins died at 3:20 o’clock.”

Another doctor, named Swift, lived in The Orchid in 1903.  It was in his apartment on Friday November 27 that year that The Pathological Society held its meeting, according to The National Journal of Homoeopathic Medicine.

The attraction of the building to physicians was pointed out in its advertisements.  Most apartments contained seven rooms “all light” and rented in 1905 from $720 to $840 a year—approximately $1500 to $1800 a month in today’s dollars.  But the first floor apartments were larger, having two additional rooms.  An advertisement in The Sun on September 22, 1905 noted that these apartments were “extra large, suitable for dentist or doctor; rent $1,000.”

Among the tenants not involved in the medical field was stock broker Thomas M. Daly whose offices were at No. 32 Pine Street.  In 1903 the couple engaged the services of two servant girls, Annie Williams and her sister Frances.  The girls worked for a while, then gave their notice.  Shortly after they left, Mrs. Daly noticed things missing—specifically $2,000 worth of jewelry.

She notified police and detectives and Inspector McClusky began an investigation.  Before long he discovered that other women in the neighborhood had been robbed.  Based on the description of the two sisters “it was easy to trace the women to their home,” said The New York Times on December 27.

The police raided the Williams girls’ apartment at No. 201 East 97th Street.  “Two trunks full of silverware, bric-a-brac, and costly furs, worth, in all, according to the police, over $10,000, were taken from the rooms occupied by the prisoners and sent to Police headquarters to await identification.”

Around the same time Dr. Daniel T. Millspaugh moved in.  He would stay in The Orchid into the 1920s.  The doctor ran his medical practice from here and operated the Riverlawn Sanitarium in Paterson, New Jersey.  Millspaugh’s advertisements for the facility promised “care and treatment of all Forms of Nervous and mild Mental Cases.  Alcoholic and Drug Addiction—selected Cases Only.”  Riverlawn offered “All Approved Forms of Treatment Used.  Baths, Massage, Electricity.”

The Orchid continued to attract white-collar occupants as World War I approached.  G. W. Sterling was Freight Traffic Manager of Pier 19 on the North River; Albert J. McCullagh was an “investigator,” and Thomas F. Dooley was a civil servant, earning $1,800 a year as an “attendant” in Supreme Court, 1st District.  (Dooley’s salary in 1918 would equate to about $26,000 today.)

Although they were not considered wealthy, the residents were well-off enough that, like the Dalys, most had domestic help.  Carrie Strauss was working as a servant in one of the apartments in 1918 when, it appears, the family was preparing to leave for the summer.  She placed an advertisement in Gleanings in Bee Culture in April that year seeking “a position for the summer with a bee-keeper by a farmer’s daughter.”

Scandal visited  The Orchid in 1921 when Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Macgowan sued her husband, Claude, for failing to pay her $25 a week alimony.  Claude H. Macgowan had been manager of the Universal Film Manufacturing Company.  Their troubles started when he began seeing Elizabeth Stevens.

Mary Macgowan told Justice Delehanty on April 21, 1921 that her husband left her “more than two years ago, and was at one time living with Elizabeth Stevens” at No. 170 West 78th Street.  “A boy, David, was with the couple, Mrs. Macgowan,” reported The Times.  “Mrs. Macgowan says her husband lived at that address until Dec. 23, last.”

As if Claude Macgowan’s cohabitating with Elizabeth Stevens was not shocking enough, he kidnapped his children and brought them to The Orchid.  “Mrs. Macgowan further alleges that her husband spirited her two children, Claudia and Ursala, from a convent on Staten Island and took them to the apartment occupied by the other woman.”

Despite Macgowan’s affair with “the other woman,” residents of The Orchid were mostly highly respectable.  In 1922 Margaret Baker Morison, who was a 1907 graduate of Bryn Mawr College, was teaching English at Miss Chapin’s School.  That same year resident Mary G. Earl was working as a psychologist with the Department of Hygiene.

In 1968 a renovation resulted in two apartments on the first floor and three each on the upper stories.  The building, which had long ago lost its charismatic name, appeared in the 1977 film The Goodbye Girl.  Richard Dryfuss, as Elliot, and Marsha Mason, playing the part of Paula, shared an apartment here in the Neil Simon hit.

Higgs & Rooke’s eccentric structure retains most of its architectural charm.  Garish store fronts replace the originals on the avenue and the façade is inexcusably grimy and the metal elements rusting.  Yet it survives as a wonderful relic of a time when the West Side was flexing its muscle as Manhattan’s newest neighborhood.

photographs by the author

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Kleeberg Mansion -- No. 3 Riverside Drive

In 1919, two decades after the fact, The Northeastern Reporter explained the rise of a string of lavish mansions at the foot of Riverside Drive, all designed separately by a single architect.

“In 1896 one John S. Sutphen was the owner of the entire block between Seventy-Second and Seventy-Third streets fronting on Riverside Drive.  He formed a general plan to improve and develop the land, and filed in the office of the register a map dividing it into lots.”  The first sale, according to the Reporter was in June, 1896, including a plot “to one Kleeberg.”

Philip Kleeberg’s deed included restrictions similar to the others.  Kleeberg, “his heirs and assigns, shall, within two years from the date hereof, cause to be erected and fully completed upon said lot, a first-class building, adapted for and which shall be used only as a private residence for one family, and which shall conform to the plans made of being made by C. P. H. Gilbert, architect.”

At the time developers intended that Riverside Drive would rival or surpass Fifth Avenue with palatial dwellings.  Its superb views from above the Hudson River and the manicured Riverside Park were its answer to Fifth Avenue’s Central Park.  Sutphen may have been friendly with the mansion architect Gilbert; or perhaps he chose him to do the work simply because he knew and trusted his well-earned reputation.

Philip Kleeberg and his wife, Maria, wasted little time in setting the gears in motion.  Within four months, on October 3, 1896, The American Architect and Building News announced Kleeberg’s plans to build a “four-story brick dwelling to cost $55,000, on Riverside Drive, near 73d St.”  Including the price of the land, $145,000 according to The New York Times, the outlay would be more in the neighborhood of $5 million today.

The Kleebergs were relatively young and the aggressive businessman’s fortune came from a variety of enterprises.  Originally involved in the wholesale lace business, he was by now also President of the Frog Mountain Ore Company, Vice-President of the Colonial Oil Company, and held directorships in the New York Petroleum Company, the William Radam Microbe Killer Company, the Alabama and Georgia Iron Company, and the Empire Steel and Iron Company.  Years later he would invent a calculator and in 1916 become President of the National Calculator Company.

Construction of No. 3 Riverside Drive took two years and as it neared completion, The Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide gave a hint at the high-end details when it reported that the Hernsheim Architectural Iron Works was at work on a “bronze vestibule gate for the handsome dwelling No. 3 Riverside Drive, Chas. P. H. Gilbert, architect.”  Construction was completed in 1898 and the Kleebergs, who had lived at No. 56 East 73rd Street, now defected in a nearly straight line across the park. 

Charles Pierrepont Henry Gilbert had produced a sumptuous confection in a frothy style so nebulous as to put architectural historians at odds.  The AIA Guide to New York City calls it “freely interpreted Dutch Renaissance;” while the Landmarks Preservation Commission argues it is “French Renaissance Revival.”  Late 19th century American architects were not wont to concern themselves with historical purity; and elements of both styles can be detected in Gilbert’s design.

American Architect and Architecture (copyright expired)

The architect set the entrance to the side, allowing for a spacious parlor looking onto the park.  The mansion’s bow-fronted façade stopped at three floors, allowing Gilbert to provide a “terrace” at the fourth floor accessed by a long square-columned gallery to the side.  The elaborate stone gables, ornamented with spiky finials and florid s-shaped brackets, culminated in deeply-carved shells.  In a somewhat tongue-in-cheek gesture, Gilbert perched a stone cherub holding a bowl of fruit at the pinnacle.

High above it all a stone cherub (one has been lost) surveys Riverside Drive.  The "terrace" would be the scene of tragedy.

The Kleebergs’s marriage may have been a bit shaky.  The title to the new mansion was put in Maria’s name, as was expected.  And the family, including three sons, moved in and outside appearances were maintained.  However Philip reportedly acquired a second home on the Upper West Side for his own use. 

Gradually the row of houses around No. 3 was constructed.  By September 7, 1901 the Record & Guide reported “three lots of the plot have been sold, one to Philip Kleeberg, one to Colonel W.L. Trenholm, and one to Mrs. Prentiss, all of which have been improved.”

For years nothing other than the expected entertainments and social functions at No. 3 was the norm.  Then, six years later after moving in, a heart wrenching tragedy would occur.  The Kleebergs participated in the routines of wealthy New Yorkers.  Philip and Maria spent the first two months of the summer of 1903 in Europe and upon their return she left for “the country.”  Society women at the time would summer in resorts or estates like Newport and Bar Harbor, while their working husbands would join them on the weekends.

On August 18 the 48-year old socialite returned to New York, a bit early in the season.  Six days later she hosted a dinner party “and a number of Mr. and Mrs. Kleeberg’s relative and friends were present,” said The Sun on August 24.  Following dinner the party took a drive along Riverside Park, then returned to the terrace of the mansion where they sat and chatted.

At one point Maria Kleeberg excused herself, saying she was going to the bathroom.  When she did not return, her sister became concerned and followed.  The Sun reported “She opened the door just as Mrs. Kleeberg put a bottle to her lips.  Mrs. Sands knocked the bottle, which was filled with carbolic acid, to the floor.”

In doing so, Maria’s sister was badly burned on the hands.  She rushed downstairs and instructed the servants to find a doctor.  Three doctors were sent for, but none of them was at home.

Notoriety was one thing the wealthy desperately attempted to avoid; so it was only through desperation that an ambulance was called for from Roosevelt Hospital.  It caused precisely the attention the family was attempting to avoid.

“The arrival of the ambulance caused great excitement in the neighborhood.  One of the rumors which were circulated had it that some one had been murdered in the Kleeberg house.  At one time there were at least 300 persons in front of the house,” said The Sun.

By the time the ambulance had arrived, Maria Kleeberg was dead.  The police, attracted by the ambulance call and the crowd, attempted to investigate.  In an attempt to avoid even worse publicity and scandal, the doors were barred against the police.  No information was given out until Detective Culhane refused to allow the body to be removed until he was let in.

Forced to face reporters, Philip Kleeberg insisted there was no reason why his wife should have committed suicide.  His only explanation was that she may have had “a fit of the blues.”

Kleeberg soon transferred the title to his son, 21-year old Gordon S. P. Kleeberg.  The young homeowner was possibly a difficult man to work for.  On February 23, 1906 he placed an ad in the New-York Tribune seeking a coachman.  “Good, careful driver; competent; painstaking.”  He asked for the “best written and personal references.”  Later that year another advertisement was placed, for the same position.  Then on September 21, 1906 yet another advertisement appeared.  “Coachman—Thorough horseman; care of horses, carriages, and harness; strictly sober, honest, willing and obliging.”  It would seem that young Kleeberg had unusually bad luck in finding a coachman; or he was simply too difficult to work for.

In the meantime the home life of William Guggenheim, known as “The Smelting King,” had become rocky.  Born into the fabulously wealthy mining family, his domestic differences with his wife, Aimee, became such that the couple separated.  In 1908 he purchased No. 3 Riverside Drive.  But he barely had time to unpack his bags.

On May 3, 1910 the New-York Tribune reported that Guggenheim had sold the house to “a Mr. Hopkins, who will occupy it.”  The development of the block was reflected in the asking price--$200,000, or about $4.75 million today.  The Tribune said that a negotiated price of $165,000 was said to be the actual sale price.  In commenting on the sale, the newspaper said “The house is one of the finest in the lower part of the drive.”

It was not uncommon in the first decades of the 20th century for wealthy purchasers of real estate to play a cat-and-mouse game with the press regarding their identities.  A little over a month later, on June 14, the New-York Tribune said “The new owner is said to be a woman, who by the purchase obtains control of half the block.”

Finally, on July 16, 1910, the Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide ended the speculation, naming Mrs. Angie M. Booth as the buyer.  “Mrs. Booth is the owner of the adjoining property on the north, including the southeast corner of 73d st.”

Angie Booth was the wife of Henry P. Booth, and in a surprising turn of events, she resold the property prior to 1915—to William Guggenheim.  Angie Booth would live to regret it.  Rather than move back into the mansion, Guggenheim initially ran it as a boarding house; then rented it to Dr. William H. Wellington Knipe at $4,000 a year for the first year, and $5,000 a year for the next four years.  It was a hefty rental price; but Knipe had income-producing plans for the property.

Dr. Knipe was “one of the first physicians in New York to become interested in twilight sleep,” said The Sun on January 22, 1916.  “Twilight sleep” was a procedure used on women going into labor that was intended to reduce the pain of childbirth.  The Guggenheim mansion became Dr. Knipe’s “twilight sleep sanitarium.”

Angie Booth, who lived next door to the house, and Mary T.Sutphen whose own mansion was at the corner of Riverside Drive and 72nd Street, were outraged.  They filed suit to close down the sanitarium.

Recalling the restrictions in the original Kleeberg deed, their lawyer explained “The plaintiffs contend that the block is restricted to residential purposes and barred from trade and business.”  His female clients were a bit more pointed, calling the sanitarium “a menace to the peace and quiet of the neighboring landowners,” and “obnoxious and offensive.”

The Sun said that Knipe felt his neighbors were “needlessly alarmed” and “said he had talked with many of his neighbors and they told him they preferred the proposed sanitarium to the ‘exclusive’ boarding house formerly conducted here.”  One of these was Lydia Prentiss.

The wealthy woman, who lived at No. 1 Riverside Drive, was placed in an uncomfortable position when her neighbors knocked on her door, asking her to join them as a plaintiff.  The stalwart socialite held her ground, however, telling the press she “didn’t think women should lend themselves to opposing the development of any treatment that would alleviate or diminish the pains of childbirth.”  It most likely put an end to Lydia Prentiss’s invitations to tea at either the Sutphen or Booth residences.

Although the courts ruled in Dr. Knipe’s favor; things returned to normal on lower Riverside Drive.  Eventually William Guggenheim moved back in and used the mansion as his private dwelling, restoring peace among the neighbors.  Highly educated and erudite, he was the author of several publications, many of them patriotic.  Among them were Our Republic Triumphant; Peace by Victory at Last, but with a Warning; A Greater America; and What Price Government.  His ardent patriotism was evidenced in 1940 when Italy declared war against Great Britain and France.  In 1920 he had been decorated with the Commendatore dell’ Ordine della Corona d’Italia by the Italian Government.  Now he renounced and returned the title, saying that the declaration of war came as “a profound shock.”

He remained in the Riverside Drive mansion until his death at the age of 72 on June 27, 1941.  The house became the property of the Seamen’s Bank for Savings, which leased it to General Boleslaw Wieniawa-D’Lugoszewski and his wife and daughter.  The Polish Ambassador to Italy at the outbreak of war in 1939, he had also been the aide to Marshal Pilsudski, dictator of Poland.

The 60-year old diplomat was subject to what the Polish Consul General referred to as “dizzy spells.”  On the evening of July 1, 1942, the general received word that he had been appointed as Envoy to Cuba.  Shortly afterward, wearing his pajamas and bedroom slippers, he went to the roof “to get a little fresh air,” according to Sylvyn Strakacz, the Police Consul General.  Moments later he fell to his death.

Despite the Consul’s assertions that the fall was the result of recurrent dizziness; The New York Times said “Police of the West Sixty-eighth Street Station, who helped remove the general to the hospital were uncertain whether the death was an accident or suicide.”

Like William Guggenheim, Gordon Kleeberg could not stay away from No. 3 Riverside Drive.  On New Year’s Day, 1944 The New York Times reported “One of the finest town houses on the West Side figured in the news yesterday when Lieut. Col. Gordon S. P. Kleeberg purchased the building at 3 Riverside Drive which was erected by his father in 1896.”

Although the newspaper got the architect’s name wrong, citing Cass Gilbert rather than C. P. H. Gilbert; it correctly described the interiors.  “Among its features still in a good state of preservation are a marble stairway, solid cherrywood floors and bronze grill entrance doors.”  The article said “Colonel Kleeberg intends to remodel the building into small apartments after the war and occupy the terrace suite.”

As promised, in 1951 the 37-foot wide mansion was divided into two apartments per floor.  Happily, much of C. P. H. Gilbert’s interior detailing was preserved.  In 1995 it was purchased by real estate developer Regina Kislin for $10 million.  She and her husband, photographer Anatoly Siyagine, embarked on a long restoration project to bring the house back to a private home.

Much of the interior detailing survives.
Included in the renovation were modern touches that Maria Kleeberg would have found shocking—an indoor pool, sauna and gym, for instance.  Seventeen years later she put the 18-room house on the market for $40 million.  Real estate listings noted “six bedrooms, eight and a half bathrooms, a two-room staff suite, four terraces, and an elevator.”  When no buyers appeared, Kislin reduced the price to $30 million in September 2014.  

The magnificent Gilbert-designed mansion survives as a stunning reminder of the first days of the development of Riverside Drive when developers lured millionaires from the east side of Central Park.

uncredited photographs taken by the author

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Lost 1763 Rhinelander Sugar House

An early watercolor shows the builder's initials in wrought iron on the gable -- from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Henry Cuyler came from a wealthy Dutch family and in 1763 was highly involved in the importation and refining of sugar.  That year he erected a substantial building at the corner of Prince Street (later renamed Rose Street, and finally William Street) and Duane Street.  His stone and brick sugar house was both a refinery and a warehouse for the storage of sugar and molasses.

In this depiction, the Sugar House sat behind the refined homes and was accessed by an alley.  George P. Hall & Sons, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

For Colonial New York, the sugar house was massive and impressive.  At six stories tall, it was among the largest structures in the colony and dominated the buildings around it.  Cuyler was not without competition in the sugar business.  It was a highly lucrative industry and by the time he erected his sugar house, there were several others in lower Manhattan.

Valentine's Manual of 1857 romanticized the structure, placing it steps away from the Rhinelander mansion and guarded by British soldiers.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

Unfortunately for the Cuyler family, they chose the wrong side in the coming war of revolution.  Instead of backing the rebellious gang set on upsetting the Government, they remained Loyalists.  That did not work out well for them.  Following the Revolution, the Act of Forfeiture was passed.  Loyalists were banned from the State under penalty of death “without benefit of Clergy” and their property sold at auction. 

William Rhinelander, like Cuyler, came from an old Knickerbocker family, and he made a fortune in the sugar business.  By 1790 he had come into possession of Cuyler’s massive sugar house. 

During the British occupation of New York large buildings such as churches and sugar houses were used as prisons.  One of these was the Livingston Sugar House on Liberty Street.  It was under the supervision of a cruel officer, Sergeant Waddy.  Possibly old-timers, after the war, confused the two buildings; or perhaps stories that the last standing sugar house in lower Manhattan was once a prison made good tourist publicity.  In any event, local lore persisted that the Rhinelander Sugar house was a Revolutionary War prison.  In 1890 historian Wesley Washington Pasko, in writing on the Prisons of the Revolution in his Old New York tip-toed around the veracity of the legend.  “The Rhinelander Sugar House, still standing, is averred by all of our older citizens to have been a prison, and there is no doubt about it, but we have seen no contemporary evidence of the fact.”

Indeed, to this day, no contemporary documentation has come to light supporting the Rhinelander building ever being used as a prison.

Yet the story succeeded in drawing tourists and the warehouse was romanticized in etchings and documented by early photographers.  Somewhat amazingly, while nearly all the Colonial architecture of Lower Manhattan was either burned (the Great Fire of 1845 destroyed 345 buildings downtown) or razed, the utilitarian Sugar House survived. 

By the last quarter of the 19th century, the old stone Sugar House was surrounded by taller commercial structures.  photo by Robert L. Bracklow from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
By the end of the Civil War the venerable building had not served its original purpose of storing sugar for years.  Still in the possession of the Rhinelander family in 1872, it was used as a paper store by James T. Derrickson.  Victorian interest in historic architecture, however, was essentially non-existent.  Despite the dogged legend of the building’s role in American independence, within the next two decades the old Sugar House would suffer neglect and indignation.

In 1892 James Grant Wilson, in his The Memorial History of the City of New-York, wondered at the structure’s survival.  “Its solid, unbroken walls stand as a silent testimonial to the honesty of the dead and gone builder.  The date and the architect’s initials are still to be seen on the side of the building, worked in wrought-iron characters, quaint and old.”

photo by Hugo B. Sass from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

But as “quaint and old” as it was, it was severely abused.  “On the side facing toward the east many windows were walled up during the last fifteen years, but there were still six grated openings left.  Three were in the gable and the others along the south side.  Underneath them was a great vaulted passageway made of heavy masonry like the whole building.  Still another opening was to be seen alongside of it, half-hidden by rubbish, and the barred outline of another cell-window also visible after close examination.”

Wilson’s description served as a sort of obituary for the Sugar House.  That year the Rhinelander family decided to demolish it in order to erect a modern office building on the site.  As was typical of the time, newspapers followed the course of demolition with emotional, nostalgic articles that lamented the loss of another landmark.  But, as was also typical, no one raised a hand to protest.

Demolition of the massive stone structure proved difficult.  Photo by Robert L. Bracklow from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
The long-lived urban legend that the Rhinelander Sugar House had been a British prison where American boys suffered misery and torture resulted in two of the windows with their wrought iron grills being preserved.  One was donated to the National Society of Colonial Dames in the State of New York and was installed in the Van Cortlandt House in the Bronx.  The other was incorporated into the new Rhinelander office building, demolished in 1968.

While the Victorian office building was lost, the window was not.  It was moved to a pedestrian zone behind One Police Plaza where it is maintained by the New York City Police Department.  And the legend came along with it.

On May 6, 1968 The New York Times wrote “A small, barred window from a sugar house used as a British prison during the Revolutionary War will be spared during demolition for the new Brooklyn Bridge ramp system.”   When the window was unveiled, it bore a plaque reading in part “This window was originally part of the five story Sugar House built in 1763 at the corner of Duane and Rose Streets and used by the British during the Revolutionary War as a prison for American Patriots.”

An urban legend, most likely untrue, resulted in this small piece of Colonial history to be preserved.
As is often the case, legend trumped history and in this case it resulted in a small chunk of historic preservation.