Tuesday, May 28, 2024

The 1896 Peter J. Brennan House - 788 West End Avenue

Although the first-floor window has been bricked over, the house is overall remarkably intact.

John G. Prague and Peter J. Brennan were no doubt well-acquainted with one another before 1894.  Both were well-known developers and builders.  (In 1890, in reaction to Prague's building--and designing--of hundreds of Upper West Side residences, the Record & Guide said he had "created a neighborhood.")  Brennan was equally prominent in the building industry and erected many of New York City's school buildings.

In 1894, Brennan hired Prague to design a trio of townhouses at 788 through 792 West End Avenue.  Like the other opulent residences rising along the thoroughfare, they were intended for monied families.  Costing Brennan a total of $45,000 to construct (about $560,000 each in 2024 money), the homes were completed in 1896.

Peter J. Brennan kept 788 West End Avenue for his family.  Prague's American basement design included two entrances (one for the servants and deliveries and such) above short stone stoops.  The window between them was fronted by a carved half-bowl decoration.  The three-story bowed midsection was essentially undecorated, save for blind panels below each set of windows.  Above a prominent cornice, the curious fifth floor facade morphed shoulder-high to the two fully-arched windows into a highly unusual, nearly vertical mansard.

In the 1940s, the ground-floor window survived.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

Living with Peter and Sarah Brennan were their son and daughter, James and Sally, as well as Sarah's widowed mother.  The family maintained a summer home in Edgemere, New York.  Proud of his Irish heritage, Peter was a decades-long member of the American-Irish Historical Society.

Brennan nearly lost his life on the day after Christmas in 1900.  The New York Times reported, "Peter J. Brennan, an elderly, wealthy builder of 788 West End Avenue, was run down by a cab at the crossing at Thirty-fourth Street, Broadway, and Sixth Avenue last night."  Brennan was taken to New York Hospital with a broken leg and "contusions of the body."  The cab driver, Edward Hamill, was jailed.

The scope of Brennan's construction operation was evidenced  in an article in The Sun on February 14, 1907.  President Theodore Roosevelt and the Isthmian Commission (in charge of the building of the Panama Canal) were holding hearings with contractors.  The Sun explained the purpose, "was to give the contractors an opportunity to tell of their resources and responsibility."  The article said, "Next Tuesday, Peter J. Brennen...will go to the White House to tell the President and his canal advisers of [his] abilities and resources."

Brennan gave his family another scare in 1910.  On November 23, The Rockaway News reported

Mr. P. J. Brennan, a summer resident of Edgemere, and well know in this section being the contractor who built St. Mary’s Lyceum, and the O’Kane Building, and at present constructing the Inwood Public School, had a paralytic stroke on Saturday, and is quite ill at his home at 788 West End Avenue, Manhattan.  It Is hoped our esteemed friend will recover, as he is a man held in high esteem by all his friends and neighbors.

At the time of his stroke, the well-to-do family owned at least two motor vehicles.  Sarah drove a Hudson and her son had a Stearns.  In 1919, James purchased a $2,500 Cadillac (the price would translate to $38,000 in 2024).  On the night of December 8, he parked his new car in front of the house, locked it, and went inside.  Thirty minutes later he walked out to find his luxury automobile missing.  

The case received wide-spread press attention when Benny Kauff, the star center fielder for the New York Giants was arrested and charged with running a car theft ring.  The ballplayer, who also ran an autobody shop, took orders for particular models, sent his cronies out with the list, then repainted the stolen autos in his shop.  Kauff, known as the "Ty Cobb of the Feds," was banned from baseball, despite being acquitted of the Brennan theft.  (He testified he had been eating dinner with his wife at the time of the crime.)  Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Landis said the acquittal "smelled to high heaven."

In 1912, the houses to the south of 788 West End Avenue were demolished to make way for an apartment building, and in 1920, the other two houses of Brennan's 1896 row were razed for the same reason.  With their home now vised between soaring, multi-family structures, the Brennans left in 1924.

The Brennan house became home to the De Lancey School for Girls.  An advertisement in The New York Times on September 27, 1925, offered, "Kindergarten, Primary, Intermediate, College Preparatory and General Courses."  While it was primarily an exclusive girls' school, the ad noted, "Classes for Little Boys."

The school remained through 1931, after which the Claremont School moved in.  First, however, architect George A. Bagge was hired to remodel the interiors.  The school now occupied the first through third floors, there was an apartment on the fourth, and the fifth was reserved for storage.  (Interestingly, the Certificate of Occupancy was granted on the condition that the apartment house at 800 West End Avenue was allowed access to the passageway between it and the house.)

Established in 1913, the Claremont School was coeducational.  It accepted students from three to fifteen years of age, whose parents paid tuition as high as $350 in 1935 (about $7,700 today).  Its occupancy of 788 West End Avenue would be relatively short-lived.  

In 1939, the former Brennan house was converted to apartments, two per floor on the second through fourth floors, and one on the fifth.  It was purchased by Cuban-born Hilario Villavicencio in 1979 who embarked on a campaign to make the exterior more interesting.  He splashed the facade with brilliant red and yellow, and added found statuary--a woman's head and two dragon heads--below the second floor windows.

Villavicencio told The New York Times columnist Christopher Gray in September 2010, "I try to make something alive.  But some people they don't like it; they say it looks like a circus.  Hey, you can't please everyone."

The colorful, vintage holdout--dwarfed by its early 20th century neighbors--is a delightful surprise along busy West End Avenue.

photographs by the author
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Monday, May 27, 2024

The Lost Henry G. Trevor Mansion - 28 East 52nd Street


The New York Architect, 1907 (copyright expired)

When the Roman Catholic Orphan Asylum opened in 1851, the block on which it sat--Fifth to Madison Avenues from 51st to 52nd Streets--was well north of the developed city.  But that had all changed by 1899.  The orphanage was surrounded by the mansions of Manhattan's wealthiest citizens.  Directly across Fifth Avenue, for instance, was William Henry Vanderbilt's three-mansion complex, the Triple Palace.  In 1899, the trustees of the orphanage took title to property in Fordham Heights as the site of a new facility and the "Asylum Block" was put on the market as building plots.

Millionaires like the Vanderbilt family, terrified by the threat to their property values, pressured the Roman Catholic Orphan Asylum trustees to write restrictive covenants into the deeds, "that they be used solely for residential purposes," according to the Record & Guide.  

On January 27, 1900, The Evening Post noted that real estate market interest for the past five days "has centered about the Orphan Asylum block."  Among the millionaires who snatched up properties was Henry Graff Trevor, who paid $2,000 per square foot for a 30- by 100-foot lot at the southeast corner of Madison Avenue and 52nd Street, across the avenue from the asylum proper.

Trevor was born on April 25, 1865 to John B. Trevor (described by Prominent Families of New York in 1898 as "one of the leading bankers of New York in the last generation) and Louisa Stephania Stewart, daughter of Lispenard Steward.  Henry was a member of the firm co-founded by his father, Trevor & Colgate.  In 1890, he married Margaret Helen Schieffelin.  The couple had five children, George Schieffelin, Margaret Estelle, Louise Stephanie Stewart, Henry Jr., and Helen Lispenard Stewart.  (Another child, Henry Stewart, had died in infancy.)

A very young Trevor, possibly from his college yearbook.  (original source unknown)

The Trevors commissioned architect Augustus N. Allen to design their mansion.  Construction did not begin until late in 1903 when the orphanage had moved and its buildings were demolished.  Completed in 1905, the residence opened onto Madison Avenue where a marble portico supported an iron-railed balcony at the second floor.  Allen's neo-Colonial design included paneled, stepped lintels over the grouped windows of the second floor; and layered, splayed lintels above those of the third and fourth.  The arched dormers of the fifth floor peeked above the stone balustrade that crowned the cornice.

The Trevors opened their home on December 11, 1905.  The New York Times reported they, "gave a novel entertainment last evening in their new residence, 28 East Fifty-second Street, to celebrate not only their crystal wedding, but the opening of their new house."  

The ground floor held only the Drawing room, Stairhall and Library.  Entertaining was done on the second floor, or piano nobile.  The New York Architect, 1907 (copyright expired)

Two of Margaret's sisters had married into the British Ismay family.  Julia was married to J. Bruce Ismay, chairman of the White Star Line; and Matilda Constance's husband was Charles Bower Ismay.  Matilda was visiting and assisted Margaret and Henry in receiving that night "in the large hall on the second floor."

After the reception, the guests were shown into the drawing room.  The New York Times said, "The entertainment was entitled 'The Crystal Vaudeville.'"  A platform had been built at one end of the room and the chairs arranged "as in a theatre."  Guests were entertained by an orchestra, dancers, a solo musician and vocalist, and the Chihuahua Troubadours.  "There was also cartoonist, Thomas Nast, Jr., who made funny pictures."  (A caricaturist, Thomas Nast is remembered both as a pioneer of editorial cartoons and the creator of the accepted appearance of Santa Claus.)

Also appearing on stage were two of the Trevors' daughters.  The article said, "but perhaps, the most pleasing part of the entertainment was the dancing by the little Misses Margaret E. and Louise S. S. Trevor of a gavotte, a Narcissus dance, and a jig."  After the "vaudeville," supper was served.

The Trevors' summer home was Meadowmere in Southampton, Long Island.  The sprawling home on the estate was designed by Grosvenor Atterbury.

A 1922 postcard depicted the Trevors' country home, Meadowmere.

The townhouse was a center of entertaining.  On January 26, 1909, for instance, The New York Times reported,

Mrs. Henry Graff Trevor gave a dinner last night at her residence, 28 East Fifty-second Street, for twenty guests.  The dining room was decorated after the fashion of an Italian garden, and the table was adorned with American Beauty roses.

(Decorating with roses in January was a costly touch in the early years of the 20th century.)

In 1912, Margaret's attention turned to the first of her daughters' introductions to society.  On November 3, The Sun reported, "Another of the debutantes for whom much will be done in the way of entertaining is Miss Margaret E. Trevor."  The article said, "Mrs. Trevor is giving a large coming out tea for her daughter at her house, 28 East Fifty-second street, on December 7, and she will give a dance there on December 30."  It added, "Miss Trevor is a great-niece of Mrs. Hamilton Fish, who will no doubt give her a dinner and dance."

George was the first of the children to marry.  His engagement to Alice Haven was announced in July 1914.  Two of his sisters would follow in quick succession.  

Louise Stephanie Stewart Trevor was married to James Couper Lord (son of architect James Brown Lord) in St. Bartholomew's Church on May 15, 1916.  The New York Times called the event, "One of the largest of the Spring weddings."  Margaret was her sister's maid of honor and Helen was one of the bridesmaids.  The newspaper reported, "The reception was held at 28 East Fifty-second Street, which was decorated with roses, lilacs and many choice Spring flowers from the conservatories and hothouses of Glenview, the country estate of the bride's grandmother, Mrs. John B. Trevor."

Five months later, in October, Margaret's engagement to Dr. Irving Hotchkiss Pardee was announced.  The Sun said, "The engagement is of much interest to the summer colony of Southampton, L. I., where Miss Trevor has passed a good deal of her time at the country place of her parents."

Like her sister's, Margaret's wedding took place at St. Bartholomew's Church.  It was held a year later, on October 27, 1917.  Notably, The New York Times reported, "The wedding reception was held at the residence of the bride's parents, 37 West 51st Street."

On November 24, 1917, the Record & Guide reported that Henry G. Trevor had sold 28 East 52nd Street.  The article said the mansion was already leased "to Chamberlin Dodds, of the firm of Dodds & Wallick, decorators, for residence purposes."  That was only technically true.  Chamberlin Dodds moved into the mansion, but operated his gallery from the ground floor. 

He was instrumental in the organizing of the Society of Interior Decorators of New York City that year.  In January 1918, The Upholsterer and Interior Decorator reported, "The headquarters for the present are the headquarters of the secretary, 28 East Fifty-second Street."

Dodds opened the mansion for a suffrage benefit on April 15, 1922.  The New York Herald reported, "At the home of Mr. Chamberlain Dodds, 28 East Fifty-second street, today thousands of prize winning blossoms coming from one of the largest private greenhouses near New York and Easter baskets and fresh eggs from the farms of Mrs. Frank A. Vanderlip will be sold for the benefit of the New York State League of Women Voters."   Among the patronesses were Eleanor Roosevelt.  

The New York Times, February 5, 1922 (copyright expired)

Dodd had at least one tenant in the mansion in 1922, actress Marie Doro.  Marie was visited by a female reporter from the New York Star, who reported on March 4 that when she arrived, "In her super-artistic home at 28 East Fifty-second Street, [Marie] was testing perfumes."  The smell-test was necessary because whichever scent Doro chose would be named after her.

Marie Doro, The Theatre magazine, July 18, 1913 (copyright expired)

Marie Doro had begun her career as a chorus girl, moved to Broadway under impresario Charles Frohman, and, following his death in 1915, went into silent films under contract to Adolph Zukor.  In 1921, she appeared on Broadway for the last time, in Lilies of the Field.

On August 15, 1925, the Record & Guide reported that Harry T. Peters had sold his mansion at 32 East 52nd Street to Arthur Brisbane.  The article noted that Brisbane had already acquired "the former Trevor house" and the abutting 30 East 52nd Street.  The following year, on July 30, 1926, the Board of Standards and Appeals approved a petition to permit the construction "into a residence district of a proposed business building" on the southeast corner of Madison Avenue and 52nd Street.  The mansions, including the Trevor residence, were demolished to make way for the 24-floor office building designed by J. E. R. Carpenter, which survives.

image vis resnicknyc.com

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Saturday, May 25, 2024

The 1926 Lowell Hotel - 28 East 63rd Street


photo by Jim Henderson

When Leo H. Wise purchased 30 East 63rd Street in June 1916, he had lived in the high-stooped brownstone next door at 28 West 63rd Street since 1890.  The Record & Guide advised he "will alter the house into a modern American basement dwelling."  Instead, in 1925 he purchased 32 West 63rd Street.  On September 2, the New York Evening Post reported that Wise would erect "a fifteen-story apartment hotel" designed by Henry S. Churchill on the site of the three vintage houses.  "The structure will have suites of two, three and four rooms and every living room will have a wood-burning fireplace," said the article.

The Arts, January 1927

Completed in 1926, the upper floors of the Lowell Hotel were faced in tapestry brick, its stoic mid-section nearly unadorned.  Churchill clad the single-story base in vibrant rose and cream terra cotta.  Its Art Deco design included an intricate mosaic by Bertram Hartman above the entrance doors.  Atop it, a terra cotta pediment rose like a crashing wave.  The upper floor setbacks were decorated with cream colored terra cotta parapets and chunky Deco ornaments that acted as capitals to the long brick piers.

The Arts, January 1927

Architectural critic H. R. Shurtleff addressed the stark contrast between the robust, colorful base and the "common plane" of the upper floors.  "Neither in material, texture, color or decorative motif is there any kinship between these two divisions."  He praised Churchill for rejecting architectural conventions, saying, "What is valuable in a new form is not its degree of finish...but rather its courage in emancipating itself from an outworn formula and in attempting a new synthesis."

Because the Lowell Hotel was an apartment hotel rather than an apartment building, in March 1927 The Architectural Record explained, "No provision is made for cooking in these apartments, but a 'serving pantry' is provided for the convenience of tenants, to be used in connection with the restaurant and kitchen on the street floor."  The magazine said such hotels were popular because of "the growing tendency to live longer periods of the year at summer or sea shore homes, and shorter and shorter periods in the city," adding, "It also suits a large number of business and single men or women for headquarters throughout the year, relieving them of major housekeeping worries.

Residents (and the public) could take their meals in the restaurant, entering through this Art Deco foyer.  The Architectural Record, March 1927

Among the earliest tenants were playwright and screenwriter Donald Davis and his wife, Thebe Bell.  The son of playwright Owen Davis, while living here he wrote for the radio show The Gibson Family, and in 1935 became involved with NBC's experimental television.  Among his other works while living here were the screen plays Two Flaming Youths in 1927, Dangerous Curves in 1929, and a three-act play Nothing Matters Much in 1930.  He dramatized Pearl Buck's The Good Earth for the stage with his father, then wrote the screenplay in 1937.

Even the wallpaper in the restaurant foyer was Art Deco in style.   The Architectural Record, March 1927

A celebrated resident was Dorothy Parker, poet, critic, satirist and writer.  According to Kevin C. Fitzpatrick in his A Journey into Dorothy Parker's New York, she moved into the Lowell Hotel following her unsuccessful suicide attempt at the Algonquin Hotel in February 1932.  He notes:

After moving into the Lowell, Dottie produced some of the best short stories of her career.  She would ask friends to come over and sit with her for three or four hours and force her to stay focused and keep writing.

Among those stories were Lady with a Lamp, Dusk before Fireworks, and The Waltz, all published in Harper's Bazaar or The New Yorker in 1932 and 1933.

In October 1933, New York Evening Post journalist James K. Martindale interviewed Dorothy Parker in her apartment regarding the upcoming mayoral elections.  At one point the photographer snapped a photo and remarked, "That shot was no good, Miss Parker.  You were squinting."

Dorothy replied, "You didn't look so good yourself."

This photograph of Dorothy Parker was taken in her Lowell Hotel apartment during the Martindale interview.  New York Evening Post, October 27, 1933.

Following the death of playwright Eugene O'Neill in 1953, his widow Carlotta Monterey moved into the Lowell Hotel.  Born in 1888, she went into acting following World War I.  She met O'Neill in 1922 when she had a part in his play The Hairy Ape.  They were married seven years later in Paris.

Carlotta and Eugene O'Neill in 1933.  from the collection of the Library of Congress.

Director Jose Quintero visited Montery here in 1956.  He told The New York Times, "It had been 10 years since any of O'Neill's works had been performed in America.  He had been sentenced to oblivion, convicted of being dark, undistinguished and of no more than historical importance."  The purpose of Quintero's visit was to get Monterey's permission to produce The Iceman Cometh.

It was the first of a resurgence of O'Neill's works.  From her Lowell Hotel apartment, Carlotta Monterey O'Neill typed her husband's unproduced plays More Stately Mansions and Long Day's Journey Into Night, working his handwritten edits into the scripts.  The latter play received the 1957 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Walter Lippmann and his wife, the former Helen Byrne, moved into the Lowell Hotel around 1970.  The couple had married in 1938.  By then, Lippmann was a well-known political journalist and author, having written A Preface to Politics in 1913 and Drift and Mastery the following year.  He became a syndicated columnist for the New York Herald Tribune in 1931.

Walter Lippmann, Los Angeles Times, December 7, 1936.

Helen was her husband's constant support.  The New York Times recalled that since their marriage, she "accompanied her husband on his travels and to meetings with foreign dignitaries, learning Russian some years ago to ease his path."

On February 16, 1974, Helen Lippman suffered a heart attack "after a sudden illness at their home," reported The New York Times.  She died of cardiac arrest on her way to the hospital.  Walter died 10 months later, on December 14.  In reporting his death, The New York Times called him, "one of the most respected and influential political writers of his time."

  The Architectural Record, March 1927

In June 1976, the restaurant became the Grand Cafe.  Its Art Deco interiors prompted The New York Times critic John Canaday to gush, "They serve food at the Grand Cafe, a new restaurant at 28 East 63d Street, but they could serve sawdust and we would still recommend a visit, just for the decor."

In 1984, The Gruzen Partnership restored the facade and the Reynolds Partnership reworked the interiors.  After the months-long renovations, the Lowell Hotel was reopened by its new owners, Lowell Hotel Associates.  On January 29, The New York Times reported that the one- and two-bedroom suites, "all will have living rooms, marble bathrooms and complete kitchens.  Residents will have concierge, maid and telephone-answering service, as well as meal service provided by The Post House, the ground-floor restaurant."

In its February 14, 1994 issue, New York Magazine said the Lowell Hotel "combines the atmosphere of a genteel European retreat with the warmth of a private home."  It became the out-of-the-way stop-over for major celebrities like Dennis Quaid, Matt Damon (the "hip but humble manchild," as described by Rita Kempley of The Washington Post on December 31, 1999), Cybill Shepherd, and Jeremy Irons.

The Post House restaurant, described by The New York Times as "classy...commodious and masculine," occupied the ground floor space for more than two decades.  It was replaced in June 2016 by Majorelle.

photograph by Jim Henderson

Tucked away on the tree-lined side street, Henry S. Churchill's Art Deco Lowell Hotel, with its forceful ground floor, is worth the side trip.

many thanks to reader Frank Regan for suggesting this post
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Friday, May 24, 2024

The 1840 Ichabod Price House - 42 King Street


Born in 1781, Ichabod Price was a sergeant in the New York State Artillery Corps at the outbreak of the War of 1812.  Decades later, the Arkansas City Daily Traveler would recall, "He suggested to the war department both rifle cannons and conical balls, which now perform destructive work at long distances, but he was not listened to.  President Madison was so well satisfied of the genius of the sergeant that he was commissioned a sergeant in the regular army of the United States."

Price was a successful hatter when he rented the newly built house at 42 King Street in 1840.  It was a year of change for Price, who also relocated his business.  On September 9, a notice in The Evening Post read,

Fashionable Hats--Ichabod Price has removed from 190 to 290 Broadway, one door above Washington Hotel.  Fashionable Hats made in superior style, of the best materials.  The fall fashion is now ready for exhibition.  The public are respectfully invited to call and examine for themselves.

The King Street house was one of a row of identical Greek Revival style homes.  Three stories tall, it was faced in brick above the brownstone clad basement level.  Handsome iron stoop railings descended to wrap the short newels atop sturdy brownstone drums.  In contrast to its heavy stone framework, the elegant doorway was flanked by narrow sidelights.  A delicately dentiled cornice ran along the roof life.

The Prices' two daughters were grown and married, so the couple subleased a portion of their new home to the Brown family.  Charles P. Brown was in the lime business on West Street, and his son James G. Brown was a clerk.

Around 1847 Ichabod Price moved two doors away, to 46 King Street where he died at the age of 81 on February 22, 1862.  

A succession of tenants lived at 42 King Street after Price.  John W. Taylor lived here in 1847.  On September 12, 1849 an auction of the household goods was held.  The announcement explained the furnishings belonged to "a family breaking up housekeeping."  The following year the house was occupied by spring manufacturer William B. Oakley, and in 1853 by James Mettler, a wholesale grocer.

The family of John Brown, an oyster dealer in the Fulton Market, lived here beginning in 1856.  Like the Prices, they rented extra space.  Their advertisement on October 19, 1858 read, "A private family, residing in a very respectable neighborhood, will let a very nicely furnished front room to a gentleman, with fire, gas and bath, on moderate terms.  Inquire at 42 King street."

The mention of "gas and bath" reflects the up-to-the-minute amenities.  Although Samuel Leggett had installed gas lighting in his house at 7 Cherry Street in 1823, it would not become widespread until the 1880s.  And indoor plumbing had only become possible in 1842 (with the opening of the Croton Reservoir) to homeowners who could afford the renovations.

In the 19th century, a common method for widowed women to eke a living was the running of a boarding house.  Mary Cook, the widow of James Cook, lived here starting in 1861, taking in two boarders at a time.  

Patrick and Catharine McKenna moved into 42 King Street in 1871.  McKenna listed his profession as "liquors" in two locations, at 109 and 172 Varick Street.  The couple had barely moved in when tragedy struck.  On November 20, 1871, their son Peter Joseph died 12 days after his first birthday.

McKenna may have been in the liquor business, but an advertisement for a room to rent in the New York Herald on October 6, 1875, indicated the couple would not abide a disreputable tenant.  

A nice front room on second floor to let, furnished--gas, bath and fire; nice for two gentlemen or light housekeeping to respectable people; private house.  42 King street.

The McKennas remained here until 1879, when they sold 42 King Street to Charles McDonnell and his wife.  The couple maintained a country house near Derby, Connecticut where The Evening World noted that McDonnell enjoyed "working a little farm, of which he was very proud."

McDonnell had good reason to be proud of his achievements.  Born on November 15, 1841 on Anthony Street (later renamed Worth Street), The World said that "while quite small boy Charley tried to earn his own living by selling newspapers."  Newsboys were almost always impoverished and many of them were homeless, living in newsboy lodging houses.  The newspaper said, "He was assisted to an education by friends, and later ex-Sheriff Matthew T. Brennan, Judge Dowling and other prominent Democrats took a great interest in the lad."

Saved from the street by chance, he joined the police force on January 21, 1863.  When he purchased 42 King Street, he had risen to the rank of captain and had been assigned to the Prince Street stationhouse since 1874.  He was known among the force as "Lightning Charley" because of his reputation of apprehending perpetrators with lightning speed.

The World recalled a few of those instances.  "During his term in the old Twenty-eighth Precinct a man named Sheridan killed a German at the corner of Thirty-seventh street and Second avenue, and within two hours the Captain had captured the murderer."  Another case The World recounted was, "One afternoon a poor woman was found lying dead in a pool of blood in a miserable garret in South Fifth avenue, and that night the captain arrested the woman's son, who proved to have been the murderer."

Captain Charles "Lightning Charley" McDonnell, The Evening World, August 14, 1888 (copyright expired)

Charles McDonnell appeared to be near death in the winter of 1886.  He caught pneumonia and, thinking he had recovered sufficiently, on January 15 ventured out of the house.  The New York Herald reported, "While in the street he was suddenly taken sick and had to be conveyed home, and is now suffering from a relapse."  The article said he was "lying dangerously ill at his home, No. 42 King street."

In August 1888, because his wife was at the Connecticut house, McDonnell chose to sleep at the station house.  At 9:00 on the morning of August 14, Doorman McDermott (the officer who interacted with civilians) went to awaken him, since he had apparently overslept.  The Evening World reported, "A gentle shake of the shoulder failed to have the desired effect, and on looking down into the Captain's face, the doorman noticed the stamp of death on his countenance."  He had apparently suffered a fatal heart attack in his sleep.

Charles McDonnell's funeral was impressive.  The New York Times reported, "A battalion with music will escort the hearse from 42 King-street to the Grand Central Station."  Eight full companies of police officers marched in the procession, which went "from the late residence of the deceased, at 42 King street, to [St. Anthony's Church], thence to South Fifth avenue, to and through Washington Square, to Fifth avenue, to Fortieth street, to Park avenue, and thence to the depot."  A special train car transported the casket to Birmingham, Connecticut for burial.

Five months later, on January 23, 1889, 42 King Street was sold at auction.  Michael Higgins paid $13,500 for the property.  The figure would translate to about $433,000 in 2024.

Once again the residence became a boarding house.  Living here in 1892 were Peter Thompson and James O'Neill, who were arrested on May 4, 1892 as "policy-dealers," according to The Evening Post.  (Policy rackets were a version of a numbers game or illegal lottery that preyed on the desperate poor.)  A much more respectable resident in 1896 was Lewis C. Von der Hosen, who was appointed a city marshal on March 30 that year.

Disparate tenants continued to live in the house.  In 1903, for instance, Peter C. Hunter and Ignatius Canali lived here.  Hunter was a member of the Caledonian Club and "a faithful employe [sic] of James Stewart, the hide and leather dealer," according to the New York Herald.  Canali, on the other hand, was arrested on October 20 that year with his brother-in-law, Edward Basso, "on a charge of selling bogus naturalization papers."  The two had targeted na├»ve Italian immigrants, charging them $20 for fake papers.

At the time, the King Street neighborhood was seeing an influx of Italian immigrants.  In 1920, 42 King Street was purchased by John and Olindo D'Anna.  They sold it the following year to Vincezo Lanza.

Lanza was born in San Fele, Italy, in 1861.  He opened a drugstore in Greenwich Village in 1881.  In 1894, he married Maria Antonia Maffia.  They had three children, Frank, Joseph and Mary.  When the couple moved into the King Street house, Lanza's drugstore had been located at Bleecker and Macdougal Streets since 1901.

While living here, the Lanzas converted the house to unofficial apartments, one per floor.  Occupying one of them in 1934 was the Alonzo family.  Joseph Alonzo and his son Frank worked in a toothpaste factory in Jersey City.  The two were arrested with four other men on February 12 that year, charged with "having been involved in the theft of about $27,000 worth of tooth paste...during the past six months," according to the New York Sun.  The in-house ring stole inventory by simply shipping it from the mail room.  It was a significant theft, equal to nearly $600,000 today.

Vincenzo Lanza retired in 1951.  Widowed, he died at the age of 98 on October 11, 1959.  The Villager noted, "He resided at 42 King St., a four-family house which he owned for 37 years."  The article added, "His family ascribe his longevity to the European mode of life-regular habits, rest in the afternoon and 'particular attention to the stomach.'"

In 1967 42 King Street was officially converted to apartments, one per floor.  Other than the iron fire escape, its outward appearance is little changed after 185 years.

photographs by the author
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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Rosario Candela's 1929 720 Park Avenue


In the decade following World War I, the Presbyterian Hospital, greatly funded in 1868 by James Lenox, moved to Morningside Heights.  In 1925, architects Eliot Cross and J. E. R. Carpenter joined forces with real estate operators Robert E. Dowling and James T. Lee to purchase the site on the northwest corner of Park Avenue and 70th Street.  Something went awry with their plans, and in 
1928 they sold the property to MonteLenox.  The firm hired Italian-born architect Rosario Candela to design an upscale apartment house on the site.  

The prolific architect was known for his apartment designs.  In 1927 and 1928 alone he designed 19 apartment buildings, including 720 Park Avenue.  Interestingly, working with him on this commission was Cross & Cross, of which Eliot Cross, one of the previous owners, was a partner.  

The collaboration resulted in a neo-Renaissance style, 17-floor-and-penthouse structure faced in brick above a three-story limestone base.  The spandrels above the first floor windows were decorated with exquisitely carved festoons of fruits and flowers.  The doric columns that flanked the main entrance supported a carved entablature topped by a large, broken pediment.

The top six floors broke free, rising asymmetrically as setbacks, terraces, and bays.  Here the architects introduced neo-Tudor elements, a decision that annoyed T-Square, the architectural critic of The New Yorker.  Calling it "a disturbing pile of architectural motives," he felt the lower portion was "in an orderly enough fashion," but lamented the "jumble of setbacks, stick-outs, bays, battlements and buttresses."

Less put off were the potential residents.  On September 1, 1929, the New York Evening Post reported, "Although not scheduled for completion for a full year, the $6,000,000 apartment house that is to occupy the northwest corner of Park Avenue and Seventieth Street and to be known as 720 Park Avenue, is already 50 percent sold from plans...The building is to be 100 per cent co-operative." 

The article described:

There will be no more than three apartments alike in the entire building.  The suites will range from eleven to twenty-seven rooms, with from five to ten baths, and extra lavatories.  Ceiling heights in the masters' rooms will range from 10 feet to 15 feet.  Ingenious mezzanine floors will contain parts of the service quarters.  Each apartment will have from three to seven log-burning fireplaces.  All apartments above the twelfth floor will have terraces. The plans indicate such luxuries as flower rooms, valeting rooms and breakfast porches.

The interiors of the sprawling apartments were designed by Candela to the owners' specifications.  According to Christopher Gray, writing in The New York Times on September 11, 1988, "Candela told his son Joseph that the commissions for customizing interiors at 720 Park Avenue alone were enough to pay his entire overhead."

Among the original owners were Jesse Isidor Straus, president of R. H. Macy & Co.; Frederick H. Frazier, chairman of the General Baking Company; Middleton Shoolbread Burrill and his wife Emilie; and William E. Iselin and his wife, the former Alice Rogers Jones.  The most colorful of the initial residents was broker Harold Russel Ryder.

Ryder's wife was Roma Woody, daughter of wealthy corporation lawyer Charles L. Woody, Sr.  Ryder's partner in the Wall Street firm Woody & Co. was his brother-in-law, Charles L. Woody, Jr.  The Boston Globe noted on June 30, 1930, "In 1928 [Ryder] bought a co-operative apartment at 720 Park av., which represented a total investment, with furniture and decorations, of around $500,000."  That figure would translate to about $8.9 million in 2024.

The newspaper said, "It has been a long while since Broadway has produced such a loose spender as Harold Russell [sic] Ryder, 'Little Boy Blew,' who says he regarded money as he would marbles and thought nothing at all of shooting $1500 on an evening's entertainment."  Ryder spent lavishly, his customary tip to a night club doorman being "a $100 bill," according to The Boston Globe.  But, as it turned out, his spending was a smoke screen.

While Ryder had made millions in the stock market, The Boston Globe explained, "the market crash of last November cost Ryder $3,000,000...But the young man kept up his 'front.'"  The ruse worked for a while, convincing investors to entrust their money to the broker, but eventually one, Frank Bailey, sued him to repay $2,025,000.

In court on June 29, 1930, an attorney for his creditors asked, "Do you realize that you were spending at the rate of $500,000 a year on pleasure?" 

Ryder replied, "Fifteen hundred dollars a night isn't too much to spend.  You have 10 or 15 people as your guests.  You have dinner, go to the theatre, and then to the night clubs.  Why, you are lucky if you get by on $1500." 

The Daily News said Roma Woody Ryder would possibly be called to testify about "the circumstances under which she assigned the luxurious Park ave. apartment [and] the circumstances under which Bailey demanded her jewels."  In the end, Ryder was sentenced to Sing Sing prison for three to ten years.  He was released in 1933, only to be sent back in 1937 after being convicted of defrauding two women of $19,000.

Harold Ryder was the anomaly among the well-heeled, respectable residents.  Despite the ongoing Depression, their names appeared in society pages for debutante entertainments, dinner parties and receptions.

Jesse Isidor Straus was the eldest son of Isidor and Ida Straus, who had perished on the RMS Titanic.  He and his wife, the former Irma Nathan, moved into a sumptuous 17-room duplex, which Candela had given an ultra modern Art Deco decor.  Highly involved in politics and a close ally of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Straus was appointed U.S. Ambassador to France in 1933.

A bedroom (top) and a portion of the library in the Straus apartment.  photos by Samuel H. Gottscho, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York.

In 1936, The New York Times reported that Jesse Isidor Straus's "health had been slowly failing for many months."  He resigned his post as Ambassador to France in August.  The gravity of his condition was clear two months later when the family was called to his bedside.  On October 5, The New York Times reported that Irma and their three children, along with Jesse's only living brother, Percy S. Straus, were at his bedside when the 64-year-old died.

Candela's Georgian design for the Francis M. Weld apartment stood in start contrast to the Straus duplex.  photos by Samuel H. Gottscho, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York.

William E. Iselin was described by The New York Times as being "of the prominent New York family of bankers, merchants and yachtsmen."  His wife came with an equally impressive social pedigree.  She was the granddaughter of Mary Mason Jones, a grande dame of 19th century New York society whose white marble mansion sat opposite the Cornelius Vanderbilt chateau on Fifth Avenue.  The couple's summer home was in New Rochelle.

Alice Rogers Jones Iselin became ill in the fall of 1932 and died in the apartment at the age of 82 on October 22.  Her husband survived her by five years.  He died here on January 26, 1937, two weeks after his 89th birthday.

Occupying a 15-room apartment at 720 Park Avenue in the 1950s were Dr. James Craig Joyner and his wife, the former Lucie Burke Alcott.  Born in North Carolina, Joyner had served as a surgeon in the U.S. Navy during World War I.  The couple, who were married in 1948, maintained a summer home in East Hampton.

In March 1959, the Joyners went on a trip "of several days," according to The East Hampton Star.  In preparation for their return, a maid went to the apartment on the evening of March 21 and found a kitchen window open.  The newspaper said, "The window is twenty feet above a second-floor terrace in a wall so smooth as to make a foothold a practical impossibility, police said."  Nevertheless, a burglar had entered and made off with $100,000 worth of jewelry.  The heist would translate to just over $1 million today.

The various wall treatments in the Candela-designed Frederick H. Frazier apartment included full-height paneling in the living room and painted wallpaper in the dining room. photos by Samuel H. Gottscho, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York.

Living here at the time were William F. R. Hitt and his wife Eugenia.  A retired financier, Hitt was the son of former Assistant Secretary of State Robert R. Hitt.  William's first wife, Katherine Elkins, had been engaged to the Duke of Abruzzi before their marriage in 1913.  The couple divorced in 1921 and then remarried in 1923.  Four years after Katherine's death in September 1936, William married Eugenia Jemison Woodward Jelke.

The couple maintained a second home near Washington D.C.  A noted sportsman, Hitt owned race horses and was a member of the Jockey, the Racquet, and Tennis Clubs of New York; and the Chevy Chase, Alibi, and Metropolitan Clubs in Washington.

Hitt was Eugenia's second marriage, as well.  Her first, to wealthy Wall Street broker Ferdinand Frazier Jelke ended in divorce in 1933.  (During the hearings, Jelke flatly called Eugenia "a dirty little gold digger," according to the Milwaukee Journal on May 23 that year.)  In fact, she had little need for an affluent husband.  She was the daughter of the founder of the Woodward Steel Company of Birmingham, Alabama.  Having begun collecting as a young woman, Eugenia filled both homes with her notable collection of 18th century French furniture and decorative items.

William F. R. Hitt died in the Park Avenue apartment on April 23, 1961 at the age of 81.  Four years later, in June, Eugenie traveled to Baden-Baden, Germany.  The New York Times explained, "Mrs. Hitt visits Baden-Baden, noted for its thermal baths, almost every year."  On June 12, the newspaper said, "She arrived last month with a chauffeur."

On the evening of July 7, Eugenie left "the fashionable Brenners Park Hotel" and returned four hours later.  She noticed nothing wrong until the following afternoon.  The yellow leather case that contained her jewelry and $4,000 in cash was missing.  Eugenie placed the value of the stolen jewelry at $250,000--about $2.45 million today.  Police questioned each member of the staff, convinced it was an inside job.

Astoundingly, a month later, on August 7, The New York Times reported that police had recovered the jewels.  A 35-year-old telephone operator of the hotel, Elisabeth Krelemann, had stolen the case, then became panicked by the intense police search.  She left the case on a train luggage rack to be discovered by a railway official.

Upon Eugenie Woodward Hitt's death here in 1990, she bequeathed the bulk of her furniture and art (valued at over $50 million) to the Birmingham Museum of Art.  One item, a bronze wall clock, went to the Chateau de Versailles.

Marcia Brady Tucker had moved into 720 Park Avenue in 1969 after selling her magnificent townhouse across the avenue at 733 Park Avenue.   Her husband, Carll Tucker died at their country home, Penwood, in 1956.  The New York Times said, "when she had to vacate a previous Park Avenue residence, Mrs. Tucker donated her collection of 19th-century English children's portraits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and to the Cincinnati Museum of Art."  Nonetheless, her apartment here was magnificently furnished.  She died in the apartment on December 21, 1976 at the age of 92.

On December 11, 2005, Josh Barbanel commented in a article in The New York Times, "If you can afford the many millions you need to live at 720 Park Avenue--and you squeak past the co-op board--you will find yourself in a building with all the advantages New York has to offer.  It is one of the great old Park Avenue luxury apartment buildings, with tasteful 12-room apartments and neighbors who grace the social pages, the business pages, and the lists of the world's richest people."

Among them were Mark and Nina Magowan, who had purchased their 7,000-square-foot, 14-room duplex apartment in 1986 from Caroline Lynch.  Magowan was president of Vendome Press.  

While the couple had renovations done, they retained the original Candela interiors--drawn from French 18th century precedents.  On March 20, 2016, The New York Times described the apartment's, "ornate and sometimes whimsical boiserie paneling...plaster cameo moldings, overdoor painted inserts and four marble wood-burning fireplaces."

The article mentioned that the 29 apartments at 720 Park Avenue had "been home to various captains of industry and entrepreneurs, like Leonard Liggio, the founder of Barnes & Noble, and Randolph D. Lerner, the former owner of the Cleveland Browns."

photographs by the author
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