Saturday, March 28, 2020

The Pompeo Coppini Studio - 210 West 14th Street

Essentially nothing other than the brick facade and stone sills of the 1848 house survive.

When the row of 25-foot wide Greek Revival homes were completed on the south side of West 14th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues in 1848 the neighborhood was filling with equally high-end residences.  Just over three blocks west of the new Union Square, West 14th Street would be a fashionable residential thoroughfare for a few decades to come.

During the Civil War years the family of Edmund Murray Young lived in No. 88 West 14th Street (soon to be renumbered 210).  Young and his wife, the former Josepha Matilda McDonald, had seven children, the eldest being Elizabeth, born in 1844.  One of them, Alexander McDonald Young, died in infancy in 1863 and another, Edmund, Jr., died at the age of 18 a year later.

Elizabeth Bleecker Young's wedding in Trinity Chapel on May 17, 1870 drew attention within society; not only for its brilliance, but because of the groom's position with "our wealthy Cuban society," as worded by The New York Evening Telegram.  Major Don Carlos Francisco Loynaz was, said the article, "a member of General [Emanuel] Quesada's staff and a gallant and brave soldier" and added "The bride, an exquisite beauty, [is] noted as well for her beautiful characteristics as for her beautiful form and features."

The wealth of the Young family was evidenced in Elizabeth's white satin gown.  "The bride's robe was one of the most elegant we have seen this season," said the journalist.  "The groomsmen were attired in full evening dress, as were also the polite ushers."  Following the ceremony a reception was held in the 14th Street house, which The New York Evening Telegram deemed "an exceedingly select and elegant affair.

The newlyweds moved into the house.  Elizabeth continued to work for worthy causes and in 1878 she focused on establishing a lodging house for unemployed working women.  On July 5, 1878 the New-York Daily Tribune reported on her success.  "Mrs. Loynaz of No. 210 West Fourteenth-st., obtained enough subscriptions to warrant the undertaking, and then hired the large dwelling house at No. 148 West Twenty-fourth-st.  The building...can easily accommodate thirty persons with comfortable lodgings in the Summer time."

In the spring of 1882 the 14th Street house became home to another Cuban national.  It was purchased by Cayetano de Socarras on April 20, 1882.  The title was placed in the name of Angela de Socarras.   The couple remained until October 1890.

By then the West 14th Street neighborhood had become greatly commercialized.  Many of the once grand homes were being operated as boarding houses, several of them with shops now in the former basement levels.   No. 210 escaped being converted for business for years; however its glory days were most definitely behind it at the turn of the century when it was run as a boarding house and then as a rooming house.  

The tenants were shady at best.  One of them, Alfred J. Jarman, described by the The Daily Long Island Farmer as "an Englishman advanced in years," seemed an unlikely roomer.  He was employed in the patent department of a scientific journal, had a wife, "several grown daughters," and a house in Newark, New Jersey.  

But when police entered his rooms on December 22, 1911, it all made sense.  "At Jarman's rooms they found a complete counterfeiting outfit, consisting of a lithographic press, ten plates for making ten dollar notes, a quantity of ink and paper, several molds and a supply of white metal."  Jarman not only produced fake bills, but coins.  "Captain Flynn's men found a hundred bogus dimes and quarters."

Another tenant was 21-year old James Redmond.  He was a member of the dangerous Hudson Dusters gang.  On Sunday July 28, 1912 he was part of a violent confrontation with another gang, the Neighborhood Sons, at Horatio and Washington Streets in Greenwich Village.   Several dozen young thugs scattered when police descended on the scene where one tough lay dead and another critically wounded.

While police were questioning the dying William Jenks at St. Vincent's Hospital, Redmond staggered in, saying "I'm very sick and want to be cared for."  The Evening World reported "A doctor examined Redmond and found a bullet hole in the back of his coat and a wound in his back."

"You have been shot," he said.

"Yes, I suppose I have," Redmond replied.  

Neither Jenks nor Redmond admitted any knowledge of the street fight before they died.

By 1913 No. 210 was termed a "lodging house," the lowest form of accommodations.  Lodging house tenants received no amenities, merely a bed or cot, and paid on a day-to-day basis.  Mary Reilly was the proprietor in the first days of 1914 when things got out of hand even for the seasoned landlady.  

On January 14 The Evening Telegram reported "Mrs. Mary Reilly telephoned to the police that there was a band of gunmen in her house...and that they refused to leave.  She said they were firing their revolvers out of the windows and threatened to kill her if she told the police."  When a police lieutenant and two detectives arrived, they found a group of men barricaded in two rooms on the top floor.  They broke down the doors.

The hooligans resisted arrest.  It did not go well for them.  "In the melee the four men in the room suffered painful abrasions and contusions by 'falling against the furniture,'" said the article.  Also arrested was a 16-year old boy, Peter Haape, who was wanted for burglary.  

The early 1920's brought another change to the West 14th Street neighborhood as artists created studios in the former homes.  In 1923 sculptor Pompeo Coppini and his wife, the former Elizabeth di Barbieri, purchased No. 210.  They hired architect Albert S. Gottlieb to convert it with a store and studio in the basement level, offices on the former parlor level, a duplex apartment for the Coppinis on the second and third floors, and three artist studios on the top.

Coppini was born in Italy on May 19, 1870 and emigrated to the United States in March 1896.  His career in New York started out humbly sculpting figures for a wax museum.   While working on his commission to create a memorial to Francis Scott Key, he fell in love with his model and the couple married.  By the time they moved into No. 210 West 14th Street, he had established himself as a respected artist.

Albert S. Gottlieb removed the stoop and moved the entrance to the street level.  Although it is not signed, there is little doubt that the carved tympanum above the new entrance is the work of Coppini.  The bas relief of an artist with brush in hand doubled as an advertisement of sorts for the studios on the top floor.

Given Coppini's artistic status, the work is most likely marble.  It is difficult to tell for sure, because someone decided that painting the sculpture highway yellow would be a good idea.  It wasn't.

On March 17, 1932 The Pelham Sun reported on the "delightful studio tea on Sunday afternoon at Mr. Coppini's studio, 210 West Fourteenth street, New York City."  About 125 guests were entertained by a "delightful musical program."  The article ended "Mr. Coppini is a sculptor of note."

The event took place in the Coppini's duplex.  While the original plans intended for his studio to be in the ground floor, in 1929 it was leased to Spanish-born Carmen Barañano, the widow of Jesús Moneo.  In his memory she named her store Casa Moneo.  Here she sold imported Spanish foods and other products to the residents of Little Spain that was emerging along West 14th Street.

Coppini's most celebrated tenant was French Dadaist artist Marcel Duchamp who took one of the top floor studios in October 1943.  He was paying Coppini $40 per month rent in 1952, just over $375 today.  Duchamp lived in the studio until 1959 when he moved to No. 28 West 10th Street; but continued working here until his death in Paris on October 2, 1968.  

It was here that Duchamp worked quietly on what the Philadelphia Museum of Art describes as "the fabrication of a large and complex tableau to which he gave the title Étant donnés: 1. La chute d’eau, 2. Le gaz d’éclairage."  The English translations of the two works are The Waterfall and The Illuminating Gas.

Music critic Winthrop Sargeant visited the artist in his studio in 1952.  He described it in his article entitled "Dada's Daddy" in Life magazine on April 28:

He lives four flights up in a little garretlike studio on 14th Street, one of Manhattan's most blatantly commercial thoroughfares.  It seems a strange place for a high-brow to live, but that is probably the very reason Duchamp has chosen it--to outwit anyone who might expect him to compromise his individuality by doing the obvious thing.

His studio is dominated by its chess table.  Here Duchamp sits by the hour, sometimes actually playing against an opponent.  
Marcell Duchamp poses over his chess board in the 14th Street studio in 1952.  Life magazine, April 28, 1952 
The Coppinis sold No. 210 to Joseph Torch in 1956.  On May 24 The New York Times reported that he "plans to occupy the store for the sale of artists' supplies."  But if those plans involved evicting Casa Moneo, they soon changed.  The 14th Street fixture remained until 1988.

Today a nail salon occupies that ground floor space.  Above it are one apartment per floor other than the top, which still holds three furnished rooms as Pompeo Coppini envisioned in 1923.  And hundreds of pedestrians pass the yellow painted sculpture without a glance.

photographs by the author

Friday, March 27, 2020

The Palacio - 55-57 East 65th Street

20th century fire escapes obscure the detailing.
Developer Thomas McLaughlin embarked on a chancy real estate endeavor in 1892 when he hired the architectural firm of Thom & Wilson to design a flat house on the north side of East 65th Street, just west of Park Avenue.  Apartment living was still viewed with skepticism by well-to-do Upper East Side residents and The Palacio would sit markedly on a block lined with upscale private homes.

Completed within the year, the building contained thirteen sprawling suites of seven or eight rooms.  Thom & Wilson had created a seven-story blend of Romanesque and Renaissance Revival styles.  Its asymmetrical design included a two-story rusticated brownstone base where the centered entrance was flanked by tightly clustered Romanesque columns.  The window directly above it was fronted by a charming Juliette balcony.  The upper floors were clad in tan brick generously trimmed in brownstone, the carved designs of which drew inspiration from the Renaissance period.  Because the building hugged the property line, several feet forward from the facades of the high-stooped houses around it, the architects were able to gently curve the western corner to create an eye catching design element.

The delightful half-round balcony above the entrance can be seen in this 1938 photograph. The double house in the center of the frame was originally home to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and Franklin's mother, Sarah.  photograph from the collection of the New York Public Library
An advertisement in the New-York Tribune in April 1899 touted the modern amenities of The Palacio, including "hall service; elevator; electric light."  The term "hall service" referred to the "hall boys" on staff--normally teen-aged boys who ran errands, delivered packages, took mail to and from apartments and handled other helpful tasks.  Prospective tenants would pay $1,800 per year for an eight-room apartment, or about $4,700 a month rent in today's money.

The moneyed residents appeared often in society columns.  On May 28, 1899, for instance, the New-York Tribune announced that "Mr. and Mrs. Frederic Van Lennep and family, of No. 55 East Sixty-fifth-st., have arranged to sail for Europe on the steamship Kaiser Friedrich on June 20.  They will remain abroad until September or October."

Among the most socially prominent families in The Palacio was that of Stephen Van Rensselaer whose ancestor Kiliean van Rensselaer was one of the founders and directors of the Dutch West India Company and of New Amsterdam.  The original Van Rensselaer manor engulfed all of what today are Albany and Rensselaer counties upstate.  On January 14, 1900 the New-York Daily Tribune reported that Mrs. Rensselaer had given her second reception of that winter season.

More newsworthy, however, was the socially important wedding that took place in Boston on December 12, 1900 when the Van Rensselaers' son, Charles Augustus, married Caroline Elizabeth Fitzgerald.  Newspapers noted "Mr. and Mrs. Van Rensselaer will reside at 55 East Sixty-fifth Street, New York."

The family of esteemed physician George B. McAuliffe lived here at the time.  Born in New York City on September 20, 1864, he had graduated from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1888.  He was now the Adjunct Professor of Otology at New York Polyclinic, throat surgeon at the Metropolitan Throat Hospital, oculist at Harlem Hospital, the Mothers' Home Hospital and the Red Cross Hospital, as well as other positions throughout the city.

The family suffered tragedy on March 19, 1899 when five-year old George G. McAuliffe died.  Following her period of mourning, Mrs. McAuliffe resumed her social routine.  Originally from the South, she was a member of the Daughters of the Confederacy.  A reception for "a large number of Southerners resident in New-York," as described by the New-York Tribune, on May 7, 1901 would raise eyebrows today.

For the most part the event was little different than any other afternoon social function; but at least one detail intended to provide Southern flavor could only be called racist today.  "The rooms were decorated with pink and white roses, and a negro banjoist and mandolinist played 'darky' melodies softly all through the reception."

Like all socialites, Mrs. McAuliffe was involved in charitable causes.  Her greatest focus was on the Northwestern Dispensary to which, according to The Evening Telegram on March 15, 1904, she devoted much of her time.

The building had been sold in 1903 and renamed The Sussex.   Nothing else changed for the tenants, including the rent which was exactly the same as it had been on opening day.

New-York Tribune, August 30, 1903 (copyright expired)

As it did throughout the country, World War I changed the lives of residents in The Sussex.  None were more affected than attorney and U. S. Commissioner of Patents Frederick Innes Allen and his wife, the former Cornelia Seward.   The couple had impressive family backgrounds--Cornelia's father, William H. Seward, had been Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln, and Frederick's first American ancestor, George Allen, arrived in Massachusetts in 1636.

In 1917 all three of their sons enlisted--32-year old William Seward Allen enrolled in the U. S. Naval Reserves; Ralph S. Allen enlisted in the Army (happily, no doubt for his mother, assigned to a clerical position); and 28-year old Lloyd Seward Allen joined the Army Air Corps.

Lloyd's choice of branches was obvious.  After graduating from Yale he had gone into the construction of airplanes and "the invention of flying devices," according to the New York Herald.  After training at Dallas, Texas, he was transferred to the Wilbur Wright Aviation Field in Dayton, Ohio.  But he would never see action overseas.

New York Herald, May 2, 1918 (copyright expired)

On May 2, 1918 the New York Herald reported that Lloyd, "a cadet flyer at the Wilbur Wright Aviation Field, met instant death to-day when his machine became unmanageable while he was making a practice flight, and crashed into one of the school buildings on the ground."

R. Grover Hutchins had left his position as president of the National Bank of Commerce to head the Home and Hospital Division of the American Red Cross in Paris.  His wife's anxiety was increased when their daughter, Margaret, left her studies at Bryn Mawr College and volunteered with the Signal Corps, also in Paris.  There she did "telephone duty," according to the New York Herald.  Four months after the end of the war, on February 8, 1919, father and daughter arrived home on the same ship.  The banker had attained the rank of major.

The conflict greatly affected another resident, Josiah Kingsley Ohl, in a different way.  Ohl was editor The New York Herald, a position he assumed in 1913.  With the outbreak of war was appointed head of the Washington Bureau.  The New York Times later explained the dual responsibilities "caused him physical hardship, as well, because of the necessity for frequent trips to Washington."

The editor's work was recognized internationally.  The Times said he "came in close contact with representatives of foreign Governments, and at various times received the decorations of Commander of the Crown of Italy, Chevalier of the Order of King George III of Greece, Chevalier of the Order of Leopold of Belgium, and Chevalier of the Legion of Honor of France."

Ohl and his wife, the former Maude Annulet Andrews, had one daughter, Joan Kingsley Ohl.  On August 19, 1919 they announced her engagement to David Frank Webster.  The wedding took place on September 3 at the Church of the Heavenly Rest.

Ten months later, on June 27, 1920, Josiah Kingsley Ohl died in the 65th Street apartment after having suffered a nervous breakdown followed by a short illness and then a heart attack.  The Times reported that his heart condition "had been aggravated by strain under which he labored during the World War."  He was only 57 years old.

Maude left The Sussex soon after.  On October 18 The New York Herald announced she "has given up her home at 55 East Sixty-fifth street, and will pass the winter in Summerville, S. C.   She expects to remain there a year."

The Sussex was, by now, a cooperative building.  Although the first cooperative apartment house, The Gramercy, was opened in 1883, the concept was still relatively unusual.

New-York Tribune, June 20, 1920 (copyright expired)
The Allen family were still in residence.  Cornelia died on October 5, 1921 after a length illness.  The following year, on April 16, William Seward Allen's engagement to Dorothy Wilmot was announced.  The wedding took place that June; and Ralph was married to Elizabeth Bailey in April 1923.

Frederick Allen remained in The Sussex, now alone.  He retired in 1928, but continued his hobby of mineralogy.  The New York Times noted that "He maintained in his home, in which he had lived since 1908, a laboratory for the chemical analysis of minerals and had an extensive mineralogical collection."  Allen died of a heart attack in his apartment at the age of 79 on May 18, 1938.

In the summer of 1948 Phorwall Petersen was hired as an elevator operator.  The 51-year old was a retired merchant marine sea captain who had served in World War I.  His years of training in emergency situations came into play on January 9, 1949.

Petersen was sitting in the lobby at around 7:15 that night when he smelled smoke.  He took the elevator downstairs where he found the basement in flames.  After notifying the building superintendent, he "embarked on what the tenants he serves described as a one-man rescue mission," according to The New York Times.

He made a total of seven trips up and down in the elevator, knocking on every door and warning the residents to evacuate.  When there was no response, he used his passkey to rescue pets whose owners were not home.  After his last trip, he collapsed on the lobby floor and was taken to Roosevelt Hospital where he was treated for smoke poisoning.

Luckily, although the entire building filled with smoke, the major damage was confined to the basement level and the two doctor's offices on the ground floor.

While many late Victorian apartment buildings suffered decline by mid-century, The Sussex retained its upscale tone.  

One resident discarded an old oil painting in July 1997--one which caught the eye of a passerby.  John W. Nichols picked up the discarded portrait "sticking out of a pile of trash bags," as reported by The New York Times on July 3, despite some damage.

It turned out to be a portrait of Andrew Foster, Esq., painted in 1848 by William Jewett and Samuel Lovett Waldo.  The pair shared a studio and cooperatively worked on portraits, Waldo doing the face and hands, Jewett the clothing and backgrounds.  Examples of their works hang in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Upon investigation, Nichols discovered that Andrew Foster was the great-grandfather of Henry Francis duPont.

Most likely the transoms of the first and second floor windows once held colorful stained glass.
Other than replacement doors and the unsightly fire escape that veils much of the detailing of the facade, The Sussex is relatively unchanged after more than 125 years.

photographs by the author

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Slade & Colby's 1868 281 Church Street

In the first years following the Civil War wealthy dry goods merchant Jarvis Slade turned his focus to transforming the Tribeca district from one of old brick and wooden structures to modern loft buildings.  Years later, on January 29, 1881, The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide credited him with creating the dry goods district. "This gentleman was a pioneer in this district, and besides acquiring a large interest himself, it was mainly due to his influence that it was so rapidly covered with first-class buildings." 

Among his earliest projects was the five story loft and store building at the southeast corner of Church and White Streets.  He partnered with Gardner R. Colby to purchase the two old buildings on the site in October 1865.  
The transaction involving the wooden house at No. 35 White Street would cause headaches for the seller, Samuel Keyser, before long.

But in the meantime, Colby and Slade commenced construction on their new building in 1866.  Faced in light-colored sandstone, it was completed the following year.  Although the storefronts opened onto Church Street, giving the building its address of No. 281 Church; the 75-foot long White Street elevation was architecturally treated as the front.

Stone piers embraced the cast iron storefront sections where free-standing Corinthian columns upheld the entablature.  Each of the nearly identical upper stories was clearly defined by crisp sill courses.  Corinthian pilasters separated the segmentally-arched openings and rusticated piers ran up the corners.  A handsome French Second Empire cornice, supported on brackets, was capped by a pyramidal pediment.

Soon after the construction had begun, Samuel Keyser found himself in court.  On the abutting Church Street property was a boarding house.  For years the owners had a legal agreement with Keyser allowing them to share his rear yard--and most importantly his privy.  In April 1866 they sued; their complaint saying in part, "when Slade and Colby were building they undermined the yard so that the fence all caved in; and the privy building was carried away by the boys of the neighborhood."

While the two parties fought over the lost privy privileges, Colby and Slade filled No. 281 Church Street with, for the most part, dry goods merchants.  An exception was the silversmith firm of S. D. Johnson, here by the early 1870's.

On August 24, 1876 two burglars broke into Johnson's shop and made off with silverware valued at about $36,000 in today's money.  Police were certain they knew who the perpetrators were--William Heany and Thomas Macaveny, the "well-known Fourteenth ward thieves," as described by The Evening Telegram.  The pair was picked up on Hester Street the following day.  "The prisoners, who are young men, denied any knowledge of the burglary," said the article.  Despite the fact that the arresting officers apparently had no hard evidence against them they were held in default of bail.

In the first years of the 1890's a sixth floor, nearly hidden by the cornice and pediment, was added to the building which continued to house mostly dry goods businesses, like Letson & Hashagen.  

Just the the roofline of the new top floor can be seen above the original cornice.
But there were still exceptions to that rule as well.  By 1894 New York branch of Mulhens & Kropff was in the building and would remain through the turn of the century.  The firm imported colognes, soaps, and "extracts" from its Cologne, Germany laboratories.

On December 1, 1895 Merck's Market Report said "a particularly excellent business is being done in the transparent glycerin soaps.  Mr. Kropff speaks in the highest terms of the White-Rose soap, which is a star among the glycerin varieties."  The article added that Mulhens & Kropff's "'Eau de Cologne' has held its own in the United States against all competitors for the last sixty years."

The Puritan, February 1899 (copyright expired)

The Eau de Cologne was somewhat pricey.  A two-ounce sample bottle could be had by mail order in 1899 for 30 cents; nearly $10 in today's dollars.

Frederick Hashagen, a partner in Letson & Hashagen, was troubled that year.  He left his Brooklyn house as usual on November 19, but instead of going to his office here he checked into the Grand Union Hotel under the name of J. S. Harrison.  At around noon he was found dead in his room with a bullet wound in his chest.  "The man is believed to have committed suicide," said the Brooklyn Daily Eagle."

It was possibly serious business problems that prompted Hashagen's desperate action.  Within months Letson & Hashagen declared bankruptcy.

Sharing the building with Mulhens & Kropff in the first years of the 20th century were linen merchants R. Lindner and George P. Boyce & Co., and Cawley & Weixelbaum, makers of handles for canes and umbrellas.   The latter moved into second floor in 1905.

In reporting on the firm's move Trunks, Leather Goods and Umbrellas described the new space as a "spacious and well lighted loft" and added "They will not confine the business to high class novelties, but make a specialty of good values in popular priced handles of European manufacture."

Trunks, Leather Goods & Umbrellas, April 1906 (copyright expired)
In 1908 cotton goods merchants R. E. Walsh & Co. and Thos. J. Conroy leased space in the building.  They were joined in 1916 by M. Gardner & Co., linen importers.   

The Colby family still owned a portion of the property at the time.  Henry F. Colby, who lived in Dayton, Ohio, died in 1916 leaving the holding to his wife.

In the first years following World War I Weissfeld Bros. & Gross was in the building.  The firm manufactured hospital, restaurant and hotel items like lab coats, aprons, caps, "luggers," and such.  In its May 1919 issue, American Druggist reported "This firm manufactures clothing and uniforms of every description and their many years' standing in this industry is ample evidence of the quality of the product."  To bring home its point, the article said "A neat and clean looking, dapper druggist will attract new customers to his store apart from his regular trade which will recommend him for his appearance."

In September that year the National Retail Tea and Coffee Merchants' Association held its annual convention in St. Louis.  It was a major affair, lasting three days.  An important feature was a exhibition of goods by industry-related manufacturers and dealers.  Two exhibitors came from the Church Street building.

In October Simmons' Spice Mill reported that Gardner Textile Co. had exhibited "table clothes, table sets consisting of a table cloth and six napkins, (boxed), napkins towels and other kindred articles used in the household."  Rendrag Co., Inc. had also staged a display, theirs consisting of "various kinds of ladies' handkerchiefs, embroidered, packed in ornate boxes, three to a box."

Weissfeld Bros. & Gross and Gardner Textile Co. were still here in 1922, along with hospital linens manufacturer Geo. P. Boyce & Co.

The Modern Hospital, February 1922 (copyright expired)

The Colby family still retained ownership of the building in 1938--more than seven decades after its construction.  On February 1, 1938.  Lincoln Fabrics, Inc. occupied the store and basement levels and the long-established dry goods firm Henry Glass & Co. was on the top floor.  The second and fourth floors were vacant.   Fire broke out in the building that morning, destroying the store of Lincoln Fabrics.  Smoke rose throughout the entire building.  It was intense enough to damage the stock of Henry Glass & Co.

The last quarter of the century saw profound changes in the old dry goods district, now known as Tribeca.  Where Lincoln Fabrics, Inc. had operated its store the trendy restaurant Arqua opened in 1987.  On May 4 New York Magazine reported "The newest good place to eat Italian food, according to Italian-cooking expert Giuliano Bugialli, is Arqua."

A conversion completed in 2002 resulted in one sprawling apartment per floor above the storefront.  Matteo Boglione opened his restaurant, White & Church, with partner Gian Perugini here in the summer of 2011.  Through it all Slade & Colby's striking 1868 sideways-facing structure has remained remarkably intact.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The David Irwin House - 204 West 21st Street

By the mid-1850's the 21st Street block between Seventh and Eighth Avenues in Chelsea was lined with handsome brick and brownstone-faced homes.  Among them was that of David Irwin at No. 204.  The 23-foot wide Greek Revival residence was similar to the others along the block, all home to merchant class families.

Born in 1802, Irwin was an officer of the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor.  He and his wife, the former Jane Warnock, had three daughters, Elizabeth J., Adeline M. and Sarah Anne.   

The Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor was founded in 1843 with the best intentions.  But the organization was flawed in its precepts.  Its directors firmly believed that poverty, unsanitary living conditions, and overcrowding were not the result of socioeconomic circumstances, but of immorality.  Charity, like soup kitchens, was vocally opposed and only efforts related to moral reform were approved.  The best cure for the problem, they believed, was to encourage the poor to move to the country.

Elizabeth married Hugh R. Jackson on May 21, 1857.  Only Sarah remained in the house with her parents following Adeline's wedding to Stephen E. Garretson some years later.

It seems that Jane's brother, Joseph Warnock, lived with the Irwin family by the mid-1860's.  He was the head of Warnock & Co. at No. 519 Broadway, makers of gentlemen's hats.  He died in the house after a short illness on February 12, 1866 and his funeral was held there two days later.

Nearly two decades later, on Friday November 30, 1883, David Irwin died at the age of 81.  His funeral was held in the parlor on December 3 at 10 a.m.

Within only a few weeks of her husband's death, on January 14, 1884, Jane transferred title of the house to Sarah.  The rapid change-over in ownership may have been in anticipation of Sarah's upcoming marriage to William Boggs.  And despite the family's being in mourning the wedding took place later that year.

There were no doubt some who felt that the 50-year old groom was rushing into marriage.  His first wife, Sarah E. Tucker Boggs, had died the same week as David Irwin.  

Boggs's daughter, Hattie, moved into No. 204 with the newlyweds.  The marriage would be very short lived.  On August 20, 1884 Sarah died.  Once again a funeral was held in the 21st Street house.  William Boggs obtained the title to the property.

The financial and social status of Boggs was evidenced in Hattie's wedding in the fashionable Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church on May 18, 1887.  The Evening Telegram noted "The bride wore a rich gown of white satin, trimmed with flounces of point lace...Her ornaments were of diamonds, and a tulle veil was worn."  Following the ceremony a reception was held at No. 204 West 21st Street.  "The parlors were elaborately decorated with flowers and palms," said the article, adding "Clark served a wedding supper."  (Clark was one of the premier society caterers, along with Pinard and Delmonico.)

It seems Boggs initially stayed on at No. 204 following Hattie's marriage.  In March 1889 an advertisement offered "Elegant furnished rooms in private house with all conveniences."  The term "private house" meant it was not being operated as a boarding house.  Yet.

But within four years that was not the case.   Although he retained possession of No. 204, Boggs moved to Peekskill and leased it as a "room-house."  The term was significant, differentiating it from a boarding house where tenants would receive meals and the amenities of a home.

In December 1892 William B. Curry and his wife (whom the Evening Telegram called "a handsome young Southern woman) lived in rooms here.  Curry was a "shoe blacking" (i.e. shoe polish) salesman for Bixby's Blacking Company.  The couple had been married for six years.

On Christmas night that year they attended the Tammany Hall ball, where Curry was introduced to 23-year old Frederica Prinzing.  The Evening Telegram said she was "quite comely [and] Curry was remarkably attentive to her."   Curry found Frederica so enchanting that he failed to mention that he was already married.

He continued to see her on the sly and on January 13, 1893 they were married.  Curry told the minister that his name was John P. Roberts.  He explained to his bride that they would see each other only now and then, as he routinely had to travel on business "in another part of the country."

After a month of seeing her husband only occasionally, Frederica complained to her brother-in-law, Alexander G. Murray, who launched his own investigation.  It did not take long for Curry's subterfuge to be uncovered.  

Murray went to No. 204 West 21st Street and laid out the story to Curry's wife.  The Sun reported on February 14, 1893, "Mrs. Curry proved to be a smart, attractive woman, who would not believe that her husband had married another."  So Murray devised a scheme.  "Mr. Murray invited Mrs. Curry to call at his house on Sunday night and bring her husband along."

When the couple arrived, Frederica was there.  So was a policeman.  Curry was taken to jail by Policeman Brady where he was held at $2,500 bail.

Everyone faced the judge on February 13.  The Evening Telegram reported "In court to-day wife number one pleaded with wife number two to be lenient for the reason, as she said, that their husband was intoxicated when he married a month ago.  The mournful bride, however, was not in a forgiving mood, and pressed a charge of bigamy."  Curry was found guilty and sent to prison for three years.  

Frederica had been traumatized by the events and what to a Victorian woman was the ruination of her life.  "As Curry turned from the bar Miss Prinzing threw up her arms and screamed.  She sobbed loudly as she was carried out by court officers," reported The Sun.

Another tenant who brought unwanted publicity to the address was Richard Fleming, who lived here in 1896.  On Saturday night February 22 he and two friends got drunk on the Lower East Side.  They wandered into a candy store on Delancy Street and told Jennie Suchers, "We want to buy out the whole place."  The Press reported on the ugly turn the situation took.  "They were not waited on as quickly as they thought they should be, and one of them struck Mrs. Suchers in the face.  After that the other two started to demolish the shop."

When Mr. Suchers, along with a store boy, rushed to his wife's defense both were knocked to the ground.  The trio then robbed the cash drawer.  Fleming and one of his cohorts were arrested.  The other escaped.

In the meantime, William Boggs was investing in Peekskill real estate upstate.  On September 12, 1897 the New-York Tribune reported that he had purchased the Mount Vernon Opera House.  He was also now had a third wife, named Elizabeth.  

Boggs had remortgaged the 21st Street property several times since he took title and it appears he had fallen behind on payments in the summer of 1900.  On August 3 a petition was filed by attorney W. S. Bronk against William and Elizabeth L. Boggs "to declare deeds void."  They managed to retain possession, but sold the house three years later to Kate B. Happel and Frederick Bruner.  Their exact relationship is unclear; but in December 1905 Kate transferred her one-half share to Bruner.

The house continued to be operated as a rooming house.  Among the tenants in 1904 was Vina Goff who bred large dogs.  In January that year her Newfoundland dog gave birth to a litter of 14 puppies.  The Sun reported "This brood was too much for the mother to care for, and Mrs. Goff decided she would have to supply a foster mother."  And so she rented the services a nursing collie named Bonnie.

Then, around the first of March, Bonnie disappeared.  Vina had to pay her owner $20--about $580 today.  Two weeks later Vina and her married daughter were walking along Broadway when they spotted a messenger boy with Bonnie on a leash.  Vina called the dog which "made a frantic effort to get to her."  Harry Carr insisted he had purchased the dog for $25 two weeks earlier--about the time of her disappearance--from a man he met on Broadway.  Vina and the boy agreed to walk together to the Tenderloin police station.  

The police captain suggested that Vina take the dog overnight and everyone come back the following day, along with the dog's owner, to settle the matter.  It all ended happily in the end with Bonnie going back to her rightful home.

Vina was apparently not discouraged by the incident.  Six months later an advertisement appeared in the Evening Telegram:

St. Bernard dog, 15 months old, beautifully marked, fine disposition, prize winner; also litter of puppies; perfect markings.  204 West 21st.

Middle class renters continued to take rooms here.  In 1907 Edgar Selden was appointed a commissioner of deeds, a position similar to a notary public today.  In September 1921 a tenant named Smith sought work as a plumber's helper.  He asked for $3.50 per day; about $50 in today's terms.

In January 1931 scandal caused the resignation of Magistrate Goodman, appointed by Mayor James Walker in July 1929.  The resignation did not preclude hearings concerning his graft and corruption.  Among the witnesses called was Angelina Colloneas, who lived at No. 204 West 21st Street.

Angelina Colloneas testified about police corruption in 1931.  The New York Sun, January 6, 1931 
Angelina was a waitress who had fallen victim to a vice squad scam in which Goodman was involved.  She testified that she met a man who said he was the son of a wealthy cigar manufacturer.  He was, in fact, "Harry the Greek, a vice squad stool pigeon," reported The New York Sun.  He was "attentive" to Angelina and after a time she hoped he would marry her.

"One evening, she said, they went to her home and sat in the parlor a few minutes, talking and smoking cigarettes, when the police burst in and arrested her on a vice charge.  Harry the Greek vanished" reported The Sun.  At the Jefferson Market Court she said she had $1,200 in the bank.  She "gave up $800 of it and the case against her was dropped."  But that was not the end of it.

Angelina said the police and Goodman were aware that she still had $400 in her bank account.  Two months later a policeman arrived at No. 204 West 21st Street, "pretended to be searching for something, and finally extracted from a shoe under her bed a small paper of what he claimed was a narcotic."  The Sun said "She was arrested on that charge and it cost her the remaining $400 to get free."

A renovation completed in 1956 resulted in two apartments on each floor.  The stoop was removed and the entrance moved to the former basement level.  That and the former parlor level were faced in an unattractive material imitating stone blocks.

The mid-century renovation was gruesome.  photo via
In May 2013 real estate broker Herve Senequier paid $2.7 million for the property.  He announced that he would convert the bottom two floors to a duplex unit for himself.  But real change came soon thereafter.  A massive restoration, completed in 2019, brought the Irwin house back to a single-family residence.  The startling make-over included a rebuilt stoop, the refacing of the parlor floor in brick, and refabricated sills and entrance.  The seamless, period-perfect restoration could fool the most erudite preservationist.

photographs by the author

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The F. N. Collins House - 323 West 88th Street

When Theodore E. Thomson designed the five 20-foot wide rowhouses along West 88th Street for James Carlew late in 1895, he chose a single plan for all of them.  When completed, the homes between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive would be nearly identical--their differences appearing only in the carvings that decorated the stoop newels, the panels between the parlor floor windows, and the bases of the two story bays.

The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide noted on December 28 that the cost to construct each house would be approximately $20,000--or about $617,000 today.  The journal noted "specifications will call for all conveniences."

Because James Carlew was in Europe when the plans were completed, the project stalled until his return.  Ground was broken in March 1896 and the row was completed in the summer of 1897.  Like its neighbors, No. 323 rose four stories above a tall English basement.  Clad in brownstone, its double-doored entrance was flanked by fluted Corinthian pilasters which helped uphold a bracketed cornice that ran the width of the house.

The same pilasters appeared in reduced versions along the rounded bay of the second and third floors.  The underside of the bay was decorated with extraordinary carvings of overlapping leaves and berries.  The fluted pilasters made their appearance one more time at the top floor, flanking each window.  The remarkable pressed metal cornice was upheld by a series of small engaged columns; a highly unusual detail.

A stone worker exerted hours of careful labor on the complex carvings below the bowed bay.
On September 16, 1897 The New York Times reported that Carlew had sold No. 323, adding "This is the second house sold by Mr Carlew of the row of five which were completed about three months ago."

The house became home to the Frederick Norris Collins family.  Collins was president of the shipping concern, James Ward & Co.  He and his wife, the former Emily Augusta Cooper, had one daughter, Lydia.  Their summer residence was near Summit, New Jersey where they were members of the Canoe Brook Country Club and the Baltusrol Country Club nearby.  Living with them was Emily's widowed mother.

Emily was visible both in New York society and in political issues during the winter season.  She was a member of the Women's Republican Club and the Women's Auxiliary of Calvary Episcopal Church.  Her name appeared in social columns, as on December 15, 1907 when The New York Times announced that she "has sent out cards for the first Monday of each month during the season."  Another newspaper called those Mondays a "series of informal afternoons."

Earlier that year the family name appeared in newsprint for a less happy reason.  On the morning of May 28 Emily's mother noticed that a desk in her room had been jimmied open.  Investigation revealed that a bar brooch, a pair of earrings and six rings were missing.  The total value was $2,000--more than $55,000 today.  She notified Frederick who quickly suspected the butler.

The following day The Evening Post reported that "John Martin, the negro butler," had been arrested.  "Mr. Collins said that before going on an errand the butler had gone upstairs, and a few minutes after he left the house the robbery was discovered.  None of the other servants had been near the room."

Frederick's cousin, Mildred Louise Collins, was married on February 13, 1915 in the Church of the Transfiguration.  It was, perhaps, a surprising location for the friends of the couple.  Mildred lived in New Haven, Connecticut and the groom, I. Leland Hewes, was from Springfield, Massachusetts.  The reception, therefore, was held in the West 88th Street house.

In 1920 the Federal Government issued an indictment against specific shipping concerns, charging them with price fixing.  Among the executives and agents individually charged was Frederick N. Collins.

As was most often the case with well-heeled couples, the title to No. 323 was in Emily's name.   She sold the house in July 1921 to Lillian B. Smith.

Smith leased the house to operatic coach Florence Mendelson.   A year after moving in she was involved in the formation of the Music Students' League, "sponsored by prominent musicians," according to The Musician in July 1922.  The purpose was to hold "occasional consideration of such problems as every music student must have."  The announcement noted "The secretary is Florence Mendelson, who may be addressed at 323 West Eighty-eighth Street, New York."

During the Depression years No. 323 was being operated as a rooming house.  Among the occupants in 1934 was 31-year old taxicab owner Oscar Kates.  At 3:00 a.m. on the day after Christmas that year he pulled his cab into a filling station on West 60th Street.  When the tank was filled, he found he could not shut off the pump.  While he struggled with the pump, the gasoline spilled out and onto the ground.  Somehow it ignited, engulfing Kates in flames.

Taken to The Roosevelt Hospital by another cabbie, his burns were severe enough to require his hospitalization until January 20, 1935.   Upon paying his $197 bill (around $3,600 today), he hired a lawyer and sued.  The jury granted him a $5,000 settlement.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Collins house was never divided into apartments--the fate of so many large Victorian rowhouses.  In 2008 a penthouse level, invisible from the street, was added.  

photographs by the author