Saturday, March 2, 2024

The 1941 Revere - 130 West 12th Street

image via

In 1940, the Village Construction Corporation broke ground for the Revere Apartments, described by the New York Sun as being "designed for the occupancy of 118 families in suites of 1-1/2 to 4-1/2 rooms."  Architect Hyman Isaac Feldman designed the 12-story-and-penthouse structure with a cast stone base.  Clad in variegated brown brick, the upper floors were given verticality with piers of fluted brick, while bands of stone and brick on the upper floors stressed the horizontal.  Fenestration was highly important in Feldman's design, his wide groups of casement windows, some of which wrapped the corner of the projecting wing, acting as near-sculptural elements.
photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York.

With the Great Depression behind them, New Yorkers happily looked for new living accommodations.  On October 22, 1941, The Sun reported that eight apartments had been leased "in the Revere, 130 West 12th street, now under construction."

Among the initial residents were newlyweds William Rose Benét and Marjorie Flack Benét.  Born in 1886, Benét received his Ph.B. from Yale University in 1907.  A poet, writer and editor, he had edited and written for the Saturday Review of Literature since 1924. 

William Rose Benét (original source unknown)

William and Marjorie married in 1941, just before moving in.  The Benéts were a sort of literary dynasty.  Marjorie, who was his fourth wife, was a children's author; William's son, James Walker Benét, was a journalist and novelist; and his sister Laura Benéand his younger brother Stephen Vincent Benét were both poets.  A year after moving into the Revere, William Rose Benét was awarded the Pulitzer Price for Poetry for his book The Dust Which is God.

Another journalist in the building was Carlo Tresca, editor of the Italian-American newspaper Il Martello (The Hammer), who lived here with his domestic partner Margaret De Silver.  According to Nunzio Pernicone in his 2010 Carlo Tresca: Portrait of a Rebel, they moved into the Revere from Brooklyn "at the insistence of Margaret, who feared for his safety traveling back and forth to Brooklyn."  Margaret had good reason to be nervous.

Carlo Tresca in 1910.  

Born in Sulmona, Italy in 1879, Tresca arrived in the United States in 1904.  He almost immediately became involved in the labor movement and headed the socialist newspaper Il Proletario.  By the time he and Margaret moved into the Revere, he was a known anti-Fascist, using his newspaper to denounce Fascism.  In 1926, he had been named by Mussolini as one of the top three Italians the dictator wanted deported back to Italy.  Tresca added to his growing list of enemies in 1938 by accusing the Soviet Union of kidnapping a dissident, Juliet Stuart Poyntz.

On at 8:40 on the night of January 11, 1943, Tresca was crossing Fifth Avenue at 15th Street when a black automobile pulled up next to him.  An assassin, rumored by some to have been Carmine Galante of the Bonanno crime family, shot Tresca in the back of the head, killing him instantly.  (The murderer was never found.)

On January 13, 1943, The New York Times opined, "The murder of Carlo Tresca removes a man who was capable of expressing and inspiring violent disagreement, but whom only an embittered fanatic could have hated."  Four days later, a memorial service was held in the Manhattan Center on 34th Street.  The New York Times reported, "Five thousand persons paid tribute to the memory of Carlo Tresca, 68-year-old Italian-born radical editor of Il Martell0."  Fifteen carloads of flowers and ten cars of police and journalists accompanied the hearse to the Fresh Pond Crematory in Queens.  "The procession passed the Tresca home at 130 West Twelfth Street and through the Italian district on the way to [the] Williamsburg Bridge," said the article.

A typical apartment in 1941.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York.

Living in the Revere at the time was attorney and politician James A. Hatch.  Born in 1881, he had been an assemblyman and from 1934 to 1936 was a Deputy Dock Commissioner.  He was a partner in the legal firm of Hatch and Wolfe.

Resident Genevieve M. Raffe was a pioneering female in the retail business.  Born in Glasgow, Scotland, she arrived in America in 1930 and joined the Wanamaker Department Store firm that year.  Within four years she rose to buyer for the fur department of the Wanamaker's New York store, and a few years later added the Philadelphia flagship store to her buying duties.  The prominent retailer, who never married, died while living here on April 7, 1947.

In the meantime, William Rose Benét was a member of the National Institute for Arts and Letters, founded in 1898.  The exclusive organization was limited to 250 members "qualified by notable achievements in art, music and literature."  On May 16, 1947, as the venerable institution faced a crisis, members assembled at the Benét apartment.

Sculptor William Hunt Diederich's works were in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum.  But, according to The New York Age on May 17, "Unlike many of his profession, Mr. Diederich to all indications is a rabid bigot."  Antisemitic pamphlets had been discovered by postal workers that were traced back to Diederich.  

At the Benét apartment, said the article, "Mr. Diedrich was asked to explain."  He gave "somewhat incoherent acknowledgements of his guilt."  William Rose Benét stressed, "It is the kind of thing that Fascist-minded people take up and use."  A press conference was immediately called "and exposed the whole dirty mess," said The New York Age, which added, "It is reassuring to find upstanding men and women like [Diedrich's] associates who hesitated not one minute in revealing him in his shameful conniving."

On May 4, 1950, Benét left the Revere to attend a meeting of the council of the National Institute of Arts and Letters at its headquarters at 633 West 155th Street.  He was walking along Broadway after leaving the meeting at 6:20 when he collapsed to the sidewalk with a heart attack.  A passerby rushed to his assistance, and he was taken to Mother Cabrini Memorial Hospital where he died.  In reporting his death, The New York Times mentioned, "Mr. Benét was the author of dozens of books of poetry, including several anthologies and novels."

A fascinating resident at the time was Dr. Hulda E. Burger, whose country home was in Sag Habor, New York.  Although she was a dentist, the Minnesota native was better known for her figure skating.  The former president of the Great Neck Figure Staking Club, she represented the United States in the Women's Singles for the North American Championship.

On October 10, 1958, The Advocate reported, "St. Vincent's Hospital has purchased The Revere, a 12-story penthouse, 125-unit apartment building."  The article noted, "The two-to-four-and-a-half room suites in the building will be used as a residence for the medical and nursing staff of the hospital."

The Revere was renamed the Martin Payne Building.  A summary of the facilities on March 10, 1982 listed 18 "on-call dormitories," 35 residential apartments for staff, one guest suite, and 64 offices.

Half a century after it acquired the property, on April 6, 2010 The New York Times reported that St. Vincent Catholic Medical Centers had voted to close the Greenwich Village hospital.  With the facility vacated, the Martin Payne Building was no longer viable.

Rudin Management Company purchased 130 West 12th Street.  On September 25, 2011, The New York Times reported the firm had "gutted it, reducing the number of units to 43 from 100."  The article added, "The building...will have a rooftop terrace and garden, and units ranging from one-bedrooms of 869 square feet to four-bedrooms of 2,837 square feet.  There will also be three duplex penthouses, starting at 3,202 square feet."

A month later, the newspaper reported, "The last of the sought-after trio of penthouse sponsor units at One Thirty West 12, the wildly popular (and sold-out) luxury condominium conversion...sold for $8,422,899, the most expensive sale of the week."  The buyer wished to remain nameless, but the other two penthouse owners were Rosie O'Donnell (who beat out actress Cameron Diaz, according to The New York Times, for her unit), and fashion mogul Andrew Rosen.

many thanks to reader Lowell Cochran for suggesting this post
photographs by the author
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Friday, March 1, 2024

The New York Mills Building - 458 Greenwich Street


In the mid-1860s, the two-and-a-half-story Federal style house at 458 Greenwich Street was home to the Bailey family.  At the time, commerce had already been invading the neighborhood for years.  On April 1, 1873, Isaac Dixon purchased the 25-foot-wide property for $16,000 (just over $400,000 in 2024).  Two decades later, he testified, "There was an old dwelling-house on it when I bought it."

Dixon owned a coffee and spice business, the New York Mills.  Initially, he ran it from the former residence.  In February 1874, he hired builder Peter McManus to make "front and interior alterations" to the building; and in 1880 he added an extension to the rear.

The success of the New York Mills was such that in 1883 Dixon demolished the old structure and hired architect James S. Wightman to design what his plans described as a "five-story brick and Ohio stone trimmed warehouse" on the site.  Wightman clad his neo-Grec style structure in red brick above the cast iron storefront.  Each of the identical floors included recessed, vertical panels between the openings and horizonal panels between floors.  Stone bandcourses connected the sills and a single lintel with delicate, incised carved vines served all four windows on each floor.  

The neo-Grec style forewent the curvy Italianate decorations in favor of more geometric lines, and Wightman pulled out the stops with his cornice.  It rested upon brick, stair-stepped corbels atop a row of saw-tooth brick.  Between each bracket were recessed panels below brick dentils.  

Despite occupying the entire building, Dixon ran his operation with a bare-bones staff.  In 1895, he employed just six men who worked 59 hours per week.  The ground floor held the firm's office which was "visited from time to time for the purposes of placing or removing merchandise," according to the Board of Standards.  The fifth floor was used for coffee roasting, and the second through fourth were used for storage of coffee and spices.  In 1901, the New York Mills still operated successfully with the same number of employees.

Isaac Dixon died in 1897 and his widow Agnes transferred title to the building to Frederick J. Dixon (presumably a son), who took over the business.  While coffee and spices were the company's mainstay, a mention in The Spice Mill in April 1910 noted that the "New York Mills, 458 Greenwich street, New York, also roast wheat, etc., besides coffee."

An ad shows that the building originally had a triangular pediment on the roof.  The Brewers' Journal, October 1, 1915 (copyright expired).

The firm remained at 458 Greenwich Street until around 1931 when it moved a block to the south.  It was replaced by the Fred W. Lange Trucking Co., which altered the ground floor by adding a loading platform in the southern bay.  It was apparently at this time that the pediment was removed from the roof.

image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

The Tribeca district saw striking changes in the last decades of the 20th century, as industrial tenants were replaced by galleries, restaurants and residences.  The lofts at 458 Greenwich Street were among the earliest to be unofficially renovated for residential use.   Living here in the early 1970s was C. John Kingston and his wife, the former Emily Rutgers Fuller.  He was a vice president of the S. D. Fuller & Co. investment firm.

The ground floor where the Fred W. Lange Trucking Co. had loaded and unloaded freight, became a Closet King store in the 1980s.   An official renovation of the upper floors to apartments--one per floor--was completed in 2001.  The transformation of 458 Greenwich Street into a trendy Tribeca spot was complete in 2006 when the Mediterranean restaurant Turks & Frogs Tribeca opened.  It was described by The New York Times food critique Florence Fabricant as "an antiques shop and wine bar."  In 2009, Inside New York reported it was now "a full-fledged restaurant."

The eatery remained until 2013 when it was replaced by The Greek, which Florence Fabricant said was "a gastro-taverna offering dishes from northern Greece."  It remains in the space.

photographs by the author
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Thursday, February 29, 2024

The 1926 Ritz Tower - 465 Park Avenue


photo by the author

In 1920, newspaper columnist and editor Arthur Brisbane purchased his first property on Park Avenue near 57th Street.  Little by little over the next four years, he quietly bought up former mansions, assembling a significant corner site.  Brisbane had worked for William Randolph Hearst since 1897.  The publishing mogul had been developing Manhattan real estate for years, and now Brisbane followed his lead.  In 1925, he broke ground for a high-class residential hotel, The Ritz Tower, designed by architect Emery Roth.  (Roth brought in Thomas Hastings, formerly of Carrère and Hastings, to collaborate after his preliminary designs were completed.)

Construction had barely started when Brisbane began marketing his building.  An advertisement in The Spur on September 1, 1925 said in part:

The Ritz Tower, when it is completed in the Summer of 1926, will be forty stories in height, containing four hundred rooms.  It will embody the last word in architecture, in construction and in appointments.

The ad predicted The Ritz Tower would be "The largest and most perfectly appointed Apartment Hotel in the world."

On November 17, 1926, The New York Times reported, "The Ritz Tower, the new forty-story apartment hotel at Park Avenue and Fifty-seventh Street, was formally opened last night with a dinner.  The hotel is under the management of the Ritz-Carlton Restaurant and Hotel Company, and with the exception of two floors which will be reserved for transient guests, the building is devoted to apartments which are leased for extended periods."

photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Brisbane had created what The Edison Monthly called "the tallest apartment house in the world."  Costing him $6 million to construct (closer to $100 million in 2024), its Italian Renaissance design included a three-story limestone base designed by Hastings.  The beige brick-clad upper floors were almost entirely Roth's design.  The slender profile with subtle setbacks was described by Arthur T. North, writing in The Western Architect, as "skypuncture" architecture.

Critic Fiske Kimball approved of the silhouette, writing, "The Ritz Tower shoots upward like a slender arrow.  On one of the most valuable sites in the world, its area has been voluntarily constructed immediately above the ground stories with a preference for going high rather than spreading out."  Writing in Buildings and Building Management on June 21, 1926, Emery Roth noted, "In the design, the rather narrow plot one way was utilized to advantage architecturally in producing a distinct tower effect in sixteenth century period architecture."

While most critics applauded the design, one was notably less impressed.  Arthur T. North felt the tower "approaches the stage of painful attenuation."  He diplomatically added, "Perhaps the architect is not altogether at fault; the owner might have had ideas of his own.  We are told that the owner, Arthur Brisbane, whose writings we religiously avoid reading, has ideas and opinion on every subject and thing in the Universe."  He compared the obelisks on the setbacks to gravestones, adding, "What do gravestones think of being hoisted heavenward and placed on parapet and crest?"

The Edison Monthly explained, "On the ground floor, besides the bank space and several shops, are the main entrance halls, a tea room and a restaurant.  The promenade from Park Avenue is handsomely finished in French walnut, with a roman travertine floor and a ceiling of ornamental plaster in Italian Renaissance design."  A second "promenade" from 57th Street was "Pompeiian" in design, with bronze and crystal chandeliers.

The Edison Monthly, March 1927 

Because The Ritz Tower was a residential hotel, there were no kitchens in the suites.  Tenants could take their meals in the residents' dining room, or have them delivered via heated dumb waiters to the service pantries (which were "connected with automatic refrigeration," according to Roth).

Roth described the residents' dining room as "high-ceilinged--a formal room, executed in the French period, with soft tints of burnished gold.  The room has large wall mirrors and rare tapestry.  Large crystal fixtures add to the air of formal elegance which forms the dominating note."

Residents dined within a decidedly French atmosphere.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

There were also a tea room on the ground floor and a grill room in the basement level.

The Tea Room, photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The Grill, The Edison Monthly, March 1927 

Emery Roth wrote that the "living rooms, libraries, dining rooms, chambers and halls in the suites have parquet floors, laid in fire-proofed red oak." 

Arthur Brisbane had reserved the 19th and 20th floors for his own 18-room duplex apartment.  Unlike the other apartments in the building, this one had a full kitchen and servants' rooms.  (Because The Ritz Tower was a residential hotel, the other residents did not need staff.)  He enjoyed three terraces, a leaded glass solarium and Renaissance palazzo décor.

Not long after opening, The Ritz Tower had unwanted publicity.  Among the initial residents was Captain Alfred Graham Miles.  He was recently divorced from Clover Louise Boldt, whose father had owned the Waldorf-Astoria.  On November 5, 1927, Miles returned home to find the locks had been changed on his apartment.  The New York Times reported, "He asked the manager why this had been done and was told that he was no longer wanted as a tenant."  (Further investigation by the newspaper revealed that he owed $759 in back rent and "was responsible for numerous unpleasant and disagreeable incidents about the hotel.")

Buildings and Building Management, June 21, 1926

Miles convinced his next-door neighbor to allow him to use his apartment to access the window ledge.  He then crawled along the ledge and into his own suite.  Certain that if he left his apartment he would never be allowed to return, he barricaded himself inside.  Eleven days later, The New York Times reported that his attorney, Aaron H. Kaufman, "has been acting as the Captain's Quartermaster Corps, bringing apples, sandwiches and other food to the beleaguered garrison."  In the meantime, Kaufman had initiated a $250,000 suit for damages for his client.

The hotel's attorney told The New York Times, "At all times he has been at liberty to leave, and the hotel has been willing to have him leave.  In fact, so eager is the hotel in the latter respect that it would gladly waive any indebtedness that may be charged against him."  Miles was unmoved.  On November 23, the newspaper titled an article "Siege Still On, Says Miles / Ritz Tower 'Prisoner' Says He Will Stay and Press Damage Suit."

Miles finally left on November 25, but the incident would not be over for years.  On August 3, 1929, The Ritz Tower, Inc. answered his suit--now for $50,000--which asserted "the manager of the hotel insulted him in the presence of guests," and cut off his mail and telephone delivery.  The Ritz's attorneys countered that his services were discontinued because he had not paid his rent and was no longer a tenant.

In the meantime, an impressive list of residents took apartments.  On May 29, 1928, for instance, The New York Times reported that Will H. Hays, president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, Inc., had leased the 37th floor.  "The apartment consists of four rooms and occupies the entire floor," said the article.

Hays was not the only tenant involved in the entertainment industry.  Actress Greta Garbo was an early resident, followed by Paulette Goddard, Deborah Kerr, and Kitty Carlisle.  

Unfortunately for Arthur Brisbane, his $4 million mortgage proved impossible to manage and on January 17, 1928 The New York Times reported that he had sold The Ritz Tower to his close friend and employer, William Randolph Hearst.  Taking an apartment in the building now owned by his father was George Hearst and his wife, the former Blanche Wilbur.

By now, William Randolph Hearst and his wife, Millicent, were living separately.  (Hearst was carrying on an open affair with motion picture actress Marion Davies.)  Nevertheless, Millicent occasionally took advantage of her husband's property.  On April 16, 1931, for instance, The New York Times reported, "Mrs. William Randolph Hearst gave a supper-party last night at the Ritz Tower for the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland, who are on a brief visit here.  The rooms given over to the entertainment were decorated with Spring flowers."  Included on the extensive guests lists were society names like the Vincent Astors and Hermann Oelrichs, along with titled guests like Countess di Zoppola, Countess de Malroy, and Prince Serge Obolensky.

On the morning of August 1, 1932, a fire broke out in the basement.  About 30 fire fighters were "groping through the smoke-filled subcellar," as reported by The New York Times, when paint fumes in the cellar ignited, resulting in an immense explosion.  Two fire fighters were killed instantly.  "As survivors, shaken and bewildered, choked by the fumes and with blood streaming from cut hands and faces, tried to drag the dead and dying up stairways and ladders to the street, a second blast occurred," said the article.

The brick walls of the sub-basement were blown apart, the hotel switchboard was "wrecked," as worded by The New York Times, and electricity in the building was knocked out.  On the ground floor were the Double-Day Doran bookshop and the Thomas Kirkpatrick, Inc. jewelry store.  When the blast occurred, the plate glass window of Thomas Kirkpatrick was blown out, spewing $100,000 worth of jewelry onto the sidewalk and street.  The only customer in the Double-Day Doran bookshop fell behind a heavy chair, which prevented a portion of the ceiling that collapsed from injuring her.

Chaos reigned outside the blast area.  The New York Times, August 2, 1932

Pedestrians were thrown into the street or knocked to the sidewalk.  Residents on the upper floors, whose apartments had been rocked by the explosion, were trapped with no elevator nor telephone service.

Although the three clerks in the jewelry store were cut and bruised, they rushed to the street to gather up the jewelry (including a $65,000 emerald ring),  Passersby assisted them in sorting through the rubble.  All the items were recovered and taken to the bank across the street.  The blast initially killed seven fire fighters, and injured dozens of civilians and fire fighters.  An eighth firefighter, Edward R. Maloney, died at Bellevue Hospital on August 18.

The marriage of George and Blanche Hearst ended in divorce, with Blanche retaining the Ritz Tower apartment.  On the afternoon of March 31, 1934, it was the scene of Blanche's marriage to Cortlandt T. Hill.

The Ritz Tower continued to attract well-heeled tenants.  In November 1942, Benjamin F. Fairless, president of the United State Steel Corporation took an apartment, for instance.  And James Seligman of the famous banking family lived here at the time.

  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Living here in 1949 were Mr. and Mrs. Barry Thomson.  Mrs. Thomson was better known as the stage and screen actress Ruth Chatterton.  The celebrity broke the hotel's rules by sneaking in a hotplate and cooking in her apartment.  The aromas caught the attention of another resident, Wallace C. Strauss, who sued in March that year.  His complaint was not about the threat of fire, but of the "noxious odors."

On March 18, The New York Times said, "The odors that proved so noxious to the guests of the Ritz Towers Hotel have ceased and Ruth Chatterton, former star of 'Come Out the Kitchen,' who caused all the fuss, will come out the kitchen and stay out the kitchen."

In December 1955, The Ritz Tower was converted to cooperative apartments.  The hotel amenities, however, were retained.  Three decades later, on August 28, 1985, The New York Times noted, "When the Ritz Tower opened in 1956 [as co-ops], it provided room service and maids who changed the sheets and put out soap daily, and it still does."

Actor, director and producer Martin Gable and his actress wife Arlene Francis moved in around 1959.  They left their former Manhattan apartment, according to Francis, after "she was thrown out of her own kitchen by her cook."  The New York Times reported, "Mr. Gabel happily went along with the suggestion to try hotel life."

Tragedy occurred on June 23, 1960.  The Gabels were not home that afternoon when a dumbbell that had been propping open a window fell from their eighth floor apartment.  Alvin Rodecker, a visitor from Detroit, had been celebrating his 60th birthday with his wife in the Le Pavillon restaurant on the ground floor.  As they stepped out of the restaurant, the dumbbell fatally hit Rodecker on the head.  The Gabels later paid $185,000 in damages.

Among the Gabels neighbors in the building were radio personalities Goodman and Jane Ace.  During the 1930s and '40s their radio program Easy Aces kept audiences howling at Jane's famous malapropisms like "you could have knocked me down with a fender," and "The Ten Amendments."  

Among the Aces' visitors was playwright Neal Simon, who, after his visit, reportedly vowed to live in The Ritz Tower someday.  In the 1980s, he and his wife Marsha Mason moved in.  Other celebrated tenants have been fashion designer Valentino, author Elinor Glyn, and socialite Amalie Baruch Banks.

photo by Epicgenius

On September 16, 1984, The New York Times architecture critic Paul Goldberger countered Arthur T. North's assessment of the upper portion's "painful attenuation."  He described the "rich, rusticated limestone base on which was set a gracious and elegant tower, its setback profile a lively element on the skyline."

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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

The Henry Elsworth House - 29 Vandam Street


Aaron Burr lived on the sprawling Richmond Hill estate (the mansion of which was built in 1760 for British Major Abraham Mortimer) until 1804.  On July 11 that year, he fatally shot Alexander Hamilton and six days later a New York newspaper reported, "Mr. Burr since the perpetration of his crime...departed southward, probably for South Carolina."  

Richmond Hill sat on land owned by Trinity Church.  By now German-born John Jacob Astor I had switched his focus from fur trading to real estate.  He took over the land lease from Trinity Church for a staggering $140,000, and purchased the mansion from Burr for $25,000.  By 1817, the land was leveled and streets had been laid out--including Vandam Street, named in 1807 for Anthony Van Dam, an early alderman.

Throughout the 1820s, Astor was engaged in a flurry of construction within the district.  Along the north side of Vandam Street between Varick Street and Sixth Avenue, he erected a row of demure Federal style homes, each two-and-a-half stories tall.  Faced in Flemish bond brick, their single-doored entrances featured the leaded sidelights and transoms expected in the style.  Their peaked roofs pierced by two tall dormers were also typical of the Federal style.

No. 29 Vandam Street was home to widower Henry Elsworth by the early 1830s.  He was a special partner in the general commission merchant firm of Fryatt & Campbell.  Elsworth's wife may have died in childbirth, as he had a small daughter, Caroline.  Tragically, the little girl died on June 27, 1837, a month before her fourth birthday.  Her funeral was held in the house the following afternoon.

Elsworth left 29 Vandam Street shortly afterward, and the residency of his successor was cut relatively short.  On March 22, 1842, an announcement in The Evening Post advertised the auction that day of the "genteel furniture" of "a deceased gentleman."  Among the marble top tables and mahogany "fancy chairs" and such items being sold was a "fine toned piano forte."

By 1851, the family of cabinetmaker Dwight Bishop occupied the house.  Bishop had established his furniture shop in 1825.  In 1859, The New-York Handbook and Merchants Guide said his operation "has always been distinguished for the superior good taste which he has displayed in the style and finish of the various articles of his manufacture."

Bishop's five-story factory and showroom were four blocks north at 394 Hudson Street.  The handbook described the furniture he produced there:

Every variety of richly-carved and plain moulded Parlor Suites in Rosewood, Mahogany, and Black Walnut, covered with goods to suit the taste of the purchaser.  Also, all descriptions of Bedroom, Dining-room, Hall, and Office Furniture; with a general assortment of Rosewood, Walnut, Mahogany, Oak, and Maple furniture.

The handbook diplomatically mentioned, "The most elaborately carved and highly finished articles of furniture may be obtained by those who have means to purchase; while the poor may be suited in goods which, though cheap, are nevertheless neat and durable."

Like many residents in the neighborhood, the Bishops rented extra space.  On November 9, 1854, an advertisement appeared in the New York Herald that read:

A Suit of Rooms, consisting of the entire second floor of house No. 29 Vandam street.  Gas and Croton water, bath, &c.  Furnished or unfurnished, with or without board, on reasonable terms.  For further particulars inquire of Dwight Bishop, 394 Hudson street.

The mention of "Croton water, bath, &c." meant that 29 Vandam Street had indoor plumbing.  The completion of the massive Murray Hill Distribution Reservoir and the Croton Reservoir in June 1842 brought running water to homeowners who could afford the interior renovations.

In 1857. Bishop's son Boyd joined him in the business.  The Bishops remained at 29 Vandam Street until about 1863, when Charles F. Thompson leased the house.  Born in 1814, Thompson was the owner of a paint business at 309 Spring Street and a member of the General Society of Tradesmen and Mechanics.  Living with him and his wife in 1863 was Frederick S. Hathaway, one of Thompson's employees.

Hathaway was replaced by David M. Edsall, a notary public and clerk.  It is unclear whether the new boarder already knew Charles F. Thompson, but the two would remain intimate friends for life.  When Thompson and his wife purchased 35 Charlton Street in 1879, Edsall moved with them.

That year, the Nevin family moved into 29 Vandam Street.  George P. Nevin and his brother David J. Nevin were in the coal business.  George handled the branch at 111 Broadway, while David oversaw the operation at 115 Waverly Place.  The brothers were born in York, Pennsylvania and relocated to New York in 1846 and began learning the coal trade.

David J. Nevin had distinguished himself during the Civil War.  The New York Herald said, "When the war broke out he raised Company D of the Sixty-Second Regiment, and was shortly after appointed lieutenant colonel."  When his commanding officer was killed at the Battle of Williamsburg, Nevin was promoted to colonel.  He commanded the Third Brigade of the Sixth Corps at the Battle of Gettysburg.  According to the New York Herald, "his regiment took part in nearly all the battles fought by the Army of the Potomac."

The Nevin family's short residency was filled with tragedy.  On November 29, 1879, George's wife Charlotte died at the age of 67.  The following year, on October 24, 1880, David J. Nevin died at the age of 52.  

By 1883, Henry Schmitt and his family occupied 29 Vandam Street.  An attorney, he was highly involved in the public school system, both as a school commissioner and a trustee of the New York Board of Education.  Not surprisingly, the Schmitts' three daughters, Pauline, Fannie and Clara all attended Grammar School No. 8.  Living with the family was Henry's unmarried brother, Jacob.  He died at St. Joseph's Hospital on June 24, 1892 and, as had been the case so many times already, his funeral was held in the parlor two days later.

Dr. Frank A. Jellecker occupied 29 Vandam Street in 1898.  Living with him were his father and unmarried sisters.  Born in 1869, he graduated from Bellevue Hospital Medical College in 1892.  He served as house surgeon to St. Mary's Hospital in Jersey City and district physician for the Lying-In-Hospital of New York.  

At 5:00 on the hot evening of July 2, 1901, Jellecker left home "to make some professional calls," according to The New York Times.  When he did not return home that night, the family was not overly concerned.  The newspaper said, "The first intimation they had of his death was when an officer came to the house and told them that their brother had been found dead at the West Street house."

The "West Street house" was a hotel at 190 West Street.  The 32-year-old doctor had checked in as Frank Jones and died there of the oppressive heat.  He was one of 113 heat-related deaths in Manhattan that day.  The puzzling mystery was why he was at the hotel at all.  His sisters said he had no patients there so far as they knew, "and their supposition was that Dr. Jellecker must have wandered down in that neighborhood while affected by the heat."  In reporting his death, the Medical Record noted, "He was an active and zealous practitioner, and leaves many warm friends in the profession in this city to mourn him."

By 1911, 29 Vandam Street was operated as a boarding or rooming house by Margaret L. Carpenter.  Living with her were her sons, Phil, who was a carpenter, and Louis, a real estate agent.  Among her tenants in 1913 was artist Albert B. Schultz.  He did work for magazines like Puck and The Motion Picture Story Magazine.  Schultz's wife had died in 1903, leaving him with an infant daughter, Anna.

Schultz boarded his daughter, who was now 10 years old, at the St. Joseph's Home at 47 East 81st Street.  On November 18, 1913, the mailman dropped off a postcard from Anna to her father that read:

Dear Papa: I was waiting for you to come Saturday afternoon, but you did not come. I was very much disappointed and I was sorry. Please come up to see me Tuesday, because you didn't come Saturday. I will try and send you a card for Thanksgiving to make you as happy as I am.

Anna had good reason to hope to make her father happy.  According to Margaret Carpenter, he "had been suffering from despondency for several weeks."  When she glanced over the postcard, she realized she had not seen her boarder since Friday, the day before he was to visit Anna.  The New York Times said, "Mrs. Carpenter, the landlady, rapped at Schultz's door, but no response came...The door was forced and Schultz was found dead, a suicide by gas."  The artist was 45 years old.

image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

At the end of World War I, Trinity Church began liquidating its vast Manhattan real estate holdings.  On August 9, 1919, the Real Estate Record & Guide reported, "William S. Coffin bought from Trinity Church Corporation, 7 to 29 Vandam street, and 41-45 King street, fifteen dwellings."  He had already purchased 14 similar houses on Charlton Street from the church corporation.

Under Coffin's ownership, Margaret Carpenter continued operating the boarding house until he sold it in 1923.  The house remained a single family home throughout the 20th century.  On January 9, 1986, The Villager mentioned that it was being renovated, but remained a one-family home.  The remarkably intact survivor serves as a glimpse into 1820s Manhattan.

photographs by the author
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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Blum & Blum's 1913 105 West 72nd Street


photograph by Richard Caplan, via

At the turn of the last century, the 72nd Street blockfront between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues had been lined with four-story brick and brownstone houses for years.  But residents of the Upper West Side were increasingly attracted to apartment house living and on July 28, 1912 the New-York Tribune reported that Brown Brothers Realty had purchased 105 through 109 West 72nd Street "as a site for an apartment house."

New-York Tribune, July 28, 1912 (copyright expired)

Well known apartment building architects George and Edward Blum were hired to design the 12-story structure that would cost $300,000 to construct--more than $9.3 million in 2024 terms.  Completed the following year, the structure was not given a name like almost all Upper West Side apartment buildings, but relied on its address alone--105 West 72nd Street.

Although some architectural historians have called the Blum brothers' style "churrigueresque" (an over-the-top version of Spanish Baroque), the brick, stone and terra cotta ornamentation falls short of the frothy Churrigueresque Revival examples in, for instance, California.  Nevertheless, the architects did embellish the upper floors with Spanish Baroque details.  Cast iron balconies at each of the tenth floor windows added interest, as did a full-width stone balcony one floor above.  At the ground floor were two retail shops, the show windows of which smacked of the recent Art Nouveau style.

Potential residents could choose between four- and five-room apartments, each with a dining room, fireplace and a servant's room.  The names of the well-heeled residents appeared routinely in the society columns--and occasionally for less lofty reasons.

Such was the case with Ruby May Blackmore, a 20-year-old woman from Florida who moved in in 1915.  Ruby May had been a "telephone girl" at a hotel in Jacksonville where she lived with her widowed mother.  There she became familiar with a guest, 27-year-old Henry E. Schinzel, who, according to The Sun, was "the son of wealthy parents in Detroit."  The smooth-talking Schinzel romanced Ruby May, promised to marry her, and brought her to New York where he "installed her in an apartment in West Seventy-second street."  Some months later Ruby May came to the humiliating realization that Schinzel was using her only for prurient reasons and had no intention of marrying her.  She abandoned her apartment and sued him in April 1916 for $50,000 on the grounds of breach of promise.  It was a sobering amount for the Lothario, more than $1.3 million today.

Ruby May Blackmore's was the first of several rather scandalous incidents connected with 105 West 72nd Street that year.  On March 4, the Evening Telegram reported that Dorothy Von Palmenberg had taken an apartment, and just a month later she was being interviewed regarding the sensational murders of Hannah M. and John E. Peck.  

Dr. Arthur Warren Waite had married the Pecks' daughter Clara Louise on September 9, 1915.  Four months later, in January 1916, he murdered Hannah, and then killed John on March 21.  In the interim he had poisoned his bride, but she recovered.  (It was all part of a rather excessive attempt by the doctor to enable him to carry on a romantic relationship with cabaret singer Margaret Horton.)

Because Dorothy Von Palmenberg was a close friend of Margaret Horton, she was called into the District Attorney's office on April 23 for questioning.  She offered little information other than, according to the New-York Tribune, "She said Dr. Waite had been planning a trip to Egypt with a woman companion."

Another moneyed resident that year was Ethel Yerkes, a distant relative of multi-millionaire Charles T. Yerkes (she was a daughter of a nephew), who had left her $100,000 in 1906 (around $3.3 million today).  Ethel was close friends with Helen Elwood Stokes, the wife of millionaire William Earl Dodge Stokes.  That couple lived in the lavish Ansonia Apartments, built by Stokes.  But things were not going well in their household.

When Helen returned from a trip to White Sulphur Springs in the fall of 1916, she went to Ethel Yerkes's apartment rather than going home.  Stokes came to the apartment on November 20 to discuss her resistance to return to their Ansonia apartment.  The meeting turned violent.  The details came out luridly in court later during their divorce hearing.

Stokes testified "She tore my face to shreds.  One of the marks I carry now.  She spat in my face and kicked my legs.  Then she seized a knife and as I fled from her to the kitchen the cook came out and saved me."  Stokes's attorney asked Helen, "You scratched good and plenty, didn't you?"  She replied, "I hope I did."

The ugly and sensational affair dragged on for years.  Helen Stokes stayed on in Ethel Yerkes's apartment for some time.  On June 9, 1923, The Morning Telegraph said that among the issues the grand jury would address was "whether the defendant [Helen] committed wrongful acts with 'various men of unknown identity' at 105 West Seventy-second street."

In the meantime, Ethel Yerkes was married in her apartment on February 13, 1919.  Her husband, Lieutenant Daniel Wooley of the U.S. Army was, additionally, the manager of the advertising department of Fleishmann Manufacturing Company.  The newly-weds continued to live in Ethel's apartment.

Also living in the building in 1916 was Sarah C. Doty, the wealthy widow of merchant James H. Doty.  The elderly socialite was the vice-president of the Euterpe Club, a women's group which hosted musical performances and "many charitable enterprises," according to the New-York Tribune.  She died in her apartment at the age of 71 on December 11, 1916, leaving her cherished Chow dog, Ah-See, a diamond bracelet.

British-born Diana Norman (known as "Di") was a resident in 1923.  The young widow was "well known in European society circles," according to the Daily Standard of Watertown, New York.  She unwittingly became involved in an international jewel heist after she became friendly with the dashing Maurice Friend, described by one newspaper as an "Oxford graduate [and] possessor of several medals awarded to him during the world war for Heroism as a British cavalry officer."

While he was "paying court" to her that summer, she noticed that a diamond and platinum bracelet worth $4,000 (around $68,000 today) was missing.  She did not suspect Friend until sometime later when he gave her a check for $300 which turned out to be worthless.  She had him arrested and on August 2 The New York Times reported he had been found guilty and was to be deported to England.  He told the judge "That would please me mightily, your Lordship."

But there was much more to the story.  Friend was suddenly linked to the missing Russian crown jewels.  On October 5, The Brooklyn Standard Union reported, "Belief that the late Czar's jewels can be located has been revived through the arrest of Maurice Friend...Miss Mable Sprague, probation officer, believes Friend knows the whereabouts of the jewels."

1942 photograph by Lloyd Acker from the collection of the Office for Metropolitan History

During the Great Depression, four-room suites were advertised at an affordable rent of from "$75 up," or just over $1,600 per month today for the least expensive.  The building continued to attract financially comfortable residents, like William E. Sennett, an executive with Twentieth Century-Fox Film Company, who lived here in the late 1930's and early '40's.  Sennett had been involved in the motion picture industry since the silent film days in 1916.

In the 1970's, the shops at ground level housed Stewart Ross's Stone Free clothing store and the Westside Pet Shop.  On December 31, 1984, The New York Times reported, "After nearly half a century on West 72d Street--passed from father to daughter--the Westside Pet Shop was scheduled to close today."  The shop, opened by Japanese-born Goro Kuranuki in 1937, was an early victim to soaring commercial rents.  Proprietor Elly Kuranuki said "I guess the new landlord has other plans.  They won't even talk about a new lease."

The space became home to a shop dealing in trendier items than birds and guinea pigs.  Blades West sold and rented roller blades--the latest craze--and offered "blading" instructions.

Ironically, given that the Westside Pet Shop Spot was forced out in 1984, today Spot Canine Club operates from one of the storefronts.  The other store is home to a nail salon, Dashing Diva.

photographs by the author