Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The 1885 Osborne Flats -- 205 West 57th Street

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Thomas Osborne was the Irish-born owner of a successful stone-cutting business on the east side of Manhattan. With a nearly-unlimited supply of stone at cost, construction of a huge, stone apartment building made perfect sense.

For $210,000, Osborne purchased from John Tayolor, a restauranteur, the large lot of land at 57th Street and 7th Avenue. In 1883 the neighborhood still consisted of small commercial buildings and stables. The concept of upper class apartment buildings was in its infancy and he knew he had to pull out all the stops to make his project attractive to wealthy residents.

To design the building that Osborne would name after himself, architect James E. Ware was commissioned.  Ware was given the task of producing a building that would attract the affluent New Yorkers who were accustomed to large, refined houses rather than apartment buildings, which were associated with the lower classes.

The architect designed a fortress-like, imposing building by mixing Italian-Renaissance, Romanesque and Renaissance styles. His free-handed handling resulting in a somewhat foreboding and chunky structure on the exterior.

Originally 11 stories on 57th Street and 14 stories to the rear (although, because the front apartments had 15-foot ceilings, the 57th Street elevation was taller),the structure was wrapped by three balustraded cornices at the third, seventh and tenth floors. A deep, arched porch framed the entrance and bay windows from the third through sixth floors gave the façade an interesting, almost undulating appearance.

Lobby clock amid encrusted decoration -- Photo columbia.edu

It was on the interiors, however, that Ware lavished his attention. It was essential that the lobby impress even the most jaded New Yorker. Working with Tiffany Studios, artists J. A. Holzer, Augustus Saint-Gaudens and John LaFarge fashioned mosaics, multi-colored marble, gold leafed details and murals into a palatial common space. Under a coffered ceiling, carved stone niche benches sat on mosaic and inlaid marble floors.

Visitor's waiting bench -- photograph columbia.edu

Osborne’s intention from the beginning was to sell the building rather than to run it and as construction continued he attempted to do so. There were no buyers, however, and the project went forth.


photograph columbia.edu
To ensure up-to-the-minute conveniences and luxuries the building was outfitted with four Otis elevators, steam heating and modern plumbing, fireproof construction with staircases being constructed of iron and marble, and – incredibly – electricity. The apartments, some of which were duplexes, had parquet floors, Tiffany windows, oak and mahogany woodwork, tiled fireplaces and built-in cabinetry. Some apartments had bronze mantelpieces and crystal chandeliers. Secret passageways slipped domestics from the front door to the kitchen unseen.

And to keep the tenants fit, an all-weather croquet ground was installed on the roof to permit year-round exercise. For residents’ convenience the basement level was to house a florist, doctor and pharmacy.

The Osborne Flats was completed in 1885, two years after ground breaking. The $1,209,00 cost drove Osborn into bankruptcy and, ironically, the building was sold to John Taylor who had originally owned the land. Taylor’s estate lost the building to foreclosure in 1888 when it was purchased by William Taylor, another relative, for $1,009,250 -- $200,000 less than the cost of construction.

In 1889 Ware was called back to add another story to the rear, leveling the roofline. Only seven years later the demand for more space in The Osborne necessitated architect Alfred S. G. Taylor to add a 25-foot extension to the west side. Taylor (also a relative of John Taylor and a part-owner of the building) was sympathetic to the original Ware designs so that his addition is nearly unnoticeable.



The Osborne Flats 1915 - NYPL Collection
Modernization came in 1919 when the light moat around the basement was filled in, the handsome entrance porch was removed and the beautiful balustrades stripped from the cornices.

Despite the financial problems, Thomas Osborne’s vision of a residence for the elite came true. Throughout its history The Osborne housed both the rich and famous. United States Senator John Coit Spooner was an early resident and Philip T. Dodge was living here in 1928 when he married Lilias Sutherland, 20 years his junior. Entertainers Vera Miles, Imogene Coca, Lynn Redgrave, Clifton Webb, humorist Fran Lebowitz, Andre Watts and fashion designer Fernando Sanchez all called The Osborne home. The list is seemingly endless.

As a strange historical footnote, The Euthanasia Society of America held its meetings there in the home of Mrs. Joseph M. Proskauer, a director of the society in the 1950s.

In 1961 the Taylor family sold The Osborne to a developer with plans to replace the building with a high rise apartment building. The residents revolted. Forming a cooperative, they save the building by purchasing it for $2.5 million. Commenting on the rescue, The New York Times said “Where else but at the Osborne apartment house could you open one closet and hear Blanche Thebom vocalizing and another and listen to Van Cliburn practicing.”

That year Leonard Bernstein purchased apartment 4B, later to be sold to actor Larry Storch, who sold it to entertainer Bobby Short in 1970. Tragedy struck when on October 19, 1978 police arrived at the apartment of actor Gig Young. Young had shot to death his wife of three weeks, Kim Schmidt, then turned the gun on himself.

In 1988 Robert Osborne, the host of Turner Classic Movies was looking for an apartment in Manhattan. Carol Burnett told him of an apartment in the Osborne being sold by a friend. Osborne toured with apartment with Bette Davis before purchased it – the first of his three apartments he owns there.


Throughout the 20th Century about half of the apartments were divided into smaller spaces; however many of them retain their original grandeur. Referred to by the AIA Guide to New York City as “The dour matriarch of 57th Street,” The Osborne was granted landmark status in 1991.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Lost 1764 Apthorpe Mansion

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In the 18th Century, the area north of the established city of New York that is now the Upper West Side was a bucolic, rural area called Bloomingdale. Landed gentry farmed huge estates and built magnificent country seats.

In 1762 Charles Ward Apthorp purchased 115 acres from Dennis Hicks and, a year later, another 153 adjoining acres from Oliver de Lancey. In all he spent about $15,000 for both properties. In 1764 his grand mansion -- in keeping with his social status -- was completed.

Apthorp was an important figure in those pre- Revolutionary years. A loyal British subject and successful merchant, he was a member of the Governor’s Council from 1763 through 1783 when the war ended.

Apthorp’s house was among the grandest on the island. Named Elmwood, it sat on a rise from which the Hudson River and the palisades on the opposite shore were visible. The wooden structure was covered with gray stucco to simulate stone. A deeply recessed entranceway that sheltered a handsome arched doorway was supported by fluted Ionic pillars, surmounted by a classic pediment. Over the doorway was a fashionable Palladian window. The east and west facades were identical.

The doorways opened onto a spacious entrance hall. Three large rooms made up the ground floor, the most impressive being the mahogany paneled dining room. In keeping with Apthorp’s allegiance, the carved mahogany mantelpiece included the head of a crowned king.

A broad, winding staircase lead to the second floor which housed three more rooms, two of which would serve as bedrooms for the ten children. Above, the roomy dormered attic had nine rooms, “doubtless affording in former days ample accommodation for numerous domestics and poor relations,” according to The New York Times a century later.

Sitting at what is now 90th and 91st Street and Columbus Avenue, the house was accessed by a 40-foot lane to the Bloomingdale Road and another to the Post Road (now Fifth Avenue). As shortcuts to the neighboring estates, Apthorpe laid out other lanes across his property, such as Striker’s Lane and Jauncey’s Lane. The innocent-sounding thoroughfares would later prove problematic.

print from the NYPL Collection


Apthorpe’s idyllic country life was shattered with the outbreak of revolution. After the disastrous Battle of Long Island General George Washington fled north to regroup, taking over the mansion as his headquarters. As soon as Aaron Burr, Putnam and the other American officers had moved their soldiers to Bloomingdale, Washington moved on.

Within hours the British General Howe arrived, taking the mansion as his headquarters, remaining through the fighting of the Battle of Harlem Heights. Apthorpe was one of the signers of the address given to General Howe on the occupation of the city and was given the sinecure appointment of second assistant manager of the Court of Police in 1777 with a salary of 200 pounds. Before the war’s end, Sir Henry Clinton and Lord Conwallis had also taken over the mansion.

With the final defeat of the British, Apthorpe was arrested and tried for high treason. For reasons not documented, however, he was released and permitted to keep his estate; although his sizable property in Massachusetts was confiscated.

On January 3, 1789 the mansion was the scene of the marriage of Apthorpe’s daughter to Congressional Delegate Hugh Williamson. Maria Apthorpe was described as “lovely and accomplished,” by the New York Daily Gazette.

After Charles Ward Apthorpe died in 1797, Williamson bought out the other nine children at a forced sale to recover a mortgage on the property of $1500. Problems started almost immediately, however, since Apthorpe’s will divided up the property using as boundary lines the small lanes across the property. Legal battles lasted over a century revolving around issues such as whether or not the property lines went to the curbs of the lanes, to the middle, or included the entire roadways. As the siblings married into other moneyed families such as William Waldorf Astor, Schuyler Hamilton, and Paul Livingson Mottelay, those well-known names became entangled in the litigation as well. By 1910, when the lawsuits were finally settled, the Apthorpe land was estimated to be worth approximately $125 million.

In the meantime, the once-grand mansion was being encroached on by the developing city. As The New York Times commented on February 9, 1890, “The history of the Apthorpe mansion during the present century is one of neglect and gradual decay.”

As the city closed in, the residence became the centerpiece of a picnic ground known as Elm Park. One contemporary historian noted that “The once beautiful Apthorpe mansion now houses a beer and dance saloon.”

The 69th Regiment used the grounds as their review and drill grounds in 1855 and in 1878 the 79th Highlanders, Old Guard, used the grounds for a picnic and sporting contest, including shot put, 200-yards run, throwing the light hammer and the standing jump.

It was the afternoon of July 12, 1870, however, that people remembered. On that day three thousand Irish Protestants were enjoying a picnic on the grounds of Elm Park. A mob of Irish Catholic laborers entered the park in what was to become known as the Orangeman Riots, killing five picnickers and gravely injuring hundreds.

Yet the house still retained its architectural dignity. Contemporary historian Mary Louise Booth wrote “Around this old mansion still linger the stateliness and beauty of its aspect in the past…The stately recessed portico, with its supporting Corinthian columns, the corresponding pilasters, and the high, arched door-way at the middle of the house opening into a spacious hall, give an aristocratic air quite superior in pleasantness of impression to any of the more pretentious of modern houses in the city.”

She added “It ought to be preserved as an interesting historical relic of the metropolis.”

Indeed it should have been. However in 1891 the city announced that the Apthorpe mansion would be razed for the extension of Ninth Avenue north.

The New York Times lamented the news saying “An old house is like an old citizen, in that it deserves an ‘obituary.’”

The Apthorpe Mansion shortly before demolision 1891 - NYPL Collection

“New-York City does not possess so many genuine specimens of old colonial architecture that is can afford to part with a single one of them,” said The Times, “but it must soon part with the Apthorpe mansion.”

A century before historic preservation was heard of, one of New York City’s most historic and architecturally important structures was ripped down for a strip of asphalt. The stately residence where Revolutionary War history was written is largely forgotten.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Otto Kahn Mansion -- 1 East 91st Street


Construction of Cardinal Raffaele Riario’s palazzo in Rome took nearly 25 years to complete. Finished in 1513, it was the first Renaissance-style building, a magnificent palace. Four years later it was seized by Pope Leo X to be used as the papal chancellery, renamed Palazzo della Cancelleria. It was the sort of place worthy of popes and kings.

And Otto Kahn.

Kahn had made his enormous fortune in the banking trade. When he purchased land from Andrew Carnegie at No. 1 East 91st Street in 1913 for his new home, he was among the stragglers in the northward migration of the wealthy.

The commission was given to J. Armstrong Steinhouse, with mansion architect C. P. H. Gilbert as associate. They were given instructions to build a grand home, Kahn commenting that “it is a sin to keep money idle.” The architects used the Cancelleria as their model and produced for Kahn an 80-room mansion. On February 18, 1917 The New York Times commented on the war-time construction. “The Kahn house is nearing completion and is a noteworthy addition to the magnificent residences north of Fifth-ninth Street. Although incomplete, Mr. Kahn has given it a decoration of merit in flying the American flag from one of the upper windows overlooking Fifth Avenue.”

The Kahn Mansion towards end of construction
The house, constructed of imported French limestone, was completed in 1918 and, like the Cancelleria, surrounded a magnificent stone-ballustraded courtyard. A private drive, guarded 24 hours a day, provided Kahn and his elite guests the ability to come and go unprovoked by gawking curiosity seekers. The gilded ballroom, oak-paneled library and gracious reception room were intended to impress. The music room, where friends George Gershwin and Enrico Caruso would give intimate recitals, had parquet floors and an Adams-style ceiling. There were accommodations for 40 servants; although the Kahns kept a live-in staff of only 14.

photo burdenkahnmansion.org

The Architectural Review admired the new residence, deeming it “a remarkable example of well-balanced re-adjustment in those aesthetic elements that are found in architecture of the early sixteenth century in Italy,” and saying that “it ranks as the foremost of its kind in this country.”

The Music Room -- photo burdenkahnmansion.org
Kahn and his wife, Adelaide, filled the home with Renaissance paintings, antique furnishings, priceless chandeliers and tapestries. Patrons of the arts, especially the Metropolitan Opera, the Kahns sometimes opened their home to the public to exhibit their collections.

On March 29, 1934 Otto Kahn lunched in the private dining room of his firm, Kuhn, Loeb & Co. Soon thereafter he suffered a heart attack and died at the age of 67.

Not long afterwards, Addie Kahn sold the mansion to the Convent of the Sacred Heart, an exclusive Roman Catholic school for girls. Later the school acquired the James Burden Jr. mansion next door and connected the two structures.



In 1974 Otto Kahn’s 91st Street palace was designated a New York City landmark. The Landmarks Preservation Commission called it “the finest Italian Renaissance style mansion in New York City” and that “its restrained dignity is an appropriate expression of Kahn’s personality and of his philanthropic and artistic interests.”

In 1994 the Sacred Heart School cleaned and restored the exterior which looks today as it did upon its completion in 1918.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The 1901 Beaux Arts 1261 Madison Avenue

1261 Madison Avenue in 1910 - NYPL Collection

When Andrew Carnegie began the four-year long construction of his brick Georgian mansion in 1899 far north of the established Millionaire’s Mile, the affluent took notice. In seeking open air, garden space and a view of Central Park, Carnegie initiated a trend of building in the area which would become known as Carnegie Hill.

Mansions and luxury apartment buildings began replacing squatters’ shacks, farmhouses and tenement buildings as the wealthy moved north. Gilbert Brown, recognizing the trend and the opportunity, quickly purchased the large lot of land at the northeast corner of Madison Avenue and 90th Street where he would build an elegant and exclusive apartment building.

Brown commissioned Buchman & Fox to design the building and construction began in 1900. Completed a year later, the restrained Beaux Arts structure was seven stories tall, including a fashionable tiled mansard roof. Built for only 14 families – two apartments per floor – it was supported by a rusticated, two-story limestone base accentuated by a grand entranceway.

Around the sixth floor, an ornate cast iron common balcony girded the building – a common feature in European apartment buildings but quite rare in New York.

While elite apartment buildings being constructed on the west side of the Park were given names – The Dakota, The Doral and the San Remo, for instance – those on the east side preferred to be known only by their address. Brown marketed 1261 Madison Avenue to the well-heeled by providing a telephone in every apartment (exceedingly ahead of its time), two elevators (one for tenants and the other for deliveries and servants), steel safes, two bathrooms, two servants’ rooms, and two refrigerators. The kitchens walls were tile-lined and boasted “sanitary ventilated garbage closets.”

In 1910, The World’s New York Apartment House Album called it “One of the most select and attractive apartment houses on Madison avenue, location being particularly choice, overlooking the grounds of Andrew Carnegie…Apartments are spacious and well arranged, containing every modern convenience. They comprise eight and nine rooms, with unusual closet space.”

from NYPL Collection
The residents of 1261 Madison Avenue were, for the most part, moneyed professionals. On July 25, 1912 one of those tenants, Dr. Louis Cohn, was driving his motorcar through Central Park when a horse-drawn vehicle pulled in front of another automobile driven by Dr. Allen Goode. Goode, in trying to avoid the carriage, ran headlong into Dr. Cohn’s car.

Mrs. Goode suffered from shock and although both “machines were damaged…their owners were able to drive them away from the scene.”

Nearly a century after Dr. Cohn’s auto car accident, the apartment building to which he returned looks essentially the same as it did when it opened in 1901. Designated a city landmark in 1974, the Landmarks Preservation Commission deemed it “a fine example of the French Beaux-Arts style.”


Thursday, November 25, 2010

The World Trade Center Survivor -- Fritz Koenig's "The Sphere"

The Sphere, rededicated as a memorial to the victims of The World Trade Center - photo by Alice Lum
From the earliest conception of The World Trade Center, art was to play an integral part. Works by esteemed artists Louise Nevelson, Joan Miro, James Rosati, Masayuki Nagare, Alexander Calder, Roy Lichtenstein, Cynthia Mailman, Germaine Keller, Romare Bearden, and Kenneth Snelson were displayed in the two soaring silver towers. In addition to the works commissioned for the buildings, the Cantor Fitzgerald offices housed some 300 sculptures and drawings by Auguste Rodin.

In the plaza, a fountain by Elyn Zimmerman served as a memorial to the victims of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

The World Trade Center buildings were not only a place of business, but a place of beauty and art.

On the morning of September 11, 2001 it all came to an end.

In the five-acre plaza, prior to that morning, there stood an abstract sculpture by Bavarian artist Fritz Koenig titled “Kugelkaryatide” or “Great Spherical Caryatid.” The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, owner of the World Trade Center, commissioned the piece five years before the buildings were completed.

Koenig cast the 25-foot high bronze and steel piece in 52 segments. He intended for the 45,000-pound sphere to symbolize world peace through world trade. Ironically, when finished it was installed amid a circle of fountains designed by Minoru Yamasaki, simulating the Grand Mosque of Mecca with the Kugelkaryatide standing in place of the Kaaba.

The Sphere as it appeared before the morning of September 11, 2001

Over the years World Trade Center workers who gathered around the sculpture to eat lunch or relax gave the sculpture the unofficial name “The Sphere.”

On the morning of September 11 when the enormous Trade Towers fell, the artwork inside and around them was obliterated. Of the priceless bronze Rodins on the 104th Floor, nothing remained. Masayuki Nagare’s black granite sculpture “Cloud Fortress” and James Rosati’s stainless steel “Ideogram” were reduced to unidentifiable particles. “Commuter Landscape,” “Path Mural,” and “Fan Dancing with the Birds,” three decorative murals by Cynthia Mailman, Germaine Keller and Hunt Slonem, respectively, were lost forever.

But amazingly, as workers slowly removed tons of rubble and twisted steel beams, Fritz Koenig’s Sphere began to emerge. Although damaged, the sculpture that was meant to symbolize world peace had survived.

Inside a gaping hole ripped open at the top of the sphere, workers found a Bible, an airliner seat and documents from one of the upper floor offices. Koenig said later “It became its own cemetery.”

The Sphere was carefully dismantled and sent to storage near JFK International Airport. Almost immediately, the prospect of re-erecting the sculpture as a memorial was discussed. The artist was opposed. It was, he said, “a beautiful corpse.”

Yet as it was the only remainder of the World Trade Centers left essentially intact, Koenig relented. He personally supervised the re-erection of the sculpture in Battery Park. Fifteen iron workers and four engineers worked to create a new base for the Sphere. Six months to the day after the barbaric attacks on the Towers, The Sphere was rededicated on March 11, 2002.

Koenig remarked, “It was a sculpture, now it’s a monument. It now has a different beauty, one I could never imagine. It has its own life – different from the one I gave to it.” An eternal flame was lit on September 11, 2002 to the victims of the attack.

Upon completion of the National September 11 Memorial at Ground Zero, The Sphere will go home again.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Place with Northern Light -- The 1908 Gainsborough Studios 222 Central Park South


Painters and sculptors in Manhattan at the turn of the last century faced a problem. There was little residential space available that provided sufficient northern light for them to work, or with adequate facilities to exhibit their art. Artist V. V. Sewell complained in 1903 “People have no conception of how difficult it is for one to find a suitable studio in New York.”

In order to solve the problem, at least for themselves, a group of established artists formed the Gainsborough Corporation with portrait painter August Franzen as president.  Their purpose was to build an artist’s cooperative studio building. The name came, most likely, from Franzen himself who admitted that Gainsborough’s work was a model for his own.

Included in the group were Elliott Daingerfield, vice president, well known for his dream-like landscapes; Colin Campbell Cooper, treasurer, who did portraits and landscapes; and Barron Collier, secretary, who was the lone non-artistic member and who most likely provided the financial leadership.

Central Park South was a perfect location for the intended studio. Facing the park, the artists were guaranteed that their northerly light would never be blocked by construction. The posh Plaza Hotel was completed in 1907, giving the neighborhood added prestige; and the American Fine Arts Society Building was a mere two blocks to the south.

The cooperative purchased and demolished the home of millionaire Walter E Delabarre at 222 Central Park South in 1907. The group commissioned Charles W. Buckham to design their studios. Buckham was an astute choice, the architect having innovated the concept of duplex apartment buildings.

He was given the task of designing a building appropriate to the status of well-established, successful artists while providing them with substantial light and space. Because only the Central Park façade would receive the flooding northern sunlight; the rear of the building would be reserved for rental apartments.


The Gainsborough Studios in 1909, the year after completion

Completed in 1908, the result was two duplex cooperative studios on each floor facing Central Park, and four single rental apartments to each southern floor. Because apartment buildings were restricted by law to be no more than one and a half times as high as the width of the street, the plans were filed under “hotel” to circumvent the restriction. Therefore a common kitchen and dining room were included and kitchen facilities in the apartments kept at a minimum. The artists enjoyed 18-foot ceilings, mahogany and oak woodwork, built-in cabinets with leaded glass doors and art tiled fireplaces.

Residents had use of a “ladies’ reception, package and telephone room, as well as a restaurant on the ground floor.” A central vacuum cleaner system, laundry room and storage room added to the conveniences.

It is the lavish ornamentation of the Gainsborough, however, that stands out today. A remarkable transition from Victorian to Edwardian styles, the lower levels exhibit traditional sculptural decoration while the upper floors explode in Arts and Crafts-style tilework.

Photo by Enric Archivell

Separating the first and second floors was a superb terra cotta frieze executed by sculptor Isidore Konti, a friend of both Daingerfield and Franzen. Titled “A Festival Procession of the Arts,” it depicts in classical style people from children to the elderly offering gifts to the altar of the arts. Helen W. Henderson, in 1917, described it as the “great charm of the building.”

Photo hausfitzgerald.com


Centered above the entrance was a carved painter’s palette on which a large bust of Thomas Gainsborough sat in a classical niche.


photo hausfitzgerald.com

Each of the large, two-story studio windows surrounded a Roman-style pseudo doorway filled with stone quatrefoils and fronted by small ornate, wrought iron balconies.

From the sixth story upwards, the façade bursts in a kaleidoscope of geometric, colorful glazed tiles produced at the Moravian Tile Works in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Henry Mercer, the factory's owner, devoted much of his life to researching and rediscovering the process of 18th Century German pottery and tile-making. Above, rather than a cornice which would theoretically lessen light, the building is finished with a stone corbel of shells.

The Gainsborough attracted esteemed artists and in 1912, in addition to the founding group, residents included Montague Flagg, Edward Potthast, Robert MacCameron, Frederick Crane, Content Johnson, and Albert L. Groll. That year, on August 28, a fire broke out in the Colorado Boarding and Livery Stables on 58th Street, directly to the rear. Although there was a 12-foot alley separating the buildings, the “artist tenants of the studios were awaked by the crash of glass in their rear windows, due to the heat. Women hastily slipped on opera cloaks over their night dresses and hurried to the elevators” as reported in The New York Times the next morning.

Although the building was not seriously damaged, it “was scorched.”

Over the years the Gainsborough was home to other celebrated figures such as renowned photographer Erwin Blumenfeld; portrait painter and president of the National Academ of Design, Dewitt Lockman; author Thomas Alibone Janvier and Barbara Howard, daughter of Hollywood mogul Jack Warner.


A minor scandal ensued in 1924 when sculptor Helene M. R. White was padlocked inside the studios of Consignment Arts, Inc. on the first floor by interior decorator Paul C. Leatherman and kept prisoner there for a weekend.

By the 1950’s the building’s residents tired of the Arts and Crafts décor and hired interior designer Donald Deskey to remodel the lobby and entrance. Deskey removed the decorative iron entrance doors with aluminum ones and stripped out the period detailing.  Around that time the ornamental balconies were removed.

Thirty years later, however, the corporation reversed itself and in 1981 spent $100,000 to restore the lobby and reconstruct the iron doors based on early photographs.





In 1988 under the guidance of architect and resident Tod Williams, an exterior restoration was initiated at a cost of over $1 million. New tiles were made to replace those too damaged to salvage and the Konti’s ornate frieze and the bust of Gainsborough were removed and replicated.  The window balconies were not returned.

The Gainsborough Studios was landmarked in February 1988, The Landmarks Preservation Commission calling it “an unusual building, well-adapted and suitably decorated for its specific purpose.”

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Palace for Horses -- The Gould Carriage House 213 West 58th Street

Photo Unity Center New York

When Jay Gould died in 1892 he left his four children between $65 and $70 million.

The Gould heirs reacted to the sudden flood of cash differently. Anna spent lavishly and married, successively Count Boniface de Castellane and the Duc de Talleyrand. Frank Jay loved gambling and was twice divorced. George Jay had three children with Guinevere Sinclair before marrying her.

Helen Miller Gould, however, was different.

Trained in finance by her father, she attended the New York University School of Law. While her siblings frolicked the summers away in Newport, she was content to spend quiet time at Lyndhurst, Jay Gould’s magnificent Gothic Revival estate in Tarrytown-on-Hudson. Embarrassed by her father’s cut-throat reputation, Helen spent the rest of her life supporting various charities.

Helen remained in the Gould mansion on 5th Avenue at 47th Street while her siblings moved on. As time passed, though, there was the problem of adequate accommodations for her horses and carriages.



On November 13, 1901 Helen M. Gould purchased for $107,500 the four-story brownstone residence of Lambert Suydam at 212 West 59th Street. The property extended south to 58th Street where the Suydam’s private stable was located, in line with the stables of other neighboring millionaires. Curious about the sale, The New York Times sent a reporter to the Fifth Avenue house for more information.


The Gould mansion -- 5th Avenue at 47th Street

“When inquiry was made at Miss Gould’s residence last evening she sent word that she did not care to say anything in regard to the purchase,” reported the Times.

It would not be long before Helen Gould’s intentions were obvious. The Suydam stable was demolished to make way for her own private carriage house; one fit for royalty.

Designed by York & Sawyer the grand brick and limestone stable was based on King Henry IV’s 17th Century Place des Vosges in Paris. Completed in 1903, the four levels of the French Renaissance structure housed the Gould horses and carriages, hay and feed, as well as apartments for the coachman and groom.

The great, soaring chimneys on either end, the attenuated, hipped slate roof and the ornate iron-railed balcony on over the arched entranceway joined to create a palatial structure for draft animals. Sawyer added a near-whimsical touch in the huge, carved limestone tethering rings on either side of the entrance.

Helen Gould finally married in 1913 at the age of 45. Time Magazine said of her “she was plain, plump, not much concerned with ‘Society’ – she dedicated herself to good works while her brothers and sister went out in the world.” She died in 1938, The New York Times calling her “the best loved woman in the country.”

Helen Miller Gould

The Gould carriage house is now the headquarters of The Unity Center New York, which describes itself as a “worldwide Spiritual Movement dedicated to helping people discover and express their divine potential.”

The regal Parisian-style stable was designated a New York City landmark on August 29, 1989.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Houses that Time and Change Passed by -- Nos. 120 and 122 East 92nd Street


North of the established city, surrounded mostly by farm land, Adam C. Flanagan hired Albor Howell to build his three-story wooden house at what would become 122 East 92nd Street. Howell was a carpenter and builder by trade and he produced for Flanagan a delightful Italianate-style home.

Openwork columns supported the ample front porch where the cooling summer breezes would be enjoyed. Floor-to-ceiling parlor windows could be opened behind the louvered shutters to allow the night air to circulate. Slightly arched second and third story windows added to the visual appeal under a deeply overhanging cornice.

Flanagan lived in his modest and respectable frame house for a decade before the neighborhood began building up. In 1870 two homes appeared directly across the street, and in 1871 the house next door, at No. 120, was erected.

No. 120 was also a frame building, snuggled directly up against the Flanagan house. Three wooden stories sat on a high, brick basement level, and were accessed by a steep wooden staircase. With porch columns nearly matching its next door neighbor, the new house was a perfect compliment.

Like the older home, too, No. 120 had a double entrance door to the right, with two floor-to-ceiling French doors in the parlor. A cast iron fence protected the small front yards of both properties. Adam Flanagan’s new neighbor would be one of the last frame houses in Manhattan; the building law of 1877 would forbid the construction of wooden buildings.

By 1894 No. 120 was owned by Anton Hoffman, a cooper. That was the year that the entire block of residents took issue with the Salvation Army at 107 East 92nd Street, complaining about the noise of the cymbals and drums.  A petition was signed that asserted “It disturbs our rest Sundays and is using up our nerves. One of our neighbors is suffering from nervous prostration and it is simply preventing his recovery.”

Hoffman chimed in, saying that when, on the day of his daughter’s death the Salvation Army was asked “not to parade or to beat drums or cymbals until after the funeral, the reply was: ‘We have a permit to parade, and we are going to do it. Forward march.’”

The Hoffmans lived at No. 120 East 92nd Street for most of the next century; a total of 70 years. During that time there were no changes made to the structure. Similarly, No. 122 managed to ignore the 20th Century, with little alteration until renovations were made in 2005 and a set-back roof addition was added.

Both of the remarkable Victorian survivors were added to the National Register of Historic Places on October 29, 1882. In 1996 No. 120 sold for $4.2 million and was sold again in 2010.

The two little wooden houses create a picturesque and enchanting ensemble amidst the brick and steel of Uptown Manhattan.  The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission said that No. 120 "...comes as a delightful surprise.  Time and change have passed it by, as well as the very similar frame house that adjoins it to the east."

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Players -- No. 16 Gramercy Park

The Players in 1905

A year before the end of the Civil War, Major General Robert B. Potter stopped at his 1847 Gothic Revival brownstone residence at No. 16 Gramercy Park. There he kissed his wife good-bye before heading south in command of the 2nd Division of the 9th Army Corps.

Potter was the son of the Bishop of Philadelphia, Alonzo Potter. His brother, Henry C. Potter, would become Episcopal Bishop of New York, one of the city’s most socially prominent figures of 19th Century. Theirs was a wealthy and esteemed family with a distinguished lineage and his dignified mansion on Gramercy Park reflected his social station.

On April 2 the next year, Major General Potter was shot through the body during an assault on the rebel lines at Petersburg. He was transported back to New York where he recuperated in his Gramercy Park home.  When General Potter moved to England for a period of four years in 1869, his brother, the Honorable Clarkson Nott Potter took up residence. Clarkson Potter was a lawyer, a judge, a civil engineer, US Representative from New York State from 1869 to 1875 and President of the American Bar Association from 1881 to 1882.

It was in the Gramercy Park house that Clarkson N. Potter diedcat the age of 58 on January 23, 1882.  He willed the house to his wife, Virginia Mitchell Potter, who stayed on in the house for another six years, surrounded by neighbors with respected names like Samuel Tilden and Stuyvesant Fish.

In the meantime renowned Shakespearean actor Edwin Booth was making plans. Booth, who also owned and ran the grand marble Booth’s Theatre on 23rd Street at 6th Avenue, had suffered severe dishonor and embarrassment with his brother’s assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. The actor sought an outlet by which members of the theatre and other arts could convene to discuss the art.

Those in the acting profession were offered charity and shelter when times were hard, but they were never treated as equals among the club set. Booth established The Players, bringing together actors, managers, writers and others for the first time. Now he needed a clubhouse.

He gave the task of finding the appropriate venue to the club’s secretary, William Bispham. Accordingly, Bispham chose the Potter House. Booth purchased the house from Virginia Potter for $75,000, then had Stanford White, a Players member, renovate it as a club.

photo museumplanet.com


White added a two-story loggia to the front and moved the entrance door to the street level, and to the side. Ornate, wrought iron gas lamps illuminated the entrance. Entering the large vestibule, one could descend to the lower level where a bar, billiard room and kitchens were housed. Up a short flight of steps from street level was The Great Hall with large pillars and a grand marble fireplace.

Players entrance hall 1899


Fronting the park was the parlor and to the south was the wood-paneled dining room. The second floor housed the library, filled with theatrical memorabilia donated by Booth and other members. Edwin Booth retained the third floor as his apartments. He had the fireplace from his home in Boston installed here. A single framed photograph of his brother was the one remembrance he kept of him.


The Players Library - 1899


Above, on the fourth floor, were sleeping rooms for members.

The New York Times was tepid in its assessment of White’s changes. The “curious construction of the entrance way deprives it of an imposing effect. A heavy balcony juts out on a line with the first story. The entrance is in the basement, through a door in the shadow of this balcony pierced at the extreme east end of the house.


photo museumplanet.com


“At first glance from a distance the establishment looks more like a Turkish bath than the abiding place of a club of artists,” said the newspaper

The Times then relented, considering the practical reasons for the positioning of the entrance. “But seen near at hand, the elegance and solidity of the entrance strike you, and as soon as you enter you feel inclined to accept Mr. Stanford White’s odd doorway because its utility is at once apparent.”

At the first meeting of the club in its new home on New Year’s Eve 1881, Edwin Booth explained his goals for the house. He wanted it to be one “wherein I hope that we for many years, and our legitimate successors for a thousand generations may assemble for friendly intercourse and intellectual recreation.

“Frequent intercourse with gentlemen of other arts and professions who love the stage and appreciate the value of the drama as an aid to intellectual culture must inspire the humblest player with a reverence for his vocation as one among the first of ‘fine arts,’ which too many regard as merely a means to the gratification of vanity and selfishness. Such is the object of this club.”

The Players (the group has never used the word “Club” in its name) continues as a refuge for those involved in the theatrical business. The membership reads like a history of American theatre: Mark Twain, Lionel Barrymore, Eugene O’Neill, James Cagney, Eli Wallach, Alfred Lunt and Edward Albee among the hundreds of celebrities. When the club decided to admit women, Helen Hayes was its first female member, followed by the likes of Carol Burnett, Angela Lansbury, Rue McClanahan and Judy Collins.

Outside the gas lights still burn; among the handful of surviving gas lamps in the city. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1962, the description given by The New York Times on January 1, 1882 rings true today: “The impression, indeed, that the whole house makes upon one at the first visit is one of solid comfort.”

Friday, November 19, 2010

Depression? What Depression? The William Goadby Loew House - 56 East 93rd Street


The Great Depression hit Manhattan with a cruel blow. Once-comfortable businessmen now stood in soup lines. Families lived in shanty towns in homes made of packing crates on the far East Side. Businesses failed.

And Mr. and Mrs. William Goadby Loew built a new mansion.

Loew descended from the old and esteemed Goadby family of Manhattan and was, for city directory purposes, a stock broker. He ran his own firm at 2 Wall Street that handled the brokerage business of “the Baker interests” – his deceased father-in-law’s money -- although he was often asked on the Exchange floor why he worked at all. Florence Loew, whom friends called “Queenie,” had inherited approximately $5 million of her own from her fabulously wealthy father.

When the Depression hit, the Loews lived on Madison Avenue in the 30s. They also owned an estate in Old Westbury and a mansion in Newport where, as Time Magazine pointed out, “Mrs. Loew raises prize narcissi.” William Loew was a member of no fewer than a dozen clubs in the city.

The couple was managing just fine.

Mrs. Loew’s brother, George Baker, Jr., had purchased a house at No. 75 93rd Street in 1927 and, in 1930, the Loews commissioned Walker & Gillette to design their new home across the street, next door to Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt. It would be, as Bill Harris notes in his “One Thousand New York Buildings,” the “last palace to be built on the Upper East Side.”

Walker & Gillette produced an English Regency estate modified to slip among the sleek lines of Manhattan Art Deco fashion. The smooth masonry façade, sitting on a rusticated base, is more elegant than ornate. Its three stories center on a concave entrance wall, creating a shallow forecourt. Classical balustrades support the second floor windows and simulated stone linen folds cap the Palladian-style side windows and bulls eye window over the classic entrance portico.

Mrs. William Goadby Loew, "Queenie" out for a ride

The house was completed in 1932 and buzzed with fashionable dinners and cocktail parties. The Loews lived happily here with their sixteen servants for only four years before Florence Loew died in May of 1936. William Goadby Loew stayed on at 56 East 93rd Street until his death in 1955.

The magnificent house was opened to the public for three days in April of the following year to display what The New York Times called a “treasure of English furnishings” before they were put on auction. Over 2000 people braved the rain to tour the 40-room home where the Loews’ collection of antiques and priceless artwork was displayed. One of William Loew’s paintings, by Joshua Reynolds, sold for $12,000.

One of the most impressive and architecturally singular homes in Manhattan, it caught the eye of Broadway impresario Billy Rose – still remembered for his Aquacades at the 1939-40 New York World's Fair. Rose purchased the property for approximately $550,000 with grand ideas.

Escorting renowned interior decorator Billy Baldwin through the mansion, Rose instructed “I want this to have the atmosphere of one of those stately homes in England…This house will be the greatest thing ever done in New York. It’ll be better than the Wallace Collection in London – not only will it be top quality, but it’ll be livable.”

As it turned out, Baldwin refused the commission; however Billy Rose filled the Loew estate with remarkable works of art and furniture and lived there until his death in 1966.

When St. Luke’s Hospital took over the mansion for its Smithers Alcoholism Center, William and Florence Loew’s remarkable interiors were removed. From Jacobean paneling to Art Deco fireplaces, the rooms were stripped to clinical practicality.

In 1999, however, the Spence School, a private girls school, acquired the property. The school hired architect Samuel White to convert the structure for school use. Astoundingly, White found the original interiors in storage, ready to be reinstalled.

In 1972 the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission designed the Loew House a landmark. In doing so it referred to it as “an impressive and dignified” structure and that “it stands today as a unique design in New York City, that it is a strikingly elegant building and that it makes a notable contribution to the architecture of this City.”

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The 1904 Prince George Hotel -- 14 East 28th Street


East 28th Street between 5th and Madison Avenues in 1904 was the perfect location for a posh tourist hotel. Just two blocks north of the Madison Square Garden and close to public transportation it was, as it would be advertised, “convenient but quiet.”

The Prince George Hotel was designed by Howard Greenley who trained under Carrere and Hastings then went on to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. His Beaux-Arts training would be reflected in the new hotel.

His 14-story hotel, which would receive a substantial addition to the north in 1912, was built of red brick on a rusticated, two-story limestone base. The terra-cotta and stone façade embellishments were restrained and attractive.

It was on the inside that Greenley pulled out all the stops.




Drawing from a variety of styles and periods, he produced lush public rooms and hallways. The Ladies’ Tea Room, or Palm-Room, featured pastel trellised piers, illuminated glass clusters dripping from faux vines on the arched ceiling, a Rookwood fountain and murals by George Inness, Jr.

The Tap Room

The quaint English Tap Room was rustic and oak-paneled with a beamed ceiling, Windsor chairs and wrought iron light fixtures hanging from chains; while the piece de resistance was the Ballroom. Renaissance-style murals, elaborate plasterwork, herringbone oak floors and 18-foot coffered ceilings exploded in brilliant primary colors touched with gilding.

The Architectural Record of 1905 was impressed.  It used the Prince George to illustrate the proper way to decorate a hotel. Howard Greenley, it said “went about it in the right way.”

“The designers and builders of other apartment hotels in New York City would do well to visit the Prince George Hotel, so as to learn how to combine economy, propriety and good taste in the decoration of such a building,” the Record suggested.

The first hotel in New York City to provide a private bath in every room, the Prince George became a favorite among tourists. While New York society still entertained at the Plaza and the Waldorf-Astoria, the Prince George hosted celebrated names like Diamond Jim Brady and Lillian Russell.

The hotel enjoyed remarkable success throughout most of the 20th Century. Well into the 1960s it was a destination for tourist families attracted by its affordable rates and convenient location. Refurbishing replaced Edwardian furniture with sleek “blonde-modern” pieces and canary-colored upholstered valances matched the draperies.

By the 1970s, however, the hotel had fallen on hard times and the aging building became a welfare hotel in the 1980s -- before long one of the most notorious and dangerous in the city. Prostitution, drug dealings, muggings and other crimes rooted at the hotel forced every business in the area, with the exception of one bank branch, to close.

At one point The New York Times referred to the Prince George as “hell’s embassy in Manhattan.” On July 17, 1988 a three-year old boy was severely beaten at 3:00 am by his guardian, a 44-year old female resident, when he refused to panhandle for her. It was the second time in four months that a child was beaten while involved in panhandling by an adult staying at the hotel

Residents reacted with resignation. “Bad stuff is always happening in there,” one woman told The Times. “They should just shut that place down.”

Another resident then sighed, “Then there’d be a lot of homeless people. Where they going to go? What they going to do? They ain’t got no choice. That’s the problem.”

Children of the 500 homeless families housed there, called “hotel kids,” nicknamed rooms “the crack room” and “the pot room.” The glorious Main Lounge was painted white and used as a basketball court. Graffiti covered the hallways.

Finally, in 1990, the savaged hotel was emptied of its residents, closed down and abandoned.

After it sat empty for seven years, the Prince George was purchased in 1996 by Common Ground Community, a ground-breaking not-for-profit organization bent on restoring dignity and livelihoods to the homeless, mentally ill, and people with AIDS. The hotel had severely suffered.

The on-site project manager, Brian Keenan, compared the former showplace to “a haunted house.” Aside from the cosmetic damage of graffiti misuse, there was substantial water damage. Restoration experts Beyer Blinder Belle were brought in to oversee the restoration of the public rooms and renovation of the hotel to residential units.

At a cost of $39 million in State, Federal, City and private money, and with help from organizations like the Preservation League of New York State and New York Landmarks Conservancy, the Prince George became home to 416 efficiency apartments for low-income workers, earning between $13 and $30 thousand a year, as well as special needs residents. When opened in 2000, it included a computer room, art studio, offices for social workers, a clinic, and common lounges. Job training counselors, health services, psychologists and therapists were provided to “make it easy for people to succeed.”

The restored Ballroom, formerly the Main Lounge - photo courtesy princegeorgeballroom.org

In 2004 restoration of the nearly 5000-square foot Main Lounge -- now called the Ballroom -- began. Staff from the Alpha Workshops employed and trained people with HIV/AIDS to help in the restoration of the severely water-damaged plaster and paint. Students from the Brooklyn High School for the Arts also assisted in return for training.

Meanwhile, students from the Parsons School tackled the former Hunt Room. Here the devastation to Greenley’s robust English-style interior was so complete that restoration was impossible. They group designed and constructed an entry foyer and gallery space, now the World Monuments Fund Gallery for special exhibitions.

The restored Tea Room - photo courtesy princegeorge.org

Howard Greenley’s beautifully-restored public spaces are leased for private and corporate functions, generating revenue for the Common Ground Community’s efforts -- $800,000 in annual rents from the Ballroom, alone. Completed in 2005, the renovation is one of the most remarkable examples of recycling historic properties in the city.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Bogardus Treasure Reclaimed -- 75 Murray Street

Photo epicharmus.com

In the years prior to 1860 the commercial district was still in the downtown section of Manhattan. Here, in 1848, John Bogardus designed, produced and installed a cast iron façade for the John Milhau’s new pharmacy at 183 Broadway, between Corland and Dey Streets.

The great fires of 1835 and 1845 that decimated the lower portion of Manhattan created a near-paranoia among merchants and developers. Bogardus’ new concept of facing buildings in an incombustible material was ground-breaking and exciting.

In addition, Milhau’s drugstore which featured soaring piers with Doric columns at every floor, applied ornamentation and an elaborate cornice frieze was constructed in the span of three days.

Bogardus was on the way to fame and success. The inventor who only a year earlier was hawking his cast iron “eccentric sugar mill” and who listed himself in the city directory as “eccentric mill maker,” was now an architect and structural façade founder.

Photo epicharmus.com

In 1858 Bogardus manufactured the commercial building at 75 Murray Street. By now his facades had become more ornate and visually appealing and this new building had all the bells and whistles. Italianate in style, each of the five stories was separated by deep cornices supported by modified fluted Doric columns. Fearsome Medussa head keystones capped the window arches on the third and fifth floors below elaborate leafy knee brackets.  Rolling iron shutters, devised by Daniel Badger, were installed over the street level entrances and windows that could be lowered at night for total security.

Bogardus created, for a relatively low cost in an extremely short construction time, a sumptuous building.

Brothers John and Francis Hopkins established their glassware business on the first floor while among the tenants on the upper stories was John F. C. Thielemann’s importing business.

In 1874 General Francis Darr manufactured “fancy soaps” at 75 Murray. In his employ was young James R. Washington, a clerk and bookkeeper. In June of that year Washington quarreled with the building’s porter, Joseph Pfohl, drew a revolver and shot the janitor in the right knee.

Pfohl was quickly transported to St. Vincent’s Hospital in a carriage and, despite Darr’s attempts to cover up the shooting, Washington was arrested by Detective McDonnell shortly thereafter. Darr bailed out his employee for the astonishing amount of $1000, explaining that the boy was General George Washington’s last direct descendant.

By the turn of the 20th Century the building was owned by the Heyman Brothers who held significant property in Manhattan.

Various tenants moved in and out of 75 Murray throughout the 20th Century and the wear and tear of a century and a half of use was evident when George and Christiane Aprile first saw it in 1992. The couple’s son, Matthew, would be attending nearby Stuyvesant High School and they needed a home closer than their Brooklyn neighborhood.

When they purchased the building for $635,000 the following year it had “no windows, no water, no electricity – just a façade,” according to Aprile. The couple immediately sought to restore the façade of the landmarked building.

Within the architectural community, a confirmed Bogardus building is the baseball card equivalent of an Honus Wagner. In his 1956 book “Bogardus Revisited,” Turpin C. Bannister said “For most historians, the prophet, apostle, and patron saint of Ferromania has been James Bogardus.”

The New York Landmarks Preservation Commission had carefully avoided attributing the structure to Bogardus. Because building permits did not exist in Manhattan until the spring of 1866, there was no official documentation to support the claim, despite the similar character of other existing Bogardus works.

It was historian David Kahn who noticed a foundry mark on the cast iron steps where the thick layers of paint had started to chip away. The foundry mark read “James Bogardus Originator & Patentee of Iron Buildings Pat’ May 7, 1850.”   No. 75 Murray Street was one of only a handful of surviving Bogardus structures.

The Apriles owned a treasure.

The approximately $600,000 restoration began in November of 1993, resulting in the cream-colored façade gleaming once again. The street level amazingly retains its original 19th Century storefront, including the Badger roll-down shutters – still in working condition.

photo sothebyshomes.com

Each of the first four floors was renovated into full-floor loft spaces for events, a “ballroom” and temporary exhibition space. The top-most floor became a residential penthouse with private roof deck.

photo sothebyshomes.com

In 2010 the 12,000 square-foot property was put on the market for $17.5 million.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Henderson Place: Homes "For Persons of Moderate Means"


John C. Henderson was a successful businessman in 1880, having made his fortune in the hat, fur,“straw goods” and other businesses. As the neighborhood known as Yorkville began developing he saw an opportunity to increase that fortune.

Yorkville was established in the first half of the 19th Century by German immigrants, later joined by a substantial Hungarian population. Approximately five miles north of the city, it was surrounded in the pre-Civil War period by sprawling, bucolic country estates of wealthy New Yorkers like John Jacob Astor and Archibald Gracie.

By the second half of the century the area was becoming increasingly developed as families sought to escape the congested city. In response, Henderson purchased approximately one half acre of land between 86th Street and 87th Street at East End Avenue where he planned a quaint, dead-end street lined with uniform homes “for persons of moderate means.”


He commissioned the firm of Lamb & Rich to design his houses -- thirty-two in all -- that would comprise a charming mini-village. Completed in 1882, the architects produced two rows of Queen Anne houses of red brick and terra cotta that romantically mix architectural bits of Elizabethan, Flemish and classic styles. Turrets and gables, towers and arches blend to create the feel of a unified, storybook enclave. While each house shares similar details, like the fish-scale slate mansard roofs with dormers; each is distinctly individual.

The houses sat back from the sidewalk just enough to permit tiny yards for shrubs and flowers.

Despite The Real Estate Record & Guide's assertion that the little dead-end street would give residents "the disagreeable feeling of living in what the French call a bag's end," Henderson’s speculative project was a success.  His modest three-story houses were quickly sold or rented (yearly rent being about $650). The quaint charm of Henderson Place, however, soon caused his plan to backfire.  The homes which he intended for families of “modest means” attractived those of far higher incomes.


By the middle of the 20th Century well-to-do families populated Henderson Place. Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Morse Lane lived at No. 6 in 1958 when their daughter, Pamela, made her social debut; while Mr. and Mrs. John Drayton Depew made their home at No. 16 in addition to a home in Rye, New York. Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne lived here, as did the Duchesse de Richelieu and renowned educator and early feminist, Mrs. Millicent McIntosh.


Tragically, eight of the houses were razed in the 1940s to make way for a high rise apartment building. The surviving 24, however, are amazingly intact with very little alteration and an astounding state of preservation and maintenance.


One of the most charming hidden corners of Manhattan, Henderson Place was designated a New York City Landmark in 1969. At that time the New York City Landmarks Commission called the street “an exceptionally attractive group of houses with individual front yard plantings and trees” and “they have remarkable charm and dignity for houses which were built for ‘persons of moderate means.’”

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Claremont Riding Academy - 175 West 89th Street



By 1892 houses and apartment buildings were quickly rising on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Central Park, completed in 1873, lured developers who built rows of comfortable brownstone residences and luxurious apartments like The Dakota on Central Park West and 72nd Street. The newly established residents all needed adequate stable facilities for their horses and carriages.

On 89th Street, a block and a half from the Park, Edward Bedell erected a handsome stone livery stable. Designed by Frank A. Rooke, whose reputation was made designing stables, the Claremont was five stories tall and boasted an ingenious system of ramps that connected the floors – allowing horses and vehicles to be housed in the basement and on the second floor. Large elevators hoisted more carriages to the upper floors. In all there were 135 stalls for boarding horses.

The unpretentious buff brick building used limestone trim to accent its restrained Romanesque Revival style. A stepped stone arch with a carved horseshoe framed the main entrance. Inside Rooke provided a small riding ring which proved to be somewhat unrealistic.


When completed, Bedell sold the Claremont to millionaire Charles F. Havermeyer, who in turn leased it to the Tallman brothers, Lee and Darius. The brothers operated another livery stables, the Cedarhurst.

Within a decade more automobiles and fewer horses populated New York’s streets. One by one the boarding stables either closed or were converted into garages; as happened to the Cedarhurst in 1910. The Claremont hung on, however.

On January 6, 1928 the then-current owner, Emil Wellner, made an eyebrow-raising announcement. The Claremont was to become a riding academy. Aspiring equestrians were given both private or group lessons in dressage and jumping from a staff of between 15 to 20 instructors. Veteran riders could rent horses for an afternoon ride on Central Park’s bridle path; after negotiating Manhattan traffic from the academy to the park.

Despite the comfortable success of the Claremont Riding Academy, Wellner had bigger plans. Nine years later, in 1937, he filed plans with the city to raze the building and erect a garage. The plans were rejected because the proposed garage was too close to a public school. The Academy lived on.

Wellner sold the Academy to his bookkeeper, Irwin Novogard, in 1943. The building was threatened again when, in 1956, the city proposed a major urban renewal project that would replace the existing buildings in the area with a large public housing project. Within the decade dozens of buildings had been acquired through condemnation, including the Claremont, and many razed. The Academy clung on, existing on a by month-to-month lease.


The fiscal crisis of 1977 forced the city to abandon its public housing designs. Novogard’s son, Paul, quickly sought landmark status from the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission in an effort to prevent any further threats to the building.

All the while young riders were still taking their lessons at the Academy and stalwart horsemen and women braved New York Traffic to ride in Central Park.

Landmark status came in 1990 and, finally, the city sold the building back to Novogard in 1998, 37 years after condemning the structure. A $2 million restoration followed which unfortunately resulted in heavy costs to the Academy in increased real estate taxes and property insurance. And yet the Claremont Riding Academy, the oldest stables in Manhattan, plodded on.


The death blow came for the Academy unexpectedly -- not from the threat of the wrecker’s ball but from the Commissioners of Central Park. The deep cinder bridle paths had historically been maintained solely for the use of horses. But shortly after 2000, the park allowed bicyclists, joggers and pedestrians on the paths and, worse yet, discontinued maintenance. With new congestion – what Paul Novogard termed “a fearful running of the gauntlet” -- coupled with the lack of maintenance, riders could no longer canter along the trails. Patronage at the Claremont fell off.

On April 29, 2007, after 115 years, the Claremont closed its doors forever.

The New York Times commented, “At the very least, the closing of the Claremont stables means that Manhattan is a less surprising place…And so we will never again walk along West 89th Street and be overcome by the deeply nostalgic smell of horses, and may never again have the surprising pleasure of coming upon a horse and rider in the park…New York is certainly a human city, filled as it is with humans. But the loss of this stable makes us wonder whether the city wasn’t more human still when we shared so much more of it with horses.”

After plans to convert the building to apartments fell through, it was purchased by the Stephen Gaynor School, a private school for children with learning difficulties.