Friday, June 17, 2011

The Charming Queen Anne Row at 146-156 East 89th Street

photo by Beyond my Ken
Shortly after British architects turned to England’s picturesque 17th and 18th Century buildings in the 1870s as inspiration for the Queen Anne style, Americans enthusiastically embraced it. The eclectic mixture of gables, multi-paned windows, turrets and half-timbering suited the American Victorian taste for the quaint and romantic.

Architects in the United States took Queen Anne and ran with it, creating distinctly American sub-styles.

Among the early proponents of Queen Anne was the architectural partnership of Hubert & Pirsson. In 1886 when they were commissioned by William Rhinelander to design ten row houses on East 89th Street, they had just completed the massive and exuberant Queen Anne style Chelsea Apartments (now the Chelsea Hotel) on West 23rd Street, completed in 1883.

photo by Alice Lum
Rhinelander took advantage of the rapid development of the Yorkville area that got its impetus with the opening of the elevated railroad along 3rd Avenue in 1878. The Rhinelander family had owned the land along East 89th Street since 1812 and by the time William Rhinelander contacted Hubert & Pirsson, the area was filling with comfortable middle-class homes.

To fit ten houses on the plots between Third and Lexington Avenues, Rhinelander had the architects reduce their width to 12-1/2 feet, about half of a normal city lot. The exception was No. 146, which was a little over 20 feet in width. By the time construction began, the project was reduced to six homes.

The varied angles and materials created a visually-appealing roofline -- photo by Alice Lum

The string of houses, completed in 1887, was a visual delight. Each was different, yet they flowed together creating a uniform whole. Steep slate-tiled mansard roofs were broken by dormers. Oriel windows at various levels, terra cotta ornamentation, wrought iron balconies and artistic brickwork melded in a picturesque grouping. The entranceways to nos. 148 and 154 were recessed behind dramatic, wide archways.

No. 148 retains its original paneled double entrance doors and whimsical iron railings -- photo by Alice Lum

Rhinelander kept ownership of the houses, renting them to successful middle-class families such as that of Charles Jenkins who lived in No. 150 in 1890. Jenkins was president of the Manhattan Railway News Company and of the Manhattan Railway Advertising Company. As the elevated trains were erected throughout the city, Jenkins conceived of installing newsstands in the stations; a business which made him financially successful.

The Jenkins family lived here while their new home in New Brighton, Staten Island, was under construction.

Carved panels, fishscale tiles and ornamental brickwork added to the charm -- photo by Alice Lum

It was not until October 24, 1945 that the Rhinelander family sold the six houses, when Joseph L. Ennis Co. purchased them from the Philip Rhinelander estate.

photo by Alice Lum
The six houses, which the AIA Guide to New York City calls “spectacularly romantic,” remain in outstanding condition – most still single-family residences. The group was given New York City Landmark status in 1979, at which time the Landmarks Preservation Commission noted that the houses create “a charming urban streetscape.”

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