Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Quirky "Twin Peaks" -- 102 Bedford Street

The distinctive steep gables gave 102 Bedford its name "Twin Peaks"

In the spring of 1925 millionaire Otto Kahn had lunch in a most unexpected spot – the tiny wooden tea room named The Little House on Greenwich Village’s Bedford Street. Lunching with him was builder Clifford Reed Daily who lived nearby on Sheridan Square.  Daily was pitching a deal.

Behind The Little House sat the venerable three-story townhouse at No. 102 Bedford. A frame building sitting on a brick basement, it had been constructed around 1830 when Greenwich Village was experiencing a population and building boom.

By the turn of the century it had been owned by real estate investor Richard Bogardus who, judging from the fire escape he installed in 1901, rented the property to more than one family. After his death his estate kept the house for some years, managed by Van Vliet & Place, before selling it to “an investor” in 1913.

When Daily met Kahn for lunch, he gave an impassioned plea for financial backing for his “dream” that revolved around the old wooden house next door.

“I am only a dreamer,” he said to the financier, “and this is my dream.”

During the first decades of the 20th Century Greenwich Village was the new Bohemia for artists and poets. Daily envisioned a fanciful structure of angles and half-timbering, of dormers and balconies – a place that could set the imagination free.

“We are being herded into barracks,” he protested, “one the same as the next.” He ranted on that the existing buildings were “unfit for inspiring the minds of creative Villagers.” His dream, he said, was to create in 102 Bedford an “island growing in a desert of mediocrity.”

Daily purchased the house that same year and, with his grand dreams and Otto Kahn’s money in hand, set out on a $14,000 renovation.

A year later it was completed. According to building records there were two “non-housekeeping” apartments per floor – a total of ten which rented for $68.50 a month. The house was now five stories tall, slathered in stucco, with two steep gables.  Tiny dormers and pseudo-balconies projected from the medieval-looking structure creating what the AIA Guide to New York City would later call “pure Hansel and Gretel.”
The little clapboard building where Otto Kahn met with Clifford Reed Daily sits in the shadow of the darkly painted Twin Peaks in 1940 -- photo NYPL Collection

Clifford Daily christened his dream house “Twin Peaks.”

Although the National Geographic Traveler contends that “Otto Kahn remodeled the building after one in Nuremberg,” it seems that the whimsical design was more likely based solely in Daily’s imagination.
Two years after completion, Twin Peaks looms darkly above the tiny tea room, The Little House.  -- photo NYPL Collection
On May 21, 1926 the building was dedicated. And what a dedication it was. The New York Times remarked “One of the dreams that are nurtured in Greenwich Village, usually to become nothing more than dreams, will attain reality with the dedication of Twin Peaks.”  Here, the newspaper said “In this apartment building are centered the ambitions of the life and time of Clifford Reed Daily.”

In a ceremony deemed by The Times to be “novel exercises,” screen actress Mabel Normand christened the house by smashing a bottle of champagne from a platform erected on the roof. Holy water was sprinkled on the building and acorns were burned to honor Pan by the Princess Amelie Troubetskoy, an American writer married to a Russian prince prior the Revolution.

Silent screen actress Mabel Normand christened the building from one of the gables.
Clifford Reed Daily’s fanciful dreams crashed a year later when he turned the property over to Otto Kahn.  Interestingly, the millionaire’s daughter lived here for a period alongside other tenants of more meager financial roots.

The apartments were charming with odd angles and quirky amenities, yet their small size – most only about 20 by 18 feet -- makes questionable the claims that Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Walt Disney lived here.

In the mid 1980s architect Stephen J. Kagel purchased Twin Peaks for $350,000, converting it to co-op apartments. In June 1998 the co-op owners put it back on the market for $2.5 million.

The eccentric doorways and interior details mostly remain -- photo
The ten apartments, each with its own fireplace, still retain their the eccentric slants and unusual windows and doors. The house appeared as a disco in the 1969 film "The April Fools" with Catherine Deneuve and Jack Lemmon, the same year it was included in the Greenwich Village Historic District.

In the second half of the 20th Century the dark colors were replaced with a less oppressive color scheme -- photo New York University
Clifford Reed Daily’s dream survives as a wonderful surprise to those who stumble upon it and, to Greenwich Villagers, a cherished idiosyncrasy.

1 comment:

  1. Deek and I spent most of today in that little tea house and the attached 17 Grove building making pinhole cameras. 102 Bedford is again newly renovated and looks like it's for lease.