Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Remains of the 1850s Thomas Goadby House - No. 21 West 35th Street

Above what was the parlor floor, the scars of the original windows with their arched lintels can still be seen.
 Scattered throughout the city and hidden behind modern store fronts are the carcasses of once-grand residences, their upper stories surviving as mute reminders of a far different time.

Such is the case with the Thomas Goadby house at No. 21 West 35th Street.  

Thomas and his wife, the former Amelia A. Wood, were urban pioneers in the 1850s when they built their fine, broad brownstone residence here.   They were at the northern edge of the fashionable residential area just off Fifth Avenue.   Before long their home would be in the most exclusive neighborhood in Manhattan with William B. Astor and John Jacob Astor III building their matching homes on Fifth Avenue between 33rd and 34th Street and Alexander T. Stewart’s marble palace rising between 34th and 35th Streets – just down the street from the Goadby house.

Their house sat high above an English basement with a broad stoop spilling down to the sidewalk.  Inspired by the Paris Exhibition of 1852, the house was designed in the up-to-the-minute French Second Empire style with a stylish mansard roof.   Complete with arched dormers and filigree iron cresting, the residences was up to date with the latest architectural vogue.

Clarence Goadby was born in the house on December 14, 1857, one of three sons.  Clarence would be reared in the plush environment of the privileged class; attending the Philips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts in his teen years.   Although Clarence never married, he was frequently given the honor of serving as usher at high society weddings.

Goadby went on to become president and trustee of the American Savings Bank, a director of the Unadilla Valley Railroad and a member of the New York Produce Exchange.  He sat on the Chamber of Commerce and was a member of the Saint Nicholas Club and an officer of the Seawanhaka-Corinithian Yacht Club (which was conveniently located at No. 7 East 32nd Street).

But Goadby’s passion was political reform.  The banker was an officer of both the Civil Service Reform Association and the Good Government Club.  In 1894, incensed at District Attorney John R. Fellows' apparent lack of enthusiasm in prosecuting a backlog of criminal cases, Clarence and three other members of the Good Government Club traveled to Albany to charge Fellows with neglect of duty.  

The trio went directly to Governor Flower demanding that Fellows be dismissed.

By this time Thomas Goadby had died and Amelia and her three bachelor sons were still living at No. 21.  They were routinely listed in the Social Register and were regulars during the summer seasons at the highly exclusive Richfield Springs.

As World War I came to an end, the once-exclusive neighborhood was breathing its last gasps.  On January 9, 1916 at 3:30 pm the funeral of Clarence Goadby was held in the parlor of No. 21 West 35th Street.  It was, essentially, the funeral of the elegant home, as well.
By the time of Clarence Goadby's funeral, neighboring houses at Nos. 9 to 5 West 35th Street were feeling the changes in the neighborhood.   No. 5 has a shop front installed at street level and No. 9 advertises Rooms to Let -- NYPL Collection

Within three years the sweeping brownstone stoop had been stripped away.  The interior, once filled with Amelia Goadby’s paintings, Oriental carpets and proud furnishings, were gutted for commercial purposes.  A show window, 13 by 8 by 6 feet, was now located at sidewalk level.  The Elder Coin & Curio Company moved in.

The firm announced the move in January 1919 saying “This new store is centrally located in the fashionable shopping district of New York, near Fifth Avenue, and will, we believe, be the finest coin store in America.”

Reflective of the high-end shops in the area at the time, Elder sold rare coins such as the Egyptian denarius, minted during the reign of Cleopatra; bronze coins from the time of Emporor Vitallius and coins of the Vandal Kings dating from the first century AD.

As the Great Depression neared, the commercial space was less exclusive.  Home to the American Dog Exchange, it now had kennels built in the back yard under a tin roof extension.  On February 8, 1928 as the Westminster Dog Show was in process, a violent rainstorm ensued that lasted for well over 24 hours.  Fourteen dogs, locked in the kennels in the rear were drowned as the water poured through the tin roof and engulfed the enclosure.  

The lacy iron cresting, now rusting, and the fishscale mansard still remain intact.
Ironically, the house built by the Baptist Thomas Goadby was owned by St. Patrick’s Cathedral until April 24, 1946 when the church sold it to Mesaba Construction Corporation.

In the 1970s Golf Tours, Inc. was located here; a place where New York Magazine said “winter-bound and golf-starved can take lessons, use practice nets, buy equipment and talk with kindred souls.”

Little by little, over the decades, the architectural detailing of Thomas Goadby’s grand house fell away, until today only the mansard above the cornice, with its slate fish-scale shingles, dormers and iron cresting is intact.  But looking above and behind the Irish Pub that replaces Amelia Goadby’s parlor, it is not difficult to envision West 35th Street during a much more elegant period along this block.

1 comment:

  1. Thomas Goadby is a cousin of mine, albeit a distant one. What a crime that a grand building should end up looking like that