Friday, June 15, 2012

The Greek Revival Bellows House at No. 56 Irving Place

Dr. Bellows home at No. 56 Irving (left) has none of the Victorian and 20th century updating of its once-matching neighbor at No. 54 -- photo by Alice Lum
In 1853 the Rev. Dr. Henry Whitney Bellows, one of the most influential clerics in the city, was planning a new structure for his Unitarian Church of All Souls.   He settled on the young English architect, Jacob Wrey Mould, who had been in the country only a year and his architecturally-astounding Italian Romanesque church would be ground-breaking.

At the time Bellows was living in a prim Greek Revival brick home at No. 56 Irving Place, just a block from fashionable Union Square.  The wide three-story home sat above a brownstone English basement and its simple lines and unimposing brownstone lintels reflected the propriety of the home’s owner.

Rev. Dr. Henry Whitney Bellows, at the time he was living at No. 56 -- photo Library of Congress

Rev. Bellows had a least one servant in the house.   In 1851 an amicable separation of his maid was taking place when she placed an advertisement in the New York Daily Tribune for a new position “As waitress, by a respectable Protestant young woman.  The best of city references given.  Can be seen for a few days at 56 Irving Place.” ("Waitress," in the 1850s, was not used in the sense that we use the term today.)

At the time Bellows was also editor of The Christian Inquirer, a weekly newspaper of the Unitarian church and The Christian Examiner.   The highly-educated and forward thinking minister taught a series of lectures on “The Treatment of Social Diseases" in 1857 at the Lowell Institute.

An elegant fan light graces the entrance -- photo by Alice Lum
Following the outbreak of the Civil War Bellows was moved by the number of wounded soldiers and conceived of the United States Sanitary Commission and became the organization’s only president—from 1861 through 1878.  The Commission provided both spiritual and physical assistance to wounded Union soldiers.

By the end of the war Reverend Bellows had moved from Irving Place and No. 56 was home to General William Henry Anthon, a prominent lawyer.  During the war he had held the position of Judge Advocate General under Governor Morgan—earning himself the title of General.  
He had earlier had the difficult task of serving as counsel to the rioters who, in 1858, burned the Quarantine compound on Staten Island.  For several years the residents of Staten Island lobbied to have the buildings removed, out of fear of contagion.    The walled-in compound contained a collection of hospitals and buildings where patients diagnosed with small pox, yellow fever and other diseases were brought.

Around 10:00 at night on September 2 the neighbors scaled the walls and burned the buildings to the ground.

In 1863 Anthon was among the leaders responsible for conducting the draft.   Highly involved in politics, he served one term in the Assembly and was Chairman of the Republican Committee of the 16th Assembly District.

In November 1875 General Anthon died in the house at No. 56 Irving Place at just 49 years old.
photo by Alice Lum
The house was purchased by former Major of the 6th Pennsylvania Calvary, Benoni Lockwood.   Lockwood was by now a prominent insurance underwriter and the managing agent of the Insurance Company of America of Philadelphia.  His wife, the former Florence Bayard, was the daughter of James Bayard of Delaware who had served four terms in the United States Senate.  Her brother, Thomas F. Bayard, went from the U.S. Senate to become Ambassador to Great Britain.  When the pair were married on June 4, 1861 in Wilmington, Delaware it was, according to The New York Times, “a notable event.”

The Lockwoods and their three children would live in the house on Irving Place for decades.   By the end of the 19th century they also maintained a summer house, Snug Harbor Lot, at Saunderstown, Rhode Island.

By 1893 the fine homes around Union Square were rapidly being replaced by commercial buildings; but Irving Place remained fashionable.  That year the Lockwoods’ neighbors included wealthy banker Nicholas Fish directly across the street at No. 53; and attorneys Fairfax Harrison, Robert Clifford Cornell and Frederick H. Betts.  Harrison E. Gawtry, treasurer of the Consolidated Gas Company lived at No. 4 and the socially-prominent William H. Kirby was at No. 14.

That year John S. Foster was living next door at No. 54.  On the frigid morning of March 29 a servant noticed that there was vomit on the brownstone entrance steps and flushed it off with water and a broom.  The water poured down to the sidewalk flagstones where it immediately froze.   Later, when Nellie Brown walked down the street, she slipped and fell, seriously injuring herself.

Mary Smith had been a maid in the Lockwood home for around two years at the time of the accident and when the ugly law suit resulting from the icy sidewalk came to trial, she was subpoenaed to testify.

A year later, when American women were just beginning to take a stand for voting equality, Florence Lockwood made her own voice known.  She joined a committee of socially-prominent New York women who were decidedly against suffrage.   In May 1894 the committee sent a letter to the Constitutional Convention of the State of New York that read in part:

"Gentlemen:  We women, citizens of the State of New-York (twenty-one years of age,) believing that it would be against the best interests of the State to give women unqualified suffrage, thus taking an irrevocable step at a time when the country is already burdened with many unsolved problems do protest against striking out the word ‘male’ from Article II, Section I, of the Constitution.”

In April the women placed a petition in a reception room at the Waldorf Hotel to be signed by others against suffrage; however on April 26 they were shocked to find that their petition was missing and had been replaced by one belonging to the Fifth Avenue Political Equality Committee. 

“Whether this was the work of some enemy of the cause, or a repentant signer, no one could tell,” mused The New York Times.

Politics were temporarily put aside the following year when, in September 1895, the Lockwoods’ daughter Florence Bayard Lockwood was married to C. Grant La Farge in the parlor.  The Times remarked that “it was a very pretty house wedding,” and George Vanderbilt was among those serving as ushers.

Just after the New Year in 1898 Florence traveled to Providence to visit friends.   She began experiencing heart problems and on February 8 she died.   Benoni Lockwood stayed on in the house on Irving Place until his own death in 1909.

At some point after Lockwood's death the house became a boarding house.  Probably at this time it was connected with the residence next door at No. 54 by means of a pocket door.  The socially-prominent David Rumsey and his wife, the former Frances Davidge, lived here in 1916 when Mrs. Davidge gave birth to a daughter in the house. 
On September 6, 1919 The New York Tribune ran an advertisement that would occasionally re-appear.  “Charmingly furnished rooms; superior private house; references essential.”  Among the boarders who lived here for several years was “Mrs. McDowall,” the corresponding secretary of the Filing Association of New York.

A highly-specific organization, The Filing Association was open to “any person engaged in filing and indexing.”  It had been formed during the winter of 1917 “by a few interested executives who saw the need of raising the standards and recognizing as a profession this very important branch of library work” according to The Library Journal.   The filing and indexing Mrs. McDowall would live in the house into the 1920s.

In August 1940 journalist Varian L. Fry went to Marseille following the Nazi occupation of France.   He was responsible, as an agent of the Emergency Rescue Committee, for smuggling more than 2,200 anti-Nazi and Jewish refugees out of Nazi Germany.

When he returned home on November 2, 1941 his wife, Eileen was waiting for him.  The reunited couple went home to the quietude of their apartment at No. 56 Irving Place.  It was here that Fry would write the book “Surrender on Demand” that recounted his anti-Nazi work.

Ten years later, on October 2, 1951, Eileen Fry returned home from what The Times referred to as “a shopping tour.”   At the time she was the research director for the Democratic State Committee.   She found the front door jimmied.  Thieves had broken in and gotten away with two “radio sets” and jewelry valued at $5,000.

Original architectural details are complimented by period furniture in the renovated Inn --
In 1991 the house was purchased along with the abutting rowhouse at No. 54.  A three year renovation of the two structures resulted in The Inn at Irving Place which opened in December 1994.  The owners sympathetically refurbished the two houses, assuring their survival.

The joined houses at No. 54 and No. 56 became The Inn at Irving Place.  In the late 19th century No. 54 was updated with a Victorian cornice and a projecting bay at the second floor.  The late 20th century provided a brownstone skirt.  -- photo by Alice Lum

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