Thursday, June 14, 2012

Lamb & Rich's Intriguing 1891 No. 341 West End Avenue

The massive home at the southwest corner of 76th Street and West End Avenue was one of a row of 14 designed by Lamb & Rich in 1890 -- photo by Alice Lum
In 1861 18-year old Frederick Halsey Man graduated from City College.  The ambitious and determined young man entered the Columbia Law School, intent on a career as an attorney.  But the Civil War interrupted his plans.

In 1862 he left school to volunteer for three months’ service for the Union.  Upon his discharge in September 1862 he had risen to the rank of corporal of the 22nd New York Militia.  His three-month stint would become three years, however; for he was immediately commissioned a captain in the 79th United States Colored Infantry.  Two years later, in August 1864, he was transferred to the 84th United States Colored Infantry. 

When the war finally ended, he was brevetted a major “for faithful and meritorious service.”  Frederick H. Man resumed his studies at Columbia, receiving his legal degree in 1865.   As the century drew to a close, he was a well-known and respected lawyer, a partner in the legal firm of Anderson & Man and a member of several clubs.

In 1890, while Frederick Man was growing successful, architects Lamb & Rich were commissioned to design a fanciful row of fourteen houses along West End Avenue in the burgeoning Upper West Side.  Stretching from West 76th Street to 77th Street, they were an eclectic mix of styles; but the architects craftily repeated details and motifs to ensure that they blended as a unified string.
This photograph of the house shortly after completion was published in American Architect and Building News (copyright expired)
The anchor of the block was the massive limestone chateau at the corner of West End Avenue and 76th Street.   Spiky carved French Renaissance panels with semi-attached finials adorned the windows, copper clad dormers with conical tiled roofs jutted from the 76th Street side, while a Gothic-inspired copper cornice echoed that of the next door neighbor on West End Avenue.  Perhaps most surprising and amusing were the small, rectangular columns on either side of the bay windows.  Chubby cherubs uphold the columns on which ferocious lions sit.

photo by Alice Lum
Because the entrance door atop the side-hugging stoop was quite definitely on West 76th Street, the house had the confusing distinction of having two addresses:  No. 301 West 76th Street and No. 341 West End Avenue—no doubt a nightmare to letter carriers and visitors alike.

The row was completed in 1891 and Frederick Man purchased the imposing house on the corner.  By now the attorney could afford a country retreat in Budd’s Lake, New Jersey as well.    His idyllic road would get bumpy when he met Clara Barton Hunter, an actress, in 1897.

The woman was a member of the Empire Theatre stock company and sought Man’s advice regarding property she owned.  After visiting his office a few times, the attorney asked for the privilege of calling on her at her home.  “After that there followed numerous dinners and entertainments,” according to The New York Times, and “This continued for two years, when Mrs. Hunter was not on the road playing.” 

Neither party seemed to mind that Man was married at the time.

In August 1899 the actress (who had been divorced from Francis Dill Hunter, Jr. in 1896) spent a week at Man’s country house.   His sister-in-law, Mrs. Josephine Fuller Krotel was there as well, maintaining propriety.  According to Hunter, it was during this stay that the attorney proposed to her, saying he was in the process of divorcing his wife.

She told Man she “desired a sufficient time to elapse between the granting of the decree to him and his remarriage, so that gossips would have no chance to talk.”

Apparently that worked for Man, for when she finally pressed him to marry her he said he was not financially able to support a wife and “thought that he ought to remain single.”  Clara Hunter sued the attorney for $50,000 saying “Mr. Man has acted contemptibly, and has put me in a false position with my friends.”

Man sold the house to Louis G. H. Murphy.  An insurance agent, Murphy was killed when he left the Metropole Café on East 42nd Street with a friend on the evening of October 7, 1899.  Across the street the new Pabst Building was being constructed and the elevator shaft to the sub-basement was open, guarded by an iron bar.  As the pair tried to pass by, Murphy fell into the opening, plunging 35 feet to his death.

Orlando Porter Dorman lived here next.  Dorman was a warden of the Church of the Holy Spirit on 57th Street who traced his family through New England colonists to English and Norman French families.  His father’s family first arrived in America in 1631 and his mother’s family came in 1621 on the next ship after the Mayflower.

Dorman began his business career as salesman in a Hartford, Connecticut store and three years later, after he “became of age,” he was taken in as a partner.  Eventually he moved to New York, opened his own brokerage firm O. P. Dorman & Co., and other businesses, finally organizing the Gilbert Manufacturing Company that made dress goods and linings.  The company grew to one of the most prominent in the world and increased Dorman’s fortune.

In March 1901 he married the wealthy widow Mrs. Emma Underhill Harper and the newlyweds announced to well-wishers through The New York Times that they “will be ‘at home’ on Thursday evening, April 18.”

The hulking house at No. 341 West End Avenue continued to pass quickly through new hands as Dorman transferred title on January 10, 1902 to Frank Moyan, with a hefty mortgage of $80,000.  The next year in June Colonel Robert C. Clowry purchased the house.   At the time Clowry was the President and General Manager of the Western Union Telegraph Company.

Western Electrician magazine said of him that same year “He is a man of keen intellect, progressive and broad-minded, with fine executive ability and wide experience with men and affairs.”  The magazine nearly ran out of glowing adjectives.  “Withall, he is a cultured, high-minded, kindly gentleman with a horizon broad enough to embrace a sympathetic interest in all things that tend to make life better worth living.”

Clowry lived here for nearly a decade, selling the house in December 1910 to Eberhard Faber “the pencil king.”   Faber stayed on for twenty years, eventually leasing the house on December 4, 1930.

Before long, like so many of the grand homes of the Upper West Side, No. 341 was divided into apartments.  

In September 1940 Russian composer and pianist Alexandre Gretchaninoff and his wife moved in. Sitting on the sofa here a month later, Mrs. Gretchaninoff told a reporter “We have been through two revolutions and two wars and we have lost two homes.  Our life is too much story for one life.”

Indeed, Gretchaninoff was already an established composer when the revolution of 1917 jolted Moscow.  A student of Rimsky-Korsakoff, he celebrated the government’s overthrow by composing the “Hymn of Free Russia.”  But his delight at the new establishment soon faded.

He refused to compose revolutionary music, saying “it was morally impossible.”  Finally in 1922 the pair left for Paris.  But the Second World War forced them to flee again.  In the house on West End Avenue he followed a new routine.  He worked all morning on his sixth symphony, took a walk after lunch, rested, worked again until dinner then spent the evening “with friends or books.”

The big stone house was perfect for the composer.  “This house is very quiet,” Mrs. Gretchaninoff remarked to The New York Times.  “He can play the piano all the day and nobody says anything.”

Although the red tile roof was removed in 1983, the house with an amazingly interesting list of owners remains virtually unchanged since 1891.

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