Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Neo-Georgian 1896 Charles Rich House -- No. 255 West 91st Street

photo by Alice Lum
By 1895 the architectural design firm of Lamb & Rich was firmly established and Charles Alonzo Rich, who was the designer of the partnership, was busy with incoming commissions.   Rich had established the firm with Hugh Lamb just after 1880 with Lamb apparently mainly handling the business aspects.

Henderson Place—a cohesive group of 24 houses constructed in 1882 at East End Avenue and 86th Street--was among their earliest large commissions.    Quickly thereafter they were responsible for Harlem’s Mount Morris Bank in 1883, the Astral Apartments in the newly-popular Queen Anne style begun in 1885, and Theodore Roosevelt’s Shingle Style country home, Sagamore Hill.   High-end residences became the firm’s specialty.

Now it was time for Rich to design his own home.  In 1895 Rich purchased two lots on West 91st Street—Nos. 255 and 257—in the quickly-developing Upper West Side.  The neighborhood would soon fill with wide mansions and comfortable upper-middle class homes and Rich’s residence would be among the most eye-catching.

Completed in 1896 the two brick homes complemented one another in their similar neo-Georgian designs.  The Rich home, at No. 255 was entered through a marble-arched Federal style doorway at street level with a carved pineapple—the 18th century symbol of welcome—in the keystone.  Dropping below the top level of the entrance arch and nearly abutting the first floor lintel, a multi-paned oriel window vies for attention with the flanking openings.  Dramatic splayed marble lintels contrast vividly with the dark brick and above an overhanging cornice sit two prim dormers.

A pineapple, the symbol of hospitality and welcome, adorns the marble keystone of the entrance --photo by Alice Lum
Rich opted for an English basement for the companion house at No. 257, and a Ionic portico.  Two bays wider than his own home, the house featured similar window and roof treatments.

Five years later Rich was at the drawing board again, tweaking his plans.  Alterations were made on both buildings in 1901.  
Rich simultaneously designed a harmonious home next door at No. 257.  Unfortunately its one-time fanlight over the eastern window is lost -- photo by Alice Lum
Three years later the Rich family would awaken to a shock.  Just before dawn on February 19, 1904 a 36-inch heavy-pressure water main burst at Broadway and 92nd Street, one block away.   “The main let go with an explosion like a battle-ship gun,” reported The Evening World.   J. M. Bourcy, the janitor of the Annette Apartments at No. 294 West 92nd Street, his wife, her mother and their daughter, all awoke to find their beds floating in water in the basement apartment.   “The firemen from a hook and ladder truck dived down through the icy water on a ladder and brought the distressed family to the street, all of them wet, and freezing and none of them wearing more than a night robe.”

Six hours later the water was still rushing in a river down the streets, flooding the basements of mansions to the ceilings and finally caving in sidewalks.  Milk trucks acted as ferries to transport families from their homes to the safety of the opposite side of the street.

Charles Rich, as much an engineer as architect, was furious; blaming the flood on the newly constructed subway with improper drainage.  The newspaper said that Rich’s property was worth over $100,000.

“When the city allows men to build an underground tunnel without a pipe gallery,” he complained, “you may expect such disasters as this to be of common occurrence.  In every civilized city where subways have been constructed they are properly equipped with pipe galleries, and I consider it an outrage that the same was not done in our subway.”
The multi-paned upper sashes survive in most openings beneath dramatic splayed lintels -- photo by Alice Lum
The house was the scene of a wedding breakfast in May 1910 after Margaret Bradbury Rich married Air Force Lieutenant William Hampden Sage, Jr. in Bellport, Long Island at what The Times called “a pretty country wedding.”    The house was decorated in purple and white lilacs.

In 1919 Charles Rich decided to move on and filed his own plans for the conversion of his residence to an apartment building.   The renovation cost approximately $12,000 and Rich retained ownership of what was now an income-producing property.

Apparently never satisfied, Rich was back at the drawing board again and on December 31, 1929 the house had been converted, once again, to ten “non-housekeeping apartments.” 

The once-grand home is in dire need of maintenance, including the precariously-leaning brick entrance post -- photo by Alice Lum
Today Charles Rich’s upscale residence remains a multi-family building and is frightenly worse for wear.  But the architect’s elegant designs of this and its companion house at No. 257 still shine through the soot and peeling paint.

1 comment:

  1. These buildings are beautiful. Thank you for posting them.