Monday, December 31, 2012

The Lost 3rd Avenue Car Barn -- 3rd Avenue and 65th Street

A steam-driven elevated train puffs past the elaborate Third Avenue Car Barn -- from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Just 55 years after the American Revolution New York City was ready for mass transportation.  On April 25, 1831 it granted the first street railway franchise to the New York and Harlem Railroad Company.  The franchise concept allowed independent companies to operate street cars on specific streets in exchange for maintaining the pavement between and adjacent to the tracks.   The city also received a percentage of the firms’ income.

The Third Avenue Railroad Company was granted a franchise on December 18, 1852.   The horse-drawn cars began operating around six months later, on July 3.   The company was instantly successful.  A year after taking on its first passenger, the company’s line was extended to 86th Street.   By 1859 the route ran to Harlem, terminating around 129th Street.

The astounding success and growth of the company necessitated a “car barn” where the street cars could be maintained and housed and the teams of horses could be stabled.    The car barn was completed in 1861—a cutting-edge explosion of French Second Empire architecture.  The style would not gain popularity in the United States for a few years, but the car barn introduced it with gusto.

Providing a block-long expanse of floor space for maintenance and stables, it housed the company's offices on the second floor.   Looking more like a railroad depot than a maintenance shed, it sprouted tiled mansard towers, ornamented dormers and spiky cast iron roof cresting.  The iconic Victorian structure would be closely mirrored a century and a half later in Disney World’s pseudo-Victorian railway station.

When Berenice Abbott shot the car barn in 1936 as part of the Federal Art Project, little had changed since 1861 -- from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
In 1872, with the Civil War ended and the city expanding, the Third Avenue Railway Company enlarged the car barn.  It now engulfed the entire block from Third to Second Avenue, from 65th to 66th Street.    With extended routes and more and more cars there came a problem.   The horses were often overworked and stifling summer heat took its toll.  One passenger wrote that the trip from Manhattan to Harlem took an hour and twenty minutes providing “no horse balked or fell dead across the tracks.”

The Chicago City Railroad Company found a solution to the problem when it opened its cable traction system in January 1882.  The Third Avenue Railway Company took note.   The following year the company contracted the Chicago Railway’s construction engineer to lay a test cable system on 10th Avenue (later renamed Amsterdam Avenue). 

After 1872 the massive building stretched back to 2nd Avenue -- from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
There had been a problem with Chicago’s system.  If a cable snapped, the entire system went down.  The Third Avenue Railway Company stepped around the problem by laying two cables—if one broke the other could quickly be engaged.

Although many of the company’s employees were dissatisfied with the new system—it eliminated the jobs of some stable boys and the increased capacity of the new cable cars meant fewer drivers—the firm realized nearly 30 percent savings.  For one thing, the life span of a car horse was only about five years, thereby requiring consistent replacement.  The public was elated, as well.   Reduced stable odors, horse manure on the streets and lessened damage to pavement by horse hooves were all welcomed side effects.

A team of horses is whipped while a group of men attempt to push a streetcar through the snow -- Harper's Weekly, 1872 (copyright expired)
The Railway used cable cars as well as horse-drawn streetcars until 1899 when the company switched over to electric-powered trolleys.    The New York Times reported on October 21 “The Third Avenue cable…will terminate its career about 3:30 o’clock to-morrow morning.  The traffic on that stretch of road will be stopped for six or seven hours, and when it starts again, sub-trolley cars will have taken the place of the cable cars.  The cable ropes will be piled up on Third Avenue, and probably sold for old metal.”

A writer to The New York Times a month later celebrated the passing of the horse-drawn cars.  “Of course, the first thought of every humane patron of the line is to present his congratulations to the Third Avenue car horse on being extinct…In equine days the Third Avenue car horse was the equine analogue of the yellow dog, that is to say, the lowest of his kind.”

But while he was happy with the replacement of the horse with electricity, the writer was not as pleased with the accommodations of the new trolleys.   He found the 32-inch wide seats too confining.

“There was once a famous glutton who observed that a turkey, though very good eating, was an inconvenient bird, being a little too much for one and not quite enough for two.  One need not be a glutton to find that true of the seats in the new cars…Two stout passengers who are doomed to occupy one of these seats in common glare at each other’s unfair proportions with unconcealed, and, in the case of beamy and candid female passengers, with articulately expressed disgust.”

By now Schribner’s magazine deemed the Third Avenue Railway Company “the richest street railway corporation” in the nation.  But the expenses of electrification and route extension took its toll.  The company failed on February 28, 1900 and was put into receivership.

A cost-savings initiative was put into effect in 1907.  The “car ahead” policy shortened routes, requiring passengers to inconveniently change cars.   The passengers revolted.  On August 23 of that year the New-York Tribune reported that “Still another riot was added yesterday to the many for which the “car ahead” rule is responsible, when the passengers on a Third avenue car refused to change at the barns at 65th street when ordered to by the conductor.”

Six men and one woman sat stubbornly on the car as it was brought into the car barn around midnight.   After an hour, the car cleaners began to clean up and ordered the passengers to leave.   “The sweepers outnumbered the passengers, and although the latter fought every inch of the way, they were soon ejected from the barn.  Several passengers from another car joined in the melee, and then missiles began to fly.”

The battle resulted in at least two arrests and some bruises.  The passengers, who would have received a free transfer, continued on their way home having to pay a new fare, somewhat worse for the wear.

But there was another opponent looming in the near future:  the subway system.    Although the streetcars continued to be used on Manhattan routes, the outlying routes were abandoned.    The Third Avenue Railway’s car barn was still constructing streetcars—about two per week—through the 1930s.

At some point between 1936 and 1946 the car barn lost its mansard towers -- from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Then in the first years of the 1940s the firm changed its name to the Third Avenue Transit Corporation and abandoned the streetcar in favor of motorized buses.  By now the magnificent car barn had lost most of its Second Empire detailing, the grand towers sheared off.

A bus is under construction in the car barn in the mid-1940s.   from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
On July 15, 1946 The New York Times reported “To mark the formal end o the era of surface trolley car transportation in Manhattan, the Third Avenue Transit Corporation has decided to sell at auction its old car barns and other properties that it has used for two generations or more.”  The article noted that “The oldest and one of the most valuable properties” was the Third Avenue car barn.  “The three-story building there is a relic of Civil War days and has been used for car barns, repair shops and offices.”

In 1952 the glazed white brick Manhattan House apartment building rose on the site of the old car barn.   The 19-story apartment building still stands, an interesting example of ambitious mid-century modern architecture; but not nearly so picturesque as its predecessor.

Crisp 1950s architecture replaced the Victorian embellishments --from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Saturday, December 29, 2012

John Ward's 1867 "The Indian Hunter" -- Central Park

The ancestors of John Quincy Adams Ward landed in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607.  As years passed, one group moved westward, stopping in the rural area of Urbana, Ohio.  There on a farm on June 29, 1830, the boy was born.

Ward’s father was an ardent Whig and “enthusiastic admirer of Andrew Jackson’s greatest political enemy,” as The New York Times would later explain.   These political leanings resulted in Ward’s somewhat ungainly name.

Unlike other farm boys, Ward had a strong artistic bent and spent his leisure time attempting to create clay figures.  The Times said “He never saw a piece of sculpture before he was fifteen years old, but long before that he had learned how to make such queer figures with mud and clay that the country people called him ‘Ward’s queer boy.’”   Although his parents considered his hobby “foolishness,” his sister who was visiting from Brooklyn recognized his potential.

She convinced the Wards to allow her to take young John back to New York with her, using his frail health as her excuse.   He entered the studio of Brooklyn sculptor Henry Kirke Brown in 1849 as a student and assistant, most notably working on Brown’s equestrian statue of George Washington for Union Square.

While John Quincy Adams Ward was learning about sculpture, the mood towards American art was changing.  Although aspiring artists still sailed off to Paris and Rome for formal training, there was a growing interest at home for truly American art created by American artists.  Ward agreed.  With no interest in studying abroad, he espoused that “we shall never have good art at home until our best artists reside here.”

Toward the end of the seven years he worked with Browne, he created his first sketch of a Native American hunting with his dog.   In 1859, the year after Olmsted and Vaux began work on the new Central Park, his sketch had progressed to a plaster model which he exhibited at the Washington Art Club and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

In 1861 he established a studio at Nos. 7 and 9 West 49th Street and reworked his Indian Hunter.   A year later a bronze statuette was exhibited at the National Academy of Design’s annual exhibition.

A cast of Ward's early statuette is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art --
Unsure that his work was faithful to his subject, Ward traveled to frontier posts in the Dakotas in 1864 to study Native Americans.    Here, according to The Times, “the Indian, not yet sophisticated out of his character by cheap clothing, was still to be seen at his ancestral pursuits.  This lithe, sinewy, crouching, watchful creature had nothing in common with the ‘classical’ athlete.”

Upon his return he reworked the Indian Hunter once again, making the hunter’s hair shaggier, raising his arm holding the bow, and refining the facial features.   In the autumn of the following year a larger than life-size plaster sculpture was exhibited in Snedecor’s gallery on lower Broadway.  The New York Times said “It was a new type of sculpture because it was the result of a faithful study of a type in life.” 

 The statue would change the life of John Quincy Adams Ward.

Ward later told the newspaper, “It attracted some attention, and it had not been there very long before a visitor appeared in my studio, announced himself as August Belmont, explained that he had been interested in my work, and then gave me an order for a statue of Commodore Perry.  From that day to this I have never been without a commission.”

The new statue was illustrated in the Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York in 1869 (copyright expired)
August Belmont was not the only prestigious citizen to notice the work.  A group of wealthy New Yorkers including Hyrus Butler, Robert Hoe, Le Grand Lockwood, H. Pierpont Morgan and H. G. Marquand established the “Indian Hunter Fund” to finance Ward’s bronze casting of the statue and to push for its inclusion in the developing Central Park.   The completed sculpture was shipped to France, to be exhibited in the Paris Exhibition.  On July 4, 1867 the New-York Tribune noted that the work was one of three American sculptures in the fair.  “Ward’s ‘Indian Hunter,’ and Thompson’s Napoleon are appreciated here,” the article said, “as they deserve to be; and I have not yet discovered any sculpture which surpasses them in the union of originality with a truly antique largeness and simplicity.”

Ward’s “Indian Hunter” was ground breaking in its naturalism—a u-turn from the neoclassical style.  Half a century later art critic Charles Henry Caffin would call attention to its “absence of any preconceived theories of technique, so that the group has something of a primitive, almost barbarous feeling; which, however, seems strangely appropriate to the subject.”  Most importantly, it was an American statue of a uniquely American subject.

The white marble base is seen in an early stereopticon view -- NYPL collection
Upon the sculpture’s return to the New York, it was presented to Andrew H. Green, Comptroller of Central Park on December 28, 1868 by the Committee of the Indian Hunter Fund.    In its contributory letter, the group said “We have peculiar satisfaction in placing at your disposal a work so truly American in subject and so admirably executed by one of our native and most celebrated sculptors.  We trust it may find a fitting place in the great Park which is so much admired and appreciated not only by our own citizens, but by all who visit this Metropolis.”

Green responded saying in part, “The commissioners of the Park, fully concurring in your high estimation of the ability shown by the distinguished artist in the conception and execution of this beautiful work, will, with peculiar satisfaction, add its great attractions to those already existing at the Park.”

At some point the pedestal was replaced with granite -- NYPL Collection
Nearly a year and a half later the statue was unveiled on the Mall.  The Indian Hunter sat high upon a white marble base.  In describing the work, The New York Times said on April 23, 1869, “The figures are finely executed, and are better worthy of the attention than any group of statuary yet placed in the Park.”  It was the first statue placed in Central Park by an American artist.

By 1903 the neglected condition of the Central Park statues prompted a full-scale, nearly year-long cleaning by the Park Department.    F. Edwin Elwell, curator of the statuary department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art had suggested the project and he personally directed it.  The Indian Hunter had special needs.

“The Indian Hunter, the well known statue by J. Q. A. Ward in Central Park, just west of the Mall, was a favorite hiding place for large colonies of the municipality’s wasps,” said The Sun on September 81, 1903.  “The mud tenements of these strenuous little insects were plastered thickly over the surface both of the hunter and the dog in the group.  In the corner of one of the eyes of the man, and also in one of the dog’s eyes, there were wasps’ nests, giving the man a decided squint and the dog a very droll appearance.”
At some point before the turn of the century, the pedestal was modified again, now with cross-hatching below the figures -- NYPL Collection
By now the statue had received a replacement base of polished granite, possibly made necessary by the erosion of the original marble.   Four colors of stone create the pedestal, the top most section was updated around the turn of the century with carved cross-hatching.

The Indian Hunter received a replacement bronze bow in 1937 after the original was vandalized, and in 1992 the sculpture was fully restored.  Among the oldest statues in the park, it marks a turning point in American art and in the career of the artist who conceived it.

stereopticon slide from NYPL Collection

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Wm. Barnard House -- No. 38 East 68th Street

photo by Alice Lum
In the 1870s, as the Upper East Side saw rapid development, real estate developer Robert McCafferty teamed up with architect Richard W. Buckley.   The pair bought up lot after lot and erected rows of brownstone, neo-Grec residences for middle class families.

When they had completed a row of six brownstone-clad homes stretching from No. 801 to 811 Madison Avenue at the corner of 68th Street, the Real Estate Record and Guide took notice.  It called Buckley a “rising young architect.”

The close working relationship was no doubt strengthened by McCafferty’s marriage to Mary C. Buckley.

In 1879 McCafferty and Buckley built a row of four houses on East 68th Street—Nos. 32 through 38.  It would be several years before the city’s millionaires would start erecting grand marble and limestone palaces along Fifth Avenue and the surrounding blocks.   McCafferty’s new brownstone homes were comfortable, but at 16 feet wide were not ostentatious.   The following year the developer and architect would make their partnership formal by establishing “McCafferty & Buckley.”

In 1887 William H. Barnard purchased No. 38.   Barnard was already a millionaire with a silk importing business and was a leader in the salt industry.    He was Treasurer of the International Salt Companies of New York and New Jersey, and of the Detroit Rock Salt Company, and held directorships in at least a dozen corporations.  An avid sailor, he was a member of the Atlantic Yacht Club and had memberships in the Players, the New York Athletic, the Ardsley and Union League Clubs.

Before 1901 the Barnard house (far right) was an unexceptional brownstone-clad rowhouse; unlike its newly renovated neighbor, the John Crimmons mansion -- photo from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Six years later a daughter, Lillian Bell, was born to William and Lillie Barnard in the house.  As the neighborhood slowly filled with mansions the Barnard house was seldom the scene of notable social events.   Although Barnard showed thoroughbred horses alongside owners with names like Gould, Mackay and Stokes, his flamboyant and sometimes scandalous behavior was perhaps the reason.

By the turn of the century the block was changing.  John D. Crimmins had already transformed the two brownstones next door at Nos. 40 and 42 into a single lavish mansion.Then in 1901 Dr. Edward Kellogg Dunham purchased the house directly across the street at No. 35.  Dunham and his wife Mary demolished the old brownstone which was quite similar to Barnard’s, and erected a French townhouse designed by Carrere & Hastings.   The Barnards joined the trend and commissioned architect William Baumgarten to remodel their home.

Before the end of the year the brownstone front had been replaced by a delicate limestone façade.   Baumgarten eschewed the overblown scrolls and garlands with dripping fruits and flowers found on so many other contemporary Beaux Arts designs.  Instead the bowed lower three floors were ornamented with nearly lace-like carving and a wall of intricate leaded glass windows at the second floor, protected by a deep stone framing.

Carved cherubs decorate the bowed facade above intricate leaded windows -- photo by Alice Lum
While the renovations on the house were being done, William H. Barnard was making headlines by being arrested for speeding—driving fifteen miles per hour--on August 29, 1901.   The Evening World noted that “Mr. Barnard owns and drives one of those big French machines popularly known as ‘red devils.’”

Barnard frustrated bicycle policeman Edward Dobson by “persistently racing through the roads above Central Park in his automobile.”    The officer complained that the millionaire had raced his car “every night for weeks past, unheeding all shouts to ‘slow down.’”   Dobson was determined to get his man.

The newspaper reported “At 7 o’clock last evening, said Dobson, he was warned of the approach of the ‘red devil’ by its snorting, roaring racket as he stood by his wheel at Ninety-eighth street and Fifth avenue.  He quickly mounted his wheel and prepared to do or die in an effort to capture the mobe.”  Although he ordered Barnard to stop, the car whizzed by and the bicycle cop took chase.

Luckily for the policeman, a downhill grade in the park gave him the speed to catch up with the car.  He arrested Barnard who, according to Dobson, “roundly abused him.”

The arrest would pale in comparison with the scandal Barnard managed to get himself into three years later.    In 1904 Viola Livingston, a teen-aged widow, placed a personal ad in the newspapers:

“A young lady, aged eighteen, considered exceptionally attractive and talented, hopes this will reach the eyes of someone who will assist her in fitting herself for a theatrical career.”

The ad indeed caught the eye of William H. Barnard.   He wrote to the girl offering his services and suggesting a meeting at the Hotel Grenoble on March 29.  He signed his letter “William T. Carroll.”  The couple met and had dinner, during which the millionaire confessed he had given a false name.  His real name, he said, was W. H. Bailey.   He offered a carriage ride through Central Park to further discuss his help in her stage career.

The Evening World later reported “She accepted the invitation and declares that, against her protests and entreaties, he compelled her to remain with him in a closed carriage for a long time.”   The girl told that she “was only half conscious when she was finally permitted to return to her hotel.”

Her indignation was apparently not enough to prevent her from joining Barnard at his country estate in Aiken, South Carolina.   “When Mr. Barnard answered my letter and called at the Grenoble to see me he appeared to be such a perfect gentleman and was so frank about his wife and daughter that he won my confidence.  I was determined to make a success on the stage, although such a course was opposed by my aunt and grandmother.  I had read how wealthy New York men and women had helped other girls to make a career, and I hoped that I would be equally fortunate in finding a friend.”

It would seem that Barnard was hoping to find a friend as well.  However he ended up giving the girl money to return to New York.  According to his lawyer, Barnard became convinced that “she was not the worthy person he thought she might have been and he decided not to advance her aid in her desire to achieve a career on the stage.”

Viola Livingston sued Barnard for $25,000—about half a million dollars today.  “I finally came to the conclusion that I had been wronged and ignored and that my only redress lay through the courts.”  Barnard insisted that he was the party being wronged.  “This woman has been trying to get money from me for some time.  I intend to fight the case to the finish.” 

The scandal was no doubt devastating to Lillie Barnard and her daughter.

Deep shells adorn the openings that flank the severe classical entrance with its elegant French grilled doors -- photo by Alice Lum
Young Lillian Bell Barnard, however, apparently inherited many of her father’s reckless ways.  On March 21, 1909 the 16-year old was arrested on Riverside Drive for speeding along at over twelve miles per hour with her chauffeur in the passenger seat.  The feisty teen refused to admit she had exceeded the speed limit and refused to let the motorcycle cop, Officer McIntyre, ride in her car to the police station.

The policeman rode alongside the car with his hand on the dashboard until he lost control and the car ran over his motorcycle.  He then got into the car.  But the chauffeur “let the machine out a couple of notches, and he, too, was placed under arrested for speeding,” reported the New York Tribune.

While the Barnard family was enduring public embarrassments, a young educator and physician was making his mark in the Midwest.  Edward A. Rumely was born in La Port, Indiana in 1882.  He entered Notre Dame University at the age of 16, spent a year at Oxford University and another at Heidelberg University in Germany.   He earned his medical degree magna cum laude at Freiburg University in 1906.

Rumely founded the Interlaken School in Rolling Prairie, Indiana based on the German Landerziehungsheim model.  It engaged the students in the outdoors as well as the classroom.  He was politically active and aware; and as Europe became embroiled in World War I he was distressed by the obvious pro-English slant of American journalists.

In 1915 Edward Rumely moved to New York City to become editor-in-chief and publisher of the New York Evening Mail.  He intended to present unbiased reporting of the war, advocate social and industrial reorganization and protest the British blockade of Germany. 

William Barnard had sold the house on 68th Street in 1912 to move north to Riverside Drive. Rumely moved into the house with his wife, educator Fanny Scott.   If William Barnard had brought notoriety to the address, Rumely would far outdo him.   As the United States was drawn into the war, governmental eyes turned to the pro-German publisher. 

In July 1918 Attorney General Morton E. Lewis began investigating Louis N. Hammerling, president of the American Association of Foreign Language Newspapers “who was known to be the handler of German propaganda as far back as 1915,” according to the New-York Tribune.   He was under scrutiny because of his association with Edward Rumely.   The Tribune noted that Rumely was “used as a ‘dummy’ by Count von Bernstrorff and Dr. Heinrich Albert, in the purchase of “The Evening Mail.”

In Hammerling’s testimony, he placed the blame on Dr. Rumely.  He told the investigators that Rumely paid him with 205 $1,000 bills “and that Rumely brought Dr. Heinrich Albert, one of Germany’s spy chiefs, to his home, 38 East Sixty-eighth Street, for the bills, showing the expenditure of these sums,” said the Tribune.  Hammerling testified that through Rumely’s urging, he got the majority of the 800 editors of the foreign-language newspapers to carry German propaganda ads.

It got worse for Dr. Rumely.   Attorney General Morton E. Lewis wrote in 1918 “Edward A. Rumely was for years the secret paid agent of the German Government.  He acquired The Evening Mail of New York with money furnished by that Government.  He conducted that newspaper in the interest of Germany.  He made under oath false reports respecting the true ownership of the paper.  He is now under indictment for perjury, pending the probable formulation of other charges.  He is now at large, under bail of $35,000 in the form of Liberty bonds furnished by an unnamed person.”

One of Rumely’s closest friends, inventor Henry Ford, traveled to Washington D. C. to vouch for the publisher.   The tangle of charges would persist for years until they were finally dropped after the war.

While Rumely was “at large” the house at No. 38 East 68th Street underwent rapid-fire changes in ownership steeped in irony.    The house had come under the ownership of Louis Hammerling, of all people, who sold it in June 1917 to Judge Martin J. Manton.  The judge sold it within a month to Thomas Bodger, who represented William H. Barnard.   Barnard sold his former residence in February 1918, just seven months later to Andrew Connick and Max Marx. 

The new buyers sold the property back to Barnard who resold it once again in May 1919.

Throughout the 20th century as the elegant private homes on the Upper East Side were divided into apartments or simply razed for modern residential buildings, the narrow and dignified house remained a single family home.  Today it is still a private residence, little changed since the tumultuous days when its owners kept the address in the newspapers.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Extreme Makeover of No. 6 East 69th Street

photo by Alice Lum
In 1880 East 69th Street, between Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue was still mostly undeveloped.  The situation would not last long and the blocks below 69th Street were filling as homeowners, now recovering from the 1873 financial depression, ventured northward along Central Park.  

Little by little, starting with three speculative rowhouses at Nos. 16 through 20, residences sprouted up on 69th Street.  The first three houses, erected by architect and developer Charles Buek in 1880-81, would be joined in 1884 by the residence of silk merchant August Richard.  By 1887 the block caught the eye of George J. McGourkey.

Born in Albany, McGourkey had come to New York at the age of 18, entering a Wall Street brokerage office.   His fortune grew as he became both a banker, affiliated with the Metropolitan Bank, and an attorney, representing several railroads.    Now, aged 50, with the Metropolitan Bank having closed in 1884, he busied himself mostly with closing up its affairs.

McGourkey purchased the building lot at No. 6 East 69th Street and commissioned 32-year old John H. Duncan to design his new townhouse.   McGourkey’s choice was adventurous—the young architect who would later become well known for designing Grant’s Tomb and the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Arch in Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza was still relatively unknown.

The four-story house, completed in 1888, was an understated expression of the McGourkey family’s social and financial status.  The limestone base and English basement was sparsely decorated with carved festoons over the entrance and parlor window.   A charming stone Juliette balcony at the second floor was accessed by a door from the stairway hall.  Duncan alternated bands of limestone with the reddish-brown brick at this level, subtly blending the white base into the brown upper stories.   The third floor windows were framed in delicate terra cotta; while the small arched windows and engaged columns of the fourth floor gave a nod to the popular Romanesque Revival style.

The first and second floors bowed gently outward.  In 1889 the lot next door was still undeveloped -- The American Architect and Building News August 24, 1889 (copyright expired)
McGourkey’s family included three children and his wife, the former Charlotte J. Down, daughter of Samuel Down who founded the American Motor Company.  As was often the case with upper class properties, the title to the house was listed in Charlotte’s name.

The year that the McGourkeys moved in, George was elected President of the American Meter Company.   The firm manufactured “all articles appertaining to the manufacture, testing and distribution of gas,” according to its advertisements.    These included wet gas meters, dry gas meters, meter provers and portable test meters.

Unfortunately, McGourkey would not enjoy his new position nor his new home for long.  In 1891 he retired due to failing health.  A year later, in December 1892 he died in the house on East 69th Street.

Charlotte McGourkey lived on in the house with her three children.  Young Samuel D. McGourkey went on to become a partner in Pritchard & McGourkey, grain merchants, with an office at 435 Produce Exchange.  Unmarried, he remained in the house with his mother as his career and fortune grew.  By 1911 he was a member of the esteemed St. Nicholas, New York Athletic, and Canoe Clubs.

After three decades in the house at No. 6 East 69th Street, Charlotte McGourkey died.   Samuel sold the house in February 1920 for $135,000—a little over $1 million today. 

The buyer was Thomas M. Peters, a bachelor who had graduated from Yale University in 1912 and served in Squadron A during the war.  The successful Peters was a member of the Yale, University, Downtown and City Clubs and owned a cattle ranch near Tucson, Arizona.

In June 1926 his engagement to Marion Hood Post was announced, deemed by The New York Times to be “of wide interest in society.”  Marion was the granddaughter of the late George B. Post, one of the preeminent architects of his day and of the late General John Bell Hood of the Confederate Army.  Her uncle was architect George B. Post, Jr.

Following their marriage on July 10 that year, the newlyweds returned to No. 6 East 69th Street, one of New York’s most enviable addresses.  The block which had been empty lots in 1880 was now shoulder-to-shoulder upscale homes of millionaires.  The problem was not the address—it was the house.

The eclectic architecture of 1888 was most definitely passé in the Jazz Age.  Along the block owners called in architects to renovate their Victorian homes into modern, fashionable dwellings.  In 1928 Edwin C. Jameson’s house, one of the original three on the block, was updated.  A year later No. 16, owned by Edwin Jameson, was given a Georgian façade by architect A. Wallace McCrea.

In 1936 Thomas Peters joined the trend.  He hired his wife’s uncle to remodel both the interior and exterior of the house.   Whether the resulting transformation was a good idea is arguable.

The now flat-faced building was remarkably unexceptional architecturally.  All traces of John Duncan’s design were obliterated as the entrance with a pseudo-Federal doorway was removed to the basement, a few steps below street level.   George Post clad the house in variegated Flemish-bond brick broken by two thin limestone bandcourses.  Among the interior upgrades was an elevator.

The main entrance makes an errant stab at appearing Colonial -- photo by Alice Lum
Immediately after the renovations were completed Peters put the house on the market.  The buyer bought into an exclusive block—next door lived Ogden Mills and other neighbors included Walter J. Salmon, Edwin J. Jameson, Frederick B. Adams and Edith van Gerbig.   On March 8, 1937 The New York Times announced the sale, for cash.

Little has changed to No. 6 East 69th Street since then.   A few of the surrounding mansions were razed to make way for modern apartment buildings; but the block looks much as it did just after Thomas Peters and some of his neighbors decided to update their Victorian residences.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The 1926 Scientific American Bldg -- Nos. 24-26 W. 40th Street

photo by Alice Lum
In the 1840s when Rufus M. Porter was not painting portraits and murals or inventing he was writing.  Between 1825 and 1826 he published four editions of A Select Collection of Valuable and Curious Arts, and Interesting Experiments.  At the same time he painted murals in homes and inns throughout New England—by 1845 he would have decorated around 160 rooms.   In his spare time he worked on inventions.  Among his inventions were clocks, churns, an apparatus for measuring distances, a cheese press, a revolving rifle and a camera (he could make silhouette portraits within 15 minutes).

In 1841 he published the New York Mechanic which dealt with new inventions and served as a platform for publicizing his own creations like the rotary plow.  The periodical stopped printing in 1843, but two years later Porter established a new weekly called the Scientific American.  Like his former paper, it focused on new inventions and patents, provided illustrations and updated readers on “the most interesting news of passing events, general notices of progress of Mechanical and other Scientific Improvements; American and Foreign.”

Ten months after printing the first issue in 1845, Porter sold the weekly to Orson Desaix Munn and Alfred Ely Beach.   The partners formed Munn & Co., Inc., publishers, and established The Scientific American in the New York Sun Building at Fulton and Nassau Streets.  Their first issue from here was printed on July 23, 1846.

In 1859 the magazine relocated to larger space at No. 37 Park Row, in the midst of the publishing district.  It would be the first of several moves.  When that building was destroyed by fire in 1882, it moved to No. 261 Broadway and later slightly uptown to No. 361 Broadway.   When the soaring Woolworth Building was completed in 1915, Scientific American was one of its first tenants.

From the Woolworth Building the magazine reported on war technology in 1916 (copyright expired)

Nine years later Munn & Co. would be looking to relocate once again.

This time the successful magazine would build its own headquarters.  By now the block of 40th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, only two decades ago lined with comfortable brownstones of the 1880s, was filling with modern office buildings.   In 1924 Munn & Co. commissioned Ely Jacques Kahn, of Buchman & Kahn, to design its new home facing Bryant Park behind the New York Public Library.

Throughout his career Kahn would produce mainly office buildings and he intrepidly moved from Beaux Arts into the modern Art Deco, Modernist and Cubism influences.  But for the Scientific American Building at Nos. 24-26 West 40th Street, he drew upon the French Renaissance.  Working in brick and terra cotta, he emphasized the verticality of the 16-story skyscraper with three 11-story side-by-side arches, each divided into three smaller arches, with pencil-thin colunettes drawing the eye upward.  Atop was a pyramidal roof, interrupted on three sides by French dormers with spiky finials.

A large sign offering office space hangs on the building in 1926 -- from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
On July 5, 1926 the building was completed and the Scientific American moved into the top five floors.  The New York Times made note that “The building is the first owned by The Scientific American in its eighty years of existence.”

With its new headquarters, the magazine did some revamping of itself.  On July 6 The Times reported “Orson D. Munn, editor and publisher, told of his plans for changes and improvements, including a new cover design, enlarging the editorial staff, contracting for articles by distinguished scientists, adding eight pages of text to each issue and increasing the number of illustrations.”  Noted scientists like Albert Einstein and Jonas Salk would contribute to the magazine.

Without a telephone, calculator or typewriter in sight, Scientific American workers enjoy their new office space in 1926 -- from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Scientific American was known for its cutting edge reporting—two decades before the radio it published articles on Marconi’s experimentation and two years before the Wright Brothers Kitty Hawk flight it published photographs of their airplane.  Shortly after moving into the new building it reported on a practical exhibition of television.  The demonstration emanated a moving image and the voice of the Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover, from Washington, D.C. to New York via telephone lines.

Kahn's clean design for the lower levels and retail space is little changed today -- from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Along with the publishing firm, the patent attorneys, Munn & Co., that handled “trade-marks, designs and foreign patents,” moved in.  Not surprisingly, considering the name, it advertised “associated since 1846 with the Scientific American.”

Taking two floors in 1927 was the organization with the cumbersome name of the Association for the Establishment and Maintenance for the People in the City of New York, of Museums of the Peaceful Arts. Founded on February 6, 1914, its stated object was “To further education in science and industry.”  Here the association’s 2,000-volume library was housed along with modern innovations like telephone equipment in its efforts “to bring together a permanent collection of the inventions which have helped to develop industry and commerce.”

The work of the association had been interrupted by World War I, but now was in back in operation.  The complimentary interests of the magazine and the Association made the location ideal.

/Despite his sleek, modern designs for other office buildings, Kahn turned to French Renaissance for the Scientific American commmission -- photo by Alice Lum

Until December 1928 the offices of The Miller Company were scattered throughout Manhattan—at No. 105 East 40th, No. 68 Park Place and No. 546 Broadway.  In December of that year the manufacturer of lighting fixtures leased two full floors in the Scientific American Building, consolidating its operations into a single location.  In doing so, it took the last available floor space in the building.  Both The New York Times and Buildings and Building Management commented that the 16-story building “is now 100 percent rented.”
The years following the Great Depression and leading up to the United States entering World War II were harsh on The Scientific American.   In November 1943 the building was sold to investors for $425,000.  Included in the sale was a long-term lease on the ground floor, mezzanine and basement to General Ribbon Mills.

Five years later Dennis Flanagan, Donald Miller and Gerald Piel purchased Scientific American from Munn & Company, founding Scientific American, Inc.

photo by Alice Lum

Little has changed in Ely Kahn’s stately structure designed for a scientific magazine.  Even the lower levels have been subjected to little modernization.  The Scientific American Building stands out in a row of exceptional structures erected along the block in the first half of the last century.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The 1893 Chas. L. Colby House -- No. 8 East 69th Street

photo by Alice Lum
In the spring of 1890 Charles L. Colby was one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in New York City.   A close friend of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., he oversaw his family’s extensive railroad interests and sat on the board of directors of the Northern Pacific Railroad among others.

Colby set out that year to erect a new, impressive mansion—a reflection of his status in the social and industrial world.  On May 24, 1890 the Real Estate Record and Builders’ Guide announced that “Mrs. Robert L. Stuart has sold to Charles L. Colby the lot… on the south side of 69th Street, 175 feet east of 5th Avenue, for $40,000.  Mr. Colby has also purchased from Waldemar Caspary the lot, 30x100, adjoining the above, on private terms.  Mr. Colby will erect a 55-foot front house on these lots.”

To design his exceptionally wide residence Colby commissioned the Boston architectural firm of Peabody & Stearns.    Completed in 1893 the limestone-clad mansion relied on restrained decoration—quoins, a rusticated parlor floor, subtle carvings around windows and band courses, and a handsome carved balustrade protecting the English basement—to produce a dignified presence.

It is unclear whether the adjoining lot purchased by Colby was to the rear or to the side; however on May 13, 1894 John J. Emery acquired the two lots directly behind the Colby house.  Peabody & Stearns designed a nearly mirror image mansion for the real estate tycoon—a social and architectural surprise in the gilded age when competition ran high.

Photo by Alice Lum
In 1895, two years after the Colbys moved into their new home, James Ambercrombie Burden, Jr. married Florence Adele Sloane in one of the most important social weddings of the year.  Florence was the daughter of carpet manufacturer William D. Sloane and the great-granddaughter of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt.   Burden’s family fortune was made in the iron industry, and at the time of the wedding his income was over $1 million a year.

Sloane promised the couple a new mansion, built on Carnegie land along East 91st Street.  But in the meantime they needed an appropriate place to live.

By 1897 the Colbys had moved across the street to No. 3 East 69th Street and the following year the Burdens were in No. 8.   Their residency would be a short one, and on November 15, 1901 The New York Times reported that “The residence of J. A. Burden, Jr., 8 East Sixty-ninth Street, a four-story stone-front dwelling , has been sold…The house is one of the finest in the upper Fifth Avenue section.”  The agent “would not make public yesterday the price paid for the property or the name of the buyer.”

The beans were soon spilled when The Lafayette Weekly reported that James A. Gayley “purchased for his family residence the handsome house occupied by J. A. Burden, Jr.”   Gayley had just been named vice-president of the United States Steel Corporation.

Gayley had started out in the iron industry as a chemical engineer and inventor.   When he joined the Carnegie Steel Company as a manager, he became known as one of “Carnegie’s boys.”  The fortunes of the members of that inner circle, according to The New York Times, “were multiplied manyfold when that company became the nucleus of the United States Steel Corporation.”

1907 would be a triumphant social year for the Gayley family—or at least it would seem so to New York society.   In February the house was the scene of a brilliant cotillion for debutante daughter Agnes Malcolm Gayley.  “The Gayley home, 8 East Sixty-ninth Street,” reported The Times, “is so arranged that the ground floor can be thrown practically into one room.  This was done last night.  After taking off their wraps, the guests descended the main stairway to the large foyer hall, where they were received by Mrs. Gayley and her daughter.”  The glittering party was attended by the society’s most elite, including names like Fish, Schuyler, Schiffelin, de Peyster, Fairfax and Roosevelt.

The same year, at noon on November 16, the house was the setting for the marriage of Agnes’s older sister, Mary,  to Count Giulio Senni, son of the Count and Countess Vincenzo Senni of Rome.  A breakfast and reception followed the ceremony.  It would seem that the Gayleys’ lives had reached perfection.

But behind the veil of cotillions and receptions things were not going smoothly in the Gayley household.   A year later, in November 1908, things came to a head.  Julia Gayley left the mansion on East 69th Street and moved into the Colony Club where she was a member.  Soon afterwards she took a suite of rooms in an apartment house at No. 20 Fifth Avenue.  At the same time, James Gayley moved into the Hotel Savoy.  The cavernous residence that had been the scene, as The Times put it “on many occasions, of brilliant functions,” was now occupied only by servants.

In, perhaps, a move to avoid scandal, James Gayley announced his retirement from the United States Steel Corporation that same month.   President W. E. Corey explained that “the sole reason for the resignation was Mr. Gayley’s desire to retire from business.”

In January 19, 1909 The Sun reported that Patrick A. Valentine had purchased the Gayley house.   Seven months later, on August 10, Gayley remitted to the press that the separation “is likely to result in divorce proceedings.”

Patrick Valentine had been the long time partner and closest friend of Philip D. Armour, Jr. in the Chicago-based firm Armour & Company.   The fabulously wealthy Armour had married Mary Lester on November 7, 1889 and three years later he unexpectedly died.    Left alone with two young boys and $8 million, Mary turned to Patrick Valentine—now President of Armour & Co.--for financial advice.  A Chicago newspaper soon reported “Their business relations brought them frequently together and eventually she announced their engagement.”

The couple moved to New York, were married in the Hotel Netherland, and after a tour of Europe began life at No. 8 East 69th Street.  The house cost Valentine $550,000; nearly $10 million today.

In addition to the city house the Valentines maintained two summer estates, a lodge in Oconomawoc, Wisconsin and a sprawling home in Southampton, Long Island.    Only seven years later, however, Patrick contracted Bright’s disease.  After an illness of five months, the 55-year old died on August 21, 1916.  Although his 13-year old son, Patrick Anderson Valentine, inherited two-thirds of the substantial estate, Mary had her own fortune to fall back on.

Mary Lester Armour Valentine remained in the 69th Street mansion and was notable in social functions and charities.    In 1919 her youngest son, Lester, married Leola Stanton.   Philip was already living in Chicago, running the family business; so Mary lived on in the cavernous residence alone with her servants.

The house was the scene of the marriage of Mary’s brother, Charles, on Valentine’s Day 1920.  The New-York Tribune noted that “A. P. D. De Coster played the organ which is built in the house.” 

Mary also hosted a series of talks on the theater here.  One, given by Emma Mills in January 1922, was on “Unusual Productions in the Theater” and included the Moscow Bat Theater and the Theater Guild production, “He the One Who Gets Slapped.”

The indomitable Mary Armour Valentine lived on until the age of 95, dying in 1965.  Her home for decades was purchased by the Swedish Government in 1954.  The New York Times announced plans on June 5 to alter the house “for a Swedish cultural center.”  A year later Swedish Ambassador to the United States, Erik Boheman officially opened “The Swedish Building.”

In 1967 when the Swedish Consul General sought more modern facilities for the Consulate, the house was acquired by the Columbus Citizens Foundation to house its offices and functions.  The Foundation sponsors the annual Columbus Day Parade, exhibitions and other events to aid in the education of Italian-American students.

Nearly 120 years after its completion, the mansion has managed to elude being divided into apartments or demolished.    Little has changed in the broad limestone house with its long list of stories.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Lost Seymour Hotel -- 44 West 45th Street

The brick and limestone Seymour Hotel (left) was frosted with Beaux Arts decoration -- photo from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
At the turn of the last century the blocks between Fifth and Sixth Avenues in midtown saw the advent of high-end residential hotels and exclusive clubs as once-fashionable residences one-by-one were demolished or converted for business purposes.  One of the first, the Royalton Hotel for well-heeled bachelors, was erected in 1898 spanning the block from 44th to 45th Streets

Three years later A. G. Hyde would sell four lots on 45th Street, Nos. 44 through 50, and a single lot on 44th Street next to the New York Yacht Club.  On July 24, 1901 The New York Times reported that “The site will be improved with a twelve-story apartment hotel.”

By August of the following year the Seymour Hotel was nearly ready for occupancy.  Built by developers Irons & Todd, it was touted as “fireproof” and “positively exclusive.”  Unlike the Royalton or the Hotel Mansfield which would open on West 44th Street a year later in 1903 the new Seymour was not intended just for bachelors; but was marketed to well-to-do families.  

M. F. Miller was the President of the Iroquois Hotel at No. 49 West 44th Street and his brother, J.  C. Miller, was its Secretary and Treasurer.  On August 16, 1902 they added the Seymour to their responsibilities, leasing the new hotel from Irons & Todd for 21 years at a gross rental of $1,395,900.

The hotel (left) interrupted a row of once-fashionable brownstones on West 45th Street.  By 1910 "Rooms for Let" signs hang on the old houses and at least one has sprouted a commercial addition to the front.  photo from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
On October 1 the Seymour Apartment Hotel opened its doors to its new residents.    The Beaux Arts building was constructed of red brick with limestone trim, sitting on a two-story rusticated limestone base.  The main 45th Street entrance was framed in a dramatic limestone portico above a set of three stone steps.  The white stone quoins and bandcourses contrasted with the red brick and a sumptuous balcony stretched the wide of the structure at the 10th floor.

On the narrow 44th Street side, the skinny building did its best to keep up.  It mimicked the rusticated base and even the balcony; yet the strange proportions resulted in a gawky, cartoonish structure.

The architects squeezed a compatible entrance on the skinny, West 44th Street, side.  photo from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Residents were offered apartments from two to “five or more” rooms with yearly leases.  The magnificent dining room offered both “Restaurant a la Carte” or “Table d’Hote.”   Guests were promised that the hotel was planned “for the comfort of its guests, luxurious and artistic in its appointments.”

Among the first of the wealthy residents to move in were J. H. Taylor and his wife.   Around 6:00 on a Wednesday evening in July 1903 the couple left their apartment, locking the door behind them, and went to the hotel dining room.  Upon their return the door was locked as they had left it; but upon entering the apartment they noticed things were out of place.  Mrs. Taylor discovered $8,000 worth of jewelry missing, including a diamond sunburst, a diamond brooch, several rings and other jewelry that had been left in a chamois bag in the dresser.  Within days three hotel employees were arrested, albeit with no evidence.

J. H. Taylor and his wife returned from dinner in the above dining room in 1903 to find their apartment ransacked.  photo from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Howard Montgomery, a bellboy, was fired and arrested on suspicion.  The New-York Tribune said of him “One of the prisoners was a clerk of the hotel, who was discharged because the only reason to suspect him of complicity in the robberyt was the fact that he had passkeys to rooms in the hotel.”

Norman Powell, a 21-year old porter, and Alice Howard, a 22-year old check attendant in the restaurant, also lost their jobs and were arrested.   Adding to the question of their character, Detective Walsh discovered that “the Howard woman and Powell” lived together unmarried.  A search of their rooms found a few items of silverware with the hotel restaurant’s monogram; but none of the jewelry.

Detective Walsh admitted to Magistrate Barlow that “he had no evidence that any of the prisoners were concerned in the theft of the jewelry.”  Nonetheless he requested that they continue to be held on $1,500 bail.

Another of the early residents was General Louis P. di Cesnola, the director of the Metroplitan Museum of Art, along with his daughter, Louise.   Upon the death of his wife, he took an apartment in the Seymour.   A veteran of two Italian wars, di Cesnola had come to New York in 1860 and opened a school of languages.  But the signs of the coming Civil War prompted him to convert his language school into a military academy where he taught militia officers in swordsmanship and tactics.  In 1861 he had 300 pupils and after the firing on Fort Sumter, the Italian offered his services to the Union.

A Colonel of the Fourth New York Cavalry, he was wounded at the battle of Nedia, Virginia and lay for four hours under his dead horse.  Discovered by Confederate soldiers, he was confined to a military prison for the rest of the war.  In 1865 President Lincoln appointed him United States Consul to Cyprus.

There General di Cesnola began his collection of  archaeological artifacts which grew to the point that in 1877 it was regarded as the “most wonderful” collection in the world, according to The Sun.  He sold it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for about $90,000 that year.  He was made a trustee and director of the museum and worked tirelessly to make it the foremost museum in the world.

The general filled the apartment at the Seymour Hotel with priceless artwork and antiquities and a substantial library of first editions signed by the authors.   

In November 1904 he telephoned the Metropolitan Museum saying he was “a little under the weather,” and asked that his mail be sent to him.  He worked from home that day, dictating letters to his secretary, Mr. Parry,.  The following day he was still not feeling well and summoned Dr. Carlo Savini who diagnosed a severe attack of asthma and a slight kidney complication.  The physician instructed di Cesnola to remain in bed.  “The General didn't like these orders, so he compromised by lounging around most of the day,” said The Sun on November 22.    He went to bed at 9:00 that evening and died an hour later.

A year later the General’s now-married daughter, Mrs. Guy E. Baker, returned from a short trip and noticed that items were missing from the apartment.  “They included paintings, bric-a-brac, clay modelings, ancient antiques and valuable books,” reported the New-York Tribune.    Once again it was an inside job.

The 21-year old elevator boy, Frank McCarthy, was arrested by detectives on May 20, 1905.  In his room at No. 777 Eighth Avenue they had found “costly paintings, antiques and editions de luxe.”  Among the recovered artwork was a painting by Murillo.

Not only did prominent citizens like former United States Senator John P. Jones and socialite Mrs. Jackson Gouraud live here in 1908; but successful entertainers were drawn by the hotel’s proximity to the theater district.   Signor G. Perguini, a singer, was among these, and another was English actor Charles Warner who had become internationally prominent several years earlier in a play titled “Drink.” 

Warner, in 1908, did a one-man vaudeville sketch “At the Telephone,” in which he was on stage for nearly twenty minutes holding an imaginary telephone and captivating audiences.  A member of the Lambs, he was well known in Broadway and theatrical circles.  But by the early months of 1909 he had grown “morose and melancholy,” according to friends.

Around 11:00 in the morning on February 11 he telephoned the front desk asking for a heavy ball of twine to be sent to his rooms.   He then carefully wrote a note in black ink which he pinned to the outside of his sitting room door, along with two checks.  The note read “Hounded to my death by thieves, liars and blackmailers….the criminal lawyer, principal rogue, who preferred to save me from ruin.  They fooled me out of thousands and thousands.  Now he is in prison.  God bless you all!  God bless you all at Lent.  Oh, my dear ones!  Oh, my beloved!”

Warner then closed the doors between the sitting room and his bedroom and made a noose from a valise strap which he fastened to the top of the door.   He stood on a chair and after fitting his neck into the noose, kicked the chair from under him.  Unfortunately for Warner, his neck was not broken and he slowly strangled to death.

The two checks were for $27, to cover his funeral expenses, and $150 to pay for his outstanding bill at the Seymour.

In the meantime Mrs. Gouraud had problems of her own.  She lived in the Seymour only during the winter months, spending the rest of the year at her Larchmont estate or traveling.   In October 1908 she was preparing for a trip to India for two reasons.  “First and foremost, because the East is so mystic, so romantic, so full of adventure,” she told a reporter from The Evening World.  “I adore romance, mysticism, adventure.  Here there is none of it.  Everybody is too busy.  Why, the average New York woman does not know what an adventure is!  A real adventure, I mean.”

But there was another reason she was returning to India.  She had stolen a Buddha from a shrine and needed to return it.  “The last time I was in the East I saw this little ugly god and wanted him.  A man stole him for me—really it was quite dangerous.  But ever since I have had him I have had the most dreadful luck.”

Mrs. Gouraud related that recently a Buddhist woman visited her and was “quite horrified” when she discovered how the socialite came to possess the Buddha.  The visitor informed her that she would never have any luck as long as she kept it.   To neutralize the curse, Mrs. Gouraud hung jewels on the statue and burned incense in front of it.  “But it was no good, so I am taking him back.”

The wealthy woman admitted to the journalist that she just might not return to the Seymour Hotel after her trip.  “Of course I will not remain in India long.  I am considering a permanent residence in Paris.  The people know how to live there—how to get more out of life.  The Orient is glorious, but next to it I think I love France.”

Whether the Buddha-stealing Mrs. Gouraud returned on not, the Seymour continued to fill with wealthy and interesting residents.  In 1912 State Senator John Godfrey Saxe lived here and in 1916 dancer Maud Allen was here.  That year The Evening World remarked that “Few dancers have met with Miss Allen’s success.  Seven monarchs have been her friends—King Edward VII, the Czar, the King of Portugal, the Kaiser, the King of Spain, the Emperor of Austria and King Albert of Belgium.”

At the same time the Russian Baroness de Beckendorf, wife of a Russian army officer, had an apartment here.   As the United States edged closer to involvement in the world war, she held a press conference in her rooms on July 30, 1916 declaring that German chemist C. L. Wettig had attempted to kill her husband, the Baron Beckendorf, before he returned to the Russia army and that he had stolen $1,000 of jewels from her.

“Why that man has even said that I was a German spy,” she exclaimed.  “And to think that only a few months ago I nursed him in my own apartment while he was ill.”

The handsome and popular silent picture actor Robert Harron lived in the Seymour Hotel in 1920.
In 1920 young motion picture actor Robert Harron had come a long way from his childhood home in Greenwich Village.   Called by the New-York Tribune “one of the best-known moving picture stars,” he had appeared in leading roles in D. W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation,” “Intolerance, “Hearts of the World” and other productions.  The handsome leading man was unpacking a trunk in his apartment in the Seymour Hotel on September 1 when a revolver fell from the pocket of a coat.  The weapon fired as it hit the floor, sending a bullet into the actor’s chest.

Five days later, at the height of his career, the dashing actor died of his wound.

The once-magnificent midtown hotels suffered in the latter part of the 20th century as new, modern hotels and apartment buildings left them dowdy and somewhat seedy.  On January 19, 1981 New York Magazine remarked about the Seymour Hotel.  “An AAA sign hangs out front, and, inside, the dim lobby and corridors—with the obligatory red carpet—give off a sense of better days gone by…Not as Spartan or desperate as some, it’s just…cheerless; call it a 4 on the Depression Scale.”

On 45th Street, the brick and limestone facade has been replaced with glass and steel -- photo by Alice Lum
While some of the old hotels—like the Royalton—were reclaimed with multi-million dollar makeovers; it was not to be for the Seymour Hotel.  In 2000 it was demolished, replaced with the soaring 30-story Sofitel which, almost ironically, has its main entrance at the skinny little plot on West 44th Street.
The thin 44th Street side is now the main entrance to the new hotel.  Next door the last 19th century carriage house on the block still holds on -- photo by Alice Lum