|photo by Alice Lum|
Charles F. Rogers got into the act with plans for another grand apartment building across Central Park on Madison Avenue. Rogers was the son of sculptor John S. Rogers who was responsible for filling middle-class Victorian parlors country-wide with affordable and popular plaster groupings—Civil War soldiers returning home, a boy mourning his dead dog, lovers wooing, for instance. They were the 19th century equivalents of Norman Rockwell prints executed in plaster.
Although plans for his new structure were filed in May 1906, Rogers did not secure the property until nearly a year later. He organized the Park View Company and on March 2, 1907 The New York Times reported on the purchase of the All Soul’s Church of which Rogers was a member. The newspaper said that the organization intended “to improve the site with a ten-story house-keeping apartment house.”
A year earlier the architectural firm of Harde & Short had completed an eye-catching apartment house nearly 20 blocks north called the Red House. The red brick and white terra cotta building dripped with neo-Gothic ornament, causing The Real Estate Record & Guide to deem it “a departure from the usual.”
Rogers apparently approved of the departure, for he commissioned Herbert Spencer Harde and Richard Thomas Short to design the Park View Apartments. Completed in 1908, the $1 million structure was reminiscent of the Red House in its decoration; taking it to the edge without stepping over.
|The Parkview towered over the brownstone rowhouses of the neighborhood. First floor apartments were protected by a wall and the centered entrance defined the corner -- photo from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York|
As with the Red House, Harde & Short draped intricate Gothic screens like rows of lace around the building and used multi-paned windows to capture the historic period. The façade of the Park View was as much glass as it was masonry—a remarkable feat in 1908.
|photo by Alice Lum|
The prominent rounded corner served as the entrance to the building, which quickly dropped the name Park View in favor of the address—777 Madison Avenue. There were just two apartments per floor, with either 12 or 14 rooms, and the building quickly filled with important business and society names.
Among the first residents were Henry W. Poor and his wife, the former Constance E. Brandon. Poor was a publisher and financier; the President of Poor’s Manual of Railroads, Publishers; a Director of the Postal Telegraph-Cable Company of Texas; the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railway Company; and the United States Casualty Company.
|photo by Alice Lum|
Herman Behr was an early resident. He and his wife moved in with their unmarried son, Karl. Although Karl was an attorney with an office at No. 40 Wall Street, he was best known as one of the foremost tennis players in the country and had been a member of one of the Davis Cup teams. Both of Herman Behr’s sons had made names for themselves in sports. Karl’s married brother, Max, who lived in Morristown, New Jersey, was a well-known golfer.
In November 1911, young Karl sailed off to Europe “on a pleasure trip,” according to the Newark Evening News. Six weeks later the wealthy athlete headed home, boarding the new R. M. S. Titanic in Southampton, England.
On April 16 The New York Times listed Karl Behr as among the missing on the doomed ship. Then later that same day the Behr family received a telegram notifying them that Karl “was among the passengers saved.”
Among other survivors of the disaster was the pregnant Madeleine Force Astor, wife of John Jacob Astor. Prior to their marriage she had been unsuccessfully wooed by Nils Florman who claimed to be a descendant of Swedish royalty (although he was making a living as a jewelry salesman at the time). The New-York Tribune later noted “but investigation of the Florman family tree was said to have revealed that it was not all the young jewelry salesman represented it to be.”
Florman was also “attentive to Miss Katherine Force,” Madeleine’s sister; and became engaged to Helena Stallo, joint heiress with her sister to the millions left by Standard Oil magnate Alexander McDonald. The engagement, according to the Tribune, “was broken by Miss Stallo.”
In 1914 Florman turned his attention to the 19-year old heiress Olga V. Kohler. Olga’s father, Charles Kohler, was a wealthy piano manufacturer and owner of racing stables. He had died leaving his three teen-aged daughters and widow a fortune of more than $4 million. Olga received a $25,000 per year income (nearly half a million today). Her father’s will provided another $100,000 to be paid when she reached 25, 35 and 45 years of age.
Olga fell for the smooth-talking Swede and on April 5, 1914 the couple was married in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The Washington Herald reported that the marriage “amazed society.” The pampered and entitled teenaged bride sailed off to Europe for the honeymoon. Unfortunately, war broke out while they were touring Wiesbaden, Germany, and the newlyweds were trapped for a time. “When the Flormans did get away it was without baggage valued at $3,000,” said the New-York Tribune.
The teen-aged Olga had trouble budgeting. Upon their return to New York she took an apartment at No. 777 Madison Avenue, paying $5,000 a year rent. She then spent $20,000 to furnish the apartment. And she was pregnant. Once the baby arrived, Olga was in a financial pinch.
Now, 20 years old, she raised eyebrows of working Americans nationwide when she applied to Surrogates’ Court on June 25, 1915 saying her $25,000 annual stipend was insufficient. The Tribune reported “It is impossible for her to take care of the baby, maintain her $5,000 a year apartment at 777 Madison Avenue, her summer cottage at Sands Point, Long Island, and employ nurses, maids and chauffeurs on that amount, she asserted.”
Olga pointed out to the court that her son, born on January 18 was a “large item of expense.” The Tribune report dripped with sarcasm. “His advent required the engagement of a trained nurse and an ordinary nurse to wheel the perambulator and shake rattles before his scowling features when he was ill tempered. And to wash and dress the youngster, Mrs. Florman found she could not do without a special maid.
“And then, of course, Mrs. Florman must have her own maids. The rent must be paid, too, not only on Madison Avenue, but at the summer cottage on Long Island. Three servants besides the chauffeur are required at the Sands Point home. For servants alone Mrs. Florman pays $2,000 a month, she asserts.”
|Resident Olga Florman found herself in a financial bind in 1915 -- New-York Tribune, June 26, 1915 (copyright expired)|
When Max Loewenthal purchased No. 777 Madison Avenue on November 12, 1921, the New-York Tribune called it “one of the finest on the East Side” and mentioned among its tenants “Mrs. Jane L. Armour, Goelet Gallapin, Harrison Williams, Leonard M. Thomas and Walcot C. Lane.” Also in the building was eminent astronomer Joel Browne Post and his family.
That year Constance E. Poor died and her apartment was taken by Stephen H. P. Pell and his family. The arrival of the Pells would begin a succession of high-profile events. Mrs. Pell was highly involved in human rights causes and hosted meetings of the National Woman’s Party here. She was the group’s National Finance Committee and traveled to Washington to “call on President Coolidge on Feb. 15, the birthday of Susan B. Anthony, to ask his support of the equal rights amendment,” according to The New York Times on January 23, 1927.
Stephen Pell had served in both the Spanish American War, receiving the Sampson and Spanish War medals; and in the First World War in which he was severely wounded, earning him the Croix de Guerre from the French Government. Two weeks before his wife announced her upcoming trip to see the President, the French Government conveyed another tribute on Pell.
Fort Ticonderoga, built by the French military in 1755 and crucial in the French and Indian War, stood on Pell property. Stephen Pell commissioned architect Alfred C. Bossom to head a restoration of the fort and he established a museum on the property. The French conferred the Legion of Honor on him for his work on the fort on January 5, 1927.
Residents Mr. and Mrs. Williams took the prize for the social coup, however, when on September 18, 1924 the Prince of Wales arrived for “a light meal.” The Times noted that the Williams home was in “a large apartment house.”
Following supper, the Williams accompanied the Prince to the Gaiety Theatre. Purposely entering after the play had begun, they were unseen in the dark “and he went in unnoticed,” said The Times. No doubt to the frustration of Mrs. Williams, after each act concluded, the Prince left his seat with his companion, General Trotter, “and went to the steps leading into the aisle along the wall. There they stood until the house was darkened again and the curtain went up once more. No one in the audience had seen them.”
Only when the newspapers hit the streets the following morning could Mrs. Williams bask in the attention.
Carlisle J. Gleason and his family were living here in 1926. It was a notable year for the Gleasons for several reasons. Daughter Louis was married in East Hampton, Long Island in July to the dashing Lieutenant Frederic Stanton Withington, Jr., of the Navy in a small stone church. The reception was held in the Gleason summer estate, Greyshingles.
Later that year Gleason employed Terence Stuart to clean the many windows of the Madison Avenue apartment. The 28-year old specialized in high-end residences and also cleaned the windows of Mrs. Mary Crimmins at No. 157 East 63rd Street. Stuart turned out to be as good at cleaning out jewelry chests as he was cleaning windows. Unknown to the millionaires, a teen-aged Stuart had been convicted and sentenced to serve from five to ten years for his part in a hold-up in 1919. “He escaped a year later from Clinton Prison, was recaptured and sent back, but was released on parole” in 1925, reported The Times.
After he left, Mrs. Crimmins found she was missing $25,000 worth of jewelry, including a pearl necklace worth $3,000. Carlisle Gleason had lost $20,000 in jewelry. Stuart found himself going back to prison, now, with a new ten-year sentence.
|Harde & Short would, no doubt, have disapproved of the window air conditioners--photo by Alice Lum|
On February 22, 1928 Jane Livingston Armour died of pneumonia in her apartment here. The wealthy widow of Herman Ossian Armour of the Chicago packing firm Armour & Co. was 83 years old. Her passing was symbolic of the end of an era in the Parkview apartments.
By now retail stores along Madison Avenue were commanding high rents. That year the building owners commissioned Thomas & Churchill to alter the street level, moving the entrance to No. 45 East 66th Street. The sidewalk level was now converted into store space.
Surprisingly it was not the Great Depression, but World War II that signaled the end to the grand, expansive apartments. The restrictions of the rent control laws that came into effect during the war could be circumvented only by subdividing the apartments. From 1948 to 1953 vacated apartments were dissected, becoming two. The building was modernized by removal of most of the lacy terra cotta screens of the 6th and 10th floors.
Two decades later the building was threatened when owners Bing & Bing sold the venerable apartment house to Sigmund Sommer in 1973. Sommer’s idea of improvements included the installation of fluorescent tubes in the hallways and firing the elevator operator in favor of automatic controls.
The residents revolted. Rent strikes and demonstrations resulted in Bing & Bing reacquiring the building in 1977, the same year it was designated a New York City landmark.
A decade later No. 777 Broadway was converted to cooperative apartments. Vincent Stramandinoli was commissioned to head a restoration of the façade, including replacement of the lost terra cotta elements.
|Sunlight pours in through the expansive glass -- photo by Alice Lum|
Harde & Short's wonderful turn-of-the-century structure, considered by some their masterpiece, emerged from the restoration a fantastic relic of early 20th century luxury living.