Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Francis Key Pendleton House -- No. 105 East 35th Street

photo by Alice Lum

As commerce inched closer to the fashionable residential neighborhoods of Manhattan in the first half of the 19th century, developers rushed to create new ones further north.    By the 1840s what had been the farmland of Robert Murray, roughly running from 33rd to 39th Street and from Lexington to Fifth Avenue, had been cut into building plots.  There was no longer any trace of the old Murray estate.

In 1847 the Murray heirs placed restrictions on the building plots, forbidding all but residential construction and ensuring a high-end neighborhood of genteel homes.  Among the first to build speculative homes here was attorney Henry H. Butterworth.

Butterworth owned the four plots stretching from No. 105 to No. 111 East 35th Street.  In 1853 he contracted builders Washington A. and Samuel W. Cronk to erect nearly-matching brownstone-fronted residences.  The houses were completed a year later—handsome four-story structures in the latest Anglo-Italianate style.  Although they sat above English basements (accessed from the outside), the entrances were nearly at sidewalk level unlike their Greek Revival counterparts with the high brownstone stoops.  The bases were attractively rusticated and elaborate wrought iron balconies hugged the second floor windows.

Upon their completion, Butterworth sold the string of homes to the builders.  But the Cronks’ timing could not have been worse.  Simultaneously the national economy was hit with the Financial Panic of 1854; a depression that sent the new housing market into a plummet.    Although the Cronks managed to sell No. 105 to Charles B. Pratt; they were in serious financial straits and in 1857 both were sued by the Mutual Life Insurance Company of New-York.

Pratt lived in the house only until 1859.  It was most likely at some point in the second half of the century a modest mansard roof was added.

By 1885 the house was owned by lawyer Francis Key Pendleton and would be scene of tremendous sadness.   The Ohio-born Pendleton came from an illustrious family.  His mother was the daughter of Francis Scott Key, author of lyrics to the “Star Spangled Banner,” and the niece of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney.   Pendleton’s father, George H. Pendleton, had served several terms as Representative in Congress, had been candidate for the Vice-Presidency on the McClellan ticket in 1861, and was a United States Senator from Ohio from 1879 until now.  He currently held the position of Minister to Berlin.

In June 1885 Francis Key Pendleton married Sallie Marie, whom the Belmont Chronicle in St. Clairsville, Ohio called “the descendant of an aristocratic French family.”  Indeed, Sallie was from a wealthy family of French planters in the West Indies who arrived in New York in 1811.  Her father was Camille Marie and her uncle was the fabulously wealthy Peter Marie.   (Sallie’s uncle was a committed bachelor known for his collection of rare books and art objects.  He collected miniatures of the beautiful society women with whom he became acquainted.  Upon his death the Metropolitan Museum of Art refused to accept the miniatures, deeming them “unsuitable.”)
The Washington Critic called Sallie “a leading belle in New York society.”   Along with the 35th Street house the Pendeltons owned a cottage in Newport.  A few months after the wedding Sallie became ill.  Francis Key Pendleton’s mother and 22-year old sister sailed from Germany to help nurse her.   It was a magnanimous gesture; but nine months after her wedding, Sallie Marie Pendleton died on March 3, 1886. 

New York society was understandably shocked; but Francis Key Pendleton, known as Frank by friends, was emotionally devastated.  His mother and sister remained on in the house for two months to provide support; but by the end of May were preparing to return to Germany.  Then things got even worse for Pendleton.

On May 20 Alice Pendleton and her daughter, Jane Frances, left the house to take a drive in Central Park.  They walked to Bowles & Co.’s Albemarle stables at Lexington Avenue and 33rd Street and hired a driver and Victoria.  Hugh Reilly, the driver, had his hands full with the spirited black horse and on Sixth Avenue, under the elevated railroad, the animal was frightened by a locomotive overhead.  The Sun said he “jumped, jolting the ladies on their seat, but they were in no way alarmed by the occurrence.”

When they arrived in Central Park the horse was spooked again and galloped away, taking the women on a treacherous ride.   Hugh Reilly was dragged, still holding the reins, and the panicked women jumped from the carriage.  Jane Frances landed on the grassy slope where she lay unconscious.  Her mother, whom a newspaper said “was very stout, failed and fell heavily on the concrete curb not a few feet from her unconscious daughter.”

The Sun reported “Mrs. Pendleton had been taken up quite dead on the gravel and laid on the grass by the roadside.”  Her body was taken to the Arsenal in the park and an ambulance removed Jane Frances to the Presbyterian Hospital.

In the meantime, Frank Pendleton was concerned that his sister and mother were gone so long.  He went to the livery stable where he learned of the accident.   Still in mourning over his wife, he arrived at the Arsenal at the same time as the coroner.

Two days later the open coffin of Alice Pendleton was still in the parlor at No. 105 East 35th Street.  The Sun explained “In the overwhelming grief in which young Mr. Pendleton is plunged by the recent loss of his young wife and by the shocking death of Mrs. Pendleton, no preparations whatever have been made or even considered for the funeral of Mrs. Pendleton.  Everything in the household is made to depend on the directions expected to be given by Minister Pendleton by cable.”

The newspaper noted that “Many carriages stopped at the door of 105 East Thirty-fifth street, and calls were made by sympathizing friends.”

Doctors readied Jane Frances Pendleton to leave the hospital and return to her brother’s house that day.  She suffered a concussion and “Her nose is broken, but this, it is believed, will not result in a disfigurement,” said The Sun.  The newspaper noted that she had not been informed of her mother’s death yet.

Finally on May 23 a cable was received at the house from Berlin.  George Pendleton gave instructions for a funeral service in Zion Protestant Episcopal Church on Madison Avenue and 38th Street.  Alice’s body was to be buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, next to Sallie.   The Sun reported that “A special train will leave the Grand Central Depot after the church service.Despite her concussion, Jane would be attending the funeral.

The Sun also noted that in Berlin George Pendleton had received condolences from the Crown Prince and Princess.

The shock of his wife’s death affected George Pendleton as well.  Two years later when Frank Pendleton was asked by reporters about his father’s health following a heart attack, he said “My father’s health has been better during the past winter than at any time since the terrible shock caused by the accident which resulted in my mother’s instant death in Central Park two years ago.  He has never entirely recovered form that shock, but a letter from my sister, dated April 5, just as she was leaving Berlin for Rome, spoke of him as in excellent health.”

In 1890 rumors swirled in the drawing rooms of New York regarding an impending engagement of Frank with Lizzie La Montagne.  Society was first introduced to the Parisian belle in 1886 when “with her mother and sister, spent the season at Newport and during the following winter was seen much in society in town,” according to The Sun later.

The newspaper reported that “She has spent most of her life in Paris, where her parents have a handsome residence on the Avenue Kleber.”  The rumors were “almost immediately afterward denied,” said The Sun.

The love-stricken couple was waiting to announce their engagement until Peter Marie could first be informed.   That delicate task having been accomplished by cable on December 2, 1890, the engagement was made public.

The new Mrs. Pendleton was well-received in New York social circles.  The Saint Paul Globe made note of it.  “Really pretty women in society are few.  Many women possess the knack of babbling amusingly about So-and-So’s silly hat or ‘that funny little experience on shipboard.’  Mrs. Francis Key Pendleton is building up a reputation as a woman of unusual cleverness, and hostesses are beginning to appreciate her.  She keeps the dullest dinner party in good humor and at house parties she is equally desirable…She is of French descent, and her brothers, the La Montagues, are known well in the polo field.  Mrs. Pendleton is dark and bright-eyed.  Her face is intellectual, rather than handsome.  She has the advantage of being tall and shows excellent taste in dress.”

The New York Times reported that on April 14, 1894 “Mr. and Mrs. Frank Pendleton will also travel abroad during the Summer, and will probably not return until late in the Autumn.”  In their absence the house was leased to James V. Parker.   Parker might well have saved his money, though.  The same article in The Times noted that he “will soon close his home at 105 East Thirty-fifth Street for the Summer.  Mr. Parker will travel on the Continent until the Autumn.”

The Pendletons rubbed shoulders with the top shelf of Manhattan society.  When Mrs. John Jacob Astor gave an intimate dinner on December 20, 1897 the Frank and Lizzie sat down with names like Belmont, Baylies, Whitney, Gerry, Van Rensselaer and Fish.

In 1899 Pendleton sold the 35th Street house to Willard S. Brown.  The wealthy Brown was an insurance underwriter practicing in partnership with Francis P. Burke.   Mrs. Brown, the former Gertrude Williams of Staten Island, quickly informed newspapers that she was “at home;” the Victorian announcement informed society that afternoon guests would be welcomed for tea.

In July 1903 Francis Burke died and Willard S. Brown took over the practice.  Next door, at No. 107 lived another attorney, James Marshall.  The next-door neighbors apparently got along quite well and on July 1, 1905 they formed the partnership of Willard S. Brown & Co.

The Browns had a minor scare on September 17, 1907 when they were awakened around 2:00 at their Newport summer home.   Two men were discovered trying to open a door with a heavy chisel.   The New-York Tribune reported that “A quick flash of electric lights in the house and on the piazza served to frighten the men away.  The police have found no trace of them.”

Gertrude Brown continued the tradition of upscale entertainments in the 35th Street house.  On December 10, 1912 the Browns “gave a dinner dance for some of their young married friends,” said The Sun the following day.  “During the dinner and dance that followed there was music by an orchestra of negro players.”

With the war raging in Europe in 1916 the couple’s son, Vernon Howland Brown, joined Company H of the Fourth Training Regiment.   While Brown was training in Plattsburg, New York for possible deployment abroad, his squad was locked down in quarantine because of a measles outbreak in July.

Earlier that year, in January, his mother had continued her stream of entertainments with a dinner and dance at the house in honor of Dorothy L. Norris of Philadelphia.

Late in December 1920 Willard Brown purchased the house next door from his partner, James Marshall.  The business deal provided Brown with a rental property.

Vernon Howland Brown was married to Vouletti T. Proctor on June 9, 1921.  Now alone in the house, the Browns continued their upscale entertainments, including dinners, dances and musicales.   Repeated house guests were Mr. and Mrs. Harry M. Hart of Philadelphia who were often the guests of honor at dinners here.

Willard S. Brown sold the house on May 25, 1931 to the 105 East Thirty-fifth Street Corporation.   The house was divided into luxurious apartments and among the tenants was, interestingly enough, Willard and Gertrude Brown.

Also in the house was the owner of Triest Contracting Corporation, W. Gustav Triest, and his wife and sons.  On January 7, 1932 their son, F. MacDonald Triest, married Eugenie Quist in St. Bartholomew’s Church Chapel.  Young Triest had recently graduated from Princeton and had worked in his father’s company for about a year.

The newlyweds honeymooned on the West Coast and then set off on a cross-country automobile trip back home to New York.   On the night of February 7, exactly one month after the wedding, 21-year old F. MacDonald Triest was killed when another car forced them off an embankment on the Tucson-Nogales highway.  Triest’s skull was fractured.  His wife, though suffering from shock, was otherwise uninjured.

The corporation that now owned the Victorian house gave it a major update.   The façade was covered in stucco, obliterating the first floor rustication.   New entrance and window enframements included foliate keystones.  But the most dramatic change came in the form of sculptural plaques and statuary that lent an eccentric Mediterranean feel to the structure.

With its 1930s facelift No. 105 stood out on the reserved block.  Note the ornate window guards at the second floor.  photo NYPL Collection
On November 29, 1940 Willard Brown died at the age of 70.  His firm had become the Northern Insurance Company of New York.   His nearly half century of living in the neighborhood was reflected in his position as treasurer of the Murray Hill Association as the time of his death.
Marble plaques of frolicking cherubs adorned the facade -- photo by Alice Lum

Although in 1947 the Department of Buildings still listed the property as a “one family dwelling,” it was most certainly not.  In the late 1940s through the ‘50s Picture Magazines, Inc. was here, publishers of pulp magazines like Hit, Laff, Mr. and Famous Police Cases.  Laff Magazine advertised in 1947 for “photos of girls or photos of unusual new interest for which they pay $5.00 each upon acceptance.”

photo by Alice Lum
From May 1951 through September 1953 BIP Comic publishers was in the building, during which time it produced comic books like Atomic Attack, Gunsmoke and Youthful Romance, among others.   At the same time the Advertising Club had its offices here.

There were still apartments on the upper floors and newspaper man Robert B. Parker lived here in the early 1950s, until his heart attack and death in an East Side restaurant in 1955 at the age of 48.  At the time of his death the veteran foreign correspondent was United Nations bureau chief for The New York Daily News.
In 2005 the house was converted to four apartments.   The unconventional 1930s façade with its plaques and amazingly-surviving statue is delightfully out of place and eye-catching.

Among the row of once-identical homes, No. 105 begs for the spotlight with its unusual 1931 makeover -- photo by Alice Lum


  1. Lizzie la Montagne was grand-daughter of Thomas E Davis and Anne Power. Thomas E Davis was a property developer in New York from about 1830. Created New Brighton, and Federal style houses on East 8th Street, called St Mark’s Place. Others included Carroll Place, on the block from Thompson Place to Laguardia Place. Lizzie's cousins included playboy Frederick Gebhard (lover of Lillie Langtry) and his sister Isabelle Neilson. Her daughter married Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt II. Many other cousins married into European aristocracy. An uncle of Lizzie was John F A Sanford, involved with landmark court case Dred Scott v Sandford [sic].