Friday, November 22, 2013

The Uneasy Marriage of Styles at No. 30 East 74th Street

photo by Alice Lum

In the first years after the end of the Civil War, before the arrival of the marble and limestone mansions of the city’s wealthiest citizens, developers lined the blocks off upper Fifth Avenue with rows of carbon-copy rowhouses.   Central Park, now nearing completion, was a selling point for the potential merchant class  homeowners.

Winters & Hunt were among the speculators transforming the rocky landscape into regimented blocks of homes.  In 1870 they commissioned brothers David and John Jardine to design a row of eleven Italianate brownstone-clad houses—Nos. 30 through 50 East 74th Street.  The firm, D & J Jardine, was busy at the time designing similar groups of homes throughout the city.

This row, a block away from the park and just east of Madison Avenue, was not exceptional.  Four stories tall above high English basements, the houses shared the unremarkable architectural elements of hundreds of similar structures built around the same time.  One of them, however, would flex its individuality a few decades later.

Anchoring the western end of the row was No. 30.  By the 1890s it was being operated as a boarding house for upscale, respectable residents.   It was owned by the retired manufacturer and dealer of knit goods, Martin J. Weil.  The German-born immigrant had arrived in New York in 1852 at the age of 14.  Weil and his wife Malvina, had six children and the aging couple lived here with their boarders.

In 1895 The Chironian, a newsletter published by students of the New York Homoeopathic Medical College, announced that graduate Dr. H. Everett Russell had moved into the house along with his practice.   The well-heeled physician would live here through the turn of the century and his comings-and-goings during the summer social season would be noticed.  In 1902 The North American Journal of Homoeopathy reported that “Dr. H. Everett Russell, of 30 East 74th Street, will be at Squirrel Inn, Haines Falls, NY from July 1 to September 25.”

Another boarder at the time was Miss Josephine E. Stone, a teacher in a nearby public school.

On October 7, 1901 Martin Weil died in the house at the age of 63.   Two months later, on December 11, Malvina sold the house.    Sometime before the house changed hands again, in 1905, Dr. Russell moved to the northeast corner of Bedford and Morton Streets in Greenwich Village.

The newest owner was George E. Marcus.  Marcus was a partner, with his father and brother, in the exclusive Marcus & Co. jewelers at No. 544 Fifth Avenue that The Sun deemed “a famous jewelry house.”  The newspaper noted that “His knowledge of art was used to great advantage in the business.”

Marcus & Co. created high-end items like this art nouveau wine cooler.

The days of taking in boarders were over.  Marcus moved into the house with his wife, Anna, and their son Herman (who would later be better known as Peter).  By now the neighborhood was one of high-end residences and modern mansions.   Wealthy homeowners often either razed their Victorian brownstones to replace them with more stylish residences; or simply remodeled them to reflect the current architectural fashions.

On September 8, 1906 The Sun reported that Marcus had filed plans for “a two story bay extension in the colonial style for the four story residence…at No. 30 East Seventy-fourth street.”  The newspaper noted that the cost would be $5,000—about $95,000 today.

Marcus hired architect George A. Glanzer to design the addition which in no way could be described as “colonial.”   Unlike most renovations in the neighborhood which obliterated the old brownstone facades; Glanzer left the top two stories untouched.  He lowered the stoop and disguised the first two floors with a neo-Gothic addition.  Red brick laid in Flemish bond was trimmed with brownstone quoins, carved eyebrows terminating in gruesome faces, and bandcourses.  Apparently both the Marcuses and their architect hoped no one passing by would look up.
Brownstone quoins and trim accented the red Flemish bond brick, creating a charming update -- photo by Alice Lum

The Marcus family summered at the fashionable cottage community at Moose Head Lake, Maine and entertained through the winter season in the 74th Street house.  In April 1909 Herman’s engagement to Francesca Steele Butler of Washington D.C. was announced.  Soon George and Anna would be alone in the house with their staff of servants.

In 1911 the Marcuses completed another renovation when they added the picturesque second floor oriel with its intricately-designed multi-paned windows and quatrefoil-carved brownstone panels.  The artistic addition greatly improved the visual appeal of the house—although the starkly incompatible upper floors continued to be the house’s sore thumb.
The delightful oriel window was a second thought.  The original Victorian facade looks down from above.  -- photo by Alice Lum
The summer of 1914 was a particularly satisfying one for George.   On August 2 The Sun reported on the goings-on at Moose Head Lake saying, “Golf matches, power boat racing and dancing have surpassed all other interests here and the large influx of new arrivals has made this the liveliest week of the summer.  Each evening the Mount Kineo is gay with the younger set who dance, while the dansant at the Moose Head Lake Yacht Club has given an attractive feature to the summer life.

“To George E. Marcus of New York belongs the honor of breaking the amateur 18 hole record for the Kineo links, a seventy-five made in a medal play competition.  A crowd watched the hardest struggle ever seen in match play on these Northern links.”

The summer resort where he enjoyed his golfing triumph would become the scene of his death three years later.   George went to Moose Head Lake alone “for a short vacation” on Saturday July 28.   Three days later he decided to take a swim in the lake.  “It is supposed that while swimming he was seized with an attack of heart trouble and drowned before help could reach him,” reported The Sun on August 3.

Violent storms that rolled in later that day took down the telegraph lines, so the family could not be informed of the tragedy until two days later.   At 9:00 in the morning on August 3 Marcus’s body arrived in New York by train and his funeral was held that afternoon at the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church.  His obituary reflected Herman’s name change, “he is survived by his wife, who was Miss Anna R. Hand, and one son, Peter.”
Somewhat fearsome faces flank the entrance and parlor window -- photo by Alice Lum

Anna left the 74th Street house, leasing it with all her artwork and furnishings for the winter season to Henry R. McLane, of Millbrook, New York.  She would continue leasing the residence, and the following year Mrs. Warren Kinney used it for the season.

Before long son Peter Marcus lived in the house.   An established artist, while here he endeavored to execute a series of paintings of Manhattan buildings which he brought together in a book titled New York The Nation’s Metropolis.   In its introduction J. Monroe Hewlett, the President of the Architectural League of New York, said “Peter Marcus is a painter not an architect, but he is also a designer experienced in the goldsmith’s craft and there is evident in these charcoal studies a pleasure in the delineation of the tracery of bridge cables and trusses, derricks, scaffolding and electric signs, that in contrast with his broad and greatly simplified expressions of architectural form and detail, adds vastly to the eloquence of his work.”

The year that the book was published, in 1921, Peter moved to Stonington, Connecticut where he died of a heart attacked on June 8, 1934 at just 44 years old.

On January 18, 1923 banker S. Barton Chapin purchased the Marcus home for $61,500.  He quickly turned a profit on the property, selling it in November for $70,000 to Colonel Lloyd C. Griscom “for occupancy,” according to The New York Times.

Griscom came to East 74th Street with a broad and impressive political background.  He had served as Secretary of the United States Legation at Constantinople at the turn of the century; held the posts of American Ambassador to Italy, Minister to Persia, Japan, and Brazil, and in 1910 was the President of the New York County Republican Committee.  In 1919 he was made Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George at Buckingham Palace by King George for his service in World War I as liaison officer on the staff of General Pershing.  His far-flung interests by now included publishing several Nassau County Long Island weekly newspapers, studying painting with John Singer Sargent, and within a few years he would collaborate with John McGowan on a play, Tenth Avenue.

On September 17, 1929 the widowed 56-year old announced his engagement to Audrey Margaret Elizabeth Crosse, daughter of Marlborough Crosse of Southsea, England.  The wedding took place on October 3 at Marston Trussell Hall, Leicestershire.
photo by Alice Lum
In 1932 the Griscoms built a spectacular country home in Syosset, Long Island called Huntover Lodge, on a 54-acre estate.  When the house was completed they left East 74th Street for good.  In 1938, the year that Huntover Lodge including Georgian paneling and rare prints and manuscripts burned to the ground, Mrs. Grace T. Lapham leased the house on East 74th Street.

In March 1950 the Harab Realty Corporation purchased No. 30 East 74th Street and two months later announced plans for altering it into apartments.  Before the end of the year there were eight apartments in the building as well as an office.
photo by Alice Lum
Today the basement level office is a retail store and there are still two apartments per floor above.  The Marcus’s neo-Gothic addition remains an especially charming addition to the block; yet one still has to wonder why they stopped at the second floor.

1 comment:

  1. While the rows and rows of 19th C. brownstones which occupied street after street in Manhattan are often referrred to as endless boring rows of dull brown row houses, one only has to venture to Brooklyn neighborhoods like Clinton Hill, Fort Greene, Bedfird Stuyvesant, Carroll Gardens, etc, to see how beautiful a neighborhood can be which mostly consists of rows and rows of uniform brownstones and row houses.