Wednesday, April 2, 2014

An Unexpected Survivor -- No. 337 East 41st Street


photo by Nicolas Lemery Nantel / salokin.com
In 1870, four years after the official end of the Civil War, New York City was returning to normal.  It would be another three years before the Financial Panic of 1873 brought real estate development to a near halt.  For now the land near the East River which only a few decades earlier had still been sprawling country estates was being developed with speculative housing and commercial buildings.

That year the East 41st Street block between First and Second Avenues caught the eye of two developers.  In September 1870, five months after architect John Sexton filed plans for six Italianate rowhouses along the south side of the block, developer S. S. Stevens started work on the remainder—13 houses on the north side and six on the south.  Stevens commissioned the fledgling architectural firm of Hubert & Pirsson to design his 19 homes.  Like those of Sexton, they would be Italianate in style, three stories tall over high English basements.  Faced in brownstone, they were intended for middle class families.  The homes sat back from the property line, creating generous garden areas behind handsome Italianate iron fencing.

Completed in April 1871, No. 337 East 41st Street was owned by S. J. Lazarus, who would have spent $10,000 for the new home--about $185,000 today.  He was affiliated with the Mack Brothers furniture store at No. 1029 Third Avenue.  But the home’s status as a single-family dwelling would be short-lived.

The house had a tin-covered roof and cast metal cornice -- photo by Nicolas Lemery Nantel / salokin.com
By the mid-1880s it was operated as a boarding house.  In 1884 Marie E. Flandran lived her while she earned her living teaching boys far downtown in Grammar School No. 20 on Chrystie Street.  On November 5, 1888 an advertisement in The Sun offered: “To Let—Third floor, three light rooms: private house; $16; furnished hall rooms $1, $1.25.”  The rent for the somewhat spacious third floor would equate to about $378 today.

That same year one of the residents of No. 337 was operating his mail-order business from home.  An advertisement in Leslie’s touted: Dumon’s Hair Restorer “Entirely New Discovery” Perfectly healthful and will produce luxurious growth of hair by using from one to three bottles.  Put up neatly in half pint bottles, and forwarded to any address on receipt of One Dollar, or six bottles for $5.”

Within the decade the house was returned to a single family home.  Along with Dr. Abram G. Levy here was his wife and one of three daughters—two of them had already married.  Levy was born in Boston on May 5, 1818 and spent most of his youth in the South—in Texas and Louisiana.  Educated in New Orleans, he received a medical degree but chose instead to go into journalism.

In the 1850s he moved to New York State, editing a newspaper in Port Chester.  Later he moved to New York City where he was connected with the newspaper The Mail and Bag.  The highly-literate Levy spoke seven languages fluently.

In the spring of 1897 Dr. Levy contracted pneumonia and, according to The New York Times, “a complication of ailments developed.”  He died in the house on May 2, 1897.  Two days later, at 10:00 in the morning, his funeral was held in the parlor here.

In the years following the end of World War I the far East Side neighborhoods began seeing substantial change.  In 1920 Elisabeth Marbury hired architect Mott Schmidt to transform a Victorian rowhouse at No. 13 Sutton Place into a Georgian mansion—the first domino to drop in what would become one of Manhattan’s most exclusive residential enclaves.  Elsewhere in the area blocks of old houses were upgraded with new facades and modern apartment buildings replaced outmoded structures.  By 1925 the area around No. 337 East 41st Street was heavily industrial along the river.  The French  Company embarked on an early and ambitious urban renewal project on December 18, 1925—the largest housing project ever attempted in Midtown Manhattan.

Within one month the firm purchased more than 100 buildings that covered five acres, spending $7.5 million.  Before long the French Company owned nearly all of the property between East 40th and 44th Streets between First and Second Avenues—a sweeping area that did not include No. 337 East 41st.

Construction on Fred F. French’s “human residential enclave” began in 1927.  He envisioned “tulip gardens, small golf courses, and private parks,” intended for the middle class.  Within five years nine large apartment houses and a hotel were completed—all designed in a charming Tudor Revival style.

While construction progressed, Alexis T. Wilstrup was living in the anachronistic brownstone at No. 337 East 41st Street.   The 64-year old died in July 1930 having worked for The New York Times as a clerk for 23 years.

The fate of the stubborn survivor was in doubt on May 8, 1985 when real-estate moguls Harry B. Helmsley and Alvin Schwartz sold off their vast holdings in Tudor City.  Among the structures sold were six of the 13 large apartment buildings, two parks and No. 337 East 41st Street.

Nestling against a large apartment building and abutting a park, the unlikely relic is a single family home again -- photo by Nicolas Lemery Nantel / salokin.com
Perhaps because of its relatively small footprint—allowing little option for development—the little house endured.  In 1990 it was converted to a single family residence once again.  Although the brownstone has been painted grey, the exterior is virtually untouched.  The Italianate fencing, the railings of the stoop and even the Victorian double entrance doors survive—the last remaining sliver of a time when this block of East 41st Street bustled with middle-class families.

5 comments:

  1. What a phenomenal relic that developers have overlooked. Beautiful property

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  2. I love it, but I have a feeling the house wouldn't be nearly as attractive to me if it weren't for the unusual location and setback. But then I've always wanted to build a tall brownstone rowhouse in the middle of a field in the country.

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  3. I live in Tudor City, and have been fascinated by this house for years. It's locally known as 'the haunted house', because nobody has seen anyone coming in or out, or the lights being on - even the curtains remain in the same position!
    Does anyone know if this is still a one-family home, or have any info about it since the 1990s?

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  4. I want this house. I walk past it every morning and I finally decided to google it. I wonder who owns it and how much it's worth and if they'll ever sell...

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