Saturday, July 26, 2014

Janes & Leo's 1899 Row at Nos. 301-307 W 105th St.

Along with the commission to design The Alimar, an exuberant seven-story apartment house on West End Avenue, developer Hamilton M. Weed gave architects Janes & Leo the job of designing four abutting homes around the corner at Nos. 301 to 307 West 105th Street.  By 1898 the Upper West Side vied with the most fashionable neighborhoods of Manhattan as upscale homes rose on its streets and massive mansions were built on its avenues.

As was The Alimar, the houses were completed in 1899.  The architects created an ensemble of high-end American basement homes which were unafraid to announce they were intended for the wealthy.  The stone bases of all four extended to the property line; but only No. 301 continued straight upward—possibly because of the party wall of the Alimar next door.  Nos. 303 to 307 stepped back, allowing for bay windows, balconies and a bowed front on No. 307.  Perhaps for visual balance, Janes & Leo perfectly matched the center homes while treating the end structures individually but harmoniously.

Within a year the upscale homes began to sell.  When Weed sold No. 301 on March 21, 1901, The New York Times mentioned “This is the second house sold out of a row of four recently completed.”  James R. Thomson was the buyer; but he resold it less than a year later, on January 17, 1902, to Thomas M. Turner.  Turner’s mortgage was $30,000—around $785,000 today.
No. 301 was the odd man out design-wise.

The following summer the Turners had a house guest, 23-year old Helen Blair of Kentucky.  Helen’s father was “very rich,” as reported in The Sun, and she was stopping on her way home from Paris.  One of the souvenirs the young woman had picked up in France was an automobile, “an electric phaeton.”  It arrived in New York on the ship with Helen.

What Helen Blair was unaware of was the newly enacted Bailey Law which required all private vehicles to exhibit “the proper tag for identification.”  And so on June 25, 1903 as she was care-freely motoring along 72nd Street between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues, Mounted Policeman McKenna stopped and arrested her.

“The policeman insisted on getting into the machine with Mrs. [sic] Blair and leading his horse after it to the West Sixty-eighth Street Station,” reported The New York Times the following day.  She was the first woman arrested for violating the new law and newspapers eagerly reported the incident.

Helen’s automobile was impounded pending her getting license plates; but there was a problem.  None of the police officers at the station knew how to drive a car.  Sergeant Tierney asked if she would mind driving it to the police stables and she politely consented.  “The spectacle of a uniformed policeman sitting in an automobile with a woman driving aroused much interest,” reported The Times.

When Helen Blair appeared in the West Side Court the following day, she pleaded innocence of the law and told the judge she had already applied for a license.  Magistrate Zeller discharged her, prompting The Evening World to run the headline “Fair Chauffeuse Freed.”

No. 301 continued to experience rapid turnover in ownership.  In September 1904 Thomas Turner sold it to Moses Harlam, who resold it to Julius C. Landon in 1905.  In the meantime real estate operator Albert Brod bought up the remainder of the row in 1901.

Of them, only No. 305 would have a long-term owner thoughout their early years.  In May 1901 Brod sold No. 305 to Albert Goldman, the Director of the Mutual Chemical Company of Jersey City and a Director of the Tartar Chemical Co.  The Goldman family consisted of wife, Augusta, and three children, Harry, Sophie and Lillian.

The Goldmans lived at No. 305 for at least 14 years.
It was apparently a forward-thinking family, for nine years later daughter Lillian was attending the Woman’s Law Class at New York University.  In 1910 the very concept of a female lawyer was shocking to most.  Augusta Goldman died in the house on August 10, 1914 and the family would not remain here many years longer.

Wealthy families continued, for years, to inhabit the row.  Until 1913 Jose R. Barrios lived at No. 303.  He was a wealthy, retired exporter of coal to Cuba and a veteran of the Cuban army.  He died of a heart attack while riding the Third Avenue streetcar on September 27, that year.  And on May 10, 1920 the owners of No. 307 made preparations to close the house for the summer.  An advertisement in The New York Herald that day read “A lady closing her house in June would like to secure country position for her chambermaid—assist waiting—whom she can highly recommend.”

By now No. 303 was home to retired broker Edward B. Stearns and his wife.  Early in December 1921 the couple traveled to Stamford, Connecticut to spend the weekend.  Edward Stearns would not return home.

No. 303 was a match to the Goldman mansion next door.

The 44-year old left the Taylor home with another house guest, 30-year old James D. Robbins, “to make some purchases.”  As Stearns’ roadster was traveling along Cove Road, it came across a couple walking alongside the road.  Joseph H. Luboky and his 19-year old wife were returning home from a movie.

According to the New-York Tribune on December 5, Stearns was “traveling at high speed.”  When Luboky heard the roar of the motor coming from behind, he tried to pull his wife further away from the pavement.  But the automobile struck the woman, throwing her 20 feet, killing her.  Both Stearns and Robbins were thrown from the car.  Edward Stearns suffered a fatal skull fracture and Robbins’ neck was broken.

The Stearns mansion was purchased by cotton broker Layden Harriss.  He was a member of the Firm Harriss-Irby & Vose.  No. 303 West 105th Street became the scene of a violent struggle on June 5, 1924 when around 1:00 in the morning Harris heard a noise and “trailed a burglar whose progress from room to room and floor to floor was indicated by occasional flashes of an electric torch,” reported The Times.

In the living room, the broker sprang upon the burglar in the dark.  He may have thought better of it after the battle was on, however.  John Bernauer had been out of Sing Sing prison for only three weeks and the newspaper said “Particular note was taken of his powerful hands and bulging shoulder muscles…Bernauer admitted, according to the detectives, that by working on the coal pile at Sing Sing and by constantly chinning himself and performing all the gymnastics that his small cell would permit, he had kept himself fit.”

Nevertheless Harriss held his own and the commotion of the fight “aroused the house and neighborhood and attracted many policemen.”  When Bernauer appeared in a line up regarding earlier burglaries, it was noted that his “right eye had been badly blacked in the fight with the cotton broker.”

Following Harriss’ death on Sunday, September 27 the following year, a requiem high mass was celebrated and his funeral held in St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

The homes would not survive into the second half of the century as private mansions.  No. 301 was the first to be converted.  On July 25, 1935 The New York Times reported that Mrs. Grace E. Gumbiner had leased “for five years a former private house at 301 West 105th Street, now being remodeled into one and two room apartments.”  The newspaper added “She has operated various furnished apartment houses.”

Five years later Nos. 305 and 307 were converted to apartments—two per floor.  And in 1946 No. 303 was given the same make-over.

Interior details have been gutted in No. 305 and the brick walls exposed--the antithesis of turn-of-the-century taste.  photo
Outwardly little has changed to the especially handsome row of homes.  Inside, misguided modernization has brutalized some of the spaces.  But Janes & Leo’s wonderful group survives as a striking reminder of the fashionable lifestyles of the Upper West Side at the turn of the last century.

A quaint Juliette balcony distinguishes No. 307.
 photographs taken by the author

1 comment:

  1. The exteriors are truly architectural gems.

    Sadly the interior of No. 305 looks like every other modern "designed" apartment in New York boring.