Monday, October 26, 2015

The Lost Chatham Court -- No. 75 Central Park West





photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
At the turn of the last century large and flamboyant apartment buildings were appearing on the Upper West Side.  The sprawling apartments were intended to mimic private homes, with servants’ areas, libraries, and in some cases, even “hat closets” to accommodate the many large hat boxes of the lady of the house. 

On September 15, 1901 the New-York Tribune noted “Since the introduction in this country of the ‘French flat’ system, the improvements have been of a nature that removes the ‘American apartment house’ to a sphere far beyond anything that France has known.  Year by year the luxury increases, until the apartments now building are veritable palaces.  Indeed, they have comforts and conveniences that few European palaces can boast.”

Many of these took their architectural inspiration from Paris, giving Broadway and Central Park West a touch of the Champs-Elysses.  Among these was Chatham Court, at the northwest corner of Central Park West and 66th Street.  Seven stories high and capped by a high, spiky-crested mansard roof, it was touted as “of the French Renaissance style of architecture.  Red brick and limestone worked together to provide a handsome contrast of color and material.   Beaux arts balconies, French ironwork and scrolled brackets frosted the building like a cake.

Chatham Court was the project of developers Dally & Carlson.  As their $650,000 structure neared completion on June 16, 1901 the New-York Tribune commented on its amenities.  It said the building was among “the more notable examples of new West Side structures which possess considerable architectural beauty” and that it “promises to be one of the most ornamental structures facing Central Park.”

The smallest of the expansive apartments contained 8 rooms; the largest 11.   The Tribune said they “will be distinguished for the unusual size of the rooms and the ingenious manner in which they are planned.  The woodwork and plumbing appointments are to be of the most expensive description.”

Each apartment had two bathrooms (plus a servants’ bath).  There were just three apartments per floor in which residents would enjoy a large reception hall, parlor, dining room, library and other rooms.  Pocket doors provided privacy or could be pushed open “into one large suite for receptions, etc.,” as explained by The World’s New York Apartment House Album in 1901.

The World's New York Apartment House Album 1901 (copyright expired)

The dining rooms were large and formal, “finished in the old Flemish quartered oak with massive wrought iron fireplaces, Dutch stein shelf, parquet floor, etc., and connect directly with the kitchen through the butler’s pantry,” mentioned the Apartment House Album.

The upscale tenants would enjoy the latest in conveniences including cedar closets, “lighted automatically by the opening of the door,” an “annunciation system” which communicated with the butler’s pantry at the push of a button, and chandeliers “controlled by switch.”  Each apartment had a long-distance telephone.

The moneyed residents expected management-provided services, and they got them.   Twenty-four hour services included uniformed elevator boys (there were two elevators), hallboys, and porters.  Mail chutes provided the convenience of mailing letters without leaving one’s floor.

Rents were set at between $1,600 to $3,500 per year—between about $3,800 and $8,415 a month in 2015 dollars.  The high rents did not dissuade potential residents however; even to the astonishment of Chatham Court’s owners. 

During the last weeks of construction, on September 22, 1901, the New-York Tribune quoted Dally as saying “I could rent every apartment in Chatham Court inside of a week..I have never known such a remarkable demand for high class apartments as there appears to be this year.  People seem to come from all parts of the United States to live in New-York.  But why the demand for high priced apartments is so much greater this season than it has been theretofore I cannot say.”

A sketch accompanied an advertisement in the New-York Tribune on November 10, 1901 (copyright expired)

Among the first to move in was the family of  Dr. Edward Wallace Lee; and Louis Plaut, his wife, his widowed mother, and his two daughters, Blance and Hortense.  Plaut was President of L. S. Plaut & Co., described as “one of the imposing department stores in [New Jersey].”  Plaut’s store employed more than 1,000 persons.

The wealthy businessman Henry Harris Barnard lived here with his family in 1908.  Along with his involvement with the Church E. Gates Lumber Company, he was a director in several other firms, and a member of the Chamber of Commerce.  On February 10 that year The New York Times reported that he had died in his apartment two days earlier.  It soon became evident that the family had airbrushed the details of his death.

A communication from Katonah, New York was received in The Times office.  “Not until to-day did it become generally known here that the body of Henry Harris Barnard, a New York lumber merchant, had been found early Saturday afternoon at the bottom of an old well half a mile or more from the sanitarium of Dr. A. E. Sharp, where Mr. Barnard had been under treatment more than two months for nervous prostration.”

Dr. Sharp stressed that he did not think that Barnard had committed suicide, but had simply fallen into the snow-covered well on his routine morning walk.  The Coroner, Dr. A. O. Squire, was uncommitted.  “It was either a case of suicide or of accidental death,” he said.

Barnard’s son, Edward L. Barnard, lived in Chatham Court with the family.  When reporters showed up on the night of February 11, he avoided answering directly.  “I was told by Dr. Sharp that he died of exposure.  Beyond that I did not inquire, and do not know.”

Jeannette Emmons lived happily with her husband, Forest Oviatt Emmons, in Chatham Court until 1909.  The chorus girl had married Emmons in 1907.   But in 1909 she landed a part in playing on stage with De Wolf Hopper in Happyland.  She and another chorus girl, Maud Anna Thomas Emmons, found it coincidental that they shared the same last name.

Their surprise turned to anger when they started talking.  Both were married to the same man.  Maud had married Forest Emmons in 1898.  On April 29, 1909 The New York Times reported that both women were in court asking for an annulment of their marriages.  “Both went on the stand and helped each other to regain their freedom,” reported the newspaper.

One of the more colorful residents at the time was Joseph H. Gatins.  With him here were his wife and grown children.  On April 23, 1910 The Times said he “has been living in quiet luxury in the big apartment house at 71 Central Park West long enough to impress his neighbors as a man of cultivated tastes and apparently solid wealthy.  He was known as a ‘Wall Street broker,’ and was credited with being a millionaire.”

The cloak of respectability was ripped away by Federal agents on the night of April 22, 1910.   Gatin’s chauffeur dropped him off in front of the apartment building just after dinner that night.  Department of Justice agents were waiting on the sidewalk.  They followed him into the building and stepped into the elevator where they produced a warrant for his arrest.

“At first he stoutly denied that he was the man wanted,” reported The Times, “protesting so loudly that some of the tenants were attracted, under the impression that some sort of hold-up was in progress.”  Not wanting to draw more attention to himself, Gatins went quietly with the officers, still proclaiming he did not understand why he was being arrested.

In fact, Gatins’ firm was a “bucket shop.”  The U.S. Supreme Court described the term as an establishment operating under the pretense of a brokerage firm; but in reality took “bets, or wagers…on the rise or fall of the prices of stocks.”

When Gatins was formally charged with operating a bucket shop on April 23, The New York Times noted “Gatins is wealthy and lives in elegance at 71 Central Park West.”

Gatins did not let his indictment get in the way of his making money.  Four months later, he amazed the financial and legal world by suing a brokerage firm “on the ground that he had lost $140,000 because the firm by not acting on his orders had prevented him from making a spectacular coup in Hocking stock the day before that stock went to smash,” explained The Sun, later.

By 1912 Gatins was back in Chatham Court with his family; now focusing on real estate to increase his fortune.   He constructed the Georgian Terrace, described by The Sun as “Atlanta’s newest and finest hotel” and on February 11, 1912 signed the deed over to his three children.  On February 15, 1912 a headline in The Sun called it “A Million Dollar Present.”

The World's New York Apartment House Album 1901 (copyright expired)

One of the sons receiving the magnanimous gift was 23-year old Benjamin Kiely Gatins.  For a year the sports-loving young man had caused consternation within the socially-prominent household of Mr. and Mrs. G. Jason Waters.

Dorothy Philips Waters was about 17 years old when she met Benjamin.  A romance “had been rumored all Winter in society,” said The New York Times on April 13, 1912, “but was denied by Mrs. Waters.”

To separate the two, Dorothy and her sister were sent to visit their aunt, the Baroness Meyeronet Jacques de St. Marck, at Nice, just after New Year’s Day in 1912.  “It was reported that the trip was taken because of the wish of the Waters family to break off the intimacy which had led to the engagement rumors,” said the newspaper.  The relentless suitor showed up in France, however, “and the Waters girls were recalled home.”

Benjamin’s mother apparently asked no questions when, during the first week of April, he “had his motor cars and polo ponies sent to Atlanta.” 

Then, on Wednesday morning, April 10, Dorothy left the Waters’ Madison Avenue mansion carrying only a handbag.  Unknown to the family, she had stuffed it with her jewels.

Around 10:30 that morning the couple procured a marriage license after Dorothy lied about her age, saying she was 21 years old.  They were married before noon in the rectory of the Church of the Blessed Sacrament, on Broadway and 71st Street.  The elopement was a social blow to the Waters family.  “Mr. Gatin’s mother would not tell his whereabouts last night,” reported The Times on April 13.

The family of Henry E. Barnard was still living here at the time of the elopement.  Following Barnard’s death, his sons Frank and Edward took over the operation of the Church E. Gates Company.  Frank was in charge of the Oak Point lumber yard in the Bronx.

On February 23, 1912 he took a suitcase to work with him, as he planned to go away for the weekend.  That evening he started across the Legget Avenue viaduct which crossed over the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad tracks.

The Sun reported the following day “The district about the viaduct has been the scene of a number of holdups recently.”  A thug watched Barnard from behind a viaduct girder.  Authorities assumed he thought the satchel contained the company’s weekly payroll.

Barnard had made it about 75 feet along the viaduct when he saw a flash come from behind a girder only a few feet in front of him.  “At the same instant he felt the blow of the bullet as it struck his mouth,” reported The Sun.  Barnard realized someone was attempting to hold him up and he ran.

He made it to a railway shanty where he told an railroad employee, John Burke, that he had been shot.  He then collapsed on the floor.

Police arrived, as did a doctor from Lebanon Hospital.  The bullet had entered Barnard’s mouth, breaking several teeth.  Because he had never seen his attacker, he was unable to provide any description and the assailant was never caught.

The United States’ entry into World War I changed the fate of Chatham Court.  On June 16, 1918 The Sun reported that the building was to “be turned into a fine club [and] a town home for suburban folks who desire urban residences.”  The newspaper said the move “may prove a solution of home problems which the war is bound to develop.  Calls for man power and woman power to man Government operated factories and other national work are bound to sap the supply of servants, which would be a great hardship for folks who have large homes in the country.”

It added that other constraints brought on by war—reduced supplies of coal to heat large country houses, for instance—had caused people to close up their homes and move to the city.  Chatham Court would be converted to pied-a-terres.  “The intent of the backers of the project is not to make it a permanent living place for either city or suburban folks, but a town residence to be used in emergencies, just as a hotel or a club is used.  Of course this plan is subject to the developments which the way may bring in the home life of the city and its suburbs.”

The expansive apartments gave way to hotel rooms and the building was rechristened The Town House Club.  An advertisement called it “New York’s newest exclusive hotel.  Delightfully located, overlooking the park.”  The Town House Club was operated as a residential hotel, accepting both transient and permanent residents who could choose from single rooms or suites.

One of the new guests was 24-year old Mrs. Henry Eppler who told the proprietors in 1920 that she was a motion picture actress earning $500 a week.  The hefty income—about $312,000 a year today—no doubt convinced the operators that the actress was legitimate.  She moved in with her mother and her five-year old son.

What they did not know was the Mrs. Eppler bounced from one hotel to another, leaving when the rent was due.  When she left the Town House Club in August 1920 she owed a bill of $210.  That was in addition to the total of $1,000 she owed to the Biltmore, Belmont, Sherman Square, Great Northern, Chatham, Hamilton and Seville hotels in New York.  She also owed room rent to hotels in Philadelphia and Boston.

She was arrested when The Town House Club filed fraud charges.  In court she asked the judge to suspend judgment, “declaring she intended to pay all claims from expected earnings in another theatrical engagement.”

The judge was not swayed by her promises.  She was sentenced to a term of between six months to three years in the penitentiary.

The banquet rooms of The Town House Club were routinely booked by various organizations.  In 1923 Chi Upsilon Fraternity held its reunion here saying “This year we are turning the Town House…into a ‘Delta Gamma House’ for the evening.”  The same year, on February 5, the League of Women Voters held a dinner here.

In a speech that night Mrs. Lillian R. Sire, President of the Women’s National Democratic Club blamed Great Britain for America’s drug problems.  She said “England grows poppies and manufactures opium under Government supervision.”  She also turned her attention to another perceived enemy—Japan.

Mrs. Sire hinted that Japan might be sending drugs to our shores, because, she said, ‘it is easy to fight a nation of drug addicts,’” reported The New York Times the following day.

Among the permanent residents was Mrs. Babette Bachrach, the widow of Samuel Bachrach.  She and her husband were among the founders of Temple Emanu-El, the Hebrew Orphan Asylum, the Home for Aged and Infirm Hebrews, and the Mount Sinai Hospital.  She died in her apartment in July 1927 at the age of 98.

A year later, on August 1, 1928, plans to demolish the building and replace it with a 15-story cooperative apartment house were announced.  The New York Times explained “The proposed improvement is the result of advancing values in Central Park West and a new branch of the subway along that thoroughfare.”

photo https://ds4.cityrealty.com/graphics/photos/c/cpw75.01b.photo.jpg
The grand Chatham Court, not yet 30 years old, was razed.  It was replaced by masterful apartment house architect Rosario Candela’s 75 Central Park West which survives.

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