Monday, September 18, 2017

The Lost 1853 Everett House - 37 East 17th Street


When this stereopticon slide was produced, Union Square was still residential, as evidenced by the brownstone mansion next door.  (copyright expired)
Like his Gramercy Park, Samuel Ruggles's Union Square was an elegant residential enclave with four-story mansions surrounding an iron-fenced park.  In 1853 a first-class hotel, the Everett House, appeared among the private residences.

The hotel was five stories tall--four stories of brick sat on a rusticated stone base.  High end shops opened onto the Fourth Avenue (later renamed Park Avenue South) side.  Above the columned portico, a stack of grouped openings--the Victorian version of Palladian windows--rose to a gently arched pediment.

The proprietor, Hawley D. Clapp, named the hotel after "the distinguished Massachusetts Senator," Edward Everett.  Everett was among the most illustrious orators of the day and a fierce advocate of maintaining the union, earning him the nickname the "apostle of the Union"

The Everett House, like all first-class hotels at the time, provided both transient and permanent accommodations.  There were 60 suites, each with "uncommonly high" ceilings of 15 and a half feet.  The building was designed with comfort and privacy in mind.  On December 23, 1853 The New York Herald noted "The house is so constructed and arranged that the different suits of rooms are almost as retired and quiet, and free from external disturbance, as separate houses."


Clapp had focused on details.  Each of the suites included a "bathing room, with hot and cold water, a water closet, and plenty of closets for clothing and storage."  Only clean, costly coal was provided for the fireplaces.  The Herald said that the rooms "are all warmed by open grates, in which only Liverpool coal is burned, [securing] a good, pure atmosphere."

The furniture throughout was rosewood and sat upon English velvet carpets.  "The curtains of the windows, and the covering of the chairs and sofas, are of costly and beautiful material."  The New York Herald reported that "The parlor furniture cost from twelve hundred dollars to seventeen hundred and fifty to a room."  That price would be equal to as much as $56,100 per room today.  Three of the "enormous mirrors," according to the New-York Tribune, cost $7,500, or nearly a quarter of a million dollars today.

There was a restaurant in the basement "intended to be on a par with Delmonico's, both in quality and price."  Board (or the cost of food) was not included in the rent; instead families dined in their parlors, or in small private dining rooms.  Clapps stressed that they "have just what they want, at any hour they please, and pay accordingly."

Enjoying the luxuries of the Everett House was not cheap.  The most expensive suites rented for as high as $80 per week--more than $2,500 in today's dollars.  It prompted the Herald reporter to say somewhat sarcastically, "People with plenty of 'gold glistening through the interstices of their long silken purses,' who are fond of luxury and quiet, without the trouble of house-keeping, will find themselves about as comfortable and independent at the Everett House as under their own vine and fig tree."

The wealth of the hotel's residents was exemplified in a distressing incident in November 1854.   Starting around the first of the month, a deranged printer named Theodore H. Gray had been tossing acid on the expensive clothing of women leaving theaters.  When he was later caught he admitted "I first commenced throwing it on women of bad character, thinking it would benefit the community."  But quickly he took to throwing acid at New York's female elite.

On the evening of November 20 Daniel Cortman and his wife left the Everett House for the opera.  Mrs. Cortman was fashionably dressed in a silk gown and French cloak.  As they left the theater Gray rushed up and splashed "vitriol" on her clothing, ruining the attire which would be valued at nearly $7,400 today.

Along with certain European nobility, the Everett House attracted high level politicians.   When Presidential candidate James Buchanan arrived in New York on April 23, 1856, the city had already arranged rooms for him here.   And when Senator Stephen A. Douglas arrived with his family on December 28, 1858 representatives of the Common Council met them at the dock to escort them to the Everett House.

One full-time resident in 1860 drew attention for a much different reason.  Spiritualism--the belief that spirits of the dead could be communicated with by gifted persons--was widely popular.   Often the spiritualists were exposed as hoaxes, but a reporter for The New York Times was convinced by this one.

"It is really refreshing, after the numberless disagreeable and mischievous tricks which have been charged to the agency of the 'spirits,' to record one instance where they have taken a pleasant method of evincing their proximity to their earthly friends," said an article on February 28, 1860.  "The boarder at the Everett House are at present in a state of wondering excitement over sundry manifestations reported to have occurred in the family of an editor."

The article reported that one of the resident's children, a 12-year old girl, had "recently developed as a medium."  Her mother insisted that she would leave the child alone in a room, inaccessible from without, and would return to find a bouquet on the table, or a canary flying about the room--gifts from the spirits.  While the reporter was sold on the story, not all the Everett House guests were so sure.  "The matter affords an unceasing theme for the marvel-lovers at the hotel in question, though some are incredulous enough to doubt the spiritual origin of the gifts."

Another of the other permanent residents at the time was millionaire Jay Gould, who lived here at least through 1861.   The family of Samuel Clemens lived here during the summer of 1869 and two years later two high-profile guests, Mary Todd Lincoln and her son Tad, stayed in the hotel.

The Everett House was the scene of a glittering reception for Civil War General Daniel Edgar Sickles on June 30, 1869.   The New York Herald was impressed by the bipartisan (if male-only) outpouring of respect.  "Republican and democrat, radical and conservative, men of every stripe and of the highest standing in the community, were present, and had not the Committee of Arrangements decided on confining the reception entirely to gentlemen there is little doubt that the ladies would have mustered in strength and brought fresh accessions of guests to the beautiful parlors of the Everett House."

Henry Singleton was the "storekeeper" of the hotel that year; a position that involved maintaining the inventory of goods necessary to keep the hotel functioning.  On March 11 he enlisted the help of the building's engineer to help find a leak in a barrel of alcohol in the basement storeroom.

Of course, decades before the advent of electric lighting, they did so with the aid of a kerosene lamp.  It resulted in the barrel exploding.  Luckily neither man was seriously injured, although Singleton was burned about the face and his hair was singed.  But the explosion set fire to the hotel, causing $4,000 in lost stock and $1,500 damage to the building.

The New York Times reported "The event naturally created a panic among the guests of the house, who began to leave the house hurriedly, and whose excitement was not quelled until long after the fire had been extinguished."

In the 1860s and '70s the city's Democratic Party leased rooms in the Everett House for its headquarters.  In 1876 the Democratic National Committee had its home here when it campaigned for Governor Samuel J. Tilden for President.   Tammany Hall held sway over the New York Democratic organization in the late 19th century, so a particular gathering in the Everett House headquarters on March 1, 1878 was somewhat shocking.

The New York Herald reported "A conference meeting of a committee from the New York county democracy and a committee from what is known as the Everett House anti-Tammany democracy was held last evening at the Everett House, in the same rooms that were occupied in the fall of 1876 by the Democratic National Executive Committee."

from Scribner's Magazine, June 1890 (copyright expired)

As with all hotels, the Everett House had its share of scandal.  It was the scene of a shady and shocking incident in the spring of 1893.  Mrs. Minnie Porter was described by The Evening World as "a handsome, diamond-bedecked young woman."  The newspaper added "Just who she is has not yet been ascertained, but it is known that she is married and has a husband in Tennessee."

The New York Times dug up more information on the mysterious woman.  The newspaper said her husband "was a sporting man," adding "She was extremely gay and fond of wine, and she and her husband did not live happily."   Her fondness of wine was, apparently, excessive and The Evening World flatly said "her bibulous habits have attracted much attention"


Checking in about the same time as Mrs. Porter was Army Colonel David C. Houston.  Well-respected within the military community, his wife had died about 12 years earlier and he had no children.

On Sunday, May 14 Minnie Porter was carried out of the Everett House "in a dying condition" and taken to the alcoholic ward at Bellevue Hospital.  The Evening World said she "is a victim of the liquor habit."  Three days later she was still in a coma.

The same day that she was removed from the hotel, Colonel Houston vanished.  According to The Evening World, "It was said that the Colonel was acquainted with Mrs. Porter, and when she was taken to Bellevue Hospital he mysteriously disappeared."  He was later found at St. Vincent's Hospital where he had been taken "for nervous prostration" by friends.

The couple had secretly been romantically involved and their story had a tragic ending.  On May 21, 1893 The New York Times reported "The bodies of Col. David C. Houston, United States Army, who died in St. Vincent's Hospital Thursday of alcoholism, and Mr. Minnie Porter, his companion at the Everett House, who died from the same cause in Bellevue Hospital Friday evening, were taken from the city yesterday for burial."

Houston's military funeral was impressive.  "A great many military men attended the funeral, and all expressed deep regret for the death of Col. Houston, and particularly over the circumstances attending it."

The body of "the Porter woman" was taken from the morgue to New Haven, Connecticut by an aunt for burial.

A postcard, published in the 1890s, advertised suites at $21 per day.
In December 1906 the New-York Tribune published rumors that the hotel was on the verge of bankruptcy.  The newspaper recalled that "As the centre of the hotel district moved uptown, the Everett House maintained its popularity."  Now owned by the Everett House Company, its manager, William H. Parke, scoffed at the rumors, saying "the hotel had been doing a good business" and said it was clearing about $100 per day.

On December 25 The Times chimed in, remembering the hotel's impressive past.  "For many years it was the best-known hotel in New York.  The Prince of Wales, now King Edward VII, chose it as his stopping place when he visited this country many years ago, and the room he occupied is still a choice room in the hotel.  So is the room once occupied by the Duchess of Marlborough."

In 1906, other than the recent fire escapes, little had changed to the building since 1853.  from the collection of the New York Public Library.
Despite the management's denials, the end of the venerable hotel was near.  The building was foreclosed upon in 1907 and bankruptcy was forced upon the owners.   On the morning of June 16, 1908 a notice was tacked to the office bulletin board announcing that the building would be torn down to be replaced by a 20-story office building.  The New-York Tribune reported "The seventy-five guests, many of whom have been patrons of the hotel for years, looked at one another bewildered."

As The Times had done, the Tribune reminisced about the hotel's storied history.  "Prince Henry of Battenberg stayed at the Everett House and was wined and dined there, as did the Duchess of Marlborough, mother of the present Duke of Marlborough.  It was during the Civil War that the Everett House was at the height of its glory, and oldtimers say that the scenes there at balls and dinners were brilliant ones."

photographer unknown, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
The developers gave a nod to the distinguished old hotel when it named the new building The Everett Building.  Completed in 1909, it survives.

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