Saturday, November 17, 2018

The Simon Bolivar Statue - Central Park at 6th Avenue




On April 17, 1921 the New-York Tribune noted that "Bolivar Hill," a knoll in Central Park near 83rd Street and the West Drive "has been for thirty years the center of a drama which had the elements of human interest, passion, gossip of the art world, comedy, tragedy and wasted fortune, to say nothing of international relations."  It all had to do with the Venezuelan Government's frustrated attempts to have a fitting memorial to Simon Bolivar in the park.

In 1883 it had commissioned Venezuelan sculptor Rafael de la Cova to create a monument to the hero.  Bolivar is credited with gaining independence from Spain for not only Venezuela, but Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru and Panama.    The completed statue, a gift to New York City, was dedicated on June 17, 1884.  On one side of the pedestal was the single word "Bolivar" and on the opposite "Venezuela to the City of New-York, 1883."

At the time The New York Times reported "Upward of 2,000 people witnessed the unveiling of the statue of Gen. Simon Bolivar, in Central Park, yesterday afternoon, and most of them were obliged to stand patiently beneath the pelting rays of the sun."  When the drapings came off the speeches and ceremony went on as planned.  Parks Commissioner Egbert Viele diplomatically pronounced "This statue is not merely a work of art...It is a tribute of esteem from a young republic of South America to her sister in the North."

But in fact everyone, perhaps more so the Venezuelan representatives, were aghast.  Rafael de la Cora's Boliva was a stiff, comic looking figure--what was a century later termed a "monster-piece."

The 1883 statue was, in a word, hideous.  (image from a vintage stereoscope card)
Before long the President of Venezuela, Joaquin Crespo, decided that the statue was "not fitting."  In 1896 his government commissioned Giovanni Turini to execute a replacement.  Completed in 1898, it was no more acceptable.  The New-York Tribune later said "Turini's Bolivar was modeled after a statue at Caracas, a pompous figure seated stiffly on a conventional Roman horse."

The New York Times politely said "A new statue ordered from another sculptor was not altogether satisfactory," while The National Sculpture Society "flatly rejected" the ungainly statue.  It was put in place.  The Venezuelan government refused to pay Turini his agreed-upon $75,000 commission (a rather stunning $2.3 million in today's money).  The New-York Tribune remarked "only $8,000 was paid."

In 1897 the Parks Commission could abide the hideous De la Cova statue no longer and "condemned" it, as worded by The New York Times.  The stone pedestal sat empty for 19 years until on the morning of April 4, 1916 New Yorkers awoke to find a bronze grouping of hounds in place.  In the dark of night a group of about a dozen men helped William Hunt Diedrich hoist his Levriers, or Greyhounds, into place.

Park police were not amused and the following day The New York Times reported "the playing dogs of Paris were thrown ten feet to the ground and 'damaged almost beyond repair.'"  Deiderich lamented that the Parks police had treated the gift "as a pretty woman sometimes spurns a flower."

Deidrich was perhaps unaware that the Venezuelan government had plans for the pedestal.  That year it sponsored a global competition to select a sculptor for a third stab at a respectable rendering of Bolivar.  Art critic Alexander Woollcott, writing in The Delineator a few years later remarked "Venezuela wanted to place a monument to him in Central Park, particularly as a quite painful equestrian statue of Bolivar had previously been taken out of that playground and hidden somewhere by New York's Municipal Art Commission."

Twenty artists competed and the winner was surprising, indeed.  Born in Ogdensburg, New York in 1869 Sally James Farnham had no artistic training.  The daughter of a U.S. Army colonel, she had traveled throughout Europe and Japan as a child where her father took her to art museums.  At the age of 32 she was hospitalized, recovering from a long illness.  The mother of three was bored and her husband, George Paulding Farnham, a jewelry designer for Tiffany & Co., suggested she use modeling clay to while away the time.

After her release from the hospital, Sally kept up her clay modeling.  As it turns out she was a long-time friend of Frederic Remington.  She took him a figure of a Spanish dancer, asking him if it were any good.  "Well, I'll be," he reportedly responded.  "I don't know how you learned it...but she's full of ginger.  Keep it up, Sally."  And she did.

At a time when female sculptors were rare, Farnham received the prestigious commission.  She worked on the 15-foot Bolivar statue in a rented Brooklyn studio while she simultaneously went through a divorce.  She depicted Bolivar in full military dress astride his prancing horse.  The South American described the statue in April 1921 as "shown in the attitude of acknowledging the shouts of an applauding populace, a gallant figure of a soldier and a gentleman."

Sally James Farnham at work in her Brooklyn studio.  The caption reads "The largest statue ever made by a woman." The Delineator, May 1921 (copyright expired)

Five years after winning the contest plans were made for the dedication.  Art critic Alexander Woollcott said Farnham's Bolivar outshown even Anna Hyatt Huntington's Jeanne d'Arc in Riverside Park.  "But this is a loftier figure, this one of Bolivar."  He called the Venezuelan gift a "towering monument that enters the annals of American sculpture as the largest work by a woman which history anywhere records."

The dedication was to be no small affair.  On April 17, 1921 the New-York Tribune announced that "Last week the great bronze was put in place on Bolivar Hill.  President Harding has accepted the invitation to assist at the unveiling on Tuesday."

Five days earlier The New York Herald had begun reporting on the luminaries already arriving in New York for the ceremony.  Dr. Estaben Gil-Borges, Venezuelan Minster of Foreign Relations, along with his wife and three children, arrived on April 11.  On the same ocean liner were five other high-ranking Venezuelan officials.  The newspaper added that now Charles E. Hughs, the Secretary of State, would be joining the President at the unveiling along with other cabinet members.

The unveiling ceremony, on April 19, was grand.  The Presidential party was escorted from the Waldorf Astoria by United States marines, soldiers and sailors and a detachment of sailors from the Brazilian battleship Minas Geraes.   At the park a squad of New York State Guardsmen fired the Presidential salute.  Two little girls, 7-year-old Patricia Paez MacManus and her sister Mariquita Paez MacManus, granddaughters of General Jose Antonio Paez, an associated of Simon Bolivar, pulled the cords to unveil the statue.

This time there was no disappointment.  Sally James Farnham's statue was deemed masterful.  The South American wrote "The bronze horseman fashioned by Mrs. Farnham is declared by all who have seen it to be a great work of art, worthy of our great city."

The Bolivar statue became the site of annual celebrations of the liberator's birthday.  But the beloved statue appeared threatened when President Franklin Roosevelt formed his War Production Board.  On August 7, 1942 Roosevelt endorsed a program to scrap bronze statues and recycle their metal into weapons of war.

The New York Times explained "At his press conference he agreed with reporters that some of the statues and the guns used as monuments would serve a more useful purpose if junked...Some of the statues, he said with a smile, could be replaced after the war with--and here he paused to cough apologetically--something more artistic."


Art critic Edward Alden Jewell, writing in The New York Times on March 7, 1943, warned patriotic New Yorkers not to be too hasty.  "Supposing an inclusive call for scrap bronze to have been sounded, which of the hundreds of statues in our city are to be deemed of particular worth and which are not?  More simply put which are good and which are bad?"  He said "Before Art gives Mars the green light," the merits of the city statues should be weighed  Jewell compiled a jury of one sculptor; an architect; a "widely known collector," Chester Dale; a painter and himself to do just that.

The group was brutally honest in its condemnation of some statues which it said "should go into war's caldron."   Not surprisingly, the Bolivar statue passed with the esteem of the cultured and knowledgeable crew.  (As it turned out, very few bronzes were lost to the war effort.)

In 1945 Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia prompted the city to rename Sixth Avenue "The Avenue of the Americas" to honor Pan-American ideals.  A new plaza was designed in Central Park at the head of the avenue and on November 15, 1948 The New York Times announced plans had been approved by the United States State Department to move the statues of Simon Bolivar and Jos√© de San Martin to either side of its entrance.  The idea quickly became a political issue.

On September 11, 1949 Oren Root, candidate for Manhattan Borough President, railed against the project's high cost.  He saw no logical reason to move the statues and said "the amount seemed excessive and that the $495,000 might better be used to rehabilitate some school or hospital."

It created a stalemate that was broken by the Venezuelan Government.  On October 19 Parks Commissioner Robert Moses announced that Venezuela had "formally requested" the statue to be moved and offered to pay all expenses.  The $190,000 necessary to move Bolivar left the city taxpayers with a substantially reduced bill.

The second unveiling of the Bolivar statue, on April 19, 1951, was only slightly less impressive than the first.  A parade up Fifth Avenue included 3,000 marchers, 360 Venezuelan military cadets, and American and Venezuelan dignitaries who rode in automobiles.  Five bands joined in the procession as did hundreds of school children.

A crowd estimated at 15,000 pushed in to witness the unveiling.  The New York Times, April 20, 1951
But the best was to come.  The estimated crowd of 15,000 heard a message by President Harry Truman before G. Suarez Flamerich, President of Venezuela, unveiled the statue by pressing a button at Caracas, almost 2,000 miles away.


As had been the case for three decades, the yearly ceremonies on Bolivar's birthday continued for years.  One of the first important sculptures by a female artist, Sally James Farnham's monumental Simon Bolivar holds a commanding spot at the entrance to the Central Park.

photographs by the author

Friday, November 16, 2018

The Thomas and Isabelle Fowler Mansion - 39 East 68th Street




Around 1871 developer John C. Thompson erected a row of seven 25-food wide brownstone-fronted homes at Nos 37 through 49 East 68th Street.   On December 25, 1880 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that eminent New York attorney Benjamin F. Dunning had transferred title to No. 39 to "Isabelle D., wife of Thomas P. Fowler.  The transaction was listed as "gift." 


The Fowler house is at the right.  from the collection of the New York Public Library
Isabelle was Dunning's daughter, and the house was an delinquent wedding present.   On April 26, 1876 she had married Thomas Powell Fowler.   To be fair to Dunning, the newlyweds had lived in the house since their marriage; he just took awhile to transfer the title.

Born in Newburgh, New York in 1851, Fowler was the son of Isaac Sebring Fowler and the former Mary Ludlow Powell.  A lawyer, a single case in 1880 may have been responsible for Fowler's career changing directions.  He represented William H Vanderbilt in his battle for control of the Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati & Indianapolis Railroad.  In 1881, just months after moving into their new home, Fowler was elected director of the Chenango and Allegheny Railroad.  By 1884 he was a director of the West Pennsylvania and Chenengo Connecting Railroads and of the New York, Ontario and Western.  In 1886 he was elected president of the latter railroad.

Thomas Powell Fowler - The Black Diamond, January 3, 1903 (copyright expired)
The Fowlers would have seven children; daughters Ruth, Isabel, Katherine, Eleanor, and sons F. Dunning, Ludlow and Thomas.  The family maintained a summer estate, Belair, upstate near Warwick.

Fowler, of course, did not abruptly abandon his legal career.  Interestingly, he not only represented industrial moguls like Vanderbilt; but what today would be deemed a "celebrity" clientele.  On November 22, 1882, for instance, The New York Times reported "Mr. Thomas Powell Fowler, the legal adviser of Mrs. [Lily] Langtry, gave that lady a lunch yesterday afternoon at his residence, No. 39 East Sixty-eighth-street."  The world-famous actress was not the only well-known theatrical name on the guest list.  Oscar Wilde was there as well.  The Times noted "Covers were laid for 12, and the menu was prepared by Pinard.  The parlors were elaborately decorated with flowers."

A luncheon on November 23, the following year had a broad mixture of guests.  The guest of honor was London railroad magnate James McHenry and among the guests were Lord and Lady Bury, artist Albert Bierstadt, novelist Bram Stoker (best known for his Dracula, published in 1897), publisher Charles Scribner and several military generals.  The Times noted "Behind the palms in the drawing-room were placed large Louis Quatorze candelabras, lighted with red wax candles, producing a charming effect...Stub's orchestra played a selection of operatic music during the lunch, being hidden behind a mass of ferns and flowers."

The Fowlers' names routinely appeared on the passenger lists of steamships headed to Paris or London.  But while at home, Isabelle, like all wealthy wives, involved herself in worthy projects.  She was corresponding secretary for the Association for the Relief of Respectable Aged, Indigent Females in the City of New York, for instance.

As the turn of the century neared, her attention turned to her growing daughters and their debuts.  She was no doubt infuriated when the New-York Tribune inexcusably transposed her daughter's middle and last names on December 13, 1899.  "Mrs. Thomas Powell Fowler of No. 39 East Sixty-eighth-st., will give a reception at her home on Saturday afternoon next, December 16, to introduce her daughter, Miss Isabel Fowler Wilson."

Isabelle was among the socialites involved in running the Cotillion of Eighty.  Originally a dancing class for privileged young women, it grew to include country parties, dances at places like Delmonico's, and theater parties.  Isabelle routinely acted as a chaperon for the events.

The first of the Fowler children to marry was Isabel.  Her engagement to Francis F. Palmer was announced in September 1903.  The newlyweds moved into a mansion at No. 74 Riverside Drive.  She would assist her mother in receiving the guests at Katherine's debutante dance at Delmonico's two years later.  The Sun remarked on December 17, 1905 "The big ballroom was adorned with palms and flowers."

As Katherine's sisters grew into young womanhood, they slipped into their own social positions  On January 21, 1906 the New-York Tribune reported "Mrs. Thomas Powell Fowler and the Misses Fowler will hold receptions on Tuesdays, January 23 and 30, at their home, No. 39 East 68th-st."

Eleanor was the next to make her debut.  Following a reception in the house in December 1908 was followed by a dinner and theater party, "to which about forty young people were invited," wrote the New-York Tribune.

Katherine's marriage to Dunlevy Milbank in 1910 was quickly followed by Eleanor's wedding the following year.  Like her sisters, her marriage to Albert F. Maurice took place in St. James's Protestant Episcopal Church on Madison Avenue.

By now the old brownstone house, a blend of Italianate and neo-Grec styles, was noticeably out of architectural fashion.  In 1913 the Fowlers commissioned Fred H. Dodge to give it a significant facelift.  The result, a six-story limestone-faced American basement mansion left no hint of its former self.  The focus of the two-story rusticated base was not the understated entrance, but the piano nobile, or second floor.  Here three sets of French doors, set within arched openings, were faced by stone balustraded balconettes.    The nearly unadorned third through fifth floors featured exaggerated keystones which required no other ornamentation.   The sixth floor took the form of a copper-sheathed mansard behind a stone balcony which was upheld by a bracketed cornice.  Inside were 28 rooms and nine baths.

On June 27, 1915 The Sun reported that Isabelle had arrived at Tuxedo Park.  By the end of the summer season she had joined Thomas at Belair.  It was there, on October 12, that he died at the age of 64.

Isabelle lived on in the 68th Street house with her unmarried children.  She and Ruth moved among society as a pair.  On June 9, 1921 the New-York Tribune reported "Mrs. Thomas Powell Fowler and Miss Ruth D. Fowler have closed their home at 37 [sic] East Sixty-eighth Street, and are at their country place at Warwick, N.Y."  Later that season, in September, the newspaper noted they had arrived at Lenox.

F. Dunning had by now moved to San Francisco.  His brothers, Ludlow and Thomas drew little attention to themselves.  Immediately upon graduating from Princeton University in 1917 Ludlow had served in the U.S. Navy during the war.  In 1921 he graduated from New York University's Law School.  When his engagement to Elsie Larned Blatchford was announced on April 5, 1926, The New York Times mentioned that he was "the brother of Thomas Powell Fowler of that address."  The newlyweds moved into No. 39 with the Fowler family.

Entertainments in the house focused most often on charitable works, such as the annual Lenten sewing classes of the Greer Club, an organization founded in 1920 "to maintain a residence for girl students and serve as a community centre for young people of the Episcopalian faith."  It was possibly his consideration of the privacy of his family that prompted Thomas to hold his entertainments elsewhere.  When he hosted a dinner on July 18, 1928, for instance,it was held at the Ritz-Carlton.

Ludlow was a respected attorney with Battle, Levy & Newman in 1939 when he became one of several victims of scam artist Paul Finkelstein.  The 30-year old walked into the law office and claimed he could provide choice liquors at $15 a case below than the market price.  Fowler was impressed and gave Finkelstein $100 (more in the neighborhood of $1,760 today).  "He instructed the caller to deliver the goods at his up-State home," wrote The New York Times on November 4, 1939.

A few days later Finkelstein returned to the office, telling Fowler the truck had overturned, sending the prized booze onto the pavement.  But he assured him that he would replace the order, and slickly managed to increase it by another $85.  It was the last Fowler heard of Finkelstein until he was arrested on Fowler's complaint.

Perhaps not wanting his name linked to excessive drinking, Fowler gave his name as Ludlow S. Flolet, while correctly listing his 68th Street address.  At the time of Finkelstein's arrest The Times noted "The police said they learned of other victims and that the man had a 'sucker list,' in his pocket."

At mid-century the third generation of Fowlers were coming of age at No. 39 East 68th Street.  Katherine and Dunlevy Milbank sold their lavish mansion at No. 1026 Fifth Avenue and moved back into the Fowler house where they had started their married lives.  And following Francis Palmer's death, Isabel and her son, George moved in.

On January 27 1951 Ludlow S. Fowler, Jr. was married to Elinor Alice Michaelsen.  The ceremony took place in St. James's Church, where his aunts had been married and where his grandparents' funerals had taken place.  George Palmer's engagement to Elizabeth Jackaman was announced on October 9, 1959.

One week later, on October 16, Dunlevy Milbank died at the age of 81.  He left Katherine one-half of his estate, including their Charleston, South Carolina, home.  The Presbyterian Hospital received $1 million and Yale University was left a $250,000 bequest.

The following year, on August 11, Ruth Dunning Fowler died in the house where she was born 83 years earlier.  Ludlow died on April 12, 1961.  Somewhat shockingly, Ludlow S. Fowler, Jr.'s wedding took place in the house the following month, on May 27.   It was a striking breach of mourning protocol and The Times noted "Because of the recent death of the bridegroom's father, only the immediate families attended the ceremony."

Katherine was the last of the Fowlers to occupy No. 39.  On April 13, 1967 The New York Times reported "Mrs. Katherine Fowler Milbank, a patron of music and a benefactor of young working women here, died of a heart attack yesterday morning in the East Side town house in which she was born 82 years ago, on March 4, 1885."  The article added "The six-story, whitestone house at 39 East 68th Street, where Mrs. Milbank lived all her life, was a wedding present to her mother and father in 1876."  Like almost all of the religious events in the family, her funeral was held in St. James's Episcopal Church.  She and Dunlevy had donated its spire bells and carillon in memory of her parents; and the cross was a memorial to Ludlow.

In November 1967 the house was sold to attorney Roy Marcus Cohn for $325,000 cash--around $2.4 million today.  Cohn lived in the upper floors and moved his law offices, Saxe, Bacon & Bolan, into the house.  Cohn had made himself a household name as the chief counsel for Senator Joseph McCarthy during the Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954, as a U.S. Department of Justice prosecutor in the espionage trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and as corporate lawyer for a budding Donald J. Trump.

 It was not long before Cohn's name appeared in the press for unflattering reasons.  On November 23, 1968 The Times reported "Roy M. Cohn was indicted yesterday on charges of wire and mail fraud, and of conspiring to pay a state court official $75,000 to obtain favorable results in suits...A 10-count indictment returned by a Federal grand jury here also charged Mr. Cohn, a lawyer-financier, with filing false reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

When Donald Trump was charged by the Justice Department of violating the Fair Housing Act in 1973 (it alleged he "made false 'no vacancy' statements to African Americans for apartments), Cohn represented the developer in a $100 million countersuit against the Government.  It called the charges "irresponsible and baseless."  He lost the countersuit and settled out of court.  Another of Cohn's highly-visible clients was Rupert Murdock. 

Federal investigators charged Cohn three times in the 1970's and '80's with misconduct, including witness tampering and perjury.  But his real problems began in April 1986 when he was sued by the Federal Government for $7 million in income taxes, interest and penalties.  The New York Times, on April 4, said it was the climax of an "unusually long tax dispute between the Internal Revenue Service and Mr. Cohn, who has represented many well-known clients, ranging from millionaire developers to reputed mobsters."

Cohn denied he owned either No. 39 East 68th Street or his Greenwich, Connecticut country home and called the charges "a pile of baloney."  Nevertheless he was soon disbarred for unethical conduct.  Before the case could be settled, Cohn died of AIDS on August 2, 1986 at the age of 59.  Aware that his death was imminent, the embittered lawyer intended to get posthumous revenge over the Government.  Roger Stone was quoted by The New Yorker journalist Jeffrey Toobin saying, "He told me his absolute goal was to die completely broke and owing millions to the I.R.S.  He succeeded in that."



On October 15, 1987 No. 39 was sold for $3.7 million "with most of the money being held under court order pending the outcome of an income-tax case," as reported by The Times.  It was the end of a colorful chapter in the house, which continues as a single-family residence today.

photographs by the author

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The 1891 Hicks Building - 73 Warren Street



In 1890 the parish of St. George's Episcopal Church had owned the 25-foot wide property at No. 73 Warren Street for decades.  That year, on November 26, the trustees sold it to Lewis Coon and his wife, Amalie, for $32,500.  It was a significant amount, more than $900,000 today.

The title was put in Amalie's name; and the couple wasted no time.  Just three days later The Engineering and Building Record announced that architect G. A. Schellinger had filed plans for a "brick store" to replace the old three-story building on the site.  The projected cost was set at $1.1 million in today's dollars.

Completed within the year, Schellinger's six-story structure was a confusing, if delightful, mixture of styles and materials.  An elegant cast iron storefront of three arched openings graced the ground floor.  The rough-cut granite blocks at this level suggested Romanesque Revival; but the shallow capitals of the side piers included delicate neo-Classical swags.


The Romanesque Revival motif was carried on through a four-story arch and hefty undressed granite lintels.  Then Schellinger added intricate terra cotta panels in the Renaissance Revival style above the second and third floors, and Corinthian terra cotta capitals to the long piers.  The ruddy red Roman brick gave way to a quilt of Queen Anne style tiles at the fifth floor, perfectly matching in color.  Five stone pilasters at the top floor upheld what must have been an impressive cornice.

The Coons sold No. 73 Warren Street to Ratcliffe Hicks on March 23, 1892.  Hicks, who lived in Connecticut, had already lived a fascinating life.  Born in 1843, he began practicing law in 1864.  When only 23-years old he was elected to the State Legislature and served several terms.  He was largely responsible for the abolishment of the death penalty in Connecticut.  He purchased the Warren Street building, in part, to house the New York office of the Canfield Rubber Company of which he was part owner with Jared H. Canfield.

A consummate marketer, Hicks devised an innovative exhibition at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair to promote the Canfield Seamless Dress Shield.  Victorian women's garments were unforgiving in hot, humid weather, causing perspiration in the most refined of wearers.  Underarm sweat was not only embarrassing, but damaged expensive fabrics.  The rubber Canfield Seamless Dress Shield promised to solve the problem.

Sadly, according to this advertising postcard, the woman at right failed to use an underarm shield.
The Canfield Rubber Company's exhibition included two full-sized wax figures--one of Jared Canfield, the other a working girl.  They were depicted seated at a table, with Canfield explaining how the dress shields were made.  In conjunction, Hicks kicked off a startling marketing campaign.

On August 6 The New York Times reported "A very interesting feature of the exhibit is that the Canfield Rubber Company, whose factory is at Bridgeport, Conn., while its principal offices are at 73 Warren Street, New-York, offers three free Cook excursion tourist tickets to Europe and return for the best three guesses by ladies as to the number of its shields sold in the world during the year 1893, the number sold in the United Stats during 1893, and the number sold in Europe during 1893."

If the winners preferred cash rather than the trips, they would received $500, $300, and $200 in gold.  The Times added "It requires all guesses to be mailed to 73 Warren Street, New-York, prior to April 1, 1894."

The Canfield Rubber Company did not occupy the entire building,  In 1893 a floor was leased to the newly-formed printing firm of Redfield Brothers.  Founded by brothers Judd H. and Tyler L. Redfield, it would become one of the leading printing firms in the city.  The fledgling firm remained here only a year, moving to No. 25 Park Place, in the printing district, in 1894.

While Ratcliffe Hicks had his office in New York, he continued to make his mark in Connecticut.  In 1894, for example, he established the Ratcliffe Hicks prizes for students of the Agricultural College in Storrs.  The prizes were awarded annually to essay writers.  That same year, in May, he donated $5,000 to the city of Hartford for the erection of a monument to Frederick S. Brown.  He would go on to establish the Ratcliffe Hicks Industrial and Educational School at Tolland.

The well-traveled millionaire published Observations in 1900.  The book "deals in a fascinating manner with European Countries and Customs," according to a advertisement, and "has received the highest testimonials from the reading public."

In the meantime the store space was home to Dr. P. Harvey Flynn's veterinary supply store.  Unlike the rawhide bones and doggie sweaters carried by such retailers today, the products sold had more to do with the thousands of horses that populated Manhattan.  He, like his landlord had done, came up with a solution to a ubiquitous problem in 1899.

Runaway horses were dangerous, killing or injuring numerous people per year.  Flynn invented the My Little Giant Controller, a type of bit which he guaranteed to stop and control any skittish horse.  While he marketed the gadget as "completely humane," his description in The New York Times on March 25, 1899 said the horse "will not run; he cannot run; the pain caused by a steady pull is too intense to permit him to fight against it."

The Horse Review, October 31, 1905 (copyright expired)
Flynn insisted "I know that I have been saved from accident, possibly from death, while driving spirited horses, by the use of this simple contrivance."  And he urged "It is an appliance that should be on every harness, used by a woman particularly."

Around the same time Thomas Leeming & Company moved into an upper floor.  Leeming had come to New York in 1883 and formed the commission house.  The firm remained in the Warren Street building until Leeming's death in 1902.

Of Ratcliffe Hicks' several homes was an estate near Pasadena, California.  He had built the house there in 1898; but decided to sell two years later.  His advertisement for the property in April 1900 noted "For fuller description of location and advantages of La Crescenta, send for circular.  Plans can be seen at office of owner, Ratcliffe Hicks, Hicks Building, 73 Warren St., N. Y."

Before Hicks died in 1906 he had sold the building to John H. Browning and Canfield Rubber Company had moved out.  In 1907 the marine supply firm of F. S. Banks & Co. operated from the building and submitted proposals to the United States Navy's Isthmus Canal Commission.  Among the items for which the firm hoped to land contracts were hoisting chains, 16,500 pounds of "black iron chains," "yawls or row boats," skiffs and oars.

The Motor Appliance Co. of America was in the building by 1911.  Like F. S. Banks & Co., it dealt in marine supplies, like boat motors, carburetors and the like.

Motor Boating, May 1911 (copyright expired)
Through the World War I years the building saw tenants come and go, including the Page Belting Company and the Neal & Scott Co., Inc. who took floors in 1913, and the Bissell Carpet Sweeper Company which moved in in 1916.

In 1920 the property was purchased by the Carbondale Sponge Company.  The firm dealt in sponges and chamois.  It leased the store that year to the National Twist Drill and Tool Company.  Other tenants sharing space with Carbondale in the 1920's were the Supreme Printing Company on the fourth floor and F. H. Hobbs on the second.

Major change came in 1942 when Edwards Employment Agencies, Inc. bought the building.   Directly across the street at No. 80 Warren Street the large Employment Agency Center Building had recently opened.  Edwards Employment Agencies joined what The New York Times on May 19 called "the recent movement of many similar enterprises from Sixth Avenue."

The president of Edwards Employment, Stanley Knapp, announced the building would "be extensively altered to fit it especially for the concern's own needs."   The company hired the well-known architectural team of Boak & Paris to do $35,000 in interior "modernization work," as described by The Times on June 15. (The comprehensive make-over would equal more than half a million dollars today.)  Sadly, the cornice had been lost sometime before the firm's purchase of the building, replaced by a gruesome parapet.


Now called the Edwards Building, the renovated structure was formally opened on June 13, 1942.  It was one of two locations for what The Times called "one of the largest industrial employment services in the country."  The Warren Street location catered to job hunters in the "mechanical, industrial, building and real estate fields."

The employment agency would remain in the building through the 1950's.  In 1966 the Newspaper Guild of New York went on strike.  Composed of unions of typographers, or "pressmen," the strike crippled several of Manhattan's newspapers.   On June 21 the Guild's strike bulletin announced "that The Journal-American and The World-Telegram strike headquarters had been consolidated at 73 Warren Street."

No. 73 Warren Street was one of the earliest of the Tribeca loft buildings to be converted to residential space.  In 1977 a vending machine business occupied the ground floor; while upstairs were one "living-work" quarters per floor for artists.  In 1985 the description was changed to one "loft dwelling" per floor, removing the restriction of artist use.

U. S. Telecom, a computer network design firm, was in the shop space at the turn of the century.  The attacks on the World Trade Center were devastating for the company.  According to its president in June 2002, the resulting drop in business, "and damage to equipment and furnishings stemming from the trade center's destruction, had resulted in nearly $500,000 in losses."

In 2012 Mulberry & Vine signed a lease on the ground floor space.  It was described by The New York Times' Florence Fabricant as offering "self-service cafe fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner," in 2013; and Alexis Lipsitz Flippin gushed about its "tasty, healthy prepared foods" in her 2014 book Food Lovers' Guide to Manhattan.


Mulberry & Vine remains in the space. while upstairs there is still one apartment per floor.  Schellinger's striking brick and terra cotta design is a show-stopper on the street.  Its lost cornice is as lamentable as the rest is joyous.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Educators, Plotters and a Poet - 156 Waverly Place


photo via streeteasy.com
Alfred S. Pell owned substantial amounts of land around Greenwich Village in the first decades of the 19th century.  Civic minded, he was partly responsible for the development of Washington Square from a potters' field to an exclusive residential enclave by selling 2.5 acres of his land at a nominal price (reportedly giving up a potential $5.3 million in profits in today's money by doing so).  Pell died on an ocean voyage in 1831.

In 1838 his estate began selling off portions of his real estate, including eight building plots along Waverley Place (the second "e" in Waverley was dropped around the turn of the 20th century).  Lambert Suydam, former president of the Manhattan Gas Light Company, purchased the property and began construction of eight 22-foot wide homes (one of which, No. 158, would was for himself).

Completed the following year the Greek Revival houses were three and a half stories tall, faced in red brick and trimmed in brownstone.  Identical to its neighbors, the stone stoop of No. 156 rose to a muscular entrance that upheld a simple entablature.  The graceful doorway featured paneled pilasters with palmetto capitals, narrow sidelights and an ample transom to allow sunlight into the foyer.

Although the entablature has been removed; the elegant entrance is intact.

Pedimented window lintels took the design a small step above the norm; but it was the attic floor which demanded the attention of the passerby.  It was faced with a stepped wooden architrave under a frieze of bull's-eye windows encircled by carved wreaths.  An intricate leave and tongue molding run along the underside of the cornice.

George B. Powell seems to have been Lambert's first tenant at No. 156.  A well-to-do merchant, his office was at No. 123 Broad Street.  The Powells moved on early in 1852 and Suydam began looking for a new tenant and neighbor.  His advertisement on April 29, 1852 read:

TO LET--The three-story and attic built House No. 156 Waverley-place, near the 6th-av., and adjoining the residence of the owner, having bath room, gas pipes, range, &c., with other modern improvements...Apply to L. SUYDAM, No. 158 Waverley-place.

A succession of residents came and went over the next decade.  Albert N. Hayes was here in 1856 when the city published his name in the local papers for owing $6.34 in personal taxes for 1854.  And by the early 1860's it appears that there were several boarders in the house.

Charles Farley lived here in 1864.  A clerk in the Custom House, he was called to testify in the forgery case against an acquaintance that year.   He was in the uncomfortable position of explaining that while John Wilson, Jr.'s reputation was "bad," he remained friends with him for three years.

Both R. G. Hoyt and Michael Cotter lived at No. 156 in 1865.  Hoyt was drafted into the Union Army on March 17 that year.  A month later Cotter encountered problems of his own.   The Greene Street neighborhood was, perhaps, the most notorious in the city for its brothels and "vile dens."  Early in the morning of April 22 Cotter left a place familiarly known as the Smithsonian.   Three men, John H. Eddington, Charles H. Daniels and Charles S. Cowing, followed him.

Just as Cotter reached Houston Street the trio attacked.  The New York Times reported "they robbed him of a gold watch and $150 but as they were making their escape Cotter laid hands on the fellow that had the watch, and thereupon the confederates returned to aid their companion."  Not only was Cotter knocked to the pavement, kicked and beaten, but the thieves took the renewed opportunity to steal a diamond pin from his vest.  The thugs were later apprehended.

No. 156 was sold at auction in February 1866 for $10,900--about $175,000 today.  It continued life as a boarding house.  Among the new owners' tenants was John Kirby, here by 1868.  He was sincerely interested in the plight of the Irish farmers, and wrote to The Cultivator & Country Gentleman that year asking in part:

Will you...either give or say which books, &c, shall give me all information necessary to enable a part of some twelve to fifteen Irish farming immigrants, who have a little money--capital, as well as labor--to decide as to which State they had better go to...I think Iowa or Southern Missouri is a good place for them to settle in.

In the 1870's the house was home to several respectable, unmarried school teachers like Annie Dunn, who taught in the Primary Department of School No. 17; Elizabeth M. Barnes, a teacher in the Girls' Department of Grammar School No. 56 on West 18th Street; and S. Elizabeth Wandell, who taught in P.S. No. 24 on Horatio Street.

The boarding house was being operated by Mary S. Jordan when 75-year old Professor William Darling took the front parlor in January 1880.  Born in Scotland, Darling was professor of anatomy in the medical department of the University of the City of New York, and in the 1850's had been the chief assistant to Dr. John M. Carnochan, in charge of the Emigrant Hospital on Staten Island.  Darling stayed on in the house only three months; but that short period would involve Mrs. Jordan in an ugly contest over his estate in court five years later in .

Following his death in December 1884, a will was presented to the courts by Amelia Delacroiex which gave his entire estate to his "esteemed friend, Mrs. Amelia Delacroiex, of Yonkers" and appointed her as executrix.   Not everyone was convinced the will was legitimate and it was contested.

To make matters more complicated, Mrs Delacroiex had vowed that Darling had no living relatives.  On January 16, 1885 The New York Times said that Darling's heirs were "springing up to contest the will."  Among them was Catharine Lefferts, who claimed to be a long-lost daughter.

Mary Jordan's involvement had only to do with the claims of Amelia Delacroiex.  She testified to a heated exchange behind closed doors between her and Darling which she could not help overhearing.  Delacroiex, she said, had called the educator "a stingy old miser" and threatened that if he did not will her his money she would sue him for breach of promise."

Darling cautioned the woman to "keep still or the people in the house will turn us out," to which she replied "What the hell do I care for the people in the house?"  It was shocking language for a proper gentlewoman.  On the stand Mary Jordan said "It is not best to repeat what else she said I do not think."

Amelia prevailed while Catharine Lefferts's claims were struck down.  The Victorian all-male jury was no doubt swayed by the defense's description of the doctor and Catharine's true father.  "The decedent was a man of very large education and culture, occupying positions of trust; while the contestant's father was shown to be illiterate and a laboring man, and had served a sentence for incest."

No. 156 was still listed as a "private dwelling" in 1910 when it was sold to Gerhard Miller.

A tenant in 1918 brought more shocking press coverage.  The Nationalist Movement in India encouraged natives to rebel against British control.  Sailendra Nath Ghose was suspected of backing insurgent activities in his homeland.  On March 17 his rooms were raided and he was arrested.  Three days later the New-York Tribune reported "More arrests are looked for by the Federal officials in the Hindu plot to free India, which was revealed by the arrest on Monday of Sailendra Nath Ghose, a Hindu, and Agnes Smedley, his American girl companion, who were leading spirits in the proposed uprising."  The article added that papers found in Ghose's room "gave detailed information as to the plans of the plotters.

Ghose and Agnes Smedley (described later by the Tribune as "a California girl") were charged with distributing seditious books and pamphlets.  They were held in the Tombs on $10,000 bail--around $163,000 today.  On April 1 they were indicted "for alleged complicity in a conspiracy to violate the espionage act, and also for acting as agents for a faction of a foreign government not recognized by the United States."  Sailendra Nath Ghose's travails were not without reward.  He would later rise to the position of president of the Indian National Congress of America.

Two of the charming bull's-eye openings were replaced by double-hung windows in the 20th century.
Greenwich Village was the home to many of the political and social fringe; so Ghose's choice of the Waverly Street location was not surprising.  Neither was the fact that Helen Todd was leasing a room in the house by 1920.  Her outspoken--and not always appreciated--political views made the newspapers in 1921.

Called by the New-York Tribune a "champion of Russia," she attended a meeting of the National Civic Federal at the Hotel Astor on January 13.  Among the speakers were the former Secretary of Commerce, William C. Redfield, and James P. Holland, president of the New York Federation of Labor.  While Holland spoke, Helen began shouting over him, or as the newspaper worded it, she "waved a verbal red flag."

"She got action right away.  As soon as the audience heard enough of her impassioned oratory to realize that Miss Todd was rebuking Holland for his assertion that labor opposed recognition of Soviet Russia, or trade with the nation, a storm of hissing and booing broke out."

Holland quieted the audience.  "Don't hiss any woman.  Let her talk.  I'll answer her."  But he did not get that chance.  Helen stormed out of the room, yelling the entire way.  Her last recognizable words were "You have no right to refer to people as long-haired and short-haired.  You____"

At the time of Helen's outburst, Greenwich Village was well-known for its subterranean tearooms.  The basement of No. 156 had been converted to one such spot, known only by the address.  The Greenwich Village Quill published a long list of the district's hideaways, including "156 Waverly Place--Tea and refreshment, also gilded ceiling."

The most celebrated of the residents of No. 156 came briefly in 1923.  According to biographer Daniel Mark Epstein in his What Lips My Lips Have Kissed, Edna St Vincent Millay lived here that year; and at least two letters from the poet survive with the address.

In 1969 No. 156 was officially renovated to apartments--one each in the basement, first and fourth floors, and two on the second and third.  It was possibly at this time that the brownstone entablature over the doorway was removed and two double-hung windows installed in the attic floor, destroying two of the marvelous bull's-eye windows.

When famed photographer Berenice Abbott shot the doorway of No. 156 in 1947, the entablature was still intact.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
The third quarter of the 20th century saw Greenwich Village emerge as the center of Manhattan's gay culture.  Across the street from No. 156 was Waverly And Waverly, a gay nightclub.  The establishment's music and entertainment did not sit well with tenant Cheryl Fein, who lived on the second floor.

She complained in court that Waverly And Waverly was staging shows without a cabaret license.  She could see people applauding through her vertical blinds, she told the court, proving there was a show going on.  The staff and patrons of the nightclub were apparently accustomed to Cheryl's spying.  She said the bartender would wave to her from the bar.

No. 156 is perhaps the best preserved of Suydam's 1839 row, recalling a time when Waverly Place was home to well-to-do residents.

photographs by the author

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Francis F. Palmer House - 74 Riverside Drive



One alteration of which architect Clarence True would not have approved is the maw-like garage carved into the ground floor.

Clarence True was perhaps the most prolific of the Upper West Side architects in the late 19th century, credited greatly for molding the architectural personality of the district.  So successful was he that he formed his own development firm, the Riverside Building Co.  The arrangement not only increased his profits, but guaranteed complete creative freedom.

In 1898 he began construction on two rows of  upscale homes--on West 80th Street and around the corner along Riverside Drive.  As he most often did, True designed the residences in a pleasing blend of styles.  No. 74 Riverside Drive, for instance, was overall Elizabethan Revival, but wore an ornate Flemish Renaissance Revival gable, with corresponding stepped gables to the side.

The parlor level was accessed by a short stone stoop which led to a shallow portico which doubled as a balconette at the second floor.  The mellow red brick of the facade was sharply contrasted with white stone.

A close look reveals the home's original entrance portico (fourth from the corner).  from the collection of the New York Public Library

The row was completed in 1899 and No. 74 sold for $62,000 (just under $1.9 million today).  The buyer appears to have been over-optimistic about his financial abilities, however.  Less than two years later Henry G. Atwater foreclosed on both No. 73 and 74.  He was not looking for a profit when he put No. 74 back on the market on January 19, 1902.  Calling it "A new 5-story steam-heated American basement residence," his asking price was $62,000--exactly the same as in 1899.

Unfortunately for Atwater, there were no buyers.  It would be over a year before the side-by-side houses were sold.  Finally, on April 8, 1903 the New-York Tribune reported on their sale.  The article went on to say that the 25-foot wide homes "are so designed that all the rooms have windows facing Riverside Drive.  There is a deep court between them which makes this possible."

The buyer of No. 74 was Francis F. Palmer whose engagement to Isabel Fowler would soon be announced.  Isabel was the daughter of railroad magnate Thomas Powell Fowler.  The couple's lifestyle would be greatly enhanced when Palmer was elected to membership in the Stock Exchange in November 1906.

Despite their noteworthy wealth and social position, the Palmers rarely appeared in the society columns.  They lived relatively quietly in the Riverside Drive home until July 1910 when it was sold to Dr. Louis Neumann, who paid $80,000 for the mansion--just over $2 million today.

Neumann's career spanned much more than medicine.  Born in 1869 he was an 1898 graduate of Bellevue Hospital Medical School and for years served on the faculty of Cornell University's medical college.  But his passion for boating outshone his love for medicine.

In 1904 he founded Motor Boat magazine, and in 1907 had partnered with his mother-in-law, Louise N. Prial, his brother-in-law, Louis Prial, and his brother William Neumann to form the Motor Boat Publishing Company.  Beginning in 1904 he was an active member of the Columbia Yacht Club, the New Rochelle Yacht Club and the New York Motor Boat Club.  His yacht Marie was a constant entrant in the boat races on Long Island Sound.

The broad-based doctor's interests did not stop there.  He was president and treasurer of the Heinebund Singing Society and a member of the New York Athletic Club.  He filled the Riverside Drive house with his well-known collection of Chinese ivories, bronzes, and antique Oriental rugs.

Louis was not alone in the new home.  Both his widowed mother, Margaretta, and his mother-in-law (also a widow), moved in.

It was Louise Prial who was most active among society.  On May 20, 1913, for instance, The New York Times reported that she gave "a musical entertainment" for the benefit of the Children's Fresh Air Fund in the house.  And the following February she hosted "a small dance last night at her residence, 74 Riverside Drive, for Miss Frances Vollmer.  There were about fifty guests."

By now the American Medical Directory listed Neumann as "not in practice."  He focused on publishing, adding the magazines Bicycle News, Tractor and Trailer, Ignition-Carburetion-Lubrication, and Cyclecar Age, to his publications.

Neumann sold No. 74 to the Seventy-seventh Street Construction Company in 1920.  It would mean the end of the line for the resplendent home as a single family residence.  On September 4 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide announced "The new owner will remodel the structure into small apartments."

The tenant list in the converted mansion was a strange mix.  Among the earliest residents was British actress Gladys Cooper who, by now, was seen both on stage and screen. She drew press attention in 1926 not for a theatrical performance, but for her shocking appearance at a police station.  Gladys had been at the Princetonian Club (a gambling spot previously raided by police) where she was injured in "an accident."  To prove her claims, she opened her fur coat to show the officers her bruises.  She wore nothing but her underwear under the coat.

Actress Gladys Cooper was, perhaps, the most colorful of the tenants.  from the collection of the Library of Congress
Bronia Cherin shared an apartment in the building with her brother in 1928.  The 25-year old writer, who was born in Russia, went to the Municipal Building on May 16 that year with her fianc√©, 61-year old butcher Leopold Samuel.  Just as the two paid the $2 fee for a marriage ceremony to be held in the Municipal Chapel a reporter approached them.  For some reason the couple panicked.  

The New York Times reported "Immediately they cancelled the arrangements for the marriage and left the building.  They refused to say whether they would be married elsewhere."  The relentless reporter followed Samuel to his home, where he refused to comment.  And at No. 74 Riverside Drive he was told that Bronia and her brother had moved out.


In 1929 the neighborhood had noticeably changed.  from the collection of the New York Public Library.
The early 1930's continued to see a variety of tenants.  The offices of the new New York Opera Repertoire Company were established in an apartment in April 1932.  An announcement urged "American singers desiring an audition may call at the temporary offices at 74 Riverside Drive."

Living here at the time was Mrs. Kurt Gloeckner, the founder and president of the Five Arts Club, and Thornton W. Allen, composer and publisher of sheet music and head of the Thornton W. Allen Co.  Allen and his wife, the former Elsie Guy, would remain here until his death in Cape Cod in 1944.

While the tenants in the building seem to have been mostly upstanding and respectable, one apartment was used for a more nefarious purpose.  On October 24, 1942 an apartment was raided and Howard J. Cook was arrested on charges of bookmaking and operating a "poolroom."  The term had nothing to do with billiards, but referred to illegal horse race gambling.

The musical tradition set by Thornton W. Allen continued when the Top Record Co. moved into No. 74 in 1945.  By 1948 Spin Records, Inc. had its offices in the building and by 1953 Crease Music Corporation was here.  Although the building was converted to two apartments per floor in 1971, Top Music Publishers, Inc. still had its offices here in 1972.


Although some of True's interior details survive, like elements of the entrance hall and a mantel with built-in nick-knack shelves, most has been obliterated.  photos via corcoran. com
A subsequent renovation in 1977 resulted in two and three apartments per floor.   The alterations of the ground floor to accommodate a garage and the covering of the roof tiles with tar are, indeed, regrettable.

photograph by the author

Monday, November 12, 2018

The Lost Kleinberger Galleries - 12 East 54th Street


Before its two substantial remodelings, the house looked much like the old rowhouse to the left.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

Charles Price Britton's 25-foot wide rowhouse at No. 12 East 54th Street was not typical of those around it.  Unlike the ubiquitous brownstone cladding which Edith Wharton would later describe as "deadly uniformity of mean ugliness," Britton's home was faced in brick.

Like most of its neighbors, the house was erected shortly after the end of the Civil War.   The Britton family were residents at least by 1882 when their address appeared on the membership list of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church.

Britton was the head of the stock brokerage firm of Charles P. Britton & Company.   He traced his American lineage to William Britton, a sea captain who came from Bristol, England and settled in Newport in the 18th century.  (Oddly enough, his name was originally William Summerill, but he took his mother's maiden name before leaving England.)

Britton had married Caroline Berry in September 1866. The couple suffered more than their share of heartbreak.  Their second child, Mary Marsh, died in 1875 at just two years old.  Their eldest son, William Adams died at the age of 20 on September 29, 1888.  Only Henry Berry Britton, born on September 5, 1878, would survive to marry and become a member of his father's firm.

Although Britton was a member of the socially elite Union League Club, his other memberships reflected his familial history.  He held memberships in the Sons of the Revolution, the Society of Colonial Wars, and the New England Society of New York.

In April 1893 the Brittons commissioned architect John Sexton to remodel the interiors.  The filed plans are vague at best, but at about $13,000 in today's money they most likely involved cosmetic updating.

At the time John Daly and his wife Ida lived at No. 208 West 59th Street.   Daly could not have been more different from Charles P. Britton and yet their paths would cross before very long.

Daly ran gambling houses, one of which was very near his home.  The Sun, on August 6, 1893, described his two city operations as "the famous house in Twenty-ninth street near Broadway, and another in Fifty-ninth street opposite the Park."   Reportedly he paid the police as much as $100,000 per week to prevent raids.

But he was best known for his lavish gambling house in Long Branch, New Jersey.   The Sun disapprovingly called Long Branch "America's Monte Carlo," and reported "Gambling is unquestionably a craze in Long Branch,  The average man is overcome by it."  The newspaper was astonished that there a patron could gamble "with impunity and without fear of molestation unless he happens to be a native of the town."

"John Daly's place at the Branch is the house where the biggest games are played and where a man can get just about as big a limit as he cares to make.  It is the house most frequented by gamblers, because it has the reputation of running the squarest games of any at the Branch," said The Sun.

In stark contrast to the seedy gambling dens of Manhattan's Tenderloin District, this was a palace--a forerunner of the Atlantic City and Las Vegas resorts.  "The main gaming room...is a great rotunda with a beautiful stained glass top, and the bright lights glaring through the colored glass are a big advertisement of the vice inside...There is a great wide seaside piazza in front, with big armchairs that invite the passer by, and a yawning doorway that reaches out to take in all."

Like today's casinos, patrons were treated to the best in food.  "John Daly's chef is a banner man in his line.  He is said to be the best chef at the Branch.  The viands he serves for the breakfast of the guests, and the midnight lunch, are even more tempting than the meals at the Ocean Club."

But the purpose of the article was not to compliment Daly's gambling house.  The writer warned "Of course, ninety-nine men in every hundred get the worst of the game," and said of Daly's, "It was there that Senator Wolcott dropped his $24,000 in a few hours, and it was there that Banker Woerishoffer used to go and play to win or lose thousands every night."

John Daly's Long Branch gambling house was built around a central rotunda.  The New-York Tribune, August 3, 1902 (copyright expired)
And so the announcement on March 16, 1895 that the Brittons had sold No. 12 to John and Ida Daly must have sent shock waves through the neighborhood.  The selling price, $67,500, would be equal to more than $1.8 million today.

But before they moved in, the Dalys modernized the out-of-date house.  They hired architect Joseph Wolf to remodel the facade.  Wolf removed the stoop and created an American basement home.  While the entertainment rooms would still be on what had been the parlor floor, the entrance was now located a few steps below street level.

The New York Herald, July 24, 1921 (copyright expired)
The city of Long Branch dealt a severe blow to Daly six years later when it outlawed gambling.   In July 1903 The Evening World commented that the once-lavish gambling houses were "barred and desolate" and the "abode of cobwebs and dust."   John and his brother, Phil Daly (who ran another operation in the town), told the reporter that "the present state of Long Branch is worse than the old."  Gambling never went away, they asserted, but had simply been forced underground.  "Public gambling, according to their argument has a tendency to make men more careful," explained the article.

Nevertheless, Daly was out of the gambling business and turned his full attention to the more socially acceptable line of horse breeding.   He established a summer residence in Saratoga, home of the nation's oldest race track (opened in 1863).  The town lured not only racing and horse enthusiasts, but celebrities like Sarah Bernhardt, Enrico Caruso and Oscar Wilde.

It was at their Saratoga cottage on Union Avenue that Ida Daly died on July 6, 1905.   Less than a year later Daly died at the age of 68 in the 54th Street mansion.  In reporting his death, the New-York Tribune called him the "well known turfman and gambler" and said "he was regarded as one of the squarest men in the gambling business"  The article noted "He frequently said that gambling, properly conducted, was as legitimate as any other business."

The Daly mansion was acquired by real estate operators Michael J. and John O'Connor.   Although still home to many wealthy families, the neighborhood around St. Patrick's Cathedral was increasingly seeing the encroachment of commerce.

Finally, on June 1, 1910 the O'Connors sold the house.  The following day the New-York Tribune reported "The buyer is Mrs. Charlotte E. Van Smith, who will use it for her dressmaking business."

Charlotte did some renovations of her own.  Within two weeks her architect, William Anagnost, filed plans to add an elevator, new doors and fire-escapes.   The transformation of house-to-business cost her around a quarter of a million in today's dollars and included living quarters for her on the upper floors.

Dressmakers like Charlotte E. Van Smith catered to the carriage trade and often used the term modiste to describe themselves.  The cost of their services and glamorous costumes earned them small fortunes, affording Charlotte to live in luxurious accommodations with a still-fashionable address.

Charlotte employed a small staff of experienced seamstresses as well as a boy whose tasks included running packages of completed gowns to her customers' homes, the steamship docks, or shipping firms if the patron were out of town.  Such was the case on December 14, 1911 when three gowns had to be completed and shipped off to Philadelphia, Baltimore and Parkinburg, Pennsylvania.  The New York Times reported that "Miss Smith kept her employees working until after dark last night" on the three dresses.  Each of the dresses were valued at about $300--nearly $7,500 today.

With the garments boxed and labeled and sent off with 15-year old Nathan Friedman, Charlotte felt she could relax.  But disaster was about to strike.

Nathan was headed to the Adams Express Company depot at 48th Street and Madison Avenue.  At around 52nd Street he was approached by a man who said he needed a messenger boy.  Nathan directed him to the telegraph office; but the man said he had been there and simply could not find one.

He offered Nathan $1 to take a message to "F. Marshall" at 838 Fifth Avenue (which was, in fact, the mansion of William Watts Sherman).  The boy refused and started on his way.

Insistent, the stranger said he lived at the Hotel Buckingham and that if Nathan would come with him to get the message, he would guard the packages until he returned.   The boy was finally convinced and went off on the phony task.  The New York Times reported "When he returned the bundles were gone" and surmised a "young man is richer by some $900 worth of evening gowns which he purloined by trickery from the boy."

Apparently now retired, in January 1919 Charlotte E. Van Smith leased her shop (in what the Real Estate Record & Guide now termed "the Van Smith Building") to another high-end dressmaker, "Miss Jean, designer of gowns." 

Exactly one year later, on January 27, 1920, the business was looking for a new model.  The advertisement in The New York Herald not only reflected the caliber of the clientele, but a change in the dress sizes today.  "Model.  Attractive, size, 36, preferably brunette.  High class dressmaking establishment.  House of Jean, Inc."

Significant change would come to No. 12 when Charlotte E. Van Smith next leased the building to the interior decorating firm of Leed, Inc.   On July 24, 1921 The New York Herald opined "One of the latest and perhaps one of the most interesting examples of remaking an old Gotham dwelling into an appropriate home for business has just been accomplished by Leed, Inc...who recently moved from 631 Fifth avenue into the four story and basement house at 12 East Fifth-fourth street, once the home of 'Phil' [sic] Daly, the gambler."

Surprisingly, the firm's president, L. R. Kaufman, did not seek the help of a professional architect.  Instead, he personally remodeled the facade with striking results.  What had been a modified Victorian rowhouse was now what pretended to be a glorious French Gothic mansion; its yawning, deep-set entrance recalling a 15th century gatehouse.

Carved crockets adorned the entrance arch, a faux balcony introduced the second floor with grouped, stained glass windows, and a series of pointed Gothic arches--including two blind arches at their end--finished the top floor.   Inside Kaufman attempted to retain a domestic environment in which to display the firm's furniture, artwork and bric-a-brac.  The New York Herald said he had finished the walls in "rough old terra cotta plaster with marble terrazzo floors in black and white squares.  The general effect is the production of old Italian walls in warm colors."

A new staircase lead to the main showroom on the second floor.  Leaded windows similar to those in the front opened onto the rear garden, "which is to be finished with a terrace and loggia with playing  fountains,"


The New York Herald, July 24, 1921 (copyright expired)

Leeds, Inc. operated from the lower two floors.  The third floor was leased to Louise & Annette, Inc., a millinery shop; and the upper apartment where Charlotte E. Van Smith had lived was sublet to 
Mrs. Wendell Phillips.    

Mrs. Phillips would be forced to perform an unpleasant task later that year.  She was the president of the Carry-On Association which operated the Carry-On Club for disabled soldiers on Madison Avenue.   Clubs for military men who had returned from the war were common and rarely prompted anything but favorable press.

But in September 1921 seven men complained to the courts that they had been ousted from the club and asked to be reinstated.  A journalist from The New York Herald visited No. 12 East 54th Street, but on October 1 reported "Mrs. Phillips refused to discuss the matter other than to say the men ejected were considered 'disturbing elements.'"

In the fall of 1927 the esteemed Kleinberger Galleries moved from 725 Fifth Avenue to the former Leeds, Inc. showrooms.  Kleinberger routinely dealt in Old Masters and catered to the country's wealthiest and best informed collectors.  Just before leaving its former location, the gallery exhibited a modern piece--an oil portrait of American hero Charles A. Lindbergh.

The New York Times reported "The portrait is the work of M. A. Rasko, a New York artist who went to Mitchel Field and sketched Lindbergh on the day before his take-off.  The aviator was shy at first, thinking Mr. Rasko had gone there to photograph him.  Finally he relented and allowed the artist 'five minutes.'  Mr. Rasko stayed forty-five minutes and completed his sketch."

Now at No. 12, Francis Kleinberger returned to more familiar territory.   In January 1928, for instance, he was asked to settle a dispute when London art critics declared that "The Lute Player" by Vermeer in the collection of Philadelphia attorney John G. Johnson was a forgery.   The controversy arose when an identical picture appeared in the Royal Academy's Winter Show in London, on loan from the collection of the late Lord Iveagh.

Kleinberger emphatically defended Johnson's as the original.  "I am positive that the painting is a genuine work by Vermeer," he said.  As for Lord Iveagh's painting, he withheld an opinion until he had the opportunity to examine it.

Later that year, in November, the gallery held an exhibition of paintings by early German masters, including Hans Holbein's portrait of King Edward VI of England as a boy.  The show was to benefit the American Red Cross.

Kleinberger Galleries remained in the building at least through 1935.  By the early 1940s it had been converted to a Swedish restaurant, the Three Crowns.  It was operated by John Perrson and Bror Munson who had run the Sweish Pavilion at the World's Fair.  Robert W. Dana in his 1948 Where to Eat in New York said "It has a beautiful dining room and bar, not too large, but nicely proportioned."  The successful eatery operated into the early 1960s.

postcard from the collection of  the Columbia University Libraries
In 1970, about a century after it was erected as a brick-faced Victorian rowhouse, the unique structure was demolished.  The 43-story office building known as 520 Madison Avenue now occupies the site.

photo via The Skyscraper Center

Saturday, November 10, 2018

The Clarence S. Day House - 43 East 68th Street




As a frenzy of development erupted on the Upper East Side following the end of the Civil War, scores of cookie-cutter brownstones sprung up along the blocks branching off Central Park.  Among them was a row of seven houses built by John C. Thompson--Nos. 37 through 49 East 68th Street.

No. 43 was home to John M. Shaw by the early 1880's.  Shaw was the principal of the brokerage firm of J. M. Shaw & Co. (and, as a matter of fact, its only member).  Dealing in commodities, mostly grain, his successful firm maintained two offices, one at No. 54 New Street and the other on West 23rd.  But Shaw's comfortable lifestyle came to a crashing end when, on the afternoon of April 17, 1891, his firm's failure was announced on the floor of the Stock Exchange.

The 68th Street house was leased briefly by Henry Spratley and his wife, the former Annie Ringwood Johnson.  Spratley's business dealings included his position as treasurer of the Traders and Travelers' Accident Company, of which former mayor Hugh J. Grant was president.  Also in the house were Spratley's five children from his marriage to Hester A. Awaise, who died in 1883.

Well-to-do women at the time went "calling" in the afternoons.  To ensure that they would not arrive at at someone's doorstep only to find that that woman, too, was out calling, the newspapers kept its readers informed of who was available to receive.  On February 18, 1892, for instance, The New York Times noted "Mrs. H. Spratley of 43 East Sixty-eighth Street will be at home Saturday afternoon."

The Spratleys moved on early in 1893 and in April the house was offered "For sale or to let."  The succinct advertisement in the New-York Tribune described it merely as a "four-story brownstone house."

Dr. G. A. Sabine leased No. 43 until around late 1895, when it was purchased by former congressman Charles Delemere Haines and his wife, Mary.  Haines's term of office in the U. S. House of Representative had just ended.

With his political career over, Haines returned to business life.  On September 25, 1896 The Sun noted "Mr. Haines is the President of or the majority stockholder of a lot of small railways."  His legal counsel was William Jennings Bryan, for whom the newspaper held little respect.  "Mr. Haines, when asked yesterday about his experience with Mr. Bryan as a corporation lawyer, said that Mr. Bryan was a personal friend, and that he did not wish to talk about the matter."

Charles D. Haines.  from he National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1899 (copyright expired)
Also in the house were the adopted children of Charles's deceased brother; Eleanor Elizabeth and Benjamin Franklin Haines.  Following Eleanor's marriage to Louis H. Jones on November 15, 1899, an "informal reception" was held in the 68th Street house.  Benjamin, incidentally, would follow in his step-father's political footsteps, becoming mayor of Medford, Massachusetts and a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

On June 5, 1902 Charles and Mary Haines sold No. 43 to Frederick Brooks and his wife.   Brooks was the son of John Brooks, and grandson of one of the original Brooks Brothers, of menswear fame.  It does not appear that the couple intended to live in the house, but (to use today's vernacular) to "flip" the out-of-date brownstone as an investment.

The architectural firm of Tracy & Swartout was hired to completely remodel the Italianate style structure into a modern, American basemen plan residence.  Plans were filed on March 25, 1903.  The following day the New-York Tribune explained "A four story extension will be built in the front and a two story extension in the rear.  A new light shaft and a fireproof elevator will be put in.   The extension will be of brick, with marble facing." The make-over cost Brooks the equivalent of just over $1 million today.

At the time Manhattan's wealthy homeowners were turning away from the frothy marble or limestone Beaux Arts style to the more sedate neo-Federal and neo-Georgian styles, executed in brick (perhaps most vividly exemplified by the massive Andrew Carnegie mansion completed one year earlier).  Tracy & Swartwout followed suit, transforming the vintage Victorian with a neo-Federal facelift.

The stoop was removed and the entrance lowered a few steps above sidewalk level.  The facade was pulled forward to the property line (substantially increasing interior square footage).  A dignified portico fronted the entrance, above which a fanlight echoed the shape of the arched openings on this floor.

Tracy & Swartwout used variegated brick with burned headers to simulate age.  Its warm brown-red tone was contrasted with white stone trim.   The splayed lintels of the upper floors were in keeping with the Federal style.  A stone balustrade partially hid the copper-covered mansard.

The house originally matched those on either side.  photograph by Wurts Bros., from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
As the work neared completion Clarence Shepard Day and his family were living at No. 420 Madison Avenue.  In May 1905 they purchased the remodeled house from Brooks.  While the selling price was kept private, Day's $50,000 mortgage (about $1.5 million today) affords a hint.

Day was a principal in the brokerage firm of Day, Adams & Company and a director in several railroads.  He and his wife, the former Livinia Elizabeth Stockwell, had four sons--Harold, Julian, George and Clarence, Jr.   The boys had all attended Yale University and each followed decidedly different career paths.  Harold, who suffered from traumatic epilepsy as the result of a childhood accident moved to California.  His brothers all started out in their father's firm; but only Julian would remain as a partner.

Clarence S. Day 
Livinia Stockwell Day photos via Clarence Day An American Writer, 2006, original source unknown.
Clarence, Jr. left the firm in 1896 to join the Navy and following the Spanish-American War pursued a career in writing and illustration.  (Interestingly, his grandfather, Benjamin H. Day had founded The New York Sun in 1833.)  George would leave Day, Adams & Company around 1908 to work at Yale.

Like Annie Sprayley, Livinia Day busied herself with social activities while her husband worked.  On December 14, 1905 the New-York Tribune noted "Mrs. Clarence S. Day will hold another of her Thursday receptions to-day at her new home, in East 68th-st."

Although Clarence, Jr. lived with his parents, the arrangement did not mean that he was struggling financially.  On September 19, 1906, for instance, The New York Times reported "The announcement was made to-day that the Yale Alumni Weekly has been purchased by Clarence S. Day, Jr."  Two years later he helped George found the Yale University Press.  (George became the treasurer of Yale in 1910, a position he held for years.)

The Days maintained a summer home, Upland Farm, in Westchester County.  The society pages kept track of the couple, The New York Sun noting on April 16, 1913 "Mr. and Mrs. Clarence S. Day will sail on the Mauretania next week and on their return will go to Upland Farm, their country place."  And in 1922 The New York Herald announced that the couple "will leave New York early in May for their country home...Mrs. Day held her last at home for the season recently at her town residence, 43 East Sixty-eighth street."

By now Clarence, Jr.'s poems, short stories and cartoons had appeared in popular magazines and newspapers like Harper's Weekly for a decade.  By the end of World War I he was an established writer with a regular column in Metropolitan Magazine.  His first book, a satirical look at civilized man's behavior, This Simian World, was published in 1920.

He was a semi-invalid due to intense arthritis contracted at an early age.  He wrote mainly from his bed in the late hours, sleeping most of the morning and afternoon.  A historian for The New York Public Library notes "While entertaining family, friends or new acquaintances, Day was an informal host who rarely wore more than a crepe dressing gown.  He saw visitors in the bedroom, which also served as his office, surrounded by his books, letters, manuscripts and drawings."

In 1922 Clarence, Jr. met a young art librarian, Katharine Dodge, whom he hired as his secretary.  The employer-employee relationship blossomed into a romantic one.  Clarence moved out of the 68th Street house in 1925 and he married Katherine in 1928.  He went on to write best-selling books like his 1935 Life With Father, the autobiographical work for which he is best remembered.

On January 7, 1927 Clarence Shepard Day died of pneumonia at No. 43 East 68th Street at the age of 82.  While his obituary in The New York Times outlined his long career in the brokerage business, it said "He was best known, however, for his work in the development and financing of railroads."

Day's estate, valued at "more than $1,000,000," was passed to Livinia "for life and upon her death to four sons and three grandchildren."  Livinia moved to No. 1170 Fifth Avenue where she died two years later, on January 19, 1929.

Following Clarence's death, the 68th Street house had been purchased by Sidney A. Kirkman.  Before he and his wife, the former Mary Lewis, moved in, they commissioned architect Walter B. Chambers to make significant changes.  New floors were installed at different levels, the floor plans were rearranged, and a 17-foot rear extension was added.  The first floor was recessed behind a charming brick arcade, the mansard was removed and the facade of the top floor moved forward.  It was now topped by a brick parapet interrupted by openwork stone panels.

The 1927 alterations were seamless, including the perfectly-matched brickwork.  Chambers removed the single iron balconette at the second floor and added three bowed versions.
Kirkman was the head of Kirkman & Son, a manufacturer of soap and soap products.  Its large factory was located in Brooklyn.  In 1930 Colgate-Palmolive acquired the firm taking on its popular brand names like Lux and Borax as its own.

Some of Kirkman & Son's packaging was a bit racy for the time.

The Kirkmans summer home was on Cotuit, Massachusetts.  Mary was a member of the National Society of Colonial Dames and the Colony Club.  Like her fellow club members, she was active in charitable causes.  She was especially involved with the Stony Wold Sanatorium.  On January 13, 1936, for instance, she hosted a tea for the committees working on plans for the Yankee Doodle Ball to benefit that facility.

As developers razed grand mansions to replace them with apartment buildings, Sidney A. Kirkman was pro-active in preserving his quiet block as well as the light and air to his own home.  As they became available he purchased the Hoffman Nickerson house at No. 47, and the W. H. Porter residence at No. 45.   He then had "private-house restrictions" written into the deeds before reselling them in 1946.

Kirkman became ill in the spring of 1953 and died at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center on May 11.   Mary died in the 68th Street house ten months later, on March 10, 1954.


The mansion continued life as a single-family residence, although today there is admittedly an apartment in the basement.  The product of two significant architectural make-overs, it has been almost perfectly preserved.

photographs by the author