Friday, June 22, 2018

The Henry E. Holt House - 138 East 65th Street


An arched window fills the space which was formerly the entrance.
Home construction had ground to a near halt during the Civil War years.   But in 1868 brothers John and George Ruddell were making up for lost time.  For the next few years the builders, who operated under the firm name J. & G. Ruddell, would be busy buying up building lots on the Upper East Side and erecting rowhouses.  In 1870 they began construction of a row of seven brownstone rowhouses on the south side of East 65th Street, between Lexington and Third Avenues.

At a time when scores of nearly-identical Italianate-style rowhouses were cropping up throughout the district, architect Frederick S. Barns would make these stand out.  Completed in 1871, the houses stood three stories tall above rusticated English basements.  Tall stone stoops led to the parlor floor and architrave surrounds framed the openings, which sat on dainty brackets and were crowned by handsome cornices.  None of these elements was surprising.

But Barns had added a three-sided, copper clad bay which ran the full height of each house.  The striking touch added dimension to each home and rhythm to the row.  The bay added interior square footage, as well, and caught breezes in warm months.

No. 138 became home to Wolf W. and Blanche Kronethal.   Kronethal was a well-known flour merchant whose office was on East Houston Street.  The couple lived quietly here for four years before selling the property to Dr. Alexander Berghaus on April 16, 1885.  The physician paid $17,500 for the 20-foot wide house--about $460,000 today.

Before long Berghaus's peaceful existence on East 65th Street was shattered.  The land across the street was owned by the Convent of St. Vincent Ferrer.  The doctor had barely moved in before the convent erected a school house.  Little by little the children and their accompanying noise grated on Berghaus's nerves.

On May 15, 1892 The Sun reported "When Dr. Alexander H. Berghaus bought the house 138 East Sixty-fifth street seven years ago, he prepared to settle down to a luxurious life because of the peace and quiet of the neighborhood...Since the establishment of the school the Doctor's peace and quiet have been things of the past."

It started with a piano.  But Berghaus "managed to have it sent away."  Each time the nuns attempted to bring music to the school, he successfully squashed it.  "A violin followed it, a flute followed the violin, and a drum followed the flute.  They all eventually disappeared."

What followed next hints at retaliation on the part of the nuns.  "But at last a bugle came."

The school boys were taught military drills and songs.  "In the quiet of the evening the notes of the bugle sounded soft and low and then loud and high under the Doctor's windows as the boys in the school drilled," said the article.  "An accompaniment of boyish voices added charm to the music."

At the end of his patience, Berghaus stormed out to find a beat policeman.  Less concerned about the doctor's peace than about the boy's innocent recreation, the cop "advised the Doctor to move away."

Berghaus simmered for days until he was awakened one Sunday morning by a bugle call.  He marched into the police station the next day.  But he was sent to the mayor.  When he laid his case before Mayor Hugh John Grant, he was told to go to the Health Department.

The Sun reported "While the relationship of the Health Department to a bugle was not clear to the Doctor, nevertheless he stated his case.  The result is that a sanitary inspector is now trying to decide if a bugle can be minacious to the health of the neighborhood."

 Presumably the school was allowed to keep its bugle and Dr. Berghaus's reputation among the boys as a cranky neighbor continued.

The doctor's temperament may have softened following his marriage to Mrs. J. Balmelli Johnson on April 25, 1894.

Dr. Alexander Berghaus was highly involved in the German-American community.  The owners of New York's breweries were for the most part German, and the enforcement of "dry Sunday" laws severely impacted their businesses.  Berghaus threw his support to their cause, joining the United Societies for Liberal Sunday Laws.  In 1895 he sat on its Committee on Legislation.

In an interesting twist, the group said policemen were victims of the unpopular and "unenforceable" law.  The officers who made an effort to enforce the laws, they said, were subject to public reproach.

Berghaus sold No. 138 to Henry E. Holt in November 1905.  The Chironian, a trade journal among homeopathic physicians, reported "Dr. Alexander Berghaus announces his removal to 160 West 92d street.  He had lived at his former address, 138 E. 65th street, for over twenty-two years."

Henry E. Holt had married Pauline Babcock just two years earlier, on April 14, 1903.  Before the couple moved in Holt hired architect Samuel E. Gage to update the interiors.  The $5,000 in renovations included new walls and stairs, replacement windows and a "shaft" (most likely a dumbwaiter).  It would appear that the stoop was removed during this renovation and the entrance moved to the former service doorway in the English basement.

Holt was president of the Pope-Hartford Auto Company.  The firm designed and manufactured "Pleasure Cars, Trucks and Fire Apparatus."   The quality (and cost) of the vehicles was evidenced in a May 29, 1910 article in the New-York Tribune which noted "Stuyvesant Fish received yesterday his 40-horsepower Pope-Hartford limousine, which was taken over the road to his home at Garrison.  Mr. Fish made it a condition of the car he bought that it should go to Garrison and back to New York on high gear."  Fish's concern was the many hills along the route and "the Pope-Hartford was the only car he found which satisfied him."

The newspaper added "Another delivery of a Pope-Hartford is a landaulet to Robert R. Roosevelt, nephew of Colonel [Theodore] Roosevelt, who drove it from New York to Washington in 15 hours 10 minutes, an average of 22-1/2 miles an hour."

Pope-Hartford was well known for its racing cars, as well.  Holt garnered publicity by taking the wheel himself.  "President Henry E. Holt...is getting his runabout into shape for several hill climbs and will enter and drive his car at the Yale climb, Port Jefferson, Wilkes-Barre and Worchester."

Pope-Hartford was not merely about limousines and touring cars.  This 3-ton truck built in 1913 is hauling steam fitting supplies.  Automobile Journal May 16, 1912 (copyright expired)

After the Holts had lived in the house for 13 years, the New-York Tribune reported on April 3, 1919 that it had been leased to banker Lucien Hamilton Tyng.  Both parties seem to have quickly changed their minds and two weeks later Tyng purchased the property.

Tyng was the grandson of the Rev. Stephen Higginson Tyng, considered one of the most notable preachers of his day.  He married Ethel Hunt Wood in February 1907.  While No. 138 had not appeared often in social columns during its nearly half century existence, that was all about to change.

Ethel delighted in entertaining.  On December 6, 1919 the New-York Tribune announced "Mrs. Lucien Hamilton Tyng gives a small reception this afternoon at her home...for Miss Elizabeth Hunt," for instance.  The following month she hosted an afternoon musical every Sunday; and on December 27, 1921 the Tribune noted "Mrs. Lucien Hamilton Tyng gives a dinner for her niece, Miss Lucy Hunt, to-night at her home, 138 East Sixty-fifth Street, and afterward will take her guests to the Prentice dance."

Lucien and Ethel's summer home was in Southampton where Lucien was as socially-visible as his wife.  In 1922 he was chairman of the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club's annual men's invitation golf tournament, for example.

When the couple boarded a steamship for South America on December 1, 1923, they no doubt had already decided to move from East 65th Street.  Shortly after their return they moved into an apartment at No. 620 Park Avenue.

No. 138 became home to the Harold Otis family.   Born in August 1883, Otis had graduated from Harvard Law School in 1908.  He immediately began his legal practice, and became a member of the law firm of Miller, Owen, Otis & Bailly.  By the time the family moved in he was also a director in the Allied Chemical & Dye Corporation and a partner with former New York Governor Nathan L. Miller in the law firm of Miller & Otis.

Otis and his wife, the former Alice Wardwell, had three daughters, Alice, Mary and Margaret.   Living with them in the home was Mary O. Brier, their cook, and Mary Campbell, a maid.

The well-educated girls got a taste of Shakespeare in March 1933.  The New York Times announced "Children of well-known New York families will take part in a performance of Shakespeare's 'The Tempest' next Saturday afternoon...The youthful players have also contributed to the designing of the setting and the costumes."

The house was the scene of Alice's wedding to J. W. Fuller Potter, Jr. on June 29, 1945.  The groom was the grand-nephew of the Episcopalian Bishop Henry Codman Potter who held nearly as much power within New York society in the 19th century as Caroline Astor.

Exquisite Adam-style details--the plaster ceiling and neo-Classical fireplace--survive in the dining room.photo via stribling.com  

Alice and Harold found themselves empty-nesters in the fall of 1947.  Mary Marshall Otis was married to Robert Hanks Hivnor on July 11 that year.  A professor of English at the University of Minnesota, the groom was a fledgling playwright as well.  The Times noted "A small reception was given at the home of the bride's parents."

The Otis summer home was in Springfield Center in Upstate New York.  It in St. Mary's Protestant Episcopal church there, on September 27, 1947 that Margaret married Emile Guiton.  A reception was held in the Otis home.

Although the Robert Hivnors initially moved to Minnesota where Robert taught, they were back in New York by 1949 and living with Alice and Harold.   The couple no doubt hoped to return from France in time for the birth of their first child that May, and they almost made it.  On May 21 The New York Times reported on the arrival of the French liner De Grasse, which carried an 18-year old French boy whose family had helped save Allied airmen shot down on their property.  The article parenthetically ended, "Ship's officers reported that a son was born at sea Wednesday to Mrs. Robert Hivnor of 138 East Sixty-fifth Street."

It was a momentous year for Hivnor.  In addition to the arrival of his son, his play Too Many Thumbs opened at the Cherry Lane Theatre on July 27.  Billboard magazine's critic was tepid in his review saying in part "Just what young Mr. Hivnor is driving at is hard to tell."

Harold Otis died in the 65th Street house at the age of 75 on October 17, 1958.  Alice's death came on December 29, 1975.

The penthouse addition is barely discernible from the street.
Because of its handful of owners, the house was never converted to apartments.  It sold in 2001 for $6.4 million and again in 2012 for $10 million.  An added penthouse now included a sixth bedroom and 20-foot terrace.   On the whole, little change is noticeable to Frederick Barns's charming exterior since Henry E. Holt removed the stoop in 1906.

photographs by the author

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