Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Evelyn - 101 West 78th Street

James O'Friel had not been in New York very long before he announced his intentions of building an upscale flat house on the Upper West Side.  On April 22, 1882 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported "In our issue of April 8th, we gave a description of a very elegant apartment house that was soon to be erected on the West Side.  We can now supplement that by stating that the site selected for this improvement is the northwest corner of Ninth avenue and Seventy-eighth street...which has been purchased by Mr. O'Friel, formerly of St. Louis, and that the plans have been drawn by Mr. Emil Gruwe."

The article noted "It is expected that a Russian bath and a safe-deposit company will be established in connection with the apartment house."  Both amenities suggested the high-end nature of the building.  Russian baths were just becoming popular additions to upscale apartment buildings; and a safe deposit firm would be convenient for storing cash and valuables.

The developer's timing seemed perfect.  Apartment living was becoming generally accepted by the upper classes--especially on the Upper West Side.  In the same issue The Record & Guide wrote "That there have been more apartment houses erected in New York during the past twelve months is a fact that is conceded by every one."

O'Friel had paid John D. Crimmins $32,000 for the 100- by 102-foot plot.  The projected cost of the building was placed at $250,000, making the overall investment just under $7 million today.  O'Friel seems to have stretched himself financially thin in the project.  His mechanics' lien was foreclosed more than once, resulting in work stoppage.  In May 1883, for instance, The Manufacturer and Builder announced "Work is to be resumed upon the nine-story apartment house on the northwest corner of Ninth avenue and Seventy-eighth street, which was commenced about a year ago."

Why O'Friel named his building The Evelyn is unclear.  Urban legend holds that it was named in honor of actress and model Evelyn Nesbit.  That, of course, is impossible since she was born the same year The Evelyn was completed.

Emil Gruwe had produced a symmetrical red brick Renaissance Revival structure with corner pavilions capped with stone balustrades.  But the architect's overall design was overshadowed by his details--the magnificent terra cotta embellishments in the form of angels, satyrs, putti and floral forms.

A frieze of muscular griffins and flaming urns runs above a bare-breasted angel, flanked by male and female figures in outstanding detail.
Newspapers followed the movements of the wealthy residents like Mr. and Mrs. Walter Henry Judson.  The couple was among the first tenants and Mrs. Judson entertained often.  On May 2, 1894, for instance, The New York Times reported "A pleasant social incident of Monday afternoon was the pink breakfast given by Mrs. Walter Henry Judson of 101 West Seventy-eighth Street, at 1 o'clock."

On March 4, 1896 the newspaper announced that the Judsons "will start on Saturday for a southern tour."  The pair hardly had time to unpack a month later when, on April 7, The Times wrote "Mrs. Walter Henry Judson...gave an informal Easter breakfast yesterday."

As was the case with most upscale apartment buildings, the ground floor included a restaurant.  It was not only a convenience for the residents, but a necessity for some.  An advertisement on January 21, 1900 offered "One 7-room Housekeeping and a few Non-housekeeping Apartments left.  Restaurant under management of John B. Schmitt, Late of Delmonico's."  The term "non-housekeeping" referred to the fact that those apartments did not have kitchens.

At the time of that advertisement The Evelyn was jointly owned by millionaire Henry B. Auchincloss and his wife, the former Mary Cabell.  The couple lived in the building and it was there that Mary suffered a bad accident around 1900.   The injury developed into paralysis and, eventually, her death on November 13, 1903.  The New York Times mentioned "She had suffered of late years from a knee injury due to a fall on a hardwood floor in the family home at the Evelyn apartment house."

Henry Auchincloss hired architect William Allen Balch in May 1905 to do $10,000 in "extensive improvements."  Included was a complete overhaul of the plumbing system and the installation of a new entrance in the northern pavilion on Columbus Avenue and a ground floor doctor's office.

Canvas awnings helped protect apartments from heat and damaging sunlight.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
An advertisement in The Sun on October 28, 1906 warned "Only Two Apartments Left."  Available were a three-room and bath apartment for $720; and a two-room and bath suite for $600.  The more expensive rent of the two would be equal to more than $1,680 per month today.  The ad noted "Open plumbing, tiled bath, steam heat, electric light, hot and cold water, chambermaid service."

The physician's office, which included two rooms and a bath, rented at $750 per year and was taken by Dr. Daniel E. Coleman, who would remain here for years.  

The Gunton family had lived in The Evelyn at least since 1900.  The Biographical Director of the State of New York that year listed both George and his son William B. as "publishers" with offices at No. 41 Union Square.  They published Gunton's Magazine, a journal that focused "on practical economics and political science."  George Gunton was also a professor of economics and the author of scholarly books like Wealth and Progress and Principals of Social Economics.

Gunton's wife, Amelia, was visible on women's society.  But domestic storm clouds developed when Amelia discovered George's philandering with Rebecca Douglas Lowe, an Atlanta socialite and the president of the General Federation of Women's Clubs.  The New-York Tribune said of her "Since her girlhood she has occupied a prominent position in Georgia social life.  She is said to be very wealthy."

Amelia left him and obtained a divorce in January 1904.  George married Rebecca in Atlanta within the year, moving her into The Evelyn apartments.  But there was another problem.  Amelia was informed that her South Dakota divorce "was not a legal one."  Therefore, said the New-York Tribune on January 12, 1906, "she is still the legal wife of Professor Gunton."

Amelia filed suit for separation, but her legal team had problems serving the summons.  The New-York Tribune noted that George and Rebecca had left The Evelyn and "are now at Aiken, S. C."   A frustrated process server caught up with the couple in their automobile and flung the paperwork into the moving car.  It was a surprising move that ended up in court "to decide whether throwing a summons at his client, while riding in an automobile, was an effectual and legal way of serving it."

The Albert E. Merrill family had problems of a much different nature at about the same time.  On May 21, 1906 The Times reported "Warm weather and open windows have been responsible for the loss" of Mrs. Merrill's pet bird.  "Mrs. Merrill's bird is a parroquet.  While her son was holding it on his hand last Thursday it flew out the window."  The family offered a reward "to any small boy who can capture [it.]"

In 1907 the social register The Alcolm Blue Book, listed the residents of The Evelyn's 40 apartments.  Included in the roll of socially-recognizable surnames like Tillinghast, Seligman, and Tobin was "Madame Pappenheim."   The 55-year old diva had long been retired from the opera, but was well remembered.  In 1893 A Woman of the Century had said of her "the United States is especially indebted to her for advancing the ideas of Wagner."

On January 23, 1907 The Musical Courier announced "Eugenie Pappenheim will give her first musical afternoon of this season on Sunday, January 27, at The Evelyn...A very interesting musical program will be offered."

Other hostesses that year included Mrs. Anna B. Wood, who gave a "Japanese euchre" in March.  The Times reported "The prizes were won by Miss Bradley, Mrs. John A. Manson, William Douglas Sloane, and Charles Tallman."  The article added "The favors and decorations were all Oriental in effect" and said "Mrs. Wood is at home on the first Monday of each month in the Evelyn."

The family of banker Edward V. Gambier drew unwanted press attention through the years.  In 1910 he married Edith Russell of Atlanta but trouble unsued.  In 1911 he filed a suit for annulment; and Edith responded with a suit for separation, claiming "he had kissed her only a few times since their marriage."  The public admission earned her the sobriquet of "the unkissed bride."  Both parties eventually withdrew their suits.

Now, on January 6, 1914 Gambier arrived home to The Evelyn to a scene of chaos.  The Sun reported "members of his family told him that the valet was butting his head into walls."  Gambier sent for a patrolman who "found a young man acting strangely" and had 21-year old Frederick Wendt removed to Bellevue Hospital where he was deemed insane.

In a vain attempt to avoid more embarrassing publicity, the Gambiers asked the police to "record the incident as happening in the house of 'Mr. Patton,'" according to The Sun.  That did not happen and the following morning a humiliating headline read "Gambier's Valet Insane / Husband of 'Unkissed Bride' Calls Police to Take Away Madman."

Author Gertrude Hall lived in The Evelyn at the time.  Born in Boston in 1863 and educationed in Florence, Italy, her long list of works included the novels The Unknown Quantity and April's Sowing.  Her volumes of poetry included Age of Fairygold, Far from To-Day and Foam of the Sea.

Like the Guntons and the Gambiers, the marital relationship of Henry N. Dunning Henry N. Myrtle G. Dunning was not good.  Dunning's job required long stays in Shanghai.  Tensions resulted in his moving to the Hotel Marie Antoinette in 1922 and Myrtle's filing for separation and financial support on the grounds of cruelty.  The New York Times said she alleged "that her husband used abusive language and beat her."

But when the couple, both of whom were 24 years old, appeared before Supreme Court Justice March on June 13, Henry destroyed not only her claim, but her reputation.  He replied that she "was too friendly with Walter Woodlin on a train to San Francisco in 1919 and with 'one Thomas' on a steamer bound for China."  He produced a letter from Myrtle to Woodlin that said in part:

Henry has been lovely to me.  He has been just as fair and square with me as any one could be...I do not love him, but he had done everything in the world to make me happy...Please come as soon as you can.  When I am free I will tell you about my true love, and I have made up my mind you will be the only one.

The Evening World reported that Judge Marsh said the evidence "threw a light on the conduct of Mrs. Dunning which made it doubtful in the minds of the court that she would succeed in her action."

A horrific tragedy occurred at The Evelyn in the summer of 1923.  Sixty-year old Anna Stern and her 35-year old daughter, Florence, shared an apartment on the 6th floor.   Years earlier Florence had been engaged to an airman, who was killed in World War I.

Anna's behavior had been growing increasingly strange and the building's superintendent Arthur Chase said "for a long time [she] entertained fancied grievances against other tenants and was extremely nervous."  Her eccentricities apparently wore on Florence and Louis Fuhr who ran the newsstand on Columbus Avenue, reported that she said "her mother's nervousness was driving her crazy."

Then, on the morning of August 17 the two women flung themselves from their window, smashing onto the roof of the single-story cigar store next door.  Around 7:00 Oscar Lendian opened the store and, according to The Times, "discovered that boxes of cigars and other articles had been jarred from the shelves and plaster knocked from the ceiling by the impact of the falling bodies.  The clock on the wall had stopped at 6:40 A. M."

Lendian led police to the roof where the bodies were found.  In Anna's hand was a scrap of paper that read:  "Please take our bodies to apartment 62.  The key is on me.  Notify Harry M. Hirsch, 30 Landscape Avenue, Yonkers."  (Hirsch was a nephew who identified and claimed the bodies.)

Margaret E. McCann was notable for being the first woman to enter the brokerage business on Wall Street.  Unfortunately that distinction took a backseat to scandal when she was arrested for running what today would be known as a pyramid scheme.  The $450,000 she owed clients when she appeared before a jury in March 1930 would equal more than $6.6 million today.

During her two-day trial the 49-year old showed no emotion.  Not, at least, until the prosecutor summed up his case to the jury, saying "on her own testimony, Miss McCann is a thief."  Margaret jumped to her feet and demanded "How dare you?"

Margaret was found guilty and sentenced to between five and ten years in prison.  On her way out of the courtroom she said "I think the jury misunderstood the whole thing...What I did was to take money from some to pay others."  She insisted she was "a victim of circumstances."

In 1937 35-year old German immigrant Franz Hanawald was employed in The Evelyn.  He had a varied career since arriving in New York--he had worked in Julius Redlich's Dutchess County resort hotel in 1932 and later on a Honesdale, Pennsylvania farm.

A terrifying incident occurred at Redlich's hotel, far from The Evelyn, in September 1937.  Redlich was awakened at 2 a.m. to find a masked gunman in his room.  He was kidnapped and taken to a "tomb" in the woods 22 miles away.  The underground concrete bunker, about 7 feet long and 4 feet wide was only 22 inches high.  Redlich later said "It was like being buried alive.  It felt like a grave."

The "thug," as described by newspapers, demanded a $20,000 ransom.  He covered the entrance and left.  But his scheme was poorly thought out and he came back four hours later and released his captive.  A team of bloodhounds later found the bunker and the handcuffs the kidnapper left behind.  They provided the clue that solved the case.

On September 17 state police arrived at The Evelyn and arrested Franz Hanawald.  After seven hours of questioning he admitted having planned the kidnapping for over a year, making several trips upstate to study the scene.

Certainly less controversial were residents Boris Saslawsky, the Russian-born baritone and voice teacher who lived here until his death in 1955; and the Rosen family, who were here by the mid-1930's.

Living with Irwin and Anita Rosen were their sons Donald, known as Donn, and Charles.  The boys were 11 and 13, respectively, in 1940.  The location of The Evelyn most likely had a great deal to do with the direction of young Donn's life and career.  From the age of 8 he volunteered at the American Museum of Natural History, directly across Columbus Avenue.  He would become one of America's leading authorities on zoology and ichthyology.  Charles went on to be a noted "pianist, polymath and author."

On November 11, 1959 two painters were working in an apartment on the top floor of The Evelyn when a "flash fire" erupted.  The two men were trapped by the flames, with no escape other than the high windows.  When firefighters arrived Jose Rijes was hanging from a window sill by just one hand "and dangling over the sidewalk ninety feet below," as described by The Times.  His partner, 35-year old John Diaz, clung to the windowsill next to it.

Hook & Ladder Company 25 raised its aerial ladder and Fireman William Russo reached Rijes first.  After he was lowered to safety, the ladder was then swung to the other window where Russo repeated the dangerous climb.  Deputy Fire Chief Eugene Dukes called it "one of the best rescues I ever saw."

A rescue of a far different sort came about in 1987.  The new owners' plans to convert a ground floor space into a store included replacing one of the arched windows with a doorway.  A group of Upper West Siders lobbied against the alterations because of the threat to the terra cotta decorations.

Architectural journalist David W. Dunlap, writing in The New York Times on October 26, expressed "In palmy days and scary ones, a small host of exuberant angels gazed down on the creation, devastation and rebirth of Columbus Avenue from the Evelyn, one of the oldest apartment houses in New York City."  It was possibly Dunlap's article that earned the ornaments the nickname "Evelyn's Angels."

All of the terra cotta decorations survived the fray.  In 2015 a two-year renovation was begun which resulted in 23 "boutique condominiums."  The penthouse apartment engulfs the entire top floor.

The exterior of The Evelyn emerged handsomely restored.  And "Evelyn's Angels" continue to draw the attention of passersby after more than 135 years.

photographs by the author

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