Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Dr. Clark W. Dunlop House - 112 West 86th Street





By 1890 architect John G. Prague had designed more than 230 residences in the neighborhood of Columbus Avenue and 86th Street.  That year The Real Estate Record and Guide said that he and the developers who hired him “have created a neighborhood.” 

Among them was a string of Queen Anne rowhouses on the south side of West 86th Street, just west of Columbus Avenue.  Erected by developers Kennedy & Dunn and completed in 1888, these high-stooped brownstones had little in common with their Italianate forebears of a generation earlier.  Four stories high above an English basement, each wore fanciful elements of the often playful style.

At every level the windows of No. 112 flaunted colorful stained glass transoms.  The second floor featured a bowed bay, and at the third a terra cotta panel between the openings (which interestingly had its own stained glass transom), depicted a vase of flowers.  Almost imperceptible from street level, snarling faces peer from the carved panels directly above.  The fourth floor took the form of a fish-scale-tiled mansard.  Its prominent dormer was flanked by curving volutes and a centered roundel held the face of a man with an oversize mustache.  Interesting portrait faces peered from the corners of the dormer, both suspiciously contemporary in appearance.  But if they were actual representations, the identities of the posers have been lost.

The platform above the dormer would have originally held a cast iron or terra cotta finial.
Each of the 20-foot wide homes had cost the developers $22,000 to construct--nearly $600,000 today.  The newly-completed No. 112 was sold to the well-known physician Clark W. Dunlop and his wife, the former Eliza Cisco.

The couple had married on September 10, 1873 in Brooklyn. Moving into the 86th Street house with them was Eliza's widowed mother, Louisa C. Cisco.

Dunlop had graduated in 1880 from the Eclectic Medical College of the City of New York.  He practiced medicine on Bond Street until 1885; then went on to larger things.  He founded the United States Medicine Company, manufacturing his own remedies like "Dr. Dunlop's King of Pain," "Dr. Dunlop's Cascara Compound," “Dr. Dunlop's Quick Relief,” and “Dr. Dunlop's Bromo Nervolene."  He marketed them through his handbook Dr. Dunlop's Family Practice.  It outlined more than 100 common diseases, giving symptoms and treatments--those treatments most often his own.


In the summer of 1894 the Dunlops traveled to Europe.  They left Mrs. Cisco at home, most likely because of her failing eyesight.  Plagued by cataracts in both eyes, she was nearly blind.

While the Dunlops were absent, Louisa sought help from a specialist.  She arrived at the eye infirmary of Dr. Bessis in Glens Falls, New York, around June 1.  The trip ended tragically.

On June 15 The County Post reported "Mrs. L. C. Cisco, of 112 West Eighty-sixth street, New York...fell down stairs about nine o'clock Monday night, and sustained injuries from which she died two hours afterward."  Louisa, whom the article described as "a lady a little above 80 years," apparently had needed to visit the bathroom; but there was no attendant around.   Thinking she could make it on her own, she made a wrong turn and tumbled down eighteen steps.  Every June afterward Eliza held a prayer service the 86th Street house for her mother.

In the summer of 1907 Dr. Dunlop's relatives could not locate him nor Eliza.  His niece, Gertrude Dunlop Hawes, later told investigators that they "disappeared from their Eighty-sixth Street home, and their disappearance was a mystery until a letter signed 'A Nurse' was received by Mrs. Mary N. Dunlop."  Mary was Dr. Dunlop's sister-in-law.  The note informed the family that Clark W. Dunlop was being kept in the home of Matthew Hilgert, at No. 31 West 26th Street, "against his will."

Hilgert was relatively well-known in New York.  The apartment house which he managed doubled as Hilgert's Curative Foot Gear Institute where he claimed to cure hip diseases and lower body mobility problems with his "magic boots."  But just a year earlier The Medical Council had reported "Matthew Hilgert and Albert Whitehouse, of New York, have been fleecing helpless cripples and depriving them of possible chances of recovery by inducing them to use their worthless 'magic boots,' for which an extortionate price was charged."

But Eliza had not brought Dr. Dunlop here because he was crippled--the magic boots were to restore his mind.  Eliza claimed that her husband was insane and, in fact, he seems to have been suffering from increased dementia.  How the magic boots were supposed to fix that is puzzling.

Gertrude Hawes and her husband went to the institute on September 15 to see her uncle.  They had a long talk with Hilgert, who admitted Dunlop was there and insisted "that his magic boots would cure all provided he stayed in the institution long enough."

Pulling them aside, however, a nurse confided "that she had complained to Hilbert that the remedies and treatment employed were not benefiting the doctor, but were shortening his life."  The New York Times went on, "The reply of Hilbert, according to the nurse, was that he was looking out for Mrs. Dunlop's interests."  Those treatments included electrical shocks, hypodermic injections of salt water and the magic boots.

And there was another thing.  The nurse added "Hilgert, the proprietor, paid much attention to Mrs. Dunlop, who is over 70 years old, and tried to make himself specially agreeable to her, and spent a large part of his time in her apartment."

Eliza was forced to appear in court on October 10, 1907 after twenty-two of her husband's relatives filed suit, demanding that a commission be appointed "to inquire into the state of Dr. Dunlop's mind."  Gertrude Dunlop Hawes's husband, Gilbert Ray Hawes, acted as the family's attorney.  Among his allegations was "that Hilgert desires to marry Mrs. Dunlop, who is seventy-three years old...when her husband dies" and "that Mrs. Eliza Dunlop...was trying to get possession of the estate, to the exclusion of Dr. Dunlop's relatives."  (The New York Times remarked "The doctor is 63 years old and very wealthy, having large real estate interests in various parts of the country.")

It appears that just one of the stained glass transoms (lower right) survives in the sorely abused structure.

The judge agreed to a investigation into Dunlop's mental condition.  The findings were brought to light during the trial on January 8, 1908.  

Newspapers briefly digressed from reporting the issues that day to talk about Eliza.  The Evening Telegram noted that "Neither Dr. Dunlop nor Hilgert was in court.  Mrs. Dunlop, dressed in particularly youthful fashion, was in court."  The New York Press was less diplomatic about Eliza's outfit.  "She was pitiable, dressed as a young woman."

Dunlop had been examined by two doctors at the institute and he was deemed insane.  Nevertheless, Justice Newburger ordered him removed from Hilgert's control and returned home.  Eliza was ordered "not to move her husband from their home at 112 West Eighth-sixth street, without the express permission of the Supreme Court."

The extended family was understandably concerned about Eliza's intentions.  On January 22, 1908 The Sun described the scope of his real estate holdings alone.  "The lawyers who have had the property appraised believe it to be worth more than $1,000,000."  That amount would be 28 times as much today.

Somewhat mysteriously, at least as far as the relatives were concerned, on Marh 6, 1908, just a few weeks after returning to No. 112 West 86th Street, Dr. Clark W. Dunlop died.  He was entombed in the magnificent, architecturally eccentric Dunlop mausoleum in Woodlawn Cemetery.  Lavished inside with exquisite mosaics and stained glass, it includes marble busts of Clark and Eliza.  (A separate glass casket would receive the corpse of the Clarks' beloved parrot in 1921.)

The Dunlop mausoleum includes a superb mosaic floor.  Marble busts of Eliza and Clark inhabit niches, Eliza's holding an opera fan.   photograph by Ronny Preciado
The relatives now sought to break the will, saying "there was a scheme afoot to marry the widow to 'Magic Boots' Hilgert," according to The New York Press.  If that were the case, however, Dr. Dunlop got the last word.  On March 11, 1910 the estate was filed in the Surrogate's Office.

The New York Press reported "He left his home, No. 112 West Eighty-sixth street, and $150,000 in trust for life to his wife, Eliza C. Dunlop.  He said in his will she was entitled to live in 'comfort and abundance, with the least possible danger of loss of property or unwise management or misplaced confidence."  That was all based, the will said, on the fact that "she had expressly and voluntarily promised him never to be married again."  Eliza could now choose between remarriage or her inheritance.  She chose the latter.

Eliza Dunlop's 86th Street block was still a quiet residential neighborhood in 1918.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

Eliza Dunlop lived on in the 86th Street house as her neighborhood changed around her.  The houses to the left were demolished in 1927, and those to the right in 1928.  Eliza's home was soon squashed between two 16-story apartment buildings.

Having lived in the house for 45 years, Eliza died there in 1932.  Until 1938 it was home to Grace W. Dunlop.  On August 12 that year The New York Sun reported that the house, "which had been in one ownership for a half century, has been purchased by Samuel Kempner...The title rests in the name of the Eliza Dunlop estate, it having been taken by the family in 1888."

Kempner wasted no time in converting the house, once described as "luxurious."  In 1939 the renovations were completed, resulting in two apartments per floor.


The block's sole surviving sliver of a long disappeared era is only somewhat diminished by its Goliath neighbors.  Its very existence is as remarkable as is its story.

photographs by the author

Monday, April 29, 2019

The Lost St. Nicholas Skating Rink - 69 West 66th Street



photo via Office of Metropolitan History

On July 13, 1895 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that the newly-formed St. Nicholas Skating and Ice Company had "just concluded the purchase of a site for a model ice skating rink on the north side of West 66th street, between Columbus avenue and Central Park West."  It was an exciting development for New Yorkers, since the technology necessary for creating such a massive ice sheet was new.

The price for each of the nine building plots, stretching 225 feet along West 66th Street and 100 feet deep, was about $29,000.  The Record & Guide reported that architects Ernest Flagg and Walter B. Chambers had placed the cost of construction of the "ice-skating rink and club-house" at $130,000; bringing the total outlay to more than $12 million in today's dollars.

The Record & Guide described the internal layout above the rink.  The second floor would hold a viewing gallery and "there will also be on this floor private rooms for ladies, a buffet and toilet rooms."  The third floor was "to be for the men of the club," and here were the locker rooms, dressing rooms and accommodations for visiting hockey teams.  A private gallery on this level was to look down upon the rink.  (As it turned out, the third floor never materialized.)

Calling it "New York's Palais de Glace," the New York Herald reported on the completed structure on November 8, 1896.  The writer deemed the building a "large, handsome structure."  

"The "place of rendezvous," said the article, included "lounging rooms, dressing rooms, buffets, music, all modeled on the best Parisian plan...There are also ample storage for bicycles and cloak rooms for the public...The ice is surrounded by a broad promenade.  On one end is a great lounging room, shut off from the ice by plate glass.  This apartment is for the use of the public.  A great fireplace, on which logs will burn brightly, occupies one end of the room, and it is from this room that spectators will get the best and most comfortable view of the gay scenes on the ice."

On the opposite end were the private rooms of the St. Nicholas Skating Club members.  Among those who paid the annual $25 dues were "the Astors, Millses, Livingstons, Hewitts, Hoyts, Baileys, Mrs. Ladenburg, Whitneys, Remsens, Morgans, Belmonts, Hitchcocks, Kernochans...In fact, the list is just like that of the Patriarchs [Ball], or opera or Horse Show boxes," said the New York Herald.  So that social royalty need not share the ice with more pedestrian skaters, the rink was closed to the public on Sundays and Mondays and only members were admitted.

A uniformed attendant helps a woman with her skates while fashionably-dressed skaters glide by.  Upstairs women enjoy the ladies' buffet room.  The New York Herald, November 8, 1896 (copyright expired)
The other skaters paid "a small fee" for admission, and had access to most of the amenities of the St. Nicholas Skating Rink, including a tea room, smoking room, and reading room.  A band played during the mornings and evening sessions.  The New York Herald lamented that the St. Nicholas Skating Rink "probably will not be as lively and interesting" as a similar rink in Paris, "for we take our pleasures in a little more subdued, if not sadder, fashion than the French."  But, nevertheless, "the beauty, the novelty of the scene, is certain to be appreciated by everyone who finds his way within."

Leslie's Weekly, March 15, 1896 (copyright expired)

A branch of the St. Nicholas Skating Club was its hockey team, composed of well-to-do gentlemen with names like Astor, Brokaw and Vanderbilt.  Hockey, as The New York Times pointed out, had "come to be quite the vogue" and the men held their own among other teams.  In its March 1898 issue the New York Athletic Club Journal noted that a tight race for the Hockey League championship was between the New York Athletic Club, the St. Nicholas Skating Club and the Hockey Club.


Leslie's Weekly noted that the "indoor game" was played on "artificial ice."  April 1896 (copyright expired)

As it turned out, the St. Nicholas Skating Club took the championship that year.


Among the casually-posed champions in 1898 was the massively wealthy Irving Brokaw, wearing number 3. The Illustrated American, February 12, 1898 

The excellence of the skating surface prompted the National Amateur Skating Association to hold is annual contest for the figure skating championship here.  Irving Brokaw was not only a splendid hockey player, but a figure skater as well.  As the 1899 contest neared, newspapers noted that he would not participate this year.  "Brokaw is this season in Europe to compete in the world's championship at Vienna."


The rink as it appeared in 1898.  photo by Byron Company, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
As the decades passed, the building would be reworked again and again.  The first major renovation came in October 1904 when architects Tracy & Swartwout designed new iron staircases, a new gallery, skylight, new fireproof dressing rooms and iron columns and beams.

Architect George A. Pearse's plans for remodeling in February 1911 used a puzzling description, calling the building a "brick garage and skating rink."  (There is no evidence that there was ever a garage in the building.) Other work in 1913, 1914 and 1915 resulted in new bleachers, repaired masonry and a new marquis.

In 1915 a fad swept New York--dancing on ice.  On November 21 The Sun reported "Fashion has set the seal of approval on the difficult art and the fox trotters are taking to the rinks."


Couples dance on blades at the St. Nicholas Rink.  The top couple is performing "The Hesitation."  The Sun, November 21, 1915 (copyright expired)

The following year, on October 22, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported "Ice skaters are indulging in their favorite recreation with more enthusiasm and in greater numbers this season than ever before in New York's history."  The article made note of the St. Nicholas Skating Rink's "Marimba Band and its corps of expert exhibition skaters." 

The Marimba Band was new--part of yet another renovation.  In 1915 a $20,000 improvement resulted in "enlarged and redecorated lounging, locker and club rooms" and new quarters for the visiting hockey teams.  Another significant change came the following year; one that had nothing to do with the structure, but with its policies.  According to The Evening World on October 7, 1916, "There will be no private sessions this season."  The ultra-wealthy had moved on.


By 1916 the rink was less ornate; however the columns and their capitals imitated ice and the railings and benches mimicked the rustic details of the natural Central Park skating area.  from the collection of the New-York Historical Society.

The days of skaters and hockey games came to an end in October 1918 when the rink was leased for ten years to The Palace Carnival.  The Record & Guide reported that the group "expect to make alterations costing $100,000 to convert the structure into a dancing establishment."


The Evening World, January 18, 1919 (copyright expired)

The Dancing Carnival would remain for years, a popular destination for footloose couples.  One group of young people enjoyed a night here on March 10, 1921; but a light-hearted bet landed one of them in jail.

Elsie Fisher was 22-years-old and worked as a stenographer downtown.  She and her friends left at around 11:00 that night, but their suspicious movements caught the attention of a cop.  The New York Sun reported "Patrolman William Stalba...followed a crowd that came out of the St. Nicholas skating rink...and found the object of the crowd's pursuit was a slender young man who looked innocent enough."

Intent on discovering why the group was so interested in the fellow, Stalba pushed through the group, until "the policeman's keen eye spied the end of a blonde curl sticking out from under the soft hat.  He took the curl, which was growing on a girl's head, to the Wet Sixty-Eighth street station, where after much argument, the curl's owner admitted she was Elsie Fisher."

Elsie had taken a bet that she could walk a mile in men's attire without being detected.  Cross-dressing in 1921 was a crime and Elsie was held at the West 13th Street station overnight.  The next morning she appeared in court, "dressed in the garb of her sex, which friends had brought her."  The judge listened to her story, gave her a suspended sentence, and warned her to stop "trying to paint the lily white."  The Sun reported "She told him she would."

Another group got in trouble eighteen years later.  The New York Sun reported on January 7, 1929 that 33 young women had been arrested in the "St. Nicholas dance hall" the previous Saturday night.  "They were arraigned as wayward minors yesterday before Magistrate Bushel in the Women's Court."

The Great Depression resulted in the Corn Exchange Bank Trust Company's taking possession of the building.  Calling it "The Crystal Palace, a dancing pavilion," The Sun reported on its sale in March 1934 to Jean Sunnenfeld for $340,000, a significant $6.38 million today.  It was the end of dancing in the old St. Nicholas building.

The structure was renovated as a meeting space, and sports and performing arts venue, now known as the Royal Windsor Hall.  On April 29, 1938 the New York Post announced "More than fifty New York University students will take part in 'That's Life,' the annual varsity show, which will be presented to night at the Royal Windsor."    Less light-hearted were the massive union meetings and rallies held here for years.  On May 26, 1940, for instance, The New York Times reported on the New York State Convention of the Communist Party here.


Wrestlers Hans K. and H. Olson battled it out in 1936.  photograph by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
But it was professional boxing and wrestling, for which the hall was best known to most New Yorkers.  A raised ring was moved into the center of the hall for bouts.  Over the years newspapers would report on the fights of greats like Kid Chocalate, Rocky Graziano, Floyd Patterson (who fought his first professional match here in 1952) and Cassius Clay (who later took the name Muhammad Ali).  Tuesday night matches were aired on television to fans across the country.

When the last boxing match was held on May 28, 1962, more than 30,000 bouts had reportedly played out here.  The old St. Nicholas Skating Rink building limped along until the 1980's when it was demolished for the expansion of the ABC TV offices.


The rink sat just to the east of the corner.  image via Google Earth


Saturday, April 27, 2019

The 1863 Charles M. Jessup House--124 East 36th Street


The elaborate, lacy iron newels were a later update, possibly part of an 1884 renovation.


Around 1863 developers George J. Hamilton and Thomas Kilpatrick completed a row of three brownstone-fronted, high stoop homes at Nos. 124 through 128 East 36th Street, between Lexington and Fourth (later Park) Avenues.  It is almost certain that Kilpatrick designed the Second Empire style residences.  Born in Ireland, he was not only a builder, but often acted as his own architect.

Only 16 feet wide, the three-story homes were nonetheless well appointed.  The rusticated parlor levels featured an arched window and doorway.  The double-doored entrance was graced by an elaborately-carved foliate keystone.  The planar-faced second and third floors were understated, although a handsome carved frieze ran below the wooden cornice.  The mansard roof was shingled in slate tiles.

No. 124 was sold to flour merchant Abner B. Lawton and his wife, the former Helen Mindwell Griswold.  The young couple had been married six years earlier and the purchase seems, given their ages, to have been an ambitious endeavor.  Abner was 29-years-old and his wife was 25.

Title to the property was put in Helen's name.   It appears that the purchase was for investment purposes only, and the Lawton name never appears at this address.

Instead the residence was operated as a boarding house.  The 1863 City Directory lists five occupants:  Margaret H. Reid, a dressmaker; John Schilling, "segars;" seaman Richard Taylor; butcher Edward Dennis; and James W. Drummond, Jr., a "carver."

An elderly boarder two years later was the widowed Ann Suthan.  For some reason the 86-year-old walked to the East River on August 25.  The following day The New York Times reported that she "accidentally fell into the dock at the foot of East Thirty-sixth-street and was drowned."

Abner B. Lawton died on April 8, 1867.  Helen later remarried, but retained ownership of the 36th Street house.  Its days as a boarding house ceased when she leased it to Henry Clay Southwick.  

Born on October 12, 1829, he was married to the former Elsa D. Eames.  The couple had four children, Henry Jr., John, Frederick (who had died in 1863 at the age of 1), and Maud.  Southwick had come to New York at the age of 16 in 1845 and joined the book and shoe firm of Benedict, Hall & Co.  By the outbreak of the Civil War he was a member of the firm.  The war resulted in Government contracts for military boots and, subsequently, substantial growth for the firm.

In 1873 Southwick left Benedict, Hall & Co. to join the massive wholesale dry goods firm of H. B. Claflin & Co.  The move was not entirely surprising.  Horace B. Claflin was his uncle--the brother of Southwick's mother, Direxa Claflin Southwick.

The Southwicks left East 36th Street in the spring of 1874, moving to Cincinnati.  (Henry would survive only four more years, dying in 1878 at the age of just 49.)  Rather than transport their household goods to the Midwest, an auction was held on April 8.  The listing reflected the style of the interiors.  Among the items auctioned were "parlor, dining room and chamber furniture, tufted parlor suite in reps, centre table, lounges" and such.  The "curtains and cornices" listed gave an hint of the Victorian decor, with voluminous draperies surmounted by gilded or painted wooden cornices.

Helen's next tenant was Walter F. Parker and his family.  Living with them was 17-year old Emma Smith, the daughter of  Walter's sister and her husband, Walter Smith, who lived on Long Island.  Emma's living here may have had to do with her schooling.  Tragically, the teen died in the house on February 19, 1875 "of rheumatism of the heart," according to the New York Herald.

Later that year the Parkers rented what may have been Emma's rooms.   An advertisement in The New York Herald on September 5 offered "Two Rooms, front and back, communicating [i.e., connected], furnished or unfurnished, to gentleman and wife or two gentlemen; location unsurpassed; family small."  

John Jacob Astor Bristed next leased No. 124.  The eldest of two sons of Charles Astor Bristed and Grace Ashbury Bristed, he was a writerr, following in the footsteps of his author father.  (Charles Astor Bristed was a nephew of John Jacob Astor and had inherited the millionaire's former country estate, Hell Gate, on the Upper East Side where Charles had grown up.  Charles Bristed demolished the Astor mansion just after the Civil War and was responsible for laying out 88th and 89th Streets on the former estate.)

A bachelor, John Jacob Astor Bristed, was described by the New York Herald as being "eminent for high literary attainments" in 1880.  But his career came to an abrupt and unexpected end that year.

The Saturday afternoon of June 26 was exceedingly hot.  Bristed, who was a member of the Church of the Annunciation on Fifth Avenue at 14th Street, attended services that day.    The New York Herald reported "While walking on Fifth avenue yesterday on his way home from church he was sunstruck and only lived a few hours...He was only thirty-two years of age."  The newspaper said "Mr. Bristed had an amiable disposition, and was studious and industrious, like his father."

Bristed's estate was valued at $550,000--nearly $14 million today.  His will was straight-forward, but as was often the case in large estates, claimants to the fortune soon appeared.  One was a woman who contested the will under the name of Hattie Bristed.  The New York Times said she "claims to be the widow of the testator."  And Bristed's brother Charles, still a minor, demanded through a guardian a larger percentage of the estate.

The hearing included witnesses like Bristed's second cousin, John Jacob Astor, who was called to describe the lines of relationship within the family.  While most witnesses praised Bristed as a cultured, educated and refined gentleman, Dr. William James Morton said he "was very much addicted to certain excesses...and the indulgence of his appetite for them was as necessary to him as eating and drinking."  He was not specific as to what those additions were, but left it to the imaginations of the court.

Helen M. Lawton died about the same time as her tenant.  In 1881 her estate hired architect H. W. Wilson to enlarge the house by added in one-story brick extension to the rear.  Three years later the arched parlor opening was replaced by an attractive wooden oriel.  It was likely at this time that the stoop newels were updated.

The 1890's saw the family of Charles Mortimer Jesup, a vice-president of The Metropolitan Trust Co. of the City of New York, in the house.  Jesup had married Sarah Catherine Owen (known familiarly as "Kittie") on March 7, 1878.   Nine months later on December 3 their only child, Richard Mortimer Jesup was born.  Now a teen, he lived with his parents in the 36th Street house.

After Theodore Roosevelt left Manhattan to serve as Governor of New York in 1899, Jesup lamented the decline in police vigilance.  He fired off a letter to the editor of The New York Times on July 15 that year which said in part:

When the present Executive of this State was identified with the police force of New York, every one commented, and with pride, upon the behavior of the men.  Would that he were identified with it now!  Many times within the past few weeks the writer has noticed in the vicinity of his residence, on Murray Hill, policemen standing on the street corners chatting with friends or with the Roundsmen of the next beat, or standing by stoops talking with servants left in charge of the houses.  More often the policemen have been seen talking with women, which is contrary to all rules of the department, and should not for one moment be tolerated."

Prior to the turn of the century women had few choices in occupations.  They filled jobs as teachers, nurses, and shop workers.  But changes in attitude and new inventions like the typewriter brought new jobs.  The hundreds of single females who now came to New York needed respectable places to live.  

In 1901 Jesup was involved in the organization of the newly-formed Woman's Hotel Company as its treasurer.  The founders laid plans for a hotel on the site of the Home for the Friendless between on East 30th Street.   The hotel would offer room and board to single women for between $7 and $15 per week.

Charles Jesup was also highly involved with the New York Juvenile Asylum, service as its chairman at one point.  He initiated an annual award, the Jesup Medal, which was given to three residents for "meritorious conduct."  He was additionally a member of the New York Zoological Society and the American Museum of Natural History.

By now Jesup was involved in manufacturing, as well.  A member of the Chamber of Commerce, he was honored by being chosen to speak on New York State Day at the Charleston Exposition in April 1902.  

In 1905 Jesup purchased the house which he had rented for so long.  On December 28 The Sun mentioned briefly only that the Lawton estate had sold the property.  Somewhat surprisingly, only three months later it was on the market again.

The Jesup family was preparing to leave Manhattan that spring.  The New York Herald explained on March 22, 1906 "Charles M. Jesup is about to remove his manufacturing plant to Mount Vernon and will make his home there when the plant is completed."  It added "His residence in East Thirty-sixth street, a four-story, old fashioned New York house of brown stone front, is in the market."

The servants, of course, knew the house was for sale, but were directed not to allow anyone inside without a card from the selling agent.  Around March 12 two men rang the bell.  The maid who answered the door checked with "Aunt Sylvia," the sturdy Black maid whom The New York Herald described as the "self-appointed guardian and protector of all the race of Jesups from long before they came north and brought her with them."  The men had no card and were denied admittance.

Determined, they went next door to No. 126 and posed as city surveyors.  A servant here allowed them into the rear yard.  Climbing over the fence, "one of them, a red haired man, about six feet in height and heavily built, undertook to pass through the Jessup house to the street."  He soon discovered that Aunt Sylvia was the wrong person to cross.

The New York Herald reported "Aunt Sylvia barred the way.  The red haired man tried to brush her aside."

She reportedly announced "You ain't goin' through here, Mister Man with the red hair."  The article described, "grappling him like a trained wrestler [she] pitched him out in the yard and slammed the door after him."

Undeterred by the setback, ten days later they returned in the still of the night.  

When Charles and Kittie went to bed on Tuesday, March 20, Richard was out.  The New York Herald noted "there was a fortune in silverware, much of it antique, and which has been in the Jesup family for generations, on the first floor and a great deal of valuable jewelry was in the drawers of the furniture in her room."  The valuables were the target of the red-haired man and his accomplice.

Charles and Kittie slept in adjoining  bedrooms.  That night Kittie could not sleep because a mouse had gotten into the bureau in her bedroom.  The New York Herald explained "At one o'clock she heard her son enter the house and called him.  Young Jesup pulled out all the bureau drawers and shook the bureau until it seemed that the the mouse must have fled.  Then he went to bed in an upper floor."

As it turned out the bothersome mouse saved the family silver and jewelry.  Richard had no sooner gone to bed than it resumed its gnawing and scampering.  Kittie gathered up her pillows and coverlets and went to a guest room in the rear of the house.  She had just begun to drift off when she saw a light in the bedroom she had just left.  And then she heard movements.

She ran to the telephone and told the operator to connect her to police headquarters.  She was overheard by the burglars who ran down the stairs.  Kittie had trouble rousing her husband and it was later discovered that he had been chloroformed by the burglars.  Were it not been for the pesky mouse keeping her awake, she too would have been drugged.

When police arrived the front door of the house was open, apparently entered by use of a "false key."  The Sun said "The burglar opened the sideboard and piled up a large quantity of silverware on the dining room table."  In their haste to escape the crooks left the silver behind.  The New York Herald concluded "But for the loyal vigilance of an old negro mammy and the noxious activity of a mouse, burglars might have reaped a rich harvest."

In August the house was sold and the Jesups moved north.  It was purchased by Dr. William Emery Studdiford, described in The History of Medicine as "a successful physician of New York City, and a well-known gynaecologist."  Now operating a private practice, Studdiford had been the attending physician to the Almshouse Hospital, attending physician at the Maternity Hospital on Blackwell's Island, attending gynecologist to Bellevue Hospital and attending physician to the New York Nursery and Child's Hospital.

Studdiford had married Maria Emlen Hale on September 17, 1896.  Their two children were William, Jr. and Andrew Douglas.  Before the family moved in "extensive improvements," as described by the Record & Guide, were done by architect Charles Volz.  They included updated plumbing and Studdiford's office.


By 1924 Studdiford was the director of Sloane Hospital for Women, and Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the College of Physicians and Surgeons, while still maintaining his private office in the 36th Street house.  He and Maria went to Europe that summer and shortly after returning home he suffered a heart attack.  The New York Times noted "his condition was not regarded as serious, and he continued his practice."

But then, on November 12, 1925, he collapsed while performing an operation at Sloane Hospital and he was rushed home.   He died in the house five days later at the age of 58.   The Times reported on November 18 "His physicians expected him to recover and his death came as a shock."  

Colleagues told a reporter "he was recognized not only in this country but abroad as a great surgeon.  He was endowed with superior native intelligence, of wide experience, acute in observation, and logical."  In reporting on his funeral in the Church of the Transfiguration on November 19, the Columbia Spectator called him "one of the most noted surgeons in America."

Maria remained in the house until her death on May 10, 1946.  Her estate, including the house, was appraised at $363,705, or about $4.67 million today.  It was divided equally between Andrew and William (who was now, like his father, a doctor).  It was the end of the line for the narrow house as a private home, and was converted to apartments not long afterward.




In 1980 an addition was erected on the roof, set back so as to be nearly unnoticeable from the street.  Rather surprisingly, other than that little has changed to the skinny brownstone rowhouse which has been the scene of so much Murray Hill history.

photographs by the author

Friday, April 26, 2019

The Hilgert Bachelor Apts - 31 West 26th Street


No trace of the original 1855 appearance remains.

In the 1850's the wealthy New Yorkers moved into new homes on the blocks near the recently-opened Madison Square.  The 25-foot residence of the Stephen Mann Blake family sat on the north side of West 26th Street, between Broadway and Sixth Avenue.  Completed around 1855, it was faced in red brick and rose four stories above a high English basement.

Blake's business, listed as "bonnets" in directories, was located at No. 126 Chambers Street.  It is unclear whether he was an importer of millinery, if he manufactured his products, or did both.  Whichever was the case he had amassed a sizable personal fortune by the time he and his wife, the former Elizabeth Ann Hoyt, purchased the 26th Street home.  He was, as well, a director in the Croton Fire Insurance Co.

It was not unusual for even the most well-to-do families to take in a boarder in the first decades of the 19th century, and in December 1857 the Blakes offered rooms to "a gentleman and wife."  The advertisement stressed "House newly furnished, and every home comfort insured.  Those desiring a superior home may call at 31 West Twenty-sixth street."  It noted, "Dinner at 6 o'clock."

Married on September 13, 1837, the Blakes had two daughters, Charlotte Elizabeth, known popularly as Lizzie, and Anna, known as Annie.  The family traveled frequently to Europe, where the girls learned to speak French and Italian.

Lizzie's marriage to the young and wealthy Abner Weyman Colgate on November 23, 1869 was a society affair.  Two days later The Sun reported "The reception given by Mrs. Stephen M. Blake on Tuesday evening at her residence, 31 West Twenty-sixth street, in honor of the marriage of her daughter to Mr. Colgate...was, in many respects, one of the most brilliant events of the year.  

"For several hours, the spacious and very beautifully frescoed and furnished drawing-rooms were thronged by large deputations of fashionables from this city, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and Washington.  Rich and valuable gifts to the bride poured in from every hand, and a shower of sincere congratulations fell upon the happy couple."  

Two weeks later the Evening Telegram noted "Mr. Abner W. Colgate and Mrs. C. (nee Lizzie Blake, of Twenty-sixth street) sailed for Europe on Wednesday week, contemplating an extensive foreign trip."

Annie was married to Edward Williams Dodd in 1883.  She had already embarked on a writing career, her 1881 article in Harper's Magazine about the political leaders of France was deemed "the most brilliant article of the kind we have had in ten years" by editor Henry Mills Alden.  She would go on to write novels, non-fiction works and short stories.

On January 9, 1885 Stephen M. Blake died at the age of 75.  His funeral was held in the fashionable Trinity Chapel a block away from the family home.   

It appears that Elizabeth had preceded her husband in death.  Oddly enough, while her sister had died in 1880, Anna Dodd did not inherit the house and it remained in the name of the Elizabeth Blake Estate.  The following year Anna hired contractor William L. Clark to make updates to her childhood home.  It was leased as a boarding house, run by Miss E. J. Dickson in the 1890's.  

Miss Dickson had a pair of colorful boarders in 1894.  The Evening World reported on February 19 "Zella Nicolaus, the young woman who wanted $40,000 of George Gould's money and who comes and goes like a 'sprite,' has again visited this city.

"This time she came as the wife of a Mr. 'Romaine,' who is supposed to be her guardian, 'Al' Ruhman, the twain stopping at the fashionable boarding-house of Miss E. J. Dickson, 31 West Twenty-sixth street."  Zella Nicolaus was well-known for her shady operations.  The article noted "They arrived at the boarding-house last Monday evening.  She disclosed her identity to Miss Dickson."

The couple's stay was abruptly ended.  "Zella left the house last Wednesday at the request of Miss Dickson, who dreaded notoriety."

By the turn of the century the once-exclusive neighborhood was seeing the encroachment of commerce.  While still upscale, its proud residences were being converted to apartment houses or being razed for business structures.  In 1903 the Blake Estate obtained a demolition permit for No. 31.

But Anna Dodd apparently had a change of heart and in April that year architect Dudley S. Van Antwerp filed plans to substantially remodel the house into bachelor apartments.  The stoop was removed, a fifth floor added, and the building extended to the rear.

The choice of Van Antwerp is interesting.  The 36-year-old had only recently opened his own office and his new bride, Hilda Fenn,  (they married in 1901) partnered with him as "associate."  She was listed both as an "artist" and "interior designer" on some of Van Antwerp's works.

The conversion cost the Blake estate the equivalent of $734,000 today.  No trace of the former Blake house survived.  Van Atwerp faced the house in red brick generously trimmed in limestone.  His 20th century take on Georgian architecture included splayed lintels and multi-paned windows.  The openings sat within recessed bays and rested on deep stone sills which projected to the edges of the piers.  Regretfully, no renderings or photographs of the lower two floors seem to exist.


Amazingly, the small-paned windows survive.
The hotel was leased to Matthew H. Hilgert, who christened it The Hilgert.  An advertisement offered "Elegant Bachelor Apartments, two, three rooms, electric elevator, large bath" and promised "house comforts."

Hilgert used a portion of the hotel for the Hilgert Footgear Curative Institution.  Calling himself "Professor Hilgert," he purported to "cure all physical ailments" with his "Magic Mechanico-Physiological Boots."  His chief assistant in the clinic was osteopath Albert Whitehouse.   The custom made shoes cost wealthy customers up to $5,000 a pair.  (A hefty sum, equal to more than $150,000 today.)

Among Hilgert's clients were Bishop Henry C. Potter and millionaires Robert Goelet, Charles M. Schwab and James Butler.  But his practice came to the attention of the County Medical Society in November 1905.

Mrs. Catherine Lubbs had earlier taken her disabled 9-year-old son to Hilgert.  The boy had been treated at the Hospital for the Ruptured and Crippled, but his condition was irreversible.  The New York Times reported on January 31, 1906 that he "had been taken in hand by 'Prof.' Hilgert and as a result had grown steadily worse."  The boy was "now at the point of death."

On January 29 detectives showed up at No. 31 West 26th Street and arrested both Hilgert and Whitehouse.  They were charged initially with practicing medicine without a license.  Each provided bail for the other.

The lawyer for the County Medical Society called the men "quacks" and charged "that as a result of using the 'Hilgert curative footgear' methods children have become so seriously crippled that it is doubtful if they will ever be cured of their ailments."

Rather astonishingly, Hilgert wriggled out of the charges and continued to run the Hilgert Institute.  But his sketchy practices would soon catch up with him when he carried them too far.  In the summer of 1907 he took an unusual case in the wealthy Dr. C. W. Dunlop.  There was nothing wrong with Dunlop physically, but he was suffering from creeping dementia.  Hilgert promised the doctor's wife, Gertrude, that his magic boots would effect a cure and Dunlop was effectively imprisoned in an apartment in The Hilgert for months.

When his frantic nephews and nieces finally tracked him down (through a note from one of Hilgert's concerned nurses), a months-long and highly visible trial began in January 1908.  The Evening Telegram began its article of January 9 saying "'Magic boots,' made famous by the maker, Matthew Hilgert, came into the limelight again to-day."  The article explained that the family alleged "Hilgert desires to marry Mrs. Dunlop, who is seventy-three years old, when her husband dies."

The continued bad press may have been too much for Anna Blake Dodd.  The following year Hilgert was gone and an advertisement in the New York Herald on September 2, 1909 noted the building was available, "suitable for apartments or business or both."  It turned out to be business.

Within three months the Blake Estate hired architect M. Zipkes to again remodel the building.  It was most likely at this time that the lower two floors were converted for business with a cast iron storefront.

No. 31 West 26th Street filled with apparel-related firms.  In 1910 Walzer & Broscow took the top floor, and in 1914 The Reliable Cloak & Suit Company and Denker & Porges both signed leases.  The fourth floor was home to furrier S. Chaitin.

In 1914 fire escapes were installed and they came none too soon.  On January 15, 1915 The Evening World reported "Fire in the fur loft of S. Chaitin...caused fire and water damage of $10,000 and brought fright to thirty men and girls who worked in the building."  John Hines, who ran the sole elevator, refused to leave his post.  The article noted that he "kept his car going up and down the shaft until all were out of the building, though heavy smoke made his labor a dangerous one."  The damage was significant, more than a quarter of a million dollars in today's money.

That March, after the repairs were completed, Joseph Mandel leased the two-story retail space for his restaurant.   When the United States entered World War I in April 1917, Mandel threw his support behind the troops.  On November 29 that year the New York Tribune reported that "Nearly 20,000 soldiers and sailors will eat their Thanksgiving dinner in New York City" and noted "Patriotic societies, clubs, hotels, churches and families have come forward to make the day memorable to those who will fight for the nation's ideals."  Among those providing free dinners was Mandel's Restaurant.

In the meantime more and more fur merchants shared the building, as the neighborhood became part of the fur district.  In December 1916 Samuel Steuer Fur Company took the third floor and in 1918 Eckstein & Kass, "furs," moved in.

On September 6, 1919 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that the Blake Estate had sold No. 31.  "This is the first transfer of the property in sixty-four years."  The buyer was Joseph Mandel.

For the next seven decades the building would continue to house apparel firms.  The gradual change in what would be known as the Nomad district was evidenced when the newly-formed People With AIDS Coalition moved in in 1985.  Founded by Griffin Gold, the privately supported group published a monthly newspaper written by and for people with HIV and AIDS.  By the time of Gold's death at the age of 33 in 1989, it had a worldwide circulation of 14,000.

By 2001 the Gallery of Architecture operated here.  That summer it launched an exhibition of prints, watercolors and other renderings of French architecture ranging from 1700 through the 1970's.

Today a restaurant still operates from Joseph Mandel's space, although his second floor is now home to a fitness center.  Overall little has changed since the 1909 remodeling that transformed the bachelor hotel that had transformed an upscale private home.

photographs by the author