Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Leander H. Crall Mansion - 16 West 76th Street





In 1898 developer James Carlew began construction on a row of seven lavish limestone-faced townhouses on West 76th Street, between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue--but somewhat surprisingly he would do it in two stages.  That year he commissioned the architectural firm of Cleverdon & Putzel to design four of the homes, Nos. 18 through 24.  Each 25-feet wide and five stories tall, their regal Beaux Arts facades might be more expected on the east side of Central Park.

The following year the architects set to work designing the other three homes, Nos. 12 through 16.  Plans were filed in February, estimating the cost of each house at $40,000--around $1.25 million today.

The newer homes slipped seamlessly into the row. While the individuals residences were perfectly symmetrical in design, the row was a purposely unbalanced mix--an A-B-B-A-B-A-C configuration.


The 76th Street row exuded class and wealth.
No. 16 was a mirror image of No. 14 next door.  The centered bronze-grilled entrance doors were protected by a columned portico  The service entrance to the left sat below a round window framed by a carved wreath.  A balustrated balcony fronted the bowed bay of the second and third floors.  The windows of the fourth floor opened onto a balcony protected by a stone railing, their ornate carved enframements capped by molded cornices.  Intricately decorated panels separated the fifth floor openings, below a deeply overhanging bracketed cornice.

James Carlew sold No. 16 in December 1899 to George P. Tangeman.  He immediately leased it to Leander H. and Howard E. Crall.  It was a short-lived arrangement, and on November 2, 1901 the Record & Guide reported that Tangeman had sold it to his "joint tenants" for $85,000 (more than $2.5 million in today's dollars).

Leander Howard Crall came from an old family in America.  He was the 21st generation descended from Isaac Krall.  He had married Harriet Ann Vater Moore, a widow, on May 23rd, 1864.  The couple had three children, Howard Elmer, Walter Egbert (who died in infancy), and Hattie Mabel.

Harriett had died on October 16, 1896.   Crall donated a memorial window to the Church of the Holy Trinity on on Lenox Avenue at 122nd Street in her memory, which was unveiled on Christmas day, 1899.

Crall was, as described by The New York Times later, a "pioneer in the newspaper advertising business.  While still a young man in Ohio he helped found the Cincinnati Times.  He moved to New York in 1873 and, according to The New York Press later, "he built up a large business connecting himself in similar capacity with other prominent newspapers."  In 1885 he incorporated the L. H. Crall Company.  Howard had joined the firm in 1890, directly after his graduation from Yale University.


Leander H. Crall - The Ancestry of Leander Howard Crall, 1908 (copyright expired)

On December 11, 1900 Hattie married Frederic West MacDonald in Holy Trinity Church.  Howard was the best man.  The New-York Tribune reported that "a reception will be held after the wedding at the home of the bride's father."

Following their honeymoon the couple moved into the West 76th Street house.  Leander seems to have been socially independent, and was routinely reported arriving and leaving fashionable resorts without Howard or the MacDonalds.  An exception was the holiday season of 1901-02 in Lakewood, New Jersey.  The New York Times reported on January 5, 1902 that it had been "the gayest holiday season this fashionable resort has ever enjoyed."  The article detailed the wealthy New Yorkers who had spent the holidays in upscale hotels, including, for instance, John D. Crimmins, the Perry Belmonts, and the extended Brokaw family.  Among those who had spent time at the Laurel-In-The-Pines were Leander, Howard and the MacDonalds.

A native of Ohio, Leander was a member of the Ohio Society of New York, founded in 1885 by Civil War General Thomas Ewing, Jr.   He had been appointed its treasurer in 1888.  On April 14, 1902 during the organization's "ladies' night" banquet, Crall was honored for his service.  But unfortunately he could not be there.  The following day The New York Times reported "the presentation of a loving cup to Leander H. Crall, who served the society for fourteen years as Treasurer, was an interesting feature of the banquet.  Mr. Crall is in North Carolina for his health at the present time, so his son, Howard Crall, accepted the gift for him."

Howard was well-known in New York, perhaps most notably for his military activities.  In 1890 he joined the Seventh Regiment, known as the Silk Stocking Regiment because of the high percentage of millionaires within its ranks.  He had attained the rank of lieutenant by now, and was inspector of small arm practice.  Moreover, he was an expert marksman and when London made a good-natured challenge to New York for a shooting match in 1905, Howard was among the 11 members of the Seventh Regiment selected to go up against the Queen's Westminster Volunteers.  Howard not only performed well, he set a world record.


The group posed as they prepared to leave for London.  Howard Crall is on the second step at the right.  The New York Times, June 4, 1905 (copyright expired)

The population of No. 16 was increased by one when Mabel and Frederic had a son, Howard Graeme MacDonald, in September 1909.  They would have one other son, Donald.

Leander H. Crall died on March 6, 1911 at the age of 75.  His funeral was held in the Holy Trinity Church three days later.  The New York Times reported his estate to be about $4.5 million in today's money on June 30, 1912.  It mentioned his "Summer residence in the Adirondacks," and specifically pointed out "five paintings, now at 16 West Seventy-sixth Street, worth $2,750." (In the neighborhood of $75,000 today.)  Among them was Frederick Edwin Church's "Water Lilies."

The following year, in June, title to the 76th Street mansion was put jointly in the names of Howard and Mabel.

Upon the United States entry into World War I, Howard was appointed to the Governor Whitman's Staff as Acting Chief Ordnance Officer of New York State.  The position came with a promotion to Lieutenant Colonel.  

When the Seventh Regiment returned home following the war it had been designated the 107th Infantry.  That name change meant little to New Yorkers.  A massive parade was held for the soldiers on March 24, 1919 and the New-York Tribune began its report saying "It was still the old 7th, the 'Dandy 7th,' that marched up Fifth Avenue yesterday.  The article noted "bringing up the rear of the escort were Colonel Howard E. Crall and staff at the head of the present 7th Regiment of guardsmen."

It was about this time that Howard and Mabel began sharing the house with Edward N. Breitung and his wife, Charlotte.  Breitung was described by The New York Times as "a wealthy banker and mine owner," and Charlotte was well-known among society.  The purpose of the unexpected arrangement is unclear.

Charlotte involved herself in charitable events and when a benefit performance of The Importance of Being Earnest for the Milk for Children of America Fund was being planned for February 1920, The New York Herald advised "Seats will be sold by Mrs. Edward N. Breitung, No. 16 West Seventy-sixth street."

The Breitungs entertained in the house, as well.  In March 1921, for instance, Charlotte hosted a supper party for 11 guests.  Among them was Mrs. Charles M. MacNeill who arrived following the opera.  Upon entering, she laid down her diamond studded opera glasses, valued at $3,000.  The following morning she realized she did not have them.  A search of the house turned up nothing.  The theft was just one of a mysterious string of similar incidents that was taking place during glittering entertainments in high-end houses at the time, befuddling police as to how the burglars were managing the heists.

Later that year the Breitung name appeared in newspapers for a scandalous reason.  On September 21, 1921 Edward had the unfortunate distinction to be the first man in New York arrested for visiting a brothel.  The New York Times said "Breitung, who is said to have a rating of $18,000,000, is the first man to be arrested in this city under the amendment to the vagrancy law."  That amendment made visiting a "disorderly house" a crime.  The article explained that heretofore, "As a rule, the man is not only not arrested, but is not even called as a witness against the woman."  Although the charge was an offense--not rising to the status of a felony nor even a misdemeanor--Breitung's name and the 76th Street address were prominently publicized in the newspapers.


Charlotte Breitung was, no doubt, humiliate by her husband's well-publicized indiscretion.  photo from the collection of the Library of Congress.
Like Charlotte, Hattie was highly involved in charitable organizations.  In 1922 she was the treasurer of the "Sowers," described by The New York Herald as "an organization of graduates of the Spence School.  In April that year Hattie was involved in organizing its benefit for the Darrach Home for Cripple Children.

The two women apparently coordinated their entertaining schedules.  On May 9, 1922 The New York Evening Post reported that Hattie would be hosting a dinner party "before the motion picture presentation and dance to be given at the Plaza Hotel."

Howard Crall went to Florida in the winter of 1923.  On February 27 The New York Times ran the rather unfeeling headline: "Col. Howard E. Crall Drops Dead At Golf."  Ironically, he was playing golf with three physicians.  Crall had just hit his third shot.  The Times said "The shot was a good one, and when one of the members of the foursome turned around to congratulate him the Colonel was seen to reel and fall to the ground."  Despite the immediate medical attention, there the doctors "could do nothing to revive him."

Howard's funeral was impressive.  The entire 7th Regiment escorted his body with full military honors from his home to Holy Trinity Church, and then to the railroad station.  The burial ceremony at the Kensico Cemetery included a bugler and firing squad.

The MacDonalds remained in No. 16 for two years.  On May 25, 1925 the New York Evening Post reported that Hattie had sold the house.  The family gave up private home living, moving into an apartment at No. 760 Park Avenue.

The house was purchased by Lucy Carnahan Thomas, widow of Abner C. Thomas.  Moving in with her were her unmarried daughters, Ethel Cary Thomas and Lucy Cary Thomas.  It is extremely possible that Hattie knew Lucy through their Ohio connection.  Lucy was the first President of the Daughters of Ohio.  She was, as well, a member of the Daughters of the Revolution, the Daughters of 1812 and of Sorosis, the first professional women's club in America.  

The 81-year old died in the house the following year, on November 13, 1926.  Ethel and Lucy continued to live here.  They reduced their living space to the first floor in 1941 when they converted the mansion to one apartment on the first floor, two each on the second through fifth, and one in the newly-added penthouse, unseen from the street.

One of the apartment became home to the women's brother, Abel Cary Thomas.  A Harvard-educated attorney, he was at one time legal adviser to theatrical producer Henry W. Savage.  This father had written the book Thomas on Mortgages, and in 1925 Abel wrote its second edition.  The New York Times noted "Mr. Thomas was associated with the late Sam Warner in the development of talking pictures and establishment of moving-picture theatres."  Abel Thomas died in his apartment in No. 16 on February 21, 1945.

Two years later, on June 30, Lucy Cary Thomas died here.  She had been the manager of St. Luke's Home for Aged Women for more than a quarter of a century.  Ethel moved to Glen Ridge, New Jersey before 1953.  The year her former apartment was divided into two.

The apartments were home to well-respected tenants, like renowned violinist Giovanni Bagarotti and his pianist wife, Marta Rousseau Bagarotti.  Marta, who studied at the Paris Conservatoire, accompanied her husband in his concert tours.  She died at the age of 49 on November 6, 1959 while living at No. 16.



The noble presence of Cleverdon & Putzel's row survives after more than a century.  No. 16 looks little different than it did in 1899 when Leander H. Crall first moved in.  Amazingly, even the interior shutters in the second floor survive.

photographs by the author

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