Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The Charles T. Dillingham House - 320 West 88th Street


The windows of the upper bay were originally curved.

Clarence True was arguably the most prolific architect working on the Upper West Side in the 1880's and '90's.  He notably played with historic styles, often blending them to create whimsical hybrids but always adapting vintage architecture for modern use.  In 1890 he was commissioned by William E. Lanchantin to design five 20-foot wide rowhouses on West 88th Street between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive.  Completed in 1891, each of the residences was individual yet they flowed together as a grouping.  In their design True had brought the Elizabeth Renaissance into the 19th century.

Like its neighbors, the center house, No. 320, was faced in brick and brownstone.  It was distinguished by a bay--faceted at the basement and parlor levels and then rounded above--which rose the full height to the attic level.   A complex carved frieze of back-to-back griffins ran along the roofline of the entire row.  The roof was shingled in slate tiles and the single pointed dormer was given a checkerboard motif of brick and tile.


Each of True's houses was individual, but harmonious with its neighbors.  No. 320 is in the center.
On April 2, 1891 Fanny C. and Charles T. Dillingham purchased No. 320 for $22,750--just under $660,000 in today's money.  Dillingham was the principal in the large publishing firm and book store, Charles T. Dillingham & Co.  He was described by The Sun that year as "the leading book jobber in the United States, a smart, active, and energetic business man."

Dillingham had been in the book business since 1870 when he co-founded Lee, Shepard & Dillingham.  Five years later he took over the business.  Until the year before purchasing the 88th Street house he had been perhaps as well noted for a much different enterprise--baseball. 


Winged griffins standing back-to-back form the carved frieze.

Dillingham was a stockholder and director in the New York Amusement Company which owned the New York Baseball Club.  But upheaval within the ranks of the players, exacerbated by a catastrophic losing season in 1890, left the club hemorrhaging cash.  It resulted in what The Sun called "the disastrous baseball war" and in Dillingham's resignation after he "soon became tired of putting his hand in his pocket."


In 1889, a year before its disastrous season, the club it took what today would be the World's Series.  original source unknown
The financial losses in his baseball club investment came at a time of what what Dillingham described as "dull trade, low prices, [and] strong competition."  Only months after moving into his new house, his business failed.


The Sun, December 11, 1892 (copyright expired)
After more than two decades in business, Charles T. Dillingham & Co. held a liquidation sale in December 1892.

The 88th Street house next became home to confectioner Alex E. Cohen and his wife, Catherine.   The couple apparently lived happily here until the summer social season of 1899.  They leased a cottage at Long Branch, New Jersey and on the evening of July 28 they and friends went to "a hop" at the Ocean Hotel.  Apparently unaware of a heart ailment, Catherine overexerted herself.

The New York Press reported "She had danced for some time when she complained of feeling ill.  Almost immediately she fell to the floor, and before physicians could be summoned she was dead."  The newspaper somewhat coldly entitled the article "Finished Waltz: Fell Dead."

Alex Cohen retained ownership of the 89th Street house for a while, but moved out soon after the tragedy.  He leased it to Miles M. O'Brien and his family.


Miles M. O'Brien, History of The Tammany Society, 1901 (copyright expired)

O'Brien's wife was the former Thomasine Leahy.  The couple had four sons, Miles Jr., Jay, Thomas and Tivar.   O'Brien had come from Limerick, Ireland in 1868 at the age of 26.  He obtained a job as a clerk in the H. B. Claflin Company store, working his way up within the organization.  After twenty-five years with Claflin, he went into banking and, after his appointment in 1885, simultaneously served on the Board of Education.  In 1900 he was made president of the Board.

Because of his responsible position and public reputation, O'Brien was no doubt somewhat humiliated when he had to appear in the West Side Court on April 9, 1901 following his son's arrest.  The following day The Morning Telegraph entitled an article "Love Songs Bring Rich Boys to Grief" and detailed how Thomas O'Brien and four friends had been arrested "because they sang a few Spanish love songs under their sweethearts' windows in Riverside Drive."

The article explained "The young men have been in the habit of serenading, and complaints have been made to Capt. Schmittberger, of the West 100th street station, by residents in the district, on the grounds that the singing disturbed them."  After the young Romeos told their story to the judge, he dismissed their cases "on the promise that they would sing no more."

On May 25, 1903 Alex E. Cohen sold the house to real estate operator Mabel Suydam.  She continued to lease it to the O'Briens.



It was Miles O'Brien who came up with the idea of free baths for poor children in the tenement districts.  He also initiated night schools and free lecture courses within the public schools.  Perhaps because of his own humble beginnings, he constantly worked for the underprivileged and was an ardent supporter of the High School of Commerce.  He lobbied for adequate pensions for teachers and, according to the Irish-American Advocate later, "in countless smaller says raised the standard of the city's educational system."

In September 1910 O'Brien became ill.  Three months later, on Christmas Eve, he died in the 89th Street house from intestinal disease.

No. 320 was purchased by Alderman William C. Towen.  As was common at the time, the title was put in the name of his wife, Mary.  Towen's name was often preceded by the title Commodore in the newspapers. He had been Commodore of the Brooklyn Yacht Club (for which he his sloop yacht the Tammany was flagship in the Lipton Cup race in 1908).  The couple's only daughter, Florence Tarbell Towen, had married Vincent Stuyvesant Lippe in April 1909.

The couple's residency would be relatively short-lived.  On March 19, 1912 William Towen died.  Three months later, on June 26, the New-York Tribune reported that Mary had sold No. 320 to Elizabeth A. Cohen.

Elizabeth, who was familiarly known as Eliza, was the wife of Thomas J. Colton, president of Behrman & Colton.  Their only son, Louis, was a director in the firm which Millinery Trade Review said was involved in "the importation and manufacture of artificial flowers and fancy feathers."    

Like his predecessors in the house, Thomas J. Colson was as well a highly visible Tammany Hall associate.  On May 23, 1909 the New-York Tribune had entitled an article "Plums For Tammany" which reported on the "fat commissionerships" formed "to condemn lands for the Askokan dam water supply system for New York."  Included in the list of commissioners was Thomas J. Colton.

A year before the couple purchased No. 320, on July 12, 1911, Mayor William Jay Gaynor had appointed Colton president of the board of the newly formed Board of Inebriety.  

The well-intentioned group was charged with establishing "a hospital and an industrial colony for the care and treatment of inebriates."  It was a bit far-reaching in its powers.  Whenever any "male person" was arrested for intoxication, "the board must be notified by telephone and the name and address of the person arrested noted," explained The New York Times on July 13, 1911.  If a second arrest happened within twelve months, the board had the power to commit the offender to the hospital or colony "for a period of not less than one year nor more than three years."

The Board of Inebrity fell apart in March 1918 after squabbling between its directors and the Mayor and two other city officials resulted in Colton and four other directors walking off the job.  With only two directors left, Gaynor simply dissolved the group.

On April 28, 1920 Elizabeth Colton died.  Her funeral was held in the house two days later.  Louis, his wife, and their daughter Mary Elizabeth (known as Betty), continued to live at No. 320 with Thomas.

Betty was introduced to society during the 1924-25 winter season.  On January 20, 1925 The Evening Mail reported that "Mrs. Louis M. Colton will give a luncheon next Saturday at Sherry's for her debutante daughter, Miss Betty Colton."

Thomas J. Colton died on March 9, 1935.  He left an estate of just under $775,000--or about $14.5 million today.  Of that Louis received $5,000 outright and "life estate in $443,557," as reported by the Buffalo Evening News.

The Coltons left 89th Street soon after.  In 1936 Harold Arneson was living here when the New York Post's drama critic Vilas J. Boyle stopped him outside the Longacre Theatre to get his opinion of the new play Howdy Stranger.  She mentioned in her review that "The applause was pretty terrific at the end, but there was a lot of undertoned scoffing."  Apparently one of those scoffers was Arneson, who commented simply "A couple of good gags still don't make a farce comedy."

By the mid-1950's the house had been converted to four apartments.  Rose Raymond lived in one of them from at least 1953 through 1955.  An accomplished pianist, she gave private lessons in her apartment.




There are still four apartments in the residence.  Other than replacement windows and the sad loss of the dormer tiles, it has fared much better than its siblings, all of which have lost their stoops.

photographs by the author

Monday, March 30, 2020

The Lost Lewis M. Rutherfurd House - 175 Second Avenue


The stylish mansard roof was added in 1884.  photo from Old Buildings of New York City, 1907 (copyright expired)

Peter Stuyvesant, the Director General of the West India Company in New Netherlands, purchased land for his farm, or bouwerij, far to the north of the settlement on March 12, 1651.   The deal included, actually, two properties—Bowery (as the Dutch word became anglicized) #1 on which Stuyvesant constructed his home, and a portion of Bowery #2.   In the first decades of the 19th century the Stuyvesant family had retained a large portion of the original farm and several Stuyvesant homes dotted the area.

In 1845 Peter Gerard Stuyvesant, a grandson, erected an imposing mansion on the northwest corner of Second Avenue and East 11th Street, directly opposite the burying ground of St. Mark's Church.  Two stories of red brick rested upon a rusticated limestone base and lacy Italianate cast iron balconies clung to the openings of the second story.  The entrance was centered on the Second Avenue side behind a commodious grassy lawn.

Stuyvesant apparently entertained grandly.  The January 7, 1846 entry in Mayor Philip Hone's diary read:

I dined yesterday with Peter G. Stuyvesant in his splendid new house in the Second Avenue, near St. Mark's Church.  Our party consisted, beside the host and hostess, of David B. Ogden, John A. Stevens, Herman Thorn, Hamilton Fish, Henry Barclay, John T. Brigham, George Laurie, John C. Hamilton, Mr. Kean, and myself.


Peter G. Stuyvesant from Portraits of the Presidents of The [Saint Nicholas] Society of the City of New York, 1914 (copyright expired)

The hostess mentioned by Hone was Stuyvesant's second wife, Helena Rutherfurd.  The couple had no children, but had reared their grandniece, Margaret Stuyvesant Chanler,  who was married to the respected lawyer and astronomer Lewis Morris Rutherfurd.  Their toddler son, Stuyvesant Rutherfurd, was a favorite of his great uncle.

As The New York Times later wrote, "Peter Gerard Stuyvesant did not live long to enjoy his palatial residence."  He died at the age of 69 on August 16, 1847.

The terms of his will forced Margaret and Lewis Rutherfurd to make a difficult decision.  Apparently concerned about the continuance of the family name, Stuyvesant had left one-third of his substantial estate to their four-year old son on the condition that his name be changed from Stuyvesant Rutherfurd to Rutherfurd Stuyvesant.  

And so it was.  The boy and his family would move into the Second Avenue mansion.

Lewis Morris Rutherfurd was born on November 25, 1816.  He was a direct descendant on his mother's side to Lewis Morris, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.  He practiced law with John Jay and, following Jay's death, with Hamilton Fish.  But his interest in science drew him away from law and he spent several years in Europe studying optics under Professor Amici.  


photo via Popular Science magazine, January 1893 (copyright expired)
Decades later, in 1893, Popular Science magazine wrote "After his return home he built upon the lawn of his home at Eleventh Street and Second Avenue, New York, an observatory which has been called the finest and best-equipped private astronomical observatory in the country."  Later he invented another telescope especially converted for photography.  His pioneering astronomical photographs were ground breaking.


This photograph by Rutherfurd appeared in the 1873 book by Hermann Wilhelm Vogel, Die chemischen Wirkungen des Lichts und die Photographie: in ihrer Anwendung in Kunst, Wissenschaft und Industrie (copyright expired)

Rutherfurd Stuyvesant was 18-years old when the Civil War broke out.  Many of the sons of the wealthiest families stayed home, away from the dangers of battle.  It was a situation that would result in a three-day rampage of carnage within the city in 1863.  It is unclear whether Rutherfurd purposely avoided military service or, if he were truly unable to serve as he said.  In either case, just three weeks after the firing on Fort Sumter, he made public apologies and gave financial support.   His letter to Marshal Lefferts dated May 3, 1861 was published in The New York Times:

Sir:  Being deprived, by ill health, of the great pleasure of sharing in the dangers and fatigues so well endured, and in the credits, so well merited, of the Seventh [Regiment], I desire to testify my admiration for them as soldiers, and any affection for them as comrades, as well as my devotion to the sacred cause for which they are armed.  With this intent, I have procured and forwarded to your address a pair of mountain howitzers, with their equipments and ammunition, which I desire to present to the Regiment, with my best wishes.
                                           I am, very respectfully yours,
                                                        Rutherfurd Stuyvesant

Two years later, on October 13, 1863, Rutherford Stuyvesant married Mary Pierrepont.  She was the daughter of the prestigious and wealthy Henry Evelyn and Anna Jay Pierrepont of Brooklyn. 

Following the war the Rutherfurd family resumed their lives as members of fashionable society.  On December 10, 1868, for instance, the Evening Telegram reported "Lewis M. Rutherford [sic] and family, No. 175 Second avenue, will spend the winter in Savannah."  The newspaper updated its readers a month later, getting the name of the esteemed scientist even more wrong.  "The family of Louis Rutherford, Esq. of 175 Second avenue, are travelling for pleasure through the Southern cities.  They will probably return home in the spring."

On New Year's Eve 1879 Mary Stuyvesant went into labor.  Tragically, neither she nor the infant survived childbirth.  

Five years later Rutherfurd Stuyvesant hired the architectural firm of Renwick, Aspinwall & Russell to alter his childhood home to an apartment house.  The massive alterations included a nearly seamless 22-foot addition on 11th Street, a handsome full-height mansard with "fire-proof slate roof," as detailed in the plans, and the relocation of the entrance to 11th Street.


The original entrance had been located below the pedimented window to the right.  photo by George F. Arata from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Although now an apartment house, the former mansion was still upscale.  The New York Times reported "There are eight apartments in the house, each having eight rooms, and their size, with fourteen-foot ceilings and old-fashioned carved work around the ceilings, in addition to the ample halls, is not equaled in any of the expensive modern apartments."

It appears that Rutherfurd's parents lived on here until Lewis Morris Rutherfurd's death on May 30, 1892 at the family country estate, Tranquility, in New Jersey.  Other family members took lavish apartments, as well.  Rutherfurd's brother, Lewis Morris Rutherfurd, Jr., and his wife the former Anne Harriman, were living here in 1898.  (Following Rutherfurd's death in 1901 Anne married William Kissam Vanderbilt in London on April 29, 1903.)

George E. Waring, Jr. and his wife had an apartment here by 1897.  A sanitary engineer and civic reformer, he had designed the drainage system for Central Park--considered the largest project of its kind at the time.  When more than 5,000 citizens of Memphis, Tennessee died from yellow fever in 1878, Waring had been sent there to design the sewer system which ended the epidemic.  

Following the Spanish-American War in 1898, President William McKinley appointed Waring to study the sanitary conditions in Cuba.  This time the engineer became a victim.  He returned to New York carrying yellow fever.


George E. Waring, Jr.  from Life of Col. George E. Waring, Jr. (copyright expired)
Waring showed symptoms during the last week of October 1898.  Only a few days later, according to The New York Journal on Sunday, October 20, "It was not until Friday afternoon that Colonel Waring himself knew the nature of his malady."  By that evening the end was near.  Mrs. Waring and her son sat in an adjoining room throughout the night.  Then, according to Albert Shaw's 1899 Life of Col. George E. Waring, Jr., "His death took place at 7:35 o'clock at his home, the Rutherford apartment house, at 175 Second Avenue."

The Health Department descended on the building.  On November 1, 1898 The Sun reported "Col. Waring's widow, her son, John P. Yates, and the nurse who attended Col. Waring up to the time of his death, returned yesterday afternoon to the apartment house at 175 Second avenue...The work of disinfecting the house was completed yesterday morning by a corps of men from the Health Department."


The Renwick, Aspinwall & Russell addition, in the foreground, was nearly seamless.  photograph from the collection of the New York Public Library
Another Rutherfurd relative living in the building at the time was Helena Rutherfurd Ely and her family.  Helena Rutherfurd had married attorney Alfred Ely II in June 1880.  The couple maintained a 350-acre country estate, Meadowburn Farm, in New Jersey.

Their sprawling apartment was the scene of three receptions in December 1900 to introduce their daughter, also named Helena Rutherford Ely, to society.   Five years later, on December 3, 1905, The Sun reported "Miss Helena Rutherford Ely and Richard Worsam Meade will have a big wedding at Trinity next Saturday afternoon."  A reception followed in the Second Avenue apartment.

Congressman William Sulzer would garner more attention than any other resident.  He was living here on the top floor in 1912 when he was elected Governor of New York.  Shortly after the election The New York Times reminded its readers, "Congressman William Sulzer's home, at 175 Second Avenue, is one of the famous old residences in the city...The Sulzer home is famous in the history of New York as having been for years the residence of Lewis Morris Rutherfurd, the eminent scientist and astronomer."

Rutherfurd Stuyvesant had died three years earlier.  "Winthrop Rutherford [sic] a son, now takes general charge of the property," said the article.  But the writer had a gloomy prediction for the future of the old mansion.  "It is not likely that this interesting Stuyvesant and Rutherfurd landmark will remain much longer.  The fashionable Second Avenue of half a century ago has gone, and the changing conditions of the neighborhood are already having an effect upon the old place."


In 1935 signage on the corner of the building tells of its impending demolition.  photo from the collection of the New York Public Library
On March 2, 1917 the heirs sold No. 175 to St. Mark's Hospital for $82,500--more than 1.6 million in today's dollars.  The hospital remained in the converted dwelling until 1935 when it was razed to make way for a six-story apartment house that survives.



Saturday, March 28, 2020

The Pompeo Coppini Studio - 210 West 14th Street


Essentially nothing other than the brick facade and stone sills of the 1848 house survive.

When the row of 25-foot wide Greek Revival homes were completed on the south side of West 14th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues in 1848 the neighborhood was filling with equally high-end residences.  Just over three blocks west of the new Union Square, West 14th Street would be a fashionable residential thoroughfare for a few decades to come.

During the Civil War years the family of Edmund Murray Young lived in No. 88 West 14th Street (soon to be renumbered 210).  Young and his wife, the former Josepha Matilda McDonald, had seven children, the eldest being Elizabeth, born in 1844.  One of them, Alexander McDonald Young, died in infancy in 1863 and another, Edmund, Jr., died at the age of 18 a year later.

Elizabeth Bleecker Young's wedding in Trinity Chapel on May 17, 1870 drew attention within society; not only for its brilliance, but because of the groom's position with "our wealthy Cuban society," as worded by The New York Evening Telegram.  Major Don Carlos Francisco Loynaz was, said the article, "a member of General [Emanuel] Quesada's staff and a gallant and brave soldier" and added "The bride, an exquisite beauty, [is] noted as well for her beautiful characteristics as for her beautiful form and features."

The wealth of the Young family was evidenced in Elizabeth's white satin gown.  "The bride's robe was one of the most elegant we have seen this season," said the journalist.  "The groomsmen were attired in full evening dress, as were also the polite ushers."  Following the ceremony a reception was held in the 14th Street house, which The New York Evening Telegram deemed "an exceedingly select and elegant affair.

The newlyweds moved into the house.  Elizabeth continued to work for worthy causes and in 1878 she focused on establishing a lodging house for unemployed working women.  On July 5, 1878 the New-York Daily Tribune reported on her success.  "Mrs. Loynaz of No. 210 West Fourteenth-st., obtained enough subscriptions to warrant the undertaking, and then hired the large dwelling house at No. 148 West Twenty-fourth-st.  The building...can easily accommodate thirty persons with comfortable lodgings in the Summer time."

In the spring of 1882 the 14th Street house became home to another Cuban national.  It was purchased by Cayetano de Socarras on April 20, 1882.  The title was placed in the name of Angela de Socarras.   The couple remained until October 1890.

By then the West 14th Street neighborhood had become greatly commercialized.  Many of the once grand homes were being operated as boarding houses, several of them with shops now in the former basement levels.   No. 210 escaped being converted for business for years; however its glory days were most definitely behind it at the turn of the century when it was run as a boarding house and then as a rooming house.  

The tenants were shady at best.  One of them, Alfred J. Jarman, described by the The Daily Long Island Farmer as "an Englishman advanced in years," seemed an unlikely roomer.  He was employed in the patent department of a scientific journal, had a wife, "several grown daughters," and a house in Newark, New Jersey.  

But when police entered his rooms on December 22, 1911, it all made sense.  "At Jarman's rooms they found a complete counterfeiting outfit, consisting of a lithographic press, ten plates for making ten dollar notes, a quantity of ink and paper, several molds and a supply of white metal."  Jarman not only produced fake bills, but coins.  "Captain Flynn's men found a hundred bogus dimes and quarters."

Another tenant was 21-year old James Redmond.  He was a member of the dangerous Hudson Dusters gang.  On Sunday July 28, 1912 he was part of a violent confrontation with another gang, the Neighborhood Sons, at Horatio and Washington Streets in Greenwich Village.   Several dozen young thugs scattered when police descended on the scene where one tough lay dead and another critically wounded.

While police were questioning the dying William Jenks at St. Vincent's Hospital, Redmond staggered in, saying "I'm very sick and want to be cared for."  The Evening World reported "A doctor examined Redmond and found a bullet hole in the back of his coat and a wound in his back."

"You have been shot," he said.

"Yes, I suppose I have," Redmond replied.  

Neither Jenks nor Redmond admitted any knowledge of the street fight before they died.

By 1913 No. 210 was termed a "lodging house," the lowest form of accommodations.  Lodging house tenants received no amenities, merely a bed or cot, and paid on a day-to-day basis.  Mary Reilly was the proprietor in the first days of 1914 when things got out of hand even for the seasoned landlady.  

On January 14 The Evening Telegram reported "Mrs. Mary Reilly telephoned to the police that there was a band of gunmen in her house...and that they refused to leave.  She said they were firing their revolvers out of the windows and threatened to kill her if she told the police."  When a police lieutenant and two detectives arrived, they found a group of men barricaded in two rooms on the top floor.  They broke down the doors.

The hooligans resisted arrest.  It did not go well for them.  "In the melee the four men in the room suffered painful abrasions and contusions by 'falling against the furniture,'" said the article.  Also arrested was a 16-year old boy, Peter Haape, who was wanted for burglary.  

The early 1920's brought another change to the West 14th Street neighborhood as artists created studios in the former homes.  In 1923 sculptor Pompeo Coppini and his wife, the former Elizabeth di Barbieri, purchased No. 210.  They hired architect Albert S. Gottlieb to convert it with a store and studio in the basement level, offices on the former parlor level, a duplex apartment for the Coppinis on the second and third floors, and three artist studios on the top.

Coppini was born in Italy on May 19, 1870 and emigrated to the United States in March 1896.  His career in New York started out humbly sculpting figures for a wax museum.   While working on his commission to create a memorial to Francis Scott Key, he fell in love with his model and the couple married.  By the time they moved into No. 210 West 14th Street, he had established himself as a respected artist.

Albert S. Gottlieb removed the stoop and moved the entrance to the street level.  Although it is not signed, there is little doubt that the carved tympanum above the new entrance is the work of Coppini.  The bas relief of an artist with brush in hand doubled as an advertisement of sorts for the studios on the top floor.


Given Coppini's artistic status, the work is most likely marble.  It is difficult to tell for sure, because someone decided that painting the sculpture highway yellow would be a good idea.  It wasn't.

On March 17, 1932 The Pelham Sun reported on the "delightful studio tea on Sunday afternoon at Mr. Coppini's studio, 210 West Fourteenth street, New York City."  About 125 guests were entertained by a "delightful musical program."  The article ended "Mr. Coppini is a sculptor of note."

The event took place in the Coppini's duplex.  While the original plans intended for his studio to be in the ground floor, in 1929 it was leased to Spanish-born Carmen Barañano, the widow of Jesús Moneo.  In his memory she named her store Casa Moneo.  Here she sold imported Spanish foods and other products to the residents of Little Spain that was emerging along West 14th Street.

Coppini's most celebrated tenant was French Dadaist artist Marcel Duchamp who took one of the top floor studios in October 1943.  He was paying Coppini $40 per month rent in 1952, just over $375 today.  Duchamp lived in the studio until 1959 when he moved to No. 28 West 10th Street; but continued working here until his death in Paris on October 2, 1968.  

It was here that Duchamp worked quietly on what the Philadelphia Museum of Art describes as "the fabrication of a large and complex tableau to which he gave the title Étant donnés: 1. La chute d’eau, 2. Le gaz d’éclairage."  The English translations of the two works are The Waterfall and The Illuminating Gas.

Music critic Winthrop Sargeant visited the artist in his studio in 1952.  He described it in his article entitled "Dada's Daddy" in Life magazine on April 28:

He lives four flights up in a little garretlike studio on 14th Street, one of Manhattan's most blatantly commercial thoroughfares.  It seems a strange place for a high-brow to live, but that is probably the very reason Duchamp has chosen it--to outwit anyone who might expect him to compromise his individuality by doing the obvious thing.

His studio is dominated by its chess table.  Here Duchamp sits by the hour, sometimes actually playing against an opponent.  
Marcell Duchamp poses over his chess board in the 14th Street studio in 1952.  Life magazine, April 28, 1952 
The Coppinis sold No. 210 to Joseph Torch in 1956.  On May 24 The New York Times reported that he "plans to occupy the store for the sale of artists' supplies."  But if those plans involved evicting Casa Moneo, they soon changed.  The 14th Street fixture remained until 1988.



Today a nail salon occupies that ground floor space.  Above it are one apartment per floor other than the top, which still holds three furnished rooms as Pompeo Coppini envisioned in 1923.  And hundreds of pedestrians pass the yellow painted sculpture without a glance.

photographs by the author

Friday, March 27, 2020

The Palacio - 55-57 East 65th Street


20th century fire escapes obscure the detailing.
Developer Thomas McLaughlin embarked on a chancy real estate endeavor in 1892 when he hired the architectural firm of Thom & Wilson to design a flat house on the north side of East 65th Street, just west of Park Avenue.  Apartment living was still viewed with skepticism by well-to-do Upper East Side residents and The Palacio would sit markedly on a block lined with upscale private homes.

Completed within the year, the building contained thirteen sprawling suites of seven or eight rooms.  Thom & Wilson had created a seven-story blend of Romanesque and Renaissance Revival styles.  Its asymmetrical design included a two-story rusticated brownstone base where the centered entrance was flanked by tightly clustered Romanesque columns.  The window directly above it was fronted by a charming Juliette balcony.  The upper floors were clad in tan brick generously trimmed in brownstone, the carved designs of which drew inspiration from the Renaissance period.  Because the building hugged the property line, several feet forward from the facades of the high-stooped houses around it, the architects were able to gently curve the western corner to create an eye catching design element.


The delightful half-round balcony above the entrance can be seen in this 1938 photograph. The double house in the center of the frame was originally home to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and Franklin's mother, Sarah.  photograph from the collection of the New York Public Library
An advertisement in the New-York Tribune in April 1899 touted the modern amenities of The Palacio, including "hall service; elevator; electric light."  The term "hall service" referred to the "hall boys" on staff--normally teen-aged boys who ran errands, delivered packages, took mail to and from apartments and handled other helpful tasks.  Prospective tenants would pay $1,800 per year for an eight-room apartment, or about $4,700 a month rent in today's money.

The moneyed residents appeared often in society columns.  On May 28, 1899, for instance, the New-York Tribune announced that "Mr. and Mrs. Frederic Van Lennep and family, of No. 55 East Sixty-fifth-st., have arranged to sail for Europe on the steamship Kaiser Friedrich on June 20.  They will remain abroad until September or October."

Among the most socially prominent families in The Palacio was that of Stephen Van Rensselaer whose ancestor Kiliean van Rensselaer was one of the founders and directors of the Dutch West India Company and of New Amsterdam.  The original Van Rensselaer manor engulfed all of what today are Albany and Rensselaer counties upstate.  On January 14, 1900 the New-York Daily Tribune reported that Mrs. Rensselaer had given her second reception of that winter season.

More newsworthy, however, was the socially important wedding that took place in Boston on December 12, 1900 when the Van Rensselaers' son, Charles Augustus, married Caroline Elizabeth Fitzgerald.  Newspapers noted "Mr. and Mrs. Van Rensselaer will reside at 55 East Sixty-fifth Street, New York."

The family of esteemed physician George B. McAuliffe lived here at the time.  Born in New York City on September 20, 1864, he had graduated from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1888.  He was now the Adjunct Professor of Otology at New York Polyclinic, throat surgeon at the Metropolitan Throat Hospital, oculist at Harlem Hospital, the Mothers' Home Hospital and the Red Cross Hospital, as well as other positions throughout the city.

The family suffered tragedy on March 19, 1899 when five-year old George G. McAuliffe died.  Following her period of mourning, Mrs. McAuliffe resumed her social routine.  Originally from the South, she was a member of the Daughters of the Confederacy.  A reception for "a large number of Southerners resident in New-York," as described by the New-York Tribune, on May 7, 1901 would raise eyebrows today.

For the most part the event was little different than any other afternoon social function; but at least one detail intended to provide Southern flavor could only be called racist today.  "The rooms were decorated with pink and white roses, and a negro banjoist and mandolinist played 'darky' melodies softly all through the reception."

Like all socialites, Mrs. McAuliffe was involved in charitable causes.  Her greatest focus was on the Northwestern Dispensary to which, according to The Evening Telegram on March 15, 1904, she devoted much of her time.

The building had been sold in 1903 and renamed The Sussex.   Nothing else changed for the tenants, including the rent which was exactly the same as it had been on opening day.


New-York Tribune, August 30, 1903 (copyright expired)

As it did throughout the country, World War I changed the lives of residents in The Sussex.  None were more affected than attorney and U. S. Commissioner of Patents Frederick Innes Allen and his wife, the former Cornelia Seward.   The couple had impressive family backgrounds--Cornelia's father, William H. Seward, had been Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln, and Frederick's first American ancestor, George Allen, arrived in Massachusetts in 1636.

In 1917 all three of their sons enlisted--32-year old William Seward Allen enrolled in the U. S. Naval Reserves; Ralph S. Allen enlisted in the Army (happily, no doubt for his mother, assigned to a clerical position); and 28-year old Lloyd Seward Allen joined the Army Air Corps.

Lloyd's choice of branches was obvious.  After graduating from Yale he had gone into the construction of airplanes and "the invention of flying devices," according to the New York Herald.  After training at Dallas, Texas, he was transferred to the Wilbur Wright Aviation Field in Dayton, Ohio.  But he would never see action overseas.


New York Herald, May 2, 1918 (copyright expired)

On May 2, 1918 the New York Herald reported that Lloyd, "a cadet flyer at the Wilbur Wright Aviation Field, met instant death to-day when his machine became unmanageable while he was making a practice flight, and crashed into one of the school buildings on the ground."

R. Grover Hutchins had left his position as president of the National Bank of Commerce to head the Home and Hospital Division of the American Red Cross in Paris.  His wife's anxiety was increased when their daughter, Margaret, left her studies at Bryn Mawr College and volunteered with the Signal Corps, also in Paris.  There she did "telephone duty," according to the New York Herald.  Four months after the end of the war, on February 8, 1919, father and daughter arrived home on the same ship.  The banker had attained the rank of major.

The conflict greatly affected another resident, Josiah Kingsley Ohl, in a different way.  Ohl was editor The New York Herald, a position he assumed in 1913.  With the outbreak of war was appointed head of the Washington Bureau.  The New York Times later explained the dual responsibilities "caused him physical hardship, as well, because of the necessity for frequent trips to Washington."

The editor's work was recognized internationally.  The Times said he "came in close contact with representatives of foreign Governments, and at various times received the decorations of Commander of the Crown of Italy, Chevalier of the Order of King George III of Greece, Chevalier of the Order of Leopold of Belgium, and Chevalier of the Legion of Honor of France."

Ohl and his wife, the former Maude Annulet Andrews, had one daughter, Joan Kingsley Ohl.  On August 19, 1919 they announced her engagement to David Frank Webster.  The wedding took place on September 3 at the Church of the Heavenly Rest.

Ten months later, on June 27, 1920, Josiah Kingsley Ohl died in the 65th Street apartment after having suffered a nervous breakdown followed by a short illness and then a heart attack.  The Times reported that his heart condition "had been aggravated by strain under which he labored during the World War."  He was only 57 years old.

Maude left The Sussex soon after.  On October 18 The New York Herald announced she "has given up her home at 55 East Sixty-fifth street, and will pass the winter in Summerville, S. C.   She expects to remain there a year."

The Sussex was, by now, a cooperative building.  Although the first cooperative apartment house, The Gramercy, was opened in 1883, the concept was still relatively unusual.


New-York Tribune, June 20, 1920 (copyright expired)
The Allen family were still in residence.  Cornelia died on October 5, 1921 after a length illness.  The following year, on April 16, William Seward Allen's engagement to Dorothy Wilmot was announced.  The wedding took place that June; and Ralph was married to Elizabeth Bailey in April 1923.

Frederick Allen remained in The Sussex, now alone.  He retired in 1928, but continued his hobby of mineralogy.  The New York Times noted that "He maintained in his home, in which he had lived since 1908, a laboratory for the chemical analysis of minerals and had an extensive mineralogical collection."  Allen died of a heart attack in his apartment at the age of 79 on May 18, 1938.

In the summer of 1948 Phorwall Petersen was hired as an elevator operator.  The 51-year old was a retired merchant marine sea captain who had served in World War I.  His years of training in emergency situations came into play on January 9, 1949.

Petersen was sitting in the lobby at around 7:15 that night when he smelled smoke.  He took the elevator downstairs where he found the basement in flames.  After notifying the building superintendent, he "embarked on what the tenants he serves described as a one-man rescue mission," according to The New York Times.

He made a total of seven trips up and down in the elevator, knocking on every door and warning the residents to evacuate.  When there was no response, he used his passkey to rescue pets whose owners were not home.  After his last trip, he collapsed on the lobby floor and was taken to Roosevelt Hospital where he was treated for smoke poisoning.

Luckily, although the entire building filled with smoke, the major damage was confined to the basement level and the two doctor's offices on the ground floor.

While many late Victorian apartment buildings suffered decline by mid-century, The Sussex retained its upscale tone.  

One resident discarded an old oil painting in July 1997--one which caught the eye of a passerby.  John W. Nichols picked up the discarded portrait "sticking out of a pile of trash bags," as reported by The New York Times on July 3, despite some damage.

It turned out to be a portrait of Andrew Foster, Esq., painted in 1848 by William Jewett and Samuel Lovett Waldo.  The pair shared a studio and cooperatively worked on portraits, Waldo doing the face and hands, Jewett the clothing and backgrounds.  Examples of their works hang in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Upon investigation, Nichols discovered that Andrew Foster was the great-grandfather of Henry Francis duPont.


Most likely the transoms of the first and second floor windows once held colorful stained glass.
Other than replacement doors and the unsightly fire escape that veils much of the detailing of the facade, The Sussex is relatively unchanged after more than 125 years.

photographs by the author

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Slade & Colby's 1868 281 Church Street




In the first years following the Civil War wealthy dry goods merchant Jarvis Slade turned his focus to transforming the Tribeca district from one of old brick and wooden structures to modern loft buildings.  Years later, on January 29, 1881, The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide credited him with creating the dry goods district. "This gentleman was a pioneer in this district, and besides acquiring a large interest himself, it was mainly due to his influence that it was so rapidly covered with first-class buildings." 

Among his earliest projects was the five story loft and store building at the southeast corner of Church and White Streets.  He partnered with Gardner R. Colby to purchase the two old buildings on the site in October 1865.  
The transaction involving the wooden house at No. 35 White Street would cause headaches for the seller, Samuel Keyser, before long.

But in the meantime, Colby and Slade commenced construction on their new building in 1866.  Faced in light-colored sandstone, it was completed the following year.  Although the storefronts opened onto Church Street, giving the building its address of No. 281 Church; the 75-foot long White Street elevation was architecturally treated as the front.

Stone piers embraced the cast iron storefront sections where free-standing Corinthian columns upheld the entablature.  Each of the nearly identical upper stories was clearly defined by crisp sill courses.  Corinthian pilasters separated the segmentally-arched openings and rusticated piers ran up the corners.  A handsome French Second Empire cornice, supported on brackets, was capped by a pyramidal pediment.

Soon after the construction had begun, Samuel Keyser found himself in court.  On the abutting Church Street property was a boarding house.  For years the owners had a legal agreement with Keyser allowing them to share his rear yard--and most importantly his privy.  In April 1866 they sued; their complaint saying in part, "when Slade and Colby were building they undermined the yard so that the fence all caved in; and the privy building was carried away by the boys of the neighborhood."

While the two parties fought over the lost privy privileges, Colby and Slade filled No. 281 Church Street with, for the most part, dry goods merchants.  An exception was the silversmith firm of S. D. Johnson, here by the early 1870's.

On August 24, 1876 two burglars broke into Johnson's shop and made off with silverware valued at about $36,000 in today's money.  Police were certain they knew who the perpetrators were--William Heany and Thomas Macaveny, the "well-known Fourteenth ward thieves," as described by The Evening Telegram.  The pair was picked up on Hester Street the following day.  "The prisoners, who are young men, denied any knowledge of the burglary," said the article.  Despite the fact that the arresting officers apparently had no hard evidence against them they were held in default of bail.

In the first years of the 1890's a sixth floor, nearly hidden by the cornice and pediment, was added to the building which continued to house mostly dry goods businesses, like Letson & Hashagen.  


Just the the roofline of the new top floor can be seen above the original cornice.
But there were still exceptions to that rule as well.  By 1894 New York branch of Mulhens & Kropff was in the building and would remain through the turn of the century.  The firm imported colognes, soaps, and "extracts" from its Cologne, Germany laboratories.

On December 1, 1895 Merck's Market Report said "a particularly excellent business is being done in the transparent glycerin soaps.  Mr. Kropff speaks in the highest terms of the White-Rose soap, which is a star among the glycerin varieties."  The article added that Mulhens & Kropff's "'Eau de Cologne' has held its own in the United States against all competitors for the last sixty years."


The Puritan, February 1899 (copyright expired)

The Eau de Cologne was somewhat pricey.  A two-ounce sample bottle could be had by mail order in 1899 for 30 cents; nearly $10 in today's dollars.

Frederick Hashagen, a partner in Letson & Hashagen, was troubled that year.  He left his Brooklyn house as usual on November 19, but instead of going to his office here he checked into the Grand Union Hotel under the name of J. S. Harrison.  At around noon he was found dead in his room with a bullet wound in his chest.  "The man is believed to have committed suicide," said the Brooklyn Daily Eagle."

It was possibly serious business problems that prompted Hashagen's desperate action.  Within months Letson & Hashagen declared bankruptcy.

Sharing the building with Mulhens & Kropff in the first years of the 20th century were linen merchants R. Lindner and George P. Boyce & Co., and Cawley & Weixelbaum, makers of handles for canes and umbrellas.   The latter moved into second floor in 1905.

In reporting on the firm's move Trunks, Leather Goods and Umbrellas described the new space as a "spacious and well lighted loft" and added "They will not confine the business to high class novelties, but make a specialty of good values in popular priced handles of European manufacture."


Trunks, Leather Goods & Umbrellas, April 1906 (copyright expired)
In 1908 cotton goods merchants R. E. Walsh & Co. and Thos. J. Conroy leased space in the building.  They were joined in 1916 by M. Gardner & Co., linen importers.   

The Colby family still owned a portion of the property at the time.  Henry F. Colby, who lived in Dayton, Ohio, died in 1916 leaving the holding to his wife.

In the first years following World War I Weissfeld Bros. & Gross was in the building.  The firm manufactured hospital, restaurant and hotel items like lab coats, aprons, caps, "luggers," and such.  In its May 1919 issue, American Druggist reported "This firm manufactures clothing and uniforms of every description and their many years' standing in this industry is ample evidence of the quality of the product."  To bring home its point, the article said "A neat and clean looking, dapper druggist will attract new customers to his store apart from his regular trade which will recommend him for his appearance."

In September that year the National Retail Tea and Coffee Merchants' Association held its annual convention in St. Louis.  It was a major affair, lasting three days.  An important feature was a exhibition of goods by industry-related manufacturers and dealers.  Two exhibitors came from the Church Street building.

In October Simmons' Spice Mill reported that Gardner Textile Co. had exhibited "table clothes, table sets consisting of a table cloth and six napkins, (boxed), napkins towels and other kindred articles used in the household."  Rendrag Co., Inc. had also staged a display, theirs consisting of "various kinds of ladies' handkerchiefs, embroidered, packed in ornate boxes, three to a box."

Weissfeld Bros. & Gross and Gardner Textile Co. were still here in 1922, along with hospital linens manufacturer Geo. P. Boyce & Co.


The Modern Hospital, February 1922 (copyright expired)

The Colby family still retained ownership of the building in 1938--more than seven decades after its construction.  On February 1, 1938.  Lincoln Fabrics, Inc. occupied the store and basement levels and the long-established dry goods firm Henry Glass & Co. was on the top floor.  The second and fourth floors were vacant.   Fire broke out in the building that morning, destroying the store of Lincoln Fabrics.  Smoke rose throughout the entire building.  It was intense enough to damage the stock of Henry Glass & Co.

The last quarter of the century saw profound changes in the old dry goods district, now known as Tribeca.  Where Lincoln Fabrics, Inc. had operated its store the trendy restaurant Arqua opened in 1987.  On May 4 New York Magazine reported "The newest good place to eat Italian food, according to Italian-cooking expert Giuliano Bugialli, is Arqua."


A conversion completed in 2002 resulted in one sprawling apartment per floor above the storefront.  Matteo Boglione opened his restaurant, White & Church, with partner Gian Perugini here in the summer of 2011.  Through it all Slade & Colby's striking 1868 sideways-facing structure has remained remarkably intact.

photographs by the author