Tuesday, June 9, 2020

The 1894 Benjamin Olio House - 62 West 71st Street

photo via streeteasy.com

At a time when real estate operators were throwing up rows of houses in the quickly-developing Upper West Side, on October 1891 developer John S. Hawley paid $16,000 to Francis Crawford for a single vacant lot at No. 62 West 71st Street, between Columbus Avenue and Central Park West.   The price, equal to about $464,000 today, spoke of the skyrocketing property values in the neighborhood.  The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide commented that Hawley bought the empty plot "for improvement."

Improve it he did.  He hired John Rochester Thomas to design a high-class residence on the 25-foot wide plot.  His choice of architects was a bit surprising.  Thomas was not known for his domestic work, but for his designing of prisons, armories, college buildings and churches.  His 71st Regiment Armory, completed in 1893, would loom over Park Avenue like a brooding medieval fortress.  

Shortly after accepting John S. Hawley's commission John Rochester Thomas would begin work on the 71st Regiment Armory.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Construction on the 71st Street house began in 1892 and was completed two years later.  Thomas's familiarity with prisons and armories was evident in the striking Romanesque Revival residence.   

Approached by a dog-legged box stoop, the wide, arched entrance sat within a slightly projecting rusticated stone base.  The second and third floors held a dizzying array of shapes--an angled bay at the second floor topped by grouped openings within a large arch at the third, and and a two-story bay with gently rounded corners.  The fourth floor took the form of an arcade with engaged Corinthian columns.  Rather than a cornice, Thomas topped the structure with a corbelled, battle-ready parapet.

photo via the NYC Dept of  Records & Information Services
In April 1894 Hawley sold the house to Benjamin Odio for $60,000--or about $1.84 million today.  Odio was a partner with Felipe Perozo and Jose Lavandeyre in Odio & Perozo.  The firm dealt in a broad variety of imported products like tobacco, mahogany, cedar and coconuts.

Odio's residency was short-lived.  By 1896 the family of Salvador Ros occupied No. 62.  Born in Cuba, Ros was a naturalized citizen.  He controlled the 80,000-acre plantation, the Santa Fe Plantation and Sugar Company, in the Dominican Republic.  In 1896 the factory on the plantation was producing 40,000 bags of sugar per year.

Ros and his wife had three sons, Salvador E., Osvaldo and Leonico.  The boys enjoyed the privileges of massive wealth, including educations in the United States and France.  

On November 3, 1896 the Evening Telegram announced "The marriage of Miss Seltman to Dr. Osvaldo Ros, son of Mr. and Mrs. Salvador Ros, of West Seventy-first street, will be solemnized to-morrow evening in the Church of the Blessed Sacrament."  The bride was Olga T. Seltman, whose well-to-do family had immigrated from Germany.

The family's joy turned to grief six months later.  On April 30, 1897 26-year old Leonico had died.  His funeral was held in the 71st Street house on May 2.

The announcement of the household sale in November 1901 hinted at the family's luxurious furnishings.  Among the items offered for sale were an Empire parlor suite, Persian and silk rugs, marble "figures and busts," and "a collection of Oil Paintings by the leading American and foreign artists."

No. 62 was purchased by Victor C. Cadieux, who not only changed homes that year, but professions.   In February The Morning Telegraph had reported "Mr. Victor C. Cadieux, who has for many years devoted a great portion of his time to the collection of art, has opened an auction gallery under the Victoria Hotel...where he intends to carry on monthly sales of high class art furniture and bric-a-brac.  Mr. Cadieux has felt the need, for many years, of a place where American artists could dispose of their work direct to the public."

The millionaire collector filled the 71st Street house with artwork, antiques and European furniture.  But his new venture was an almost instant failure.  The first hint of his financial collapse came a year later, in October 1902, when an "Announcement Extraordinary" appeared in the New-York Tribune.  It advertised the "absolute auction" of the artwork within "The Palatial Residence of Mr. Victor C. Cadieux."  The announcement described a "wealth of rarest art treasures," saying "seldom has a sale of equal importance and magnificence been ordered."

But it was not only the collection bronzes, porcelains and paintings Cadieux was selling.  The ad went on to describe his Steinway baby grand piano, a tall case clock, bedroom, dining room and library furniture, and even the china "from the art centers of Europe."

The sale did not stave off the inevitable and on July 30, 1903 Cadieux declared bankruptcy.  Five months later the house was sold at foreclosure auction for $45,000 (about $1.35 million today).  The buyer was socialite Mary Jay Schieffelin, the great-granddaughter of John Jay and the widow of millionaire William Henry Schieffelin.

She had no intention of living in the house, however, but had other designs for it.  On November 5, 1904 The Globe and Commercial Advertiser announced "The Vedanta Society, which removed during to the summer to its society house at 62 West Seventy-first street, will resume its lectures there to-morrow morning.  The opening theme of the Swami Abhedananda will be 'The Necessity of Religion."

The Vedantic faith first took root in Manhattan in 1894 when Swami Vivekananda arrived after delivering lectures in Chicago.  He founded the New York sect of the religion, first meeting in rented rooms.  In October 1899 the Vedanta Society established permanent headquarters in Tuxedo Hall.  Only five years later it needed the larger quarters.

In reporting on the Society's tenth anniversary celebrations in January 1905, the New-York Tribune noted "the members of the society follow the teachings of Swami Vivekananda, who came to this country from India in 1893 to represent the Vedantic philosophy at the Parliament of Religions at Chicago.  The work in this city is led by the Swami Abhedananda."

The 1907 issue of The World Almanac and Encyclopedia detailed the Vedanta explained "The object of the Society is not to form a new sect or creed, or to make proselytes, but to explain through logic and reason the spiritual laws that govern our lives."  It noted that in the 71st Street building were its "Circulating Library, Reading Room and Chapel."  During the winter season a service and lecture were held every Sunday morning by Swami Abhedananda.  "There are Yogo classes for practical training in the Science of Breathing, in Concentration, Meditation and Self-Control every Thursday evening," said the article.

In 1908 the Vedanta Society had again outgrown its headquarters  and moved to No. 135 West 80th Street.  No. 62 was leased to Mrs. S. M. Moody in 1910.  The family remained through 1913 when George F. Moody, presumably a son, purchased a house in the Bronx.   Once again a sale of the upscale furnishings, held on April 29, 1913, received significant attention. 

Around 1941 the had house survived with little change.  via the NYC Department of Records & Information Services
Mary Jay Schieffelin died on January 18, 1916 and the 71st Street house was soon afterward being operated as a rooming house.  One female renter hoped to find new roommates in April 1923, advertising "Young Lady shares rooms with girls.  Kitchenette."

In 1965 the once elegant home was converted to a total of 17 apartments.  It was most likely at this time that the stoop was removed, the entrance moved to street level, and the lower level given a bizarre space age remake.  The red brick and brownstone which once highlighted the contrast of color, materials and shapes, was painted white. 

Despite the abuse (and partly because of it) the former Olio residence stands out on the block just as it did in 1894.

1 comment:

  1. That's a nice Diocletian window on the third floor above the angled bay.