Thursday, March 11, 2021

The Skinny Twins at 44 and 46 East 64th Street


John and George Van Horn  began construction of two brownstone-faced houses at Nos. 44 and 46 East 64th Street in 1877.  Had they begun the project a decade later, as the lavish residences of Manhattan's wealthy inched northward along Central Park, the 25-foot wide plot would no doubt have accommodated a single residence.   But the neighborhood was filling with middle- and upper-middle class families at the time, so the Van Horns opted for two skinny, 12.5-foot wide structures.

Their architect, whose name has been lost, created two delightfully quirky mirror image houses.  A blend of neo-Grec and Queen Anne styles, the arched openings of the parlor levels were decorated with carved leaves and flowers.  Elaborate foliate brackets upheld three-sided bays where the windows were separated by engaged columns upon paneled pedestals.  The grouped windows of the third floor sat below a beefy, segmentally arched lintel with incised decorations.  The houses wore a shared pressed metal cornice.

The completed residences were offered for sale in September 1879 for $12,000 each (about $317,000 today).  The advertisement touted them as "elegantly and substantially finished."

No. 44 became home to Ida Alice Shourds.  Ida had grown up in relative poverty in Philadelphia.   After briefly trying a career on the stage, she turned to nursing.  It is quite possible that the East 64th Street house was a gift of her employer, Henry Morrison Flagler, a co-founder of the Standard Oil Company with John D. Rockefeller.

As the health of Flagler's wife, Mary, had begun to fail, he hired Ida Shourds as her private nurse and caregiver.  Romance blossomed behind the scenes and in 1883, two years after Mary's death, Flagler and Ida were married.  

Ida retained possession of the house until the summer of 1890, leasing it to insurance broker Edward Z. Lawrence and his wife, Kate.   She sold it on June 24 that year to attorney Samuel C. T. Dodd and his wife Melvina for the equivalent of $435,000 today.   Dodd knew Henry Flagler professionally as he had been the general solicitor of Standard Oil since January 1, 1881. 

(Incidentally, things would not end well for Ida.  In 1897 Flagler had her declared insane and committed to an asylum.  That enabled him to obtain a divorce and ten days after it was granted he remarried.)

In the meantime, No. 46 had been purchased by real estate operator Jessie F. Ferris as a rental property.  In 1883 she leased it to Samuel W. Ehrich, a partner in the Ehrich Brothers dry goods store at the corner of Eighth Avenue and 22nd Street.  The rent on his one-year lease was $2,600--around $5,800 per month today.  Jessie Ferris's rental advertisement in March 1888 described the house as "medium size and in elegant order."

She sold No. 46 on January 22, 1890 to Isabella Brooks Rutherfurd, the widow of Walter Rutherfurd, for the equivalent of half a million in today's dollars.  Sharing the house with her were her four adult sons, Walter, Jr., John Alexander, Francis Morris and William Walton.

Generations earlier the Rutherfurd family had been large landowners in Scotland.  Walter's grandfather was one of the commissioners who, in 1807, was appointed to lay out the grid plan of New York City above 14th Street.  Isabella also had an notable pedigree.  Her grandfather, Daniel Niel, was killed at the Battle of Princeton and her father, David Brooks, had served in the Revolutionary War.  Her great-grandfather was Lewis Morris, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

John Alexander Rutherfurd and his brother, Walter, were members of the brokerage firm of Myers, Rutherfurd & Co.   William was ordained a priest of the Episcopal church on June 16, 1889 and was connected with Trinity Church on Wall Street.  Francis became a civil engineer and on October 6, 1886 had been accepted into the American Society of Engineers.

Walter was the first of the sons to leave home.  Following his marriage to Louise Livingston Jones the couple moved to Madison Avenue.  In December 1897 the engagement of Rev. William Rutherford to Anna Jackson was announced.  Three years later the couple moved into a newly remodeled residence at No. 14 East 74th Street.  

On January 4, 1898, The New York Times reported "Francis M. Rutherfurd, who has been living at 46 East Sixty-fourth Street with two of his brothers and his mother, and is connected with the Building Department, has just contracted a marriage, which was a matter of some surprise to his family."

Walter told the reporter that he knew "practically nothing" about his brother's marriage, "although his family had some previous notion that he was going to renounce the single state."  The article said that Isabella, who "has been in poor health for some time" had met her new daughter-in-law, Alice W. Whitehead, but had been unaware of the wedding.

By 1902 Dr. John Bessner Huber was renting the Dodd house next door.  His medical office was in the house as well.  On November 29 that year the New York Herald reported that he "was rudely disturbed while at his professional duties yesterday by a fire engine.  He ascertained that the fire was in his own house, at No. 44 East Sixty-fourth street."  A live coal had fallen onto a carpet causing the fire.  "The blaze was extinguished within a few seconds and the damage was trifling," said the article, "although the physician was much disturbed over the occurrence."

Huber had every reason to be much disturbed.  He had been in the midst of performing an operation at the time.  His patient, "shook off the influence of an anaesthetic [sic] at the alarm of fire, and, almost impaling himself on a knife, made a frantic attempt to leap out of the window, only to be restrained by Dr. Huber."

Huber's bachelorhood came to an end two years later.  On June 25, 1903 the New York Herald reported "Dr. and Mrs. John Bessner Huber, whose marriage took place in Grace Church a short time ago, are now at their residence, No. 44 East Sixty-fourth street, where they will remain during the greater part of the summer."  

A month after that article Isabella Brooks Rutherfurd died at Fair Lawn, the summer estate of her son, Walter, in Cooperstown, New York.  John Alexander Rutherford married the widowed Cora Baker Davis on May 6, 1905 and moved his bride into the East 64th Street house.  

He sold the property in July 1908 to attorney Francis Smyth and his similarly-named wife, Frances Smyth.  Smyth was the partner of Henry W. Taft, the brother of William Howard Taft who would be elected President of the United States that fall.  

No. 44 East 64th Street continued to house a doctor and his family when Melvina S. Dodd sold it to dentist Edward F. Concklin in June 1911.   He lived in and practiced in the house for two decades.  Domestic problems ended in divorce in 1921, with his wife moving to Paris.  He afterward shared the house with his secretary, Isabelle Moran, and his housekeeper, Lempe Wirth.

The first years of the Great Depression brought what Isabelle Moran caleed "heavy financial losses," for the doctor.  By the end of 1931 the 56-year-old was suffering severe depression.  On December 22 The New York Sun reported, "Some time between 1 A.M., when he retired and 7 A.M. when a furnace man found his body, Dr. Concklin went in his pajamas to the basement, aimed a 12-guage double-barreled shotgun at his head and pulled the trigger.  He must have died at once; the back of his head was blown off."

In 1937 No. 44 was being operated as furnished rooms, two per floor.  The Smyths had sold No. 46 in 1919 to Dr. Edwin Pyle, a clinical surgeon with Cornell University.  It was sold in 1943 to Alice Debuys and five years later its next door twin was again a single family home.

In the 1960's both houses were painted and the color choice was a surprise to syndicated columnist Walter Winchell.  His column on December 20, 1963 read in part, "The former brownstone homes at 44-46 East 64th Street have pink fronts, pink doors, pink stoops and one occupant there displays a Christmas wreath in pink!  That's like Hollywood where they have blue yule trees."

While No. 46 continues to be a single family home, No. 44 was converted to offices in 2013, now home to the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation.  The pink paint on both has been covered over by a coat of white; but hopefully someday the brownstone will be resurrected.

photographs by the author

1 comment:

  1. I would love to see floor plans and how they worked with a 12.5 width!