Tuesday, June 20, 2023

The Julius Chambers House - 9 West 84th Street


In March 1884, architect Frank F. Ward designed a row of six narrow, three-story houses for Margaret A. Brennan on West 84th Street, just east of Ninth (later Columbus) Avenue.  Another developer, Terence Keirnan, apparently took notice and the following year, in May, he purchased the plots at 3 through 9 West 84th Street, just off Central Park West, from Alfred Corning Clark.  The deeds demanded "that only first-class dwelling houses would be erected on the property."

As Margaret A. Brennan had done, Keirnan hired Frank F. Ward to design the 19-foot-wide houses.  Each would cost the equivalent of $494,000 in 2023 to construct.  On August 14, 1886 the Real Estate Record & Guide reported that the homes were nearly completed, saying Kiernan was installing the interior woodwork.  The article noted that the entire block was now nearly developed and that the "handsome character of the improvement on Eighty-fifth street is particularly noticeable."

Kiernan's brownstone-fronted houses were four stories tall above English basements.  Ward's formal Renaissance Revival design included intricately carved panels at the parlor level, and complex architrave framing of the upper floor windows.  The doorway, with its carved and paneled double doors, was flanked by Scamozzi pilasters that upheld a double cornice.  Ward strayed from Renaissance Revival in the stoop, where the iron railings were quintessentially Queen Anne with a delightful sunburst motif.

In October 1890 Kiernan sold 9 West 84th Street to Julius Chambers.  Chambers paid $32,000 for the property, or about $985,000 today.

Joseph Pulitzer had lured Chambers to his New York World as its managing editor the previous year.   Born in Bellefontaine, Ohio in 1850, he began his journalistic career as a "printer's devil" at the age of 11 at the Bellefontaine Republican.  (A printer's devil was an apprentice who did various tasks like fetching type and ink.)  Chambers had made journalistic history  while working for the New York Tribune.  In an early example of what today would be called undercover reporting, he had friends commit him to the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum where he gathered inside information on the facility.  After ten days, his friends had him released and a series of shocking articles were published.  Chambers's articles earned him the distinction of being labeled the original muckraker by many.

Julius Chambers, from the collection of the Minnesota Historical Society

Just months before buying the 84th Street house, Chambers found himself in court.  Millionaire drygoods mogul Alexander Turney Stewart died on April 10, 1876, after which a number of unflattering articles appeared in the New York Tribune.  On April 30, 1890 a grand jury voted to indict Chambers along with Pulitzer and two other executives for "contriving and intending to injure, defame, and vilify and disgrace the memory, character, name and reputation of Alexander T. Stewart," as reported in The New York Times.  The charges were later dismissed.

Chambers was an author of several books, as well.  While living here he published the fictional The Rascal Club in 1893.  Publisher F. Tennyson Nelly wrote of the book that year, "It is certainly a book to charm all youthful readers; and many an old greybeard upon dipping into its fascinating pages will find himself being carried back over the decades that have elapsed since, in good company, he haunted the 'ol' swimmin'-hole.'  There is a vigor in Mr. Chambers' descriptions of life in an Ohio town during war times that amounts almost to enthusiasm."

No. 9 West 84th Street was sold in 1905 to Weston J. Smith and his wife.  The couple had one child.  Smith was the head of the dress-goods department of Ehrich's Department Store on Sixth Avenue.  A shocking scandal would bring the Smiths' residency to an abrupt end within a year.

In the summer of 1905, a 14-year-old girl, Annie Eppert, was hired in the store as a "cash girl."  Later in court she would testify "that she was a virtuous girl."  Court papers said, "shortly after her employment at Ehrich's store [Smith] manifested an interest in her and frequently expressed a desire to have her meet him outside, to have her go riding with him and to have her take dinner with him."

The girl initially refused, but, finally, just before Christmas 1905, she met him at the elevated station platform at 58th Street and Sixth Avenue.  He gave her car fare and told her to meet him at Central Park.  In the park, "he persuaded her to let him have intercourse with her in a secreted spot, after which they separated and she went home."  After the encounter, she again refused his advances, but he was resolute and the girl fell victim to him a second time on January 11, 1906, again in the park.  But this time a police officer came upon them while engaging in the act.

The prosecuting attorney told the court, "The defendant's wife and child were doubtless at their dinner or awaiting his return a few blocks to the west."  He was tried and found guilty of abduction and rape.  

Intricate Renaissance style carvings decorate the parlor level, including a bas relief face.  The sunburst railings can be glimpsed in the example to the right.

Shortly afterward Thomas Malloy purchased 9 West 84th Street.  Not long after the family moved in, the Malloys' daughter Elizabeth received her teacher's license on September 17, 1907.

Sometime after midnight on December 15, 1914, fire broke out in the apartment building next door.  The Sun reported the blaze "drove the ten families living there to the street in their nightclothes."  The article said that the families, shivering in the winter night air, "were given shelter in the home of Thomas Maloney [sic] at 9 West Eighty-fourth street."

Following Thomas Malloy's death, the family sold 9 West 84th Street to Frank and Rose V. Dingle in December 1920.  The couple resold the house in June following year to Charles S. Short.

It appears that in selling the house, the Dingles also let staff go.  An advertisement in the New York Herald that same month read, "Couple, congenial, would like to take care of estate, &c; or what have you to offer.  Bodkin, 9 West 84th st., New York city."

Short converted the house to a total of 14 furnished rooms.  Among the roomers in 1939 were Patrick O'Rafferty, a 42-year-old steeplejack; and Thomas Reilly.  

The two men were arrested separately in October that year on the complaint of Sally Ridder.  She told police they had appeared at her door representing themselves as detectives of the District Attorney's office.  They searched her apartment for a revolver and, when the "found" one, offered to "fix things up" for $200.  The New York Sun reported, "The commotion Miss Ridder made at this point, she said, put the men to flight."  Both men pleaded not guilty, however the article said, "A chuckle swept the line-up room and even O'Rafferty couldn't resist a grin when it was revealed that his record included a prison term of a year and a half in Dublin on charges of high treason, murder and escape."

In 1972, 9 West 84th Street was converted to apartments--a duplex in the basement and parlor level, and two apartments each on the floors above.  A subsequent renovation completed in 2009 returned it to a single family home.

photographs by the author
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