Monday, March 1, 2021

The Lost Charles Osborn Mansion - 585 Fifth Avenue

 

The Osborn house is in the middle of the photograph.  from Collin's Both Sides of Fifth Avenue, 1910 (copyright expired)


Born on December 18, 1839, Charles J. Osborn had started his career in the leather industry before entering Wall Street during the Civil War.  He attracted the attention of millionaires Jay Gould and James Fisk, Jr. and eventually handled almost all of Gould's transactions.  By the time he and his wife, the former Miriam Adelaide Trowbridge, began looking for the site of their new home in 1875 he had accumulated a significant fortune as the senior member of the brokerage firm C. J. Osborn & Co.

They chose a mid-block parcel on the east side of Fifth Avenue between 47th and 48th Street.  The increasingly fashionable neighborhood was reflected in the sale price--about $1.7 million today.  Construction on the residence was completed in 1878. 

Four stories tall above an English basement, it was a mixture of the Renaissance Revival and emerging neo-Grec styles.  Triangular pediments graced the openings of the parlor level, and the upper floor windows wore prominent molded lintels.  And angled bay above the entrance provided a picturesque balcony at the third floor.

Charles and Miriam had one son, Howell, who was 19-years old when the family moved in.  He was already employed, working as a clerk (presumably in his father's firm), in 1879.

Families of significant wealth required a country seat, as well.  On July 28, 1883 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported "Charles J. Osborn, of Stock Exchange renown, is about to have erected a splendid summer residence at Mamaroneck, N. Y."   The journal noted, "A country house implies a more deliberate intent and more definite plans for enjoyment than a town house, which is, in a way, a thing of necessity.  For one thing, it is associated more closely with the season of a man's leisure.  Leisure to men like Mr. Osborn--and, in fact, to most Americans--has a modified meaning, and wealth enables them to adjust it to suitable conditions."

Osborn had hired McKim, Mead & White to design the sumptuous residence who announced it "will be three stories in height, and contain three stone towers, as well as a piazza on the ocean side overlooking a fine stretch of scenery."

The site on the Long Island Sound would be convenient for Osborn's favorite pastime, yachting.  The New York Times pointed out "He is a devoted yachtsman and is the owner of the Dreadnaught, which was built by Capt. Samuels for Mr. a. B. Stockwell."  

Osborn never got to enjoy his magnificent summer estate.  A Monograph of the Work of McKim, Mead & White, 1879-1915, (copyright expired)

The "season of a man's leisure" was about to become permanent for Osborn.  Despite his relative youth, his health was not good.  On April 2, 1884 The New York Times reported "Mr. Osborn resigned his position as a member of the Governing Committee of the Stock Exchange about two weeks ago, and his withdrawal from the firm of C. J. Osborn & Co., of which he is a special partner, will take effect May 1."

The article explained that Osborn "has been one of the busiest men in Wall-street...His retirement from active business is said to be chiefly due to his desire for rest and relaxation.  The state of his health, some of his friends assert, necessitates his taking this step."

Sadly, he would not live to see his magnificent summer estate completed.  He died in the Fifth Avenue mansion on November 11, 1885.  In a rather accusatory obituary, the South Dakota newspaper, The Warner Sun, wrote:

Charles J. Osborn, a noted New York broker--46 years old and worth $5,000,000 died recently from disease caused by continuous mental excitement, accompanied by a luxurious method of life, with wine and stimulating food to maintain the system under the exhausting drafts on its resources and vitality.  All his mature years were spent in the midst of the riot and excitement of Wall street speculation.  He was wonderfully lucky, but gnawing and lacerating anxieties must have preyed upon his mind; the alternate periods of depression and exaltation in his hopes, his fears and his fortunes, his constant torture on the rack of expectation, wore out his life and dragged him to a premature grave.

The Record & Guide commented on November 18, "The [country] house of Mr. Charles J. Osborn was scarcely ready for his acceptance when his death occurred.  Mr. Osborn was a man young enough to have been exempt from the fact that is said to attend men who build for themselves new homes and prepare to enjoy them."  His body was interred in the magnificent McKim, Mean & White designed Osborn mausoleum in Woodlawn Cemetery.

No. 585 Fifth Avenue quickly became home to U. S. Army Captain Warren C. Beach and his wife, the former Julia Norrie.  The couple had been married just two years earlier, in 1883.  

Beach had graduated from West Point in June 1865--just weeks after the end of the Civil War.  In 1886, months after moving into their new home, Beach resigned from military duty.

Warren and Julia gave glittering entertainments, their names appearing in society columns for dinners and theater parties.  Unlike many other millionaires, the Beaches preferred fashionable resort hotels to a private summer estate.  On June 20, 1896, for instance, the Troy, New York newspaper the Daily Times reported on their arrival in Saratoga.  "Captain Warren C. Beach and wife...arrived at the United States [hotel] last evening."  The article noted that Beach "is one of the old Saratoga visitors."

While they were away that summer the Beaches had interior renovations done to the Fifth Avenue house.  

Warren and Julia maintained another home in Washington D.C. where they spent time during the winter season.  On January 24, 1904, for instance, The Sun noted "Capt. and Mrs. Warren C. Beach will close their house at 585 Fifth avenue early in February and occupy for a time their establishment at 1811 H street, Washington, D.C."  And on February 25, 1906 the same newspaper reported, "Captain and Mrs. Warren C. Beach, who as usual have given a succession of elaborate dinners this winter, will go to their house in Washington on Thursday."

Beach suffered a serious scare on June 4, 1918.  The 65-year old was riding in his carriage in Central Park when one of the horses stumbled and, according to the New York Herald, "the subsequent jolt threw him out."  The coachman lost control of the frightened horses and the carriage dashed out of control up the West Drive, leaving Beach on the pavement with lacerations to the scalp and a concussion.

Julia died on August 19, 1921 at the age of 82.  Warren lived on in the house, continuing his social regimen alone.  The New York Herald remarked "For years Capt. Beach had a box at the Metropolitan Opera on Thursday nights, and at other performance he was rarely absent from his place in the club box.  It was his custom to provide himself with a cluster of red carnations which he always threw to the prima donna of the performance."

Beach attended the opera on January 13, 1922.  The following morning his body was found in the vestibule of the Fifth Avenue mansion.  The New York Herald reported "Capt. Beach had attended the performance of 'Ernani' at the Metropolitan Opera on Friday night and evidently, according to his custom, had walked home.  It was known to members of his family that he had a weak heart and he often had been cautioned not to exert himself."

Less than three months later his estate sold the mansion.  On April 8, 1922 The Record & Guide reported on the transaction, adding, "It is one of the few private houses remaining on the avenue south of 48th st."   It did not take long to demolish the old residence and on June 11, 1923 The Sun reported that a six-story building for Thomas Cook & Son was in the course of construction on the site.

Seen directly to the right of the taller Peck Building (center), the building that replaced the Osborn-Beach house survives.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Saturday, February 27, 2021

The John J. V. Westervelt House - 235 West 16th Street


Before the addition of a full fourth story, the third floor attic level matched that of the house to the left.

Around 1842 a row of brick-faced Greek revival homes were erected along the north side of West 16th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues.  Each was two full stories tall with a squat attic level.  A stone stoop led to the entrances above the brownstone basement level.  In October 1845 an advertisement appeared in the Morning Courier and New-York Enquirer that read:

To Let--The modern built two story and attic House, No. 153 West Sixteenth street, between the 7th and 8th avenues.  The house was newly painted last spring, has marble mantelpieces, and Croton water throughout.  Possession given on or before the 1st of November.  Rent $300 per annum.  The furniture in said house will be sold cheap for cash.

The monthly rent would equal about $875 today.

John Jacobus Van Buren Westervelt answered that ad.  He had married Phoebe Ann Bogert four years earlier on Christmas Day 1841.  Born in Old Tappan, New Jersey in 1804, he served as under sheriff of the city and county of New York in 1842 and was elected sheriff in 1846.  His and Phoebe's first child, Leonora Kirby, was born the year they moved into the 16th Street house and they would have six more.

Westervelt's duties as sheriff were varied, ranging from collecting fines to participating in coroner's inquests and in executions.  On July 20, 1849, for example, Matthew Wood was executed for the murder of his wife by poison.  A small crowd of 150 was admitted to the prison yard downtown to view the hanging.  The New York Herald reported "About 20 minutes past 12 o'clock, the death procession rounded the northwest corner of the prison; and advanced slowly and solemnly to the place of execution.  The sheriff, Mr. John J. V. Westervelt, and the under-sheriff, Mr. James C. Willet, were linked together, and both wore cocked hats and swords."

The Westervelt family remained in the house until the early 1850's, after which time it was shared by two families, that of David Morris (who listed no profession), and Charles S. Oakley, a "weigher."  He double-checked the weight of freight being unloaded on the East River docks.

One of the families had moved on by March 10, 1856 when an advertisement offered:

To Let--To a small, respectable family the upper part of the three story brick house No. 153 West Sixteenth street, consisting of four rooms and pantries on the second floor and two rooms on third floor, with bath room, gas, and a spacious yard; rent $260 per annum.

The monthly rent for half of the house would be about $650 today.  The new tenants were the family of Conrad Braker, Jr., who listed his occupation as a clerk at No. 142 Water Street.  He received a promotion the following year, possibly even being taken in as a partner, now listing his profession as an importer.

By 1861 Mary Leamy, the widow of Edward Leamy, leased the house from Antoinette Camp and operated it as a boarding house.  Her boarders were working class, like Adrian Graf, a gasfitter; Robert McVicar, a clerk; builder James Dunn, and another widow, Ann Ferrell.

In 1868 West 16th Street was renumbered, giving the residence its new address of No. 235.  In May the following year Thomas M. Graves purchased it for $12,000--about $232,000 today.

Graves was in the produce business, the principal of T. M. Graves & Co. located in the Washington Market.  He and his wife, Rachel, had an adult son who moved into the house with them.  William M. Graves was a city marshal.

The Graves leased a portion of their home to the family of Donna (sometimes listed as Donat) Fontanelle, a sash maker.  The Fontanelle's son, John, died on May 28, 1872 at the age of 41.  His funeral was held in the house three days later.  Only eight months later another funeral was held here.  Donna Fontanelle died at the age of 70 on January 15, 1873.

The next tenants of Thomas and Rachel Graves were the Prindle family.  James E. Prindle was a clerk and Elisha W. Prindle made his income as a watchman (the equivalent today of a security guard).  The Prindles were still sharing the house with Rachel Graves in 1880, following the death of Thomas A. Graves.

Rachel sold No. 235 West 16th Street in February 1882 to Thomas H. Cook.   The house received an updating in the summer of 1884 when architect A. Templer was hired to raise the height to four full floors.  Rather remarkably Templer perfectly matched the brick color and recreated the original lintels.  An especially handsome cast metal cornice brought the vintage house up to date.


Prior to the 1882 renovations, the height of No. 235 matched that of its gray-painted neighbor.

Cook would retain ownership of the house into the 20th century, however he did not live here.  It was again operated as a boarding house, its residents being slightly more affluent than in the past.  In 1901, for instance, Dr. Cavanaugh, an ambulance surgeon (what today would be called an EMT) at St. Vincent's Hospital; and Ralph B. Simmons, an insurance adjuster with an office on William Street were boarders.

The widow of Peter Reilly and her son, James, moved in within a few years.  Mrs. Reilly was born in Ballylongford, Ireland.  In 1916 James enrolled in Fordham University, but when World War I broke out, he went overseas with the Fordham Ambulance Corps.  Shortly after his unit arrived in France on August 22, 1917 he was transferred to the French Army.  A year later, on June 20, 1918 the 19-year old's name appeared on the "wounded in action" list.

Reporters came to the 16th Street house to interview his mother.  The feisty woman did not hold back.  "I am glad to know that 'Jimmy' is wounded and not captured by the Huns," she said.  "I would enlist myself, if they would take me, and fight hard to kill the Kaiser or catch him alive."  She went on to say "He is the seventh of my family to be fighting in France.  I have three cousins and three nephews over there."

Jimmy Reilly seems to have come home safe and sound.  His mother was still living in the 16th Street house when the funeral of his aunt, Mary Keane Tsumas, was held here.

Michael and Italia Mareaca purchased No. 235 in July of 1924.  They lived in the house, but as had been the case for decades, leased rooms.  Among the residents in 1933 was James Walsh when he put himself in a dangerous situation.

The Yonkers newspapers The Herald Statesman explained that he tried to cross Central Avenue through the rush of traffic following the last race at the Empire City race track on Saturday July 15.  Halfway across he found himself trapped among a swarm of moving automobiles and "jumped for the running board of a car operated by Arnold Schwartz."  But he was unable to hold on for long and "fell to the street, suffering contusions of the left thigh and leg, and abrasions of the hands."  He was held at Yonkers General Hospital.

Resident Thomas Costa's name appeared in newsprint for more serious reasons on May 18, 1938.  Costa was a known thug who ironically had been a policeman until his dismissal in 1925.  He was sentenced to Sing Sing in 1928 on a conviction of extortion, and was sent back in 1930 for parole violations. 

In the spring of 1938 detectives were investigating "a wave of extortions and attempts at extortion by persons operating in the midtown area in Manhattan," reported The New York Sun.  On May 17 the 39-year old Costa and his two accomplices, Albert Masone and James Gualtieri, were arrested and charged.



The house was officially converted to apartments in 1986--one per floor.  Today a brick stoop replaces the original brownstone and the entrance had been remodeled.  But overall No. 235 (given the catchy name The Chelsea Flats) looks much as it did after Thomas Cook made his substantial renovations in 1882.

photographs by the author

Friday, February 26, 2021

Ralph S. Townsend's 1895 35-39 Bond Street

 


The block of Bond Street between Broadway and Bowery was lined with elegant homes in the 1830's.  Wealthy merchants George Sharp and James Hagarty lived in Nos. 35 and 37 Bond Street, respectively, while Judge William Kent occupied No. 39.  That high-tone residential tenor would be long gone by the last quarter of the 20th century.

In 1892 Havens & Winters purchased the three properties.  The real estate developers were well known for erecting modern factory buildings.  For the Bond Street project they turned to architect Ralph S. Townsend who designed several Havens & Winters buildings.

Townsend produced two identical structures that successfully pretended to be one.  His tripartite Renaissance Revival style structures were faced in brick and stone and lavishly decorated with terra cotta.  Each two-story rusticated limestone base held a storefront.  The brick-faced midsection featured three-story arches.  The panels between the floors were decorated with elaborate terra cotta swags.  Egg-and-dart terra cotta eyebrows above the grand arches sprung from Renaissance faces.  The top floor featured triple arcades below a pressed metal cornice and frieze.

Havens & Winters were developers, not landlords.  On March 11, 1893 The Real Estate Record & Guide noted "Last week builders Havens & Winters sold their recently-completed stores on Bond street."  The journal noted, 'The district is one of the most active in the city now; every new building rents quickly, often in advance of completion, and the demand is unsupplied."

The upper floors filled with apparel firms.  Among them was neckwear manufacturer Berliner, Strauss & Denzer whose massive factory on Elizabeth Street had burned on January 9.  Within a month the firm had relocated to No. 35 Bond Street and on February 4 the management showed its appreciation to brave employees.  The Sun reported that the staff "assembled at 35 Bond street yesterday afternoon to witness a presentation of medals by the firm to employees whose coolness and courage had helped in saving the lives of over 600 persons."

The three young men had, indeed, showed bravery.  The elevator boy, Samuel Bernstein, refused to retreat from the burning building until he had successfully brought all the female employees down.  Another, Solomon Altschuler, rushed back into the offices to close the fireproof safe which contained $40,000 in cash; and Nathan Ullman had directed some of the young females to the roof where they were rescued.

Berline, Strauss & Denzer was undoubtedly the largest tenant in the building.  In 1895 it employed 35 men, five boys under 18 years old, 400 women, and 26 females under 21 (five of them under 16 years old).  They worked a grueling 54-hour work week. 

Other early tenants included the start-up firm, the Bloomingdale Company.  In its February 1894 issue The Clothier & Furnisher reported "There is a new concern in the manufacture of specialties in clothing line to be found at 39 Bond street.  Its founder, Larry Bloomingdale, "is ready now for business in garments for the Spring and Summer trade," said the article.  The size of Bloomingdale's operation paled when compared with Berliner, Strauss & Denzer.  In 1896 he was employing just three men.

The other tenants in the 1890's were clothing makers Cohen Mfg. Co., A. Robinowitz, J. Lamkay & Co., and Joseph Carmel & Co.  Unrelated to the garment trade was the Pacific Press Publishing Co., which operated from No. 39 by 1896.

Pacific Press Publishing was edited by Alonzo T. Jones.  It published books and pamphlets, most with a decided religious theme.  Among the books offered in 1899 were Sunbeams of Health and Temperance, Heralds of the Morning, and Almost A Man.  An advertisement for Almost A Man promised, "every boy will read it, and be better for it as was the boy in the story.  It is intended to help mothers and teachers in the delicate task of teaching the lad concerning himself, purely, yet with scientific accuracy."

The firm also published the weekly American Sentinel, "published in the interests of [issues] Religious, Liberty-Christian and Constitutional."  The articles shared a similar theme.  In the September 14, 1899 issue, for example, were articles entitled "Rome Aims to Rule the State," "Papal Titles for Sale," and "Political Religion."

The American Sentinel, July 13, 1899 (copyright expired)

The turn of the century saw a diversification of the tenant list.  In 1901 the ungainly named Standard Cloth Examining, Sponging and Refinishing Works was here, employing 11 men who worked 59 hours per week.  Restoff & Bettman, manufacturers of "leather dressings" occupied space in 35 by 1905, and advertising agent Martin J. Ott's office was here in 1907. 

Ott found himself in hot water on April 1 that year.  He was at a an office in No. 28 Ann Street where an illegal horse betting operation, known as a pool room, was conducted.  Suddenly Police Captain E. J. Toole and six detectives rushed in.  Ott was among those arrested, charged with aiding and abetting a poolroom.  It was no doubt a humiliating incident for him, and one which could be damaging to his professional reputation.  The New-York Tribune said "A large crowd watched the men being put into the patrol wagon."

Clothing manufacturer Jacob Cohn had operated from No. 39 as early as 1896.  His was a modest business with a staff of only about ten.   For several months in 1910 orders of cloth to be made into clothing mysteriously disappeared before making it to Bond Street.  On December 12 the New-York Tribune reported "Cohn has been missing bills of lading for goods shipped over the New York Central and other railroads.  Detectives discovered that the original bills of lading for shipments of goods to Cohn had been presented and the goods delivered."

When the freight depot turned over the signed bills of lading to detectives, they showed Jacob Cohn's signature--except "Cohn said the signatures on the bills were forgeries."  Investigation soon focused on the 19-year old office boy, Abe Silverberg.

As it turned out, the teen had been "impelled by one man to open letters and purloin bills of lading," explained the New York Press.  He would deliver them to Moses Trosky, who then signed the documents and claimed the freight.  The incentive was hard to resist.  Following Silverberg's arrest on December 18, Detective David Brown told reporters that "Not long ago...Trosky handed him $70 as his share of the loot.  Silverberg had $30 when arrested."  The $70 would equal nearly $2,000 in today's money.

The first decades of the 20th century continued to see a mix of tenants.  In 1917 the Columbia Dye Works, Inc. was in No. 39.  When a client failed to pay its invoice in August 1917, the firm sold the finished goods at auction--"2,000 opposum skins, dyed black."

The appearance of the buildings in 1932 is essentially unchanged today.  Photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

In 1922 the start-up firm of Israel Brothers, manufacturers of "fabric and imitation leather belts," opened in No. 39.  Other tenants of the buildings in the 1920's included the Boston Ladies' Hat Company, the Exclusive Hat Frame Company, and the American Mirror Works.  

Mid-century saw a more industrial type tenant.  Greenwich Village Plumbers Supply, Inc. moved in in the mid-1950's and remained through 1997.  But the last quarter of the 20th century were dark days for the neighborhood.  Most of the building sat vacant throughout the 1970's.

But little-by-little the block revived as artists discovered the Noho neighborhood.  In 1973 photographer Harold Feinstein rang a ten-week creative photography workshop in his studio in No. 39.  The course, open to beginners and advanced students, cost $100 (a little more than five times that much in today's dollars).

In 1977 the Carat Conway Dance Studio opened.  It staged works like the 70-minute work "Zero As A Value" presented on December 19, 1980.  The Villager described it as "a trilogy comprised of a monologue, a film and a dance that become interwoven."

In 1994 the buildings were joined internally and the upper floors converted to joint living-work quarters for artists, just two or three sprawling spaces per floor.  In 2000 the Soho shop Peter Roberts Antiques relocated to No. 39, and shortly after Modernlink furniture store moved into No. 35.   Lobel Modern Gallery replaced Peter Roberts Antiques in 39 around 2007.


After its more than 125 years, Ralph S. Townsend's handsome commercial structure continues to be a handsome architectural presence.

photographs by the author

Thursday, February 25, 2021

The Dr. John T. Metcalfe House - 18 West 30th Street

 

Battered today, the house can only hint at its former elegance.

Born in 1818, John Thomas Metcalf graduated from West Point in 1838 and served in the military for two years before studying medicine.  Having gotten his degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1843, he spent two years in Paris and Edinburgh furthering his education.  Upon returning, according to the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, "he quickly took and held, and that without much apparent effort, a place in the very front rank of medical practitioners in the city of New York."

In 1845, the same year he returned to New York, he married Harriet Augusta Colles.  The couple never had children and Harriet died after a short illness on April 20, 1863 at the age of 41.

Metcalf's well-to-do patients were moving uptown past 14th Street at the time of his wife's death.  In 1868 he purchased a newly-completed house at No. 18 West 30th Street, between Fifth Avenue and Broadway.

It was one of a row of identical high-end homes.  Faced in brownstone, they rose four stories above high English basements.   The austere neo-Grec architrave frames of the openings and the angular lines of the pressed metal cornices were softened by the stylish slate-shingled mansard roofs, a nod to the Second Empire style.

The fish scale shingles survive on the mansard.

That Dr. Metcalfe was held in high regard by the medical community was evidenced in the spring of 1873.  The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Salmon P. Chase, arrived in New York on May 3 for a short visit to his daughter Jeanette and son-in-law William S. Hoyt.  They lived near Metcalfe at No. 4 West 33rd Street.   

Three days later at around 6:30 a.m., he suffered a heart attack.  The family doctor, J. G. Perry, was called in and, according to The New York Times, "All that medical skill could suggest was done at once; but the patient continued unconscious and the apoplectic fit was speedily followed by almost total paralysis of the left side."  Dr. Perry sent for Dr. Metcalf to consult in the case.  Despite their valiant efforts, Chase died on May 7.

Metcalf's schedule was ponderous.  Besides his private practice which he operated from the 30th Street house, he was a professor of clinical medical at the College of Physicians and Surgeons.  The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal noted that he "was idolized by his classes."

The doctor was the victim of a clever scam in January 1881.  He took a family heirloom, a silver pitcher, to Tiffany & Co. to be repaired and on January 12 a messenger delivered the valuable piece.  Unknown to him, a wily crook had loitered outside the shop and followed him.  The Sun reported, "The carrier of the firm delivered the pitcher to Mary Green, the Doctor's housemaid, at about 6 o'clock...As she closed the street door she heard another ring at the door bell."

A second young man apologized and said that the messenger had made a dreadful mistake, and that the package was intended for a house on 31st Street.  Mary handed over the still wrapped bundle and the man hurried off.  The next day Detective Keirns noticed John O'Brien pawning scraps of "battered silver" in a pawn shop on Eight Avenue.  Immediately suspicious, he arrested the youth.  Later, said The Sun, "Dr. Metcalfe identified the silver as parts of his missing pitcher."

By 1883 a colleague, Dr. Charles S. Ward, lived in No. 18 West 30th Street with Metcalf.   The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal called him "for many years well known as a prominent gynecologist and general practitioner in New York."  He maintained a summer estate in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

In 1886 Dr. Metcalf hired the architectural firm of D. & J. Jardine to design a four-story house at No. 147 West 57th Street.  Upon moving in in 1888 he leased his former home to The New-York Whist Club, organized in February that year.  On May 6 the New-York Tribune reported that the club had moved from the American Jockey Club building to "attractive new quarters at No. 18 West Thirtieth-st."  The article noted, "This is a handsome and spacious house, formerly used both for residence and office purposes by the well-known physicians, Dr. John T. Metcalfe and Dr. Ward, who have moved up-town."

The club was composed of some of the wealthiest men of Manhattan.  The New-York Tribune said it "is absorbing in its membership the best whist players of all the principal clubs of the city."  Among the New-York Whist Clubs members were J. Pierpont Morgan, William K. Vanderbilt, S. Howland Robbins, and William C. Schermerhorn.  Members paid an initiation fee of $50 (about $1,400 today) and annual dues of $25.

James Grant Wilson, editor of The Memorial History of the City of New-York, noted that the club "not only makes a specialty of the game of whist, but also of dinners that are served as if the members belonged to a private family."

The club experienced problems in 1891.  The Sun reported on March 26 that "About half a dozen men had got into the club two or three years ago who were supposed at the time to be suitable in every way as members.  But they developed traits after they had been in the club some time which made them objectionable to many of the members."  Of the six there was one "who proved himself peculiarly obnoxious in a social way, but all the hints which he received were of no avail, and he did not seem to show any desire to resign."

The Sun explained, "The objectionable members were to be found in the club house at almost any hour, and their actions were so boisterous at times that some of the other members who might be playing whist would stop their games and flee from the house."  As a result, the club's membership began to wane in 1890.  

A meeting was held on March 26, 1891 during which a drastic solution was conceived.  The Sun entitled an article "Dies To Kill Its Bacilli" and explained that the members decided to dissolve the club, and then form a new one to which membership would be denied to the "obnoxious" former members.  On March 23 the club ceased to exist and a small, easily-overlooked auction announcement was placed in newspapers.  It offered the furnishings and the lease on the house at a private sale.  There was only one bidder, former club member Matthew Morgan.  He resold the furnishings (including the wine and cigars) and the lease to the newly-formed Whist Club of New York.   On January 2, 1892 The World commented, "To outsiders the difference between the New York Whist Club and the Whist Club of New York, with the same home, at No. 18 West Thirtieth street, the same furniture, and to a large extent the same members, may seem less than the difference 'twist tweedledum and twedledee."

But the club survived only one more year, victim to a new game called bridge whist.  A gambling fad brought from Paris, the game infiltrated the leather-upholstered rooms of the Whist Club of New York.  The Sun reported, "This new game soon had such a hold on the club that the tables at 18 West Thirtieth street were almost exclusively devoted to its play...much to the disgruntlement of the gray-headed and gray-bearded members who belonged to the club and played whist for whist's sake."  At the time of The Sun's article 30 members had resigned and a dozen others had joined them to form a new club.  It signaled the end of the New York Whist Club.

In January 1895 Dr. John T. Metcalfe hired the architectural firm of James M. Macgregor & Son to convert his former home for business.  The stoop was removed and a new iron storefront was installed, and the upper floors renovated to apartments.

The store became home to Jacob Lichtenstein's upscale hat shop.  In October 1895 the Evening Post announced that the store "will exhibit this week the largest assortment of exquisite things n Trimmed Millinery ever shown in this city, consisting of Fine Hats, Bonnets, Toques, Pelerines, and Muffs, both imported and of their own design."  A Vogue journalist wrote:

In passing through Thirtieth Street, between Fifth Avenue and Broadway...I was struck by the appearance of a new store painted white, that had goods uniquely displayed in a window in a way which would remind one of a Paris milliner's.  The styles were swell and elegant, and something out of the ordinary, even nicer than those on Fifth Avenue.

The Evening World, September 30, 1895 (copyright expired)

The upper floors, described by the New York Herald in 1897 as "a bachelor apartment house," offered amenities like "light, heat and janitor service."  The apartments filled with affluent residents.  Among them that year was J. G. Creamer, a member of the Harvard and the University Club; and Dr. A. Bradley.   Bradley, who occupied rooms from 1896 to at least 1899, was, like his landlord, a prominent physician.

The remodeled house can be seen at the far left in this photo taken about 1911.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

In May 1907 the "athletic goods" store of Wright & Ditson moved into the commercial space.  The firm not only sold sporting goods, but manufactured many of its items.  On May 10 Hardware magazine noted, "This will put them in the heart of the business section of the town and will be the means of giving them a large field."

Irving C. Wright, a partner in the firm, moved into one of the upstairs apartments.  He was a recognized tennis player.  The same year the store moved into No. 18 he won the Long Island Lawn Tennis Championship.

Irving Wright was living in 18 West 30th Street in 1908 when he played in the Crescent Club tennis match in June 1908.  photo from the collection of the Library of Congress

Wright & Ditson remained in the store until 1912 when it was leased to the Chu Wong Chuck Co.  The series of commercial tenants to come included the Kaycs Manufacturing Company in 1915; Beyerie Mfg., makers of "dress shields and sanitary aprons," by 1921; and the Aetna Carpet Company in 1931.

In the meantime, the once refined residential neighborhood had noticeably changed.  Most of the old houses were razed for modern loft buildings.  Several of the tenants of the upstairs apartments in No. 18 caught the attention of the Federal Government in the Depression years.  In 1936 both Josephine Headon and Alfred H. Hirsch were on the list of voters for the Communist Party.  And in 1940 resident Irving Mendell was added to the roster.

That year the estate of John T. Metcalfe sold the recently remodeled property.  The New York Times noted, "An ownership dating from 1868 has been terminated by the sale" and noted, "The upper floors of the building contain two and three room suites and the first and second floors a store and showroom."

The commercial space continued to see a variety of tenants, including Contemporary Color Transp. Dye, in the 1970's; publishers Ecco Press and the New York Antaeus, here from 1981 to about 1986, and P.A. C. Imports, Inc., which sold ladies' woven garments from India.


A renovation completed in 1990 resulted in one apartment each on the fourth and fifth floors and two on the top level.  More than a bit battered today, the John Metcalfe house is the sole survivor of the 1868 row and the last hint of a fashionable period along the block.

photographs by the author
many thanks to reader Ted Leather for suggesting this post

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

The Lincoln Kirstein House -128 East 19th Street



In 1847 Hamilton Fish erected a three-story stable building at No. 88 East 19th Street (renumbered 128 in 1865).  It was leased to Lewis G. Irving who moved his family into the upper floors and conducted his storage business from the stables area.  His was a significant operation with two other locations further downtown.
 
Five years later John T. Smith took over the lease.  He was a carriagemaker in partnership with William H. Ludlum.  Smith's family now lived in the upper floors with the Ludlum & Smith carriage factory on the ground floor.  Theirs was a small operation, as evidence by the size of the space.  As vehicles were completed, advertisements appeared like this one from October 22, 1853:

For Sale--One two seated Rockaway and light wagons with and without tops.  Inquire at Ludlow & Smith's, 88 East Nineteenth street.

On March 1, 1859 the partners issued a statement that "the copartnership heretofore existing under the name of Ludlum & Smith, carriage builders, 88 East Nineteenth street, is this day dissolved by mutual consent."

Hugh McGarr had listed himself as "horseshoer" until now.  Perhaps seeing the opportunity to expand, he rented the building and partnered with carriagemaker David F. Waldron.  As Smith had done, he moved his family into the floors above the new carriage shop.

The factory's location teetered between the boisterous Little Germany district to the east, filled with tenements, bier gartens and German social clubs, and the increasingly elegant residential neighborhood to the west.  Gramercy Park, just two blocks north, was ringed with the mansions of some of Manhattan's wealthiest and most influential citizens.

It resulted in a perhaps unexpected architectural compromise around 1874.  Neil McLean leased No. 128 East 19th Street and renovated the upper two stories as a home for his family.  He used the ground floor for his private stable.  When he sold his wife's "handsome phaeton horse" in May 1874 he noted "will be sold from a gentlemen's private establishment for want of use, very low for cash.  Call at private stable No. 128 East Nineteenth street, during the week."

Living upstairs with McLean were his wife, Catharine, and sons Archibald and William.  Archibald was a stock broker with offices at No. 81 Cedar Street and William was a clerk.

Neil McLean died here the house on December 22, 1875.  His family stayed on and in 1877 Archibald joined other well-heeled businessmen in complimenting the Commissioners of Police in a letter to the mayor.  It said in part that the commissioners had done much "toward raising the discipline of the force, weeding out the faithless and incompetent officers, preserving the public peace, and enforcing law."  McLean's name was among some of the most recognized in city, including Sloane, Townsend, Morgan, Dodge and Chase.

The McLeans left East 19th Street by the mid-1880's.  The upper floors of No. 128 were being operated as a rooming house in the 1890's and early 1900's.  The varied tenant list included Steve Maley, who advertised himself as "character Irish comedian" while living here from about 1888 through 1890; carpet cleaner David McCloskey; and Edward Doran, the chauffeur of Baron Schlippenbach, Russian Consul General, in 1909.

An eyebrow raising ad was placed by one tenant on May 3, 1893, that read: "Colored Ladies--Wanted, three athletic colored girls immediately; good pay; call to-day.  128 East 19th st."

Astounding change began on the block in 1911 when architect Frederick Junius Sterner transformed an outdated Greek Revival house into a stucco-covered Mediterranean-style residence.  Quickly old houses and stables were revamped into romantic artists' studios and homes, earning the block the nickname “The Block Beautiful.”

In 1913 the Fish estate leased No. 128 East 19th Street to William Nelson Burritt and his wife, the former Anna Castle.  Both were well-known vocal coaches.  William was described by Music and Musicians as "one of the best known and ablest vocal teachers in the country."

William Nelson Burritt, Music & Musicians, 1899 (copyright expired)

The Burritts joined the Block Beautiful movement and transformed No. 128.  On August 3 The Sun noted, "It was a ramshackle affair when Mrs. Burritt, who might well be called a stable studio expert, since she has already remodeled at least three of them, took hold of it.  To-day it is as artistic an abode as can be found anywhere in town and possesses many features that are both novel and artistic."

The Burritts spent just over $37,000 in today's money in remodeling the building into a two-family house for themselves and their daughter Katherine and son-in-law, attorney Harold S. Deming.  Anna had acted as her own architect.  She joined the main structure with the smaller building in the rear yard, creating a footprint 30 by 60 feet.  The carriage bays became a short window and an entrance to the Deming's space which mirrored the Burritt's doorway to the left.  "The remaining space was thrown into two broad French windows in the centre," said The Sun.

The Burritts' reception room was furnished in Mission style and "On the walls are scores of autograph photographs of musical and other celebrities here and abroad," according to The Sun.  Also on the ground floor were Anna's studio, the "7 o'clock dining room" and a kitchenette.  The Burritts also enjoyed a "bedroom, guest room and library" on the second floor.  The Demings' space was similar to the Burritts.  "Along with the living quarters of each domicile are closets innumerable, big ones of the sort one expects to find only in country houses," said The Sun.  "All sorts of contrivances for the convenience of the housekeeper are there too, as well as special fittings for the feminine wardrobe."

One contrivance that Anna Burritt did not include was electricity.  The Sun said "Like a country cottage in the midst of a city block it is...Old fashioned latches have replaced door knobs and candles the more modern electric light."


The New-York Tribune, October 17, 1920 (copyright expired)

Having leased the property for nearly a decade, the Burritts purchased it in December 1919.  In reporting on the sale the New-York Tribune noted "This house was formerly an old stable and was altered by the present tenant into one of the most attractive studio apartments 'on the block beautiful.'"

By 1920 the Burritts were leasing the space formerly occupied by the Demings to tenor Lambert Murphy and his "friend and musical confrere," as described by Musical Courier on January 8, Clifford Cairns.

Lambert Murphy poses next to his grand piano in his upper floor studio.  Musical Courier, January 8, 1920 (copyright expired)

It was most likely the Burritts who installed the striking Art Moderne style areaway fencing that still stands guard.



The house continued to see artistic and musical residents, like soprano Katherine Crocco, here in the 1930's; and actor William Eauter and his wife, radio commentator Bessie Beauty, in the 1940's.

In 1953 No. 128 became home to Lincoln and Fidelma Kirstein.  It was a gift from Lincoln's mother, Rose Stein Kirstein, shortly before her death.  A writer, impresario and art connoisseur, Kirstein had started his artistic career early.  While still a student in the 1930's he founded the literary periodical House & Horn and formed the Harvard Society for Contemporary Art.  The latter would form the basis for the Museum of Modern Art.

In 1933 Kirstein had invited George Balanchine to Manhattan.  They founded the School of American Ballet and the New York City Ballet.  He married Fidelma Cadmus (sister of artist Paul Cadmus) in 1941.

Lincoln and Fedelma Kirstein in their living room.  photograph by Cecil Burton via Intimate Companions by David Leddick

Fedelma was understanding about her husband's bisexuality and throughout the years shared the house he called his "midget mansion" with a few of his long-standing lovers.  Among them were artists Jensen "Jens" Yow, Dan Maloney, and Jose "Pete" Martinez, all of whom at one time or another lived in the former Deming apartment.  Martinez, whom Kirsten met in 1936, was reputedly one of his great loves.

Lincoln Kirstein died in 1996 and the following year playwright George Wolfe purchased the house for the equivalent of $2.85 million today.  He had won a Tony Award three years earlier for directing Angeles in America: Millennium Approaches, and another in 1996 for directing Bring in 'da Noise/Bring in 'da Funk.


A single family home today, the utterly charming converted carriage factory is an important page in the history of New York art history.

photographs by the author

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The 1893 Frederick Kranich House - 312 West 91st Street

 


Developers Walker & Lawson hired architect Martin V. B. Ferdon in 1893 to design a row of five houses on the south side of West 91st Street between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive.  Ferndon was responsible for scores of Upper West Side homes, the majority of them in the Renaissance Revival style.  These would follow suit.

The row was designed in an off-balanced A-B-C-B-D arrangement.  The D style house, No. 312, featured a three-story angled bay.  Its rather somber fa├žade was enhanced with decidedly French-inspired parlor entrance grillwork.

The French casements of the parlor floor replaced the original windows, possibly part of an updating by the Kranich family in 1903.

The row of houses was offered for sale in an 1893 advertisement:

304 to 312 West 91st street, near Riverside Drive.  Elegant three story basement and cellar dwellings, bay windows, three story extensions, two bathrooms; hardwood cabinet trim throughout; tiled bathrooms, gas, grates, and all the latest improvements.  Inspection invited.

No. 312 was sold to Frederick Kranich and his wife, the former Olga A. Rohe in October that year.  According to The Sun they paid $23,000 for the property, or about $705,000 today.  The couple had three children, Frederick H., Jules G. and Vivienne.  They maintained a summer home in Hohokus, New Jersey.

Kranich was a partner in the piano manufacturing firm of Kranich & Bach.  Kranich's father and grandfather were both piano makers.  In 1864 Helmuth Kranich, Frederick's father, founded the firm with another German immigrant, Jacques Bach.  Three years before purchasing the 91st Street house Frederick and his brother, Alvin, were made directors and officers of the company.

Kranich & Bach was known for its high-end instruments and use of exotic woods.

Following Helmuth Kranich's death in 1902 Frederick became president of Kranich & Bach.  In his 1913 Pianos and Their Makers, Alfred Dolge said, "Frederick Kranich acquired a thorough knowledge of the art under the direct tutelage of his father and has evidently also inherited his father's inventive faculties, as demonstrated by his various improvements and inventions."

In May 1904 Kranich hired architect R. W. Buckley, Jr. to make $3,000 in renovations to the house.  Included in the project, which cost nearly $90,000 in today's money, were the repositioning of interior walls and a one-story addition in the rear.  It was most likely at this time that the parlor windows were replaced with French-inspired casements.

Vivienne's engagement to Edward G. Burghard was announced in the July 6, 1916 issue of The Music Magazine.  The following year, on October 21, 1917, The Sun reported, "The ceremony will take place in St. Patrick's Cathedral" and following the November 1 ceremony, the Columbia Alumni News noted "Burghard and his bride will occupy an apartment at 650 West End Avenue on their return from their honeymoon."

Olga and Frederick were at the summer house on September 10, 1920 when the 57-year old Frederick died from what the New-York Tribune deemed, "a complication of disease."  In reporting his death The Evening World remarked "He made a keen study of piano construction, becoming an expert on piano woods and veneers and development of tonal quality."  His funeral was held in the Fourth Presbyterian Church just down the block from the 91st Street residence, at the corner of West End Avenue.

The 1904 one-story addition can be seen in this photo taken around 1941.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

Olga remained at No. 312 for a few years.  In 1922 she was looking for a new cook, advertising for one who was "experienced, German, Protestant" and describing the position as working for a "small family; private house; country for summer."  The following year she sold her home of four decades for $40,000--equal to about $510,000 today.  She moved permanently to the Hohokus, New Jersey house.  She was in Winter Park, Florida in January 1934 when she died.

It appears that the Kranich house was operated as a rooming house at the time.  In 1936 it was home to Henry H. Dennis, the night clerk at the Hotel Park Royal.  But the residence escaped being converted to apartments until 1971, when an alteration resulted in one apartment per floor.

photographs by the author

Monday, February 22, 2021

The Lost 1857 John A. C. Gray Mansion - 43 Fifth Avenue

 

The cross-hatched mullions of the attic windows were highly unusual.  American Renaissance, 1904 (copyright expired)

In 1857 John Alexander Clinton Gray hired architect British-born Jacob Wrey Mould to design the interiors for his mansion at the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 11th Street.  The two undoubtedly knew one another through their mutual work on Central Park--Gray was a Park Commissioner and Mould worked closely with Calvert Vaus and Frederick Law Olmsted in designing many of the park's structures.

Mould was known for his unexpected and aggressive use of colors, and his work on the Gray interiors was no exception.  In 1859 The Crayon described his color choices for the rooms as "bold as a lion."

The brownstone faced John A. C. Gray mansion was a successful blend of the Greek Revival and Italianate styles.  Three stories tall above an English basement, its architrave openings wore bracketed cornices and each of the floor-to-ceiling parlor level windows was fronted by a cast iron balcony.  The cross-hatched mullions of the attic windows were an innovative touch.

In addition to his position as Park Commissioner, John Alexander Clinton Gray was the head of the dry goods house of John A. C. Gray & Co., and a director in the Goodhue Fire Insurance Company.  He and his wife, the former Susan Maria Zabriskie, had three sons, John Clinton, Albert Zabriskie and George Zabriskie, and two daughters, Katharine and Frances Susan.

When the family moved into the new house John Clinton Gray was away in Europe, studying in at the University of Berlin (he had received his earlier education in Paris).  He returned in 1861 and continued his education at the University of the City of New York, receiving his law degree from Harvard in 1866.  Both his brothers would go into religious life.

In the meantime, with the outbreak of Civil War John A. C. Gray had been called to Washington D.C. to inspect uniforms.  His expertise in the dry goods business made him an excellent choice.  A telegram received by the New York Herald on June 10, 1861 said in part, "Mr. John A. C. Gray is here, and, as a citizen of New York, with many others, has inspected the uniforms of the Cayuga regiment, and agrees with everybody else who has seen them, that they are most wretched looking things."

Gray's altruism was evidenced in 1871 when he threw his financial support behind the proposed construction of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Central Park.  His donation of $1,000 that year would be equivalent to more than $21,000 today.

George was ordained a deacon of the Episcopal Church by Bishop Horatio Potter on April 22, 1862.  Albert had also become an Episcopal minister and was rector of the St. Philip's Church in the Highlands, in Garrison, New York by the early 1870's.  When extensive repairs were necessary in 1875, Albert paid one-fourth of the costs.   He would go on to become dean of the Theological Seminary at Cambridge, Massachusetts before his untimely death at the age of 49 on August 4, 1889.

At the time of Albert's death his brother John had been appointed a judge on the Court of Appeals.  At 45 years old in 1888 he was the youngest member of the court.  He would serve for more than a quarter of a century in that position.

Judge John Clinton Gray.  from the collection of the Historical Society of the New York Courts.

Around 1885 the family of John A. C. Gray (his two daughters were still unmarried) moved north to Fifth Avenue and 55th Street.  He died there on December 15, 1898.  In the meantime, No. 43 Fifth Avenue became home to a relative, James Montaudevert Waterbury and his wife, the former Catherine Anthony Furman.  Catherine was best known as Kate.

Born in New York City in 1851, James graduated from Columbia College in 1873 and entered the business of his father, Lawrence Waterbury, the Waterbury Rope Company.  By now he was not only the president of that company, but of the New York Steel & Wire Company and the American Type Bar & Machine Company.

James and Kate had eight children and maintained a country estate in Westchester County.  Prominent and Progressive Americans said that Kate "has shared with him in making their home a notable center of social life."  Known as a great beauty, Kate entertained lavishly.  On February 5, 1888, for instance, the New York Amusement Gazette noted that she "gave a dance at her residence on Friday evening last."

A spectacular entertainment was held during at the beginning of the summer season of the following year.  On May 6, 1889 The Evening Bulletin reported:

A number of wealthy young men and women performed in an amateur circus Friday evening at the country resident of James M. Waterbury in Westchester county.  There was a large attendance of New York society people to witness the novel affair, which passed off with great success.

Godey's Magazine was popular among women and featured color plates of the latest fashions, serialized novels, and articles of interest to female readers.  It often featured illustrations of prominent women of society.  In its review of the current issue on October 31, 1892, the Albany Morning Express noted, "The four art pictures, printed in ten colors, represent Mrs. James M. Waterbury, the Marquise Lanza, Mrs. Marshal Orme Wilson and Mrs. George J. Gould."

As John A. C. Waterbury had done, James supported civic causes and in 1896 was listed among the prominent citizens who funded the erection of the Triumphal Arch at Washington Square.

Among the Waterbury sons were Lawrence (known popularly as Larry) and C. Livingston (known as Monty).  In 1902 Prominent and Progressive Americans noted, "Mr. Waterbury's sons inherit their father's and their grandfather's taste for manly out-of-door sports, and have distinguished themselves especially upon the polo-field."  Indeed both Lawrence and Monty achieved international renown for the polo playing.

Monty Livingston (front) and his brother Larry are wearing white in this undated photograph.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

Shocking the financial world, James M. Waterbury's firm failed in 1893.  The District Attorney received complaints "charging James M. Waterbury with the crime of grand larceny by false pretenses, and also charging him, in connection with others, with the charge of conspiracy to defraud," according to The New York Times.  Those charges were withdrawn be the end of the year, but the stigma remained.

Waterbury claimed personal bankruptcy in 1896.  The New York Times noted on May 10, "In the days when Cordage Trust was flourishing Mr. Waterbury spent money lavishly.  His Westchester home was a country clubhouse in its appointments and hospitalities.  All show of prodigality ceased, however, with the collapse of the trust, and Mr. Waterbury has since lived quietly."  Asked in court how he managed to get on financially, the humiliated Waterbury replied, "My wife was continually making me advances to pay my debts, and I sold her some property from time to time."  It was Kate's own substantial fortune that kept the family afloat until her husband could reestablish himself.  

By the first years of the 20th century the neighborhood around the Waterbury mansion was changing as apartment buildings replaced private homes.  On June 18, 1903 The Sun reported that the Waterbury house had been sold for $350,000--a staggering $10.5 million today.  (Notably it had been mortgaged for more than half that amount.)  Before the end of the year the mansion was demolished, replaced by a lush Beaux Arts style apartment building designed by Henry Anderson.

photo by Beyond My Ken