Friday, October 7, 2022

The HB Playwrights - 124 Bank Street


Hard to believe, the building originally was a match to the house to the right.

In June 1884 the heirs of Robert J. Houghton sold the family house at 124 Bank Street to William Doughtery for $9,000.  Built around 1837, the three-story, brick-faced house was one of a charming row.  Doughtery had other plans for the vintage house, however.  On March 20, 1891, his architect, Charles Rentz, Jr., filed plans for altering the ground floor for commercial purposes.  An one-story extension was erected to the rear, the interior walls reconfigured, and the ground floor converted to a workshop.

An advertisement that year read: "124 Bank St.--Shop and Dwelling, eight rooms, rent $1,300."  The commercial portion became home to A. C. Burdette's West Side Machinery Depot.  The firm's ad in March 1892 offered, "Gas engines, electric motors, dynamos, ceiling and exhaust fans, new and second hand; repairing a specialty."  

The building was renovated again following its purchase by Henry and Herman Thalmann.  (Interestingly, Herman routinely dropped the second "n" from his surname, using both spellings.)  The father and son ran a livery stable on West 10th Street, and now looked to open another.

In April 1895, the Thalmanns hired well-known architect Martin V. B. Ferdon to convert the building into a stable.  A floor was added to the rear extension, iron beams installed, and a wide carriage bay put in place.  The upper floors held residential spaces for stable employees.  The renovations cost the Thalmanns the equivalent of $67,000 in 2022.

Living upstairs was a worker named Roberts and his wife, Hattie.  On the night of June 23, 1897 the couple were riding bicycles on Eighth Avenue.  Bicycling, or "wheeling," was a national craze and the riders vied with other vehicles on the avenue.  As the Roberts neared 21st Street, they were next to the carriage of Frank Ennis and his wife.  Suddenly the coachman veered "toward the middle of the avenue to avoid running down a wheelman who was riding west on Twenty-first street," according to The Sun.  "Mrs. Roberts was knocked off her wheel by the collision and was severely bruised."  Despite the unnerving incident, Hattie Roberts refused to make a complaint against the coachman "and went home with her husband."

The stable venture was successful, and in 1898 a third Thalmann stable was opened at 129 Charles Street.  Henry moved his family into the upper portion, where he died on March 11, 1900.  A month later Herman sold the Bank Street stable to James H. Newman.

Newman purchased the building for investment purposes.  On April 22 he advertised, "Stable and Dwelling; five stalls and trunk room, 124 Bank st; desirable."  Over the coming years he leased the stable to several tenants, one of the last being George Cassel, who signed a lease in June 1915.

In 1921, following Newman's death, his estate sold the property to Richard Rogers.  He, too, made renovations--his reflecting the dwindling number of horses in the city.  The ground floor was now listed as a garage, the second floor a "stable and dwelling," and the third floor had living quarters.

With each purchaser had come remodeling, none more overwhelming that when Bridget Rogers sold the building to the Kansas Packing Company in August 1936 for $5,500 (about $108,000 t0day).  The firm, which was located a few blocks away at 822 Greenwich Street, needed a garage, but not the residential space above.  By the end of 1937, the upper floors had been chopped off.  The now single-story building received a new brick facade with a stepped pediment with inset brick diamonds that harkened to the Arts & Crafts period of a generation earlier.

image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

The Kansas Packing Company used the building until February 1941, when it leased it to the A. Milne Steel Company.  Another change was in the oft-converted building's future.

In 1945 Austrian-born actor and director Herbert Berghof founded the HB studio, one of Manhattan's original acting studios.  He was joined in the venture in 1948 by actress Uta Hagen, and the couple was married in 1959.  The following year they purchased and renovated the building at 120 Bank Street for the studio.

Then, in 1965, Berghof and Hagen bought garage at 124 Bank Street, converting it into a 73-seat performance space known as HB Playwrights.  Over the decades the students within the two addresses compile a seemingly non-ending list of theatrical Who's Who.  They include Lee Grant, Eli Wallach, Jo Van Fleet, Hal Holbrook, Harvey Korman, E. G. Marshall, Geraldine Page, Jack Lemmon, George Segal, Gene Wilder, Maureen Stapleton, Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway, and on and on.

The innocuous, theatrically historic building continues to be a venue for productions, readings and lectures.
photographs by the author has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

Thursday, October 6, 2022

The George H. Brodhead House - 53 West 9th Street


In 1854 George Hamilton Brodhead purchased the newly-built home at 41 Ninth Street (renumbered 53 West 9th Street in 1868).  One of a row of five, its Anglo-Italianate design was the latest in domestic fashion.  Just two bays wide, the house sat back on its plot (the same distance that would have been consumed by a stoop, were there one).  The Italianate areaway railing was copied in a rounded balcony at the second floor.  The double-doored entrance under a bracketed cornice sat within a rusticated base, while the upper floors were clad in dressed brownstone.

Brodhead purchased the house as an investment, initially leasing it house to Roderick Sedgwick and his family.  Born in Cornwall, Connecticut in 1785, Sedgwick was the son of General John Sedgwick and Abigail Andrews.  His wife, the former Margaret Stuart Dean, had died on March 13, 1850.  The couple had eight adult children. 

Roderick Sedgwick was a broker at 60 Wall Street.  Two sons and at least two daughters lived with their father in 1855.  John was an attorney, and Roderick Jr. was in the drygoods business on Broadway.  The daughters ran a private school in the house, listed as The Misses Sedgewick's School.  (Another daughter, Katharine Whetton Sedgwyck, was married to the well-known artist William Heine.)

The Sedgwick family remained in the house until the spring of 1859.  In April that year, Brodhead advertised "The elegant first class four story" house for rent.  He would have a series of tenants over the succeeding years.  William McCauley, a "money broker," leased the house in 1860 and '61, followed by Edward Vonderheydt, a partner in J. W. Schmidt & Co., and then by merchant William Woodward, Jr. 

Levi Chapman, who was in the strops (the leather strap for sharpening razors) business at 72 Duane Street, rented the house in 1873.  Only months (or weeks) after he moved in, on July 1 the parlor was the scene of his funeral.  He had died "suddenly," according to the New York Herald, at the age of 66 on June 27.  The term often suggested a heart attack.

The family of John C. Mabin leased the house in the mid-1870's.  They were nearly the victims of a burglar on March 4, 1876.  While the family slept, Police Officer Garney was making his rounds and heard the breaking of glass.  He discovered Thomas Wilson in basement area, where he had broken out a pane of glass in the door.  The New York Herald reported that Wilson "stated that he had neither home nor occupation," and was held in $2,000 bail.  (It was a significant amount, equal to $52,000 today, which Judge Kilbreath knew the homeless man could not obtain.)

Following his retirement from the brokerage business and after having leased the house for decades, George Hamilton Brodhead moved into 53 West 9th Street in the 1880's.  Born in 1815, Brodhead was the son of Rev. John Brodhead and Mary Dodge.  His wife, the former Julia Ann Phelps, had died in 1857 and of their four children, only two were still alive--Mary Frances Gardner, and Dewitt Williams Brodhead.  Dewitt and his wife, Ariadne Liebenau, moved into the West 9th Street house with George.

George Brodhead had been an important presence on Wall Street.  In 1855 he became secretary of the New York Stock Exchange, a position he held until 1870.  In 1874 he was elected president of the Exchange.  Dewitt Brodhead was a director in the Sixth Avenue Railroad Co.

On February 25, 1903 The Daily Saratogian ran the indiscreet headline, "Veteran Broker Dying," and reported, "George H. Brodhead, who was a well known figure in Wall Street fifty years ago, is dying at his home, No. 53 West Ninth street."  Because of Brodhead's long-standing influence in the brokerage business, his condition was followed by newspapers nationwide.  The 88-year-old died on March 2. The Colorado Springs newspaper The Weekly Gazette reported, "He had been ill three weeks and his death was due to heart disease."  His funeral was held in Newfields, New Hampshire where he was born.

Dewitt Williams Brodhead died in 1908, and the following year, on May 9, the New-York Tribune reported that the George H. Brodhead estate had sold the house to Arthur Brisbane, adding "This is the first transfer of this property in about fifty years."

Brisbane was a colorful and well-known figure.  Born in 1864, he had entered the journalism field in 1882.  He became a close friend of publisher William Randolph Hearst, and in 1897 became the editor of Hearst's Evening Journal.  Brisbane's summer home was in Hempstead, Long Island.

Brisbane was interested in experimental and scientific agriculture, and two years before buying the West 9th Street house, he had purchased the 600-acre deserted village of Allaire, New Jersey.  According to The New York Times on March 2, 1907, "he intends to make Allaire one of the finest model farms in the East."

Arthur Brisbane, from the collection of the Library of Congress

On July 31, 1912, The Sun reported that Brisbane had married Phoebe Cary in Calvary Protestant Episcopal Church.  The bride was the daughter of Seward Cary.  The newspaper noted, "Mr. Brisbane and Seward Cary are cousins and grew up together in Buffalo."

The Brisbanes soon acquired another country home, in Point Pleasant, New Jersey.  It was the scene of a horrific incident on May 27, 1914.  The New York Times began its article saying, "Stretched at full length upon the floor of a blood-spattered bedroom in the unoccupied Riverside home of Arthur Brisbane, editor of the New York Evening Journal, the body of a murdered man was found this afternoon."  The house, which sat among a dense grove of trees, had been entered that afternoon by three men.  A local boy heard the voices of men quarreling coming from a second floor window.  "He thought at first they were workmen sent there by Mr. Brisbane," said the article.

When he mentioned it to his mother, she notified the caretaker who took two men with him to investigate.  The body of the dead man was found, surrounded by empty champagne and wine bottles from the Brisbane cellars.  Searching the grounds, the men discovered one man attempting to "induce two little boys to row him across the river," according to The New York Times.  He had two knives on him, one of which was covered in blood.  The third man was not found.  The article noted, "Both men were either tramps or burglars.  They had gained entrance to the house by removing a pane of glass from one of the windows."

In 1916 Brisbane began renting the West 9th Street house.  He leased it to W. A. Upham that year, and to artist Guy Pene Du Boise around 1920.   Du Boise had studied under William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri, and counted among his closest friends the artist Edward Hopper (who was best man at Hopper's wedding).

Du Boise had married Florence Sherman Duncan in 1911.  The couple had a daughter, Virginia Avis.  On June 5, 1921, the New-York Tribune reported that Virginia had been married to Edwin Earle Lucas "in the country home of the bride's parents, at Saugatuck, Connecticut."  The article noted, "The bride's father is a well known art critic.  He is editor of Arts and Decoration."

Guy Pene du Bois painted An American Oriental in 1921, while living at 53 West 9th Street.  from the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

In 1924 Du Bois and his wife moved to Paris.  Brisbane, who now owned more than 80 properties in New York City, continued to lease the house until his death on December 25, 1936.  His estate sold the property in 1938.

Living here in the late 1950's was psychiatrist Dr. Alice E. Fabian, the widow of Dr. Abraham A. Fabian.  On October 28, 1962, The New York Times reported that she had married David Lind.  "The ceremony was performed at the bride's home at 53 West Ninth Street by Rabbi Charles J. Davidson."   Tragically, David Lind died the following year and the twice-widowed Dr. Fabian slipped into metal illness.

While she continued seeing patients in her second floor consultation room, she began hoarding elsewhere throughout the house.  Her detailed diaries revealed she "was convinced that she was not only being watched, but zapped by laser rays," according to the London newspaper Evening Standard years later.  Upon her death, Swedish artist Ann-Sofi Siden somehow obtained Fabian's journals, Polaroid photographs, and other belongings upon which she based her half-hour film, It's By Confining One's Neighbour That One is Convinced of One's Own Sanity.

Much of the original interior elements survive.  images via

The 16-foot-wide home with its absorbing history remains a single-family home.  Much of the interior detailing is pristinely preserved, looking much as it did when George Hamilton Brodhead purchased the home in 1854.

photographs by the author
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Wednesday, October 5, 2022

The Alexander Brown Mott House - 51 West 16th Street

The doorway, originally where the French windows are today, had a hefty Italianate pediment.

As mansions crept northward along Fifth Avenue from Washington Square in the 1840's, high-end homes erected on the side streets carried on the exclusive tenor of the neighborhood.  Reflective of the wealthy families living on the block of 16th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues at the time was that of Colonel Herman Thorn, referred to by contemporary writers as a "grandee" and an "American prince."

An advertisement for the new house at 23 West 16th Street (renumbered 51 in 1868) in March 1847 read:

To Let--The elegant modern 4 story house, No. 23 West 16th street, a few doors below the house of Col. Thorn, has baths, water closets, &c.  Rent $850.

The mention of baths and water closets, with indoor plumbing, exemplified the cutting-edge modernity of the house.  What was known as Croton Water had been available only five years.  The rent was affordable by today's terms, equaling $2,500 per month by 2022 terms.

The residence was one of a recently completed row of brownstone clad, Italianate style homes.  Twenty-feet-wide, its dramatic arched pediment above the entrance, supported on scrolled, foliate brackets, and the elliptically arched windows  were typical of the style.  Almost assuredly, a cast iron balcony originally fronted the floor-to-ceiling parlor windows.

The original appearance of the entrance is suggested by the weathered example next door.

Following his marriage to Arabella Upson Phelps in 1851, Dr. Alexander Brown Mott purchased 23 West 16th Street.  He was the son of world-renowned surgeon Valentine Mott.  In 1850 Alexander had been appointed surgeon to the New York Dispensary.  

In September 1851 the newlyweds were away.  In their absence five "notorious burglars," as described by The Evening Post, broke into the 16th Street house.  The newspaper said they "stole therefrom jewelry, plate, and clothing valued at about $600."  It was a significant haul, worth nearly $22,000 in 2022 money.  The crooks were apprehended on October 10, and some of Mott's possessions were recovered and returned.

A year later, on November 17, 1852, the couple had a son, Valentine.  (Like his father and grandfather, he would go on to become a well-known physician.)  Living with them by then was Arabella's mother, Dorothy Ellsworth Phelps.  The family's summer home was on Long Island, near Sayville.

Dorothy Phelps died in 1859.  On April 18, 1861, following the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter, Dr. Mott was given two hours notice to leave for Washington D.C. to organize a medical corps.  It appears that Arabella and Valentine followed him.

Their home became a boarding house, operated by the elderly Catharine Potter.  Catharine was the widow of John W. Potter.  Running a boarding house was a common means for widowed women to make a respectable living.  Her boarders in 1862 included George M. Vannort and his wife and son.  Vannort was a banker with Sachs & Co., and George M. Vannort was a clerk.  The other boarders that year were printer Jesse C. Haney; William C. Claggett, who was a shoe merchant; and dressmaker Elizabeth Davis.  

Catharine's boarders were not transitory.  (The Vannorts and Jesse Haney, for instance, were still listed here in 1868.)  That most likely prompted the wording of an advertisement in November 1862:

Pleasant, well furnished Rooms, unexpectedly vacated, to rent, with Board, to families or gentlemen, upon reasonable terms.

A somewhat colorful resident, Dr. Maurice Vergnes, rented rooms for one year, in 1872 to 1873.  It would appear he used a portion of the basement level for his practice.  An advertisement in the New York Herald read, "Vergnes' (the Discoverer) Electro-Chemical Baths.  Best remedy for Rheumatism, Chronic and Nervous Disorders.  51 West Sixteenth street."

On October 10, 1877 Elizabeth B. Phelps purchased 51 West 16th Street.  If she were related to Annabelle Phelps, it was a distant relationship.  A wealthy philanthropist, she would be best remembered as an ardent suffragist.  The purchase was an investment, and she continued to lease 51 West 16th Street to a boarding house proprietor.  Phelps sold it in April 1883 to Jeremiah A. Cranitch, who resold it to English-born artist Edward Moran and his wife, Alberta Hoover, in 1886.  It was once again a private home.

Considered to be one of America's most important marine painters at the time, he was at work on what would be his most important work, a series of 13 paintings called the Marine History of the United States--ranging from Leif Ericsson through Admiral Dewey.  They would be displayed at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

He was also working on another piece when he and Alberta moved into the 16th Street house--Unveiling The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World.  The dramatic and patriotic oil painting was completed in 1886.

from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The house was again the target of summertime thieves.  On July 4, 1887, Moran's home was "robbed of money, diamonds, &c."  The burglary prompted Moran to complain to Mayor Abram Hewitt about unoccupied trucks parked on public streets.  It was Moran's theory (a well-founded one) that they were being used in the commission of burglaries.  His pressure resulted, according to The New York Times on August 10, 1887, in a warning to truckmen "that it is not lawful to obstruct the public streets with unoccupied vehicles."

The Morans sold 51 West 16th Street in October 1889 for $25,750 (around $782,000 today).  Its new owner, Patrick Skelly, was a well-to-do real estate operator who bought and sold properties throughout the city.  Following his death in 1911, the Skelly estate leased the house for several years.

Miss Sidney Colestock had operated an inn, The Dunscombe, at 47 Fifth Avenue--the former Irad Halsey mansion.  When that building was sold to the Salmagundi Club in 1917, Colestock established the Old Chelsea at 51 West 16th Street.  

The Quill, July 16, 1917 (copyright expired)

An advertisement on September 2, 1917 offered, "rooms, suites, floors, furnished or unfurnished" and boasted, "Intelligent Service for busy men and women."  Colestock described the "table d'hote dining room" as being "known for fine home cooking."

The dining room was frequently the scene of gatherings.  On January 27, 1918, for instance, it was where a dinner for the League for Business Opportunities for Women was held.

A more impassioned meeting was held in the dining room on September 20, 1921.  The executive committee of the American Civic Liberties Union met after police drove elderly women, members of the Grandmothers' Club and the Sunset Club, from Bryant Park.  They had been passing out cakes, doughnuts and buns to the homeless there.  The meeting resulted in the committee asserting that police were "guilty of oppression, disorderly conduct and assault and battery."

Having graduated from the University of Chicago in 1922, Ellen Coyne moved to New York City and into the Old Chelsea.  Considered a beauty, she had already appeared in two motion pictures.  In New York she worked as a model, posing for artists like sculptor Joseph Nicolosi and painter May Mott Smith.  She formed a romance with the married poet and dramatist Edgar Lee Masters, and the two became lovers in January 1924.  The writer was exactly thirty years Ellen's senior.

Also living in the Old Chelsea at the time were poet and essayist Allen Tate and his wife, Caroline Gordon; and novelist Ford Madox Ford and his lover, Stella Bowen.  According to a Ford biographer, Gene M. Moore, he described the space he shared with Bowen as "a beautifully bright room in a very old sort of Bloomsbury street" where "the sun is pouring in on me as I write."

Ford Madox Ford, (original source unknown)

In November 1979, Ellen recalled to New York Magazine, "My first two and a half years in New York, more than half a century ago, were spent at one of the most wonderful places in town--the Old Chelsea.  Although some of the guests were well-known writers and artists, no one ever presumed--everyone seemed to exist in a happy autonomous state.  When Ford Madox Ford climbed the stairs to visit a friend, no one asked where he was going or waited for his autograph."

She noted that residents were afforded their privacy.  She described seeing "a large man, wrapped in white robes and carrying a shepherd's crook" coming up the stairs one day, on his way to visit a brother and sister on the floor above.  "Only Miss Colestock knew who they were.  And we did not know much about the beautiful blond divorcee who was visited each day by a handsome gentleman, the heir to a throne that no longer existed."

Not surprisingly, in 1924 Edgar Lee Masters came "for a complete tour" of the Old Chelsea.  Coyle said, "Of course, he fell in love with the place, and later in the year he rented an apartment that was to be his home for most of the next two years."  Following his divorce, he and Ellen Coyne were married on November 6, 1926.  

Sidney Colestock converted the Old Chelsea to 15 "non-housekeeping apartments" in 1927.  The term meant that there were no kitchens.

A subsequent renovation completed in 1968 resulted in a duplex apartment in the basement and former parlor level, one apartment on the second floor, and a duplex on the third and fourth.  The exterior was greatly remodeled with the stoop being removed, the brownstone veneer stripped off, and the former entrance converted to a French window.

many thanks to Anthony Bellov for suggesting this post
photographs by the author
no permission to reuse the content of this blog has been granted to

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

The 1912 375 West End Avenue


On June 22, 1912, the Record & Guide reported on "The Reconstruction of West End Avenue."  The writer commented, "Often it is said that thirty years, a single generation in time, spans the average economic usefulness of buildings in the path of metropolitan progress."  The life expectancy of sumptuous homes on West End Avenue, however, was in some cases half that long.  The article noted that "West End Avenue is well started on its second era of reconstruction" with modern apartment buildings replacing private homes.

In listing the staggering number of construction projects, the article said, "At 78th Street the Cambridge Construction Co. is just finishing an operation."  The 12-story apartment building had replaced five rowhouses.  It was designed by Schwartz & Gross in the Beaux Arts style, with notable hints of the new Arts & Crafts style.  A two-story limestone base supported ten floors faced in Flemish bond brown brick.  A series of intermediate stone cornices visually relieved the block-like mass, while the architects drew the eye upward by adorning the mid-section corner windows with iron-railed balconies and framing them in limestone.  Frothy Beaux Arts cartouches and carvings decorated the tenth floor and terminal cornices.

from the 1913 Supplement to the World's New York Apartment House Album (copyright expired)

There were just two apartments per floor, one with 8 rooms and the other with 9, each with three bathrooms.  The World's New York Apartment House Album said, "Excellent judgment has been used in the layout of each apartment to make the arrangement of rooms meet the demands of the most particular housekeeper."  Up-to-date amenities included "modern clothes dryers, water filter, laundries with patent steam doors, a private locker and storeroom for each tenant."  The brochure said the apartments afforded "each tenant the luxury and exclusiveness of a private residence."

from the 1913 Supplement to the World's New York Apartment House Album (copyright expired)

For the most part, the well-to-do residents used their apartments only during the winter season.  They spent the warm months in country homes or resorts.  The summer house of retired commission merchant David Spero and his family was at Far Rockaway.  They closed it for the season on October 3, 1913, but just over a week later, Spero went back "for his golf sticks," according to The New York Sun.  He "found that 148 pieces of silverware, bronze ornaments and two blue bathing suits were gone."  The silverware was valued at $1,700, or around $48,000 in 2022.

The following Saturday, Detective Cooney was walking along Central Avenue in the neighboring village of Lawrence and noticed a young man wearing "under his coat one of Mr. Spero's blue bathing shirts."  David Murphy, who was 17-years-old, quickly confessed to the burglary, admitting "he and another carried the silverware away in four automobile suitcases they found in the house, and that before leaving they dined upon crème de menthe and sandwiches."  His confession led to the quick apprehension of his accomplice, 17-year-old Edward Seeley.  The New York Sun reported, "He too was wearing one of the blue bathing shirts."

The most intriguing resident of 375 West End Avenue was one of its first.  John Whipple Frothingham came from a prominent, old New York family.  The director of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, he maintained a country home in Tarrytown, New York.

Passionately concerned about an outbreak of typhus in the Balkins during the First World War, Frothingham formed, funded, and sent a group of American nurses and physicians to Serbia in 1915.  Among them were nurse Stephanie Hampl of John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, and her fiancé, Dr. John Kara.  Tragically, while working there, Kara "fell a victim to the dreaded disease," according to the New York Herald.

The following year Frothingham launched a second expedition to Montenegro.  Stephanie Hampl again volunteered for the trip.  The group of doctors and nurses boarded the Italian ship Brindisi.  The New York Herald reported, "On board the Brindisi also was stowed the 600,000 pounds of provisions and articles which had been shipped from Halifax for the relief of the stricken Montenegrins by Mr. John W. Frothingham."

On January 7, 1916, the Brindisi struck a German mine.  The New York Herald wrote, "The vessel sank in ten minutes after striking a mine, which rent her forward compartments and hurled from her decks and gaping cabins the mangled forms of more than one hundred persons."  Of the 420 passengers and crew, more than 300 were lost.  On January 21, 1916 The Chicago Daily Tribune reported, "Miss Stephanie Hampl, the betrothed of Dr. John Kara, has followed her fiancé to the great beyond."

The wealthy Frothingham's support to the Balkins was not merely financial.  Between 1917 and 1919 he worked in Serbia with the American Red Cross.  There he met Helen Losanitch, a Serbian nurse working to set up field hospitals.  

Following the war, Frothingham returned to 375 West End Avenue and continued his philanthropy.  On April 2, 1920 The Yonkers Statesman reported that he had donated 18 acres to the village of North Tarrytown "for public park purposes."  He gave Tarrytown architect Walter D. Blair a five-year contract to oversee "the landscape gardening and construction of buildings."

Eight months later, on December 19, 1920 the New York Herald reported the "interesting engagement" of John Frothingham and Helen Losanitch.  The couple was married in two ceremonies on January 3, 1921--in St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Manhattan, and in the Church of the Saviour in Brooklyn.  Two years later a daughter, Anna, was born.  The Frothinghams established the Frothingham Children's Institute in Serbia, as well as the Serbo-American Institute of Serbia. 

Helen Losanitch Frothingham, The Anaconda Standard, February 24, 1920 (copyright expired)

John W. Frothingham died in France on November 20, 1935, leaving a net estate valued at more than $37 million by 2022 standards.  Among the rare books in his library were a first edition of John Milton's Comus, a first edition of Milton's Paradise Lost, and a first edition of Edward Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat.  Helen continued the couple's remarkable work.  Shortly after her husband's death, with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Helen established an orphanage in Guethary, France to care for war orphans.

In the meantime, the names of 375 West End Avenue residents regularly appeared in the society pages.  Among them were family of Theodore W. Stemmler.  He and his wife, the former Jennie Taylor Hunting, had five children, Theodore Washington, Lorraine Brevoort, Yvonne Randolph, Marcelle Ogden Post, and Adrian T.  It was Jennie and her daughters, of course, upon whom the social spotlight shone.  On October 20, 1916, for instance, the New York Herald announced that "The Misses Lorraine, Yvonne and Marcelle Stemmler...have had a series of teas and receptions for their young friends at their apartment, at No. 375 West End avenue.  Miss Yvonne Stemmler made her debut last winter after her return from school in Paris."

Lorraine, Yvonne and Marcelle Stemmler.  New York Herald, October 29, 1916 (copyright expired)

In October 1916 Emilie D. Lee Herreshoff (known to her friends at Mildred) quietly moved into an apartment here.  She had been living nearby at 620 West End Avenue with her husband, John Brown Francis Herreshoff, a wealthy metallurgical chemist.  But things were not going well with the couple.

Two years later the New-York Tribune reported, "The latest edition of 'The Social Register' shows that the couple have been living apart.  The address of Mrs. Herreshoff is given as 375 West End Avenue, while Mr. Herreshoff, with his son Francis, lives at 620 West End Avenue."  The next day the newspaper expounded, "John Brown Francis Herreshoff...said yesterday that although their homes were within a few blocks of each other, he had not seen his wife for two years."

Emilie's divorce suit was followed closely by the newspapers.  She alleged "misconduct with an unidentified woman at hotels in this city, this month and last July," according to the New-York Tribune.  The case came to court in June 1919.  Mildred told the court that her husband "in the latter years of their life together" had "displayed indifference toward her."  She blamed the marital troubles on a "woman with strawberry blond hair."

Because Herreshoff had been giving her $18,000 a year, Mildred asked for no alimony.  Five days after their divorce was granted, her former husband married the strawberry blond, Carrie Ridley Enslow.  She was his third wife.

Mildred's problems did not end following her divorce.  In November 1920 her automobile was stolen.  It became part of a corruption trial of two police officers in January 1921.  The two extorted money from insurance companies for the return of stolen cars, including Mildred Herreshoff's.

In December 1922 Herkimer, Inc. acquired 375 West End Avenue.  In reporting on the deal, The Daily Argus called it, "one of the finest apartment houses on West End Avenue."  The article said the buyers planned to convert it "into an apartment of co-operative ownership which has become so popular among the high-class apartment structures," adding, "This building which represents the highest advance in the builders' art, is admirably adapted for this purpose."  Indeed, it was; however the conversion would not come to pass for another seven decades.

Wealthy real estate operator Max Verschleiser lived here by the mid-1920's.  Born on March 14, 1868, he and his wife, the former Annie (known as Minnie) Margolies, had two sons and four daughters.  Son David worked in his father's business.

Verschleiser was a mover and shaker in the real estate community.  In January 1929 he paid $3.375 million for the 104th Field Artillery Armory, which engulfed the entire block between Columbus Avenue and Broadway, and 67th and 68th Streets.  According to The New York Times, he planned "a large sports arena and amusement centre" on the site.  Unfortunately for Verschleiser, the Great Depression halted his renovations and he lost the property in foreclosure the following year.

The building continued to be home to impressive New Yorkers over the succeeding decades.  Editor and publisher Archibald Seixas lived in 375 West End Avenue until his death in October 1953.  He had published and edited The Shipping Digest since 1923.

Dr. Henry Slonimsky and his wife, Minnie Tennenbaum, were residents by the 1960's.  Born in Minsk, Russia on October 9, 1884, he was brought to the United States in 1890.  After studying at Haverford College and the University of Pennsylvania, he did his graduate studies in philosophy and Greek at the University of Berlin and the University of Marburg, Germany.  He earned his Ph.D. in 1912.  Slonimsky's stellar academic career included lecturing in philosophy at Columbia University, teaching at Johns Hopkins University, and at the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati.  He was dean of the New York School of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion until his retirement in 1952.

Another notable resident was theatrical designer S. Syriala (whose first name was Sointu, although professionally he used only his initial).  Born in Toronto in 1909, he studied at the National Academy of Design and the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts.  He designed the sets for productions through the 1930's through the 1950's, and was responsible for the restoration of the stage area of Ford's Theater in 1968.  

Exactly 70 years after its change to a cooperative was suggested, the conversion was accomplished in 1992.  The building that originally held 24 apartments now holds 47.

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Monday, October 3, 2022

The Lost Amos Pinchot House - 1021 Park Avenue


photo by Wurts Bros, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

In 1905 Amos Richards Eno Pinchot was hired as an apprentice lobbyist for President Theodore Roosevelt.  Born in Paris into wealth and privilege, Pinchot had grown up at his family's 3,000-acre estate, Grey Towers, in Pennsylvania; and in their Gramercy Park townhome.

The mansion at Grey Towers was designed by Richard Morris Hunt, from the collection Skylands

Pinchot studied law at the New York Law School and had been admitted to the New York bar in 1900.  That year, on November 14, he married Gertrude Minturn, daughter of shipping mogul Robert Bowne Minturn, Jr.  They had two children, Rosamond and Gifford (who was named after Gifford Pinchot, Amos's brother, the first director of the United States Forest Service).

Amos Richards Eno Pinchot, from the collection of the Library of Congress

When the train tracks that ran down the middle of Park Avenue were covered over in 1902, Park Avenue--hitherto a marginal residential street--suddenly had grand potential.  In May 1906, Pinchot purchased the two wooden structures and the brick stable that occupied the northeast corner of Park Avenue of 85th Street as the site of his new mansion.  It was a pioneering move that required additional precautions.  To insure that his investment was secure, he bought up as much of the surrounding properties as possible; selling them only to wealthy buyers, with the stipulation that the plots be used for private house construction.

Pinchot hired the firm of Hunt & Hunt to design his residence.   (The architects were the sons of Richard Morris Hunt, who had designed Grey Towers.)  The limestone-faced, Renaissance Revival mansion rose four stories on a plot 51 by 102 feet.  Pinchot's bold move in building here was reflected in a comment four years later, on August 231, 1909, in the Record & Guide.  "Except for Mr. Amos R. E. Pinchot's house, at the northeast cor. of 85th st. in Park av., there are very few high-class residences north of 80th st. in Park av."

The Brickbuilder, March 1910 (copyright expired)

Following the death of his father, James Wallace Pinchot, in 1908, Pinchot's mother and sister would be frequent house guests.  Mary Jane Eno Pinchot, who lived in Washington D.C., was the daughter of New York City's wealthiest real estate developer, Amos Eno.  Pinchot's sister, Antoinette, was the wife of Lord Alan Johnstone of England.

On March 1, 1908, the New-York Tribune reported, "Mrs. James Pinchot and her daughter, Lady Johnstone, went to New York to-night to visit Mrs. Pinchot's son, at No. 1021 Park avenue, for a week.  On Saturday Lady Johnstone will sail for Europe on the Lusitania and Mrs. Pinchot will return to Washington."

And on December 23 that year, the newspaper reported "Mrs. James W. Pinchot went to New York to-day to spend the Christmas holidays with her son, Amos Pinchot, at No. 1021 Park avenue."

Mary was visiting in June 1911 when she suffered an appendicitis attack.  She was operated upon in the Park Avenue mansion, and on June 23 The Sun noted, "She is believed to be practically out of danger."  And later that year, in December, The New York Times announced, "Mrs. Amos R. Pinchot is giving a dinner this evening, followed by music, at her residence, 1,021 Park Avenue, for Lady Johnstone, who was Miss Pinchot."

The last entertainment for Lady Johnstone and, perhaps, the last social function the Pinchots would give in the mansion, occurred on November 25, 1913.  The New York Times reported, "Mrs. Amos R. Eno Pinchot gave a large dance last night at her residence, 1,021 Park Avenue, for her sister-in-law, Lady Alan Johnstone."

Things had become strained between Amos and Gertrude by then.  On October 3, 1914 the Record & Guide reported that Pinchot had leased "the large furnished house" to Vincent Astor and his bride, Helen Dinsmore Huntington.  Astor's father, John Jacob Astor IV had perished on the RMS Titanic two years earlier, making him among the richest men in the world.

In reporting on the lease, The New York Times noted that the house, "has a large ballroom and is splendidly furnished, having many rare objects of art...It is probable that they will do considerable entertaining this Winter.  They will be seen frequently at the opera."

The ballroom mentioned by The New York Times (labelled "salon" in the floorplans), engulfed the Park Avenue side of the second floor.  The Brickbuilder, March 1910 (copyright expired)

The first "formal entertainment" given by the Astors in the mansion was on February 9, 1915.  The Sun noted, "It will be a dinner and dance, but not a large party."  A less social gathering occurred on February 2, 1916, when the couple invited an unexpected mix of guests for lunch.  Around the table that afternoon were Theodore Roosevelt, Diamond Jim Brady, Mrs. John Astor, Morris Knowles (of the United States Steel Corporation), Ida Tarbell, and Grant La Farge.

Helen Astor had visited Barren Island the previous summer "and saw the shacks in which the Italian laborers live with their families," explained The Sun.  She had become deeply concerned, and the article said that during lunch "the problems of housing the immigrant was discussed."

Pinchot leased the mansion the following social season to Margaret Emerson Vanderbilt, whose husband, Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, had died on the torpedoed RMS Lusitania on May 7, 1915.  The Record & Guide reported she would be paying $25,000 rent for the year, or about $528,000 in today's money.

The Pinchot family would not return to 1021 Park Avenue.  (The couple's marriage continued to deteriorate and they divorced in 1918.)  Amos Pinchot sold 1021 to Edward Reilly Stettinius and his wife, Judith Wimbish Carrington.  On November 4, 1916 the Record & Guide reported that they would occupy the house "when the present lease...expires next spring."  Stettinius was the president of the Diamond Match Company in Ohio, but was relocating his family to New York to become a partner in the J. P. Morgan banking firm.  He and Judith had four children, William Carrington, Isabelle, Edward Jr., and Elizabeth Carrington.

As it turned out, Stettinius would see little of the Park Avenue mansion for a few years.  The entry of the United States into World War I changed life for the family.  Stettinius, who had been in the chief buyer of war supplies for the Allies through his position at J. P. Morgan, was now employed by the War Department.  He was put in charge of procuring and producing United States Army supplies.  A year after purchasing 1021 Park Avenue, he was made Assistant Secretary of War.

The family necessarily acquired a townhouse in Washington D.C. and Judith found herself mostly in charge of the family as her husband routinely went abroad.  On November 3, 1918, for instance, The Sun reported, "Mrs. Edward R. Stettinius and the Misses Isabel and Betty Stettinius , who were at the White Sulphur Springs for the summer, will not be in Washington D.C. again.  They are now at their home 1021 Park avenue, for the winter.  Mr. Stettinius is abroad in the interest of the Government."

Edward Stettinius was overseas in the fall of 1919 when he received a telegram that Judith was gravely ill.  It came at a time when the influenza pandemic was taking more victims than the war.  He arrived in New York on the French liner La France on October 8.  The Sun reported, "The ship came into quarantine too late to be passed, but Mr. Stettinius...received permission to leave the vessel in a Customs tug."  An automobile was waiting for him at the Battery, which rushed him to the Park Avenue residence.  "There he found Mrs. Stettinius was very much improved," said the article.

Edward would have been sailing home soon, in any event.  Isabel's wedding to John B. Marsh, took place in St. James's Church on Madison Avenue the following month, on November 19, 1919.  The Sun reported, "Owing to the recent illness of Mrs. Stettinius the reception, which will follow at the family home, 1021 Park avenue, will be small."

On March 30, 1921 William was married to Achsah Ridgely Petre in St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Baltimore.

The political and social ties Edward Stettinius had made during the war were now reflected in the entertainments held on Park Avenue.  On February 20, 1921, the New-York Tribune reported, "Mr. and Mrs. Edward R. Stettinius will give a luncheon party to-day in their home...for Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Hoover.  A number of distinguished persons will be among the guests."  And on April 4 that year the couple hosted a dinner party for General John J. Pershing and other distinguished guests.

Edward Reilly Stettinius, The American Review of Reviews, 1918 (copyright expired)

The following winter social season was an important one.  Elizabeth was to be introduced to society.  But as the December entertainments approached, she was stricken with an attack of appendicitis and in November underwent surgery.  Happily, on November 26 the New-York Tribune reported she was "progressing so favorably that is had not been found necessary to change the date of their proposed dance.  It will be held on the night of December 27."

Fortunately for Betty, as she was known, she was indeed recuperated enough to be feted with a tea in the mansion on the afternoon of December 6, followed by the dance and tea at the Plaza hotel on December 27.

The Stettinius country home was in Locust Valley, Long Island.  It was there that Edward R. Stettinius died on September 3, 1925.  The New York Times commented, "Mr. Stettinius labored so prodigiously for the Allies and later for this country that he undermined his health, and when he underwent an operation for appendicitis in August, 1920, he never fully recovered his strength."  His funeral was held in Locust Valley.

Stettinius left the bulk of his estate to Judith.  On September 16, 1925 The New York Times remarked, "The value was not disclosed, but it is estimated at more than $10,000,000."  (That amount would translate to about $155 million in 2022.)

The following year, on May 15, Edward Jr. married Virginia Gordon Wallace.  Like his father, he would serve his country.  He became the United States Secretary of State under Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, and served as U. S. Ambassador to the United Nations from 1945 to 1946.

In 1928, three years after Edward Reilly Stettinius's death and just 21 years after it was built, the magnificent limestone mansion was demolished.  It was replaced by an Anthony Campagna designed apartment building that survives.

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