Tuesday, June 15, 2021

The 1890 Esther and Maurice Herts House - 153 West 78th Street


The architectural firm of Thom & Wilson was noted for designing rows of speculative residences, mostly on the Upper West Side.  The projects most often included several creative designs which played off one another to create a harmonious string.  And so it is surprising that the eight brownstone-fronted houses Thom & Wilson designed for developer William H. Hall in 1890 were rigidly identical.

Each of the carbon copy homes along the north side of West 78th Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues, were four stories tall above high English basements.  A blend of Renaissance Revival and neo-Grec styles, the 20-foot wide residences featured windows with architrave frames, molded cornices, and bracketed sills decorated with a row of angular bosses.  Rather than railings, stair-stepped wing walls flanked the stoop which rose to the double-doored entrance.  Here miniature spiral-carved columns sat upon fluted brackets.  They upheld a hefty two-part entablature embellished with Renaissance style carvings.

The eastern-most of the row, 153 West 78th Street, was initially purchased by Charles H. Parsons.  He was the principal in the musical instrument business of Charles H. Parsons & Co. at 292 Broadway and a member of the musical organization the Euterpe Society.  He was, as well, a director of the New York and New England Railroad Company and divided his time between New England and New York.  The Evening World remarked on August 31, 1892 that he was "prominent in New England affairs.

Parsons's residency in the 78th Street house would be relatively short-lived.  He sold it in January 1893 to Esther Moss Herts, the widow of antiques furniture dealer and auctioneer Henry Benjamin Herts, who had died in 1884.

Henry and Esther (who went by Belle) had been married in 1852 and had eight children, Isaac H., Benjamin Henry, Abraham H., Maurice, Jaques, Sophie Rose, Minnie, and Henry B.  (Importantly, in 1876 Isaac and Benjamin had formed Herts Brothers, by now one of the foremost furniture designing and interior decorating firms in America.)

Living with Belle in 153 West 78th Street was her unmarried son, Maurice, who enjoyed the life of a wealthy bachelor.  A few years earlier, in June 1889, he organized an impromptu and "very pleasant entertainment," as described by The Evening World, aboard the White Star steamer Britannic.  The high-end program was for the benefit of the Sick Babies Fund in New York.  

He quite often appeared in society pages with his siblings.  On July 10, 1898, for instance, the New York Herald reported, "Mr. and Mrs. B. H. Herts and family, of No. 16 West Seventieth street, and Mr. Maurice A. Hertz [sic], of No. 153 West Seventy-eighth street, are spending the summer at Long Beach [New Jersey]."  Herts was active in the Upper West Side community and served as vice-president of the West End Club.

Like all the well-to-do families along the block, the Hertses maintained a domestic staff.  On September 18, 1900 an advertisement for a "young girl as first class cook in a small family" appeared in the New York Herald.  Belle was offering a salary of $22--around $175 per week today.

Belle M. Herts died on December 30, 1905.  Just over a year later, in February 1907, Maurice sold 153 West 78th Street to Dr. Howard Gillespie Myers and his wife, the former Antoinette Darwood.

Born in Port Byron, New York in 1862, Myers was an active member of The Prohibition Party.  He and Antoinette had two daughters, Dorothy Kenyon and Constance.  Moving in with the family was Antoinette's father, retired Methodist minister William McKendree Darwood.  

Darwood had had a fascinating career.  He arrived with his parents from the Isle of Ely, England, at the age of 14 in 1849, and received his divinity degree from Baker University in 1887.  The Christian Advocate said of him:

During his ministry he held about one hundred and forty-five weeks of special revival services, during which more than a thousand souls were converted and added to the church.  When in his prime he was greatly in demand at camp meetings.  He preached in probably more churches in New York city than any other minister, having visited almost every Methodist Church on Manhattan Island.

The family was at Little River, Connecticut in 1914 when William McKendree Darwood died "suddenly" on April 27 at the age of 79.  His body was brought back to New York where his funeral was held in the 78th Street house three days later.

A much more joyous ceremony took place in the parlor four years later.  On June 10, 1918 Dorothy's engagement to Lt. Carl Ober Sayward of the Infantry Reserve Corps was announced.   Dorothy had graduated from Barnard College in 1916 and now held a position in the research laboratory of the Department of Health.  The wedding took place in the 78th Street house on September 21 that year.  Constance was her sister's only attendant.  

At the time Constance was a junior at Vassar College at the time.  She graduated in 1919, and on January 27, 1925 her engagement to Dr. Arthur Forrest Anderson was announced in The New York Times.  The article noted, "The wedding will take place in the late Spring."  But this ceremony would not take place at 153 West 78th Street.  Howard Myers sold the property early in March.

Initially the house was operated as a boarding house.   Jessie Adeline Cameron, a stenographer, lived here in 1926 when she was married to Arthur Percy Lait.  The name of another resident, Thomas Harding, appeared in newspapers that year for much graver reasons.

Harding was a delivery driver for the James Butler, Inc. chain of stores.  On the afternoon of October 11, 1926 he and another employee, Michael Mulryan, were returning on the Staten Island Ferry after making a delivery.   As the boat neared the Brooklyn slip, Harding asked Mulryan to crank the truck's motor to start the engine.  The Daily Star reported:

Mulryan braced himself on the swaying deck and turned the crank handle several times.  Finally with a roar the motor spun.  The truck started with a jerk and while scores of horrified passengers watched Mulryan was crushed between its blunt-nose and the guard rail.

The 24-year-old was dead when the ambulance arrived.  The article said, "Harding, heartbroken, was arrested on a charge of homicide.  The police accuse him of throwing off the brakes of the truck before Mulryan had a chance to get out of the way."

In 1938 the house was officially converted to apartments, two per floor.  That configuration lasted until a renovation completed in 2009 added a penthouse level unseen from the street.  The addition made two duplex apartments possible in the fourth floor and penthouse levels.

photographs by the author
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Monday, June 14, 2021

The Lost Lord & Taylor Store - Broadway and Grand Street

from the collection of the Fashion Institute of Technology

Born in Yorkshire, England, Samuel Lord opened a small dry goods store on Catherine Street in 1826.  When his wife's cousin, George Washington Taylor, joined the business in 1834, the store was renamed Lord & Taylor.

As trade continually inched further uptown and Grand Street became the fashionable dry goods thoroughfare, Lord & Taylor erected a new store at Grand and Chrystie Streets in 1853.  The success of the business was such that within six years a second, opulent store was built several blocks to the west, at 461-467 Broadway, on the northwest corner of Grand Street.

Faced in gleaming white Eastchester marble, the five-story structure was designed by Griffith Thomas, remembered by the American Institute of Architects in 1908 as "the most fashionable architect of his generation."  Its Renaissance Revival design (described as "Florentine" at the time) featured arcades of show windows along street level, arched openings capped by flat lintels or triangular pediments on the upper floors, and a dignified balustrade atop the cornice.  Stealing the show was the immense fanlight above the main entrance.  The cost of construction was placed at $180,000 and the price of the land at $200,000--bringing the total cost of the new emporium to $12 million in today's money.

The store opened on August 29, 1859.   That morning The New York Times wrote, "The store of Mssrs. Lord & Taylor, at the corner of Grand-street and Broadway...is one of the finest, if not the very finest, on this grandest of thoroughfares.  It is five stories high, built of white marble, and looks more like an Italian palace than a place for the sale of broadcloth."  Miller's Guide to New-York called it "one of the most conspicuous architectural ornaments of Broadway."

Inside, Corinthian columns stood in rows within the "immense salesrooms."  The staircases were, according to The New York Times, were "of palatial width and of massive oak."  The article added, "The most notable ornament in the building is the huge gas chandelier that lights up the staircase.  It was made by Tiffany at a cost of $500, and is original and unique of its kind."

from the collection of the New York Public Library

The topmost floors held manufacturing space.  Vacant at the time of the store's opening, they became a hive of activity in the spring of 1860.  On April 17 Lord & Taylor announced the opening of a separate department, "to be devoted exclusively to ladies', children's, and infants' wearing apparel."  The notice explained that "leading artists" formerly employed by John N. Genin of Genin's Bazaar had been acquired and "a large and desirable assortment of ladies' and children's ready-made undergarments may be found at all times."

All other garments worn by the upper class were custom made.  In addition to the ready-made underwear, the new department took orders for "mourning apparel, bridal trousseau, traveling outfits, robes de chambre."

A row of back-to-back advertisements in the New-York Daily Tribune that same day gave a glimpse into the variety of goods available in the store.  Women looking for fabrics for their dressmakers could browse over 27 cases of the "latest novelties" just received from Paris.  Another ad touted "fashionable mantillas" in the "latest Paris Forms, in every variety of material and trimming, manufactured in the best manner, expressly for our retail sales."  There were also French and Scotch embroideries, lace goods "of every description," 5,000 pairs of lace curtains as well as "upholstery goods, curtain materials, cornices, window-shades, tassels, bands, loops and fixtures."

But the northward march of commerce never ceased.  Only a decade after moving into its marble palace, Lord & Taylor began construction on an equally lavish emporium at Broadway and 20th Street, which opened with enormous fanfare in 1870.  

The architect of the new store, James H. Giles, recreated the massive fanlight over the entrance.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

In 1876 the clothing maker J. W. Goddard & Son moved into the former Lord & Taylor building.  Founded on January 1, 1847 by Joseph Warren Goddard, the firm had moved several times already, but, according to the Dry Goods Guide, "the house had filled its last domicile to overflowing and pushed on upward to the large stores 461-467 Broadway, the old Lord & Taylor building."  The company's continued success made even this building too small and in 1880 it moved slightly northward to 516 Broadway.

The marble palace where Manhattan's carriage trade had shopped continued to house clothing manufacturers.   L. Levenson & Co. was in the building by the spring of 1879, joined by the London & Liverpool Clothing Co. by 1883.  The Don Clothing Company replaced L. Levenson & Co. in the building around 1890.

L. Levenson & Co. imprinted a sketch of the building on its bills of sale.  from the John H. Yardley Collection of Architectural Letterheads of the Columbia University Libraries. 

By the last years of the 1880's Max Stadler & Co. operated its men's furnishings store from the ground level.  On November 8, 1888 it advertised its "Great Clearing Sale of $500,000 Worth of Men's Fine Overcoats and Suits."  On sale were 15,000 overcoats, 9,800 suits, 5,000 children's suits as well as "men's fine derby hats."

The front of Max Stadler & Co.'s trade card seemingly has nothing to do with its business.  The back, however, provided a long list of apparel and prices.

The three firms joined forces in the fall of 1890.  An announcement in The Evening World on October 31, reported that London & Liverpool, Don Company, and Max Stadler & Co. had consolidated.  A massive sale was held which was advertised as "A Wholesale Slaughter of Clothing."

Interestingly, four months later the combined venture was gone and Mack & Co., merchant tailors had moved into the retail space.  An announcement on February 20, 1891 read:

Mack & Co. Clothiers, beg to inform the public that they will open the large and palatial stores at 461, 463, 465 and 467 Broadway to-morrow (Saturday) Feb. 21. 

Our opening Display will consist of the new fashions in London-made Overcoats for early Springwear, Trousers and medium weight Suits.
Our Juvenile Department will be fully equipped.

Upstairs garment-related factories like the American Silk Label Mfg. Co. continued to operate.  By the first years of the 20th century other types of tenants were moving in, like the National Discount Co.  The firm acted as "financial underwriters for merchants and manufacturers, and for the negotiation of commercial paper."  And in 1909 the Toback Lock Company operated here. 

The following year a demolition permit was filed with the Department of Buildings, but for some reason those plans were not carried forward.  Small businesses continued to come and go--the Globe Shirt Company was here in 1916, clothing manufacturer Aaron Schwetsky in 1920, and The Sand Company in 1922.  Where wealthy women had once shopped for mantillas and lace goods, The Sand Company now marketed its "Steel Cat," guaranteed to "quickly rid your place of mice."

The magnificent marble commercial emporium was demolished in 1960 to make way for a parking lot.  Today a glass and steel business building and residential tower, completed in 2005, occupies the site.

photo by Monacelli Press

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Saturday, June 12, 2021

The Solomon Strauss House - 221 West 38th Street


In 1855 well-dressed ladies and gentlemen strolled through the magnificent Crystal Palace on Reservoir Square (today's Bryant Park).  It had been opened two years earlier for the Exhibition of Industry of All Nations.  Just over a block away to the west, at 221 West 38th Street, Frederick List and his family lived in a handsome brownstone-clad residence.

List was described in directories as a "segarmaker."  Based on his impressive home, he most likely owned a significant cigar-making business.  Four stories tall above a high English basement and three bays wide, its parlor floor featured full-height windows and and an elegant arched entrance.  The segmentally arched openings of the upper floors were fully framed and capped with flat molded cornices.   An ornate pressed metal bracketed cornice completed the design.

In 1857 Solomon Strauss and his wife, Frederica, purchased the house.   A wealthy merchant, he was the principal in the downtown drygoods store of Solomon Strauss & Co.  When the family moved in, Henry Solomon Strauss was attending the Free Academy of the City of New York.  His younger brother, William, would also graduate from the school and later from the Columbia University Law School.

Solomon Strauss died on December 12, 1878 at the age of 55.  His funeral was held in the parlor three days later.  By now Henry was in in the corset business at 79 White Street and William had had his own legal practice since 1872.  He was dabbling in politics, as well.

On October 31, 1880, The New York Times reported that William had been nominated for assemblyman of the 15th District.  The newspaper heartily gave its endorsement, saying "he is a candidate entirely worthy of support.  His father was the late Solomon Strauss, who was an old and respected merchant at the time of his death."

The Strauss family remained in the residence until the mid-1880s'.  In 1886 it was home to the Robinson family.  Robert H. Robinson was in the shoe business and William H. Robinson devoted his private time to breeding and showing pedigree dogs.

Living with the family was another dog breeder, Crump Ormsby.  On November 18, 1887, the New York Herald reported, "The organization of the American Toy Dog Club, for some time past under consideration, has been effected."  Ormsby was elected secretary of the new organization.  The article noted, "Some of the members object to the name and want it changed to Pet Dog Club."

There were four dogs in the house.  Ormsby's Pug, "a winner of many prizes in England and one in this country," according to The Sun, and Pug's daughter, Gypsy, which had not yet been shown.  The Robinsons' had a thoroughbred Newfoundland puppy, Raven, and another dog.

The neighbors, too, were dog lovers.  According to William, "all are respectable families, and all but one keep fine dogs."  Nevertheless, someone in the neighborhood had a grudge against the four dogs in the Robinson house.  On January 13, 1888 The Sun reported, "Two valuable dogs were poisoned on Tuesday night in the back yard of 221 West thirty-eighth street, and the whole neighborhood, being a sort of metropolis for fancy dogs, is in a considerable state of excitement."

Gypsy and Raven had been let out into the yard at around 8:00 that night.  "When they were let in through the back parlor window, Gypsy at once went into convulsions and died.  Raven was discovered dead under a chair," said the article."  William Robinson suspected "that a servant in some of these houses has been bribed to kill the dogs by some jealous fancier."

The house was sold at auction on March 7, 1894, after which it became a "theatrical boarding house," as described by The Sun.  Among the earliest residents were actor Henry Maeder Pitt and his wife, actress Margaret Pitt, who lived on the second floor.  Henry had made his first appearance on stage at the age of 14.  

Margaret was not at home on the afternoon of March 7, 1898.  Another boarder, actress Lucky Mackin, heard moaning coming from their rooms and entered.  Pitt was on the bed and a doctor was sent for, but the actor died ten minutes after he arrived.  Policeman Holland put in his report that Pitt had killed himself by drinking carbolic acid.  Coroner Zucca agreed, without doing an examination.

Suicide in the 19th century was a serious and shameful charge.  A journalist from The Sun challenged Zucca, noting that Pitt's lips were not burned.  There was no empty bottle of carbolic acid to be found, but there was a bottle of chlorodyne, an opiate often used as a sleeping aid.  The reporter strongly suggested that "Pitt took an [accidentaloverdose in order to induce sleep."  The coroner never changed his report, however, and Pitt's memory was forever tainted by the suggestion of suicide.

Other theatrical figures in the house were Agnes Findlay, vaudeville entertainer B. Frank Bush and his wife, Cora Maud, and William Mack.  

Margaret Pitt was still living here in 1902 when her dramatic death scene in Camille was rudely interrupted.  On March 28, The Morning Telegraph explained, "She was alone and the stage was darkened.  Just as she remarked for the fiftieth time, 'Oh, if Armand were only here,' she cast her bewildered gaze upon the stage just aft the tormenter, and, there, to her horror, saw approaching quietly, but steadily, her sixty dollar feather boa."  When she realized that it was a rat causing the boa to move across the stage, she panicked.

"With a wild, unaffected scream, Margaret Pitt jumped out of the character, sprang upon the table and yelled for help...The audience noted the action of Miss Pitt and cheered wildly.  Being a New Jersey audience, they all thought it belonged to the play."  A stage hand kicked the rat into the orchestra, precipitating a riot.  "Men, women and children crushed each other in the wild scramble for safety, and the house was partially emptied, after which 'Camille' was dropped and the rest of the time filled in with specialties."

The article noted, "Miss Pitt is back in New York.  She could not cure her shattered nerves, and for the time being is indulging in bromides at her apartments, at 221 West Thirty-eighth street.  Her physician says that she is suffering severely from prostration of the nervous system."

For some reason the tenant list changed from actors to chauffeurs around 1904.  The residents over the next decade included John Ryan, Alfred Panier, George Theobold, Leon Lehereux (chauffeur to George Gould), and Eugene F. Aymar, all professional automobile drivers.

One resident not in the chauffeuring profession in 1916 was boxer Jean Constant, the French light-weight champion.  He set up a sort of gym in the basement and on March 23 offered to give a free boxing lesson to Michael Seranti, who worked in the kitchen.

For some reason the 18-year-old was carrying the equivalent of $240,000 today in cash and Panama Canal bonds in the pockets of his waistcoat.  He told a reporter later, "Constant and a friend he had there tried to make me take the waistcoat off, but I would not.  Then Constant knocked me out with a blow on the point of the jaw.  When I recovered consciousness both men were gone and so was my $10,000."

Constant was, of course, arrested.  But three days later he was released "because evidence of theft was lacking," according to The New York Press.  "The man who stole the money, it was said, wrote two letters clearing the fighter and returning $2,000 of the missing property."

John Couldis signed a 21-year lease on the building in August 1920.  The basement level became home to Schiavi's Italian Restaurant.  The change in what had been an elegant residential neighborhood became evident two years later, on August 25, 1922.

The New-York Tribune reported, "Ralph H. Oyler, director of the Government Narcotic Division, and three of his detectives won a hard fight with fifteen men in a spaghetti restaurant at 221 West Thirty-eighth Street early yesterday.  Four men were arrested on charges of selling heroin at $70 an ounce."

On August 29, 1957 The New York Times reported on "plans for modernizing 221 West Thirty-eighth Street, in the heart of the garment district."  The article noted, "It was vacated recently by Schiavi's Italian Restaurant, which had been there for thirty years and is going out of business."

The architectural firm of Sapolsky & Slobodian installed offices in the former parlor floor, and updated the step-down restaurant in the basement.  The Department of Buildings insisted that the upper floors "remain vacant."  That stipulation lasted until 1990 when another restaurant moved into the parlor level and the upper floors were converted to offices.

The bedraggled building--once one of the elegant homes of wealthy merchants along the block--is somewhat of an eyesore today.  And yet its patrician past is easily discerned behind the fire escapes and garish signage.

photographs by the author
many thanks to reader Ted Leather for requesting this post
no permission to reuse the content of this blog has been granted to LaptrinhX.com

Friday, June 11, 2021

Poetry, "Long Torsos," and Fudge -- the 1845 59 Greenwich Avenue


The common cornice of 57 and 59 Greenwich Avenue was updated later in the 19th century.

In the 17th century Sand Hill Road, sometimes known as Monument Lane, followed an earlier Native American trail.  The name was changed in the last years of the 18th century to Old Greenwich Lane and renamed again in 1843 as Greenwich Avenue.  By then Greenwich Village was greatly expanding and development was taking place along the avenue.

In 1844, the year after the name change, attorney and saw mill owner William Van Hook began construction of two speculative houses at 57 and 59 Greenwich Avenue.  Completed the following year, they both most likely always had a store at street level.

Like its neighbor, 59 Greenwich Avenue was faced in brick and rose two-and-a-half stories above the store.  The attic level, as with all Greek Revival style structures, featured squat windows under a flat roof; a spatial improvement over the peaked roof with dormers of the earlier Federal style.

Living here in the late 1860's was the family of Thomas Roberts.  When the Metropolitan Fire Department was organized in 1865, the 26-year old Roberts became a professional fire fighter.  (He had, no doubt, been a volunteer previously.)  He and his wife had two children.

At 7:45 on the evening of October 24, 1869 a fire broke out in the stables of Dodd's City Express on West 28th Street.   It was a large concern, housing between 40 to 50 horses and numerous wagons. Engine Company No. 14 responded, with Thomas Roberts, who was Assistant Foreman, riding on the tender.  As it approached the blaze, according to the Evening Post, Roberts "leaped to the ground while the tender was in motion, in order to get possession of a fire plug at the corner."  What the newspaper deemed a "melancholy accident" followed.

The New York Herald reported, "His foot caught in a strap and he fell to the pavement, the wheels of the tender passing over his head."  He was killed almost instantly.  His fellow fire fighters later called him "an efficient and faithful officer."

The house and store saw a succession of residents.  At the turn of the last century J. D. Steffens lived above his confectionary store.  

Residing here in the post World War I years was Lawrence Gibson, who saw the world through artistic lenses.  His contemplative letter to the editor of The Evening World was published on August 9, 1922:

The statue of Gen. Sherman by St. Gaudens was before me in Central Park to-day when I noticed a dead horse in the street.  I was struck by the fact that the carcass retained no semblance of life, no grace, no form, it was nothing but a meaningless hulk.  Then I glanced up to the St. Gaudens statue.  Here was, seemingly, life.  The horse was vibrant, tense.  And yet both horses, the dead one and the statue, were clay. 

No less artistic was Horace Gregory, who established the unusual literary publication Folio in 1924.  Poetry: A Magazine of Verse described it that year saying, "Folio consists of loose leaves in a portfolio, each contributor being the owner of one of these leaves, and choosing what in his judgement will best represent him."  Gregory explained, "There is no 'angel,' no editor, no policy, and only the postoffice is censor."

The avant-garde nature of the magazine was exemplified by its carefree publication schedule--or lack of one.  "No monthly or quarterly interval is announced," said Poetry.

A one-step stoop survived in 1926.  from the collection of the New-York Historical Society.

In 1958 the ground floor became home to The Allen Studio.  Lee Bruce's syndicated column "Political Notes" which appeared in The Brooklyn Daily on August 15 announced:

If the women around our Boro are looking svelter these days, it's probably because they have been availing themselves of the services of Beatrice Allen who has classes in Modern Dance and in Body Alignment.  According to informed sources, Body Alignment instruction has been developed to free you from fatigue, tenseness and other pressures of daily living, in addition to giving you that 'long torso' look.  The Allen Studio, in case you want to know is at 59 Greenwich Avenue, Manhattan.

Beatrice Allen may have been slightly ahead of the fitness craze.  With the year the space became The Steak Joint restaurant.

The Villager, June 25, 1959 (copyright expired)

Steaks and chops gave way to home-made candy when Barretts of Cape Cod moved in late in 1962.  Three generations old, the firm had started in Provincetown, Massachusetts and was famous, according to The Village on December 17, 1962, for "its 70-year-old recipe for fudge."  The article said "The fudge, seven regular flavors and a special of the day, is made right in the shop on Greenwich Ave.  A gas stove sits in the window and its manager 'Bo' Peijovich daily makes the fudge."

Barretts was also known for its old-fashioned "penny candies."  The Village wrote, "Over 150 penny candies are available to children of all ages who walk around with a small basket and pick out their favorite sweets.  They have buttons on paper, squirrel nuts, chewy caramels (a big seller), sugary bacon strips, sour balls, just to mention a few."

June Owen, writing in The New York Times on June 14, 1963, said "It is a tossup whether children or adults get the bigger thrill...For the adults, many of those penny candies are sweet reminders of childhood.  The names themselves may inspire nostalgia--licorice sticks, root beer barrels, mint juleps, banana splits, Mary Janes, buttons on paper, cinnamon imperials."

The Villager, December 20, 1962

Nevertheless, said Owen, the fudge was not to be overlooked.  In addition to the regular chocolate, there were also "chocolate nut, vanilla nut, maple, maple nut and peanut butter fudge."  A special treat on the weekends was often marshmallow chocolate fudge.

By 1972 Barretts of Cape Cod gave way to the Bizzare Bath Boutique.  Subsequent tenants in the store were Idle House Bookstore in the 1980's, LaBella Pompeii Pizza in the '90's, and Our Name Is Mud pottery store by 1998.  On December 9 that year, The Village wrote about Our Name Is Mud's "naked pottery you can paint yourself--candlestick holders, picture frames, mugs, vases, housewares."

The entire building was vacant in 2018 when Los Angeles hair stylist Chaz Dean sought a special permit to modify the two lower stories of 59 Greenwich Avenue as a "combined hair products retailer and hair salon."  The third and fourth floors would be converted to residential units.  (A special permit was required in order to extend the commercial space above the first floor.)  The request was approved and a renovation-restoration of the 1845 began in 2019.

photographs by the author
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Thursday, June 10, 2021

The 1887 Julius Sands House - 12 East 78th Street


Surrounded by modern mansions by the early 20th century, No. 12 refused to cede to change.

Charles Graham was the principal of C. Graham & Sons--one of the most active real estate development and construction firms in New York City in the late 19th century.  His son, Thomas, who trained in the architectural office of Jardine & Thompson, designed a row of six upscale rowhouses at 10 through 20 East 78th Street for the firm in 1886.   Completed the following year, the 20-foot wide, four-story and basement residences were designed in the Renaissance Revival style.

Like its neighbors, 12 East 78th Street was 20-feet wide and four stories high above an English basement.  Its Renaissance Revival design was restrained in terms of decoration.  Panels of delicately carved flowers and vines adorned the parlor level door and window.  Each of the upper openings above sat within architrave frames on prominent sills supported by handsome brackets.  Like the beefy stone stoop newels and railings, the sheet-metal cornice recalled the Italianate style.

In December 1886, shortly before construction was completed, Graham sold the 12-room house to Julius Sands for $48,000--about $1.35 million today.  As was customary, title was put in the name of his wife, the former Esther H. Levy.

Sands was a wealthy dry goods merchant.  Born in German in 1840, he had gone west to Montana upon arriving in America as a young man.  There he opened a dry goods business.  Fully recognizing the opportunities of the developing frontier, he later relocated to Denver where he opened a brewery, founded the Sands Land and Title Company, and the Sands Dry Goods Company.  In 1873 he left the operation of the western businesses in control of his brother and moved to New York City.

He and Esther had three children, Rosa S., Minnie E., and Willard E.  Rosa's debut into society was one of the first major entertainments in the house.  On January 8, 1892 The Jewish Messenger reported, "Mr. and Mrs. Julius Sands and Miss Sands, 12 East 78th street, will receive their friends on the afternoon of the 14th inst.; the young folks are invited to a dance during the evening."

The Sands, like all other wealthy New Yorkers, routinely traveled to Europe.  It presented a problem for valued servants who did not travel with the family and were not needed at home in their absence.  Socialites often placed ads hoping to find them a job.  On May 16, 1894 Esther announced, "A lady going to Europe wishes to obtain a situation for her cook; she is thoroughly competent and reliable; German."

At around 7:00 on the morning of January 20, 1896 a servant girl took a delivery of milk at the basement door.  The Sun reported, "When the maid got the milk she walked out into the kitchen with it and laid the can down on the window sill.  Then she dipped some of it out into a smaller can and started upstairs."  She carelessly had forgotten to close the basement door which, apparently, was being watched.

While on an upper floor the maid busied herself with tidying up rooms.   About 30 minutes later Esther heard the front door bang shut, but assumed it was the maid.  That maid, however, also heard the bang and went to investigate.  It was then that she found the basement door still open.  The Sun reported, "Everything was in order in the parlor, but in the dining room the girl's suspicions were confirmed.  All of the sideboard drawers were open, and every bit of silver had been taken from them."

The New-York Tribune said, "It was noticed that the thieves only took solid silver articles...The police say that one thief could not have carried off all the silverware stolen, and they are sure that two thieves did the job."  The brazen burglars had made off with $12,600 worth of silver in today's money.   This was not the first time the Sands had been robbed.  Julius had regained his previously stolen property by paying a reward and once again offered a generous reward for the family silver.  (One might assume that the maid was soon looking for a new job.)

The year 1903 was a traumatic one for the Esther.   On June 10, the New York Herald reported, "Julius Sands died Monday at his home, No. 12 East Seventy-sixth street."  He had been actively involved in Jewish social organizations and charities, including the Progress Club, the Hebrew Technical Institute, the Sanitarium for Hebrew Children and the West End Synagogue.

The grief-ridden widow left town shortly after the funeral.  On June 23 The Sun announced, "Mrs. Julius Sands...is booked to sail on Thursday for Europe."  Her stay was short and she was home in time to accept an invitation to the home of her sister, Maria, on August 24.  

Maria, was married to Philip Kleeberg and the couple lived in an opulent mansion at 3 Riverside Drive.  Things were possibly not going extremely smoothly in the relationship, with Philip maintaining a second house for his own purposes.  It is possible that Esther and society in general were unaware of the domestic problems, since pretenses would have been rigorously maintained.

After dinner that evening the party took a drive along Riverside Drive, then returned to the terrace where they sat and chatted.  At one point Maria excused herself.  When she did not return, Esther became concerned and followed.  The Sun reported, "She opened the door just as Mrs. Kleeberg put a bottle to her lips.  Mrs. Sands knocked the bottle, which was filled with carbolic acid, to the floor."

Badly burned by the acid, Esther ran downstairs and instructed the servants to summon a doctor.  By the time the ambulance arrived Maria Kleeberg was dead.

Esther soon left East 78th Street.  An auction of the contents of the house was held on September 20, 1904.  The catalogue listed items from the drawing room, including a "magnificent Louis XVI suite...fine solid bronzes and bronze groups, Louis XVI Ormolu clock sets [and] very large and rare pieces Capo di Monti Royal Worcester."  There were a Weber white mahogany grand piano, silverware by Tiffany and Gorham, and "massive hand carved sideboard, table, chairs and cabinets."

(As an interesting side note, Julius Sands' estate was administered by broker Arthur S. Levy.  He committed suicide in 1913 when it was discovered he had embezzled $500,000 from the estate, according to The Sun.)

By the time of the auction, Esther had already sold the residence to Sidney M. Sternbach.  He was a member in the law firm of Popper & Sternbach.  (Arthur William Popper was the brother of Sternbach's wife, Minnie.)  The couple maintained a summer home in Deal, New Jersey.

When the house was sold in 1943, newspapers reported, "the buyer will occupy."  But instead it was quickly renovated into apartments, one per floor.  The large units were leased to well-to-do tenants whose names appeared in the society columns over the coming decades.  Another renovation completed in 1996 resulted in three apartments--two duplexes and a simplex.

The house was purchased in January 2008 for $13.5 million by Matthew and Marisa Brown.  Brown was a managing director of his father-in-law's investment firm, the Fairfield Greenwich Group.  In 1989 Bernie Madoff began overseeing that firm's investment decisions and by 2008 48 percent of its capital was tied to Madoff.  

A year after purchasing the 7,800-square-foot house, the Browns were forced to sell after Madoff's scheme ruined Fairfield Greenwich Group.   They listed it at $12 million, however one real estate agent said, according to The Observer, "make them an offer.  They have to sell it.  I told my guy he should offer them $8 million."   That figure was not far off.  The Browns accepted a $9.75 million offer--$3.75 million less than they had paid only months before.

The house as it appeared before 2012.  photo via StreetEasy.com

A renovation to a single-family residence was begun in 2012.  It included painting the brownstone facade.  Despite its sitting within the Metropolitan Museum Historic District, the painting of the facade forged ahead.  The outward appearance of the house was therefore altered for the first time in 125 years.  The renovations were completed in 2013.

photographs by the author
no permission to reuse the content of this blog has been granted to LaptrinhX.com

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

The J. W. Oliver House - 31 East 30th Street


J. W. Oliver focused much--if not all--of his professional attention to the Temperance Movement.  In 1845 he was president of The Washington Temperance Society and sat on the executive committee of the General Temperance Council of the City of New York.  The following year he was a speaker at the week-long Temperance Convention.

It was about this time that he moved his family into the Italianate style house at 31 East 30th Street in the upscale Murray Hill neighborhood.  Four stories high above an English basement, its parlor level most likely featured full-length windows and a handsome pedimented entrance.

The parlor was the scene of a heartbreaking ceremony in the summer of 1851.  Oliver and his wife, Ellen M., had one son, 4-year old George Briggs Oliver.  He died on June 15 and his funeral was held here four days later.

Soon afterward Oliver sold the house to William Hustace and his wife, the former Rachel Maria Treadwell.  The couple had three young sons, William L., Ephraim Treadwell, and Francis at the time they moved in.  Two daughters would soon follow, Emily, born in 1853, and Grace in 1859.

Hustace operated an extensive shipbread business with two locations, one on Warren Street and the other on Front Street.  Shipbread, today better known as hardtack, was an essential commodity in the larders of every seagoing vessel.  The inexpensive biscuits outlasted perishable foods on long ocean voyages.  Hustace was, as well, a director in the Merchants' Insurance Company of the City of New York.

Ephraim Treadwell Hustace was named after his maternal grandfather.  He died on December 12, 1859 at just 18-years-old.  As was customary, his coffin sat in the parlor until his funeral on December 14.   

As had been the case with the Oliver family, the Hustaces left East 30th Street shortly after their son's death.  Just months later George Guest Haydock and his family purchased 31 East 30th Street.

Born in 1814, George was a partner with Edmund Coffin in the auction business of Coffin & Haydock on College Place (later West Broadway).  He and his wife, Patience Caroline, had married on October 25, 1839.

By the early 1870's George changed course and went into business with his brother, Robert, to import earthenware.  They were in serious trouble in the summer of 1875 when United States District Attorney Bliss began a suit against them "to recover $100,000 duties and penalties alleged to be due the Government by defendants on account of undervaluation and false classification of invoices of earthenware," as reported by The New York Times on June 19."  It was a major case, the amount of the suit being equal to about $2.4 million today.

Patience and George remained in the house at least through 1886.  In 1897 it became the home of newlyweds Joseph and Estelle White.

The bride was the widowed Laurette Estelle Pendelton Horne.  Born in 1853, she had two grown sons by her first marriage, Francis who was 21-years old, and Granville Nathan Horne, who was 22.  Laurette, who went by her middle name, married Joseph Baker White on the evening of November 11, 1897 in All Souls' Church on Madison Avenue.  She was escorted by her son, Francis.  The following day The Brooklyn Daily Eagle announced, "Mr. and Mrs. White will be at home Wednesdays in January from 4 until 9 P.M., at 31 East Thirtieth street, New York."

The Whites' residency would be relatively short-lived.  By the turn of the century the house was being operated as a high-end boarding house.  Among the residents were the attorney Joseph W. Tilton; Police Commissioner Francis Vinton Greene; Dr. William Oliver Moore, a specialist in diseases of the eye and ear; and Dr. Ellice M. Alger, an ophthalmologist.

Being Police Commission had its advantages when it came to neighborhood nuisances.  On January 16, 1903, Francis Greene found a foot patrolman named Magner and complained "that the residence next to his own, 31 East Thirtieth Street, had been undergoing repairs, and that several charcoal stoves had been placed in the rooms to dry the plaster," according to The New York Times.  "The odor from the stoves was objectionable to the Greene family," said the article.

The patrolman "hastened to the station to consult with those more learned in the law than himself."  Greene's complaint was taken very seriously.  The New York Times continued, "telephonic communication was had with the Building Department of the borough.  An Inspector was dispatched to the house of which the Commissioner made complaint, and this morning it is expected that the legality or non-legality of the plan for plaster drying will be decided."

In 1911 the house was renovated as an annex to the hulking apartment building around the corner at 121 Madison Avenue.  The stoop was removed and replaced by a two-story storefront that extended to the property line.   The ground floor space became a restaurant for the tenants.  The new residential entrance was crowned with an elaborate pediment.  No attempt was made to modernize the exterior appearance of the top three floors in the least.

An advertisement in September that year offered "apartments of two large rooms and bath.  $700 to $900."  The rent for the most expensive apartments would equal about $2,000 per month today.  An ad three years later was more specific about the layout, describing a "connecting large living room, bedroom and bath; restaurant and room service if desired.  Restaurant for Tenants Only."

Among the tenants in 1920 was Mrs. M. A. Fanning, who was highly involved in the Service Club, which provided assistance to maimed soldiers returning from the recent war.  On January 25 the New-York Tribune reported that the club had met in the Fanning apartment the day before.  "The club is taking charge of the canteen work of the Carry-On clubs, and plans were made for a card party to be given at the Hotel Pennsylvania on February 27 for the Carry-On work for the permanently disabled men."

The building's most celebrated tenant was Weldon Kees, whose astonishingly broad resume included playwright, poet, painter, novelist, jazz pianist, short story writer, literary critic and filmmaker.   According to biographer James Reidel in his 2003 Vanished Act, The Lift and Art of Weldon Kees, Kees moved in March 1943 "to a furnished apartment at 31 East Thirtieth Street."  He notes, "The apartment on East Thirtieth Street also gave Kees a base from which to promote his anthology and a place to come back to when he met with disappointment."

In 1951 the property was renovated again, resulting in a store on the ground floor and three apartments per floor above.

Masaharu Tomono lived here in 1972.  Born in Japan, the 24-year-old worked as a photographer's assistant.   Tomono attended a New Year's Eve party uptown that year.  For some reason he took a cab to a friend's apartment on East Houston Street afterward, rather than returning home.  He arrived there just after 5 a.m. and was attacked by three youths in the hallway, robbed of more than $500, and stabbed to death.   Two of the boys, just 14- and 15-years old, were captured before the end of the month.

Today the brownstone facade of the Oliver house is painted mint green and a dry cleaners occupies the former 1911 restaurant space.  But, by looking at the upper floors, one can imagine when well-dressed residents descended the stoop to the carriage awaiting them at the curb.

photographs by the author
no permission to reuse the content of this blog has been granted to LaptrinhX.com

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

The 1891 Royal E. Deane House - 154 West 94th Street


W. P. Anderson was both a builder and architect, responsible for structures like the 1881 H. H. Hunnewell Building on Beaver Street.  In 1890 he added "developer" to his resume by erecting a long row of high-stooped houses along the south side of West 94th Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues.  A mixture of the Renaissance Revival and Queen Anne styles, each was just 18-feet wide and rose three stories above an English basement.

Among them was No. 154.  The basement and parlor levels were faced in planar brownstone, while the upper floors were clad in rough-faced beige brick.   While Anderson's delicate decoration of the third-floor window frames could have more easily and inexpensively been done in terra cotta, he opted for carved stone.  The attic took the form of a shallow slate shingled mansard.

The row was completed in 1891 and an advertisement for No. 154 in February described a "Large ten room house" with a "dry cellar; good yard back and front; large furnace."  It would not be until December 19 that The Record & Guide reported, "W. P. Anderson has sold to Royal E. Dean [sic], of Bramhall, Dean & Co., No. 154 West 94th street, a three-story brick and brown stone dwelling." 

Deane was born in Rockingham, Vermont in 1830, and according to The Great Sound Money Parade, "At the age of thirteen he entered the trade of tin plate and sheet iron workers."  He was now the president of the Bramhall Deane Company, manufacturer of kitchen ranges and heating and ventilating apparatus.

A decade after Deane and his wife, the former Elizabeth Stuart, moved in, the house got an unexpected and highly-publicized additional resident.  The Deanes' married son, Robert, lived in Chicago.  At the turn of the century he and his wife, Mamie Louise, separated.  Mamie got custody of their teen-aged daughter, Lillian, known as Daisy.  She took the girl to Philadelphia to live.  

It seems that both Daisy and her father were disgruntled with the arrangement.  In 1901, during a three-day visitation, Robert spirited the girl away (what today is known as parental kidnapping).   The Buffalo Enquirer said, "Deane took his daughter to New York and left her with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Royal Deane of No. 154 West 94th Street."

At the beginning of the fall term, Royal and Elizabeth placed Daisy in St. Margaret's Boarding School in Buffalo.  "At the same time instructions were given to the governess, Miss Tuck, not to allow the girl to see her mother.  Miss Tuck was obliged to obey these instructions," said The Buffalo Enquirer.

It took Mamie and a Pinkerton detective eight months to track her down, but on January 27, 1902, Mrs. Deane showed up at the school to see Daisy, "but the request was refused."  Mamie returned with an attorney with a writ of habeas corpus, but they were too late.  Miss Tuck explained to Justice Kruse, "that after the mother called on her, and three hours' before the writ was served, she had taken Daisy to the New York Central Station and put her on a train bound for New York, where her grandparents were waiting for her."

Now, Mamie headed to New York City, arriving on January 29.  The New York Herald reported, "According to Royal Deane, his granddaughter has no desire to return to her mother, with whom she lived for a number of years."  When a reporter knocked on the 94th Street door, Deane asserted that his 17-year-old granddaughter "is old enough to decide matters for herself.  If she wants to go back to her mother she can do so, but she does not wish to go back, and I shall keep possession of her."  It appears that the courts eventually agreed with Deane and Daisy remained with her grandparents.

In October 1904 Deane sold the house to Robert Moore.  The Deanes did not go far.  They purchased a house just a block away at No. 37 West 94th Street in 1907.  

Moore was born in Belfast, Ireland in 1822 and came to American as a boy.  He went West and became engaged in the cotton business, eventually opening the firm of Robert Moore & Co. in Cincinnati.  The New York Evening Telegram later said it "became one of the best known in the country."  He moved to new York in 1868, and established the headquarters of the firm here.

Moore's wife, Alice, who was about 40 years younger than he, was his second wife.  He had four children from his first marriage and two with Alice. 

He died in the 94th Street house on February 13, 1914 at the age of 92 from "infirmities of old age," according to the New York Herald.  The newspaper noted that he "is believed to have been the oldest member of the Cotton Exchange."

Alice did not let grass grow under her feet.  Dr. Joseph A. McPhillips was called to No. 154 West 94th Street not long after Robert's death.  The New-York Tribune reported, "Then Dr. McPhillips became a social caller, and...her social position was a great aid to the physician in building up a large practice."

Rather scandalously, Alice permitted the doctor to move into her home and set up his office there.  Over the next months "she made various loans and gifts to him," she asserted.  According to Alice, on June 12, 1915, just four months after her mourning period had ended, "she consented to become the wife" of Dr. McPhillips "within a reasonable time."  

Three years later Alice decided that "a reasonable time" had passed and with no wedding in her future, she sued.  On September 24, 1918 the New-York Tribune reported that the "wealthy widow" had filed a $50,000 breach of promise suit, plus $14,000 for "incidentals."  The total amount would equal just over $1 million today.

The much-wronged Alice Moore (left) posed with her daughter, Constance, outside court.  The News, March 25, 1920 (copyright expired)

The New-York Tribune reported, "She alleges that despite his promise the physician has refused to marry her and she has suffered great financial loss, besides 'mortification to her affections.'"  She was also concerned that her hopes of finding another husband had been seriously damaged.  "Mrs. Moore adds that she has been at all times and still is willing and ready to marry Dr. McPhillips, and that his failure to keep his promise 'ruined her prospects.'"

Things got steamy during courtroom testimony, at least by Edwardian standards.  She testified that the doctor routinely kissed her.

"Were they loving kisses?" an attorney asked?

"What else could they be?"

"Did he kiss you on the cheek?" she was asked.

"No.  On the mouth."

And so forth.  It is unclear if Alice received any reward from the doctor in her widely-publicized suit, but her longed-for marriage, understandably, never happened.

Alice Moore sold No. 154 to Daisy Warden in March 19, 1919, who quickly resold it to Puerto Rican-born Arthur Martinez a year later in April.  Living with his parents were Frank Martinez and his wife, Violet.  Frank had graduated from Cornell University in 1906 and practiced law both in New York City and in San Juan.

The family did not stay in the house long.  Arthur sold it to Dr. Joseph A. Lopez in July 1922, who sold it four years later another physician, Captain William A. Bisher.   Bisher was a military doctor, attached to the Medical Corps and working at General Hospital 76.

It is unclear how long Bisher remained at No. 154.  Perhaps because of its narrow width, the house was never converted to apartments.  Little changed today, it is home to Torborg Architects, interior renovation and design firm, headed by Connie and John Torborg.

photographs by the author
no permission to reuse the content of this blog has been granted to LaptrinhX.com