Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Thom & Wilson's 1886 190-198 Columbus Avenue (100 West 69th Street)

In the mid-1880's developer George J. Hamilton was busy erecting rows of high-stooped houses on the Upper West Side.   He added an apartment building to the mix in 1885 when he commissioned the architectural firm of Thom & Wilson to design a "brick flat and store" along with four four-story row houses at the southwest corner of Ninth (later Columbus) Avenue and 69th Street.

The group was completed in July 1886.  Thom & Wilson, known for its distinctive take on popular styles, did not disappoint with the flat building.   Ground floor shops faced Columbus Avenue, while the residential entrance was located at No. 100 West 69th Street.  

The upper floors were faced in red brick and trimmed in stone.  Predominantly neo-Grec in style, the architects liberally splashed the design with Queen Anne elements.  The 69th Street elevation featured two Palladio-inspired openings at the second floor.  At the third floor the outside windows wore half-bowl decorations--adequate for a pot of flowers or the elbows of an inquisitive housewife.  Each of the top floor windows was capped by a deeply carved fan.  The pressed metal cornice included a handsome wave crest pattern between the brackets.

The more visible Columbus Avenue side was dominated by the unusual treatment of the top-heavy chimney backs which widened into full-blown chimneys that broke through the cornice line.  The central chimneys embraced a pediment that included an arch filled with exuberantly carved vines and fans. 

The corner shop was leased to Gustave Loetdje for his "handsome grocery store," as described by The Evening World.  Loetdje, who had come to America in 1881, seemed confused when the Federal Government stepped in to break up the monopoly of the sugar industry, the "Sugar Trust," in 1888.  His focus was more on the struggling refinery workers who would lose their jobs.

On January 30, 1888 a reporter from The World said "he thought it very hard on the hundreds of poor workmen who were thrown out of employment at this time of year by the shutting down of some of the sugar manufactories."

Among the tenants in 1893 was 20-year old Mable O. Clark, wife of Frederick Sherwin Clark, who was two years older.  The couple had been married on June 27 that year but, according to The New York Times, "the honeymoon lasted until July 1."  According to Frederick, it had been a shotgun wedding, "forced upon him at the point of a pistol."

The article explained that the pair had lived together for some time, but on that night Mable's mother and aunt appeared with a minister.  "Mrs. Clark threatened to shoot him and then commit suicide," said the newspaper.  "Clark preferred not to be shot."

But after returning to the city on July 1 and taking rooms at No. 100 West 69th Street, Frederick vanished.  He then hired a private investigator to gather evidence to file for divorce.  

Unaware of his actions, Mabel sued for lack of support and appeared in court with her mother on July 19.  Clark was there with his father.  After the judge decreed that Clark was to pay $5 per week to Mabel, all parties began to file out of the courtroom.  It was then that Clark's private detective approached Mabel and tried to serve her with the divorce papers.

"She discovered his game and shouted out that she was being assaulted," reported The Times.  Mabel and her mother nearly lost the detective in the crowded hallways, but he caught up with them on the street.  "Mrs. Clark ran around an ash barrel.  The detective ran after her.  Around the barrel they raced again and again.  A crowd gathered and watched the novel game of hide-and-seek."

"At last," said The Evening World, "Wells caught her and thrust the paper into her hands."   But then, back in the courthouse, detective Wells made a crushing discovery--the divorce papers were still in his vest pocket and he had served Mabel with his New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad timetable.

The names of most of the residents appeared in newsprint for respectable reasons--like Gertrude de la M. Ludlam, whose daughter, Helen Denison Ludlam, was married in their apartment to Herbert F. C. Ashenden on June 6, 1900.  But occasionally a tenant would find himself on the wrong side of the law.

Such was the case on March 2, 1907 when Deputy Police Commissioner Hanson and six detectives raided a poolroom on Broadway between 75th and 76th Streets.  The term poolroom referred to an illegal gambling operation, normally involving horse racing.  The New York Press reported "With his detectives he made a quick dash at the door and gained admission without difficulty.  He found sixty men in the room, he said, gathered around racing charts and other paraphernalia."

Among the "prisoners and the plunder" that were carted away in a patrol wagon was Monroe Voorhess, of No. 100 West 69th Street.   He was charged with aiding and abetting John Davis, who headed the illegal operation.

Alfred M. Woolley and his wife lived in the building at the time.  He and W. E. Woolley, presumably his brother, were proprietors of the Hotel Marie Antoinette on Broadway between 66th and 67th Streets.   Captain Walter G. Smith had been Alfred Woolley's secretary since 1898.  

On Sunday January 19, 1908 Smith told one of the clerks that he was going to take a walk.  He never returned.  His friends began a frantic search and a week later a reporter knocked on the Woolleys' apartment door.  Alfred was not there, but his wife said in part, "Mr. Woolley is greatly worried...He has heard nothing from him since he left the hotel last Sunday.  Perhaps Captain Smith has been injured in some way or has become ill."

The reason for his disappearance soon became evident when it was discovered that about $12,000 (about $338,000 today) was missing from the Hotel Marie Antoinette.  Four months later, on April 6, Smith was found in the Susquehanna River with a bullet hole in his head.  But if the discovery initially seemed to have closed the case, it did not.

On April 27 Alfred Woolley had Deputy State Attorney General William E. Kisselburgh, Jr. arrested for defrauding the hotel out of $4,000, $2,263 of which was written on bad checks.  More importantly, it appeared that Kisselburgh had been involved in Smith's embezzlement.  The Auburn Semi-Weekly Journal reported "The charge is now made that Smith advanced part of this sum to Kisselburgh and two other men as I.O.U.'s and worthless checks."

Kate F. Hanley, who made her living as a dressmaker, lived here in 1915 when she visited James Butler's grocery store and butcher shop on Amsterdam Avenue and 68th Street on January 8.  Between the two sections were swinging doors.  The butcher shop was then one step down.  

As Kate passed from one store to the other she did not notice the step and fell.  She sued Butler for negligence.  The jury did not agree and found in favor for Butler, saying that instead it was Kate who was careless.  The feisty dressmaker did not accept the verdict and as late as 1915 was still battling in court.

And while Kate was fighting for justice, 12-year old Alexander Discount was doing the same, albeit in a much different way.  On January 28, 1915 the boy surprised a burglar, William Fiore, "ransacking a bureau in his room," according to The New York Herald.  As the thief ran down the hallway stairs, Alexander flung himself from the second floor landing onto his back.

"Screams brought women tenants with brooms.  The young man was being subjected to a severe pummeling when Policeman Heaney arrived and arrested him on a charge of burglary," reported the article.   Alexander's dresser was obviously not Fiore's first target that night.  "Three watches and a quantity of silver were found in his pockets."

Although they were middle class, several of the residents were affluent enough to purchase automobiles in the post World War I years.   Buying one and successfully driving one were separate issues, however.

On August 11, 1919 the New-York Tribune reported "A car driven by Louis Starvides, of 100 West Sixty-ninth Street, crashed into the machine of Miss Gertrude Mooney, twenty-one, of 1027 Carroll Street, Brooklyn."  The impact was such that Mooney's car was overturned.  She suffered a fractured skull and two of her passengers were severely injured.  "Mrs. George Mooney, fourth occupant of the car, was treated for hysteria and shock," said the article.

Three years later, late on the night of March 18, 1922, 24-year old M. Alexander was driving his automobile in the Inwood section.  The Evening World reported "St. Patrick's Day worshippers returning from church soon after midnight to-day saw a powerful touring car plunge over an eighteen-foot embankment of Vermilye Avenue."   The screams of women attracted police who, with several civilians, pulled Alexander from the wreckage.  "He has a possible fracture of the skull and lacerations of body and head," said the article.  "The car was badly damaged."

In 1929 renovations were made to the building and it was most likely at this time that the 69th Street entrance was bricked up and the doorway moved to Columbus Avenue.

Another alteration in 1981 resulted in a total of 14 apartments above the six ground floor stores.  Over the next decades the shops reflected the increasingly trendy personality of Columbus Avenue.  The Robert Marc eyewear boutique and optician office was here by 1984 and still remains.  Other shops along the row in the 1980's were Contre-Jour, the furniture and housewares store which owner Bill Roach described in 1986 as carrying only "things I would have myself;" and Judy Corman, which dealt in modish accessory items.

The new century saw the Frank J. Miele Gallery, gourmet shop Oliviers & Company, and French tea importer La Palaise des Thés among the ground floor tenants.

The brick and stone have been painted and the windows, of course, replaced.  But other than the blocked up entrance on 69th Street and altered storefronts, Thom & Wilson's somewhat quirky building survives little changed.

photographs by the author

Monday, January 27, 2020

The Lost Charles A. Baudouine House - 718 Fifth Avenue

In 1906, about the time of this photo, Ulman Bros. had moved into the altered ground floor of the former mansion.  The house next door, still intact, was the home of the Andrew C. Zabriskie family.    from the collection of the New York Public Library.

When laborers returned to New York after having served in the Civil War, construction resumed throughout the city.  The blocks above 42nd Street along Fifth Avenue saw rapid development as fine stone-fronted mansions rose to accommodate the ever northward moving wealthy.  Among the active developers were Charles Duggin and James Crossman, responsible for rows of speculative, upscale residences throughout the district.  Although they were builders they preferred to design their own projects, thereby eliminating the cost of a professional architect.

In 1877 The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide called Duggin & Crossman "the great leaders of fashion in house building," but refused to let them get away with calling themselves architects.  They were "really artist builders," it said.  Nevertheless, the caliber of their product was superb.  In April 1878 the journal said that their "workmanship is superior, the supervision steady and systematic, and all material used of the first-class."

In 1872 Duggin & Crossman had erected a row of five top shelf homes that stretched west from the southwest corner of Fifth Avenue and 56th Street.  The corner mansion, No. 718 Fifth Avenue, was of course the showpiece.  Four stories tall above the English basement, it was faced in brownstone.  The architrave frames of the second and third floor windows approached baroque in style.  The quoins that ran up the sides at this level alternated between vermiculated and planar stone.   The lentils of the formal openings of the fourth floor were upheld by fluted Corinthian pilasters; and a row of carved rosettes formed a frieze below the solid cornice.  Two fourth floor oculi on the 56th Street side were engulfed by cornucopia.   A regal stone balustrade crowned the roofline.

No. 718 was purchased by the massively wealthy cabinetmaker Charles A. Baudouine.  Born in New York City in 1808, he had opened his first cabinetmaking shop on Pearl Street around 1830.  As highly-ornate Victorian style came into fashion, his exquisitely carved Rococo Revival furniture earned him the reputation as one of New York’s premier cabinetmakers.  His sole competitor in New York was John Henry Belter with whom he was (and is) consistently compared.

This Rococo Revival sofa came from the workshop of Charles Baudouine -- The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
When Cyrus West Field hired Baudouine to fully furnish his new Gramercy Park mansion around 1845, it was the first time in New York that a private residence was decorated by a professional decorator.

The Charles and Ann Baudouine had two children, Abram and Margaret, known as Maggie.  Following Margaret's death in November 1866, her two sons, John and Charles, legally assumed the Baudouine surname.  Charles moved into the new Fifth Avenue mansion with his grandparents.

Distinguished from his grandfather by the addition of "Jr." to his name, Charles became enamored with a neighbor, A. Maude Rutter.  On December 28, 1883 the New-York Daily Tribune reported "A large and fashionable wedding took place yesterday at 4 p.m. at the house of Thomas Rutter, No. 849 Fifth-ave.  Mr. Rutter's daughter, Miss A. Maude Rutter, was married to Charles A. Baudouine, jr."  John served as his brother's best man.

The continued close ties with his grandparents was evident as both sets of Baudouines summered together.  On August 12, 1889, for instance The Daily Saratogian reported  "Charles A. Baudoine [sic] and wife and C. A. Baudoine [sic] and family of New York are cottagers at the United States hotel."

When wealthy families left the city for fashionable summer resorts like Saratoga, they most often left a small staff behind to maintain their townhouses and, as importantly, to protect them.  Among those in the Baudouine house during the summer of 1891 were Delia McGonigal and Annie Smith.  For several days before the two girls walked the five blocks to St. Patrick's Cathedral for the 7:00 mass on Sunday, August 9 Delia had been acting strangely.

The following day The Sun reported "For the past few days Delia McGonical, a servant employed at the residence of Charles A. Baudouine, a retired merchant who lives at 718 Fifth avenue, has manifested signs of insanity."  Those signs were most peculiar.  "Her principal delusion was an imagining that she saw moving pictures upon the wall."  

Now, just before mass ended, Delia arose from her seat and began pacing around the cathedral aisles.  The Sun described her as "wringing her hands and folding and unfolding a handkerchief."  Annie finally calmed her friend down, but she initially refused to go home.  It appears that Delia's days of working in the Baudouine mansion were over.  "A policeman took her to Bellevue Hospital, where she developed a mild form of religious dementia," said the article.

The aging Baudouine and his grandson shared a passion for coaching and horses.  During the United States Horse and Cattle Show in June 1893 they participated in a coach-and-four competition.  The New-York Tribune said "Charles A. Baudouine, sr. and jr., drove their orange and black coach, harnessed to which were the horses Buckshot and Random in the lead, and Lady Gorden and Tip Top for wheelers."

A year later Charles, Jr. was again living in his grandparents' home.  On November 13, 1894 The Sun reported "The acquaintances of Mr. and Mrs. Charles A. Baudouine, Jr., were surprised to learn yesterday that the couple had separated."  Charles returned to No. 718 Fifth Avenue and Maude went home to her parents.  (Unlike his grandfather, Charles, Jr., had never held a job, living instead off his inherited wealth.  In reporting on the separation the newspaper said merely, "Mr. Baudouine is a member of the New York Athletic, Driving, and Jockey clubs, and until last May he was President of the New York Tandem Club.")

Two months later to the day, on January 13, 1895, Charles A. Baudouine, Sr. died in the Fifth Avenue mansion at the age of 86.  In reporting his death the Buffalo Courier noted his "fortune is estimated at nearly $3,000,000."  That figure would be closer to $92.5 million today.

Commerce was already encroaching on the neighborhood at the time of Baudouine's death, and within two years the estate converted the ground floor of the former mansion for business, with high-end residential spaces above.

New-York Tribune, October 28, 1897 (copyright expired)

The shops that elbowed their way into the exclusive neighborhood were upscale--art galleries, jewelry stores and high-end dressmakers, for instance.  The initial commercial tenant of No. 718 was Pauline, who outfitted socialites in European fashions.

The apartments on the upper floors were leased, for the most part, to wealthy bachelors.  In 1902 retired financier John H. Murphy lived here, as did Count Solon J. Vlasto, described by The Evening World as "an importer and editor of the Greek periodical Atlantis" and "a well-known figure in society."

Trouble came to Vlasto ("whose title is purely one of courtesy," cautioned The World) the following year when his wife, from whom he had been separated for 17 years, sued for divorce.  The suit became scandal when she simultaneously sued Mary J. C. Culver, the married daughter of Senator William A. Clark (and sister of Huguette Clark, more well-known today) for $500,000 for alienating her husband's affections.

In reporting on the suit on November 25, 1903, The Evening World said that Vlasto "is one of New York's social mysteries.  He dines nightly at Delmonico's and has luxurious apartments at No. 718 Fifth avenue."  But, perhaps attempting to circumvent his wife's demand for alimony, he told the courts that "his income was $200 a month from the sale of coffee and sulphur and his literary work, and that he had frequently to borrow money from his brother Demetrius to pay his living expenses."

Mary Culver, by the way, denounced Mrs. Vlasto's charges.  "Mr. Vlasto is an old friend of our family.  He is a particular friend of my father and has been like a father to my sister and myself."

Another prominent bachelor living here at the time was John Duveen, whose family's high-end art gallery would later move up Fifth Avenue to the site of the former George Kemp mansion at No. 720 Fifth Avenue on the opposite corner .  But long before that John would leave No. 718.  On April 19, 1903 The Sun reported that he "gave his bachelor dinner last night at Martin's."  (The high-end apartments above the store were respectable enough for well-heeled bachelors, but not for newly-married society couples.)

Two months after Duveen's party the real estate office of Collins & Collins moved into half of the retail space at No. 718.  Headed by Richard Collins and Minturn Post Collins, the firm dealt in high-end residential properties.  A History of Real Estate, Building and Architecture in New York City said "They have disposed of...several well-known mansions on Fifth Avenue."

Perhaps because of that, and despite their operating from the corner of Fifth Avenue and 56th Street, Richard Collins denied that the neighborhood was becoming commercialized.  On December 16, 1905 he was quoted in the Record & Guide saying "With few exceptions there are no business houses on 5th av above 47th st.  The section from that thoroughfare up to 90th st is now and will always be, at least for years to come, the center of fashion."

Nevertheless, the following November Collins & Collins sold their lease to bankers and stock brokers Ulman Bros.  The apartments upstairs continued to house well-heeled bachelors.  John H. Murphy was still living here when Ulman Bros. moved in.  By 1907 W. H. Stiles, secretary of the Brooklyn Football Club was here; and in 1910 stock broker Hosmer James Barrett lived at the address.  (That year Barrett made headlines when he was arrested for having ridden a horse hired at a riding academy so hard that it had to be shot.)

Another Duveen opened his shop in the ground floor of No. 718 in 1913, a mere stone's throw from Duveen Brothers.  Before moving in he hired architect Henry Otis Chapman to redesign the storefront.

photo by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Charles Duveen dealt not only in European antiques and artwork, but in entire rooms dismantled from venerable English and Continental homes.  His advertisement in Art News in 1914 offered "fine old Elizabethan, Jacobean, Queen Anne, Georgian and Adams Rooms" as well as "tapestries, early English furniture, Georgian and Adams marble mantelpieces, and rare China and European porcelain."  

The Cottier Galleries shared space with Charles of London.  Their opening in November 1913, according to American Art News, featured "early English, Dutch, German, Flemish and modern Foreign masters."

John Singer Sargeant's "The Countess of Warwick and her Children" was among the modern pictures sold at Cottier's opening.  from the collection of the Worcester Art Museum

At some point a rather unattractive top floor was added which bore the name Charles of London along its parapet.  The firm remained at No. 718 until February 1920 when it subleased the space to the shoe store of Hanan & Son.  The Sun reported "The new tenant will make extensive alterations and will use the grade [i.e. ground] floor for their own business and lease the upper portion of the structure."

A French settee is displayed in the side show window a few years before Hanan & Son would remodel the outmoded storefront.   from the collection of the New York Public Library
Architect A. D. Seymour, Jr. removed the glass-and-iron marquee and updated the show windows.  The renovations were completed before the end of the year, allowing Hanan & Son to open on December 20, 1920.

Architectural Record, June, 1921 (copyright expired)
Sixty-five years after the Baudouine mansion was erected it was demolished, replaced by the Corning Glass Works for its Stueben Glass Company showrooms and offices.  Designed by William and Geoffrey Platt, the Art Modern structure was ground breaking in its use of glass blocks (manufactured by Corning's Pyrex division).

from the collection of the Library of Congress
That building was significantly--and many say tragically--remodeled in 1960 for jeweler Harry Winston by architect Jacques Rénault.

photograph by Saul Metrick, corporate portfolio image.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

The J. E. Winterbottom Funeral Parlor - 966 6th Avenue

The undertaking business of J. Winterbottom & Sons was founded around 1849.  It was described by New York's Great Industries in 1885 as a "well-known and highly reputable."  On May 1 that year it opened an uptown branch at No. 638 Sixth Avenue, just north of 35th Street, in a converted home.  James Edward Winterbottom and his family moved into the floors above the funeral home.

The brownstone-faced house was one of a string of post-Civil War houses along the block designed in the Second Empire style.  The windows of the second floor featured handsome paneled piers and peaked, molded lintels.  The third floor openings wore prominent brownstone bracketed cornices.  A full-floor mansard, singled in slate, featured two tall dormers with closed pediments.

Complex designs fill the areas below the second floor lintels.  (The dark structure above the mansard is simply a privacy wall for the current roof users.)
New York's Great Industries noted "Although not sectarian in their business, their clientage is principally with Protestants.  The firm possesses every facility and improved appliances for the preservation, embalming or otherwise of the dead."  The article mentioned that Winterbottom "is available for duty night or day."

Given the firm's excellent reputation, the choice of location was perhaps a bit surprising.  It sat squarely within the Tenderloin District, notorious as one of the most depraved areas of the city where brothels, gambling houses and "low dives" flourished.

Nevertheless, the funeral home thrived.  Several years later the New-York Tribune, called Winterbottom "personally very popular, and belonging to many societies," and added that "his success was immediate."  

In 1890 Winterbottom hired James F. Quinn as manager of the Sixth Avenue location.  J. Edward Winterbottom died three years later and his wife took over running the business, relying heavily on Quinn.  

He was given a conspicuous undertaking in 1897--moving the casket of President Ulysses S. Grant to the newly completed Grant's Tomb.  The New-York Tribune reported "The house of J. Edward Winterbottom & Co., as now constituted, had entire charge of the transfer of General Grant's remains from their temporary resting place to the crypt of the magnificent tomb on Riverside Drive."

from Cornell & Shober's Directory of Trained Nurses, 1900-1901 (copyright expired)

Grant was an exception to the less lofty deceased who passed through the funeral home.   John Spellman, a jockey, was more typical.  On November 28, 1887 the Paterson Morning Call reported that his body "lay in state Saturday in the undertaking establishment of J. Winterbottom, 638 Sixth avenue."  Over the years the firm handled the funerals of theatrical types, saloon owners and gamblers.

One of the more colorful took place in 1908.  On June 12 The Sun reported "From the beginning of yesterday and all throughout the day until midnight the men and women of the Tenderloin filed into the undertaking establishment of Winterbottom & Sons in Sixth avenue above Herald Square to pay their last respects to Clarence O'Brien, the gambler, better known as Paddy the Pig."

The article listed the friends and gamblers who filed past the custom-made coffin ("one that had to be made especially for Paddy because he weighed almost 350 pounds," explained the article).  They had names like the Saginaw Kid ("who never has risen to the dignity of a gamble, but is just [an] ex-bouncer and hanger on"); Spotter and Big Nose, "the two hefty waiters from Callahan's in Doyers street;" and Bridgie Webber, "who runs a hop join in Chinatown."  Other mourners were Black Mike and his wife, Chicago Nellie; Little Tommy Murphy; and Big Hawley.

"Two girls in the corner regretted that Chicago May, who is now doing time in England, could not be present at the funeral," reported The Sun.  "She was an artist at the panel game they all agreed."  (The "panel game" was the practice of a brothel employee entering a bedroom through a hidden door and stealing cash or jewelry from a patron's clothing while he was otherwise distracted.)

By 1912 the funeral home was gone and the upper floors where James E. Winterbottom's family and then that of James F. Quinn had lived were converted to commercial spaces.  Despite the determined efforts of reformers, however, the Tenderloin District had not yet been cleaned up.  Leasing an office here in 1912 was the Jensen Employment Agency, a seemingly respectable business that was anything but.

An out-of-work young man, Samuel Feldman went to the agency's office in September that year.  His interviewer seemed more interested in finding work for young women.  Feldman later explained to police that he "inquired politely whether he knew any of New York's fair sex."  Samuel mentioned his girlfriend, Bessie Snell.  But she was not looking for work--she had a good job in an underwear factory.

After one or two more visits, the man convinced Feldman to bring Bessie in.  He was positive he could get her a job as a skilled sewing machine operator in a factory in the West--earning as much as $15 or $20 a week.  Bessie was thrilled.  She told Samuel that she would go ahead, save up enough money for them to get married, and then he could follow.

There was no job in the West other than forced prostitution; what was known at the time as White Slavery.  And once Bessie was on the train with a small group of other girls, Samuel was no longer needed.  The next morning he arrived at the Sixth Avenue office "to find out where I was going [and] the man told me he had got a telegram saying there weren't any men needed."

But a quick thinking train conductor saved the girls.  He noticed several of them weeping and asked Bessie what the trouble was.  At the next stop he telegraphed police who met the train at Pittsburgh.  Harry Sutton, the man who was guarding the girls, was arrested.  And as a result of Samuel's report, the New-York Tribune reported on September 26 "a detective will visit the Jensen Employment Agency, at No. 638 Sixth avenue, this morning to inquire into the nature of the business."

The Joseph Polansky's restaurant was in the ground floor around this time.   Close by was a rival restaurant at No. 630 run by a man named Goldberg.  The two men joined forces in 1919, creating the Polansky & Goldberg restaurant here.

In 1925 Sixth Avenue was renumbered, giving the building its current address of No. 966.  By then it sat within the Garment District.  In 1941 a variety of small businesses were at the address, including a beauty parlor on the second floor.

Another house from the original row still survived next door in 1941.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

Major change came in 1952 when Barton's Candy leased the building for the site of its fiftieth bonbonnière.  The firm hired architect and designer Victor Gruen to remodel it into a bouncy, colorful mid-century shop.  In the August 1952 issue of Architectural Forum he said "Store design is taking itself too seriously," adding that when he received the commission for the Sixth Avenue store, he saw it as "an opportunity to attack some of the clichés that grow out of the notion there is some kind of a recipe book for store design."

Gruen went on to say that he knew the "pleasant Victorian front" could "never be a good modern."  So he transformed it into "something that would make people smile."  He painted the brownstone a dandelion yellow, covered the upper windows with posters, and affixed bouncy 1950's lettering above the storefront.

Next door to Gruen's snappy redo is a Horn & Hardart automat.  Architectural Forum, August 1952 

Barton's Candy remained in the space until 1972.  The retail space became home to Metropolitan Impex, Inc., dealers in "notions and trimmings," which would also remain for two decades.

The Certificate of Occupancy granted in 1952 demanded that the upper floors "remain vacant."  It remained in place until a renovation completed in 1981 resulted in offices on the second floor and two apartments each on the third and fourth.  Panels of artificial brick now cover the facade and the mansard, and peculiar pierced guards--possibly to deter pigeons--sit atop the lintels.  But thanks to Victor Gruen the surprising survivor retains much of its 19th century domestic personality.

photographs by the author
many thanks to reader Matt Kay for suggesting this post

Friday, January 24, 2020

The Unrecognizable 1847 Moses Maynard, Jr. House - 13 Gramercy Park So.

The first houses began rising around the recently-completed Gramercy Park (or Gramercy Place as it was sometimes called) in the early 1840's.  Among them was No. 13 on the south side of the park, finished in 1847.  The brownstone-fronted residence was an ample 27-feet wide and rose four stories above the high English basement.  Italianate in style, its pair of French doors at the parlor level opened onto a wide cast iron balcony.  It boasted at least one cutting-edge amenity--running water supplied by the new Croton Reservoir.

No. 13 is seen as it originally appeared in this 1877 print.  It sits to the right of the highlighted Samuel Tilden residence.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

The house (which was occasionally referenced by the East 20th Street address of 114) became home to the family of Moses Maynard, Jr.  An alderman at the time and the secretary and treasurer of the Long Island Railroad Company, Maynard was, like all his Gramercy Park neighbors, wealthy and prominent.

He appears to have conducted much of his city-related business from his home.  On September 5, 1849 the Board of Aldermen passed a resolution to widen Dey Street by ten feet--a project which would affect many property owners.  An announcement in the New-York Daily Tribune advised that any objections be made in writing and sent to Maynard "at his house, No. 13 Grammercy [sic] Park."

On July 30, 1855 Maynard, called "a well-known citizen" by The New York Times, died in the Gramercy Park home.  His funeral was held there the following day.

By 1860 lawyer Edward M. Willett had moved his family into No. 13.  A member of the firm Willett & Grieg, he was married to the former Amelia Ann Stephens.  (Willett had been a Columbia College classmate and good friend of her brother, John Lloyd Stephens, who is remembered for finding and mapping Mayan ruins in 1839.)

On the night of December 9, 1868, Thomas F. Barton forced open a rear window and entered the house.  He quickly gathered up two overcoats, and six silver napkin rings and other articles worth, according to Willett, $145 (about $2,650 in today's money).  The burglar's desperate circumstances were evidenced in that among the those "other articles" was a pair of Willett's shoes. 

A week later, on the night of December 15, Barton tried again at the home of a neighbor, politician Samuel J. Tilden.  Caught in the act, he was arrested.  When he appeared before the judge he was wearing Edward Willett's shoes.  Blamed for a string of other burglaries, he was sentenced to seven years in State Prison.

The Willetts remained at No. 13 until the spring of 1884 when they sold it to Frank Work, Jr. and his wife, Emma.  The Real Estate Record & Guide pointed out that the purchase came "with right to use Park" and reported the sale price at $50,000--about $1.32 million today.  Before moving in the Works had "interior alterations" done.  They apparently went no further than cosmetic updating since no architect was involved.

Frank Work, Jr. was a partner in the brokerage firm of Work, O'Keeffe & Co. at No. 68 Broadway, with Samuel J. O'Keeffe.  James H. Work, Frank's attorney brother, served as the firm's counsel.  James Work and Samuel O'Keeffe involved themselves in a shady $7,000 loan transaction with William F. Croft in January 1889.  It ended in the courts and was most likely a significant factor in the collapse of Work, O'Keeffe & Co. in 1891.

On July 9, 1892 The Evening Telegram reported that the Works had sold "No. 13 Gramercy Park (virtually No. 114 East Twentieth street)" to John E. Cowdin for $70,000.  The price, equal to just under $2 million today, reflected the constant--actually increasing--property values along the Park.

Cowdin and his wife, the former Gertrude Cheever, had a daughter, Ethel, and two sons, Elliott Channing and John Cheever.  Their summer home was in Tuxedo Park and they would later add a country estate in East Norwich, Connecticut.  

An 1879 graduate of Harvard, Cowdin was the president of the Grand Street Realty Company.  But it was for his polo abilities that he was perhaps better known.  His many awards and championships would earn him a posthumous place in the Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame in 2007.

On January 13, 1894 the Cowdins received a sudden and unexpected house guest.  A close friend of the family, Baron Rudolph de Wardener, left Brentano's bookstore on Broadway around 4:00 that day and climbed aboard a streetcar.  Because of the crowd trying to file into the car, he stepped onto the front platform.

The Sun reported "The car started, and just as the Baron was about to open the front doors to get inside, the wheels of the car struck the curve just below Seventeenth street, and the Baron was thrown violently from the platform and ten feet into the street."  The article said diplomatically that he "is a heavy man" and the force of the fall broke his arm in three places and crushed his elbow.

In excruciating pain, he was taken by cab from one doctor's office to another for a hour--but none was home.  "Finally, when almost unconscious from pain and loss of blood, he succeeded in finding Dr. Robert F. Weir" who treated him, according to the article.  Because the Baron lived on Long Island, "he was taken to the house of his friend, John E. Cowdin, No. 13 Gramercy Park, where the fractured bones were set, though the elbow was so badly shattered that little could be done for it."  The Cowdins' guest remained until January 25, when it was necessary to remove him to St. Luke's Hospital.

Entertainments in the Cowdin house were often lavish.  On February 23, 1895, for instance, the New-York Tribune reported "Mrs. John E. Cowdin, of No. 13 Gramercy Park, will give a fancy-dress dance to-night."  

A less elaborate event took place on January 14, 1900.  Gertrude was a pianist and, according to the New-York Tribune, "well known in musical circles."  That night she gave a small dinner party for the Polish pianist and composer Ignancy Jan Paderewski and his wife, Helena. "It was an informal affair and limited," said the New-York Tribune.  Among the guests were the Cowdins' across-the-park neighbors, Henry W. Poor and his wife and conductor-composer Walter J. Damrosch and his wife, Margaret.

Ethel was introduced to society at "a large reception" in the house on December 14, 1905.  The debutante's social status was evidenced in the surnames of the girls who assisted in receiving, including Roosevelt, Fish, Atterbury and Tuckerman.

In the spring of 1908 Gertrude sailed to Europe, quite likely to shop for fashions for the coming summer season.  In April John received an urgent telegram to sail immediately "because of the illness of his wife."  His steamship docked on May 3.  According to the New-York Tribune, "Mr. Cowdin arrived in Paris a few hours before his wife died."  

On May 17 Cowdin arrived back in New York on the French liner La Touraine with Gertrude's body.  Her funeral was held in the Gramercy Park house the following morning.  The New York Evening Telegram reported that it was attended "by a large gathering of well-known people, including a delegation of members of the Colony Club," which she had helped found.  The article noted that among "the collection of beautiful floral tributes was a wreath of white carnations bearing the card of Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt."

Ethel was married to Charles Morgan in St. George's Church on June 4, 1910.  The Evening Telegram noted that "Owing to the family being in mourning, the reception which will held following the ceremony at the home of Mr. Cowdin, No. 13 Gramercy Park, will be very small."

Two years later there would be two more Cowdin weddings.  On June 5, 1912 John Cheever Cowdin was married in California, and about two weeks later, on June 24, his father married Madeleine Knowlton.  The wedding, which took place in the home of the bride's mother, was small and "was followed at 4 o'clock by a reception, for which about 300 invitations were sent out," said The New York Times.

Four years later Cowdin hired architect Adolph Mertin to remodel the Gramercy Park house into apartments.  Mertin's extensive plans, filed in January 1916 called for a new facade, elevators, and extending the building to the rear.  

The completed make-over left no hint of the former brownstone.  The stoop had been removed and the entrance moved to the former English basement level.  It was recessed within an arched opening which held a charming sculpture of a youth.  Each of the apartments had vast studio-type windows that looked out onto the Park.

An advertisement offered a three-room and bath apartment in 1917 for $1,700 per year; or about $2,775 a month today.  Interestingly, among the initial residents was John Cowdin's still unmarried son, Elliott.  Also in the building were the families of Hendrick Suydam, Dr. Edward Rufus, and Henry Lee Hobart.

The Hobarts, whose country estate was at East Hampton, Long Island, were socially visible.  Henry's wife, Marie, was a sometimes playwright, and the author of the "St. Agnes Mystery Plays."  In May 1920 she hosted a luncheon at the Waldorf-Astoria to announce the engagement of their daughter, Margaret Jefferys Hobart, to the Very Rev. George B. Myers, dean of Holy Trinity Church in Havana, Cuba.

Expensive automobiles line the curb as a woman in a fur collar strolls by Gramercy Park around 1940.  photo via the NYC Department of Records & Information Services
Engineer Adolphe H. Wenzell and his socialite wife, the former Zillah Townsend Thompson, were living here in 1922 when Zillah's shocking secret was leaked to the press.  On June 17 The New York Herald reported "Another young woman of society has decided to go on the stage.  Following the modern idea that every one should have an avocation, Mrs. Adolphe H. Wenzell...will embark upon a professional career the coming season."

"Mrs. Wenzell at her home last night rather reluctantly admitted that the report of her stage aspirations was correct," said the article.  Zillah made it clear that Adolphe was comfortable with the move.  "In all my plans and aspirations I have the fullest support of my husband.  He is an engineer and in his business has to do a good deal of traveling.  We are completely in accord in the idea that a woman should have some useful and serious work to do in the world."

Well-to-do tenants continued to make No. 13 their home over the next decades, like author and actor John W. Vandercook who moved in with his new bride, the former Jane Perry, in 1938.

A renovation in 1995 resulted in a total seven apartments within the building.   As it did in 1917, Adolph Mertin's bold transformation makes its own statement among its 19th century neighbors.

photographs by the author

Thursday, January 23, 2020

The 1906 Morgan Library - 33 East 36th Street

photo by Beyond My Ken

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries it was not uncommon for millionaire collectors to have art galleries included in the plans for their mansions; or to built opulent gallery buildings adjoining already standing residences.  In 1903 financier J. Pierpont Morgan, Sr. took the concept to a new level.

Morgan and his family lived in the brownstone mansion on the northeast corner of Madison Avenue and 36th Street, built for John Jay Phelps in 1853.  Behind it, at No. 33 East 36th Street, was the former home of William Bird.  On February 1, 1902 The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that Morgan had purchased and demolished that home and hired McKim, Mead & White to design a "two story marble library."  Charles Follen McKim was the principal architect of the structure, the cost of which was estimated at $300,000--about $8.83 million in today's dollars.

As the project got off the ground, Morgan expanded his holdings around his mansion.  Within a month of the death of Mrs. William E. Dodge in March 1903 he purchased her house, No. 225 Madison Avenue, directly next door to his.  And in November 1904 he purchased the Anson Phelps Stokes house on the northern corner of the block as a gift to his son, J. P. Morgan, Jr. and his wife.  Mrs. Stokes had an asking price of $1 million on that property.

A nicely dressed man surveys the construction site from atop a rock.  The backs of the Morgan mansion (left), the Dodge house (center) and the Phelps residence can be seen.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Construction on the library and gallery was not completed until June 1906.  The the design the Morgan Library was an amalgamation of bits and pieces of Italian Renaissance structures--sort of an architectural Lego project in marble with stunning results.  McKim's inspiration for the entrance, for instance, came from both the 16th century Villa Medici and the Villa Giulia.

The Villa Medici, built around 1544 for Cardinal Ricci via minorsights.com
The top level of the Nymphaeum of the Villa Giulia, designed by Bartolomeo Ammannati for Pope Julius III was a model for the entrance.  photo by Mongolo1984

McKim's biographer, Alfred Hoyt Granger later said "Mr. Morgan gave Mr. McKim a free hand to do anything he liked, which shows what the great financier's opinion was of the great architect."  The lavish budget was reflected inside.  The entrance Rotunda was based on the Villa Madama in Rome.  Artist Harry Siddons Mowbray based his designs on those of Raphael and Pinturiccio.  The complex marble floor was a near copy of one found in the Villa Pia in the Vatican gardens.

The sumptuous ceiling of the Morgan Rotunda -- photograph by Purpleturtle52-KH
The through the doorway of the Rotunda can be seen Morgan's library.  Two of the four marble pillars can be seen, each costing $60,000 at the time, according to a contemporary report.  photo via the Morgan Library & Museum
The largest of the spaces was the library--built to house Morgan's astonishing collection of rare books.  The inlaid Circassian walnut bookcases, the study ceiling and a few doors were the only wooden elements in the building--a reflection of Morgan's intense fear of fire.  

The bronze grills of the bookcase doors matched the exquisite bronze fencing outside.  A construction worker confided to a reporter from the New-York Tribune, "Every one of those bars in the fence was twisted by hand.  That costs money, but Mr. Morgan wanted it made by hand.  I know it cost a good deal, because the bronze doors, with twisted bars, which he had made for the bookcases cost $550 a pair, and one of the panels of that fence would make three pairs of those doors."

Mowbray was also responsible for the decoration of the ceiling, inspired by that of the 16th century Church of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome.  Among the decorations were constellations significant to Morgan--the signs of Aries (Morgan's birth sign) and Gemini (that of his wife, Frances Louisa), for instance.

Above the mantelpiece, designed in the Renaissance style, is the 16th century tapestry The Triumph of Avarice.  photograph by Pingthing
Leading off the library was J. P. Morgan's office, or "study."  It was here that he conducted much of his business away from his Wall Street office.  Unlike the library mantelpiece which was fabricated for that space, this one was a 15th century antique.  The leaded windows were brought from Switzerland and date from the 15th through 17th centuries.  Most impressive, perhaps, is the ceiling which was imported from Florence.

from the collection of the Library of Congress
photo via the Morgan Library & Museum
The Record & Guide was impressed, saying "the Library Building for J. Pierpont Morgan, Esq., in design and construction, marks an era in the Renaissance of classic work."  Alfred Hoyt Granger said "In this building restraint and discrimination are carried to the nth power." 

Morgan's concern about fire went well beyond the use of fireproof materials.  As the structure neared completion in June 1906 a reporter who stopped by the site was told:

The building is entirely fireproof.  The walls are about four feet thick.  There is a heavy wall of Tennessee marble, and then a space of fourteen inches between it and the interior brick wall.  Inside is a vault of 1-1/2 inch steel, in which to keep the most valuable of the old manuscripts, some of those Mr. Morgan picked up in monasteries, etc...There is a sliding shutter of asbestos to cover each window.  The shutters are hung on counterbalancing weights, so that one man could raise them all in a few moments.  They slide down into grooves in the wall.

Fire understandably continued to prey on the mind of Morgan.  His collection of artwork and manuscripts was irreplaceable.   Within a year of the library's completion, he announced he would be demolishing the Dodge mansion which, he felt, sat too close to the library behind.  The Record & Guide explained "Mr. Morgan evidently realizes the danger to these treasures that might arise from a burnable structure adjoining the museum.  His idea is to secure an open space all around it, by removing the Dodge mansion, which covers the middle of the block on the Madison av. side, and stands between the museum and the avenue."

Rarely did outsiders other than those meeting with Morgan in his study see inside the library.  But there were notable exceptions.  

President William Howard Taft was in town in February 1910.  Although Morgan was abroad, his personal attorney Lewis Cass Ledyard took Taft on a private tour of the library.  The President was partly prompted by the recently painted portrait of Morgan which hung in the study.  It was executed by Peruvian artist Carlos Baca-Flor and The Evening Telegram said "The artist has been recommended as the one to paint the official portrait of President Taft to be hung in the White House with the paintings of other Chief Executives."  Taft told reporters he was "pleased with the work."  He and Ledyard spent half an hour browsing the other artworks.

President Taft came to the Morgan library to inspect this portrait.  from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

A January 1912 Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, arrived in New York with his wife, Princess Louise Margaret of Prussia, and their daughter, Princess Patricia.  The third son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, he and his family were fêted with the usual string of receptions, luncheons and dances.  

On January 23 The Evening World reported that on the previous day they "went to the home of J. P. Morgan and inspected the Morgan library and galleries."  The Morgan children where their hosts.  "They were met at the entrance by Mr. and Mrs. J. P. Morgan, Jr., Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Satterlee, Miss Ann Morgan and Mrs. Hamilton, another daughter of the financier, who escorted them through the Morgan private museum."

J. Pierpont Morgan, Sr. died on March 31, 1913.  At a time when funerals were routinely held in the drawing rooms of the deceased, Morgan's took place in the study he loved.  On April 13 The New York Times reported "In the red and gold west wing of the white marble Morgan library building...the body of J. Pierpont Morgan rested yesterday.  During the day members of the family and a few of the intimate friends of the dead financier visited the room where the body lies."

For a few years J. P. Morgan, Jr. continued to use his father's study.  On September 11, 1915, for instance, the New-York Tribune reported "In the library in Thirty-sixth Street where the late head of the house of Morgan made financial history and where but a year ago plans were made to prevent the United State being drained of its stock of gold, the first of a series of conferences between the leading bankers of Europe and the United States was held yesterday."

Then, in February 1924, Morgan presented the building and its collection to the public "in memory of his father," according to the Putnam County Republican.  The newspaper said "Both the library, which consists of 35,000 rare volumes and is known as perhaps the finest private collection of books and manuscripts in the world, and the Renaissance marble palace in which it is lodged...were conveyed outright by Mr. Morgan to a board of six trustees, of which he is president."

Henry Fairfield Osborn, president of the trustees of the American Museum of Natural History told the New York Evening Post "I consider it the most important gift in the world of literature ever made in the history of the City of New York, and it is destined to exert a very great influence on American literature."

photograph by Beyond My Ken
Of course, it was just the first step in the evolution of the private collection to "one of the world's foremost collections of manuscripts, rare books, music, drawings, and ancient and other works of art," as worded by the Library's website.  A succession of expansion projects take center stage on Madison Avenue; however the exquisite marble 1906 structure remains an architectural treasure.  As Alfred Hoyt Granger said in 1913, "There is no more beautiful monument to the memory of either Mr. Morgan or Mr. McKim than this library on Thirty-sixth street."