Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The Daniel Dinkelspiel House - 104 West 87th Street

The stoop and entrance were located at the right.

T. E. D. Power inherited the former Livingston country estate property, centered around Columbus Avenue and 86th Street.  By 1890 he and architect John G. Prague had erected no fewer than 232 residences in the neighborhood.  In a few cases Prague acted as both the developer and architect, apparently purchasing plots from Power.

Such was the case in 1886 when Prague began construction of a row of four 20-foot wide brownstone-fronted homes on West 87th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues.  Completed the following year, the four-story structures were a balanced group--the two end residences and the two center homes designed as matching pairs.

Prague designed the group in an A-B-B-A pattern.

No. 104 and its twin at No. 106 were unexpectedly reined-in for the Queen Anne style--which normally flaunted whimsical asymmetry, turrets or off-set gables, or storybook-ready balconettes.  They rose in formal balance to a slate-shingled mansard where a pedimented gable was perfectly centered.

Yet closer inspection reveals that Prague managed to slip in playful creativity.  The three openings of the second floor were separated by columns which sat on scrolled brackets.  Each column was embellished by a single, individual frond.  And the carved panels beneath each opening was purposely unique--having nothing to do with the other.

Each of the pilasters separating the third floor windows was topped by a panel containing a deeply-carved portrait.  A humorous touch was that one of them seems to be sleeping.  The elaborate pediment of the top floor gable overflowed with fronds below a roundel containing an expertly carved face.

No. 104 became home to the Daniel Dinkelspiel family.  Born in Germany, he and his wife, the former Regine Heinsheimer, had immigrated to America in 1870.  Regine was Daniel's second wife and he had one son, Louis, from that marriage.  He and Regine had four more children, Henry, Leo, James, Sarah.  

Leo had just returned from living abroad when his parents purchased the house.  At 24-years-old he had earned his medical degree from Columbia University four years earlier, in 1883.  He then traveled to Europe to do post-graduate work.  When the Serbo-Bulgarian War broke out in 1884 he joined the medical corps of the Serbian Army as a captain.  He returned to New York in 1887, just in time to move into the new 87th Street house with his parents.  

Daniel Dinkelspiel died at the age of 71 in 1891.  Regine, as executrix, soon began liquidating her husband's significant real estate holdings around the city.  

Leo received title to the 87th Street house in the will.  Shortly afterward Sarah and her husband, Isaac Hess, moved into the house, quite possibly to help the aging Regine.  Hess was a partner with Abraham Bases in the fur manufacturing firm of Hess & Bases.

Leo ran his medical practice from the house, most likely in a converted basement room.  He was called to an apartment house half a block away at the southwest corner of 87th Street and Columbus Avenue on February 24, 1892 just after noon.

There two bell boys, Frederick Smith and Matthew O'Neill had been playing with a pistol.  Smith accidentally fired it and the bullet struck O'Neill in the nose.  Leo Dinkelspiel attended the wounds on site, then had the boy transported to his home.  Later that night, after the doctor reported the shooting to police, Smith was arrested.

On January 3, 1896 Leo transferred title to the house to his sister.  But it was not entirely a gift.  Sarah paid him $2,500 for the property, about $77,000 today.  Nevertheless, Regine, the Hesses, and Leo continued to live together until July 1898 when the house was sold to Ferdinand F. Cimiotti.

It is possible that Cimiotti knew Isaac Hess, as both were furriers.  Born in Vienna, Austria in 1846 he was brought to America with his family when he was about three-years-old.  As a young man he had learned the fur trade.  In 1878, after inventing the process of "unhairing" sealskins by machine, he partnered with his brother, Gustave.  The patented process revolutionized the industry.  Ferdinand was the junior partner in the Cimiotti Unhairing Company, which garnered both brothers significant fortunes.

Cimiotti and his wife, Sarah, had two sons.  Walter F. Cimiotti had entered the College of Physicians and Surgeons of the City of New York in 1897.  He graduated in 1901 and entered his two-year internship at St. Mark's Hospital.

The population of No. 104 increased by one when Ferdinand and Sarah took in Susan Reith.  As an orphaned child, she had been adopted by the Louis Reith family.  Upon Reith's death she was taken in as a member of the Gustave Cimiotti family; and then by Ferdinand and Sarah.  Gustave's son, Ferdinand, frequently visited Sarah at No. 104.

On June 22, 1904 Ferdinand Cimiotti transferred title to No. 104 to Sarah.   By now he and his brother had founded another business, the Electrotechnic & Chemical Company.  This time Ferdinand took the position of president and Gustav was secretary.

Ferdinald F. Cimiotti died "suddenly," as reported in the Fur Trade Review, on January 11, 1905.  In reporting his death the journal noted that "up to the day of his death, Mr. Cimiotti had been actively engaged in this interesting and important business, and was widely known in the trade, and held in high esteem by a large circle of friends in business and social life."  Walter inherited the 87th Street house; but he transferred the title to his mother the following month.  

Meanwhile, as reported in the New York Herald on June 4, 1906, Sarah's nephew, Ferdinand, "frequently called upon" Susan Reich.  "Their friends never thought of there being any attachment between them, for they regarded them as though they were cousins.  They were seen frequently taking automobile drives together, and the companionship caused no remark."

But there was a romance going on that no one, including Sarah Cimiotti, noticed.  The young couple sneaked off to the home of the Rev. Dr. Henry M. Warren on April 26, 1906 and were married.  The New York Herald reported "Then, still guarding their secret, they started several days later on their journey in a new model machine which had been purchased for the occasion."

Their carefully designed honeymoon which was to end with a surprise announcement to friends and family soon began to unravel.  "Incidents began to occur as they approached Vernona.  The automobile, as they got to a certain crossroad, began to show a laggard tendency.  Then it spun about in the meeting of the ways."

As the couple sat in the disabled automobile a horse-drawn vehicle crested the hill toward them.  The driver had lost all control of the horse.  The Herald said "All horses shy at stationary automobiles and this one which was dragging the buggy down the steep hill was no exception."  In a reflex action to keep the horse from crashing into his car, Cimiotti held out his arm.  It was promptly fractured by the galloping steed.

The headline in the The New York Herald on June 4, 1906 read "Romance Is Bared By Automobile / Two Accidents Force Wedded Friends from Childhood to Remain in City to Spend Honeymoon."  The article concluded "Mr. and Mrs. Cimiotti, after considering the various mishaps, decided yesterday to make the announcement of their wedding, irrespective of any automobile wedding trips."

Sarah Cimiotti remained in the 87th Street house until March 1911 when she sold it to Dr. Herman F. Kudlich for $33,000, in the neighborhood of $900,000 today.  Born in Germany in 1844, Kudlich had come to this country in 1872.  He and his wife, Roswitha M. L. Kudlich, had a son, Bruno R., and daughter Roswitha.

Bruno, who was 22-years-old at the time, moved into the house with his parents.  He had graduated from Columbia University in 1909, then enrolled in Yale University's School of Forestry.  In 1912 he was hired by the Munson-Whittaker Company, listed as "forestry experts."

In the spring of 1914 24-year old Alexander Hoffman embarked on a rash of burglaries in the neighborhood.  He was seen by Detective Gambardella attempting to pawn diamond stickpins and rings on March 30, but when the detective approached Hoffman bolted.  The detective was a better runner than the burglar, and he was captured nearby.

Hoffman admitted to a string of burglaries during the previous week and agreed to accompany police to the locations.  Some of the victims had not even realized they had been robbed.  Among the five residences was the Kudlich house, although Hoffman said he did not steal anything there because he was "frightened away after entering."

Herman F. Kudlich died on September 26, 1925.  His funeral was held in the house two days later.  Roswitha inherited his entire estate, estimated at "more than $810,000," or more than $11.5 million today.

In November 1938 No. 104 was purchased by Frederick J. Rauschenbach.  It may have been Rauschenbach who removed the stoop and moved the entrance to the former basement level.  It appears that rooms were rented afterward; however an official conversion to apartments did not come about until 1961 when there were now two apartments per floor.

At some point the brownstone facade received a coat of cream-colored paint.  Despite the renovations, some of them regrettable, the nearly 125-year old residence still deserves a pause.

photographs by the author

Monday, July 15, 2019

The Lost Watt-Pinckney Mansion - 139th and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd.

photo from the collection of the New York Public Library

On April 3, 1827 the Washington newspaper National Intelligencer reported "On Thursday evening, by the Rev Dr. McAuley, at his country seat, Spring Hill, Archibald Watt, Esq. merchant of this city [was married] to Mrs. Mary Pinkney, widow of Col. Ninian Pickney of the U. S. Army.  (For decades newspapers would arbitrarily spell the name either Pinkney and Pinckney.)

Archibald Watt and his brother, James, had arrived in New York from Dundee, Scotland early in the century.  Decades later The Buffalo Courier would describe Archibald as "a canny Scotchman who had come to New York with nothing but his brains."  He formed a partnership with Alexander Sutherland in the importing firm of Sutherland & Watt, dealing in hard to get items like "Spanish Segars," "Portorico Coffee of excellent quality," rum and cognac.

The country seat in which he and Mary Pinckney were married was far to the north, in Harlem.  Watts was among the first of well-to-do New Yorkers to recognize the potential of the district.  He purchased a massive estate from John de Lancy the year before the wedding, paying $62,500--about $1.64 million today.  

It included a dignified Georgian-style manse.  Sitting above a high fieldstone basement, it featured the elegant details expected in the summer homes of the wealthy.  A columned porch provided respite on warm afternoons and evenings and sheltered the wide entrance with its ample sidelights and fanlight.  Wooden quoins at the corners rose to simple capitals below the peaked roof.  

The Spring Hill house around 1841.  original source unknown
Moving into Spring Hill with the couple were Mary's daughters, 17-year old Mary Goodwin and 2-year old Antoinette H. Pinckney.  The girls' father, who came from and old Maryland family, had been "conspicuous in the Revolution War," according to the New York Herald later.  He had remained in the Army until his death in September 1824.  Mary inherited $40,000 from his estate, about a half million by today's standards. (Antoinette was not mentioned, most likely because he died so soon after her birth, before being able to change the will.)

The entrance hall was filled with American Empire style furniture and artworks.  Note the unusual shutters in the fanlight. photo by Edwin Levick from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York 

On the property, not far away from the Watt mansion, was a stone house with a hip roof and cupola, home to Watt's step-son Thomas Watt.  

Antoinette Pinckney died in the Harlem house on November 9, 1841 at the age of 16.  At the time her step-father was in serious financial trouble.  The Financial Panic of 1837 had seriously depleted his fortune and the city was poised to take much of his Harlem real estate for back taxes.  Only a week before Antoinette's death, the Board of Alderman had given him another chance.  The minutes of their meeting on October 31 noted they had voted "In favor of suspending the sale of property of Archibald Watt for unpaid assessment."

Struggling to retain his vast holdings, Watt turned to an unexpected rescuer--his step-daughter Mary.  Decades later, in 1902, the New York Herald would describe why Mary gave Watts her large inheritance and he, in turn, transferred title to his entire estate to her. 

James and Archibald had embarked on an ambitious project which would greatly enhance the value of their Harlem real estate.  The newspaper explained that they "originated a scheme to build a ship canal from the Hudson at Manhattanville, just above the site of Grant's Tomb, to the Harlem River.  But they disagreed, and because of this and differences with James, his stepson, Archibald Watt, anxious to keep the property in the family, transferred his deeds to his stepdaughter, Mary G. Pickney, and she gave him all her ready money in return."

It made her the largest land owner in Harlem.

When this photo was taken around after the turn of the century, apartment buildings were encroaching around the wooden-fenced enclave.  photo by Edwin Levick from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Around the end of the Civil War the Watts house was slightly moved in order to make way for Seventh Avenue (a sign of the approaching development of Harlem and of Mary G. Pinckney's holdings--which included more than 1,000 building lots on paper).  She took the opportunity to remodel the house, giving it a full third floor in the form of a fashionable mansard and a large widow's watch with a matching French Second Empire style roof.  The former single-story porch now rose two stories, its columns upholding an extension of the top floor.  She did some furniture shopping as well, adding up-to-date Rococo Revival parlor pieces to the original American Empire furnishings of her mother.

Mary introduced modern furniture to the parlor--a large suite which looks to have come from the shop of John Henry Belter; and a new marble mantel.   Familiar pieces like the center table remained.  Note the hefty bronze sculpture under the gilt mirror.  photograph by Edwin Levick from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

One by one, as her parents and relatives died, they were buried in the family cemetery, God's Acre, on the property.  As Mary grew older, now alone in the house, she was generous with her relatives.  Thomas Watt had married in 1864 and had four children, two sons and two daughters.  Over time Mary gave each of them full blocks of real estate.   Thomas's son Archibald Watt received the block that held the family home, between West 141st and 142nd Street.

But she was a shrewd businesswoman as well who knew exactly how to play the game.  The New York Herald noted "she parts with only a part of each block.  Buildings go up so rapidly that the remaining property is soon worth more than the whole plot when the sale was made."  And the newspaper wrote "Much has been said of Miss Pinkney's system of making the city wait until the last day of grace before paying taxes."  She recognized the rapid pace at which her property was gaining value and by not paying until the last day, "she saves money and has greatly increased her immense fortune."

The dining room was a comfortable hodgepodge.  The original lion-footed Empire table and sideboard (at far right) co-exist with a Victorian sideboard from the remodeling and marble mantel of the same period.  Above the fireplace an early 19th century Federal mirror hangs.  photograph by Edwin Levick from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

In 1883 The Buffalo Evening News reported "The largest lady real estate owner in New York is Miss Mary G. Pinckney, who lives on West 139th street, near Seventh avenue.  She owns block after block of unimproved property, including the Polo ground and vacant lots near it...Miss Pinckney is a somewhat eccentric lady of middle age."

Her wealth, business acumen, and marital status fascinated newspapers for her entire adult life.  On February 19, The Daily Saratogian informed its readers "The largest land owner in New York state, except the Astor and Rhinelander families, is a woman, Miss Mary G. Pinckney, a millionaire many times over.  She has lived to be 73-years-old and is still a Miss, though she had all that money."  The following year, on February 3, 1891, The Buffalo Evening News reported her estate at $10 million--more than 28 times that much in today's dollars.

The staircase was tucked discretely behind the entrance hall.  A row of hooks line up on the wall, their purpose intriguingly obscure.   photo by Edwin Levick, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

As generous as Mary was to her relatives, she was less so to her tenants.  On June 16, 1891 The Evening Post reported that she had won her suit against "John B. Day as President of the New York Base-Ball Club."  The team was six months behind in its rent of the Polo Grounds, refusing to pay because the city had torn down a fence for "regulating and grading the street."  Mary won the $3,322.25 in back rent.

In January 1902 Mary was visited by Henry H. Wibirt, a friend of her niece, Julia.   He explained that after being abandoned by her husband, Julia was too proud to ask for financial help, but a gift of a block of property would be helpful.  Mary complied with little prodding, transferring title to a $250,000 block to Julia.

Julia Morris Watts, the daughter of Thomas Watts, had first married in 1884 and had three children.  But, as pointed out by the New York Herald on May 1, 1902, "they did not live happily together and she finally procured a divorce."  While the proceedings were in process she broke her ankle and was attended to by Dr. Roland A Curtiss, whom she married.  But now he, too, had left her.

As it turned out, Wibirt was not Julia's friend at all, but a paid agent.  And although the New York Herald said that she "has always had large sums of money at her disposal, and has been accustomed to gratify her wishes without stopping to count the cost," she refused to pay him the $23,500 he had earned by that April.  His suit made public Julia's scheme.

Unlike her aunt, Julia spurned neither publicity nor the photographer's lens.  New York Herald, May 1, 1902 (copyright expired)
His action listed his services which had not only included "inducing Roland A. Curtiss to call upon her, and tracing Rolland A. Curtiss," but "calling on Mary G. Pinckney and getting her to convey certain real estate to Mrs. Curtiss."  Wibirt was awarded $13,500 on April 29.  Mary Pinckney was no doubt humiliated by the publicity and disappointed in the betrayal by her niece.

Mary used the Harlem mansion only during the summer season, spending the winters at the Hotel Buckingham.  While the Wibert-Curtiss trial was being splashed throughout the newspapers, a cousin, Mary Van Buren Vanderpool, was also wintering there.  On May 25, 1902 the New-York Herald announced that she "will go to the Watt-Pinckney mansion, at 139th street and Seventh avenue, where she will remain for the summer with her cousin, Miss Mary Goodwin Pinckney."  

Mary Goodwin Pinckney transacted millions of dollars of business from this desk in the library.  On the walls are maps to keep track of her vast holdings.  photo by Edwin Levick from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

When Mary's nephew, Archibald Watt, died in June 1906 The Evening Telegram noted "much speculation exists to-day as to what disposal will be made of his historic farm and mansion in upper Harlem."  Within the block of land stood the house, and a stone stable.  "The grounds surrounding it show but a feeble effort to modernize them, although in parts and near the residence the lawns have been fairly well kept."  By now the abutting blocks, except for Mary's, had been developed with apartment houses.  The two mansions stood as remarkable anachronisms; rural oases within an urban environment.

The answer came six months later when The Evening Telegram reported that Archibald's daughter, Grace, had sold the property.  The article's headline read "Famous Watt 'Farm' Passes Amid Regrets / Noted Estate in Harlem is Reported as About To Be Sold, Despoiling Landmark."

Among those watching the old residence pass "amid regrets" was no doubt Mary G. Pinckney.   But before long the survival of her own time capsule would be in question.  That same year the elderly woman showed signs of "failing health," according to The Evening Telegram.  She was at the Hotel Buckingham, as normal, on December 5, 1908 when her condition took a serious downturn.  She died there two days later at the age of 99.

The Evening Telegram noted "Her mental faculties remained clear up to the last moment and until death finally approached she continued to give directions to those about her regarding her business and personal affairs."

Mary's will was made public on December 14.  A front page headline in The Evening World proclaimed "$50,000,000 Pinkney Estate Goes To A Man And Two Women."  Those heirs were were the three surviving children of her half-brother:  Thomas L. Watt, Julia Watt Morris Curtiss, and Grace Watt Thomas.  She had also remembered Mary Van Buren Vanderpool with a bequest of $20,000; and two long term servants, William Henry and James Kelly each received $500, at little over $14,000 today.

Astute in business matters and real estate, Mary had been well-aware that her private refuge would not last many years after her death.  The Evening World noted "The will directs that all the bodies of members of her family lying in the little 'God's Acre,' on her estate, between One Hundred and Thirty-ninth and One Hundred and Fortieth street, Lenox and Seventh avenues, be removed to her plot in Woodlawn, the expenses to be defrayed from her estate"

This bedroom was outfitted with the original Empire furnishings.  The curtains and bed linens are excruciatingly perfect. 
This child's room, evidenced by the small bed and toy chest, boasted wonderful built-in storage.  photo by Edwin Levick from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Thomas Watt received what The Evening World described as "that magnificent manor house and grounds," as well as "all her horses and carriages, her library, household property, jewelry and personal ornaments."  The house was like a fly caught in amber; a slice of bucolic Harlem at the end of the Civil War.

Her massive inheritance was, apparently, not enough for Grace Watt, whose married name was Thomas.  Before a year was up she sued the executors of her aunt's estate for a larger portion.

And before long Julia Watt Morris Curtiss was back in the newspapers as well.  If Mary Pinckney was at all offended by Julia's ruse involving Henry H. Wilbirt, it was not serious enough to prevent her from leaving Julia $10 million--or $285 million in today's money.  But for now she was unable to spend any of it.

In July 1907 her son, Louis H. Morris, had her "adjudged incompetent to manager her estate."  The reasons he cited included her spending "$200,000 yearly on dresses and in entertaining her friends."  And according to the Bridgeport, Connecticut Evening Farmer, "Among other things it was charged that Mrs. Curtiss was in the habit of engaging private boxes at theatres and remaining in them long after the final curtain had been rung down; that she had spent $12,000 foolishly in one month; that she had bought a dozen parasols ranging in price from $50 to $450 each; that she had an ungovernable temper and that by reason of old age, loss of memory and other causes specified that she was incapable of managing her affairs."

But Julia finally won out.  On August 17, 1909 Connecticut Supreme Court Justice Brady gave her "absolute control over her vast fortune," as reported by The Farmer.  The article said "Mrs. Curtiss, when seen yesterday would not say how she intended to use her money, except that she would see that she was provided with the necessities of life, which, she alleged, the conservators have deprived her of for two years."

But Julia's freedom to spend did not last long.   A year later, almost to the day, on August 16, 1910, New York Justice Lehman again deemed her "an incompetent" and "suggested that her best interest would be subserved if she were required to return to Fairfield, Conn.," as reported by the New-York Tribune.  Once again her fortune was put in the hands of conservators "because of her intemperate habits."

Mary G. Pinckey's heirs sold off blocks and individual plots into the 1920's.  Among the last to go was the block containing the mansion and gardens.   On November 29, 1925 a headline in The New York Times read "Harlem To Lose Ancient Landmark."

"Eleven years ago the last social function was held in which members of the Watt family participated in that interesting Harlem mansion known to New York history for practically a century as the Watt house.  It was the reception late in 1914 celebrating the marriage of Anna Pinkney Watt, a descendant of Archibald Watt."  But "last week the small plot occupied by the ancient dwelling...was purchased by a New York attorney, Harold S. Radner, for about $5,000,000.  He is having plans prepared to erect on the site a six-story apartment house."  The article added that "Within a few weeks housewreckers will begin tearing down the oldest residential landmark remaining in the Harlem area."

photographer unknown, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
The writer paused to describe the out-of-place property among the apartment buildings.  It was "in its original condition, with magnificent trees, pleasant flower gardens, two barns and a row of chicken houses.  The dignified frame house with its mansard roof, tall columns adorning the entrance and cupola presented an interesting contrast amid the increasing apartment houses which effectually wiped out the rural character of the locality."

The ultimate insult.  The site of the Watt-Pinckney mansion today.

many thanks to reader Phyllis Winchester for prompting this post

Saturday, July 13, 2019

The 1887 John Pattern Store & Apts -- 25-27 West 26th Street

The 26th Street block between Broadway and Sixth Avenue was lined with upscale brick or brownstone homes during the Civil War years.  But by the mid-1880's wealthy homeowners were inching northward and the district which would be known as Nomad more than a century later was changing.  On January 9, 1886 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that John Patterson & Co. had purchased "the four-story stone front houses Nos. 25 and 27 West Twenty-sixth street, for $60,000."  It was a significant transaction, equaling about $1.65 million today.

John Patterson & Co. was a manufacturer and importer of high-end clothing, well-known for his equestrian wear for women.  Patterson hired architect Charles G. Jones to design an apartment house on the site.  It would be one more of the several apartment houses targeting well-to-do residents that were rising throughout the neighborhood.  The first floor, however, would be devoted to  Jones's upscale clothing store.  The plans described a "five-story brick, iron and terra cotta front apartment house with store in part of basement and lower story."  The cost of construction was estimated at more than $2.3 million in today's dollars.

The building was completed in January 1887.  John Patterson's store was fronted by projecting wooden show windows.  The cast iron facing continued to the second floor where elaborate decorations included wreathed cartouches and hanging garlands of fruits and flowers.  The Renaissance Revival upper stories were decorated with ornate terra cotta panels in the Renaissance style.  The bricks of the fourth floor piers were laid to simulate fluting and were capped by handsome capitals.  A stone cornice supported the fifth floor where the openings took the form of an airy arcade.  

Parts of the now-obliterated store level and the beautiful decorations of the second floor can be glimpsed at the left of this photo.  from the collection of the New-York Historical Society

Well-heeled residents could choose from apartments of either six or seven rooms.  Among the initial occupants were Fremont D. Snider and his wife, Carrie.  Both were graduates of the Massachusetts Metaphysical College and their zeal regarding the Christian Science religion led them to found the Metropolitan Christian Science Institute in the spring of 1888.  Church and Association reported that the couple "have given use of their spacious apartments at 27 West Twenty-sixth Street, to the Institute temporarily, until regular quarters are secured."

Not everyone warmed to the concept.  On April 15, 1888 the New York Journal entitled an article "Throw Physic to the Dogs" and pointed out "Physicians say that the Christian Scientists have undertaken to work miracles, for the claim put forth is that maladies are to be banished without drugs or any material means."  Carrie Snider saw no problem with that.

"Mrs. Snider talks enthusiastically of her mission.  She is a bright and decidedly handsome and intellectual young blonde of about twenty-five...Mrs. Snider admitted that people generally would be inclined to view her program with skepticism."  But she went on to innumerate several cases in which incurable diseases had been cured by prayer.

John Patterson moved his store into the new building a month after its completion. The Princeton Bric-a-Brac, January 1887 

Society journalists followed the movements of the residents.  When Samuel A. Strang's daughter, Agnes, was married in the Church of the Transfiguration on May 21, 1890, the event earned an article in The Sun.  It noted "A wedding breakfast followed at the home of the bride's parents, 27 West Twenty-sixth street."

Typical of the occupants was Major George W. McLean and his wife, who lived here at the same time.  Born in 1822, he was made a member of the Stock Exchange in 1854 and was elected its president in 1875.  He had been associated with the military since 1851 when he joined the Old Light Guard.  At the outbreak of the Civil War he helped organize the Tammany Regiment.  He was a life-long member of the exclusive New-York Yacht Club, the Manhattan Club, and the St. Nicholas Society.

On January 30, 1893 McLean attended the Old Guard Ball at Madison Square Garden.  The Evening World called it "a memorable event in the chronicles of a thousand debutantes" and "a brilliant company."  A highlight of the night was "The military drill of 1,000 men, representing a score of military organizations, and wearing the uniforms of their respective organizations."

Following the ball McLean visited the home of friends.  The New York Times reported "while there [he] was seized with violent pains in the chest.  He wanted to go home at once, but was prevailed upon to remain and rest himself.  His condition grew worse, and pneumonia developed very rapidly."

Almost two weeks later McLean was taken back to his West 26th Street apartment in a carriage.  The Evening World explained "he was removed to his own apartments in order that he might die at home."  Indeed, the two physicians who were called "did not give much hope," according to The Times.  McLean's wife and his son and daughter were at his side when he died at around 4:30 on the afternoon of February 13.  The following day his body was removed from the apartment to lie in state at the armory on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 14th Street.  "The armory is draped in mourning," noted The Evening World.

Later that year another resident brought unexpected and unwanted publicity to the building.  On December 12, 1893 The Sun reported that James Wodes had been arrested the previous evening "in the vicinity of the Church of the Holy Innocents, in West Thirty-second street...for trying to hug and kiss the women who were going to and from the church."  The article explained succinctly, "He was drunk."

In the meantime John Patterson & Co. catered to the carriage trade in its high-end clothing shop and factory.  In March 1894 The Evening World noted "The old firm of John Patterson & Co., of 27 West Twenty-sixth street, alone employs 100 men."  Three months later he looked to augment his staff.  An advertisement in The Sun on June 26 sought "Tailors--First-class coat, vest and trouser makers wanted; also bushelmen."  (A bushelman was a tailor's assistant, often tasked with repairing garments.)

Those employees backed presidential candidate William McKinley and his running mate Garret Hobart to a man during the 1896 election.  The Sun reported on September 26 "The employees of John Patterson & Co., tailors, at 25 West Twenty-sixth street, to the number of 100, have formed a McKinley and Hobart Club and swung a flag with the names of those candidates thereon across the street just west of Broadway."

John Patterson died not long after that election and on March 6, 1897 the Record & Guide reported that his estate had sold the 50-foot wide building.  The Sun disclosed the buyer, John Jacob Astor, whose offices were next door at No. 23 West 26th Street.  The newspaper reported that he had paid $200,000 for the property, or $6.25 million today.

The romantic and unrequited obsession of  Robert H. Moulton for actress May Buckley brought wide-spread attention to the building in 1901.  The pair had been introduced by Frank Mohler of the Garden Theatre in 1900 and a friendship followed.  (It appears to have at least once gone beyond that, for despite her having a husband in the West, the janitor of No. 27 West 26th Street later identified a photo of the actress as "the woman he had known as Mrs. Moulton.")

Moulton's infatuation for actresses was not limited to May Buckley.  In December Emmanuel Levy was dining with actress Gertrude Deming in the West End Cafe on 125th Street.  Moulton suddenly appeared, "knocked Levy down and broke a great deal of tableware before he was ejected," reported The Evening World.  "The night following Moulton again tackled Levy at the stage door of the opera-house, but this time was well trounced."  And then around March 1, 1901 Moulton was dining with another actress at the Adams House in Boston.  The Evening World reported that he "made a scene...by slapping the face" of the woman.

Now May Buckley was concerned about her stalker.  And with good reason.  After her performance on March 22 she went with friends to the Pabst Rathskeller.  Moulton charged in and fired four shots at the party in an attempt to murder the actress.  He wounded Broadway Theatre manager A. W. Dingwall and another employee, John G. Leffingwell.  He was overpowered and taken to the prison ward of Bellevue Hospital.   The Evening World reported on March 23 "He is suffering from alcoholism and morphine poisoning."

The publicity led the Borough Mortgage Company to seek the repayment of $200 it had lent Moulton.  On March 30 the New-York Tribune reported that City Marshal George W. Klune went to Moulton's apartment to take possession of his belongings.  Thomas H. Moulton, Robert's brother, was there packing up valuables to take away.  When he refused to answer the door, Klune simply broke in.

While the marshal was compiling an inventory of the furnishings, he discovered evidence that supported Moulton's claim that he had an affair with May Buckley (he went so far as to say they were married).  Klune removed "a number of letters written to R. H. Moulton by Miss Buckley," and he found "a large number of pictures of May Buckley, many of which had been signed.  Many of the books also contained Miss Buckley's name, and on some of a woman's clothing found in the closet was the initial 'B.'"  May refused to comment.

John Jacob Astor had leased half of the former John Patterson & Co. store to the Tidewater Building Company.  On March 21, 1903 the Record & Guide reported that "owing to the demands for more space made upon them by their largely increasing business, [they have] taken the entire street frontage of their present offices, which gives them about double the space."

The Sun, March 14, 1909 (copyright expired)

Among the most colorful of the building's tenants came along in 1908 in the form of Burton S. Castles.  Wealthy and flamboyant, he had made his fortune in a variety of ways—he was a real estate investor and Wall Street speculator.   Born in Texas, his flashy lifestyle and demeanor earned him the nickname “the Beau Brummel of Wall Street.” 

But he would not move in before his landlord had made improvements to his apartment.  On September 5, 1908 the Record & Guide reported that John Jacob Astor had hired architect James Riley Gordon to make changes to a suite "for Burton S. Castles, a well-known bachelor and brother of John W. Castles, president of the Guaranty Trust Company.  The alterations will cost about $5,000 and will consist of new plumbing, partitions, parquet flooring, electrical wiring, etc."

Castles would not enjoy his new apartment for long.  Astor signed a 12-year lease on the building the following summer with M. A. Steinberg.  On August 28, 1909 the Record & Guide reported "This building is 5 stories in height, but is to be rebuilt into a 7-sty loft building, with 2 elevators and is to be ready for occupancy Jan. 1, 1910."  Astor had hired architect William A. Boring to make the changes.  "In addition to increasing the height of the building 2 stories, a new facade will be erected in the style of the modern Renaissance, finished with bays set between Doric pilasters, and having a cornice and ornamental balustrade."

In the end the facade remake was not as all-encompassing as first reported.  Only the first and second floors were affected, toned down for more industrial purposes.  The new sixth and seventh floors admirably carried on Charles G. Jones's design, if in an admittedly less extravagant form.

The remodeled building initially filled with apparel firms, like Stern & Co., makers of waists; the Famous Gotham Novelty Co., makers of suits; and Jackson & Sulser, fur importers.  

Famous Gotham Novelty Co. produced these boys' "wash sets" here.  They retailed for $3.50--about $44 today.  Philadelphia Inquirer, 1920 (copyright expired)

The 26th Street block would become part of the fur district after World War I.  Among the fur merchants in the building by the early 1920's were Leventhal's Fur Storage, run by brothers Jack and Harry Leventhal; and B. Harris.  

In 1922 the district was plagued by burglars and on the night of February 6 they hit No. 25 West 26th Street.  The New York Herald reported that a $500 fur piece was stolen from B. Harris in the heist. 

That year, in May, Leventhal Bros. advertised "Have your furs stored and remodeled during the Summer at a Great Saving.  Pay for your work when you are ready to wear it."

The Astor estate retained possession of the building until 1943.  It underwent a renovation to offices and a printing establishment in 1972.  It was most likely at this time that the first and second floors were mutilated.

Already the Vietnam Veterans Against the War had its headquarters in the building.  Founded in 1967 by six young veterans, its membership had grown to more than 25,000 by now.  In April 1971 700 veterans tossed their medals earned in Vietnam over a wire fence in front of the Capitol as a protest against the war.  Among them was 27-year-old John F. Kerry who tossed away his Silver Star, Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts.

On December 26, 1971 sixteen of the group's members seized control of the Statue of Liberty and, according to The New York Times, "vowed to stay there until New Year's Eve as a protest against continuation of the war in Vietnam."  It was, at least for a time, a standoff.  "Late last night, as a Coast Guard cutter and a city police launch circled the 12-acre island, the resident manager and his assistant stood in gusting winds outside the barricaded doors at the base of the statue's pedestal and tried to negotiate with the demonstrators inside."

This was not an isolated tactic.  In a coordinated maneuver that same week members occupied the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia, the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., a military hospital-ward in California and the South Vietnamese consulate in San Francisco.

The following year six of the group's members were indicted for conspiring to disrupt the Republican National Convention with fire bombs and shooting.

Occupying space on the fifth floor in the early 1990's was the Honey Bee Oriental Club.  It's operation came to an end on September 18, 1993 when police shut it down.  The Times announced that the raid "brought to 10 the number of unlicensed Chelsea massage parlors shut down this year for prostitution."  The action had been brought through the complaints of neighbors.  One of them, Susan Herman, warned that Chelsea was "being transformed before our eyes into a red-light district."

The 21st century saw the top floor transformed into a performance space, the 27 West 26th St., Penthouse.  It was the scene of the revival of The Boys in the Band by Transport Group on February 12, 2010.

Jagged scars remain at the second floor where the stone decorations were ripped off.
Despite the regrettable treatment of the lower two floors, the combined red-and-white designs of Charles G. Jones and William A. Boring survive above.

photographs by the author

Friday, July 12, 2019

The 1896 F. W. Esper's Stable - 457-459 West 150th Street

Richard F. Carman's vast real estate holdings in Upper Manhattan in the first half of the 19th century earned the district the name Carmansville.  A wealthy executive with the City Insurance Company on Wall Street, he was among the subscribers of neighbor John James Audubon's costly The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America, completed in 1848.

Following Carman's death his son, Richard, Jr., began selling off the estate as building plots.  On March 7, 1874, for instance, he advertised 27 lots on Tenth Avenue (later Amsterdam Avenue) and St. Nicholas Boulevard, between 151st and 152nd Street.  He was still selling off land in 1891 when he sold the 75-foot wide vacant lot at Nos. 457-459 West 150th Street to Frederick Esper.  The price was $18,000, or about $512,000 today.

Esper, who was the principal in the National Beef Company, soon erected a livery stable on the site.  An 1894 listing described the business simply as "horses."  Well-heeled residents of the Sugar Hill neighborhood boarded their expensive horses here, including trotters bred for sport.  An advertisement in the New York Herald on September 23, 1894 offered Jeanette for sale.  "Will trot a mile, with two in a buggy, in 2:50; can be seen at F. W. Esper's stable."

Business was apparently good, for toward the end of 1895 architect Henri Fouchaux was working on plans for a more substantial structure on the site.  Filed on January 3, 1896, they called for a "four story and basement brick livery stable" to cost $15,000, or about $463,000 in today's dollars.

Completed later that year, Fouchaux's utilitarian structure was both sober and unobtrusive.  Faced entirely in pressed brick, the grouped windows of the upper floors lined up above the three large arched openings at ground level.  Other than the rosette-decorated metal lintels of the second and third floors, the delicate ornamentation was executed in brick.  Above the arched openings of the fourth floor was a pressed metal cornice.

A vivid exception to Esper's frugality in regard to decoration was the pair of exquisitely-sculpted horses' heads on either side of the central carriage bay.  Set within decorative roundels, they identified the structure as a stable.  The unknown sculptor fashioned them as they would appear in full gallop--their manes flowing and nostrils flaring.

The meticulous details of the sculptures included scrupulous veining.
Busy with his meat business, Esper leased the stable to proprietors.  In 1900 Frank J. Hahn signed a five-year, $3,000 lease; and in 1905 Joseph M. Balmford took over the lease at $3,500.  Balmford changed the name of the stable from the F. W. Esper Stable to the Speedway Livery & Boarding Stables.  The name referred to the nearby Harlem River Speedway.

The Harlem River Speedway had been established in 1893 at a time when speedways were cropping up near large cities throughout the East.  Only particular vehicles were allowed to use the roadways—horseback riders and carriages among them.  Small or slow vehicles like sulkies, drays, and bicycles were prohibited.  With no cross streets, they were excellent for carriage races, hence the name.  The Harlem River Speedway ran from West 155th Street to Dyckman Avenue.  

1906 was both a joyous and disastrous year for Frederick Esper.  He married Dora Eickwort, a graduate of Hunter College and a teacher in the New York public schools, that year.  But then on July 14 The National Provisioner reported "Frederick W. Esper, a butcher at 1703 Third avenue, New York City, N.Y., has filed a petition in bankruptcy."

Esper managed to retain ownership of the 150th Street stables until July 1909 when he sold it to Frederick Dannemann.   As soon as Joseph M. Balmford's lease expired, he was apparently given his walking orders.

On April 27, 1910 auctioneers Van Tassell & Kearney held the "Auction Sale of Livery Stock--Closing Out of the Speedway Stables, Joseph Balmford, Proprietor."  Included in the sale were a dozen "very serviceable" horses, and "several glass front landaus and various other carriages."  Three days earlier the New York Herald reminisced, "The Speedway Stables was at one time headquarter for many horsemen who drove trotters on the Speedway, David Lamar, Charles Welland and others having kept their flyers there."

Frederick Dannemann and his sons had forward-thinking plans for the building.  The same week the auction was held architect Charles Stegmayer filed plans for alterations, including an upgraded elevator shaft.  It was the first step in transforming the stable into a garage.

On June 19, 1912 Motor World reported that the Convent Garage Co. had been incorporated at 457-459 West 150th Street by F. Dannemann & Son.  Its directors were Ernest F., Henry F., and William D. Dannermann.

The Convent Garage not only provided long-term housing for the vehicles of the neighborhood, but repair services and fueling.  In 1915 the Standard Oil Company of New York listed the garage as among those where its Socony Motor Gasoline was sold.  The advertisement insisted that that fact that the garages sold Socony gasoline "is an indication of their appreciation of quality products."

When patrons upgraded their vehicles, the Convent Garage helped to sell their current cars.  An ad in The Evening Telegram on December 16, 1915 offered a "Stearn's Limousine--13-20 h.p., 1910, in excellent condition," and the following April a "30-50 h.p. Renault touring car, in good condition, cheap," could be seen here.

In the 1940's Socony-Vacuum gasoline's Flying Red Horse pennant was displayed above the central bay. (It would later become Mobil.)  Amazingly, Joseph Balmford's Speedway Stables signage still clearly survived on the upper wall.  photo via the NYC Department of Records & Information Services
For decades that practice would continue, even as the neighborhood and the vehicles changed.  On November 14, 1961 an ad in the New York Post listed "Ford '58--Fairlane, 4-door hardtop, fully equipped, snow tires $300" and a "Lincoln '56 Premier, 2-door hardtop" at $700.

By the time CH 150 Holdings, LLC purchased the building for $6.3 million from the West 150 Street Operating LLC in 2018, the facade was painted red and white and the garage was operated by Alliance Parking.  The developers quickly renamed the building "The Carriage House" and laid plans to refit it for residential use.  The garage operator was given a month-to-month lease.

Other than the paint job and the closing off of the western entrance, almost nothing has changed to Frederick Esper's 1896 livery stable.  The building does not have landmark protection.

photographs by the author