Saturday, February 4, 2023

The Altered 1838 Alexander McBurney House - 79 Greene Street


Brothers Alexander and Thomas McBurney were partners in T. & A. McBurney at a time when the Greene Street neighborhood between Canal and Houston Streets was one of refined Federal style homes.  In 1838 Alexander constructed a three-and-a-half story house at 79 Greene Street.  The 25-foot-wide, brick-faced house was typical of the genteel neighborhood.  Two prim dormers would have provided extra light, height and ventilation to the attic level.

As the decade closed, T. & A. McBurney was in serious financial trouble.  Alexander took out two mortgages on his home and, according to legal documents, his mother Isabella loaned him sums of money over a period of years.  In 1842 Alexander McBurney was gravely ill.  Shortly before his death he transferred title of the Greene Street house to his mother, since he had no funds to repay her loans.

In the meantime, Thomas McBurney had filed personal bankruptcy a year earlier.  Now, to help satisfy one of his creditors, he sold "his interest or estate in the dwelling house and lot, No. 79 Greene street...for a nominal sum" to Gordon Burnham, as recorded in court papers.  There was no documentation that he or T. & A. McBurney ever possessed a portion of the real estate.  The confusion of ownership landed mother, son, and Burnham in court.  

While the legal process played out, 79 Greene Street was leased to Robert G. Nellis, who ran it as an upscale boarding house.  His two tenants in 1845 were bootmaker William M. Young, whose business was on Ann Street; and George C. Dunwell, who listed his profession as "boards," meaning that he ran a lumber milling operation.

Finally, the courts ordered that the house be sold at auction on March 4, 1846.  It continued to be run as a boarding house under widow Abby Kettlewell, the widow of George Kettlewell, and Susan Higgins.  Their boarders were professionals.  In 1853 they included John Mitchell, a partner in Mitchell Brothers gas fittings on Broadway; Henry C. Robe, a forwarder; and accountant Albert L. Winship.

In April 1861 "the three story and attic modern house No. 79 Greene street" was offered for lease.  It is possibly at this time that Nicholas Betting took over its operation.  The Greene Street neighborhood was in sharp decline.  As affluent families moved further north, a disturbing transformation took hold.  By the end of the Civil War, Greene Street would be Manhattan's most notorious red light district, lined with houses of prostitution.  Betting ostensibly ran a boarding house, at least initially. 

In the pre-dawn hours of October 29, 1867 a police officer named Casey saw a man "going up Spring-st. with a trunk on his back," according to the New-York Daily Tribune.  Suspicious, he placed John Frandrind under arrest, then returned with other officers to investigate further.  They "discovered that Nicholas Betting's house, at No. 79 Greene-st., had been forced open, and the trunk, which contained $175 worth of property, stolen."  The amount would equal about $3,300 in 2023 terms.  Faced with strong evidence, Frandrind pleaded guilty.

When Patrick Goff appeared as a witness before Judge Barnard in 1868, he described 79 Greene Street as "a common bawdy house."  By 1871 Nicholas Betting had acquire an excise --or liquor--license.  There is no evidence that he modified the house for a barroom, so he most likely presented his business as a hotel to the Excise Board.  The license allowed him to sell alcoholic drinks to his patrons.

A general clean-up of the notorious street began in the 1870s, not only because of the work of indignant reformers, but because the commercial district was pushing northward into the neighborhood.  New York's millinery industry was engulfing Greene Street by now.  Hat maker Robert White purchased 79 Greene Street and in 1874 commissioned architect J. F. Duckworth to convert it into a commercial building.  

Two years earlier, Isaac F. Duckworth had designed the magnificent 72-76 Greene Street, a cast iron "commercial palace" across the street.  It is a mystery as to whether the two architects were related or actually the same person, with the "J" simply being an oft-repeated typo.  Both had been listed as "carpenter/builder" prior to 1870, when they were listed as architects.

In either case, the transformation of 79 Greene Street would be a much less resplendent project.  Duckworth's plans, filed in November 1874, called for raising the house one story and increasing the floor space with a rear extension.  The renovations cost White the equivalent of a quarter of a million in 2023 dollars.  When completed, the Italianate style structure left no hint of the Federal dwelling.  Above the cast iron storefront, the the stone lintels and sills of the openings sat upon delicate brackets.  The handsome cast iron cornice included a paneled frieze with rosettes, flanked by two substantial fluted brackets.

White's initial tenants reflected the incursion of the millinery district into the area.  While the ground floor space was occupied by William G. Ferguson's frame shop, the upper floors were occupied by Robert White's hat manufactory; the hat shop of brothers Herman and Charles Schutter; Gore, Sparrow & Co., also hat makers; and Joseph T. Mast, dealer in "hatter's goods."

Calvin and Carlos Gore ran Gore, Sparrow & Co. with their partner David D. Sparrow.  The firm had barely moved in when it was burglarized.  On February 5, 1875, an announcement appeared in the New York Herald that read, "$250 will be paid and no questions asked for the return of the Go0ds taken from 79 Greene street the night of January 18.  Gore, Sparrow & Co."

The following decade saw apparel manufacturers move into the building.  Among the first was Julius J. Adams, a maker of ladies garments.  In August 1885, he hired 15-year-old Lizzie Swenson as a sewing machine operator.  The Sun wrote on September 19 that Adams explained, "the child had repeatedly importuned him for work, and that he employed her on the representation that her family was in needy circumstances."

Whether his hiring the teen was actually an act of kindness came into question on September 28, when the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that Lizzie "caused the arrest of Adams, charging him with having kissed her."  In court, Lizzie testified that on September 18, when work was over, Adams sent her out to change a dollar bill.  The Sun reported, "When she returned with the change another girl named Dora was waiting to accompany Lizzie home.  Adams sent Dora out for a package of candy, and while waiting for Dora to return, Lizzie says Adams put his arms around her and kissed her."  The embrace was apparently more aggressive than a peck on the cheek.  "She struggled to get away, and with considerable difficulty did so," said the article.''

Adams, on the other hand, accused the girl of merely seeking money.  When he received a note from his lawyer telling him of the charges, he "wrote an indignant reply, saying that he had not one cent for blackmail, but plenty for his defense."  It is unclear who won the case, but Adams, who was not only wealthy but male, had the clear advantage.

By the 1890s the building had filled with apparel firms.  Davies & Wilinski, makers of cloaks and suits, was here in 1891; and by 1893 Kohn & Baer, wholesale fur manufacturers, operated from the building.  The firm employed five men and two women that year, who worked 49 hours per week plus nine hours on Saturdays.

The Hatter & Furrier, August 1894 (copyright expired)

In its January 1895 issue, The Hatter & Furrier wrote, "Kohn & Baer, 79 Greene Street, are about winding up a most successful season in furs.  Their goods have been distributed throughout the country, in many of the best houses."  The article noted, "Kohn & Baer will make a new departure this year, going into the manufacture of cloaks and suits, as well as furs, and will have a complete line ready for January 15."

The turn of the century saw 79 Greene Street filled with apparel and dress goods dealers.  In 1901 Rudinsky Bros, makers of cloaks and suits, employed 25 men and 6 women who worked 54 hours a week.  Also in the building were Harris Siegel, a dealer in "dress goods and velvets;" and clothier Max Hurbich.

On the afternoon of July 15, 1902, Deputy United States Marshal McAveny walked into Hurbich's office and arrested him.  The Evening World reported that he "was later arraigned...on a charge of entering into a conspiracy to smuggle diamonds."  Ironically, Hurbich had just returned from Detroit, Michigan, where he testified against Louis Bush, charged with smuggling 181 unset diamonds into the country valued at nearly half a million in 2023 dollars.  Hurbich's testimony helped to convict him.  Now he was implicated and charged as an accomplice in the crime.

The building continued to house small apparel and related firms until just after mid-century, when the neighborhood was changing again.  In 1964 a renovation resulted in the "storage and sorting of rags" on the ground floor, while the upper floors were used only for storage.  

But as the century drew to an end, the neighborhood now known as SoHo saw a renaissance as artists converted lofts to studios and stores became galleries.  In 1990 the first floor of 79 Greene Street became home to Florence de Dampierre Antiques, and the second floor to Dampierre & Company, which sold contemporary decorator items.

In 1995 Agnes B. Homme, a men's apparel store opened and would remain here for a decade.  For about five years the ground floor was home to Kiki de Montparnasse described by Time Out New York as an "erotic luxury boutique...with a posh array of tastefully provocative contemporary lingerie."  In 2022 Loewe opened its two-story boutique in the space.

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

Friday, February 3, 2023

The 1879 Eugene D. Hawkins House - 51 East 67th Street


The now-narrow doorway originally extended nearly to the parlor window.

The four-story, brownstone-fronted house at 51 East 67th Street was one of five begun by Anderson Fowler in 1878.  Designed by the architectural firm of D. & J. Jardine in the neo-Grec style, they boasted wide stone stoops that rose to impressive columned entrance porticos.  Corinthian pilasters flanked the openings, and the parlor windows sat on prominent shelf-like sills.  Ornate, bracketed cornices of galvanized iron crowned the homes.

On July 20, 1879 an advertisement appeared in The New-York Times that read:

Attention is called to those elegant new four-story brown-stone houses, commencing No. 51 East 67th-st, between Madison and Park avs...just finished; one year in course of erection, under the supervision of Messrs. D. & J. Jardine, architects; three stories in cabinet work, latest style, highly polished; the plumbing, sewage, and cellars second to none.

The mention that "cabinet work" went only through the third floor, indicated that the top floor would be peopled by domestics, and so impressive woodwork was not necessary.

George S. Hastings purchased 51 East 67th Street as an investment.  He leased it to Emmons Clark and his wife, the former Adelia Augusta Hallett.  Clark had served in the Civil War as a member of the Seventh Regiment, known to New Yorkers as The Silk Stocking Regiment because the majority of its troops came from elite families.

The elegance of the entertainments within the Clark house was evidenced in The Evening Telegram's mention on February 12, 1895, "Colonel and Mrs. Emmons Clark, of No. 51 East Sixty-seventh street, will entertain a hundred guests this evening at a dinner, which will be served by Mazzetti."  (Louise F. Mazzetti was a popular society caterer.)

William Marks purchased the house in October 1888 for $35,000 (just over $1 million in 2023).  Living with the family was his father, David, who died here on December 14, 1898 at the age of 74.  Oddly enough, given that the family was Jewish, his funeral in the drawing room did not take place until the 18th.  Those invited included members of the Kurnik Benevolent Association, the Congregation B'Nai Jeshurun, and the Hebrew Mutual Benefit Society.

The increasingly refined tenor of the neighborhood was reflected in the price Eugene Dexter Hawkins paid for 51 East 67th Street in July 1901.  The $50,000 price tag is equivalent to approximately $1.65 million today.

Hawkins and his wife, the former Julia Floyd Clarkson, were married on April 28, 1897.  They brought their new home up to date by installing electricity.  An advertisement in The Evening Telegram offered, "Gas fixtures throughout house for sale.  Call this evening eight o'clock.  51 East 67th st."

Born on May 2, 1860, Eugene D. Hawkins prepared for college at the exclusive Phillips Exeter Academy.   After graduating from Harvard College in 1881, he earned his law degree from Columbia Law School in 1883.  He was now a partner with Lewis L. Delafield in the law firm of Hawkins & Delafield.

Eugene and Julia had a son, Dexter Clarkson, who was three years old when they moved into the East 67th Street house.  Tragically, a second son Howard Clarkson Hawkins, who was born on May 16, 1900, died at the age of four weeks.

image from Empire State Notables, 1914 (copyright expired)

Hawkins's father, Dexter Arnoll Hawkins, had died in 1886.  Living with the family was his mother, the former Sophia Theresa Meeks.  Society columnists followed her movements as closely as those of her son and daughter-in-law.  On May 25, 1903, for instance, The Daily Standard Union reported:

Mrs. Dexter A. Hawkins, of 51 East Sixty-seventh street, Manhattan, will leave town for the summer about June 1.  After a visit to her son-in-law and daughter, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Wolcott Warner, at their place at Glen Cove, L. I., Mrs. Hawkins will be several weeks with Mr. and Mrs. Eugene D. Hawkins, her son and daughter-in-law, at Irvington on the Hudson."

Mrs. Henry Wolcott Warner was Eugene's sister, Estelle.  The summer estate Sophia visited was, actually, in Lattington, Long Island.  Warner had built the sprawling mansion in 1898 and it served as The Money Pit house in the 1986 Steven Spielberg comedy.  The Hawkins would later give up their summer home at Irvington-on-Hudson for one in Cedarhurst, Long Island.

A troubling incident occurred in Eugene's office on June 14, 1904.  A client, Samuel M. Burbank, was one of two nephews of millionaire Ambrose Brackett Burbank, who died on January 17 that year leaving an estate estimated at "from $750,000 to $1,250,000" according to the New-York Tribune.  The massive estate would equal more than $39 million on the higher end in 2023.

As his uncle's health deteriorated, Samuel had come from Arizona in 1902 to look after him.  He moved into the mansion and "cared for him to such an extent that his health was impaired," said the New-York Tribune.  In addition, he managed his uncle's business affairs when he could no longer do so himself.  When the will was probated, Samuel Burbank was not mentioned.  Now Eugene Hawkins was attempting to remedy that.

On June 5, 1904, the New-York Tribune reported that Burbank, "attempted to kill himself yesterday by cutting his throat with a pocket knife while in the offices of his counsel, Eugene D. Hawkins."  Burbank was taken to the Hudson Street Hospital, where he was placed under arrest (attempted suicide was a jailable crime at the time.)  He explained that "he attempted [to take] his life in a moment of temporary mental aberration."

Dexter followed his father's educational footsteps almost exactly.  After graduating from the Middlesex School, he entered Harvard University, and then the Columbia Law School.  When the United States entered World War I, Dexter joined the army, earning the rank of second lieutenant in the infantry.  Upon his return, he re-joined his fathers law firm.

The family was at the Cedarhurst estate on July 9, 1919 when Eugene Dexter Hawkins died of a heart attack at the age of 59.  His mother, wife and son continued living at 51 East 67th Street.

Dexter Hawkins seems to have been in no hurry to marry.  He was 31 years old when his engagement to Evelyn Byrd Eliot was announced on July 24, 1929.  The New York Times mentioned, "His clubs are the Union, Racquet and Tennis and the Fly Club of Harvard."  

The couple was married on December 2, 1929.  A few months later Julia Hawkins sold 51 East 67th Street.  It became home to Cadwallader Washburn Kelsey, his wife Marian Sherwood, and their son teen-aged son Cadwallader.

Kelsey was an inventor who built his first four-wheel automobile in 1897.  In 1910 he formed the C. W. Kelsey Manufacturing Company to produce the three-wheel Motorette car.  Perhaps his most remarkable invention was the Kelsey Skycar, described by the Danville, Virginia newspaper The Bee as a two-seater "designed to take off like a helicopter and land in a back yard."  Kelsey left the automobile industry in 1924.

The Kelsey Motorette had three wheels.  C. W. Kelsey Manufacturing Company Brochure 1910 (copyright expired)

On December 2, 1927 the younger Cadwallader was in Central Park when he came upon park attendant James Sullivan and two other persons standing over Charles A. Klein.  The 60-year-old was dying of self-inflicted wounds.  He had stabbed himself then jumped from a bridge onto the East Drive.  In an apparently impetuous move, Cadwallader decided "to put him out of his misery."  He later told Assistant District Attorney Lawrence J. McManus "that he struck the suffering man on the jaw to 'knock him out,'" as reported by The New York Sun.

Although witnesses confirmed he had struck Klein, Cadwallader rethought the prudence of his actions.  He firmly denied ever having struck the man.  No charges were pressed however, and McManus's death report said "the blow struck him by Mr. Kelsey was not a factor in his death."

Cadwallader, who was now 22 years old, stretched the truth again.  He had told McManus that he was a member of the exclusive New York Athletic Club during the initial interview.  When the facts of the case were published, the club's secretary, John P. Leo, denied that he "was a member of or connected with that club."

In 1941 the original stoop and portico were intact.  via the NYC Dept. of Records & Information Services

On July 12, 1946, The New York Sun reported that Maurice Epstein had purchased the house.  "The purchaser intends to convert the ground floor into a garden apartment for professional use," said the article.

By now almost all of the post-Civil War rowhouses along the block had either been razed or transformed to modern homes.  The new owner's remodeling of 51 East 67th Street, however, left the 19th century design greatly intact.  The stoop was removed and the entrance lowered to the former basement level.  But the window surrounds, brownstone facade, and iron cornice were preserved.

A subsequent renovation completed in 1954 resulted in one apartment each in the basement through second floors, and one each on the third and fourth.

Then, in 1997 a significant renovation-restoration began that returned to the house to a single family home with a medical office in the basement.  The stoop was refabricated and a laudable attempt to reproduce the entrance, without the portico, was made.  While historically convincing, its narrow proportions are somewhat off putting.  Nonetheless, the house is an unexpected survivor of the 1879 row.

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

Thursday, February 2, 2023

The George C Smith Mansion - 39 West 56th Street


Born on the day after Christmas in 1805 in Harwinton, Connecticut, John Jay Abernethy was one of two sons of Dr. Roswell and Anna Abernethy.  While he followed his father's professional footsteps, his brother Charles became a merchant and banker.

Dr. John J. Abernethy would experience an exciting and marked career.  Having been initially educated by home tutors, he graduated from Yale College at the age of 20 in 1825.  He received his medical degree from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in February 1837 and entered the navy as an assistant surgeon.  

The New York Times would later say, "His first perilous service was seen during the Florida war [i.e., the Seminole Wars], and during the war with Mexico he was with the squadron that co-operated with Gen. Scott in his memorable campaign from Vera Cruz to the City of Mexico."  During the Civil War Abernethy was promoted to Medical Director.  The New York Times would recall that he "was with the blockading squadron off the Carolina coast, and he had gathered a host of thrilling narratives of running the blockade."

Never married, upon his retirement in 1871 Dr. Abernethy moved into a newly-built house at 39 West 56th Street with his brother Charles and sister-in-law, the former Sarah McLean.  It was a 25-foot-wide, four-story brownstone.  Charles was by now a prominent dry goods merchant and a director of the Metropolitan Bank.  

Sadly, the brothers' residency in their fine new brownstone would be short.  Charles died in March 1878.  Rather surprisingly, his funeral was not held in the family's drawing room, but at the Broadway Tabernacle on Sixth Avenue.

The following year, on October 28, 1879, John Jay Abernethy died.  The Obituary Record of Graduates of Yale College explained, "His only brother's death, early in 1878, gave a shock to his own health, from which he never recovered."  The New York Times said, "Dr. Abernethy was unmarried, and leaves an ample fortune."  His funeral was held in the house on October 30.  

Within an 18-month period Sarah McLean Abernethy had inherited the estates of both her husband and brother-in-law, making her a very wealthy woman.  John J. Abernethy had left one provision in his will.  It directed that after Sarah's death, a $10,000 endowment to Yale be established to establish a fellowship.

Sarah remained alone with her domestic staff in the 56th Street house, her name appearing in newspapers only for her charitable work.  Since 1858, for example, she had sat on the board of directors of the Woman's Hospital, a position she would hold until her death.

That death came in 1905.  Sarah left an estate estimated, according to The New York Times, "to be more than $3,000,000."  (That figure would translate to about $93.2 million in 2023.)  With no surviving children, after some charitable bequests, she left the bulk of her fortune to her nephew, George P. Mclean.  (He, incidentally, would become a United States Senator and the Governor of Connecticut.)

On June 5, 1906 McLean sold the house at auction.  The Real Estate Record & Builder's Guide reported that it was purchased by publisher Ormond G. Smith, adding, "Mr. Smith will tear down the present building and put up a 5-story American basement house for his own occupancy."

The journal had gotten the facts slightly wrong.  The property had been purchased by Smith's brother and business partner, George Campbell Smith.  And, in fact, the publisher hired architect Frank A. Moore not to replace the outdated brownstone, but to drastically remodel it.  His plans, filed in May 1907, called for a new front and rear facade, new plumbing, and all new interior walls--in short, nothing but the structural walls were to remain.  The renovations would cost the Smiths the equivalent of just over $1 million today.

The transformation resulted in a slice of Paris in Midtown.  The basement and first floors were clad in rusticated limestone.  A short stoop led to the entrance, crowned with a broken pediment.  The large parlor window sat within a beveled arch behind a lacy French-inspired railing.  A full-width stone balcony with iron railings fronted the fully-arched windows of the second floor.  Moore faced the two-story midsection in tan Roman brick and decorated the openings with frothy keystones.  The top story took the form of a slate-shingled mansard punctured by rounded dormers behind a stone balustrade.

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

After graduating from Harvard University in 1883, Smith had joined Stead & Smith, the publishing firm co-founded by his father, Francis.  He and his wife Annie had three children, George Jr., Anne and Dorothy Frances.

The family moved into their opulent new home in time for Dorothy's debut into society.  On December 12, 1909 The New York Times announced, "Mrs. George Campbell Smith will bring out her daughter, Miss Dorothy Frances Smith, at a reception at her home, 39 West Fifty-sixth Street."

Once introduced, young women in high society were expected  to marry.  And it would not take Dorothy long to do so.  On May 26, 1912, The New York Times reported, "The announcement of the engagement of Miss Dorothy Francis [sic] Smith, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. George Campbell Smith, to Artemas Holmes, is one of great interest in New York society, as it unites two of the oldest families here."  The article noted that Dorothy "is very popular in the younger set."

The following month the New-York Tribune reported that Mrs. Lloyd S. Bryce had leased "her house at Roslyn, Long Island, overlooking Hempstead Harbor, to George C. Smith."  It would prove to be a striking setting for the wedding.  The ceremony took place at the Roslyn estate on August 28, 1912.  Anne served as the flower girl.  The New York Times reported, "A special train for the guests from the city will leave the Pennsylvania Station."

The wealth of the Smiths was evidenced in George's collection of motorcars.  In 1914 he owned a Fist, a Lancia, and a Winton automobile.

Friends and relatives of the family were no doubt shocked and dismayed when the read in The New York Times on May 31, 1916, the George C. Smith "died early yesterday morning at his home, 39 West Fifty-sixth Street, in his sixty-second year."  The 52-year-old George Campbell Smith was, in fact, quite alive.  The newspaper had confused him with George Carson Smith, a director in the Westinghouse Company and former railroad official.

Later that year, in November, the Smith family moved to Park Avenue and leased 39 West 56th Street to Dr. Hermann Michael Biggs and his wife, the former Frances M. Richardson.  The couple had two children, Katharine Elsie and William Richardson.

Biggs was internationally renowned.  A pioneer in public health, he initially focused on the scourge of tuberculosis and was among the first to apply the concept of bacteriology to the prevention and control of infectious diseases.  In 1914 he was appointed the State Commissioner of Health and in 1920 was made medical director of the general League of Red Cross Societies in Geneva, Switzerland.  For his services in preventative medicine, he was knighted by the King of Spain.

In 1922 Katharine briefly stole the spotlight from her celebrated father.  On October 10, the New York Herald titled an article "Miss Biggs's Wedding Day" and reported that the recent debutante would be married to Roessle McKinney in the Brick Presbyterian Church on December 9.  The article noted, "Miss Biggs, who returned recently from Europe, is a graduate of Miss Spences's School and is a member of the Junior League."  It neglected to mention she had graduated from Vassar in 1920.

Dr. Hermann Michael Biggs, from The Lift of Hermann M. Biggs, 1929.

In the May 1923 Dr. Biggs returned from the Conference of Social Work in Washington.  In his 1929 The Life of Hermann M. Biggs, C. E. A. Winslow said that Biggs "was completely exhausted and he and Mrs. Biggs sought their haven or rest at Little Moose Lake."  On the afternoon of June 2, Biggs rowed his boat on the lake, but that evening his temperature rose to 102.5 degrees.  The "next day [he] was taken back to New York, just a week before he had planned to sail for Europe for a real recuperation."  

He and Annie would not make that trip.  He died in the West 56th Street house on June 28, 1923.  The funeral was held in the Brick Presbyterian Church two days later.

In 1926 the first floor was converted to a tearoom for the Cabin Tea Rooms, Inc., which would lease the space well into the 1930s.  A renovation completed in 1932 resulted in the upscale apartments on the upper floors.  The stoop was removed and the entrance lowered, the upper portion of the original doorway now becoming a window.  The architect deftly preserved the pediment, reinstalling it above the new entrance.  A decorative window to the restaurant was installed at street level, and the sloped mansard became a flat, vertical wall.

In 1941 the mansions along the block had all been converted for business.  The changes in the Smith residence are clearly visible.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

George C. Smith Jr. sold the building in 1935.  A subsequent remodeling that year produced offices on the second floor and two apartments each on the third through fifth.

The space that had been home to the Cabin Tea Room for so many years was taken over by Romeo Salta in 1953.  His restaurant, named after himself, was one of the first in Manhattan to serve upscale Northern Italian dishes.  McCall's magazine described it in 1955 as "A stunning restaurant specializing in classic North Italy cuisine.  Expensive."  Pasta dishes were prepared at the diners' tables.

Salta had arrived in America in 1929 penniless, an illegal immigrant who jumped ship in New York.  While on board he had met the operator of the Central Park Casino, from whom he got a job as a waiter.  He eventually worked in high-end restaurants in the Pierre, the Waldorf Astoria and the St. Moritz hotels.  His Romeo Saltza restaurant, a haunt of theatrical and music personalities, closed in 1994.

By then the upper floors had been converted to retail stores and showrooms.  On October 26, 2005, The New York Times reported, "at 39 West 56th Street, three floors of an elegant brownstone have been gutted, and construction has begun on the Townhouse Spa.  One floor will be for women, one for men, and a third will be for mingling."

At some point the square window above the entrance was skillfully remade into a circular version.  Despite its several incarnations, much of the exterior fabric of the Smith mansion survives.

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

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

The Lafayette and Washington Monument - Lafayette Square


As a token of the long and deep friendship between France and America, in 1873 the Cercle Francais de I'Harmonie, or French Fellowship Society, offered a gift to the United States.  Sculptor Fredric-Auguste Bartholdi was commissioned to execute a statue of Marquis de Lafayette, whose help had been crucial to George Washington during the Revolution.  The Lafayette statue was dedicated in Union Square on September 6, 1876.  

In 1888, two years after Bartholdi's more famous statue, Liberty Enlightening the World, was dedicated in New York Harbor, millionaire publisher Joseph Pulitzer commissioned the sculptor to design a gift to the people of France--a monument depicting the first meeting of Lafayette and Washington.  It was exhibited in Paris in 1892, then transported to the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.  It was dedicated in its final spot, the Place des Etats-Unis (United States Square) in Paris in 1895.

Fredric-Auguste Bartholdi would have one more gift between the two countries to execute.  Monumental News reported in its September 1899 issue that the sculptor "suggested that a duplicate should be erected in the United States."  Charles Broadway Rouss rose to the challenge.

Born Charles Baltzell Rouss, he had legally changed his middle name to Broadway--the street where his large store was located.  The New York Times would later describe him as "an eccentric character in the commercial life of New York."  Monumental News explained that Rouss had "very generously purchased" an exact copy of the monument from Bartholdi, "as a memorial of his son."  Rouss's eldest son, Charles H. B. Rouss, had died on April 5, 1891.  

In the fall of 1899 the Parks Commissioners selected "a triangular piece of land at the junction of Morningside Esplanade and Manhattan avenue" as the site of the monument.  Monumental News reported, "The monument will be about thirty-eight feet high" and would sit upon a 15-foot marble pedestal atop a two-foot granite base.  The article said:

It represents the figure of Washington on the right and Lafayette on the left, shaking hands.  Washington's left hand grasps his sword, while Lafayette upholds the flags of the two countries.  The flags rise about four feet above the twelve feet figures.  The inscription is in French, which, translated reads: 'Lafayette and Washington, Homage to France, in recognition of her generous assistance in the struggle of the people of the United States for independence and liberty.

That inscription was, in fact, the one displayed on the Paris monument.  The New York version would be decidedly simpler and more succinct.

The unveiling ceremony was scheduled to take place in February 1900, but was delayed "to meet the convenience of Senator Daniel, who will be the orator of the occasion," according to the New-York Tribune.  The dedication was moved to April 19, which apparently meant that the bronze plaque with the date would have to be recast.  It reads:

Lafayette - Washington
Presented to the City of New York
Charles B. Rouss
April Nineteenth  Nineteen Hundred

The New-York Tribune put a positive spin on the delay.  "The time for the unveiling the monument was well chosen, for [it] was the anniversary of Concord and Lexington, the opening battles of the Revolutionary War, and also of General Lafayette's arrival in America."  There were two large stands erected on the square, one for the band and the other for the speakers and distinguished guests.  

A fenced lawn originally encircled the monument.  (note the horse-drawn vehicle to the right.)  from the collection of the New York Public Library

Sadly, Charles Broadway Rouss could not totally appreciate his gift.  He was totally blind by 1895.  He was scheduled to speak along with eminent figures like General Horatio C. King, Randolph Guggenheimer, and George Washington's grand-nephew, W. D'H. Washington.  After the French Consul-General, Edmund Bruwaert pulled the cord to unveil the bronze grouping, reported the New-York Tribune, "Mr. Rouss rose to speak, but was overcome with emotion and had to be assisted to his chair."

The original statue had received mixed reviews in Paris.  The July 1893 issue of The Magazine Art had written, "The truth is that M. Bartholdi, while a very active member of the Parisian army of art, is not one of the lights of modern French sculpture at all...M. Bartholdi's sarcastic comrades regard the Washington-Lafayette group as a piece of clap-trap quite good enough for ignorant Yankees, and laughed tremendously over it."

New York critics were kinder.  The New-York Tribune wrote, "The figures of the two generals are colossal, that of Washington being the taller.  The two heroes face each other with clasped hands...Washington's face wears a benign expression, while Lafayette looks hopeful and defiant."  Sixteen years later, however, Munsey's Magazine made a veiled criticism, saying, "Bartholdi has given Washington a rather more corpulent figure than appears in any of the other statues or paintings."

In almost all cases, the passage of more than a century quiets artistic debates.  If Bartholdi's grouping suffers any humiliation today, it is that the monument is largely unknown and greatly overlooked.

photographs by the author
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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The John P. Kirwan House - 118 West 88th Street


In 1886 developer William J. Taylor began construction of a row of eight narrow homes along the south of West 88th Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues.  Architect Samuel B. Reed  designed them in a delightful jumble of revival styles--Flemish, Romanesque, and Renaissance.  Completed the following year, while they shared enough elements to make the row pleasantly cohesive, each house was individual.  

Like its neighbors, 118 West 88th Street was a mere 15.6 feet wide.  Its basement and parlor levels were clad in rough-cut stone.  Chunky stone voussoirs rose to foliate-carved keystones over the parlor openings.  A shallow, square edged oriel distinguished the second floor, while the third floor windows were arranged in a Palladian-inspired configuration.  A brownstone eyebrow connected the lintels of the end windows, and a terra cotta portrait of a man filled the tympanum of the center opening.  Above it all rose a dramatic Flemish gable, decorated with a terra cotta roundel with a striking female profile.

The execution of the female terra cotta bas relief was far superior to its carved stone male counterpart below.

In October 1887 Taylor sold the house to "a Mrs. Walsh," according to the Record & Guide, for $19,000 (about $558,000 in 2023).  It was common for real estate buyers to initially hide their identities, and Mrs. Walsh was, in fact, Harriet E. Barney, the wife of theatrical agent and manager Ariel N. Barney.

Barney managed several well-known stage performers, but none was more famous than Julia Marlowe.  Their professional relationship was nearly ended by a horrible accident in January 1889.  That night Julia was standing in the wings, just offstage, under a heavy piece of scenery.  The Evening World reported that she "received a portion of its woodwork upon her head.  This produced a compound fracture, and it is doubtful, even if she recovers, that her reason will remain."  The article noted, "Mr. Barney [has] watched her day and night."

Only a month later Marlowe had recovered sufficiently that The Evening World reported, "Mr. Barney is delighted because next season his little star will devote twenty weeks to four big cities--New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Boston."  Harriet Barney and the West 88th Street house saw little of Ariel during that winter theater season, as he traveled with his troupe--notably Julia Marlowe--from city to city.

In July 1891 the Barneys sold 118 West 88th Street to another theatrical manager and producer, J. Wesley Rosenquest, and his wife Minnie Coote, for $18,000.  (It was a significant discount from what the Barneys had paid.)

Born in Brooklyn in 1859, Rosenquest entered the theatrical profession as a youth.  The manager of the Bijou Opera House and the Fourteenth Street Theatre, The Evening World called him "one of the best-known theatrical men in the country."

James Wesley Rosenquest, Notable New Yorkers of 1896-1899 (copyright expired)

Minnie was a member of the chorus of the Lydia Thompson Burlesque Company when the two met.  It seems that things were not always placid within the West 88th Street house.  Minnie would later testify that she lived "in fear of her bodily safety" and that her husband "stormed and raged and wound up by assaulting me and tearing my clothing and driving me out."

The Rosenquests' residency would be relatively short.  They lost the house in foreclosure in December 1896.  It was purchased at auction by real estate operator John P. and Julia M. Kirwan.  

The Finance and Commerce of New York and United States would call Kirwan in 1903, "One of the best known and oldest established real estate experts in the fashionable uptown district of New York City."  Kirwan's business focused on the Upper West Side "where palatial hotels, magnificent apartment houses, and residential palaces are springing up as if by magic on every side," said the writer.

John P. Kirwan, from The Finance and Commerce of New York and United States, 1903 (copyright expired)

John and Julia had three sons when they purchased the house.  John Stanislaus (he would later often use Stanley as his middle name) was five years old, Raymond was four, and baby Arthur was just eight months old.   Two years later, in October 1898, a fourth son, Robert L. was born, 

Also living in the house was Julia's sister and brother-in-law, Lucy A. and John J. Commins, and two Irish-born servants, Mary Fitzpatrick and Katie Hughes.

In 1905 a terrifying outbreak of typhoid fever swept New York City.  Robert fell ill and, according to the New York Herald, "Mr. and Mrs. Kirwan insisted upon caring for him themselves.  They said that his chances of improvement would be better if his mother and father were his nurses."  It was a decision they would most likely regret.

A second son came down with the fever and another suffered an accident.  The Kirwans' summer home was at Quogue, Long Island and John went there in July to ready the house "so that one son who was suffering from typhoid fever and another son whose arm had been broken might go there to recuperate."  While he was there alone, John contracted the dreaded disease.  The New York Herald reported, "It had become impossible for Mr. Kirwan to leave Quogue because of the gravity of his own illness."

On July 10, 1905, little Robert died in the 88th Street house.  By then John's condition was perilous.  Doctors told Julia that John could not be told, fearing "the shock of the disclosure would prove fatal to him."  The New York Herald said he was "intensely devoted" to his sons.

With intense bravery, following Robert's funeral Julia took the boys to Quogue so she could tend to her husband.  They were warned not to tell their father of their brother's death.  When he would ask about Robert, the New York Herald explained, "Each time he has been that the boy's condition is improving."  The article said, "So far Mrs. Kirwan has escaped illness, but last night she was almost worn out from anxiety.  Since her husband was stricken she has not been able to eat or sleep much and the physicians in attendance upon her husband fear that she may become ill."  Thankfully, all members of the Kirwan family recovered.

Colorful petals of stained glass form the fanlight above the entrance.

In 1910, 19-year-old John S. Kirwan met 17-year-old Jean Gazlay Donaldson, who was attending school at Dobbs Ferry.  A romance bloomed--one firmly objected to by Jean's mother.  To distance the two, Emma Donaldson laid plans to send her daughter to a European school.  Jean discovered the plot and the teens eloped to New Jersey.  It was a short-lived marriage, annulled in April 1913, after which John moved back into the West 88th Street house and joined his father's business.  (Jean, incidentally, would go on to have five more husbands and a life highlighted by wealth, charges of criminality, and celebrity.)

Raymond became engaged to Dorothy Lazarus in 1913.  The couple was motoring in Long Island that summer when Raymond was pulled over for speeding.  The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that he was driving "at a rate of thirty-eight miles an hour over the Hempstead Turnpike."  His heavy foot cost him a $15 dollar fine--a significant $450 today.

Arthur graduated from Harvard in 1916.  The previous year his brother John had left their father's business to to go Europe to volunteer with the Red Cross Ambulance Corps.  Upon America's entry into the war, John joined Squadron A of the New York Cavalry.  While in training at Camp Holabird in Baltimore in 1918, he suffered a serious accident from which he would never recover.

John Stanislaus Kirwan died at the age of 29 in the West 88th Street house on July 5, 1921.  The Evening Telegram attributed his death to the injuries received at camp.  

Julia Kirwan had died around the time that John left for the war.  On November 15, 1925, The New York Times reported that her estate had sold 118 West 88th Street, noting, "This marks the first sale of the house in twenty-eight years.  It was purchased for occupancy."

The house was lost in foreclosure during the Depression years, but remained a single family house.  Otto von Strotha leased it for his family home in 1933.  But when it was rented again in 1939, it became a rooming house.  

In April 1940, 27-year-old Peter Paul Waskiewicz rented a room here.  Unknown to the landlord, Waskiewicz, who had a home in Ridgewood, Queens, was a Teamster boss who was out on $1,500 bail.  He was a defendant in the FBI's case against 36 union officials charged with racketeering.  Waskiewicz was scheduled to appear in court on April 30, but he did not appear.

Later that day, a patrol car was called to 118 West 88th Street to answer a call of an attempted suicide.  They found a man unconscious, suffering from gas poisoning.  Upon being revived "after considerable effort by an ambulance physician," he was taken to Bellevue Hospital.  A union card identified him as Waskiewicz.  An additional charge of being a fugitive from justice was added to his alleged crimes.

118, at right, creates part of a charming ensemble. 

The house was converted to apartments in 1955.  A subsequent renovation, completed in 1991, resulted in a duplex apartment in the basement and parlor levels, two apartments on the second floor, and one on the third.

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Monday, January 30, 2023

The Lost Charles W. Clinton House - 39 East 57th Street


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

In 1894 Charles William Clinton partnered with William Hamilton Russell to form the architectural firm of Clinton & Russell.  The 52-year-old Clinton had begun his career in the office of esteemed architect Richard Upjohn and had had been practicing on his own since 1858.  One of his most important commissions was the Seventh Regiment Armory on Park Avenue.

Twelve years before the architects opened their office, David Frankenberg had purchased the four-story brownstone house at 39 East 57th Street on November 3, 1882.  He was the partner of Benjamin Altman in the B. Altman & Co. drygoods store.  The $55,000 he paid Joseph Morris for the property ($1.5 million in 2023 terms) reflected the upscale tenor of the neighborhood.  On October 21, 1899 the Record & Guide reported that Frankenberg had sold the high-stooped house to "Emily De S., wife of Chas. W. Clinton."  

Among affluent families, it was common for the title of real property to be placed in the wife's name.  Clinton had married Emily de Silver Gorsuch on August 25, 1886.  The couple had two children, Charles Kenneth and Margery Hamilton.  (Sadly, a third child, De Witt, had died in 1896 at the age of three.)

The highly recognized architect and his wife did not intend to move into an architecturally passé brownstone.   On March 16, 1900 Clinton & Russell filed plans for extensive renovations.  One can assume that Charles Clinton took the reins in the design.

With the stoop removed, the bowed facade of the lower three floors extended to the property line.  A stone balcony introduced the two-story mid-section, which was crowned by another stone balustrade.  The fifth floor took the form of a steep, slate-shingled mansard with two pedimented dormers.

When the family moved into the remodeled house, Margery was 14 years old and Charles Kenneth was 12.  The Clintons, like all wealthy New Yorkers, spent their summers away from the city.  On August 12, 1902, for instance, the New York Herald reported, "Mr. and Mrs. Charles W. Clinton, of No. 39 East Fifth-seventh street, and their family are at Black Rock, Conn."

That would change in 1909 when their new summer home, Century, in Tuxedo Park was completed.  As he had done in Manhattan, Clinton completely remodeled an existing structure.  He purchased a shingle style mansion designed by Bruce Price in 1886, and remodeled it as a romantic neo-Tudor fantasy.

Emily entertained regularly, but apparently not lavishly, at both homes.  Newspaper coverage was succinct, as on January 27, 1901 when the New York Herald announced, "Mrs. Charles W. Clinton will give a reception at No. 39 East Fifty-seventh street on Wednesday next," and on March 30, 1907 when The New York Times noted, "Mrs. Charles W. Clinton will entertain with bridge on the afternoon of Wednesday, April 10, at 39 East Fifty-seventh Street."  On February 21, 1904, the New York Herald reported, "Mrs. Charles W. Clinton...will not receive on Mondays during Lent."

On December 1, 1910, Charles William Clinton died in the 57th Street house at the age of 72.  In reporting on his death, the New-York Tribune mentioned, "His whole life was devoted to his chosen profession.  Among the best known examples of his work are the Mutual Life Insurance building, the 7th Regiment armory, the Bank of America, Mechanics Bank, and the Continental Insurance Company."

Still in mourning, Emily and her daughter left the 57th Street house for a period.  On June 1, 1911 The Evening Telegram reported, "Mrs. Charles W. Clinton and Miss Emily [sic] Clinton, of No. 39 East Fifty-seventh street, will leave this city Saturday aboard the Baltic for Europe, where they intend staying until the autumn.  Upon their return in the autumn they will go to Tuxedo."  Charles, who was now 22-years-old and studying at Harvard, remained behind.

Following his graduation in 1912, Charles joined his mother and sister in traveling.  On September 27, 1912, The New York Times reported, "Mrs. Charles W. Clinton and her daughter, Miss Margery Clinton, and son, Charles Kenneth Clinton, are closing their house in Tuxedo, and will sail on Oct. 5 on the Carmania, to pass the Winter in Paris."  

Like his father, Charles became a member of exclusive men's social clubs, the Union, Tuxedo and Harvard clubs among them.  On August 10, 1915 the New York Sun reported his engagement to Margery Oakes Rand, the daughter of Mrs. Herbert Ten Broeck Jacquelin Rand.  

Following their marriage, the newlyweds moved into the East 57th Street house.  On March 13, 1917, The Sun wrote, "Mr. and Mrs. Charles Kenneth Clinton are receiving congratulations on the birth of a daughter recently at their home, 39 East Fifty-seventh street."

With America's entry into World War I, Charles joined the Army, rising to the rank of captain.  Margery did her part by focusing on relief work.  She traveled abroad "where she was a canteen and Red Cross worker," according to the New York Herald.  It was possibly in Europe that she met United States Navy Commander Lamar R. Leahy.

On August 5, 1919, the New York Herald reported that Emily Clinton had announced Margery's and Lamar's engagement.  The article noted that Margery was "well known in society in New York and Tuxedo Park, N. Y., since her debut a few years ago."  The wedding on September 17, 1919, was a military affair.  Charles, in uniform, gave his sister away.  The ushers, too, were all in military uniform.  The New-York Tribune noted, "After their wedding trip Commander Leahy and his bride will live at 449 Park Avenue."

At the time of the wedding, the neighborhood around 39 East 57th Street was no longer one of private mansions, as commercial buildings increasingly engulfed the district.  Even before the ceremony, Emily Clinton signed a lease for an apartment in the Mayfair, the same building where her daughter and new son-in-law would be living.

Five months earlier, Emily had leased the 57th Street mansion to H. A. Van Winsum and J. Weymer, British antiques dealers.  On April 23 The Sun reported, "The building will be altered by installing show windows on the lower floor."

House & Garden magazine, February 1920 (copyright expired)

The upper floors of the former Clinton mansion were leased as upscale apartments.  Lee Maidment Hurd and his wife lived here in November 1922, when they held a reception to introduce their daughter Leona to society.

The ground floor became home to the Albert Du Vannes art gallery in 1924.  The firm, which dealt in Old Masters and modern paintings, also provided authentication services, noting "We identify meritorious paintings and give correct attribution when possible.  Expert restoring, relining, and cleaning of pictures."  

Arts & Decoration magazine, December 1924 (copyright expired)

Although Emily Clinton would survive until 1942, she had transferred title to the 57th Street building to Margery by 1928.  That year Margery leased her childhood home to the 45 East Fifty-seventh Street Company "for a term of sixty-three years," according to the New York Evening Post on December 20.  The article noted that the firm had been purchasing the surrounding properties.

The Clinton mansion, along with the other structures, were demolished to make way for the masterful Art Deco Fuller Building, designed by Walker & Gillette, which took the address of 41 East 57th Street. has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog