Thursday, April 22, 2021

The Florence A. Alker House - 22 East 64th Street


In January 1881 William Erastus Tefft purchased the newly-built rowhouse at No. 22 East 64th Street from developer John Davidson.  Designed by architect James E. Ware, the high-stooped brownstone was 25-feet wide and three stories tall above an English basement.  Tefft paid $83,000 for the residence, or around $2.1 million today.

Tefft was born in Syracuse, New York on January 15, 1841.  He was a partner in the dry goods firm Tefft, Weller & Co., co-founded by his father.   He and his wife, the former Emma A. Apgar, had eight children, William Jr., Charles Griswold, Frank, Gladys, Edna, Ella Gretchen (who went by her middle name), Jessie Augusta and Alma.  The family's summer estate, Hamilton Grange, was in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.  It was described by The New York Times as "one of the finest residences in the town."

Emma's entertainments straddled the roles of socialite and well-to-do mother.  On March 27, 1885, for instance, The Evening Telegram announced, "A very pretty birthday party will be given this evening at the residence of Mrs. W. E. Tefft, No. 22 East Sixty-fourth street, in honor of the birthday of her young daughter.  Eighty invitations have been issued, and there will be dancing, with music by Bernstein and supper by Sherry.  The supper table will be very handsomely decorated, and there will be in the centre a great Easter egg, en surprise, in which will be disclosed unique favors for the children."

And a month later, on April 23, the newspaper reported on a grown-up affair.  "Mrs. W. E. Tefft will give an informal card party at her residence...this evening.  There will be six round tables, handsomely decorated with flowers.  Sherry will serve the supper."

In 1888 William succeeded his father as the senior member of the Tefft, Weller & Co.  His memberships reflected his broad range of interests:  The Merchants' Club, the Players', the Liederkranz, the Riding and Driving Club, the American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, among them.  

The 64th Street house held his rather unusual collection.  Fabrics, Fancy Goods and Notions explained, "His collection of theatrical curiosities is said to be surpassed only by that owned by the Players' Club."  The journal said that among his intimate friends were actors Edwin Booth, Laura Keene, and Lawrence Barrett, noting that "his collection is filled with many reminiscences of them and their connection with the stage."

A joyous entertainment was held in the house for the Tefft's 25th wedding anniversary on January 14, 1887.  The New York Times said the house "blazed with light" and added, "The rooms were very tastefully decorated with flowers and palms, and after the reception a supper was served by Sherry."

The residence was the scene Jessie's wedding to Henry Bloodgood Slayback on October 31, 1894.  Her sister Edna served as her maid of honor and Gretchen as one of the bridesmaids.  The Sun noted "A large reception followed the ceremony."

Edna's wedding ceremony was performed in St. Thomas's Church on November 17, 1897.  She married William Abbott Slayback, the brother of Jessie's husband.  The Sun reported, "After the church ceremony there was a large reception given by the bride's parents at their residence."

Around this time William Tefft was diagnosed with Bright's disease, a kidney condition known today as acute nephritis.  It prompted a series of visits to doctors across the country and in Europe for consultation.

There were two weddings within the family in 1901.  Gretchen was married to John Leveritt Pell in the house on April 23.  Later the New York Herald reported that the Teffts had gone to Hamilton Grange and "will have as their guests part of the season Mr. and Mrs. John Pell."

Charles Tefft's wedding two months later was less fashionable.  Initially, little was known of his bride, but The Argus discovered details.  On June 24, it began an article describing the ceremony which took place in city court the previous week as "the romantic marriage of Charles G. Tefft and Miss Grace A. Gates."  It disclosed that the mysterious bride was "well known at No. 54 East Forty-ninth street, which is a home for trained nurses."  Grace had tended to Charles during a serious illness.  

Ten days before the article she had packed her things and left the nurses' home, saying "Good-bye.  Hereafter I'll take care of myself and one other only."  The article said "Then she left without any further explanation."

That year William's worsening medical condition forced him to retire.  He sold No. 22 East 64th Street to William Baylis and moved into Hamilton Grange permanently.  The New York Times commented that the many doctors he had seen "were unable to help him materially."  He died on February 19, 1903.

The 64th house saw a rapid turnover of owners.  Baylis sold it to Solomon A. Cohn in 1902 who sold it the same year to Louis Korn.  Korn sold it in March 1903 to H. P. Goldschmidt, who remained for 13 years, selling it to Charles L. Bernheimer in 1917.  He transferred title to Franklin Pettit the following year and Pettit sold it in November 1919 to Florence Augusta Alker.

Florence had no intentions of reselling.  She hired architect Harry Allen Jacobs to completely remodel the outdated brownstone at a cost of about $450,000 in today's money.  He stripped off the façade, pulled it forward to the property line, and created a limestone-clad, neo-Italianate Renaissance showplace.  The second floor, or piano nobile, grabbed the attention.  Here three round-arched openings fronted by swirling iron grills created a loggia.  Their tympanums held marble roundels flanked by masks in profile and backed by deeply carved shells.

Florence Alker was the widow of Alphonse H. Alker.  Her father was James E. Ward, the founder of the Ward Line of steamships.  The Alker summer estate, Idlewilde, was in Great Neck, Long Island.

A postcard depicted Florence's country estate, Idlewilde.

Sadly, Florence would not enjoy her remodeled home for long.  Only a year after its completion, on May 13, 1921, she died.  Her estate was appraised at $25.5 million by today's standards.
Florence's heirs sold the house to Sarah Emile Woodbury.  The daughter of Effington Townsend, she was twice widowed.  Her first husband, Samuel Irvin, died in 1884.  Her second was John McGaw Woodbury, who died in 1914.  

Sarah brought Harry Allen Jacobs back in 1923 to add a small penthouse, hidden behind the balustrade above the cornice.  The renovations were completed in the summer of 1923 and on August 24 The Sun reported "Mrs. John McG. Woodbury will return from Southampton October 1 and, with her son, E. Townsend Irvin, will occupy her new house at 22 East Sixty-fourth street.

A broker with J. P. Morgan & Co., Effington Townsend Irvin was best known for his yachting.  He was a vice-commodore of the New York Yacht Club and was a member of the America's Cup Committee which handled the arrangements for the annual American-British races.

Sarah Woodbury died in the house on May 19, 1938 at the age of 89.  E. Townsend Irvin and his wife, the former May Novy, continued to live in the residence.  Irvin died at the age of 82 on November 19, 1957.  

May later sold the house to Dr. Jacob Easton Holzman and his wife, Minnette.   Dr. Holzman was a specialist in diagnosis and internal medicine.  He died in the home on March 23, 1970.  

No. 22 East 64th Street remains a private residence.  It was placed on the market in 2014 for $42 million, the listing boasting "exquisite gilded detailing, parquet de Versailles wood floors, oak paneling," a marble staircase, stained glass skylight and 10 marble fireplaces.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

The 1836 Henry J. Seaman House - 152 West 11th Street


The charming copper entrance hood and attic enframement were added around 1895.

In 1835 builder Aaron Marsh and carpenter John Simmons purchased the four building lots at Nos. 146 through 152 West 11th Street from Alexander Robertson Rodgers.   A year later four prim, 18-foot wide homes stood on the site, each two-and-a-half stories tall.  No. 152 was owned by Simmons and it, like its identical neighbors, was faced in Flemish bond brick and sat upon a brownstone basement level protected by anthemion decorated iron fencing.  The Greek Revival design included pilasters and sidelights on either side of the single-doored entrance.  The squat attic level replaced the peaked roof and dormers of the Federal style which was falling from favor.

By the mid-1840's it was home to Luiz H. Ferreira D'Aguiar, the Brazilian Consul General and his bride, the former Emeline Wilkie.   Born in Rio de Janeiro in 1812, D'Aguiar's father was the court physician to Dom Pedro I, Emperor of Brazil.  Luiz was sent as attaché to the Brazilian Legation in Washington in 1837, and then transferred to New York City in 1841 as Consul General.

He and Emeline were married in January two years later.  The couple had two sons, Luis and Alberto.  Like all the families along the block Emeline had domestic help.  An advertisement that appeared in the New York Herald on September 22, 1845 read:

A First Rate Female Cook, well acquainted with her business, for a small private family.  Also, a Black Boy of about sixteen years old, at 152 Eleventh street.

Sadly, Emeline died on March 22, 1846.  Her funeral was held in the 11th Street house two days later.   The Manhattan and De La Salle Monthly later said that after her death, "he has devoted himself entirely to the welfare of his sons, seeking but little pleasure beyond the circle of the household and devoting his life to acts of Charity."

In 1854 the house was purchased by Henry J. Seaman.  Born on Staten Island in 1805, he had served as a New York Representative to Congress from 1845 through 1847.  He was a broker with offices on William Street, but his business interests went far beyond that.  He was, as well, a director in the Mechanics' Fire Insurance Company and the Staten Island Railroad, and the secretary of the Plank Road Co.  

Still highly involved in politics, in 1854, just before moving into No. 152 West 11th Street, he was elected the chairman of the Whig General Committee of Richmond County, and he served as a delegate to the Congressional Convention that year.

In 1858 Henry Seaman returned to Staten Island, but he did not sell the 11th Street house.  He leased it first to Joseph P. Baker, a drygoods merchant, who lived here at least from 1858 through 1865.  And then, by 1870, Mary D. Gleason was leasing the house and operating it as a respectable boarding house.

Mary took in only a small number of boarders--seemingly never more than three at a time.  In 1872 Katherine Bevier lived in the house.  She was a teacher in the girls' department of Grammar School No. 51 on West 44th Street.   The following year Hamilton R. Findlay, an "agent," boarded here.  Mary's advertisement on June 8, 1873, offered "handsomely furnished Rooms to let, with Board, to gentlemen and their wives or single gentlemen."

Among Mary's boarders by 1885 was Dr. John A. Burke, a bachelor, and former house surgeon at St. Vincent's Hospital.   On the evening of February 25 that year a sick man knocked on the door and implored Dr. Burke to come to the boarding house where he lived at No. 5 Perry Street.

That morning, according to the New York Herald, Mrs. A. S. Pack's boarders "were pleasurably the information that they would have buckwheat cakes for lunch.  The excellence of Mrs. Pack's cakes enticed back to lunch boarders who worked at great distances from the house.  Everybody ate heartily of the cakes."

As everyone went back to their routines, Mrs. Pack began feeling ill, followed by her niece and two servants.  "The boarders who had gone out began to return one by one, looking very pale, and complaining of feeling painfully ill.  Before nightfall, everybody who had tackled the seductive cakes was in bed," said the article."

Dr. Burke later told officials, "When I arrived there the place resembled a hospital ward.  A dozen people were in bed suffering acutely with what seemed to be the effects of arsenical poison, at any rate, a mineral poison of some kind."  Burke worked on the patients until nearly daybreak, some of whom were "dangerously sick."  Luckily all of them recovered.   How the buckwheat had been laced with arsenic was a mystery and both Mrs. Pack's and her grocer's buckwheat were analyzed by the Health Board.

Henry J. Seaman had died in 1861, but his family retained possession of the house, continuing to lease it to Mary Gleason.  Dr. Burke was still a resident in 1894 when he made headlines not for a medical, but romantic, achievement.

On June 12 The Evening World entitled an article "Bessie Cleveland No More," and began by saying, "The marriage of Miss Bessie Cleveland, the actress, and Dr. John A. Burke, of 152 West Eleventh street, will take place this evening at the home of Dr. Burke's parents, at Pittsfield, Mass."  Bessie Cleveland was a popular stage actress and a relative of President Grover Cleveland (her father, Samuel E. Cleveland, was the President's cousin).  The article noted, "It is thought that the actress will retire from the stage.  At Dr. Burke's home this morning it was said the couple would take a two weeks' trip West."

This photograph of Bessie Cleveland was taken the same year she married Dr. Burke.  The Marie Burroughs Art Porfolio of Stage Celebrities 1894 (copyright expired)

When the couple returned to New York, they would be the only residents of No. 152.  Burke leased it directly from the Seaman family by now.  It was almost assuredly Burke who gave the house its charismatic 1890's touches--a copper hood with milk glass panels over the entrance, a delightful copper frame around the attic windows, and a Spanish tile faux roof.

The late Victorian upgrading left all the Greek Revival elements intact, including the doorway.

No doubt because of his wife's theatrical connections, many of his patients were well-known actors, theater owners and managers.  Among them were Edward Harrigan, former member of the blackface team of Harrigan & Hart and the owner of Harrigan's Theater on West 35th Street, and English-born actor William Faversham, who went on to play in motion pictures.

One of Dr. Burke's most unusual cases was that of Murray Hall.   Hall was well known in political and club circles.  He had arrived in New York around 1871 and opened an employment bureau on Sixth Avenue at 23rd Street.  The Evening World described him a "a good fellow who liked to buy drinks for his friends of either sex, who was willing to fight even if he weighed but 115 pounds; was an ardent Democrat and an active worker for Tammany Hall...His voice was deep and his walk and actions masculine, though his face was devoid of whiskers."  He had been twice married and he lived with an adopted daughter, Imelda Hall.

On December 6, 1900 Dr. Burke was called to Murray Hall's home.  He knew Hall by sight, but had never before attended to him professionally.  Hall told him he was suffering "from cancer of the breast" and wanted a prescription.  Burke later recalled, "'I said 'Take off your shirt,' and took off my coat and rolled up my sleeves preparatory to making a proper examination.'"  But Hall steadfastly refused.  Burke said he "regarded it as peculiar, but left, and a few days afterward was called in again."

Once again Hall demanded a prescription.  And once again Burke said "it was impossible unless I could make a complete examination."  Hall refused to remove his shirt, and declared that "cancer could not be cured anyway."  Burke did not prescribe medication and chalked up Hall's refusal to be examined to "crankiness."

The [Cincinnati] Enquirer, January 22, 1901 (copyright expired)

The mystery was cleared up a month later when Murray Hall died.  It was then discovered that he was a transsexual who had been living as a man for decades.  Gender identity issues were not understood and certainly not spoken of at the turn of the last century--explaining Hall's terror at the prospect of removing his shirt and exposing his secret.  Newspapers across the country, of course, published long articles about him which made his case sound freakish.  Somewhat tragically, Hall was buried in a dress.

In 1913 The New York Sun reported that the Seaman family had sold No. 152 West 11th Street, noting, "This is the first sale of this property since 1854."  It was purchased by John Lowe and his wife.  She was an ardent suffragist, and the Manhattan Borough Assembly District Leader of the Woman Suffrage Party of the City of New York.  She routinely held meetings in the house, like the "canvassing bee" held here on April 27, 1915.

The Lowes' residency was short-lived.  By the outbreak of World War I the family of Michael J. Coxe lived here.   He and his wife, the former Elizabeth Wentworth, had seven children.

When the family moved into the 11th Street house, son Thomas was a police officer.  With the outbreak of war, his brother Edward G. Coxe, joined the U.S. Army.  A private in Company D of the 165th Infantry, he was deployed to France.  There, on July 28, 1918 his unit was engaged in battle at Ferme de Meurcy.  According to Heroes All! in 1919, "He continued to care for the wounded under heavy machine-gun and artillery fire after he himself was severely injured."  Coxe died from his wounds and was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

Thomas Coxe retired from the Police Department as a lieutenant and in 1918 took a position as bodyguard to Mayor John F. Hylan for a few years.  It was apparently a warm working relationship, and on May 17, 1925, in reporting on a parade for the mayor, the Brooklyn newspaper The Standard Union noted:

During one of the halts in the parade, Mayor Hyland had a brief chat.  This was when the column neared 152 West Eleventh street, the home of ex-Lieut. Thomas Cox[e], a retired policeman, who several years ago was a member of the Mayor's bodyguard.  While the column stood at ease, the Mayor, Lieut. Quinn and Sinnott approached the house and were introduced to the members of the ex-policeman's family.

Within the decade the house became home to magazine publisher and editor, Seward Collins and his wife, author Dorothea Brande.  Dorothea taught creative writing courses from the house in the mid-1930's.  In 1936 one of her novels, Wake Up And Live, was purchased by 20th Century-Fox.  The subsequent movie starred Claire Trevor, Patsy Kelly and Jack Haley.  The couple lived here at least into the 1940's.

The charming little house has never been converted to apartments.  The only one of the 1836 row not to have had its attic level raised to full height, its storybook presence is a delight on the picturesque block.

photographs by the author

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Allen and Sarah Linn House - 37 West 94th Street


Jessie Reynolds made a name for herself in New York City's male-dominated real estate field in the 1880's.  Focusing mostly on the developing Upper West Side, she bought and sold properties and was responsible for the construction of rows of homes.  In 1886 she hired architect W. Holman Smith to design six residences on the north side of West 94th Street, between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue.  His plans, filed in September, projected the cost of construction at $14,000 each, or about $392.000 today.

The 18-foot wide Queen Anne style homes, completed in 1887, were configured in a balanced A-B-C-C-B-A pattern.  No. 37 was one of the B models.  The basement and parlor levels were clad in rough-cut brownstone, while the upper floors were faced in red brick.  

Smith's innovative stoop design was two-fold.  The wide first step was protected by dramatic stone wing walls, one of which curved outward.  Whimsical iron stoop railings--the essence of the Queen Anne style--flanked the upper section.

The double-doored entrance sat within an arched opening, and a vast window flooded the parlor with sunlight.  Even more eye-catching than the pressed metal cornice with its bold swan's neck pediment and finial was the decorative ledge under the center top floor window.  Its carved support took the form of a fearsome winged demon.

The house became home to the Kinnier family.  Like all families along the block they maintained a domestic staff, among whom was Dora Wichers.  The city suffered a stifling heat wave in September 1897, prompting The Brooklyn Daily Eagle to entitle an article "Hottest Sept. 11 Since 1874."  Nearly a century before air conditioning and electric fans, conditions were especially distressing for servants who toiled in the kitchens.  In reporting on the heat the article noted that Dora Wichers had been overcome and hospitalized.

Elizabeth Bryan Kinnier died at the age of 46 in November 1902.  The house was sold to Royal E. Deane and his wife, the former Elizabeth Stuart, on July 2, 1907.

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

Just four months after moving into the 94th Street house, Deane died at the age of 77.  The Metal Worker, Plumber and Steam Fitter noted that he "was a member of the New England Society and other clubs."

Deane left the bulk of his estate of Elizabeth, whose granddaughter, Marguerite E. Deane, threatened to contest the will.  The women seem to have initially come to an agreement, but on March 19, 1913 The Sun reported that Marguerite had filed suit "to compel her grandmother, Elizabeth Stuart Deane, of 37 West Ninety-fourth street, to pay her $125 a month for life."  The amount would equal about $3,300 a month today.

Elizabeth remained at No. 37 until October 1919 when she sold it to Allen and Sarah N. M. Linn.  Linn was a silk manufacturer and he and Sarah had three children, Kenneth A., Helen L., and Betty.

The Linns appeared in society columns over the years, but in 1930 Betty took the spotlight.  As Barnard College's school year drew to a close, The New York Sun noted that "Miss Betty Linn of New York is president of the senior class."  More importantly, on June 2 the newspaper reported that at graduation exercises, "Acting-Dean George W. Mullins will speak, as will also Miss Betty Linn, salutatorian."

Allen Linn died in 1943.  Sarah remained in the house for five years, moving to New Jersey in 1947.  Against all odds No. 37 West 94th Street was never converted to apartments and is still a private residence.  Because of that much of W. Holman Smith's wonderful Queen Anne interior elements survive.

Original woodwork survives (top).  Colorful glazed tiles create a hearth for the parlor fireplace.  photos via

non-credited photographs by the author

Monday, April 19, 2021

Today's Post

 Somehow today's post got published as April 12.  So you'll have to scroll backwards to find it.  "The Lost Croton Cottage."  Sorry about the inconvenience.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Farrar & Thompson's 1929 200 West 16th Street


Henry Mandel started his career in his father's real estate development business, erecting tenement buildings.  But following World War I the Mandel Companies erected progressively larger, more elaborate projects.  His aggressive building plans culminated in 1929 when he laid plans for the block-engulfing London Terrace project on West 23rd Street and four architecturally similar apartment buildings on each of the corners of Seventh Avenue and 16th Street.

The Great Depression derailed Mandel's plans for the "Chelsea Corners" project and only three were built, all designed by Farrar & Thompson.  The architects married the Gothic and Jazz ages to create striking brick, limestone and terra cotta delights.

No. 200 West 16th Street, on the southwest corner, was 18 stories tall, plus a penthouse level, with 40 apartments per floor.  The two-story stone base, with stores along Seventh Avenue, was decorated with Gothic-style panels and whimsical tiles depicting mythical beasts.  The residential entrance was recessed within a Gothic arch and decorated with a square-headed drip molding, heraldic shields and another beast.  The upper floors rose to a set of dramatic Art Deco setbacks.

The building offered all the modern conveniences--uniformed doormen and elevator operators, a laundry in the basement, and electric refrigerators.  Prospective tenants had a variety of apartments from which to choose, from studios to larger suites.  The $40 rent for a studio apartment would equal about $670 per month today.

Among the initial studio apartment tenants were John C. Maurer, Jr. and his wife.  That they lived in a studio is somewhat surprising, since Maurer was the son of "Celery Jack" Maurer.  Maurer Sr. had begun his career as a fruit and vegetable shipper in Rochester, New York.  At a time when celery was not commonly used, he promoted it, becoming a pioneer in the celery industry and one of the largest celery distributors in the United States.  By the time he and his wife moved into the building, John Maurer, Jr. was the general manager of the firm.

The couple had not lived here long before Mrs. Maurer began noticing a peculiar recurring incident.  She would dutifully make up the Murphy bed every morning, fold it away, but then upon returning later in the afternoon would find it unfolded.  The mystery was solved when she came home unexpectedly in the spring of 1931.  She later explained, "One afternoon just about tea time I returned to our studio at 200 West 16th Street and found the bed unfolded and the lights lit, and my husband and a young woman there who was certainly not myself."

On May 7, 1931 the Daily News entitled an article "Celery Heir's Wife Sues Over Freaky Folding Bed."  According to the article she told the judge that when she walked in, her husband "was clad in gold pajamas and a lounging robe, while his fair companion had on less than a movie queen in a De Mille bathroom scene."  The couple divorced.

Another well-known tenant was Ed Frayne, the sports editor of the New York American.  He and close friends and associates Damon Runyon and Bill Farnsworth promoted boxing, most notably through the Hearst Milk Fund.  They lobbied promoters and managers to arrange fights, often at Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds, to benefit the fund. 

Frayne's apartment was the setting of Damon Runyon's wedding to actress Patrice Amati Del Grande on July 7, 1932.  Mayor James J. Walker performed the ceremony which, according to The New York Times, "took place in the presence of many sports writers and friends of the couple."  Runyon's first wife, Ellen, had died the previous year and his teen-aged daughter, Mary, was present at the ceremony.

The newlywed Runyons pose after the ceremony.  To the right of the bride is Mayor Walker and to her left is her husband's daughter, Mary.  from the collection of the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation.

Another newspaperman living here was Lyman Worthington, an advertising representative of The Daily News.  His wife was novelist and short-story writer Marjorie Muir Worthington.  Close friends of the Worthingtons were journalist William Buehler Seabrook and his wife, Katherine.  

William Seabrook and Marjorie Worthington had met in Paris in 1926.  By 1932 when Seabrook laid plans for a new book on Africa, he had added explorer and occultist to his resume (in the 1920's he traveled to West Africa where he encountered a tribe of cannibals, later obtaining human flesh from a hospital which he cooked and ate).

When Seabrook again left for Africa to do research for a book in 1932, he took Marjorie Worthington along.  It was a hint of things to come.  On September 20, 1935, The New York Times wrote, "The marriage eight months ago of William Seabrook, author of books of travel and adventure, to Mrs. Marjorie Worthington, novelist and short-story writer, was revealed here last night.  At about the same time, it was learned, Mrs. Worthington's former husband married Mr. Seabrook's former wife."

A reporter arrived at the Worthington apartment at 200 West 16th Street, where Lyman confirmed he had married Patricia Seabrook "six or eight months ago," but would not give any other details.

Her marriage to Seabrook was Marjorie's third and this one, too, did not last.  She divorced him in 1941, citing "alcoholism and sadism."

Whimsical beasts decorate the 16th Street side.

Perhaps the most celebrated tenant of 200 West 16th Street was politician Vincent Richard Impellitteri.  Born in Sicily, he had married Elizabeth Agnes McLaughlin in 1926, two years after earning his law degree from Fordham Law School.   The couple moved into the four-room apartment 19-A in 1931.  

Impellitteri was appointed President of the City council by Mayor William O'Dwyer in 1945.  Because of his steadfast stand against organized crime and corruption, the Tammany bosses refused to back him in his run for mayor in 1950.  He forged ahead, running as an independent, with the slogan "unbought and unbossed."  He won, bucking the long established system.

On September 2, 1950, The New York Times reported that Elizabeth was being "deluged" by good wishes.  She told journalist Madeleine Loeb, "I went down to the corner grocery store to buy a quart of milk and it took me one hour.  Everyone from clerks to customers, all old friends and neighbors, wanted to congratulate me at once."

Vincent Impellitteri in his office and Elizabeth in their apartment in 200 West 16th Street.  She is displaying a tea service she said she would be taking to Gracie Mansion.  The New York Times, September 2, 1950

Helen Donaldson lived in the building by the early 1960's.  A character actress in television and on Broadway, she was as well, according The New York Times journalist Jean Hewitt, an "office manager for a leading woman's magazine, world traveler and cooking enthusiast."

Donaldson was well-known among her close friends for her homemade Genoise, a French butter spongecake, which she often served to her guests.  In an article published on June 8, 1964, Hewitt said that she "shares her apartment with a Siamese cat, prepares and serves her meals with care and entertains frequently at small dinner parties for six to eight and at large buffet parties."

Hewitt had come to 200 West 16th Street to interview the actress because her friends had finally convinced her to offer her Genoise for sale, at $8 each.  She cautioned she needed two day's notice on an order.

Donaldson's interest in cooking led her to collaborate with artist and professional dancer Jere McMahon--also an enthusiastic cook--in a cookbook, Measure for Measure.  It was written from a theatrical standpoint, with the preparatory steps of recipes labeled Act I, followed by Acts II and III.

Although the limestone base has been painted gray, 
Farrar & Thompson's playful Art Deco take on Gothic survives mostly unchanged along with its two fraternal twins on opposite corners.

photographs by the author

Friday, April 16, 2021

The Nearly-Lost 1844 Twins at 362 and 364 West 15th Street


Around 1842-44 the mirror-image brick houses at Nos. 232 and 234 West 15th Street were completed.  (They would be renumbered 362 and 364 in 1860.)  Three stories tall and three bays wide, they were designed in the Greek Revival style.  An unusual feature was the double horse-walk between the two stoops.  Tunneling through the houses to the rear yard, it provided access to accessory structures--small stables, shops or possibly houses for rental income--and was large enough to accommodate a cart.

In 1847 No. 362 was home to James Vandenburgh and his family.  A builder, it was possibly he who was responsible for the construction.  Thomas K. Mills, an embroidery merchant, lived next door that year.

Theodore Lavielle and his wife, the former Amelie Gervaize, followed Vandenburgh in No. 362.  Lavielle died at the age of 81 on December 7, 1853.  It was soon purchased by attorney Matthew Campbell.

Like all financially comfortable New Yorkers, the Campbells spent their summers in the country.  The unoccupied townhouses provided tempting opportunities to burglars.  
The Campbells extended their stay through September in 1857--a decision that nearly cost them dearly.

While making their rounds at around 4:30 in the morning on September 28 police officers Tuorney and Fischer noticed three "suspicious-looking men coming out of a vacant lot," as reported by the New-York Daily Tribune.  They were carrying a large bundle of "costly wearing apparel, valued at about $400."  (That amount would exceed $12,000 today.)  Upon further investigation, the officers discovered that a door in the rear of the Campbell house had been forced open.  "The house had been thoroughly ransacked, and a large quantity of goods had been packed up for removal," said the article.

The Rev. Joseph R. Mann moved into No. 364 around that year and would remain through 1861 when the McQuoid family took possession.  Robert McQuoid was a partner with his brother, William McQuoid, Jr., in Hudson River Pottery, the business started by their father in 1838.  It was located on West 12th Street and Tenth Avenue.  The brothers' widowed mother, Martha, lived in the house as well.  She died in the house on January 19, 1865 at the age of 83.

Interestingly, around that time William changed the spelling of his surname to Macquoid.    The firm's name was changed to William A. Macquoid & Co. around 1868.  In her 1879 book, The Ceramic Art, Jennie Young called it "the oldest [pottery] establishment in New York."  She explained, 

The only products, until within a year ago, were store-ware and glazed earthen-ware.  At that time the demand by decorators for terra-cotta in the choicest antique forms led the firm to add it to their list of productions.  The experiment was successful.  The paste is fine and well worked.

Mary Killmer moved into No. 362 around 1866.  She was the widow of Abiram P. Killmer, a dentist, who had died in 1857.  Living with her was her son, William G., who was employed as a clerk in the stationery manufacturing firm of J. Q. Preble & Co.

Mary took in boarders to make ends meet.  From 1872 to at least 1876 Barbara Evans lived in the house.  She taught in the Primary Department of Grammar School No. 11 on West 17th Street.  A widow, Margaret Highet, was here by 1879, as was Albert Demarest, a "boatman."  Given the female population of the main house, it is possible that Demarest lived in the rear building.

For at least a decade, starting around 1876, William D. Duyckinck and his family lived next door at No. 364.  He owned the Duyckinck & Co. gentlemen's furnishings store at No. 707 Broadway.  Like Mary Killmer, the Duyckincks took in boarders.  In 1886 William Lupton, an importer, and Matilda M. Ogden, the widow of E. D. Ogden, were boarding with the family.

Two years later No. 364 was converted to Ferdinand J. White's School of Religious Music.  He boasted the "large and fine-toned organ" and a "complete library of liturgical and musical works."  The school offered instruction not only in "every branch of choir and church music work," but in the "ceremonies of the church, the relation of the choir to the altar, chanting, [and] the liturgy."

Sadlier's Catholic Director, 1888 (copyright expired)

It appeared that the twin houses would not survive past the first decade of the 20th century.  On March 2, 1910 the New York Produce Review reported that Conron Bros. had purchased the entire block on Ninth Avenue from 14th to 15th Street, extending east to No. 357 on West 14th Street, and 362 on West 15th Street.

But if Conron Bros. had envisioned a large commercial structure on the site, it did not come to pass.  The two houses were converted for business, with the stoops being removed and the entrances lowered to street level.  The Ireland & Nelson Paper Company operated from No. 362 and the Park Trucking Company, Inc. was in No. 364.  

The double horsewalk is protected by heavy doors today.

The upper floors were rented as apartments.  In 1915 Fitz McCorney, an elevator operator at the Hotel McAlpin, and Dr. James T. Manchester, live in No. 362, for instance.

Manchester found himself in legal trouble in the summer of 1916.  A terrifying epidemic of infantile paralysis, or polio, swept the city that year.  On August 23 The New York Times reported that the 70-year-old had been arrested "on the charge of selling a fake cure for infantile paralysis."  He sold his mixture of alcohol, capsicum and sassafras for $1 a bottle (about $25 today), promising that it was a "sure cure for infantile paralysis and various other diseases."

Living in No. 362 during the Depression years was the Rioz family.  They received a shock on July 28, 1935.  The New York Post reported, "A ten-day-old baby girl with blue eyes and blonde hair was found last night outside her door by Mrs. Guadalupe Rioz...Mrs. Rioz turned the baby over the the New York Foundling Hospital."

In the summer of 2020 the Landmarks Preservation Commission held a hearing regarding a proposed glass and steel tower which would replace all but the facades of the Greek Revival structures at 351-355 West 14th Street and along Ninth Avenue.  The discussion included the comment "a pair of non-landmarked Greek Revival houses at 362-364 West 15th Street would likely not survive."  The proposal to gut the historic structures and to demolish the 15th Street twins was declined.

photographs by the author

Thursday, April 15, 2021

The 1889 Hornthal & Co. Building - 31 Bond Street

The brick-faced former mansion at No. 31 Bond Street was nationally infamous in 1887.  It had been the scene of the brutal murder of Dr. Harvey Burdell in 1857 and 30 years later no one had forgotten.  It was perhaps its gruesome reputation that resulted in a rapid turnover of owners.

On January 15, 1887 the Mutual Life Insurance Co. sold the property to Siegmund T. Meyer for $22,500.  Within four months he reaped a tidy profit by reselling it to John N. Hayward for $35,000.  The game of realty hot potato came to an end the following year, on  September 5, 1887, when Abraham Wolff purchased it for $36,000--just over $1 million in today's money.  Wolff was a founder of the investment banking firm Kuhn, Loeb & Co. and he recognized the changing personality--and opportunity--of the Bond Street neighborhood.

He hired the recently-organized firm of De Lemos & Cordes to design a replacement building.  The partnership of Theodore de Lemos and A. W. Cordes would go on to produce massive commercial buildings, like the Siegel-Cooper department store building on Sixth Avenue and the Macy's department store on Herald Square.  But their commission to replace the Bond Street house for Abraham Wolff would be significantly less grand.

Completed in 1889 the six-story loft and store building was faced in beige brick above a granite-and-iron base.  The upper floors were trimmed in brownstone and color-matching terra cotta.  The arched openings at the second and sixth floors and delicate decoration prompted the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide to deem the structure "a fine business building."

Federal style former mansions, with marble stoops and trim, survived on either side of the new building.  Real Estate Record & Guide, May 10, 1890 (copyright expired)

The initial tenant was Hornthal & Co., manufacturers of "coffins and caskets."  The firm was run by Joseph Hornthal, his brother-in-law Moses Hatch, and William J. Noble.  It held a patent on the innovative "ice casket."  Decades before air conditioning, when bodies lay for two days in the parlors of their former homes, conditions could become unpleasant in hot months.  The casket held a compartment to hold ice, helping to cool the body and slow decomposition.

This model also came with the amenity of a fold-up viewing window over the corpse's face.  (copyright expired)

Interestingly, before many years Hornthal & Co. would change from manufacturing coffins to building hearses.

Following the departure of Hornthal & Co., there were several tenants in the building at the century, all of them involved in the millinery or apparel trade.  In the first decade of the 20th century it was home to firms like Dauziger Bros., skirt manufacturers; A. Smith, hat "ornaments';" women's hat maker H. Seller; W. Tompkins & Co., makers of flowers and feathers for women's headgear; and the Paris Millinery Supply Manufacturer.

A. Smith manufactured accessories for apparel makers here.  The Illustrated Milliner, July 1910 (copyright expired)

Nothing changed until the Depression years when around 1935 Max Goldberg, a "dealer in rags," and Goldseal Textiles took over the building.   The two firms remained for four decades, until 1975 when Yasuko Harada purchased the building for the newly-organized Kampo Cultural Center, a branch of the Japan Calligraphy Education Federation.

The organization initiated a renovation, completed in 1987.  It resulted in a multipurpose gallery and recording space on the first floor, a recording studio on the second, a video room and classrooms on the third and four floors, and artists' joint living-working quarters on the two upper floors.

The first floor venue was the scene of presentations, like the concert in October 1987 by Japanese koto (Japanese zithers) player and composer Tsutomu Sakamoto.

A subsequent renovation, completed in 2019, resulted in offices throughout.  De Lemos & Cordes's handsome commercial building, which erased the memory of a grisly murder, survives with little change.

photograph by the author