Saturday, March 26, 2011

A House with a Past -- No. 266 West End Avenue

As French chateaux and Italian palazzi rose on the east side of Central Park in the 1890s, the west side was filling with whimsical Queen Anne row houses overflowing with gables, turrets and stained glass bay windows. For No. 266 West End Avenue, however, architect Rudolphe Daus designed a restrained French Renaissance residence that could easily be a home with its across-the-park contemporaries.

The Mexican-born architect was trained in the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts and had worked in the studios of both Richard Morris Hunt and George B. Post. His works would include the impressive Hoffman House Hotel, the Lincoln Club and Brooklyn’s 13th Regiment Armory.

Built for wealthy wine importer Julius N. Jaros, the 28-foot wide limestone home was completed in 1896. A juliette balcony at the third floor and another, full-length pierced and carved limestone balcony on the fourth floor added dimension to the otherwise flat façade. An especially lacy dormer rose from the tiled roof and elaborate carvings extended the entrance above the second story level.

The interior was lavishly decorated with French panels, ceiling and wall paintings, and carved woodwork. Stenciled panels nestled among a beamed dining room ceiling.

Ten years later the house became the property of Peter Doelger. The son of a successful brewer, Doelger lived here with his wife Charlotte and daughter Phoebe. In 1909 teas and receptions were hosted here as Phoebe entered society as a debutante.

On the day after Christmas in 1912, Doelger had the deed to the property transferred to his wife’s name.

“Yes, I thought Mrs. Doelger would like the house so I gave it to her for Christmas,” he told reporters. At the time the house was assessed at $70,000.

As World War I was coming to a close the mansion was home to Misha E. Applebaum and his wife, Irma. Born in Russia, Applebaum made his fortune as a copper and metals merchant but became famous by founding The Humanitarian Cult. The Cult, which held meetings in the house at No. 266, was a somewhat Socialist organization that fought for a variety of social causes including the fight against capital punishment, poverty, the war, and for women’s suffrage. Instead of dues or membership fees, aspiring members were directed to pay grocers’ and butchers’ bills for impoverished families.

Irma sued Applebaum for divorce in 1917 on the grounds of mental cruelty and two years later the house was sold. Subsequently, Applebaum married singer Helen Yorke in April of 1920 and later that year, in October, the couple were poisoned with bichloride of mercury. While the new Mrs. Applebaum recovered quickly, Misha was near death for some time.

Having spent over $650,000 of his own money for The Humanitarian Cult causes, Applebaum was in serious financial condition and in 1921 began a vaudeville act in an attempt to pay off his creditors.

By the 1930s, Beverly West, the sister of Mae West, was living in the house. West End Avenue lore insists that the screen and stage siren was also living here at the time, and quite possibly it is true. Certainly the interiors were of Miss West’s taste, mirroring her Los Angeles apartment that dripped with rococo curls and nude floating cherubs.

A decade later architect Harry Hurwit sympathetically renovated the building which had, by then, been converted to apartments. In 1948 there was a doctor’s office and apartment on the first floor, an apartment on the second and two apartments each on the remaining floors.

The proposed restored entranceway -- rendering provided by Andrew J. Hickes (
In 2004 plastic surgeon and filmmaker Todd Wider purchased the house for $1.2 million and began a long-term project to return it to a private residence. Amazingly, after 60 years of life as an apartment house, the interior detailing, the ceiling paintings and carved mantles, the oak staircase are all intact. When the renovation is complete the Jaros house will again have a ballroom, library and conservatories; although 21st Century touches like radiant heating, an elevator and a sauna and steam room will also be included.
The house today during renovation (left) and a detail of the proposed restored entrance -- renderings provided by Andrew J. Hickes (
The charming house with an interesting past was put on the market in 2010 for $30 million.


  1. Spectacular and the renderings do justice to that amazing building. Kudos all around!

  2. How does someone buy the house which needs major renovations for $1.2M in 2004 and then ask $30M in 2010 when the renovations are barely started? Were they ever finished? It’s a beautiful mansion and I would love an update on its status.

    The Applebaum story is terrific.

    1. The renovations are still on-going. If you Google Streetview it, you'll see a relatively recent view.

  3. Around 1977, I knew the couple who rented the second floor. We could walk up the beautiful oak staircase or take the two-person elevator! Once inside their apt, the narrow entry was small, with a closet-size kitchen on the right and another small room for an office on the left. You would then walk into an absolutely immense living room with a 15-20 foot ceiling! Their bedroom was in the back of the apartment, as well as a step-up-into tiny bathroom (both off the living room). They paid $300 per month with a lease! I'll never forget it. What an amazing building, and yes, they said Mae West had lived there.

  4. CNN report on a couple who lived at this address in 1971 - image of them in the front door way.

  5. I keep walking by this building and wondering about it!! It's under scaffolding, so it's been hard to see, and I would intend to search for it, and forget. Today I passed it again, and vowed to search. Absolutely fascinating! Thanks!!