Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Block That Refused to Update -- East 64th Street, Madison to Park Avenues

East 64th Street, between Madison and Park Avenues, was lined with speculative four-story brownstones by the late 19th century. -- photo by Alice Lum
The Upper East Side underwent a building boom in the 1870s and 1880s as comfortable brownstone homes were erected for middle and upper-middle class families.  But as the city’s millionaires moved northward along Fifth Avenue, these traditional, now-out-dated homes were demolished to make way for more lavish structures.

Most of them were, anyway.

As mansions were rising on the nearby avenues in 1898, Dr. William Horatio Bates was living contentedly at No. 50 East 64th Street, between Madison and Park Avenues.  The narrow brownstone—only two bays wide—was a match to its next door neighbor at No. 48.  The twin houses had been built on speculation in a modified Italianate style.
Houses like Dr. Bates's at No. 50 (left) was built with successful, professional buyers in mind -- photo by Alice Lum

Dr. Bates’ house sat high above an English basement; eleven brownstone steps rose up to the parlor floor.   Oaken doors with a beveled glass transom sat snugly-protected by a carved stone entranceway.  A rigidly angled bay at the second floor was decorated with foliate panels.

Details of the Bates house were up-to-the-minute style-wise -- photo by Alice Lum
It was the perfect home for a successful yet not overly-wealthy professional.   And while the neighborhood changed, Dr. Bates’ house did not.  As the 20th century dawned, Robert I. Jenks razed the old brownstone two houses away at No. 54 and replaced it with a stylish neo-Georgian home with an up-to-date American basement plan.  Directly across the street limestone-clad Beaux Arts and French Gothic residences rose.
When Robert Jenks built his neo-Georgian home where brownstones had been, he no doubt expected other millionaires to follow suit; they didn't. -- photo by Alice Lum
In the meantime, William Bates practiced his medicine and wrote.  Excerpts from his “Suprarenal Therapy” were printed in the March 24, 1900 issue of The Medical News and he was author of several other medical publications.

John Bradley Cumings purchased the house around 1904.  Cumings and his wife, the former Florence B. Thayer, moved to New York in 1902 from Boston.  The broker became a member of the firm of Cumings & Marckwald at 36 Wall Street.  Before long he held a directorship in the Subsurface Torpedo Boat Company, manufacturers of military submarines.  His financial success was mirrored in his several club memberships:  The Racquet, Metropolitan, Riding and the Knollwood Country Club.
Further down the block, other attractive residences hang on -- photo by Alice Lum
In January 1912 the couple sailed to Europe for a brief stay.  For their return voyage, they opted for the best.  On April 10th they boarded a luxurious new ocean liner in Southampton that carried 2,200 passengers and was reportedly the last word in transatlantic travel. 

It was named the RMS Titanic.

Aida M. Seaman, who sometimes hyphenated her last name as Seaman-Bates, moved in next.  She was active in charities, including the New York Infirmary for Women and Children.  In 1914, quite surprisingly, the south side of the block where Aida lived still retained nearly all of its old, outdated brownstone houses.

Dr. E. Neustadt owned No. 50 in the 1945, when he sold it to Major Edward D. Stone.  It would be the end of the line for the house as a private dwelling.  Stone was an architect, the head of Edward D. Stone Associates, and he announced his intention to “remodel the four-story house to provide for his offices on the two lower floors and his residence on the upper floors.”

In 1958 the house became the design headquarters and showroom of Luten-Clarey-Stern, importers and interior designers.   By now the north side of the block was filled mostly with hulking, high-end apartment houses and the Hotel Plaza Athenee.  Yet No. 50 remained unchanged.
Rainbows of light fall on the foyer floor from the beveled glass overlight -- photo by Alice Lum
“A magnificent brass doorknob from India and a shiny brass plaque that spells Luten-Clarey-Stern are the only indications that a brownstone at 50 East Sixty-fourth Street differs from the many others in New York City,” reported Noelle Mercanton in The New York Times.

For a time in the 1960s the old house was home to the Royal Marks Gallery.  Today Dr. Bates’ comfortable brownstone house has been renovated into apartments, with a bookstore in the English basement.
photo by Alice Lum
While the great middle bulk of the south side of the block retains its 19th century brownstones, most have been heavily altered.  Even the twin house next door has lost its stoop, its door frame and its oak doors.  That the houses should remain at all, however, in this neighborhood where wealthy Edwardians made fashionable improvements, is quite surprising.

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