Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The 1850 Isaac Dayton House -- No. 459 West 24th Street

photo by Alice Lum
The 1811 Commissioners Plan that laid out on paper the grid of streets and avenues above 14th Street foreshadowed the end of the sprawling country estates like Chelsea Farm.    The estate was named after the London church, Chelsea Old Church, attended by Clement Clarke Moore’s grandfather, Thomas Clarke.

Now Moore began parceling off the family estate.   In 1818 he donated 66 tracts of land for the establishment of the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church.   The rest, over a period of years, he would sell for development.

Beverly Robinson was the lawyer of the Clarke and Moore families as well as a close friend.   In 1820 he acquired the land stretching along the 24th street block from 10th to 9th Avenues. Robinson recognized the potential of the land as the city crept northward, and this was merely a portion of the former farmland that the shrewd attorney gradually bought up as investment.

In 1845 the magnificent row of Greek Revival townhouses, called London Terrace and designed by Alexander Jackson Davis, was completed on the corresponding block of 23rd Street as the Chelsea neighborhood rapidly developed.

Robinson sold the 24th Street land to George F. Talman on April 24, 1849; retaining an interest in the speculative homes to be built there.   Talman wasted no time.  The pair commissioned local builder Philo V. Beebe to erect a series of twelve paired brick homes that same year.    Completed in 1850, they sat back from the sidewalk behind a cast iron fence.   This gave the houses—like the elegant London Terrace homes—front yards; a luxury in Manhattan.

Among the series of mirror-image rowhouses was No. 459, at the left and now painted cream-colored -- photo by Alice Lum
The six pairs were constructed as mirror images, so each shared a stoop, divided by a centered common handrail.  Sitting above a rusticated brownstone English basement, the three-story homes were designed essentially in the widespread Greek Revival style; however there were touches of the new Italianate trend.

Isaac Dayton, a lawyer, purchased No. 459 nearly before the paint was dry, in March 1850.  Born in New York in 1819, the politically-active Dayton was also involved in the growing community.  He was at different times a school trustee of the 16th Ward, an Alderman, Assemblyman, a Public Administrator, and the Chairman of the Republican County Committee.

On April 3, 1856 he chaired a meeting at the 16th Ward Republic Hall at 8th Avenue and 16th Street.  The purpose of the meeting was to form an effective Republic Club to work for the upcoming political campaign.

But Dayton had other things on his mind as well.  The New York Tribune reported that “Mr. Dayton made a stirring and telling speech, bearing more particularly upon the Slavery question than upon any other of the party issues of the day.”   The newspaper said that Dayton gave “a brief and succinct history of the growth of the interest in that question from the time of its first agitation by party leaders to the present day.”

Dayton’s address was prompted by the debate on whether Kansas should be admitted into the Union as a free or slave-owning state.  The attorney was clear on his opinion that “the admission of Kansas as a Free State is imperatively demanded by every principle of right and justice, and that the Free State party in endeavoring to secure that object has entitled itself to the warmest sympathies of the freeman of the nation.”

The election that year was an extremely heated one.  Democrat James Buchanan condemned the Republicans as extremists and warned that their stand against slavery would end in Southern rebellion.  Republican John C. Fremont aggressively campaigned against the expansion of slavery into Kansas and Nebraska.   Isaac Dayton would attend the Republican State Convention that year as Secretary.

The successful attorney was a member of the Union, Manhattan, South Side Sportsmen’s, and the Olympic Clubs.  He lived in the house at No. 459 with his wife and two sons for about two decades before moving to No. 334 West 23rd Street.

Before long the house was updated with a new entrance door in the fashionable Queen Anne style.  Around this time it became a boarding house, home to school teachers like Miss Jane E. Hughes who lived here in 1888 while she taught in the primary department of Grammar School No. 33 at No. 428 West 28th Street.  In 1890 Margaret M. Hughes was living here.  She taught in the Boys’ Department of Grammar School No. 32 at No. 357 West 35th Street.

The house was gently updated with a new door.  A Oriental carved fan, all the vogue, and applied carving below the high window were the latest style -- photo by Alice Lum

A variety of respectable boarders lived here in the next few years.  Civil engineer Alexander Rice McKim was here in 1892; Dr. Louis Neumann, Assistant in Physiology at Cornell University lived here for around a decade starting in 1901; and sculptor Louis A. Gudebrod was here by 1904.

At the time Louis Alfred Gudebrod  was only 32 years old, but had studied under Augustus St. Gaudens, Jean Dampt and Mary Lawrence, as well as having had a studio in Paris where he modeled a statue of General William Tecumseh Sherman which was shown at the 1900 Paris Exhibition.  Louis Comfort Tiffany commissioned him to design the mermaid base for his Nautilus lamp. 

Early in his stay at No. 357 he sculpted a statue of the French explorer LaSalle which he entered in the St. Louis Exhibition.   The sculptor was serious about his art and, apparently, serious about his reputation as well.

In 1904 the city of Richmond, Virginia hosted a competition to design an equestrian statue of Confederate cavalryman General J. E. B. Stuart.   Gudebrod was among the top three finalists; however Fred Moynihan received the commission.     The competition became the topic of conversation at the Arts Club in June and artist Gutzon Borglum “made statements reflecting on Gudebrod personally and professionally,” said The New York Times.

Gudebrod filed suit for slander against his fellow artist for $50,000.

Louis Gudebrod would go on to design the monument at the site of the Civil War prison at Andersonville, Georgia, the Mayflower tablet at the Hartford State Capitol, the bas-relief of Governor Alfred E. Smith at the New York State Office Building in Buffalo and a tablet of Nathan Hale in Coventry, Connecticut among many other works.

Tragedy struck No. 459 on December 4, 1921 when 72-year old Madeline Holeyer was cooking in her apartment here.  The woman’s dress caught fire and she ran screaming into the hallway.  Although her husband and several neighbors smothered the flames, she was fatally burned and died at Bellevue Hospital later that night.

One of the familiar faces here at the time was Dr. William C. Gilley.  Dr. Gilley had earned his medical degree from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1885.  He lived quietly with his wife, collecting historical materials relating to New York City.   Mrs. Gilley died in 1923, leaving the doctor alone with his priceless collections and no relatives.

When Dr. Gilley died at the age of 81 on June 22, 1933, his apartment was filled with the irreplaceable collection of books, pamphlets, photographs and etchings he had accumulated over decades.   Having no family, he bequeathed the invaluable compilation to the Museum of the City of New York.

The handsome block of matching, paired homes sit reservedly back from the sidewalk.  Because the residential block is lightly-traveled, the houses are not widely known. -- photo by Alice Lum
Isaac Dayton’s house remains a multi-family residence today; but it is one of the least-changed of the original group.   Each of the houses along the charming set-back row was given individual landmark designation in September 1970.  The Landmarks Preservation Commission praised No. 459 and its neighbors saying that “the uniform setback behind planted front yards and the generally uniform cornice line provide a welcome sense of human scale in a streetscape dominated by large housing developments.”

thanks to reader Simone for suggesting this post.

No comments:

Post a Comment