Thursday, January 31, 2013

The J. A. Murray House -- No. 57 E. 66th Street

photo by Alice Lum
Among the row of comfortable brownstone residences built in the decade after the end of the Civil War along East 66th Street near Central Park was No. 57.  Designed by J. H. Valentine and completed in 1877, it was originally the home of Ira E. Doying.   Henry V. D. Black and his wife, Jennie Prince Black, moved into the house in 1890.  It was Mrs. Black who was most well-known.  A composer and musician, she penned nearly 100 compositions.

The block was populated by upper class citizens and one can imagine an Irish-born servant girl pushing open the pocket doors to the Black’s parlor and arranging the silver card tray on the entrance hall table in preparation for Jennie Black’s afternoon teas.  The New York Times made note on January 25, 1893 that “Mrs. Black will receive on Fridays in January and February.”

But by the turn of the century, things were changing in the neighborhood.  On December 22, 1900 The New York Times reported on movements in the Fifth Avenue district.  William Sloane, it said, had bought four lots from Andrew Carnegie on 91st Street and hinted that “he has bought the lots as the site for two fine residences which he will build for members of his family.”  The article gave an update on the Carnegie mansion “now in course of construction,” and a purchase by John Jacob Astor.

Along with other transactions, the newspaper reported that Mrs. Jennie P. Black had sold “the four-story brownstone-front dwelling, 57 East Sixty-sixth Street.”

The rising neo-Georgian Carnegie mansion would be among the first of the grand homes that departed from the lush Italian or French palaces with limestone or marble facades.   Its red brick with contrasting white stone trim would set a trend of dignity and reserve.

The same materials would be used in the new house John Archibald Murray would erect on the site of the Black residence.   Murray commissioned architect Augustus N. Allen to design the mansion.  Construction on the four-story home began in 1901.  Allen’s design melded neo-French Classic with English Georgian styling to produce a distinguished result.  The rusticated base with its columned portico would be at home in the Mayfair section of London; while the limestone frames of the second story windows dripped with carved swags.

Construction was completed in 1902.  Before long Murray and his wife, the former Alice Rathbone of Albany, had two daughters, Leslie and Barbara.   The socially-prominent Murrays would entertain some of New York’s most elite families in the house; including the debutante receptions and teas for both girls.

After Leslie’s introduction to society in 1917, she busied herself as a nurse’s aide in various hospitals throughout the city during the war years.   A member of the Junior League, she caught the eye of the dashing and eligible Major Lewis Stuyvesant Chanler, Jr.—a descendant of John Jacob Astor.

On February 8, 1920 the New-York Tribune mentioned that “One of the interesting engagements announced during the week was that of Miss Leslie Murray, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J. Archibald Murray, of 57 East Sixty-sixth Street, to Lewis Stuyvesant Chanler, Jr.”  Chanler, who was a member of exclusive Knickerbocker and Racquet Clubs, had served in the 321st Field Artillery.

When the pair was married on April 17 of that year, the Tribune noted that the “wedding united two of New York’s oldest families.”  The social importance of the event was emphasized by the appearance of Flora Payne Whitney as a bridesmaid.  The reception was held in the 66th Street house.

The following year, in December, the Murrays hosted a dinner party for debutante daughter Barbara.  It was followed by a dance at the John Henry Hammond mansion.

With both daughters gone in 1927 John and Alice Murray sold their house.   It became home to Francis D. Bartow, his wife and two sons.  Bartow was a Vice President of J. P. Morgan and would soon hold a directorship with the General Electric Company.

Two years after the Bartows moved in the Great Depression swept the country.   In stark contrast to the their stately brick and limestone home, shanties of the homeless began appearing in small groups under bridges and in parks.   As part of its “war-against depression campaign,” the American Federation of Labor initiated a “block aid” movement.   Pledges were sought from between 10 cents to $1 per week for twenty weeks “to assist those of the needy unemployed who have not been aided by public or private agencies.” 

The Times reported on April 1, 1932 “From ‘Tin Mountain City,’ comprising four acres of shacks and emergency shelters in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, to the towering apartments of Beekman Hill in Manhattan the work of recruiting block-aiders and of obtaining pledges went on at an accelerated pace.”  The article said that the first three days of the campaign had resulted in $2,214,395 in pledges.

“The first family to be placed officially on the honor list was that of F. B. Bartow, 57 East Sixty-sixth Street,” said The Times.  “Mr. and Mrs. Bartow, their two children and eight servants had subscribed.”

Change to Francis Bartow’s professional career came in 1941.  On June 28 it was announced that Charles D. Dickey, also a Vice President of J. P. Morgan & Co., had succeeded him as director of General Electric—a post Bartow had held since 1934.  Three days later Bartow resigned his vice presidency of J. P. Morgan; although he retained his directorship.

Francis Dwight Bartow’s retirement would be short-lived.  In 1945 he died at the family’s winter home, Brewton Plantation, near Charleston, South Carolina.    His widow lived on in the 66th Street house with her two sons until Clarence Whittemore Bartow married Elizabeth Vaux Ingersoll Woolston in Tuxedo Park on November 12, 1949.  Clarence had served for four and a half years in the Pacific and Japan with the Army, earning the rank of captain.  By now was a partner in Drexel & Co. and a vice president of the Bond Club of New York.

Clarence’s brother, Francis D. Bartow, Jr., however, never married.  A partner in Bartow, Leeds & Co., dealers in Federal, state and municipal bonds, he remained in the house on 66th Street with his mother.   He died in New York Hospital at the age of 54 on March, 17, 1962.

A starkly different chapter in the life of the venerable home at No. 57 East 66th Street in 1974 when it was purchased by artist Andy Warhol for $310,000.  The mansion was found for him by Jed Johnson, a young man from Sacramento who had swept floors in Warhol’s “Factory” and eventually moved in with the artist and his mother on Lexington Avenue.  

He shared the 66th Street house with Warhol, who gave him carte blanche to decorate it with antique furniture and vintage art objects.  Warhol did not hang any of his own artwork in his house.  (This was Jed Johnson’s first real attempt at decorating and it would lead to his working with first-ranked architects and clients like Mick Jagger, Richard Gere, and Barbra Streisand.)

Johnson, who would die in the crash of TWA Flight 800 over Long Island Sound in 1996, moved out after a few years.  Andy Warhol now lived here alone, making it his private, personal territory.  Few were invited into the house, including his most personal friends.  Warhol’s love of collecting soon overran Johnson’s stately interiors.  One friend, Ed Hayes, told New York Magazine in 1988 that “you had to climb over things” to move through the house.

After Warhol’s death in 1987 four curators spent months going through the items, cataloguing more than 6,000 pieces ranging from cookie jars to Salvador Dali and Norman Rockwell paintings.

The real estate listing in 1991 defended the $3 million price tag: four bedrooms, 6.5 bathrooms, two kitchens, two parlors, library, entrance gallery, 11 fireplaces, two roof terraces and an elevator.

The price seemed reasonable to Spanish couple Adolfo Barnaton and Elena Benaroche who purchased the house that same year.  But they never moved in.  Two years later they sold it for $3.35 million, and in January 2000 it was sold again, this time to Chairman of MTV Tom Freston, for $6.5 million.

A plaque commemorated 13 of the 121-years of history in the house in 1998.
On August 6, 1998 to mark Andy Warhol’s 70th birthday a plaque was affixed to the façade to remember his residency here.   The snub to the Murray and Bartow families is, perhaps, expected.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The 1930 Perera House -- No. 49 E. 80th Street

At first glance the house might seem rather ordinary.  A closer look reveals an Art Deco rarity -- photo by Alice Lum
The Great Depression did not totally put an end to the erection of private mansions in Manhattan; but it certainly slowed things down.   Another factor contributing to the decrease in large home construction was the increasing popularity of “swell” modern apartment houses—free of the bother and cost of maintaining private mansions.  In 1930 only four Manhattan townhouses were built; but one of them would be like no other.  

Born in Venice in 1873, Lionello Perera immigrated to New York at the age of 21.   Two years later, in 1896, the ambitious young man established the private banking firm of Lionello Perera & Co., by taking over the business of his uncle, Salvatore Cantoni.   Cantoni & Co. had been in business since 1862.

Perera became one of the leading Italian bankers in the city.  He married Carolyn Allen and during the first world war, the couple worked tirelessly.  They helped establish the Italian Division of the American Red Cross and Lionello served as chairman of the Italian section of the foreign division of the Liberty Loan drives.

By 1929 his bank had merged with the Bank of America  and earned a seat on the board.  Now nearing retirement, as other Manhattan millionaires were having second thoughts about building new homes, Perera instead made plans.   He demolished the house of the socially-prominent William Adams Brown family at No. 49 East 80th Street and commissioned Harry Allan Jacobs to design an up-to-the-minute townhouse.

Despite the Depression, New York was smack in the middle of the Jazz Age, echoed by the geometric lines of the Art Deco style.  The face of Manhattan was being transformed with the sleek buildings of Rockefeller Center, the Chrysler Building, Empire State Building, and swanky Park Avenue apartment buildings.  Jacobs turned to the cutting edge style for the Perera house.

Completed in 1930 and perhaps the only Art Deco private residence in Manhattan, Lionello and Carolyn Perera’s house was like no other.  The architect told a reporter for The New York Times that the house reflected “a modernistic spirit in decorations as well as in materials, as representative of this materialistic, artificial and practical age.”

A stylish carved frieze in a sort of sea wave pattern separated the ground and second floors and would be more expected on a Madison Avenue office building.   An Art Deco grill protected the entrance door.  Jacobs relieved the otherwise severe rough-brick façade with creative brickwork—a band of sawtooth bricks sandwiched between terra cotta, and a zig-zagged cornice created entirely of brick.

photo by Alice Lum
Jacobs designed the interior appointments as well.  Lighting sconces and chandeliers took the forms of shells, geometric shapes and scrolls.   Stark black and white marble floors were laid in a checkerboard pattern.

The Pereras had five children, but already they were preparing to move on.  A year after their moving in, son Dr. Charles Allen Perera married Ruth Hoopes Brinton; and in 1933 the entire city took notice when a double wedding took place in the house.

On October 14 Lionello Jr. married Dorothy Fern Bittel, and daughter Nina married Charles Wood Collier. The brides wore near-matching gowns in the widely-publicized ceremony.   The Pereras hosted a wedding breakfast in the house immediately afterward.

Lionello Perera had retired in 1932 and he and Carolyn threw themselves into their charity and social works.   Mayor Fiorello La Guardia appointed Lionello to the Child Welfare Board of New York, and he became vice president of the Italian-American Chamber of Commerce.   Carolyn founded the Italian Welfare League in New York, was the head of the Henry Street Settlement Music School and with her husband helped to found the East Harlem Health Center.  Her love of music led her to help found the Toscanini Memorial Archives; and she sat on the board of the Marlboro Music School.

The social entertainments held in the 80th Street house were most often connected with one of the charities.  Carolyn hosed a reception, for instance, on November 16, 1934 for the benefit of the Italian Welfare League; on April 1, 1940 she held a musicale in the house to provide scholarships for war refugees; and on March 14, 1942 she gave a tea for the Henry Street Settlement.

A month after that tea Lionello Perera was traveling on the Congressional Limited train to Pennsylvania Station when he suffered a heart attack.    The 69-year old millionaire was treated at the station when the train arrived at 8:10 p.m.; but he died thirty minutes later.

By January of the following year Carolyn Perera had returned to her routine of charity entertainments, hosting a meeting a tea for the benefit of the Grenfell Association of America.  Shortly thereafter, however, she moved to No. 51 East 91st Street, selling the house to Walter Edward Sachs.

Sachs was the grandson of Marcus Goldman who founded Goldman, Sachs & Company in 1869.   He was initially dissuaded from entering the family business because his two older brothers were already partners.  Walter’s parents set him on the career path of an attorney.  He attended Harvard Law School with what The New York Times called “disappointing results” and in 1905 he went to work at Goldman, Sachs.  Perhaps surprisingly to his family his financial skills, unlike his legal talents were exceptional.  He was credited with playing a leading role in bringing the firm through the stock market crash and making it one of the foremost investment banking houses in the world.  He would later be one of the first financiers to make an extended visit to the Soviet Union.

Walter and Mary Sachs’s second child, Philip Williamson Sachs, was born in 1949 and the couple's life seemed outwardly quite happy.  Like the Pereras, they were highly involved with social and charitable causes and Sachs was a participant in the development of the N.A.A.C.P.

What seemed a contented marriage ended in 1961 with Mary staying on in the 80th Street house for a time.

In the meantime, a young girl from Brooklyn was making a name for herself on Broadway.  Barbara John Streisand, who changed her name to Barbra, had appeared on stage and in television but it was not until 1962 that her fame began to skyrocket.  That year she first appeared on Broadway in I Can Get It for You Wholesale, she appeared on The Tonight Show and her first album, The Barbra Streisand Album, won two Grammy Awards in 1963.

By 1969 she was a major star.  But she could not rent an apartment in Manhattan.  She was not only an actress, she was Jewish.

“I have been looking for an apartment in New York City for some three years,” she told The New York Times in December 1969.  “Immediately agents eliminated specific buildings from my consideration, presumably because of my religious background or occupation.”  When she presented a letter on her behalf from Governor Rockefeller to the board of No. 1021 Park Avenue, she was still rejected.  The lease on the 20-room apartment was $240,000.  Mrs. Thomas A. Halleran, the wife of one of the building’s directors said that Streisand was turned down because she was “a flamboyant type.”

Finally the actress and singer gave up.  She purchased the house at No. 49 East 80th Street for $420,000.  “This house represents a compromise for me,” she told reporters, “I’ve never wanted to live in a house.  But I’m going ahead with it anyway.”

Streisand filled the house with her cranberry glass collection, decorated the room of her 3-year old son Jason, with a vintage ice cream parlor bar, gum machine and penny candy and spool cabinet.  She replaced the windows of his playroom with the leaded glass panels from a Victorian gazebo that she purchased from the set of “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.”

Architectural purists no doubt cringed when The New York Times reported that she intended to paint the walnut paneling in the library red.  “The wood is ugly.  It should be lacquered a rose color.  No, we don’t have to remove the paneling, just paint over it.”

Streisand considered using the entrance door grill as inspiration for the garage door -- photo by Alice Lum

Streisand brought in the aging artist Erte to consider designs for the dining room (he suggested a painted wall to fill a framed recess) and, possibly, the new “service entrance” she planned for the first floor.  Working with architect Ira Goldfarb on that renovation, she had not yet decided whether to repeat the Art Deco grill of the entrance, or have Erte design something.

In the end the garage door was just a garage door.

Barbra Streisand sold the house just a few months later, moving her eclectic collection of Art Nouveau furniture, German Expressionist art, and early 20th century glass to California.  The house remains a private home; one of the least noticed but most unique in the city.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Lost McGown's Pass Tavern - Central Park

Nearly a century before the idea of a Central Park was sparked, Catharine McGown purchased the old stone tavern and ten acres of land from Jacob Dyckman, Jr., in what would become the northern section of the park.  The tavern was just one of several roadhouses along the route from the city to the farthest point on the island; and in 1905 historian Edward Hagaman Hall pointed out that they were “eloquent testimonials of the consuming thirst generated by the journey from one end of the island to the other, and the pressing need for frequent places of alleviation.  And we may conclude that Dyckman filled the proverbial ‘long felt want’ when he opened the pioneer inn on the heights.”

Catharine was the widow of Captain Daniel McGown who was lost at sea in 1759.  She operated the tavern, which became known as McGown’s Pass, with the help of her son Andrew.   The inn would play host, like it or not, to British outposts on September 15, 1776, the day before the Battle of Harlem Heights.

Not long after the war, the tavern was run by a man named Legget, and a road map of 1789 named it “Legget’s Halfway Tavern.”   Finally on December 1, 1845 the McGown family sold the tavern and land to Thomas B. Odell for $6,000.  The new owner held the property for little more than a year, passing the deed on April 1, 1847 to the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul.  The hill and acreage around it that had long been known for its tavern was now called Mount Saint Vincent.  Edward H. Hall wrote “At the time of the occupation of the McGown’s Pass property by the Academy and Convent of St. Vincent, a fine growth of sixty-four years had clothed the hills and valleys with verdure.  The advancing tide of population of the great city was still five or six miles distant, and the region still possessed its rural charm.”

Construction started almost immediately and by 1855 there was an entire campus—a two-story residence for the chaplain; a Free School; a building containing a study hall, recreation hall, and class rooms; and lastly a “stately brick edifice, containing a beautiful chapel and large dining rooms.”

But “the advancing tide of population” was less threatening to the convent and academy than was Central Park.  In 1853 the law authorizing the construction of the park, from 59th Street to 106th Street, was passed.    Just one year after the completion of Mount Saint Vincent’s large brick building, the Sisters of Charity bought the Edwin Forrest estate called Font Hill and in 1858 they held their last Commencement Exercises at McGown’s Pass.  (The name still stuck and an illustrated description of Central Park printed in 1859 noted “The extreme northwest corner of the Park is occupied by a large hill, which bounds McGown’s Pass on the west.”)

The Mount St. Vincents buildings were used as a hospital in the Civil War; then in 1866 they were converted to a refreshment house for Park visitors, and the chapel was used as a statuary gallery and museum.  But on the morning of January 2, 1881 fire broke out and the complex was destroyed.

The ruins sat for five months before the Commissioners ordered them cleared away and the area planted with ground cover.  A controversy erupted between the New York Municipal Society against the building of another refreshment house, and those who wanted a new restaurant.   Eventually the restaurant promoters won.   In 1884 the grand and sprawling Mount Saint Vincent Hotel was completed.

The name concerned Mother Jerome of the Sisters of Charity who did not care to have it connected with a liquor establishment.  She requested that the Commissioners abolish the name from the Central Park map, and they formally complied on April 16, 1884.  The hotel, however, was less accommodating.

On October 8, 1885 Patrick McCann, former dry goods merchant, took over the lease with big plans in mind.   The New York Times piled compliments on the structure and McCann’s improvements.  “The building, which is owned by the city…is admirably adapted for use as a pleasure resort either in Winter or in Summer.  In its present condition it probably has no superior as a road house.  Mr. McCann has adorned it and furnished it with liberality and rare taste.”

The newspaper noted that the hotel was an essential stop on a sleigh ride.  “No matter how fast the team nor how elegant the equipage a turn ‘on the road’ is not done in proper shape unless it includes a bite or a sip in the Mount St. Vincent.”

The writer took note of the scene on the previous day.  “What seemed to charm the ladies most was the huge pile of blazing and crackling logs in the broad fireplace in the hallway.  The cozy little parlor, with its rich crimson plush drapings and furniture, was well filled and the waiters were kept busy in the large dining hall.  Many of the armchairs in the café were occupied by portly gentlemen who own good horses, keep good bank accounts, and who know what real comfort is.  Such is the class of persons to which the patrons of the Mount St. Vincent chiefly belong.”

Indeed, the new proprietor intended his patrons to be of the upper class.    In describing the eight private dining rooms on the second floor, The Times cautioned “The use of these rooms will only be permitted to persons of known respectability.  Mine host McCann has no use for any other kind of persons.”

The new establishment boasted cutting edge amenities, heated by steam and lighted “by Edison’s incandescent lights.”  The Times said “In the cold weather the piazza in front of the house is inclosed [sic] with glass screens, and visitors can sit there in comfort and watch the passing equipages.  In the large dining hall on the first floor the rippling waters of a fountain patter down upon fresh green plants.  Light and pretty screens of willow ware enable the occupants of the different tables to enjoy partial seclusion if they so desire.  On the walls are broad mirrors of plate glass, heavy draperies and fine pictures, and scattered here and there on the floor are soft fur rugs.”

photo from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
The Mount St. Vincent Hotel attracted the up-scale clientele McCann desired.  But by May 1890 there was trouble.  The Parks Commissioners accused him of refusing them access to his accounting books; he in turn claimed “he had been promised an offset for the money he had expended for necessary repairs and refurnishing.”  The Parks Department said he owned “his returns for April and eleven days in May” while The Evening World reported “Instead of owing the Department he claims that the Park Department owes him several thousand dollars.”

It was not a dispute that would end well for the restaurateur.    Police barricaded the building and McCann could only stand and watch as “All day men were busy taking out goods from the hotel back to the stores and offices from which they had come.  The stock ticker went first; then a man came to take out the electric annuniciators on the doors and the telephone with Richard Croker’s number leading the list.  There were also brewery wagons and grocers’ wagons and ice cream dealers’ wagons.  McCann’s brindled bulldog wandered about disconsolate and only awoke to give chase to a ragged Maltese cat that approached the house,” reported The Sun on May 14.

The Commissioners had had enough of the restaurant on Park grounds.  “Park Commissioner Hutchins said yesterday that the work of tearing down the building would not begin for a couple weeks,” reported the newspaper.  Only five years old, the building seemed doomed.  The Evening World summed it up in one sentence:  “Mount St. Vincent, that favorite resort of frequenters of the Central Park, is to be demolished.”

Five days after McCann was ousted he held an auction of the furnishings and artwork.  Some of the mirrors, his auction ad claimed, had originally cost $1,600 each—a staggering $35,000 today.

The Sun, May 19, 1890 (copyright expired)
The Commissioners had a last minute change of heart, however, and the lease was given to Gabriel “Gabe” Case.   Case had run a road house on Jerome Avenue and had given rise to a yearly tradition.  In 1896 The New York Times would recall that “The trip across the Harlem being a pretty long one, even from the nearest up-town stable, the men who took the drive were sure to be hungry, as well as thirsty, when they reached Case’s famous hostelry.  In consideration of this the Falstaffian landlord gave a big mince pie, along with [a bottle of] champagne, every Winter, to the road driver who arrived first at his place on runners.”

In a brilliant marketing coup, Case continued the practice (omitting the pie) in his new inn.   And each year with the first substantial snowfall, teams were quickly hitched to richly colored sleighs as New Yorkers raced to be the first to reach the inn and win the bottle of champagne.

Perhaps to erase all traces of the somewhat uncomfortable ending of the Mount St. Vincent Hotel, Case now called upon the site’s history and renamed it McGown’s Pass Tavern.    But the proprietor had other issues to deal with.  The Excise Commissioner complained to the Police Board on September 29, 1891 “that Gabe Case’s McGown’s Pass Tavern in Central Park is unlicensed, and that if liquors are sold there it is in violation of the law,” reported The Times.  But the newspaper pooh-poohed the threat, saying “it was long ago decided by the Corporation Counsel that the place is within the jurisdiction of the Park Department, and that the Police Department has no official business there.”

It would be an ongoing issue, however.

Four years later it was not the selling of liquor that bothered investigative reporters; it was the selling of liquor on the Sabbath.  An article was published accusing McGown’s Pass Tavern of breaking the excise laws.   Case was “chafing” according to The Times and wrote to Parks Commissioner James A. Roosevelt in his own defiant defense.  Park officer Sergeant Ferris visited the tavern on a Sunday afternoon in April 1895 and Park Police Captain C. C. Collins subsequently wrote to Roosevelt with his findings.

“As to McGown’s Pass, I am satisfied, from the report of Sergt. Ferris, that the excise law was obeyed; that no liquor was sold there, and that any statement to the contrary is at variance with the truth.”

The issue of liquor at McGown’s Pass Tavern was eventually put to rest.

The Tavern was solely responsible for the formation of a new election district in 1895.  The City Constitution required that there be an election district that covered any area that contained voters.  The new district, the 21st, covered the area within Central Park bounded by 96th and 110th Streets, between 5th and 8th Avenues.  “There were four voters in this territory last year,” explained The New York Times.  “They are men employed in McGown’s Pass Tavern.”

In the meantime, nearby on 124th Street just off 7th Avenue was the boarding stable owned by John J. Quinn, whom The Times called “a Yankee with a good Hibernian name.”  Quinn hailed from Manchester, New Hampshire but had lived in New York long enough to have already won Case’s champagne bottle trophy ten times.   A change in venue would not deter him.

And he continued to be unbeatable.  On January 12, 1896 The New York Times reported on his sixteenth consecutive winning of “the coveted bottle” which “is now on his desk at the stable.”  It would not be the last bottle John Quinn won in the opening sleigh ride of the season.

Riders assemble at McGown's Pass Tavern in 1899.  Notice the large stone block to assist gentlemen in mounting -- from The New Metropolis, 1899 (copyright expired)
Snow fell on New Year’s Eve 1900; but The Times said the roads were “not sufficiently covered with snow to warrant taking out a sleigh” on New Year’s Day.  That did not deter John Quinn, however.  “Several horsemen made a start early in the morning for McGown’s Pass Tavern, in the Park, for the purpose of winning the annual bottle of wine.  John Quinn reached the tavern in his sleigh first, but as there must be sleighing the day following the arrival of the first sleigh at the tavern, there may be another race for the bottle.”

Whether the lack of snow necessitated another run for the champagne was of little matter; John Quinn would win.  The following year the first snow was on November 29 and, as usual, Quinn won the magnum.  As a matter of fact, noted The New York Times the following day, “Mr. Quinn has won this magnum every year but one for twenty-five years.”

Times were changing as evidenced by the motorcar and the horse-drawn buggy --NYPL Collection
The carriage trade continued to patronize the Tavern and in 1902 Mrs. Edward Lyman Short devised a “outing dinner club” that included society names like Schieffelin, Delafield, Rutherford and Van Rensselaer.  The concept was to meet at different high-class restaurants throughout the season as a diversion to the conventional mansion dinner parties.  McGown’s Pass Tavern was one of the first places the group patronized that year.

It seemed like a good place for Howard Gould to meet his wife for lunch on the afternoon of April 7, 1904, before leaving town.  Mrs. Gould was to meet her husband at 3:30; however she “did not leave the Waldorf-Astoria, where they have been living, until after the appointed hour,” according to the newspapers.  Already late, she ordered the chauffeur to hurry.  And he did.

Unfortunately his speed caught the attention of mounted Policeman John Murphy within the park.  Just two blocks from the Tavern, the driver was stopped and, although Murphy intended only to warn him about exceeding the speed limit, “the chauffeur gave an insolent answer, which led to an altercation, during which Murphy placed the man under arrest,” said The New York Times.

Mrs. Gould insisted that her driver be allowed to take her the two blocks to the restaurant; but the policeman was equally insistent on taking him to the station.  Because the socialite was, apparently, unable to walk the two blocks on her own, she went to the police station at No. 25 West 56th Street as well.

Mrs. Gould, in a huff, intended to wait inside her limousine while the untidy affair played out inside the police station.  But that did not work out either.  “When the big automobile pulled up in front of the court it at once became the centre of a large crowd of people, who made remarks and stared so at Mrs. Gould that she determined to wait in the courtroom for her driver.  The room was almost empty and Mrs. Gould paced up and down impatiently while the case was being heard.”

In the meantime, Howard Gould waited, equally impatiently, in McGown’s Pass Tavern for his long-delayed spouse.

After hearing the case in which Murphy claimed the chauffeur was reaching speeds of 20 miles an hour and the driver insisting he was going only 8 (the speed limit in the Park), Magistrate Baker imposed a fine of $10.  Except the driver had no money.  Mrs. Gould searched her purse, only to find that she, too, had no cash.

The judge and the policeman offered to call a cab to take the irate woman to the Tavern; but she refused “saying that she only wished to have her husband informed of her plight and the chauffeur’s.”  A few minutes later Gould arrived.  He told reporters that “the arrest of his chauffeur and the treatment of Mrs. Gould in being compelled to suffer the indignity of having to sit around in a courtroom was outrageous.”

He promised to have Murphy dismissed from the force, denounced the fine (although he paid it) and the three climbed into the limousine headed directly for Grand Central Station.  A quiet lunch at McGown’s Pass Tavern was not to be.

Gabe Case had been suffering from Bright’s Disease and a month before the unfortunate Gould affair he passed control of the Tavern to his partner, John L. Scherz.  Case’s condition worsened and on June 2 he died in the Tavern.   Although Scherz carried on the traditions; it was the beginning of the end of the venerable inn.

By 1915 Max Boehm was running the Tavern and that year the Parks Commissioners felt they needed the property for city use.  “If the old Arsenal is torn down, as Commissioner Ward has stated that he intends it shall be within a short time, the McGowan’s [sic] Pass house may be used for the park police station.”  Max Boehm was issued an order to vacate.

On March 1, 1915 The Sun said “Max Bohn [sic], who has been running McGown’s Pass Tavern as a roadhouse and restaurant, will move out to-day.  Once the highball high tide swashed about in the neighborhood of the tavern back in the days when joy rides were taken behind an animal known as the horse.  But with the coming of the automobile everybody feeling the need of something began to scoot out to Long Island and Westchester roadhouses.  So Max believes that the time has come to call quits.”

On March 9 an auction was held.  “All of its relics and curiosities, oil paintings, and sporting prints, together with ‘Old Gabe,’ the aged green and yellow parrot, were knocked down to the highest bidders.  Intrinsically the stuff was not worth much, as the entire furnishings of the tavern brought barely $1,500,” said The Times.  “Many of the articles, and particularly the pictures, possessed, however, a sentimental interest, recalling a fund of reminiscences of early trotting and sleighing days to many of those present.”

The Tavern had a brief reprieve, long enough for William H. Allen, Director of the Institute for Public Service to complain to Mayor Mitchell about the sale of liquor and dancing in Central Park.

But that dogged issue of liquor in Central Park was put to rest when the grand and imposing structure was finally razed in 1917.   In a humiliating act for the once-proud building, its foundations were not destroyed.  Instead, the foundation stones that once upheld the Tavern where New Yorkers in silk top hats and fur stoles found relief from the chill outside now serve to contain the Park’s compost pile.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Quirky Lerner Building -- No. 478 7th Avenue

In 1893 Seventh Avenue above 34th Street was a mixture of brick- or brownstone-clad rowhouses and small businesses.   The millinery and apparel district was still centered on Broadway below Houston Street, but the upward progression of the commercial district was already making its effects felt.  In February of that year two four-story brick houses, at Nos. 471 and 478, were sold for a combined price of $23,400.  It was the end of the line as a residence for No. 478.

The house was converted for business use and small offices moved in.  One of these belonged to Harry Kalisky, a bondsman.   Kalisky made his living by providing bail to criminals, most of them charged with petty offenses like pickpocketing or drinking on Sunday.   For a five-dollar bill, the offenders could avoid sitting in the Tombs awaiting their appearance before a judge.

Among law enforcement and polite society, bondsmen suffered an unhappy reputation.  “These bondsmen are all rascals and sharps and should not be countenanced,” said Magaistrate Cornell of the West Side Police Court on April 18, 1899.  He was speaking specifically of Harry Kalisky.

Kalisky had provided the bond for 23-year old Mary Williams who had been arrested by Policeman Thorpe for “loitering in the streets.”    The young streetwalker had never met her bondsman before.  Although, according to The New York Times, “The woman promised to behave and was discharged,” the magistrate had had his fill of bondsman.

“It would be much better to parole these women and take chances in their coming here than to have this system of hired bondsman,” complained the judge.

The system endured, however, and Harry Kalisky remained at No. 478 Seventh Avenue for years.  In 1906 he drew the attention of another magistrate when he provided bond for Martha Francis, the principal witness in the Berthe Claiche murder case and the accused madam of a disorderly house at No. 150 West 32nd Street.   A “disorderly house” was the polite term for a place of prostitution.

When Policeman Benjamin Mallam arrived at the Francis house and arrested her, she offered him $35 “to square things.”   Now charged with running a disorderly house and bribing an officer, her lawyer proclaimed that the “industrious, decent woman” merely ran a “school of applied arts” to teach women released from court “how to support themselves honestly.”  But, according to The Sun, police “suggested that altogether too many men visited the place to leave it above suspicion.”

Also not above suspicion was Harry Kalisky.  The Sun reported “Magistrate Mayo was suspicious of the whole affair and closely examined Harry Kalisky of 478 Seventh avenue, who bailed the woman out of the station house, before accepting him on a new bond.”

Kalisky was not the only tenant at No. 478 providing bondsman services.  Moses Weltz ran a clothing store on street level and enhanced his income as a bondsman.   On Sunday night, November 3, 1907 Bob Nelson’s saloon at 7th Avenue and 30th Street was raided.   The saloon was openly serving alcohol on the Sabbath.  Two bartenders were arrested and taken to night court and held in $500 bail for appearance the following day.

When their lawyer asked that they be released to his charge, the magistrate replied that “a man who was able to give bail in all kinds of cases at all hours of the night as easily as Bob Nelson did ought to be able to get his bartenders out.”  He insisted on the bail.    The Sun reported that the bail was provided “a little later by Moses Weltz.”

While Kalisky and Weltz were busy bailing prostitutes and bartenders out of jail, the millinery and apparel industries were moving into the area.  Before long, No. 478 Seventh Avenue would be engulfed by New York’s vast Garment District.   But for now the little converted house continued to serve a variety of tenants.

Dr. F. M. Hyman had his office here in the early 1920s.  In October 1923 he was called on to examine the World’s Bantamweight Champion Joe Lynch.   The day before the championship match between the champ and Joe Burman, Lynch suffered an accident.  While “alighting from his automobile at the corner of Seventy-sixth Street and Broadway, [he] tripped over his pet collie dog,” said The Times.   A doctor on West End Avenue diagnosed him with a dislocated shoulder and badly lacerated ligaments.

The State Athletic Commission insisted that Lynch be examined by two other physicians—Madison Square Garden’s official doctor, William H. Walker, and Dr. Hyman.   The suspicions and accusations of foul play were rampant and Burman’s manager was “much perturbed” and said he would lay claim to Lynch’s title before the Boxing Commission.

To make things sketchier, neither doctor would confirm the injury.

No. 478 was remodeled in 1925 to include a restaurant on the second floor.  The street level store and offices on the third and fourth floor remained.  Although uptown the exclusive Embassy Club was the venue of debutante cotillions and political dinners, the second floor space in the little building on 7th Avenue boldly took the same name.

Borrowing the name of a fashionable resort was not the only bold action of the restaurant owners.   On December 21, 1926 the Embassy Club was raided by Federal prohibition agents “in an eleventh hour effort to stem the admittedly high tide of holiday liquor,” reported The Times.

Even despite Prohibition, the days of the Embassy Club on 7th Avenue were numbered.  In 1918 Samuel A. Lerner and Harold M. Lane had founded Lerner Shops.   The firm offered moderately-priced women’s dresses and accessories, including what are now termed “plus sizes.”  By now the company was looking to make its entrance into the Garment District.

In 1927 Chain Store Age reported that “Lerner Stores Corporation, women’s wear, will occupy [a] new store building to be erected at 478 Seventh Avenue New York.”   It would appear from Department of Buildings records that Lerner Stores did not erect a new building, but as had been done 34 years earlier, renovated it.
Twisted colunnettes, shields, and plaques decorated the newly-redone building.  The green-and-gold shields announced the store name.
The transformation was eyecatching, to be sure.  Faced in stone and terra cotta, the structure now touted medieval motifs and heraldic symbols.   Two handsome, if contrived, coats of arms surmounted with crowns announced Lerner Stores.  Rope-twist colunettes, shields, blind arches and a quartet of somewhat eerie heads along the parapet combined to make the little building totally unique among its neighbors.

The large upper show windows are still in use today.
Lerner Stores would stay in their new home only two years.  In 1930 the building was leased to Samuel Salnick.  Throughout the remainder of the 20th century the Garment District exploded with tall loft buildings until No. 478 and its next door neighbor on the corner, another converted 19th century residence, were overshadowed.

Although the street level has been obliterated with a modern, uninteresting façade, the upper floors of the Lerner building are incredibly intact.  The quirky little building is lost among the flurry of 7th Avenue, but is worth a pause and a look upwards.

photos taken by the author

Friday, January 25, 2013

St. James' Episcopal Church -- 865 Madison Avenue

photo by Alice Lum

Following the Revolutionary War, the summer estates of Manhattan’s wealthy citizens on the northern reaches of the island were reopened as a sort of normality returned.   Small churches were erected to serve the seasonal communities, among them St. James’ Church on Hamilton Square at 69th Street and Lexington Avenue.

What would become Lexington Avenue is unpaved and muddy -- print from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Paid for by Trinity Church and built in 1809 through 1810, the clapboard chapel served the residents with properties along the East River.   Its rector rushed between services here and at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, a similar wood-frame country church on the opposite side of the island, using the Harsenville Road (what is essentially now 71st Street).

Within a decade several of the wealthy parishioners made the area their full-time residence.  The little church was opened year-round in the 1820s.  While the neighborhood remained rural for some time (in 1837 the city was renting much of the land as pasture); the city was moving closer.

During the Civil War Hamilton Square was used as a parade ground and in 1867 the city reduced its size to accommodate development.  Two years later, it eliminated the park altogether.   Despite the war raging to the south, development continued.  Engineers leveled Lenox Hill, laying out the cross streets and extending Lexington Avenue northward—necessitating the demolition of St. James’.

Now a heated discussion arose concerning a new building.  The neighborhood, known as Yorkville, had been filling with immigrants fleeing the overcrowded and unsanitary Lower East Side.  The rector pushed for rebuilding near the old site in order to serve this needy community.  The church trustees, however, preferred to retain the congregation’s upper-class tradition and move closer to the new mansions rising along Madison and Fifth Avenues.

Land was procured on East 72nd Street and in 1869 the new church was dedicated.  The wealth of the congregation is evident in their choice of architects.  James Renwick, Jr. was responsible for the masterful Gothic Revival Grace Church, completed in 1846, and his monumental St. Patrick’s Cathedral was rising on Fifth Avenue when he was approached to design the new St. James’.    Renwick’s design would be less historically pure than the former two churches; its updated Victorian Gothic façade more charming than majestic.

But the Renwick church would not suffice for long.  Development of the Upper East Side boomed during the last quarter of the century and in 1884 construction began on a larger structure at the corner of Madison Avenue and 71st Street.  Once again the parish had turned to one of the leading architects of the time—R. H. Robertson.

Horse-drawn street cars go north and south near the Robertson-designed St. James' with its never-completed, stubby corner tower -- photo from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Robertson embraced the newly-popular Romanesque Revival style, developing his own take with rough-cut stone and contrasting materials.   For the new St. James’ Episcopal Church he played all his cards.  Brownstone, granite, terra cotta and tiled shingles melded together to form connected, arched windows, towers and arcades.  Robertson turned the building around, putting the entrance down the block rather than on Madison Avenue as would be expected.  Now there was no chance that the glorious windows of the chancel would be blacked out by tall construction next door.

The new building was completed in 1885 and services began with a rather stumpy corner tower still uncompleted.  It never would be.

Robertson's church and parsonage were a delicious feast of materials, textures and shapes -- photo from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Unlike the Gothic Revival style favored by Renwick that became nearly synonymous with ecclesiastical architecture, the Romanesque Revival style faded.  By the 1920s Robertson’s robust design was not yet historical, it was merely old-fashioned.  Perhaps no architect of the day was more well-known for his Gothic designs than Ralph Adams Cram.

In 1924 Cram was the Supervising Architect of Princeton University where his Collegiate Gothic buildings had been going up since 1907.  He had received the commission for the gigantic Cathedral of St. John the Divine in 1911 and was responsible, with Bertram Goodhue, for Saint Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue.  He was now approached by St. James’ to remodel the outdated church.

Cram removed Robertson’s towers and round arches and completely reoriented the sanctuary.   The three entrances openings were positioned on Madison Avenue, affording a grander entry.  Above the central entrance door a large, lacy rose window burst forth.  Robertson’s squat corner tower remained; but now with a more complete-looking Gothic belfry added by Cram in 1926. 

The earlier church was unrecognizable after Cram's redesign.  In 1926 the newly-added belfry is evident in the contrasting color and texture of the stone -- photo from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Inside the architect embellished the space with exposed polished beams supporting the ceiling, a gilded reredos and soaring stone arches.

Cram designed the breathtaking gilded reredos -- photo from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Structural problems with the Gothic tower appeared in the 1940s, necessitating its removal.  Architect Richard Kimball was commissioned to design a replacement which was completed in 1950.  By current tastes, the mid-century addition is, at best, incongruous.  The modernistic steeple has been dubbed “the tin can.”

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

Considering St. James’ somewhat haughty history, its outreach to the homeless in the 1980s might have seemed ironic.   In 1981 the Rev. William E. Smyth became alarmed at the increasing number of homeless bedding down on church doorsteps, including his.   He helped form the Neighborhood Coalition for Shelter with the support of other churches, synagogues and other institutions.  The coalition worked to find shelter for those truly in need.

Somewhat affectionately called the "tin can," Kimball's steeple marches to its own music -- photo by Alice Lum

The church opened a soup kitchen around the same time, offering meals to the homeless.  Well-dressed residents of the neighborhood would often see a line of up to 60 indigent men waiting patiently for a hot lunch.

A restoration of St. James’ was initiated in 1999 by architect Lee Harris Pomeroy.  Now half a century old, the anomalous Kimball steeple had become a familiar if quirky part of the architecture.  Rev. Brenda G. Husson reportedly explained “We all know it doesn’t fit architecturally, but it’s our steeple.”

photo by Alice Lum

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The 1907 United Engineering Societies Building--29 W 39th Street

photo by Alice Lum

In 1903 Andrew Carnegie conceived of a unified headquarters building that would consolidate the offices and meeting rooms of the city’s various engineering groups.  The philanthropist offered to donate a substantial amount towards the construction of what would be known as the United Engineering Societies Building.

At the time, the American Society of Civil Engineers had outgrown its headquarters on West 57th Street.  Carnegie’s offer of a new building seemed to some members to be both timely and financially advantageous.  Others, concerned about the society’s autonomy, voted against the grand plan and chose instead to enlarge their existing structure.

The Society’s somewhat surprising decision did not scuttle the project, however.  On March 17, 1904 The New York Times reported in an awkwardly-worded notice, “It will be a source of great gratification to all who are interested in the progress of engineering science to learn that the decision of the American Society of Civil engineers not to participate in the enjoyment of the liberality of Mr. Andrew Carnegie has not deprived those who are desirous of availing themselves of these facilities of the advantages of Mr. Carnegie’s offer.”

As a matter of fact, Carnegie had increased his offer to $1.5 million three days earlier.  The participating groups—the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the American Institute of Mining Engineers, the Engineers’ Club and the American Institute of Electrical Engineers—would be responsible for contributing the balance of the cost which was anticipated to be $2.5 million.

The decision was quickly made to house the Engineers’ Club in a separate building on West 40th Street facing Bryant Park and nearly back-to-back with the United Engineering Societies Building on West 39th Street.  A committee of twelve engineers, three from each was formed to oversee the plans.

West 39th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues was still lined with brownstone residences and the new building would replace three of them, nos. 29, 31 and 33.   With stunning forethought, the Conference Committee purchased the adjoining brownstone at No. 27.  A restriction was written into the deed which prevented the erection of a building more than 60 feet high on the site—ensuring that the Engineering Societies’ building would have windows and sunlight above the third floor to the east.

American Architect and Architecture reported, “It then became necessary to select an architect.  The worldwide fame of the donor, the magnitude of his gift, the national character of the engineering societies, and the great cost of the contemplated edifice, made the selection of an architect a semi-public matter of more than ordinary importance.”   As a result of Carnegie’s wishes, six architects “of high reputation” were paid $1,000 to submit plans and any other architects who cared to participate were invited to do so—without compensation. 

The competition stipulated that the Engineering Societies Building be of “a handsome but not too ornate treatment” with the side and rear walls “to be reasonably conformable in architectural treatment with the front elevation”   A pair of architects won the commission—Herbert D. Hale of the Boston firm Hale & Rogers, and New York architect Henry G. Morse.

The architects released the above sketch in 1905 -- The Railroad Gazette, December 31, 1905 (copyright expired)

The committee dictated several important requirements.  A large auditorium, capable of seating an audience of at least 1,000, would be incorporated into the first floor, eliminating the need of an elevator for access.  The upper two floors would be devoted to the libraries of the various societies.  The top floor was to be dedicated to reading and reference rooms, “working alcoves,” and rooms for photographic reproduction, drawing and similar library work.  The Railroad Gazette reported that the reading rooms “will be quiet, cool, airy, and free from dust.”  The floor beneath the reading rooms was to be devoted to the book stacks.

The committee envisioned the later inclusion of additional societies, so the building was planned with extra space.   Engineering World, in April 1905, listed such possible groups as the New York Electrical Society, the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, Heating and Ventilating Engineers, and Society of Chemical Engineers among them.

The cornerstone was laid by Mrs. Andrew Carnegie on May 8, 1906.  On New Year’s Day 1907 the building was ready for occupancy, although still not totally complete.  Constructed of “hydraulic-pressed gray mottled brick, with limestone and terra cotta trimmings,” the resulting structure was subdued yet monumental.   Above the rusticated limestone base, massive stone columns framed grand arched windows.  The treatment was repeated nearly brick-for-brick at the top two floors. 

The newly-completed building interrupted a block-long row of nearly identical brownstone residents.  By securing the air rights to the house next door, the committee enabled the all-around design of the facade above the third floor -- photo from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Engineering News-Record commented in June 1907, “An unusual feature of the United Engineering Society Building is the treatment of the side walls so that they harmonize with the front of the building.”  Most structures were designed with unfinished brick side walls in anticipation of other large buildings rising next to them.  The New York Times glowed, “New York is to be congratulated upon this important addition to its array of monumental structures devoted to the arts and sciences.”

Members entered into a large foyer tiled in Tennessee marble girded by twelve large Swiss Cipolia marble columns.  “Gold ornament is used sparingly for architectural accentuation, and the woodwork is in dark oak.  Large chairs and lounges in red leather furnish the foyer, and similar furniture is used in the writing-room, smoking-room, reception-room and administration-room,” said American Architect and Architecture.

The auditorium seats were upholstered in red leather, matching the red carpeting of the aisles.  A glass ceiling was lit by incandescent lamps.  “There is also a fine stereopticon equipped with connections for moving pictures,” said American Architect.

photo by Alice Lum

On the second and third floors were seven lecture rooms, while on the sixth floor there were smaller lecture rooms.   This provided facilities for groups of many sizes.  As the Railroad Gazette had promised years earlier, the library (capable of housing 300,000 volumes) was a calm retreat.  American Architect described it as “Commanding magnificent view of Greater New York and vicinity in every direction, the library is retired, quiet, free from noise and dust, an ideal haunt of the student and man of research; while open at all times to any reader.”

Andrew Carnegie delivered an address at the dedication ceremonies on April 16, 1907.  The New-York Tribune called the opening of the building a “significant affair.”   Letters from the President of the United States, the President of the Republic of Mexico and the Governor General of Canada were read.  The nearly week-long ceremonies ended “with an informal smoker and vaudeville for the members of the founder societies on Friday,” said the New-York Tribune.

On the day following the dedication, the John Fritz Medal was presented to Alexander Graham Bell in the auditorium.  The medal, first awarded to John Fritz in 1902 on his 80th birthday, signified “outstanding scientific or industrial achievements.”  Bell would be the first of a long line of illustrious inventors and engineers to receive the award in the building.  Among the others would be Thomas Alva Edison the following year, Alfred Nobel, Orville Wright, Guglielmo Marconi, Elmer Ambrose Sperry, and Charles F. Kettering.

The broad array of uses of the building for the engineering and scientific communities was evidenced when in November 1910 the American Museum of Safety and Sanitation opened its permanent exposition here.  The museum was founded with the intention of illustrating “how invention has demonstrated the possibility of conserving human life through the production of safety devices,” reported The New York Times.    The exhibition displayed “inventions which automatically protect man from himself.”  The article said “It would seem to be impossible to invent a gasolene can which would be safe in the hands of a servant whose duties include lighting the kitchen fire.  Yet such a receptacle is to be found in the Museum of Safety.”

photo by Alice Lum

The building became home to the annual International Congress for Testing Materials.  In 1912 over 600 scientists worldwide attended the convention.  When a national railroad strike crippled transportation the following year, the Engineering Societies Building was used for conferences and from here a telegram was sent to President Wilson asking for mediators.

On December 17, 1917, the American Society of Civil Engineers finally relented and gave up its headquarters on 57th Street to join its related societies on 39th Street.  The move prompted a later addition of two floors atop the Engineering Societies’ Building to accommodate the new member.

The various engineering societies remained in the building until September 5, 1951 when they moved into the United Engineering Center at No. 345 East 47th Street near the United Nations. 

A century after its dedication, the building is home to Thor Equities -- photo

Now the home of Thor Equities, the grand building has been lovingly preserved if sadly overlooked.   The Trust for Architectural Easements calls the structure a “handsome reminder of the role that engineering played in the creation of New York City—which would have been inconceivable without the engineering triumphs of its bridges, subways, water works and skyscrapers.”