Thursday, October 10, 2013

The R. C. Penfield House -- No. 336 Riverside Drive

photo by Alice Lum

In 1900 while architects Hoppin & Koen were designing three abutting but very different mansions at Nos. 334 through 336 Riverside Drive, Raymond Cassinove Penfield was a busy—and wealthy—man.  Born in Willoughby, Ohio in 1860, he was the son of James Wakefield Penfield, the founder and president of the American Clay Machinery Company.  Upon his graduation from Wesleyan University he went into the family business which manufactured machinery for clay working, built tractors and did general foundry work.  When his father died in the early 1890s, he took over as president.

In 1898 the automobile was making its presence known.  That year Penfield’s brother-in-law, Frank A. Sieberling, founded the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company and named Raymond Penfield its first president.  The tireless Penfield took on his third simultaneous corporate presidency in 1901 with the Vitrified Conduit Company.

That same year the Riverside Drive houses were completed.  But four years later, developers H. Ives Smith and Perez M. Stewart had still not sold two of them.  Foreclosure proceedings were initiated on Nos. 334 and 336 in March 1905.   No. 336 would be purchased by W. S. Ostrander and in October 1909 it was among a list of “Many Modern Houses Leased” in the New-York Tribune.

The formal limestone house was approached by a low stoop embraced by heafty console brackets.  Their flowing lines were mimicked by smaller scrolled brackets supporting the heavy stone balcony above the doorway, and again below the third floor cornice.  The white limestone mansion stood in stark contrast with its flanking red brick neighbors.

photo by Alice Lum

In 1905 Penfield had stepped down from Goodyear Tire and Rubber, his position filled by Seiberling.  Now (with yet another presidency, that of the American Equipment Company of Chicago) Penfield moved his family to New York City and into the lavish limestone mansion at No. 336 Riverside Drive.

Raymond Penfield had married the daughter of Louis Patterson of St. Louis, Minnie, in 1884.  With them in the house were their three children, James Preston, Harold Cassinove and Julia.  While their indefatigable father continued with his wide-flung business enterprises, their mother involved herself in women’s organizations.  She was a member of the Daughters of Ohio, the West End Women’s Republican Club, the American Criterion Club, the Rubinstein Club and the Theater Club.

Among Minnie’s staff of servants was her maid, young Anna Ebert.  Anna, presumably like most domestics, dreamed of the day when she would marry and escape the drudgery of other people's housework.  Not long after taking the position in the Penfield house, she noticed an advertisement for a fortune teller.

“I can be consulted on love, business, absent friends, and theft.  Bring about speedy marriage with the one you love.  Tell you if his love is true or false.  Bring the separated together.  Reveal your whole life from the cradle to the grave.  Reveal the most hidden secrets and tell you the full names of persons you want to know.  Tell you where to find your fortune.  Show you the picture of your future husband and tell you the year and the day of your birth and the star you were born under.”

Anna was especially interested in seeing “the picture of your future husband.”  The advertisement promised to reveal her fortune for the fee of fifty cents.  On her day off Anna set off to the seer’s house on Third Avenue.  Following a short consultation, she was informed that showing a true likeness of her future husband would be an additional expense--$15, to be exact.  In 1910 $15 on a maid’s salary—amounting to about $250 today—was a considerable sum.  But Anna was hooked.

On April 11 The New York Times reported that Anna “after leaving the place became convinced she had been swindled.”  She went to the Yorkville Court, asking for a summons for the fortune teller who had cheated her out of her $15.  It would be the first of a long series of publicity for the Penfield family—both good and bad—over the next few decades.

While her maid was across town having her fortune read, Minnie Penfield was busy planning her first major entertainment in the new house.  Invitations were being prepared for a nearly day-long celebration of the Penfield’s silver wedding anniversary on May 27, 1910 (which, technically, had passed a year before).  Minnie planned an afternoon reception with music, followed by an evening dinner.  Invitations were sent far beyond New York City.

The New York Times said “Although the members of the bridal party of a quarter century ago are scattered, most of them will come to town for the event.”  They included wealthy friends from Missouri, St. Louis, and Toledo.

While Raymond was active running corporations and inventing—he was granted patents for “brick handling machines”—Minnie busied herself with entertaining.  Shortly after the anniversary dinner, she was hostess for the wedding reception of Margaret Bradbury Rich and Lt. William Hampden Sage, Jr. of the U.S. Army.  The groom was the son of Major William Hampden Sage and the grandson of General Nathaniel McLean.

1912 would be an especially auspicious year for the Penfields.  On June 9 The Times reported that “Arrangements have been completed for the double wedding of Miss Anna Cathryn Bullwinkel and Howard Cassinove Penfield and Miss Julia Penfield and Orin Bastedo.”  The brother and sister were to be married in a joint ceremony in St. Paul’s Methodist Episcopal Church on Wednesday evening, June 19 with a reception in the Penfield mansion afterward.  The extensive wedding party included Irene Sieberling who traveled in from Akron to be maid of honor for Julia.

The New-York Tribune reported that “There were elaborate decorations at the church, consisting of arches of smilax and pink roses and great masses of daises.”  The bridal parties entered the church simultaneously, proceeding down two aisles under the floral arches at the same time and meeting at the chancel.  New York social pages were detailed in their descriptions of the double wedding.

The New York Times reported on the plans of the two couples.  “Mr. and Mrs. Bastedo will motor through the White Mountains and will sail for Europe in September to spend a year abroad.  They will live in this city upon their return.  Mr. and Mrs. Penfield will also take a motor trip, but did not disclose their destination.  They will reside in Bucyrus, Ohio.”
That same year the Riverside Drive house was sold—but interestingly enough the Penfields preferred to continue leasing.  It was purchased by Charles B. Barkley “for investment.”  Barkley would purchase the massive mansion next door, at No. 337, in 1914.

1914 was also the year that Penfield’s family business merged with Hatfield, Ltd., of England, under the name of Hatfield-Penfield Steel Company.  The firm now diversified even more, and during World War I manufactured shells and other munitions for the Allied and American armies.  The Penfield fortune continued to grow.

But in the meantime Minnie Penfield had troubles.  In October 1915 Ray Beveridge was visiting New York from Berlin.  The sister of sculptress Kuhne Beveridge, she was connected with the German Red Cross and was here to lecture “in the interests of Germany.”  Beveridge was staying near the Penfield mansion with Mrs. M. E. Cowell at No. 224 Riverside Drive.

Minnie was shopping for a motor car.  On the evening of October 13 car dealer Frank Delmar was driving an electric automobile up Riverside Drive “on his way to demonstrate the machine to Mrs. R. C. Penfield,” as reported in The Times.   Near 97th Street Delmar hit Ray Beveridge and knocked her down.  “Miss Beveridge’s knee was cut and she was bruised,” said the newspaper.  She was carried to Mrs. Crowell’s house where a doctor dressed the cut.

It all seemed like an unfortunate but minor incident--until November 4 when Minnie received the notice that she was being sued for $10,000—a hefty $160,000 in today’s dollars.  Beveridge, who incidentally was an actress by profession, claimed that “the defendant’s automobile, in charge of a chauffeur, knocked her down and injured her about the head, body and limbs.”

While Minnie continued entertaining, holding card parties and receptions, Raymond traveled back and forth to the Midwest.  He still headed the Ohio firm and the American Equipment Company of Chicago and in 1918 he founded the New York Brickhandling Corporation.  His far-flung activities resulted in memberships in the Westchester Country Club, the Chicago South Shore Country Club, the Chicago Athletic Club and the Ohio Society of New York.

Son James and his wife lived in the Riverside Drive mansion with the Penfields.  Despite the Penfield fortune, Minnie neither coddled nor spoiled her grandchildren. .  In December 1929 Howard’s 15-year-old daughter arrived from Chicago for a visit.  Young Marguerite took a jaunt downtown to Macy’s two days before Christmas.  It would all end badly for the teen.

Before she left the store house detectives nabbed her with two bottles of perfume valued at $25.  The girl was arrested for shoplifting and she told police, according to The New York Times, “her grandmother did not give her money for presents and that she ‘just had an impulse.’”  Marguerite explained that she had stolen the perfume as a Christmas present for her aunt.

An embarrassed and, presumably unhappy, Minnie Penfield appeared in court on New Year’s Day 1930.  “The girl’s grandmother, who assumed responsibility for her in future, told Magistrate Renaud that she was taing care of the girl and would put her in a good school, but that she could not provide ‘luxuries’ for her.”

By now the aging Raymond Penfield had finally retired.  In 1928 he stepped down from his several positions; but he would not enjoy retirement for long.  In 1932 the 72-year old fell while getting off a train in Rye, New York and fractured his shoulder.  His condition deteriorated, finally developing into pneumonia and “throat paralysis.”  After an illness of about five weeks, he died in the Riverside Drive house on July 11.

About 75 mourners filed into the house on the afternoon of July 14 for Penfield’s funeral.  A second memorial was held in Willoughby, Ohio, where the body was taken for burial.

On the evening of May 27, 1937, Julia’s daughter was married in the Penfield mansion.  In a bitter-sweet tribute, the wedding took place on what would have been Raymond’s and Minnie’s 52nd anniversary.  It was a warm moment for Minnie in what was a sometimes rocky relationship with her grandchildren.

That rocky relationship continued two years later when the bride’s brother, 19-year-old John Bastedo, pleaded guilty to the “theft of cash, securities and jewelry worth $5,000 from his grandmother.”  Minnie noticed that every time her grandson visited, something went missing.  The tough-loving 67-year old pressed charges against the delinquent.  He had already been arrested once before as a fugitive from a burglary charge in Schoharie, New York.

With Julia and Aaron in court, their son was held without bail in Felony Court on August 28, 1939.

Minnie Patterson Penfield died in the house five years later at the age of 72.  Her death was the end of the line for No. 336 Riverside Drive as a private residence.  In 1945 the Department of Buildings recorded “alterations” and by 1948 the house had been divided into four apartments on the ground floor, three each on floors two through four, and two on the fifth floor.  A awkward-looking penthouse had been added with a single apartment.

The architecturally-unsympathetic penthouse was added following Minnie Penfield's death -- photo by Alice Lum

Other than a gruesome alteration to the entrance and replacement windows, the opulent Penfield house retains most of its original appearance.

The installation of swimming pool-type tiles around the glorious doorway raises the question "What were they thinking?" -- photo by Alice Lum


  1. Yes, that doorway alteration is truely gruesome. I can think of no better word for it!

  2. Oh my.......that doorway photo should be the poster pic for the term "what were they thinking"?


  3. surprisingly by now after so many years neighborhood revitalization, local interest in preservation and plain old common sense, one would think somebody would have restored the entry to some condition closer to what was originally there. NYarch