Thursday, February 27, 2014

The 1902 Canavan Mansion -- No. 333 Riverside Drive

photo by Alice Lum

The son of Terence Farley, a well-known builder, Joseph Farley started his own business around 1895.  He focused on the rapidly developing mansion districts of Riverside Drive and upper Fifth Avenue, sparing no expense on the opulence his customers would not only expect, but demand.

On October 4, 1902 the Real Estate Record and Builders’ Guide reported “Joseph A. Farley has recently completed four fine residences on the north corner of Riverside Drive and 105th st…These houses, known as Nos. 330, 331, 332 and 333 Riverside Drive, represent all that is latest in fashionable dwelling construction, and are furnished with all the devices for insuring the convenience and comfort of their occupants, besides being designed with artistic correctness and finished with taste.”

The Guide complimented Farley on his forethought in design.  “An instance may be cited in the placing of handsome billiard rooms in the front of the sub-basements of the inner houses.” 

The publication also praised the developer’s building site, “on the summit of a hill, from which the Drive slopes away both north and south.  It commands magnificent view of the Hudson River
and the Riverside Drive, and is, therefore, airy, cheerful and salubrious.”

Elegant mansions stood shoulder-to-shoulder along the block.  No. 333 is hiding behind the tree -- photograph from the collection of the New York Public Library

About seven months after the row was completed, Moritz Falkenau, a principal of real estate dealers Falkenau & Hamershlag, purchased Nos. 332, 333 and 335 Riverside Drive for a total of $240,500—about $2 million apiece today.  No. 333 would become home to the wealthy Alfred W. Hoyt.

Sitting on a rusticated limestone base, the upper floors of five-story Beaux Arts beauty were clad in buff brick.  The residence was frosted in carved limestone and ornamental French ironwork.  High above the sidewalk a stone balcony with elaborate iron railings stretched the width of the fifth floor.  There were fifteen rooms and five baths.
photo by Alice Lum

Hoyt was the head of the banking firm A. M. Hoyt & Co. and a Director of the Fidelity and Casualty Company.  While living here the moneyed bachelor would be a founder of the Belnord Realty Company; the firm that erected the massive, block-engulfing Belnord Apartments at 86th Street and Broadway.

A “clubman,” the wealthy bachelor was a member of the Union Club, University Club, Racquet and Tennis Club and the Brook Club.  In April 1910 he sold the Riverside Drive house to David Canavan.

The 43-year old Canavan and his wife, Catherine, had four sons and three daughters.  The president of Canavan Bros., one of the oldest excavating firms in the city, he was well known on the Upper West Side for his active involvement in politics and religious organizations.

In 1903 he had organized The David P. Canavan Association and opened a $6,000 clubhouse.  The Evening World reported at the time that “while it will probably fulfill its mission to more than generous measure socially, it will play an important part in the politics of the west side as well.”  The newspaper noted that Canavan “has a budding reputation as a bon vivant.”

The Evening World poked innocent fun at David Canavan on May 23, 1903 (copyright expired)

The Bulletin of the General Contractors Association said of him “His forceful character and extraordinary personality left a most favorable impression upon all those with whom he came in contact, whether in business or social connections.  Failure was a word that was not in his dictionary, and his business success was in great measure due to his determination and ability to grasp and handle the most difficult situation with apparent ease.”

The charismatic Canavan was a member of the Colonial, Manhattan, New York Athletic, Tilden and Democratic Clubs and had run for assemblyman in 1904.  Interestingly, it was Canavan’s firm that would excavate the foundation for Hoyt’s Belnord Apartment building. 

David P. Canahan was educated in public schools until the age of 14, when he joined his father's company as a timekeeper -- The Bulletin of the General Contractors' Assoc. December 1914 (copyright expired)

An avid automobile enthusiast, Canavan appears to have had several motorcars by the time the family moved into No. 333 Riverside Drive.  In the summer of 1914, The Sun reported that the Canavan family had arrived at the Equinox House in Manchester, Vermont in their Peerless automobile.

Earlier that year, in January, Canavan Bros. started work on the Seventh Avenue subway.  It was about this time that David Canavan first showed symptoms of neuritis.  The discomfort did not prevent him from motoring with his family to Vermont, however.

Shortly after their return to New York, Canavan’s illness worsened.  On September 21, 1914 he died in the Riverside Drive mansion.  His funeral was held in the house on Thursday, September 24, followed by a Solemn Requiem Mass at the Church of the Ascension on West 117th Street.
photo by Alice Lum

The family remained in the house and one-by-one the children married.  On November 19, 1925 Catherine hosted “a bridge and tea” to announce the engagement of daughter Estelle.  Like the rest of the family, Estelle was a devout Catholic.  She had attended Marymount and was active in Catholic charities. 

Catherine’s sons went into the family business.  William and David were both living in the house with their mother in 1927, as was at least one sister.  Thirty-two year old William, described by The New York Times as “a wealthy contractor,” was shot in the right leg on March 11 of that year.  The police and the family gave reporters differing versions of the incident.

What they did agree on was that William was driving the car of Anna M. Sheridan.  The pair had driven up Riverside Drive and at 177th Street William got out of the car to check the tires.  According to police, two men appeared and one “made a remark which Canavan regarded as insulting.  Canavan swung at the speaker and the latter drew a pistol and fired.”  The men then disappeared into the bushes.

Patrolman Thomas Meehan heard the gunshot and found the wounded Canavan.  Although he was bleeding from the leg, he helped the officer tour the neighborhood looking for the assailants before being taken to Columbus Hospital.

The story told by William’s sister at the house was slightly different.  She told reporters that her brother had been the victim of a failed robbery and ”had been shot when he refused to put up his hands.”  In the end the only thing seriously injured was William’s date night.  He was sent home from the hospital after a day or two.

On January 5, 1940 Catherine transferred the title of the mansion to her son David, who still lived in the house along with his family.  Later that year another engagement would be announced—this time it would be Catherine’s granddaughter.  On May 23 The New York Times reported that David Paul Canavan’s daughter, May, would marry Alexander Henderson Laidlaw.  In true Canavan tradition, May had graduated from the Blessed Sacrament Convent School and was governor of the New York State Chapter of the International Federation of Catholic Alumnae.

Five years later, on January 5, 1945, David sold the family home.  The Times reported “The sale of the property was the first in forty-five years”—a miscalculation of a decade.  A photograph printed in the newspaper showed the windows tightly shuttered and the house now apparently vacant.

After nearly half a century as a private home, the mansion was quickly dissected into lavish apartments—one on the first floor, a duplex engulfing the second and third, and one each above.  Among the first tenants was writer Saul Bellow.  Among the works he wrote while living here were The Adventures of Augie March and Seize the Day.

Before long Duke Ellington purchased the house as headquarters for his Tempo Music, and home for his sister, Ruth.  Simultaneously, the mansion next door, No. 333, was home to Mercer Ellington.  Ruth had been appointed president of Tempo Music by her brother in 1941. 

From 1961 until his death on May 24, 1974, Duke Ellington lived with his sister at No. 333 Riverside Drive.  Two years later, on April 30, 1976 a near-memorial concert was held in the house. 

“Bea Benjamin’s approach to the songs of Duke Ellington, which made up most of her performance yesterday afternoon at Tempo Music, 333 Riverside Drive, put some of Mr. Ellington’s most familiar pieces in fresh and imaginative light,” reported The New York Times on March 1.

Not long after Bea Benjamin’s performance, the aging Ruth Ellington closed the Riverside Drive house and moved to a small Park Avenue apartment.
photo by Alice Lum

More than a century after its completion, the imposing Riverside Drive mansion is meticulously cared for and its exterior essentially unaltered

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