Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The 1843 Isaac Phillips House -- No. 324 W. 22nd Street

As the growing city spread northward, it engulfed former country estates like Chelsea, owned  by Clement C. Moore.   Moore dissected his property into building lots, originally putting strict restrictions on the type of structures he would allow.  And for the block of West 22nd Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues he wanted upscale, fashionable homes.

When builder Peter B. Doremus constructed the handsome brick house at No. 324 West 22nd Street in 1843, the block was already filling with fine residential structures.  By now, however, Moore had relaxed his insistence on extra-wide mansions and Doremus’s house was the more-expected 20-feet wide.  Three stories tall, it sat above a noticeably-high brownstone clad English basement, resulting in a dramatic stone stoop to access the parlor floor.

The house became home to Isaac Phillips and his wife Miriam Trimble Phillips.  Isaac Phillips was born on the corner of Rivington Street and the Bowery in 1812 to Portuguese Jewish parents.  His grandfather had fought in the Revolutionary War and was an aide-de-camp to George Washington.

The somewhat prodigious boy left school at the age of 12 to work as a clerk in the cutlery importing firm of Burckle & Co.  Four years later the teen wrote a book, The Routine of Business at the Custom House, which was printed at least twice.

Phillips started his own cutlery business, but gave it up in 1839 to edit the Union and, later, the Courier-Enquirer; two daily newspapers.  Constantly looking for new endeavors, he retired from journalism three years later to enter the Customs Service.

Phillips and his wife were active in the Jewish community and when The Jews’ Hospital in New-York opened its doors on May 17, 1855 nearby on 28th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, Isaac Phillips was among its officers.  The New York Times pointed out that the hospital was “the first charitable building devoted solely to the alleviation of the distresses of poor Jews ever erected in the United States.”

Isaac Phillips was proud of his ancestry and among the many paintings in the house at No. 324 West 22nd Street were numerous portraits of family ancestors.

There would be a total of five children—three daughters and two sons.  Among them was N. Taylor Phillips who was born in the house on December 5, 1868.  Two years later the boy’s father changed careers once again.  He was admitted to the Bar and established his own legal practice specializing in United States customs and revenue laws.  The New York Red Book said he “was long regarded as one of the most expert practitioners in the city in this branch of the law.”

It was around this time that the family updated their house.  A modern Italianate cornice and extremely handsome carved brownstone doorway in the same style replaced the Greek Revival originals.  Superb carved double doors were installed with inset glass panels to allow sunlight into the entrance hall.

As he grew N. Taylor Phillips attended Columbia Grammar School and graduated from Columbia University in 1888 with a degree of Bachelor of Laws—the youngest in his class.

In the summer of 1889 Isaac Phillips fell ill.  On the morning of Monday August 1 he died in the house on West 22nd Street at the age of 78.  The American Stationer said, aptly, that his “long life has been full of activity in several relations.”  The magazine added that, in addition to his involvement with Jewish philanthropies, “Mr. Phillips stood very high in the ranks of Freemasonery [sic] in this State, being at his demise the oldest surviving Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge.”

The following year, as he turned 21 years old, N. Taylor Phillips was admitted to the Bar of the Supreme Court of New York and to the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States three years later.  Phillips took over his father’s practice and became well known for his expertise in Tariff and Revenue Laws of the United States.

Like his father, N. Taylor Phillips was keenly interested in history and his ancestry.  He was one of the founders in 1892 of the American Jewish Historical Society, to which he eventually donated the family portraits.  The New York Red Book noted in 1898 “He takes a deep interest in matters historical, has written extensively on the early history of the city of New York, and is considered an authority on that subject.”  He was a treasurer of the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society, of which J. Pierpont Morgan was honorary president.

N. Taylor Phillips in 1918.  "Historic Homes and Institutions and Genealogical and Family History of New York.” (copyright expired)
The same year that the Jewish Historical Society was organized, N. Taylor Phillips married Rosalie Solomon in Washington DC.  She was the daughter of Adolphus S. Solomon and the former Rachel Mendez Seixas Phillips.  Historian William S. Smith gently addressed the newlyweds’ family ties by saying that the bride’s mother was “of the same ancestry as his own.”  Phillips brought his bride back to the West 22nd Street house to live.

In 1897 Phillips was elected to the State Assembly and the following year was a member of its Committee on Canals and Labor and Industries.  It was a good match for the lawyer.  The New York Red Book noted that “Mr. Phillips is a plain man, and close student of the wants of the poor, with whom he mixes freely, and has always been a firm believer in and advocate of the cause of organized labor, and being a fluent speaker, has frequently been heard in its behalf.”

When Phillips ran for reelection in 1898-99, he won by “the largest majorities ever received by a candidate from the Ninth (New York city) district,” according to historian William Smith Pelletreau in his 1918 Historic Homes and Institutions and Genealogical and Family History of New York.

In 1901 he was appointed First Deputy Controller by Comptroller Edward M. Grout.  In announcing the appointment, Grout gave Phillips an immediate pay-cut.  “I have determined to appoint as First Deputy N. Taylor Phillips at a salary of $7,000 instead of $7,500 as heretofore paid the First Deputy,” he said.

Nevertheless, the salary (which would equate to about $185,000 today) must have been acceptable to Phillips; since he was reappointed in 1904.  He took the job of Controller in 1906 and served as Chairman of the Board of Revision of Assessments. 

In the meantime, Rosalie S. Phillips turned out to be no stay-at-home housewife.  Later called by The New York Times “a force in Jewish affairs,” she would become Tammany co-leader of the 7th Assembly District and later the Vice Chairman of the Women’s Division of the New York State Democratic Committee.

Phillips balanced his legal and political life with his religious and philanthropic interests.  For years he served as clerk to the Synagogue of Shearith Israel (succeeding his father in that position, who had succeeded his father, Naphtali Phillips).  He was also involved with the Columbia Industrial and Religious School for Jewish Girls, a director of the Federation of American Zionists, and Chairman of the Tammany Hall General Committee.

Like all moneyed New York gentlemen, he was a member of numerous clubs—The Democratic Club, Amsterdam Democratic Club, Brooklyn Yacht Club, Sons of the American Revolution, Royal Arcanum and Masonic Historical Society among them.

After living in his family home for 44 years, N. Taylor Phillips purchased the four-story house at No. 114 West 74th Street on January 29, 1912.  He retained ownership of the 22nd Street house for another four years, then on February 27, 1916 The New York Times reported “In one ownership a half century, 324 West Twenty-second Street…will be offered at auction.”  The newspaper noted that the sale was necessary “to close the estate of Isaac Phillips, deceased.”  It added that “This is on one of the blocks in the Chelsea district which still retains its residential character, although the land is not restricted to private house use.”

In 1927 the house was divided into a two-family dwelling.  As change came to many of the old homes along the block, No. 324 retained its external appearance.  Lovingly preserved, it is little changed since the days when the Phillips family came and went through its beautiful carved doors.

photographs by the author


  1. Isaac Phillips was born in 1812 in a modest 2 story wood frame house on the Bowery at Rivington Street. Amazingly, that house is still standing. Although it was clad with tin faux-brick sheathing around 1900 its original wide wood boards can been seen beneath the tin on its Rivington frontage. The building was know for most of the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries as " The One Mile House because of its proximity to the old one mile stone that stood across the bowery on the West side (the mile marker is now on display at the NYHS). The history of this house is virtually unreported and it would be a strong candidate for a future post here!

    1. Interesting to hear that the house still stands. Thanks for this.