Friday, November 7, 2014

The 1897 Fahys Mansion -- No. 310 W 73rd Street

In 1896 construction began on George E. Fahy’s new home at No. 310 West 73rd Street.  At a time when the Upper West Side erupted in eccentric residential architecture sprouting gargoyles, turrets and carved grotesques; mansion architect C. P. H. Gilbert had designed a formal Renaissance Revival residence that would have been quite at home on the opposite side of Central Park.

The ever-active George Ernest Fahys was Vice-President of the Fayhs Watch Case Co. at No. 54 Maiden Lane; President of the Brooklyn Watch Case Co.; President of the jewelry firm Alvin Mfg. Co.; Vice-President of the Montauk Steamboat Co.; Treasure of the Sag Harbor Water Co.; and Vice-President of the Jewellers’ Association and Board of Trade.  The Fahys family moved into the 16-room house in 1897.

Unlike Gilbert’s wealthy patrons on the East Side, it would seem that Fahys watched costs closely.  The house was clad in iron-spot Roman brick chosen to closely match the rusticated limestone base.   And elaborate terra cotta embellishments took the place of more costly carved stone.  Nevertheless, Gilbert had produced a striking five-story mansion appropriate to the owner’s wealth and position.

Three stories projected away from the façade not only to create a handsome terrace at the fourth floor, accessed by an elaborate Palladian-style set of openings; but it distinctly separated the main entrance from the service door at the western side.  The shallow stoop and side yard were guarded by limestone walls and iron fencing.

“The entrance is through a door of massive iron grille work into a fine entrance hall paneled in San Domingo mahogany and with ceiling beams of the same wood,” described The New York Times later.  “Back of this are kitchen and pantries large enough to meet the wants of a good-sized hotel.”

The second floor housed the mahogany-paneled library with built in bookcases.  The library engulfed about half of the interior space of that floor.  “Back of this is a daintily furnished drawing room decorated in white,” said the newspaper.  Also on this floor was the nearly-round dining room wainscoted with mahogany interspersed with French vernis Martin-decorated panels.

On the upper three floors were eleven bedrooms and the servants’ rooms.  The New York Times deemed that all of them “except those occupied by the servants, [are] decorated in the most artistic manner.”

George E. Fahys would live in the new mansion only six years.  On February 7, 1903 the Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide noted that he had sold the house to Mrs. Richard C. Veit.   In reality, it was her husband, who was Superintendent of the Foreign Department of the Standard Oil Company, who was the purchaser.  But in the early days of the 20th century, high-end homes were most often put in the name of the wives; thereby providing them additional financial security in the case of the breadwinner’s death.

At the time of the sale, the 73rd Street house had unobstructed views of the Hudson River and the New Jersey palisades.   The Times would later mention “Only one house stands between it and Riverside Drive, and the front is built out in such a manner that the front windows command the sweep of the drive and the river beyond.”

Directly across the street construction of Charles M. Schwab’s gargantuan block-encompassing mansion was ongoing.  It would be another three years before the multi-millionaire’s massive French Renaissance chateau was completed.

Moving into No. 310 with his parents was 19-year old Arthur S. Veit.   The boy managed to publicly embarrass his family two years later when he was involved in a police raid—and then made matters worse.

The district between 23rd Street and 42nd Street, from about Fifth to Seventh Avenues was known as the Tenderloin.  Here brothels, illegal gambling houses, and crime-ridden dives were uncontrolled.  Crime and vice thrived with the help of corrupt local police.   Arthur Veit was in the notorious Cairo on Friday night, January 13, when police rushed in.

Among those taken away to the West 30th Street station house were young Veit and a woman of ill-repute.  Arthur pledged “his” house at No. 310 West 73rd Street as bail to get the two of them out of jail.  It was a bad decision.

On January 15 police interviewed the Standard Oil mogul.  The New York Times reported “In the interview Veit’s father was alleged to have said that he, and not his son, owned the property in Seventy-third Street where they live, and that his son had no right to pledge it for bail.’

Young Veit had not only gotten himself in trouble at home; he was in deeper trouble with the law.  Magistrate Ommen was infuriated at the boy’s insolence.  “I am going up to the Tenderloin Police Station and I am going to investigate this matter thoroughly.  It is very serious,” he told reporters.  “If this man has gone on that bond and did not own the property he has committed a felony, and I shall place the matter in the hands of District Attorney Jerome.  Even though the young man owned the property, he had no legal right to go on the bond, because in the eyes of the law he is a minor at nineteen.”

Later that year, in October, Richard Veit sold the mansion to Congressman Timothy D. Sullivan.  The New York Times said “Mr. Veit is giving up the house because his sons are at college, his daughter was married recently, and only himself and Mrs. Veit, with a corps of servants, remain to occupy it.”

Called by The Times “the original ‘Big Tim’ of New York and ‘Dry Dollar’ of Albany,” Sullivan essentially controlled the Bowery and Lower East Side districts as an important Tammany Hall figure.  His imposing stature led to the “Big Tim” tag.   Born in the infamous Five Points slums, he had risen from a shoeshine boy to a wealthy businessman and influential politician.

Tim Sullivan was a highly-popular Tammany Hall politician among the Bowery and Lower East Side voters. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Despite Sullivan’s past involvement in criminal activity and electoral fraud, he was serving in the U.S. Congress when he purchased the 73rd Street house.   On reporting the sale, The Times said “To make his entry into the upper circles in befitting style Congressman Sullivan has purchased the house at 310 West Seventy-third Street, one of the handsomest residences in the Riverside section.”

Sullivan paid Veit $90,000 for the mansion—about $2.4 million in today’s dollars.  The contract allowed the Veits to stay on in the house until December 14.  The newspaper said “The house is built for entertaining on a large scale…Mr. Veit has in it to-day a fine library and a valuable collection of paintings, said to be one of the best private collections in the city.  These, however, will not pass to the new owner, although it is contemplated that an arrangement will be made by which some of the elaborate furnishings and costly rugs will remain in the house when Mr. Sullivan takes possession.”

The Times poked fun at the man who came from such humble beginnings, saying in a sub-headline “He’ll Now Keep a Butler.”   The article added “While Congressman Sullivan’s new move will no doubt bring dismay to his thousands of friends on the Bowery, it is understood that he will desert them only in the sense of taking up a new abode.”

Like the Veits, however, the Sullivans would remain in the house only three years.  In May 1909 Hannah Sullivan sold the mansion.  It became the home of Henry Zuckerman and his family.   Entertainments in No. 310 West 73rd Street were once again a bit more upscale than they had been during the Sullivan residency.  Mrs. Zuckerman was actively involved in the charitable causes and events expected of the wives of moneyed businessmen.

In December 1910 she was busy with the special performance at the Metropolitan Opera House for the benefit of the Widowed Mothers’ Fund Association.  Among the stars to appear would be Anna Pavlowa.  With her on the committee were wealthy socialites like Mrs. Randolph Guggenheimer, Mrs. Joseph E. Hoffman and Mrs. Daniel Guggenheim.

The house would be the scene of debutante entertainments for daughter Nellie in 1912.  Nellie graduated from Wellesley in June that year.  On December 9 a marathon of activities included a 4:00 to 7:00 reception a theater party, with 50 guests returning to West 73rd Street for supper and a dance.

A year later excitement began all over again when Nellie’s engagement to Arthur J. Cohen was announced.

Although they retained ownership of the house, the Zuckeman family, too, moved on.  In June 1914 Henry Zuckerman leased the mansion to H. J. Wallace; then in October 1916 to Joseph E. O’Kelly and his wife Mercedes.  The O’Kelly family was living in the house when the United States entered World War I.  Joseph John O’Kelly entered the Field Artillery Section of the Reserve Corps of the U.S. Army, rising to 2nd Lieutenant by 1920.

That year, in October, the O’Kellys purchased the house from Henry Zuckerman.   Somewhat unexpectedly the house was soon operated as a high-end boarding house, operated by Mary Lewis.    Leona Jane Hertz was living here in June 1923 when she became engaged to the President of the Chesapeake Export Company, Alfred Ettlinger.   And by 1925 ballerina Princess Caracciolo and her sister conducted a dance studio in the house.

Tragedy would befall another tenant, 23-year old Dorothy Smith, the following year.  Dorothy earned her living as a “cloak model” despite her parents repeated urging “to give up the struggle of trying to earn her own living in the city and return home to stay,” according to The New York Times on September 28, 1926.  The aspiring model insisted on pursuing her dreams, however.  Around the end of June she took an apartment in the former mansion consisting of one room, a kitchenette and a bath.

On September 27 she went to a nightclub, Sophie Tucker’s Playground, on West 52nd Street where two young stock brokers struck up a conversation.   Francis Murphy was 24 years old and John J. Fitzpatrick was 22.   After a while Murphy, who lived at No. 115 East 89th Street, convinced Dorothy that the three should go to his apartment.

Once there, Dorothy discovered that the young brokers’ intentions were anything but respectable.   Trapped in the apartment she fought off their unwanted advances.  Neighbors heard screams and protests coming from the apartment for several minutes; then Dorothy Sullivan threw herself from the fourth floor window to escape.

According to police, “After her leap she managed to crawl a few feet.  Fearing she was about to die, she picked up a slip of paper in the yard and scribbled the word ‘Murphy’ on it with a gold pencil suspended from a chain around her neck.”  Later, at the hospital, she gave the police the full names of her attackers.  Detectives went to the apartment and arrested Murphy and Fitzpatrick.

The men protested their innocence, saying the first they learned of her leap was when they walked into the bedroom and she was not there.   Doctors, in the meantime, held out little hope of Dorothy’s survival.

The coming and going of creative, West Side types would continue for the next decade.  Theodora Irvine conducted a theater studio in the house in the 1930s; and at the same time poet Margaret Belle Houston-Probert was a resident.  Painter Raphael Ellender was living here in 1942.

More notorious and no less tragic was the story of Patrice Leary, the 22-year old teacher who moved in after graduating from Smith College in 1970.   The neighborhood had declined and upon taking the apartment Patrice added a second lock to her door.  But it was not precaution enough.

On Thursday afternoon, October 29 neighbors noticed that her door was ajar.  The New York Times reported that she “was beaten, stabbed repeatedly and strangled manually…The police found the 6-inch blade of a kitchen knife in the dead woman’s chest.”  There was no evidence that she had been sexually molested and a medical examination showed that she was a virgin.

Police theorized that Patrice had entered the apartment with bags of groceries.  She left the door unlocked while she put down the groceries, giving the assailant the opportunity to attack.  The condition of the kitchen spoke of the violent struggle.  “Tables and chairs were over-turned and broken in the room,” said The New York Times on November 1.  A hammer was retrieved with which the young woman’s head had been bludgeoned, a telephone cord had been used to strangle her, and the knife wound penetrated her heart.

Despite the description of a white male in his 20s seen rushing from house, police were baffled.   By November 4 there were 75 men working full time to find the killer and six days later a reward of $1,500 was offered.  The police called Patrice “a fine, decent girl, the kind of person you want to help and protect.”

And yet the case finally went cold.  No one was ever arrested in Patrice Leary’s murder and the reason behind it remains a mystery.

In 1997 the former Fahys mansion was converted to two spacious apartments per floor.  Despite a few exterior alterations, it remains a fine example of C. P. H. Gilbert’s residential work on the Upper West Side.

photographs by the author


  1. Love your writing. Another fine history lesson on the birth of a gilded age mansion. Couldn't find the story of the Romanesque(?) mansion(s) next door so looking forward to possible reading about it in the future. Glad to see these have survived among all the apartment buildings around them.

  2. thanks for your comments. regarding the neighboring houses---wait for it....wait for it....