Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Reborn -- No. 16 East 64th Street

In 1878, as the East Side blocks branching away from the new Central Park were being developed, Edward Kilpatrick set to work on four brownstone-clad houses at Nos. 8, 10, 12 and 16 East 64th Street.  He commissioned brothers John and David Jardine to design the residences—two architects who were busy creating rows of such houses in the area for speculative developers.

Four stories tall over a English basements, the dwellings were completed in 1879.  They were typical of D. & J. Jardine’s work with high stone stoops, regimented openings, and commodious interiors.

By the early years of the 1890s No. 16 East 64th Street was home to lawyer Austin Abbott and his wife.  The pair were interested in the conditions of Native Americans.  The 1894 Annual Report of the Board of Indian Commissioners noted that they were members of the Mohonk Conference; a group organized to work “for Indian Reform.”

Within four years the No. 16 was home to German-born author Carl Schurz.   Highly involved in American politics, Schurz’s first speech delivered in English was during the 1858 Douglas-Lincoln race for the United States Senate.  On January 29, 1898 a reporter from The New York Times described Schurz’s home on East 64th:

“A visitor to Mr. Schurz’s literary workshop, at 16 East Sixty-fourth Street, finds nothing there that suggests Germany—except the distinctively German face of its master artisan and the Teutonic form of the dachshund that is always curled in a ball on the lounge within easy reach of caresses and kind words.”  The journalist noted that the library shelves were laden with books in a variety of languages; and said that the entrance hall “is a veritable portrait gallery of immortals.  No one enters this select company without having done something for the world.  Warriors, statesmen, musicians, artists, and authors are al represented, but a certain spirit of selection, you can see at once, has directed the formation of the gallery.  Men of thought rule here and not ‘men of destiny’ or of empire.”

Schurz's impressive career included positions of Secretary of the Interior, Missouri Senator, and US Ambassador to Spain -- photograph Library of Congress
The portrait gallery continued up the stairs into the sitting room, two flights up.  Paintings of Voltaire, Napoleon, and Frederick the Great shared wall space with Abraham Lincoln.  Like all upscale late Victorian homes, Schurz’s rooms were crowded with bric-a-brac and mementos.   “There is also the inevitable collection of curiosities, knives and swords from the Malay Archipelago and articles of virtu picked up in all parts of the world.  Among the more precious things of the collection are the cuff buttons work by John Quincy Adams when he fell in the Senate Chamber in 1848.”

Of course No. 16 was occupied only during the winter season.  Like all wealthy New Yorkers, Schurz closed the house during the warm months to escape to his summer place.  His was in Lake George, New York.

The author sold No. 16 in 1900 to William R. H. Martin, the head on one of Manhattan’s most recognized men’s shops, Rogers, Peet & Co.  The haberdasher paid about $65,000 for the house—about $1.86 million in today’s dollars.

Martin and his family would stay in the Victorian house for just two years.  When Stephen Pell purchased it in March 1902, he had plans for the building that did not include his own occupancy.  Pell was one of the directors of the Real Estate Security Co. and he recognized that the location of the property was more valuable than the out-of-date house.  To maximize his investment, he needed to make the house marketable to the wealthy home buyers filling the neighborhood.

Pell commissioned architect S. E. Gage to update the structure.  The two-year make-over included removing the brownstone façade and redoing the interiors.  The result was an up-to-date Edwardian home in the recently-popular neo-Federal style.  The red brick was laid in Flemish bond and the headers burned to resemble aging.   Gage moved the entrance to sidewalk level, while  keeping the basement service entrance below ground.  A handsome columned portico served as a balcony to the second floor, where two sets of tall French windows were framed in limestone.  The third floor was a near-wall of small-paned openings, separated by engaged Doric columns and united by a stone entablature.  The Federal motif was emphasized at the fourth floor with dramatic splayed lintels; and the high mansard roof was accented by three hooded dormers and three copper oculi.

The house as it appeared in 1913 -- The Sun, March 23, 1913 (copyright expired)
On March 30, 1905 The New York Times reported that Stephen H. P. Pell had sold the renovated house to Dudley Olcott, Jr.   Olcott was a banker with the Central Trust Company of New York, and was recently married to Sarah C. Levick.  The couple had been living at No. 171 West 71st Street and shortly after purchasing the house, The New York Times added that they “spend their Summers at Normandie Park, Morristown, N. J.”   Among the items to be brought into the 64th Street house would be the newly-completed portrait of Mrs. Olcott by Maurice Fromkes.  

Wealthy and modern-thinking, Olcott was an early automobile enthusiast.  In 1911 he would be selected for the position of Treasurer of the Automobile Club of America.   A year earlier, he discovered first-hand the potential dangers of the expensive pursuit.

On November 6, 1910 attorney John Ellis Roosevelt, cousin for the former President, was one of a group of Metropolitan Club members enjoying a three-day excursion in the country.  In his big car were seven other “prominent New Yorkers” and a second chauffeur.   Dudley Olcott, Jr. was among Roosevelt’s guests.  “It was their purpose to make a leisurely pace and enjoy the beauties of the Autumn landscape,” explained The New York Times.

At one point Roosevelt decided to take the wheel and his chauffeur, Alexander Ehbel, moved to the front passenger seat.   Passengers later said there was no speeding that Roosevelt was “going at not more than an ordinary country-road pace.”   But at a bend in the road, the wheels on the passenger side slipped off the road into soft ground and skidded.  The strain broke the axle and the car “turned turtle” as described by the newspaper.

Roosevelt’s chauffeur was instantly killed and several of the passengers were injured.  Olcott escaped without serious injuries.

Three years later, in January 1913 Olcott sold the house to  the Buek Construction Co.  The Real Estate Record and Guide noted that Olcott’s asking price was $150,000 and “one of the features of this house is a large laundry on the roof.”

A month later the firm advertised No. 16 for sale, calling it a “beautiful, five story, American basement private dwelling.”   The operators had apparently hoped for a quick turn-around, for a few weeks later, on Sunday, March 23, a different advertisement appeared in The Sun along with a photograph.   The caption read “Above house for sale--$30,000 cash will purchase.”

No. 16 became home to Dr. George Emerson Brewer.  Among the most esteemed surgeons in New York, he was Professor of Surgery in Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons; the Surgical Director at Presbyterian Hospital; and Consulting Surgeon to no fewer than six other hospitals and institutes.

Brewer’s high standing among the medical community was evidenced on the morning of November 15, 1915 when Mayor John Purroy Mitchel was stricken with appendicitis at his Riverside Drive home.  After making a preliminary diagnosis, the mayor’s physician summoned Dr. Brewer.  “They decided that an operation was necessary,” reported the New-York Tribune the following day. 

Brewer, who made time also to hold the rank of Colonel in the Medical Section of the US Army Reserve Corps, stayed on in the 64th Street house until 1921.  On January 25 that year the New-York Tribune ran a headline reading “Dr. G. E. Brewer Sells House in East 64th Street.  Parts with Costly Dwelling Between 5th and Madison Aves.”

At the time architect Frederick Junius Sterner had made a name for himself in New York by transforming outdated brownstone rowhouses into unrecognizable neo-Tudor, Mediterranean or Gothic fantasies.  It was Sterner who now bought Brewer’s house for what the Tribune said was about $130,000.

Although the house was still perfectly in fashion; Sterner did what he was best known for: renovate.   He replaced the second floor French windows with four grouped, small paned openings.  The two in the center formed a fanlight within their rectangular frames.  The portico and balcony were removed and two columns, surmounted by lion figures, acted as an entrance.  Above it all, the dormers were replaced with a single, broad studio dormer, nearly the width of the structure, that flooded the interior in light.

Sterner replaced the second floor windows and removed the portico.  A single long dormer replaced the original three.  from the collection of the New York Public Library.

Inside Sterner rearranged Gage’s first and second story floor plans, and installed new stairs.   The completed renovation resulted in a 22-room house with six baths and an elevator.   When Sterner offered it for sale in October 1922, the New-York Tribune deemed it a “fine house.”

Apparently Richard Delafield agreed.  The 69-year old banker purchased the house for $110,000.  He had just been elevated to the position of Chairman of the Board of the National Park Bank of New York.   In reporting the sale the Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide noted “Mr. Delafield, whose country home is at Tuxedo, will occupy the residence.”

Richard Delafield two months after the purchase of No. 16 -- The Banker's Magazine, December 1922 (copyright expired)

Following Delafield, in 1925, Richard Croker, Jr. moved in.  Croker was the son of the notorious Tammany Hall leader who garnered millions; much of it through bribe money received from proprietors of saloons, brothels and gambling dens.  Upon his death in 1922, the senior Croker left his second wife his entire estate, totalling upwards of $5 million.  His children, including Richard Jr., received nothing.

Richard Croker, Jr. would stay in the house until 1934, during which time he was indicted for failing to pay $7,612 in 1925 New York State income taxes.   He sold it to Miguel J. Ossorio who had made his fortune in the Philippine and Puerto Rican sugar industry.

Like almost all of the owners of the mansion, Don Miguel Ossorio would not stay long.  When he sold the house six years later, The New York Times reported on July 23, 1941 that “the building has an electric elevator and many modern improvements, but the purchaser prior to making the place his town house, will make extensive alterations.”  The newspaper made note of the elite neighborhood.  “The homes of Mrs. J. Sargent Cram, Roy Howard, Mrs. Orme Wilson Jr. and Adolph Pavenstedt are near by.”

Although the alterations preserved the structure as a single family house; that status would last only eleven more years.  In 1952 the Smith College Club of New York commissioned architects Rosario Candela and Paul Resnick to convert the interiors as a social club.   The renovations, completed in December 1953, provided for a lounge and private dining room on both the first and second floors; a bedroom, card room and library on the third; three bedrooms on the fourth floor and offices on the fifth.

But it was not the Smith College Club which would occupy the new clubhouse.  In 1952 a letter went out to the members of the St. Anthony Club of New York which said, in part, "After considering 50 locations, a building at 16 East 64th Street has been found which meets ALL [the] requirements." 

The social club of the Delta Psi fraternity founded at Columbia University, it had moved several times in its more than 100 year existence.  The 16 East 64th Street Corporation was organized to purchase the $88,000 property, which in turn leased it to the St. Anthony Club.
The St. Anthony barroom was decidedly mid-century in decor.  photograph from "St. Anthony Club" brochure, courtesy Tad Tharp

With remarkable sensitivity, Candela and Resnick had preserved much of the interior detailing.  Even stained glass panels--the antithesis of 1950s design--survived.  Nevertheless, some areas like the barroom, were quintessentially mid-century.   A 1960s St. Anthony Club member brochure noted "It's a comfortable bar--casual and masculine in appearance, but often pleasantly sprinkled with ladies in the evening."

Other areas retained their early 20th century details.  photos courtesy Tad Tharp

The St. Anthony Club stayed on in the house until 1990 when it was sold to Linda and Stuart Schlesinger for $3 million.  The couple began a four-year restoration that that returned it to a single family home.   “Restoration” meant undoing Frederick Sterner’s 1921 remake of the second floor.  The two arched French windows reappeared, as if they were never gone.

By 2005 the arched openings of the second floor had reappeared; however the portico and service entrance remained changed.  photo New York Observer October 24, 2015.

The period touches that they did not bring back were the warm red brick (it was hidden beneath a slathering of white paint or stucco) and the below-sidewalk level service entrance (it had been moved up to what had previously been a ground floor window).  Their hard work resulted in a $21.5 million sale in 2005.
Only the studio dormer remains of Sterner's changes.  photo by the author

The new owners picked up where the Schlesinger’s left off.  The portico was closely restored, the façade cleaned, and the basement entrance lowered.  The result is as near a match to S. E. Gage’s 1904 remake of the old Victorian rowhouse as could ever be expected.  (The interiors--well, not so much.)

No comments:

Post a Comment