Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Church of the Incarnation -- Madison Ave. and 35th Street

During the Rev. Dr. Taylor’s sermon on the day of the consecration of the new Grace Church on March 7, 1846, he said “my object is to ask of you to give me the means of building, and preparing for the most efficient and the most immediate operation, Grace Church Chapel.”   Taylor recognized that Manhattan’s population was already moving past the borders of his parish.

Three plots were purchased on the northwest corner of Madison Avenue and 28th Street and a "neat and tasteful building erected thereon."  More than half a century later, in 1912, historian Joshua Newton Perkins noted “The site selected for the chapel was in a sparsely settled district, a short distance north of Madison Square…In 1852 the chief house in that locality was the little white cottage of Corporal Thompson at the corner of Broadway and Twenty-third Street.”  The New York Times commented that the chapel was “intended for the many poor of the congregation who could not afford to pay pew-rent.”

On April 19, 1852 the mission committee met for the purpose of forming a new parish—separating from Grace Church.  The result was the Church of the Incarnation.  Rev. Huntington later asked the Rev. Edwin Harwood how he chose the name.  “He said he gave it the name, as the parish had started from Grace Church, ‘for by grace came the Incarnation.’”

The “neat and tasteful building” was soon a problem. John Jay at a vestry meeting on November 8, 1855, noted “the very defective construction of the church edifice.” Three years later, on May 31, 1858 the New York Churchman wrote “The Church of the Incarnation was built some five years since, as a Chapel of Ease of Grace Church in this city.  The appearance of the structure would suggest great age, and the contrast is the more glaring from the comparison with the substantial edifices in its vicinity. It must have been originally very imperfectly put together, and demands reparation, if only from the consideration that it is God’s House-‘the place where His Honour dwelleth.’”

The property was sold back to Grace Church and in June 1863 the rector announced that $50,000 had been subscribed to the building fund and that amount would be spent on the northeast corner of Madison Avenue and 35th Street.  (As it turned out, the property was acquired for $48,000.)

Joshua Perkins related “Three designs for the building had been under consideration, submitted respectively by Messrs. Gambrel and Post, Mr. H. G. Harrison and Mr. E. T. Little.  The vestry decided upon the plan of Mr. Little, and he was accordingly appointed architect of the church.”

Emlen T Little was born in Philadelphia and focused almost exclusively on ecclesiastical design.  Like Richard Upjohn, he preferred Gothic Revival for his church architecture. And so it would be for the Church of the Incarnation.  His instructions, according to Perkins, were “that the church should be without galleries, should seat eleven hundred and six people, that the organ be placed near the chancel and that the entire cost should not exceed the original estimate.”

The cornerstone for the new building was laid on March 8, 1864 by the powerful Bishop Horatio Potter.  Despite the upheaval caused by civil war the building continued at a blinding rate. Six months later, on September 26, The New York Times remarked “The new church is of the early decorative Gothic order, and is intended to seat about twelve hundred people, without the side galleries.  It is built of Newark stone, the dressings and weatherings of Cleveland stone; the Chancel of Apisdal, and lighted from above.”

The $8,000 organ by Stambridge had already been installed at this point.  “The wheel of the organ is to be turned by a running stream of water, a new style, and one which it is said will produce a greater evenness of sound.  A peculiar feature of the building will be a beautiful series of memorial windows.  The Church is to have a spire 185 or 190 feet high, and its cost, without the spire, will be about $130,000,” said the newspaper.

The edifice was completed by December and its cost came in a little under The Times’ prediction at $120,000—over $1.8 million today.   The church which was originally intended for the poor who could not afford pew rent now sat squarely among the mansions of some of New York’s wealthiest citizens.

The church as it appeared prior to the fire--only backwards.  The publisher accidentally flipped the negative.  History of the Parish of the Incarnation, 1912 (copyright expired)

Emlen T. Little described his work saying it “is in the Early Decorated English Gothic style, of the first part of the XIVth century, adapted to modern principles and improvements in architecture…The exterior and interior sculptures are modeled after natural leaves; the arch braces of the roof are filled with tracery purlins and intermediates, forming square panels, above which is the chestnut ceiling.  The chamfers have been colored with vermilion and the roof oiled and stained.”

The furnishings were of ash, walnut, and chestnut and the ceiling was decorated in brilliant colors.  “The lower panels filled with plaster tinted to deep ultra-marine, are relieved with constellations of golden stars,” said Little’s notes.  “The upper panels are filled with white glass with ruby border…The walls of te church are encrusted with diaper work in plaster.”

The church was formally opened on December 11, 1864.  The Times reported “Notwithstanding the exceedingly inclement weather, a very large congregation occupied the spacious and beautiful sanctuary.”  The newspaper was taken by the care Little had taken to eliminate outside glare. “The light is so admitted that not a ray falls into the eyes of the people.  At night the church is illuminated by gas-jets around the poles of the columns, and by a superb corona in the chancel.”

The concept of free pews for the poor had fallen by the wayside.  On the Friday following the first service a public sale of pews was held at 7:30 p.m.  The New York Times remarked a few days later “We understand that one hundred thousand dollars’ worth of pews have been sold in the new Church of the Incarnation.”  Additional monetary gifts of $25,000 had been donated and $20,000 in “premiums” had been received.  “The success recorded above is believed to be without a parallel in the history of the Protestant Episcopal Church in this or any other city,” opined the newspaper.

The congregation of the Church of the Incarnation included the names of some of Manhattan’s most respected citizens.  So when vestryman Louis F. Therasson was arrested in November 1877 it was shocking at least.   Reporters were told he was “regarded as a man of means and as an energetic Christian worker, above the faintest breath of suspicion.”

The 57-year old lawyer was, according to The New York Times “of nervous temperament” and “of highly respectable parentage.”  He lived “in good style” at No. 518 Madison Avenue; a style more understandable when it was discovered her had swindled clients out of around $130,000.

The same month that the messy affair was publicized, the church unveiled an 8-foot memorial to the Rev. Dr. H. E. Montgomery who died in 1874.  Designed by architect Henry Hobson Richardson, it incorporated bronze panels by Auguste St. Gaudens.  The Gothic memorial consisted of carved sandstone and marble and cost the donors $1,500.  There was only one other memorial—a white marble tablet to Admiral Farragut—in the church.

Dormers with leaded glass openings provide additional light to the interior.

In 1882 Sexton James P. Tibbitts was concerned that the gas light burners were too near the ceiling.   Workmen were brought in to lower the fixtures to prevent fire.  The cautionary move produced the opposite result.

The gas-fitters finished their work around noon on March 24, 1882.  When Assistant Sexton William Garvin returned to the church after dinner, around 8:15, to prepare for the next day’s service, “he found the building full of smoke, and on passing into the church, saw smoke rolling along the Gothic roof.”

Instead of sending an alarm to the fire department, Garvin ran to the house of Sexton Tibbitts at No. 1284 Broadway.  By the time Tibbitts got to the church the fire had advanced.  “When firemen entered by the chapel door the flames were bursting through the floor of the church behind the chancel and in the passageway leading from the chancel to the chapel,” reported The Times.

After an hour of fighting the fire, it was finally under control.  The Church of the Incarnation was nearly entirely destroyed.  According to a congregant, Mrs. Kellner, when the rector arrived “a neighboring Presbyterian minister could not resist saying to him, ‘You Episcopalians manage your fires with as much decorum as you do everything else.’”

Inside the building highly-expensive items were lost, like the $20,000 organ by Erben which had replaced the original; and the $15,000 memorial window in the west end of the church.  “The roof of the church, with the exception of a small portion toward the front, was destroyed, but the walls of the building and the square tower on the south-west corner of the structure were intact. The chancel was burned out entirely, and the handsome fount and reading-desks were destroyed,” reported The New York Times.

The damage was estimated at $50,000, all of which was covered by insurance.  Rather than demolish the ruins and start over; the congregation opted to repair their beloved structure.  On June 29, 1882 John L. Riker announced plans for the rebuilding of the church.  “The walls are to be taken down and the structure rebuilt as it was before the fire,” reported a newspaper.

Two days later the Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide noted that the architects chosen for the project were brothers David and John Jardine.  The church was enlarged “and improved,” and the construction was completed by Christmas.  The cost of rebuilding and outfitting the building was $75,000.  The architects respected Little’s original exterior design; however the “interior presents an entirely new appearance,” according to The New York Times on December 25, 1882.

History of the Parish of the Incarnation, 1912 (copyright expired)
Although the church was reopened in December, it would take years to totally complete the renovations.  In May 1883 the installation of the new organ was completed and a “complimentary concert” was given.

Artist John La Farge was given the commission to create to panel paintings.  As he worked on them in November 1885, the Record and Guide deemed them “the most important work he has yet undertaken in the character of the subject, the artistic aim, and the linear dimensions.”

William Garvin, the sexton who had discovered the fire in 1882, was an Irish immigrant.  A widower, he lived with his two sons and a daughter in Brooklyn.  On the evening of Saturday June 17, 1892 Rev. Dr. Arthur Brooks reminded him to lock up and be back early to open the church for services.  When Sexton Jackson arrived at 10:00 on Sunday morning, he was surprised to find the choir waiting outside and the doors still locked.

“Jackson opened the door with his own keys, and found Garvin lying dead in one of the aisles,” reported The Times.  He had apparently suffered a massive stroke.

By 1895 the interior decorations were essentially finished.  La Farge’s two panels, the Nativity of Christ and the Visit of the Magi, were acclaimed by The Times’ art critic.  “Both are delightful, each in its way, the latter perhaps being richer in color than the former, and having greater depth and fullness of tone.”

The stained glass windows were executed by the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company; two by La Farge; and seven by Henry Holiday in England.

The often-acerbic art critic Helen Henderson would be less glowing when she described the La Farge panels in 1909, calling them “badly set.”  She called his two windows “early examples of no great importance.”

Henderson did not confine her criticisms to La Farge.  “The embellishment of the Church of the Incarnation seems to have been pursued without definite plan, and the result is more curious than pleasing.”  She complained that Holiday’s and La Farge’s styles “were diametrically opposed” and “it is unfortunate for the ensemble that the work of the two artists should be thus juxtaposed.” And she called the two small stained glass windows by William Morris “of little consequence.”

Helen Henderson was nearly alone in her opinions.  The Times considered the Holiday windows “of the highest character” and said that La Farge’s windows “both well represent him.”  The baptismal font was sculpted by Louis St. Gaudens and surmounted by a figure of John the Baptist.  “This work is attractive in many ways, and marks a commendable departure from the inartistic architectural designs of fonts generally seen in other churches,” said the newspaper.

In 1896 the trustees hired architects Heins & La Farge to enlarge the church by moving the rear wall back six feet.   The renovation cost the congregation $5,000.

The neighborhood around the Church of the Incarnation changed in the 20th century. The mansions of Madison Avenue were replaced by office buildings that towered over the Gothic stone structure.  But the residential side streets of Murray Hill remained upscale and the congregation continued to be well heeled.

A mid-century postcard depicted the impressive church.

Nevertheless, the church adapted to changing times.  Allen Hughes, writing for The New York Times on December 19, 1970, said “Most of the music being presented in Christmas programs in churches this season is traditional, but at the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation tomorrow a more modern sound will be heard.  Richard Felciano’s ‘God of the Expanding Universe’ will be performed, and it is a work for electronic tape and organ.”

A century after the rebuilding of the Church of the Incarnation, its age was posing a danger.  In 1990 chunks of stone began falling off the building, prompting officials to erect scaffolding with mesh netting to protest pedestrians.  The following year a $1 million restoration was initiated.   The reddish tone of the brownstone reappeared after 127 years of city soot was removed.  The roof and the masonry were repaired.

Ornate iron gates protect to portico.

Another restoration was conducted in 2014.  Despite Helen Henderson’s pedantic rant in 1909, the Church of the Incarnation represents a treasure of 19th century architectural and artistic work.

non-credited photographs by the author

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The James Roosevelt House -- No. 56 Bleecker Street

The block of Bleecker Street between Broadway and Lafayette Street was on the border of one of Manhattan’s most exclusive neighborhoods in the 1830s—the Bond Street district.  Holding its own with the mansions one block away was No. 64 Bleecker Street.  Completed in 1823, it would be home to Jacobus "James" Roosevelt II, great-grandfather of Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Clad in Flemish bond red brick the house rose three stories below a dormered attic, and handsome paneled lintels of brownstone capped the openings.

Roosevelt was the son of Isaac Roosevelt and the former Cornelia Hoffman.  His great-great-grandfather, Claes Maartenszen Van Rosenvelt was the first of the Roosevelts in the new world.  After graduating from Princeton in 1780, he went into the sugar refining business (his father's occupation) and banking.

He moved into the new house with his third wife, the former Harriet Howland.  His first and second wives had both died.  He and Harriet were married on January 29, 1821.  Although the couple had no children, he had produced 13 from his former marriages.

The Roosevelts remained in their elegant home for decades.  James died on February 6, 1847 and Harriet nine years later, on April 18, 1856.   The following the house was acquired by Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female physician in the United States.  The ground-breaking woman had begun treating patients in New York in 1851; and in 1854 established the New York Dispensary for Indigent Women and Children on East 15th Street.

Now with the larger accommodations of the former Roosevelt house, she established the first women's hospital in the country, entirely staffed by females.  It was customary for facilities like this to raise money through "fairs" or bazaars.  On December 15, 1857 the "Ladies' Hospital Fair" was opened in the building.  It lasted the entire week.

On February 1, 1859 The New York Herald announced "The trustees of the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children held their fifth annual meeting last night at 64 Bleecker street."  During the previous year 3,072 patients had been treated.  The article reminded readers "Females are taught the practice of medicine in the Infirmary."

Two personal advertisements that year hinted that not all infants survived childbirth.  On September 5, 1859 one read "Wanted--A situation by a very respectable young married woman, with a fresh breast of milk as nurse."  Another appeared in The New York Herald: "Wanted--A situation as wet nurse by a healthy young woman."  Both ads said they could be temporarily seen at 64 Bleecker Street.

In 1860 the trustees of the New-York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children purchased No. 126 Second Avenue.  The New York Times explained on May 7 that year, "The Dispensary and Infirmary patients are constantly increasing."  The "large and commodious" 25-foot wide home, according to the trustees, was "well adapted for the accommodation of patients."  The hospital moved to that new location the following year.

Bleecker Street was renumbered in 1859, earning the house the new address of 56.  By now the once-elegant Bleecker Street block was far less so.  Wealthy citizens moved northward into Murray Hill and onto Fifth Avenue.  By 1862 the house had been converted to a store on ground level and rented rooms upstairs.

Madame Flora Pinchon ran her upscale ladies’ apparel and accessories shop in the former parlor level.   She was understandably upset when she realized that a black silk mantilla was missing in June 1862.  Its price tag was $55—nearly $1,500 today.

On Monday night, June 9, Madame Pinchon attended the Cremorne Gardens and was stunned when Mary Murray walked in wearing the high-priced mantilla.  Mary was arrested and police warned other shopkeepers that she was just one of a gang.

“It is alleged that there is a large class of cloak and mantilla thieves, who have recently plied their trade with great success in the neighborhood of Canal and Bleecker streets.”

Irish immigrant John Farell was living upstairs at the time.  In 1863 his name was pulled in the Draft Lottery, instituted to increase the numbers of Union soldiers.

By the end of the war Madame Pinchon’s shop was gone, replaced by Edington B. Decker’s piano shop.  But a far more exciting tenant would take over much of the upper floor space in 1874:  The United States Secret Service.

The Secret Service, originally formed to battle counterfeiting, had been in existence since around 1865.  Now it opened a New York City office.  On April 11, 1874 The New York Times wrote “Of the thousands who daily traverse Broadway in the vicinity of Bleecker Street, few, if any, are aware of the close vicinity of an institution whose ramifications, extending from Maine to California, and from Minnesota to Texas, carry terror and defeat into the ranks of outlaws, whose secret haunts no other organization in the land could reach or break up.”

That same year, on July 20, a Times reporter “called on Col. Whitely, at his office, No. 56 Bleecker street.”  The interviewer was interested in a sensational safe burglary at the Office of the United States Attorney General in Washington D. C.; and about rumors that Solicitor Wilson “had recommended that the Secret Service Division should be entirely abolished, on the ground that it was managed with reckless extravagance, and did not, by its results, satisfy the expectations of the Treasury Department.”

H. C. Whitely, who headed up the New York office, was quick to defend his organization.  “Aside from the matters connected with the safe burglary, Mr. Wilson had not made even a superficial examination of either the papers or records of the Secret Service Division; that the examination he had made was certainly not such as would enable him to come to any conclusion in regard to its efficiency, and the amount of the work done, or the character of its disbursements," he told the newspaper.

The safe burglary of the Attorney General’s office was the major case Colonel Whitely and his agents worked on that entire year.  In the meantime, the Secret Service shared the upper floors of No. 56 Bleecker with Porter & Schraidt’s detective agency.

Taxes were levied on alcohol products and to ensure that only the goods for which the taxes had been paid made it to the saloons and liquor stores, revenue stamps were affixed to the bottles.  They sealed the caps so that when the bottles were opened, the stamp was damaged.  A brewer who could get his hands on pristine beer stamps could avoid paying taxes and save himself thousands of dollars.

Early in September 1875 an informant told the private detectives that barber William Pakulski, who lived at No. 154 West Houston Street, “was in possession of a large amount of stolen United States beer stamps.”  The detectives moved in.

They informed the police of their case, then Schraidt became friendly with Pakulski at his shop at No. 529 Broadway.   He hinted to the barber that he was interested in purchasing the stamps, and The New York Times later explained “it was arranged that the stamps should be brought to a wine saloon in the Bowery.”

On September 16 Pakulski went to the saloon.  He called in a boy named Henry Myers who gave the barber a large case.  Outside of the rear entrance on Chrystie Street, Detectives Sullivan of the 10th Precinct and Schraidt were waiting.   When Henry Myers walked out, he was arrested.  The detectives then nabbed Pakuski inside.

“The valise on being opened was found to contain $4,360 worth of stolen beer stamps,” reported The Times.  The haul would translate to about $95,500 today.

Within the decade the investigative offices would be gone and low-income roomers would occupy the upper floors.   The class of tenant was exemplified by two girls, Jennie Walsh and Maud Mack, who both worked at Kinney’s cigarette factory.  On August 14, 1887 the company organized an employee picnic which both girls attended.  Unfortunately, they were not the paragons of ladylike Victorian demeanor.

Their trouble began when they were arrested on the way home for intoxication and disorderly conduct.  While they sat in the Jefferson Market Court awaiting arraignment, Nellie Tracey approached Jennie.  The woman had been released from the Blackwell’s Island workhouse and celebrated her freedom by getting drunk.  She asked Jennie if she had any snuff.

When Jennie said she did not, Nellie Tracey pulled out a penknife and stabbed Jennie in the right hip, “inflicting a severe wound,” reported a newspaper.  The other women in the holding cell “raised an outcry” and officers disarmed Nellie—who now faced charges of felonious assault.

The incident did not lighten the fates of Maud nor Jennie, however.  The New York Times reported on August 15 “After Jennie’s wound had been dressed she was sent to the House of Detention.  Maud Mack was sentenced to 10 days for intoxication.”

As the turn of the century approached, the garment and millinery district was engulfing the neighborhood and the owner of No. 56 Bleecker Street ceased renting rooms; leasing space instead to small businesses.  In 1890 the ground floor was occupied by S. Meuer & Co., “dealers in artificial flowers.”  Charles Welsker Co. was listed in the building by 1896.  The firm sold feathers—“fancy and military”—to adorn the headwear of fashionable women and the ceremonial hats of military officers.

At the same time the Household Publishing and Printing Company was headquartered here.  But in 1897 the firm was in trouble.  The first signs appeared in April when United States Deputy Marshall Walter Stafford entered the office and arrested Carrington Thompson “on the charge of using the mails for swindling purposes.”  Thompson, it was alleged, sent letters through the mail offering to send a bicycle worth $100 to anyone sending him $45.”   The duped would-be bicyclists complained to authorities when the bikes were never received.

Things only got worse two months later.  The American Stationer reported on June 3 that year that its secretary, John Maclay “charges that the company’s president, Carrington Thomson, has misappropriated some $20,000 worth of the company’s funds and has wrecked the concern.”

Two days later The New York Times reported on a “meeting of the creditors of the Household Publishing and Printing Company, publisher of The Household Magazine…to see if anything could be saved out of the wreck of the concern.”  The newspaper said bluntly “The affairs of the company are in a deplorable condition.”

The building would continue to house garment companies throughout two decades. Ban Shecket “manufacturer of fur lined coats” was here in the 1910s into the 1920s.  On October 31, 1917 the firm purchased 3,250 “muskrat rats” which would be transformed into ladies’ apparel.

By now No. 56 was the last remnant of the elegant residential neighborhood of the 1830s.  The building was overshadowed by hulking factory buildings.  As the 20th century forgot the Noho neighborhood, the brick house fell into neglect.

The color change at the side is the result of a coat of red paint.

But eventually, as is always the case in Manhattan, the neighborhood changed.  Artists rediscovered the area in the last quarter of the century. The Bleecker Gallery opened in No. 56, lasting here until 1987.  In 1990 the ground floor where Madame Flora Pinchon sold mantillas and cloaks to moneyed female shoppers, became the Bleecker Street Bar which still operates today.

photos by the author

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Gothic Surprises-Nos. 250-254 West 72nd Street

As the construction industry recovered following the Financial Panic of 1873 interest in the Upper West Side renewed.  It was helped along by the opening of the Ninth Avenue elevated train.    Architects created fanciful rows of upscale homes that drew on a variety of historic styles.

Among the most unusual were the six four-story residences designed in 1887 for developer Michael Steinhart by architect George F. Pelham.   Completed in 1888 the row was a fanciful interpretation of the Gothic style.   The limestone facades were carved with near-ecclesiastical ornamentation.  Steep stone stoops rose to the elaborate entrances above the English basements.  Above it all high mansard roofs, covered in fish scale tiles, provided a full fourth floor.

Within the first decades of the 20th century half of the delightful row would be razed for the Upper West Side’s next craze—the apartment building.  But Nos. 250 through 254 survived.

The upscale owners included the Michael O’Brien family, who lived in No. 252 by 1895.  With O’Brien and his wife, Elizabeth, were son Michael; daughter Loretta and her husband Nicholas J. Cosgrove.  On January 24 that year Michael and Elizabeth hosted a dinner “on the occasion of the first anniversary of the marriage of their daughter, Mrs. N. J. Cosgrove.” 

The dinner was held at the Hotel Majestic and among the 25 guests were the entire bridal party of the year before.  “The tables were profusely decorated with roses,” reported The New York Times.  The anniversary parties would become a tradition in the O’Brien household.  The following year it included a theater party followed by supper at the Park Avenue Hotel.

The warm tradition came to an end in 1900.  On June 23 Loretta and Nicholas took a car to the pier where the steamer Monmouth was docked.  They were on their way to Point Pleasant, New Jersey to select a cottage for the summer.

Cosgrove had been a manager in an importing house, but resigned because of heart trouble.   As they exited the car, they realized that the Monmouth was about to pull away.  They ran to the boat, barely catching it.

“Mr. Cosgrove had not made three steps on the boat when he gasped and fell dead on the deck,” reported The New York Times the following morning.  A relative expressed indignation to reporters.  “He said that when Mr. Cosgrove fell dead the Monmouth was still tied to her pier, and that instead of bringing the body ashore at once it was taken to the Highlands, accompanied by Mrs. Cosgrove, who was almost prostrated by the shock.”

The original doorway to No. 250 has been converted to a window.

Next door to the O’Briens, at No. 254, John Mulford and his family, were living by 1894.  Mulford was President of the Mutual Benefit Ice Company, purchasing agent of the New York Central Railroad, and Vice President of the West Side Bank.  When he died at the age of 74 on Friday, March 18, 1898, he still held his position with the bank.  His funeral was held in the house two days later at 3:00.

Louisa Mulford and her two grown children continued to live in the house.  On May 21, 1901 she placed an advertisement in the New-York Tribune.  “Wanted: Protestant cook, washer, and ironer in family of three adults; city references.”

In 1894, while Nos. 252 and 254 were still rather grand private homes, No. 250 was already being operated as an upscale boarding house by “Mrs. Morse.”  Her boarders came from the upper crust, like Frederick McKay.  On June 20, 1894 The Times notified social page readers that he would “spend the Summer at Larchmont.”

Mrs. Morse rented rooms the following year to Mrs. Sophie Craig Smith, described by The Times as “forty-nine years old, a stylishly dressed woman.”  On October 10, 1895 Sophie (who also went by the name of Mrs. F. N. Gill) was arrested as she prepared to take passage on a steamship to Europe.

Police explained that it was “her custom to engage board at a fashionable hotel or boarding house, and there entertain her friends.  In each case, it is alleged, she would leave the place with her bill unpaid.”   Despite the large amount of money in her possession, Sophie Smith had racked up a long list of debts—including $18 to Mrs. Morse for unpaid rent.

The enraged charlatan “declared that she would bring suit against the persons who had caused her arrest, as the delay in sailing for Europe had seriously deranged her plans.”

Another well-do-to boarder of Mrs. Morse was Mrs. J. W. Dullea who was robbed by Lawrence Macy in 1895.  Lawrence Macy confessed to robbing 14 other women, as well, when he was apprehended after “a long chase on the roof of a house in the Elizabeth Street Precinct,” according to The Times on August 7, 1895.  The total value of the loot was estimated to be around $5000.

At No. 252 the O’Briens remained on well past the turn of the century.   Loretta Cosgrove filled her time dealing in real estate, and Joseph was by 1907 a member of the New York Academy of Sciences and Affiliated Societies.  Michael O’Brien, now widowed, died in the house on Friday June 2, 1916.  His funeral was held in the parlor the following Monday.

The O’Briens’s long-time neighbor, Louisa Mulford, had died at the age of 76 on July 16, 1909.  At the time of her death the house was valued at $60,000—in the neighborhood of $1.6 million today.  Following her death, the servants were kept on for two months as caretakers at their regular salaries.  Among these was Mabel Cavanagh, recently hired as a chambermaid.

Two years later the family received a shock.   Mabel Cavanagh filed suit against the estate.  She claimed that Louisa had “provided that for the rest of her life Miss Cavanagh was to have an income from the estate of $13 a month and the exclusive use of a bedroom in the Mulford house at 254 West Seventy-second Street and the general use of the dining-room, sitting-room, laundry and kitchen, as had been her privilege while Mrs. Mulford lived.”  If that were impossible, she would settle for a lump sum of $16,000.

The estate’s attorney, George W. Carr was skeptical at best.  “Mrs. Mulford was a very methodical woman and she was most cautious in all her business dealings,” he said.  “It is past human belief that she would enter, without consulting her business advisers, upon any such agreement, and that, too, with a domestic who had been in the household for only a month.”

Cavanaugh and her attorney no doubt knew that it was impossible for her to live in the house at this point.  In August 1910, before the messy affair arose, the estate had leased No. 254 to the Hawthorne School.  The day school for privileged girls, which was operated “under English and French supervision," had already moved into No. 250 in 1906. 

Among the students at the Hawthorne School in 1910 were 17-year old Margaret Sumner, the daughter of attorney Edward A. Sumner, and Elise Shearman, daughter of the Vice President of W. R. Grace & Co., L. H. Shearman.  That year the Sumners were summering on the family yacht, the Kiaroa, at Huntington, Long Island; and the Shearmans were in Garden City. 

On Monday, August 29, 1910 Elise’s mother drove her to Huntington to visit Margaret Sumner.  With a friend on board, Margaret rowed a boat from the yacht to pick up Elise at the Huntington Club house.   When the small boat returned to the yacht, Margaret caught hold of it with a boat hook and instructed Elise to climb up the ladder.  The treacherous ebb tide was running as Elise slipped and fell fully dressed into the waters.

While Mrs. Sumner ran for a life buoy, Margaret Sumner plunged into the bay after her schoolmate.  “Miss Sherman could not swim and also was hampered by an automobile veil which was wound tightly over head, neck, and shoulders.  She was helpless and was being carried swiftly away by the tide,” reported The New York Times.

In the meantime, the girl still in the rowboat “knew little about rowing and was too frightened to do anything but scream.”

The courageous Margaret Sumner, trained in life saving, caught Elise and held her as she tried to swim against the tide.  The girls were carried several hundred feet out; but Mrs. Sumner had managed to throw the life buoy and Margaret held onto it until the girls were pulled in.  

The Times reported “Both were exhausted but otherwise little the worse for the wetting.  As soon as she had rested Miss Shearman was able to return to Garden City.”

The 1913 term would be the last for the Hawthorne School in Nos. 250 and 254 West 72nd Street.  In 1914 when Mary Geer leased No. 250 to A. H. Paynter, it was referred to by the Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide as a “four-story private dwelling.”  No. 254 would remain in the possession of Louisa Mulford’s estate until 1920 when it was sold to a realty company.  It, too, was described as a four-story dwelling at the time.

But as the Depression years neared, the homes were converted to apartments and their stoops removed.  In 1928 a store and office were installed on sidewalk level of No. 252.  Above, there were now one apartment per floor.   Dancer and showgirl Georgia Gray (whose real name was Lucia Dickens), lived here in 1931.  The Times described her as “about 25 years old, red-haired and of unusual beauty.”

Georgia’s friends were less than respectable and in January 1931 she wrote to her grandmother in Augusta, Georgia asking for money to return home.  She explained that she was “tired of the crowd I am running with.”

Before she could leave, however, she was subpoenaed as a witness in the murder investigation of Vivian Gordon.   Vivian was to testify against Patrolman Leigh Halpern, a vice-squad member; and against his partner, Daniel Sullivan; but she was murdered before she could testify.

Halpern’s trial came first.   Prosecutors charged him with perjury, saying that he and Sullivan “used stool-pigeons and testified as the arresting policemen in women’s court that they did not know the men.”  On the stand Georgia testified “that she was a friend of Harry Gibson and Monte Booth, fugitive stool-pigeons, and that Halpern, Sullivan, and another plain clothesman, Eddie Butler, had visited her home…with the two stool-pigeons.”

Before Sullivan’s trial began, Georgia became suddenly ill.   Around on Friday night, March 13, 1931 she left No. 252 West 82nd Street for Bellevue Hospital.  At around 10:30 the following evening she was dead.

Georgia’s body was found not in her hospital bed, but on the floor beside it.  The Deputy Medical Examiner, Thomas A. Gonzales, did an autopsy and deemed the death “natural.”   Assistant District Attorney Daly was less sure.  He told a reporter “the woman came to him several weeks ago, a few days after a jury had acquitted Patrolman Leigh Halpern, formerly of the midtown vice squad, of perjury and told him she feared ‘friends of Halpern and the police would bother’ her.”  A poison expert was called in.

In 1933 opera director Maurice Frank and his family leased an apartment in No. 250.  Since 1930 he had directed the open-air opera held at the Polo Grounds.  On June 20, 1933 his 16-year old daughter, Bernice, went missing.  The Washington Irving Evening High School student was fascinated with the stage; so her father put the word out to the managers of small stock companies to search their troupes for her.  Newspapers reported “Miss Frank weighs 120 to 125 pounds, has bobbed brown hair, brown eyes, is five feet six and one-half inches tall. She wore a brown dress and a small hat.”

On July 9 she had still not been found and The New York Times reported “The girl’s mother, Mrs. Florence Frank, has been ill since her daughter disappeared.”  It was not until September 13 that a wire from Hollywood, California arrived at the Times desk.

“Held in custody as a juvenile run-away, Bernice Frank…was picked up today by local authorities.”

Bernice told officials she had run away because she did not want to attend business college.  She took $250, dyed her hair red, and rode to California on a bus.  Once in Hollywood she took on the name Margot Eaton and tried (without success) to land a job as an extra in motion pictures.

The telegram ended “The girl was recently ejected from her room for failure to pay rent.”

This section of West 72nd Street was undergoing change and the tenants in the three Gothic houses reflected it.  The same year that Bernice Frank ran away Harry Lewis, who also lived in No. 250 was arrested for the 18th time.  Three years later another tenant, 44-year old Carey Phelan was arrested for assaulting female golf pro Bea Gotlieb.  In 1942 Benjamin “Fat Benny” Goldstein was indicted in a bootleg case, charged in a $3 million conspiracy case and with selling 190-proof alcohol.  Patrick H. Lennon, who used the alias “Harry Hoffman” was arrested for fraud in 1955.

The renters in the other buildings were similar.  Harrison H. Hayes Wentworth lived in No. 254 in 1933.  Formerly connected with Universal Picture, Inc. he was also once the casting director for the Norma Talmadge Production Corporation.  But now he was charged with stealing $5,000 in jewelry from author Gilbert Patten and “with obtaining money from several prominent persons, including an Assistant United States Attorney, by telling them stories of his misfortune or selling them a share in a $200,000 estate he says he owns in Maine, but which the police believe is purely the object of his imagination.”

Eventually things turned around.  By 1972 No. 250 was home to West Side, an art gallery.    In 1973 W. M. Tweed’s, a bar, operated from the sidewalk level.  Rose-ann Quinn was drinking there one night that year when she met a man who lived across the street at No. 253.  Rose-ann’s decision to go to his apartment that night was fatal.  She was stabbed 14 times and her murder was the inspiration for the novel and movie Looking for Mr. Goodbar.”

In 1996 The Sugar Bar was opened in No 254 by Nickolas Ashford and his wife Valerie Simpson—the recording artists Ashford & Simpson.  The couple lived in apartment #1A here.

Although the lower two floors of Nos. 252 and 254 have been annihilated, the parlor floor of No. 250 remains relatively intact.   Even with the barbaric alterations, what remains of the marvelous Gothic rowhouses is a delight.

photographs by the author