Saturday, May 30, 2015

Stanford White's 1904 IRT Powerhouse 59th St and 11th Ave

photo by Jim Henderson
In 1900 August Belmont, Jr. and Andrew Onderdonk embarked on a massive project that would change the lives of New Yorkers forever.  Their Rapid Transit Construction Company (reorganized as the Interborough Rapid Transit Company in May 1902) obtained the rights to build an underground railroad system—Manhattan’s first subway.

The gargantuan undertaking entailed more than the blasting of tons of bedrock, the laying of track, and construction of underground stations.  The system would require massive amounts of electricity to power the trains. 

The neighborhood selected for the IRT’s power plant was San Juan Hill—roughly encompassing 59th Street to 65th, from Amsterdam to 11th Avenue.  While New York’s other grittiest neighborhoods—Hell’s Kitchen immediately to the south, Mulberry Bend and Five Points—were made up of a mix of ethnicities, San Juan Hill’s residents were almost exclusively black.    It was a district of gang violence, bloodshed, poverty and hopelessness.

The City Beautiful Movement, sparked about a decade earlier, held that monumental, inspiring structures promoted civic pride, morality and social order.  The theory was that by surrounding citizens with noble architecture, they would respond by behaving civilly.   The IRT set out to improve San Juan Hill with a noble edifice in the form of its powerhouse.

On September 18, 1901 The Real Estate Record and Builders’ Guide commented on the prospect.  “It need only be remarked that the location of the power-house in that vicinity will benefit the neighborhood, both by creating a large demand for labor, and by the tendency in improvement which an important public work always bestows upon its surroundings...It is stated that the building to be erected will not only be a useful, but an ornamental structure.”

Indeed, the Interborough Rapid Transit included in the building contract “All parts of the structure, where exposed to public sight, shall, therefore, be designed, constructed and maintained with a view to the beauty of their appearance, as well as to their efficiency.”

The IRT had bought up the entire block of land between 58th and 59th Streets, and between 11th and 12th Avenues.  On the property were the sprawling Eastman & Co. slaughterhouses.  The firm was delicately described by Butcher’s Advocate as “the largest abattoir in this city.”

On May 31, 1902 it was announced that “The Eastman buildings, occupying the block on 11th av. between 58th and 59th sts, and extending to the Hudson River, are being torn down to make way for the new power-house.”   That same month the cornerstone was laid for the white marble New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue.  One of the most iconic examples of City Beautiful structures in Manhattan, its architects, Carrere & Hastings, were probably considered for the powerhouse design.  But the IRT choose the equally-prominent but less obvious firm of  McKim, Mead & White.

It was Stanford White who would design the structure.  His Madison Square Garden, completed two years earlier, was an architectural tour de force and he approached the industrial powerhouse project with the same gusto.   His Beaux Arts design included pilasters banded by elaborate terra cotta, rows of grand arched openings (topped with wreaths on the 11th Avenue side), and eagles perching within the keystones.

The construction was repeatedly interrupted by labor strikes which, in turn, delayed the opening of the subway system.   On January 2, 1904 The Real Estate Record and Builders’ Guide reported that “The easterly end is enclosed but the westerly half is still open, the structural steel-work there being underway.”  (The publication got the architect’s name wrong, naming S. L. F. Deyo instead of White.)

The powerhouse was nearing completion when the Interborough Rapid Transit Company released this shot in 1904 -- from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

By February 18, 1904 The New York Times was becoming frustrated.  In announcing yet another delay in the opening, it advised its readers “The only advice which this statement suggests is, Do the best you can.  Every day of delay in opening this great public work to the traffic for which it is designed involves inconveniences to multitudes of people—not merely to those who will habitually use it, but to an equal number of those who will continue to use the now congested lines, surface and elevated."

Finally, eight months later on October 27 the power plant’s massive equipment—“twelve 7,500 to 12,000 horse-power engines, twelve generators and seventy-two 1,200 horse-power boilers”—came to life and New York’s first subway system was opened.

Having complained for months about construction delays, The New York Times now took the time to consider Stanford White’s completed structure.  “The Interborough management is entitled to a compliment for the civic spirit shown in adopting a design for the power house which makes it an ornament to the neighborhood in which it is placed.  By reason of the attention given to the chaste and admirable scheme of decoration and the building of its stacks of the same kind of bricks employed in its facades, the necessarily large cost of the plant was increased some $55,000.  It cannot be doubted, however, that this liberality was repaid.  The building is an ornament to the west side and enhances rather than diminishes the value of the surrounding property.  But for its stacks, it might suggest an art museum or a public library rather than a power house.”

Eagles appear perched on the keystones and in the capitals of the banded pilasters -- photo by the author

In the souvenir dedication pamphlet handed out at the opening of the system, the IRT congratulated itself on the handsome building.  “Several plans were taken up looking to the construction of a power house of massive and simple design, but, it was finally decided to adopt an ornate style of treatment by which the structure would be rendered architecturally attractive and in harmony with the recent tendencies of municipal and city improvements from an architectural standpoint.”

The booklet noted that “At the initial stage of the power house design Mr. Stanford White, of the firm of McKim, Mead & White, of New York, volunteered his services to the company as an adviser on the matter of the design of the facework.”   White’s volunteering did not preclude his acceptance of a $3,500 flat fee, however.

The plant was powered by burning coal.  Edward J. Berwind was the largest holder of bituminous coal in the country, and possibly the world.  The sole supplier of coal to the United States Navy and several railroads, he added the IRT’s order of 250,000 tons of coal a year to his list of contracts.

The reliable routine of coal deliveries from the Berwind-White Coal Company, in the IRT’s mind at least, precluded the necessity of vast reserve supplies.   Although the 59th Street power house had a reserve bunker capable of holding 7,000 tons, it sat empty.  But America’s entry into World War I would dramatically prove the company’s folly.

A 1904 postcard depicted the massive generators equipment.

The Government intercepted Berwind coal shipments and redirected them for use in the U.S. fleet of battleships.   On August 23, 1917 the coal at the power house began running out.  “For two days the fires at the Fifty-ninth Street power house had been fed from a dangerously small coal pile,” said The New York Times on August 26.   Finally, at 1:45 on the afternoon of the 25th the fuel was exhausted.

“Superintendent Merritt at once gave the order halting the trains,” reported the newspaper.”  At 1:50 customers were denied entrance to the platforms.  “After that subway trains rolled slowly into stations, where their crews were informed that the power was to be off for an indefinite time.”

Newspapers were outraged.  They reported on the thousands of straphangers stranded with no warning.   The following day an investigation by the Public Service Commission was begun, resulting in Acting Chairman William Hayward ordering the IRT to fill the reserve bunkers.  He was infuriated that “the Interborough had been operating on a hand-to-mouth basis.”

The great smokestacks atop the 59th Street powerhouse began once again belching black bituminous coal smoke.    But the solution to one problem became a problem in itself.   In 1947 civic and business groups launched an initiative to clear air pollution.  In reporting on a January 8 meeting The New York Times said the soot and smoke was caused in part by the improper burning of soft coal, “a major contributor to the quantity of soot in the city.”

“At the Board o Transportation it was said that extensive rehabilitation of the powerhouse at the Hudson River and Fifty-ninth Street would remove on the of the city’s soot spots.”

But there would be no solution.  Although engineers spent $20,000 in rehabilitation work, by 1954 it was obvious that the outdated equipment would continue to pose a problem.   On September 17 Dr. Leonard Greenburg, Commission of the Department of Air Pollution Control said “The darn thing’s no good and won’t be any good until the city has spent millions more for new boilers and other equipment.”

In 1959 the ownership of the powerhouse passed to ConEdison.  A complete modernization of the equipment resulted in the old steam engines being dismantled, installation of new and efficient boilers and, by 1968, the complete conversion from coal to gas and oil.  But the firm’s business-only approach to the building left no place for history or architecture.

The first of Stanford White’s elements to go was the elaborate terra cotta cornice, ripped down in 1968.  Around the same time openings were punched in the façade, most likely in conjunction with the interior upgrades.  One by one the brick smokestacks—which had cost the IRT $55,000 in 1904 (roughly $1.5 million today)--began coming down.
When the Historic American Buildings Survey took shot photograph in the 1970s, the cornice and five of the smokestacks were already gone -- from the collection of the Library of Congress
Eventually ConEdison ceased producing electricity in the 59th Street powerhouse; using it instead for steam production.  However a 2007 study indicated that the plant produced only about 10% of ConEdison’s system requirements.

In 1979 the powerhouse was considered for landmark designation, but the effort was blocked by ConEdison.  The building came up for consideration again in 1990 with the same results.   In 2007 the Hudson River Powerhouse Group was formed to save the threatened building and repurpose it as a museum or art gallery, event and performance space, or even a massive indoor market.  

A flat scar replaces White's cornice, stretching the full length of the block.  photo by the author

In April 2009 the group filed a third request for landmark consideration, but to date the Landmarks Preservation Commission has not issued a decision.   In the meantime there is nothing to stop ConEdison from further altering the unique "ornament to the neighborhood."

Stanford White’s wonderfully monumental industrial building survives mostly intact despite the abuse.  Yet it appears that only intervention in the form of landmark designation will ultimately save it.

Friday, May 29, 2015

The 1857 Swift, Seaman & Co. Bldg -- No. 122 Chambers St.

In 1818 Isaac Jones Jr. married Mary Mason, the daughter of fabulously wealthy banker John Mason.  Jones erected a house for his bride on land owned by his father, at No. 122 Chambers Street.  Directly behind their new residence was that of New York City Alderman William Hoghland, at No. 52 Warren Street.

Within the next two decades the inevitable taint of commerce would encroach on the high-end neighborhood and in 1839 the Joneses moved uptown to No. 734 Broadway.  The family retained possession of the Chambers Street property, however.  In her new home Mary Mason Jones, already established as the queen of New York society, would reign until being nudged out by the likes of Caroline Schermerhorn Astor.

In 1856 the property at No. 122 Chambers Street was inherited by Emily Jones.  The area around the old building now bustled with activity and she wasted no time in taking advantage of its income-producing potential.  Within the year she razed the old house, along with the former Hoghland property, in order to erect a handsome commercial building.  Completed a year later, the sandstone-faced building—with identical facades on Chambers and Warren Streets—was the last word in Victorian architecture.

The architect, whose name has been lost, created a remarkably attractive five-story Italianate-style store-and-loft building.  Above the storefront base each successive row of openings decreased slightly in height—an architectural slight-of-hand that made the structure visually taller.  Setting the building apart—and a step above--its otherwise similar neighbors were the exquisite carvings that sat diadem-like above the windows of the second through fourth floors.

Directories listed Swift & Seaman, “hardware,” at both Nos. 122 Chambers and 52 Warren Street in 1858.  The firm, which would later become Swift, Seaman & Co., took up much of the building.  It specialized in harness brasses and saddlery hardware.  A related firm, Seaman Brother & Sniffin which also dealt in saddler hardware, operated in the building by 1865. 

Harness maker and hardware dealer Abraham R. Van Nest Company was in the building by 1863, the year that it hired 16-year old Alpheus Lawrence as a mailroom boy.   The firm would remain in the building for nearly eight decades.

While Swift, Seaman & Co. remained here until 1879; other businesses moved in, including two dry goods merchants.  L. Minster dealt in “cloths, cassimeres & vestings;” as did Stern Bros.

L. Minster’s significant operation was run by Lazarus Minster, Samuel Minster, Caroline Minster and Morris Kohn.  In the spring of 1865 the principals embarked on a rather nefarious scheme.   

According to court papers later, they hired James Sherlock to purchase $10,876 worth of mittens and gloves from Isaac V. Place, a Gloversville, New York manufacturer.  In June that year the transaction was made and Sherlock promised to pay the invoice “within thirty or sixty days from their delivery.”

Sherlock signed the purchase agreement, never mentioning that the goods were actually being bought by L. Minster.   Investigation revealed “It was also a part of the design that Minster and Kohn should pay to Sherlock a liberal compensation for his services, and assist him to abscond from the State and country so that the plaintiff could not prosecute him for the goods.”

Once Sherlock had skipped town, the proprietors of L. Minster claimed “they had never ordered the goods, or authorized Sherlock to purchase them.”   Isaac Place sued, claiming that L. Minster had “procured goods…to the amount of about $11,000, fraudulently, and with the intent to cheat him out of them and not pay for them.”  The enormous stock of gloves and mittens would amount to about $160,000 wholesale value today.

In 1876 the building was filled with a variety of businesses.  Swift, Seaman & Co. was still here, sharing the address with Moses Falk, “sugars;” Joseph Hirsch, “segars;” Adolph Meyersbergh, who listed himself as “agent;” and McCafferty & Connelley, dealers in fancy goods.   Shoemaker James Griffin was on the second floor of the Warren Street side; and “leather and findings” dealers (makers of shoe parts) John P. Benjamin, and, later, Brown & Folk were also here.

Around 5:00 on the afternoon of Wednesday January 4, 1877 John P. Benjamin came across two men trying to force their way into the closed shop of James Griffin.  The feisty Benjamin attacked the two would-be thieves.  The New York Times reported that “One of the men turned on Mr. Benjamin and endeavored to strike him with a jimmy, but the merchant warded off the blow and knocked the burglar down.

All the commotion drew the attention of J. H. Steenberg whose office was on the top floor.  He rushed to Benjamin’s aid, attacking the other crook.   The four men fought “desperately” in the hallway until two policemen, Roundsman McArthur and Patrolman Garland came on the scene.  The Times reported that they “instantly brought the burglars to terms.”

Unlike many loft buildings which housed firms of the same industry--like dry goods or produce dealers--No. 122 Chambers Street continued to see a wide variety of businesses:  the shoe trade, printing, hardware and imported wines among them.

A long-term tenant by 1910 was Topping Brothers, run by Frederick, Joseph P. and Herbert W. Topping.  The firm dealt in wholesale heavy-duty hardware such as spikes, ship locks and latches, and tackle blocks.  It would remain in the building into the 1920s.

In November 1910 the firm sent out to architects “an attractively prepared book describing in detail the operations of the ‘Mechanigraph,’ which is a machine for making reproductions of blueprints from original drawings without tracing by a mechano-chemic process,” reported the Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide.

In 1918 Abraham R. Van Nest Company was succeeded by Bartley Brothers & Hall, a saddler importer which was founded in London in 1791.  The combined concerns stayed on the building following the merger.  Remarkably, Alpheus Lawrence the mailroom boy who was hired in 1863, was still with the company and was kept on in the shipping department.   

Firms in the silk industry were leasing space by now.  In 1919 tenants included the Fulton Silk Co., General Piece Dye Works, the Metropolitan Silk Co., and the Eagle Silk Co.  But a far different type of tenant moved onto the fourth floor of No. 122 Chambers Street in the early 1920s.  R. H. McMann, Inc. was a radio supply store.   The firm found itself the unlucky target of thieves eager to get their hands on the expensive radio tubes.  In March 1923 robbers made off with $2,000 worth of radio supplies; then on Wednesday, November 5 the following year “thieves drove off with a truck loaded with tubes valued at more than $3,500,” as reported by The New York Times.

But that was not the end of it.  Only three days later, on Saturday November 8, 1924, another burglary was discovered when the store was opened for business.  This time radio tubes valued at $15,000 had been taken.

In 1921 Bartley Brothers & Hall updated the street-level storefronts.  They commissioned architects DeSuarea & Hatton to removed the mid-Victorian fronts and replace them with matching, modern facades.   A stone frame with scalloped corners embraced wide show windows, topped by a many-paned frosted transom.

On February 28, 1928 Bartley Brothers & Hall lost their oldest employee.    Alpheus Lawrence died in his Brooklyn home at the age of 81.  He was the same mailroom boy who had started working in the building 65 years earlier for Abraham R. Van  Nest Company.  “From the time he obtained his first position until his death,” said The New York Times, “Mr. Lawrence went to work at the same address every day.”

By 1930 Cornelius Bertschinger ran his Hudson Sporting Goods store on the third floor of the Warren Street side of the building.  It was a time when the cities like Chicago and New York struggled in the grip of gangsters who ran speakeasies, gambling dens and houses of prostitution.   On September 17, 1930 The New York Times reported that Bertschinger had been arrested in his store at No. 52 Warren Street for selling firearms to Charles De Denetto and Joseph Bonventre, agents of Al Capone.

The following day the newspaper added “Dertschiner [sic], the police charged, was a source of supply for machine guns and ammunition, and Benedetto and Bonaventura had purchased weapons there.”  They guns were then shipped to Chicago where Scarface Capone was battling George (Bugs) Moran.

On December 5, 1938, when Alexander F. Bartley died in his home in Montclair, New Jersey, Bartley Brothers & Hall was still doing business from No. 52 Warren Street.   And so was, perhaps surprisingly, the Hudson Sporting Goods store, which was still operated by Cornelius Berchinger.  

Berchinger was back in court on April 29, 1940 testifying in the trial of members of the Christian Front, a secret organization advocating the overthrow of the United States Government.  When arrested the alleged conspirators were in possession of firearms and “partly finished bombs.”  An invoice found in the home of one of the defendants recorded “the sale of ninety-four boxes of rifle ammunition for $67.01,” purchased at the Hudson Sporting Goods store.

The Warren Street elevation, down to the 1921 storefront, is identical to Chambers Street.

Somewhat ironically, the store would appear in newspapers again two decades later—this time the victim of crime.   Three teenage gang members of the Phantons broke into the store on Friday evening, March 18, 1960.  They used crowbars to pry open a wooden shutter, then made off with an entire arsenal—20 revolvers and automatics, a rifle, two bayonets, and 3,000 rounds of ammunition.

The delinquents talked too much, however, and were overheard by a policeman discussing the heist in Colonial Park in Harlem.   When they saw Patrolman Paul Tekleis approaching, they fled, leaving five weapons behind.  The three boys were later apprehended and the firearms and ammunition recovered.  The oldest was 16 years old.

In July 1968 police killed a gunman who killed a young woman and injured two policemen and an elderly man in a Central Park shooting spree.    The .45-caliber revolved used in the crime was owned Bulgarian immigrant living in New Jersey on whose apartment walls were taped photos of Nazi leaders. 

Investigation traced the gun to the Hudson Sporting Goods Company of No. 52 Warren Street.

The days of harness brasses, radio tubes, and gangsters came to an end in 1981 when the building was converted to a block-through store at street level and apartments on the upper floors.   Both elevations appear much as they did when Bartley Brothers updated the storefronts in 1921.  And the superb carved ornaments over the upper openings survive—excellent examples of Victorian decorative taste in the years just before the Civil War.

photographs by the author

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The George Wheeler House -- No. 13 Bleecker Street

Like almost all wealthy New Yorkers at the beginning of the 19th century, Anthony Lispenard Bleecker owned an estate north of the city.  He was not only a banker, but a well-known merchant, real estate operator, and auctioneer.  Only two years after his death on April 26, 1816 houses began appearing along Bleecker Street, the former lane that ran more-or-less east and west through the Bleecker “farm.”

Around 1822 Stephen J. Brinckerhoff purchased lots from Arthur Smith on Bleecker Street, just off the Bowery, and constructed middle-class homes at Nos. 11, 13 and 15.   Like its neighbors, No. 13 would have been two-and-a-half stories tall, clad in Flemish bond red brick, and intended for a middle-class family.

In 1832 the house was purchased by George Wheeler, a merchant tailor.  Almost simultaneously he bought No. 15; apparently as an income-producing property.  Wheeler shared No. 13 with his boarders, including Humphrey and Clarinda Phelps who were living here that same year.  The charitable Mrs. Phelps was Treasurer of the Stanton-Street Female Education and Home Missionary Society. 

Despite her personal donation of $20 (more than $560 today); the Society was in trouble.  A report in 1832 revealed “the society found their number of members diminished about one half.  They are still determined, however, to do what they can for the cause of Christ.”

Humphrey and Clarinda would live in the house at least through 1842.  Henry Phelps was a merchant; but what he sold is unclear.   In 1842 Longworth’s Directory listed him as selling “maps” in his Bowery store; yet that same year the New York City Directory said he sold “lamps.”  One of the directories, it would seem, made a typo.

Other boarders included Charles Turell in 1837, an editor; George Montgomery in 1841 whose butcher shop was at No. 19 Fulton Street; and George Coleman in 1842 with no profession listed.

Young George B. Wheeler no doubt pleased his parents greatly when, along with his diploma, he received an award for “the second best specimens of penmanship” from the American Institute of the City of New-York in 1856.

Boarders enjoyed the use of the common areas in No. 13.  When 87 year-old Caleb Coles died on March 30, 1857, his funeral was held in the house three days later.

By 1865 the Bowery neighborhood was showing uncomfortable signs of decline.   On July 25 that year the trial of William Sherman commenced.  He was charged with running a “disorderly house” at No. 3 Bleecker Street.   On the stand, Policeman William J. McKilvey said the Sherman Cottage was “a house of assignation, and was the resort of women of bad repute.”

George Wheeler also testified.  The New York Times reported that he told the court “he could not go out and in his house, even in the day time, without finding these street-walkers parading before his doors, and when they met men they solicited them down to ‘Sherman’s Cottage;’ it was a great annoyance to himself and his family.”

After owning No. 13 for 43 years, the Wheeler family sold it in 1875 to George Willets, who lived in Hempstead, Long Island.   A year later Willets resold it to real estate operator Henry Bohlen for $12,500; in the neighborhood of $360,000 today.

The new owner lost no time in renovating the old house.  The once-quiet neighborhood was highly commercial by now and on August 16, 1876 the Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide reported that Bohler had hired architects and builders B. Schlaff & Son to alter the front.  Converting the first floor to a “store” cost Bohler $250.

Unfortunately, his investment did not give him the returns he anticipated.   On August 18, 1877 he lost the “three story brick store and dwelling” to Catharine E. Stewart.   The $8,500 she paid was $4,250 less than Bohler had invested in it.

Catharine Stewart’s boarders we mostly immigrants and all of them were of scant means.  Mary Quinn lived upstairs when Catharine took possession.  That year she would be pulled into a messy domestic situation.

In July that year William F. Ingersoll had assaulted former Assemblyman Hayes “for alleged intimacy with his wife.”  Now, in October, Mary Elizabeth Ingersoll sued her husband for divorce.  She tried to divert the public's attention from her purported affair with the Assemblyman by her own scandalous charges

The New York Times reported “In her complaint Mrs. Ingersoll charges her husband with having committed adultery with one Mary Quinn, of No. 13 Bleecker-street, on September 22 last.”

Ingersoll denied the affair; and countered that his wife and son were being supported by Hayes.  He added “that at one time he saved her from being sent to the State Prison, and that she only sues for a divorce to prevent the interference of her relations with Hayes, as she offered him $100 recently for the privilege of being allowed to prove by witnesses an act on his part which would give her a divorce.”

Also living in the house at the time was William Maring, an “agent.”

In October 1879 Catharine Stewart leased the building to Elsie Walters for two years at $1,050 per year.   As the neighborhood was engulfed by the fur district, the low-income boarders gave way to commercial tenants.

In 1898 the upper floors were home to furriers William Gangel, K. Steinberg & Co., Feller & Jawetz, and Menczer, Nadler & Newman.  The ground floor shop was home to the unglamorous Bosch & Grundfast, “machinists.”

Five years later the names had changed, but the activities of the tenants were the same.  Geller & Madler made “fur garments;” Steinberg, Beglickter & Co. sold furs; and Zwerdling & Benjaming dealt in “lamb plates.”  On the ground floor was Antoine Alvise’s machine shop.

No. 13 was still owned by Catharine E. Stewart’s estate when, in 1913, new storefronts were installed.  The architect, Harry Hurwitz, forgot one thing, however.   The following year the owners were cited by the city for lack of fire escapes.

The building continued to house furriers and fur-related firms into the 1920s.  In 1925 owner Rebecca Baker had yet another new storefront installed.  This one was designed by Jacob Fisher and included a jazzy 1920s basketweave brick pattern.

The 1925 alteration incorporated creative brickwork.
As the Bowery and Noho districts were revived toward the end of the 20th century, so was No. 13 Bleecker Street.  A near-gut renovation resulted in a studio and workshop in the old shop space; a single apartment on the second floor; and a duplex apartment above.  It was listed recently for $3.5 million.

To the passerby, however, the quirky combination of architectural styles and elements gives no hint of the long and varied history of the nearly 200-year old house.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Andrew Foye House -- No. 163 West 79th Street

No. 163 was one of six houses that formed a harmonious row.

In 1882 James D. McCabe, Jr. predicted a building boom on the sparsely-developed Upper West Side.  "Instead of expending $30,000 to $50,000 for a corner lot on Fifth avenue, from four to six lots can here be now purchased for that sum, and the indications are that men of foresight and good judgment are availing themselves of the chances that are thus offered."

Within the decade McCabe was proved right.  Among the developers "of foresight" who transformed the Upper West Side was George A. Denig.  In 1893 he laid plans for six rowhouses on the north side of West 79th Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues.  Denig commissioned architect Clarence True to design the row.

The prolific True was responsible for scores of residences on the Upper West Side.   He drew his inspiration most often from historic styles, freely mixing elements to produce sometimes whimsical, sometimes romantic structures.

On June 10, 1893 the Real Estate Record and Builders’ Guide reported that True had filed plans for the six “four-and-a-half-story stone dwellings.”    For the project he turned to Romanesque Revival, designing the six harmonious houses to form a visual unit—each most likely slightly different; yet flowing one into the other to create a castle-like whole.

Despite their compact width—three were 16-feet wide and three 17-feet—Denig’s speculative homes were targeted to the upper-middle class.  Each cost him $17,000 to build—more than $454,000 today.  Included in the row was No. 163, one of the 17-foot wide homes.  Completed in 1894, like its neighbors it the boasted the romantic elements of a medieval castle.  Rather than the more expected brownstone, rough-cut limestone was used in the quoins, the lower facade and the face of the upper gable.  True incorporated carved decorative panels, a sharply-angled three story bay and a commodious balcony at the fourth floor that probably doubled as a sleeping porch on hot nights.

Inside, according to an advertisement in the New-York Tribune, were a “butler’s pantry, 14 rooms and two baths; hardwood trim, open plumbing, gas, electricity.”

The house was purchased by Andrew Jay Coleman Foye.  The 61-year old was President of the Standard Graphite Co. and was married to the former Katherine Sophia House.  With them in the new home were their two sons, Andrew Ernest and 17-year old Louis Constant Foye.

Young Andrew was a civil engineer and member of the firm Foster & Foye.  He also taught engineering in the School of Mines.

The Foye family was proud of its French Huguenot descent and of their ancestors’ military service during the Revolutionary War.  But Andrew J. C. Coleman was by no means of privileged birth.  Who’s Who in New York City and State would later record that his first home in Ohio “was a double log cabin” and that his “early education [was] acquired in a log school house.”

photograph from History of the Ohio Society of New York, 1885-1905 (copyright expired) 

Now, in addition to his presidency of the Standard Graphite Co., he was a director in the Ryan-Parker Construction Co., the Consolidated National Bank, and a respected member of the New York Chamber of Commerce.

Tragically, on May 6, 1898, 21-year old Louis Constant Foye died in the 79th Street house.  His funeral was held here on Monday afternoon, May 9 at 4:00.

Andrew  J. C. Foye was one of the founders of the Ohio Society and its first vice-president.   Early in 1900 the group invited President William McKinley to a dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.  The President accepted the invitation “to be present,” but according to the New-York Tribune, he “insisted that he should not be called upon to speak.”

McKinley’s insistence on not speaking melted away after a toast to his health and “he permitted himself to dwell briefly upon the problems which the Nation’s Spanish war had left with the country.”  Specifically he addressed imperialism, saying in part “There can be no imperialism.  Those who fear it are against it.  Those who have faith in the Republic are against it.  So that there is universal abhorrence for it and unanimous opposition to it.”

The Tribune reported that “In a box specially reserved for her, facing the guests’ table, Mrs. McKinley sat.  She came in before the last course was served, and was greeted with tumultuous cheering.”  The newspaper noted that sitting near the First Lady was Mrs. Andrew J. C. Foye.

During the first week of May, 1905, Andrew J. C. Foye became ill.  Three weeks later, on Friday May 26, he died in the house at the age of 71.   In reporting his death, the Ohio Society of New York described him in florid turn-of-the-century prose.

“Few men were endowed so generously with the helpful spirit as he.  The sick and suffering he visited and comforted; the worthy unfortunate he relieved and put in the way to help themselves.  The beggar never went hungry from his door.  His kindly nature embraced humanity in its care.”

The family kept the funeral and interment private.  For those wishing to pay respects, therefore, the New-York Tribune announced “The home will be open to relatives and friends on Sunday and Monday from 4 to 8 p.m.”

By now Andrew Ernest Foye had amassed his own fortune.  He was President and Director of the Andrew E. Foye Co., the Foye-Root Co., the Butte Copper Montana Co., the American Stone Paving Co., and the Hanover Realty and Construction Co.  His club memberships included four different yacht clubs.

Foye moved to No. 247 Fifth Avenue and the West 79th Street house was purchased by real estate operator Albert E. Ponter.   Five years later No. 163 was threatened when the four houses to the east were demolished for the 12-story apartment building designed by Schwartz & Gross. 

The house survived, however, and in 1913 was sold at auction.   It became home to the family of H. E. Exton.  As was most often the case, the title was put in the name of Exton’s wife, Edna.  Exton was a partner in the brokerage firm of Exton & Newborg.   Like many of Manhattan’s wealthy Jewish families, the Extons summered at the upscale Long Branch, New Jersey.

For some reason when the rest of Clarence True’s row was demolished in 1923 for another apartment building—this one 15 stories—No. 163 hung on.   When Edna K. Exton sold the house in May 1929 to the Meydel Corporation, it was wedged in between the modern structures.

Later that year Helene Zeller leased the house for five years at $3,600 per year.  It was sold in 1936 to Rose Lowenstein and again in 1940 to Max Hoffman.   By now it was described as a “five-story apartment building.”
Some interior design elements survive-like the built-in console --

The Victorian holdout continues to have two apartments each on the first through fourth floor and one on the top level.    Vised between the two hulking apartment buildings, the narrow Romanesque house looks woefully squashed; a tempting hint of what Clarence True’s original row must have been.

non-credited photographs taken by the author

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Stephen Decatur Hatch's 1887 No. 168 Duane Street

In 1852 Hungerford's Hotel not only housed travelers; but was home to full-time residents like Magdaline Kessler, the widow of George P. H. Kessler.  She lived with her grown daughter Elizabeth who made her living as a milliner at No. 271 Greenwich Street.  The hotel was composed of four older structures, Nos. 164 to 170, combined internally.

Four years earlier, on April 1, 1848, teenaged sisters, Kate and Margaret Fox, claimed they had communicated with a man who years earlier had been murdered in their house.  It was the start of the rampant Spiritualist Movement and in February 1853 it visited Hungerford’s Hotel.

New York newspapers excitedly reported on three spiritualists who checked into the hotel that February.  The New-York Tribune wrote “Three mediums on a spiritual mission to this city for a few days, [are] now stopping at Hungerford’s Hotel, in Duane-street, near Hudson-street.  They will examine diseases and prescribe for the same.  Price $2; for spiritual investigations $1.”  (The fees for the readings would be about $65 and $32.50 today.)

After investigating noises for a client, one of the mediums, H. Burkhart, told a Tribune reporter, “I feel it my duty as a medium to state to the public that I have investigated the spiritual rappings, and do say that it is spirits, and can prove it to any reasonable mind, at No. 168 Duane-street.”

By the end of the Civil War Hungerford’s Hotel had become the Mercantile Hotel.  On September 27, 1865 The New York Times advised its readers “But few persons are aware of the existence of an organized club of checker or draught players in this city, but such is the case, and they have rooms well supplied with tables and men at their rooms, in the Mercantile Hotel, No. 168 Duane-street, where they meet every Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights for play.”

The patchwork hotel would last another two decades.  Then, as the neighborhood became heavily commercial, the properties that made up the hotel were sold off.  In 1886 No. 168 Duane Street was owned by Fleming Smith.   Five years in the future he would commission architect Stephen Decatur Hatch to design a sprawling and exuberant Flemish Revival warehouse at No. 135 Watts Street.  But for now he would hire the architect to produce a toned down version at No. 168.

The five-story store and loft building was completed in 1887.   The Flemish Revival style—a nod to Manhattan’s Dutch heritage—was just emerging and Hatch splashed it with elements of the equally fanciful Queen Anne style; the multi-paned openings, the cross-hatching between the second and third floors, and the foliate carvings over the first story openings, for instance.   But the Northern Renaissance Revival, or Flemish, style maintained command with the undulating fifth floor gable.

Among the first tenants was The Kaskine Co., makers of Kaskine tonic.  An advertisement promised it “is the only medicine in the world that destroys the germs of disease in the blood, and permanently cures all diseases arising therefrom, such as Malaria, Favors, Rheumatism, Biliousness, &c., and is the GRANDEST TONIC EVER DISCOVERED.”
Kaskine's buxom figure was titled "Science emerging from Darkness."  Democratic Northwest, May 5, 1887 (copyright expired)
The 49-year old wholesale tobacconist and cigar dealer John A. Belvin had moved his operation into the building by 1889.  On November 30 that year he left the office for lunch, telling his employees he would be back in half an hour.  Before leaving he took $150 in cash; the amount he was accustomed to carry around.   The office workers were surprised, but not alarmed when he did not return.

Over a week later, on December 9, The New York Times reported “Mr. Belvin lived in a handsome house at 372 Halsey-street, Brooklyn, and when he did not return to his home one of his sons notified Inspector Byrnes of his disappearance.”  Belvin lived in the house with his wife and six children.  The Inspector had put a detective on the case, but there was no trace of him.

Family members were concerned because of the large amount of jewelry Belvin wore and they “feared that he may have met with foul play.”   His wife had a somewhat fantastic theory.  “Mrs. Belvin said last night that her husband might have gone to see a friend off on some steamer, and have been carried to sea,” said The Times.

The mystery was only partially solved on December 13, two weeks after Belvin’s disappearance, when he returned home.  The New York Times reported “One of his sons said yesterday that Mr. Belvin was unable to tell what had happened since he left his store at noon on Nov. 30, except that on Tuesday last he found himself in St. Augustine, Fla.  He wrote home at once, and the letter was received on Thursday.”

After mailing the letter, Belvin boarded a train to Brooklyn.  “Young Mr. Belvin denied that his father had ever had any mental trouble, and professed to be ignorant of any motive for his going away.”

Other than Belvin’s tobacco office, the tenants tended to be engaged in foods or medicines.   Knapp’s Extract Company manufactured concentrated root beer syrup; and the Pre-Digested Food Co. made and sold Paskola, a “pre-digested starch food.”  An article in The New York Times on February 10, 1894 remarked “Comparatively few people outside the highest medical circles know of this wonderful discovery, but it is known to possess the qualities of flesh-forming, strength-imparting, life-giving power which has never been known before in the history of the world.”

Knapp's suggested "Make the Rootbeer at Home"  The Evening World, July 18, 1893 (copyright expired)

The firm quoted an anonymous doctor “situated in one of the best parts of Fifth Avenue,” as saying “This wonderful preparation is taken during the meals just as it is put up…It requires no digesting when it enters the stomach.   In this way Paskola imparts strength to the weak, and makes thin, fragile persons plump and robust.”

In 1902 Mother Siegel’s Syrup Co. moved in.  Incorporated in December 1901, the firm was connected with the A. J. White Company, Ltd. in London.    In listing the officers of the firm in 1904, the American Newspaper Publishers’ Association’s Bulletin noted “All connected with the above are people of high standing.”

The sales offices of Worcester Salt Company were in the building by 1908.  Its salt works were located at Silver Springs, New York, and that year it produced 500,000 barrels of salt.   An advertisement in Chicago’s Dairy Produce in 1911 boasted “It takes the best to make the best.” 

The salt firm’s choice of location made perfect sense; for by now the area was filling with the city’s egg and butter firms.  Another advertisement promised dairy merchants “The quickness with which Worcester dissolves protects you against mottled butter and then, too, the peculiarly clean, sweet flavor of Worcester Salt is a decided factor in making it the choice of all buttermakers.”

By 1910 Manley & James, manufacturers of proprietary medicines and preparations had joined Worcester Salt, Mother Seigel’s Syrup, and Knapp Extract in the building.   They would all still be here at least through 1912.  But in 1915 No. 168 had an especially unlikely tenant—electrical engineer and manufacturer of wireless apparatus William Dubilier. 

Dubilier was sent to France in 1915 to help the British and French Governments develop submarine detectors.   “They had already succeeded in detecting a submarine’s approach at a distance of five miles, but were bothered by other sounds under water.”  Dublier and another scientist were successful in filtering out the sounds of large vessels.  By the time he returned to New York “we were able to detect the presence of a submarine fifty miles away,” he told reporters.

William Dubilier came home to work at No. 168 Duane Street on another project.  “He has returned to make a wireless apparatus with a low aerial for use in the trenches,” reported The New York Times on October 2, 1915.

Following the war, the building was filled with a variety of dairy and food firms—Ficken, Ullman & Co., butter dealers; dairy agents H. W. Bender Co., who represented firms like the MacLaren Imperial Cheese Co. of Detroit; A. J. White Ltd, patent medications; and Carvalho Cap & Closure Co., manufacturers of bottle caps were all here in 1918.

The Pharmacal Advance was published from No. 168 Duane Street by 1920. Called “A Journal devoted to Progressive Pharmacy and Practical Therapeutics,” it printed articles on issues like Chinese medicine, wound dressings, preventing goiters, and ringworm.  It also liberally advertised for other tenants of the building; suggesting that it was a joint publication.

Like other tenants, Menley & James Ltd advertised in Pharmacal Advance.(May 1920, copyright expired)  

In May 1920 the second through fourth floors were vacant—the rent for each advertised at $7,500 per year.   But they did not remain vacant for long.  Juan A. Babcock, wholesale butter and eggs merchant moved in that month.    The building was now filled with butter and egg dealers; Ficken, Ullman & Co. was still here, having changed its name to Ficken, Coffin & Co. in 1919.

In the early 1930s Carl Ahlers, Inc. a “poultry, butter and egg concern,” moved in.  In the fall of 1945 the Ahlers business and, indeed,  the cherished tradition of thousands of Americans was in jeopardy.    A push was made by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and Chauffeurs in mid-November to unionize the employees of Carl Ahlers, Inc.

When things did not progress as the union demanded, it picketed the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad pier at Cortlandt Street.  Shipments into and out of the facility ground to a halt.  A week later it appeared that more than 10,000 turkeys would not make it to the first Thanksgiving dinners since the end of World War II.

At the eleventh hour the union caved.  Arthur Dorf, secretary-treasurer of Local 202 told reporters “We are lifting the picket lines for the sake of the public so they may enjoy the first real Thanksgiving in years.”  But he added a veiled threat.  “We will return soon, stronger and better than ever.”

Carl Ahlers, Inc. remained in the building until the early 1970s.  By now the Tribeca neighborhood was changing from the egg and butter district to one of trendy restaurants and high-end residences. 

In May 1987 Meile Rockefeller, the great granddaughter of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., announced that her conversion of No. 168 Duane Street to upscale condominiums was nearly complete.  The 31-year old, who said “from very early on I wanted to build,” created six units designed by John T. Fifield Associates, completed in 1989.

Stephen Decatur Hatch’s distinctive Flemish structure is as charming and eye-catching today as it was in 1887—a successful recycling of an architectural delight.

photographs by the author

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Lost Dakota Stables - 75th Street at Amsterdam Ave

 A white-uniformed dustman heads to his two-wheels cart outside the Dakota Stables --

When the economy recovered following the Financial Panic of 1873, the Upper West Side exploded with frenzied development.   The extension of the 9th Avenue elevated train and the laying of sewer lines enhanced the desirability of the recently-rural area.

While the streets filled with handsome rowhouses and magnificent mansions appeared on the avenues, a desperate need for boarding stables arose.  As the handsome Dakota Flats was completed on Central Park West in 1885, Alfred Corning Clark laid plans for a stable building that would be as massive as it was architecturally impressive.   

He commissioned the architectural firm of  Charles Romeyn & Co. to design the structure that would stretch from Amsterdam Avenue to Broadway (called at the time “the Boulevard") along 75th Street.  Clark’s father, Edward Clark, who died in 1882, was responsible for the Dakota apartments.

The stable was completed in 1885 at a cost of $70,000—about $1.75 million today.  On June 6th that year The American Architect and Building News reported that the stables were for the use of the Dakota tenants, as well as the general public.  “This structure forms part of a scheme started some years ago by the late Edward Clark…The building is intended to afford stable accommodations for the many tenants of the estate and for the general public of the neighborhood who, until its completion, have been without such a convenience.”

American Architect and Building News, June 6, 1885 (copyright expired)

Romeyn’s regimented take on Romanesque Revival was executed in “Croton brick” and trimmed in “bluestone” and terra cotta.  The cornice and dormers were clad in pressed copper.  A square centered pavilion which contained the entrance broke through the long mansard and relieved the disciplined rows of arched openings.

The yawning arched entrance opened onto a 30 by 30 foot court lined in enameled brick.   Ramps led to the horse stalls on the second floor, and to the carriage storage area on the third where feed was also stored. 

Three years after its opening, the stable, operated by brothers Thomas P. and John A. Kelly, was the center of a messy work stoppage.   On November 30, 1888 the New-York Tribune reported that a strike had occurred the previous day by the Liberty Dawn Association, Knights of Labor.  The newspaper noted “The stables do a large business with coaches and employ between thirty and forty men.  The men say that they are sure to win.”

The strikers were horse shoers and grooms who claimed that the Kelly Brothers owed them about $400 in past due wages.  The Kellys admitted that the men were owed wages; but it was not pay day yet.  They hinted that the strike was based in racial bias.  “The story of the Kelly brothers as to the cause of the strike differs materially from that of the men,” said the Tribune two days later.

Levi Woodly was hired by the Kellys as “a sort of deputy veterinary or horse nurse.”  The Tribune noted “Woodly, who is a negro, has worked in the stables about two years.”    About a week before the walk-out, a union delegate called on Thomas Kelly “and demanded the discharge of Woodly,” as reported in the New-York Tribune on December 1.  “Mr. Kelly refused to discharge the man and a strike was the consequence.”

The union denied the charge.  Walking Delegate Fisher told the newspaper “they did not object to working with Woodly, although he is a non-union man but that he ordered a strike to force Kelly Brothers to pay their men certain arrearages of wages.”

Not intimidated, the proprietors hired replacement workers.  On November 31 two of the strikers were arrested “for assaulting the new drivers and attempting to intimidate patrons of the Kelly Brothers’ stable.”

On December 2 the union men told reporters “that Kelly Brothers are unable to get their horse[s] shot or manure hauled.”   In actuality that was not the case.  The 35 strikers who were “sure to win” found themselves looking for other employment.  On December 4 the Evening World reported that they were “out of a job, non-union men having been engaged in their places.”

Each year, as summer approached, Manhattan’s wealthy citizens prepared to leave for country estates and resorts.  Not only did trunks of clothing need to be packed, but horses and vehicles had to be shipped.  On June 22, 1894 The New York Times reported “At the Dakota Stables, on Seventy-fifth Street and the Western Boulevard, one of the finest establishments in town, all kinds of vehicles and harness are being burnished and covered with dusters, preparatory for shipment, and by Saturday night there will be comparatively few horses remaining…Among the recent departures for the watering places and the country are Col. Rennard, who has gone to Normandie-by-the-Sea.  Col. Rennard took with him his handsome dog-cart horse and vehicle.”

Also at Normandie-by-the-Sea was lawyer John Townsend, who had taken along “a pair of handsome coachers and a Victoria.”   The Times enumerated many other wealthy patrons of the Dakota Stables, including James Otis Hoyt who sent his horses to Bellport, Long Island; John Osborne, whose four horses and “several traps” were already at his summer estate at Port Chester, New York; and George W. Swain who was at Seabright, New Jersey.  “His roadsters and runabout preceded him thither,” said the newspaper.

“Disengaged” grooms, coachmen and such were permitted to use the stables as their address when looking for employment.   On May 23, 1902 “J.C.” put an advertisement in the New-York Tribune: “Coachman—Aged 30; height 5 feet 6 inches; weight 160 pounds; first class city driver; no objection to country or seashore.”   And on October 5, 1904 “H. B.” advertised “Coachman—Married, 30; height 5 feet 8 inches; private family; good written and personal references.”

The Clark family sold the Dakota Stables in February 1902 to the Atlantic Realty Company.  The New-York Tribune suggested that the 17-year old structure might be torn down.  “It could not be learned yesterday if the property was to be improved,” it reported on February 24.

As automobiles replaced horses, rumors about the impending demolition of the Dakota Stables continued.  On June 22, 1906 The New York Times reported that the Century Realty Company and United States Realty and Improvement Company had sold the building to William Crawford for $325,000.  Two days later the New-York Tribune opined “It is likely that this large site will be used for a high class apartment house.”

The newspaper was about five years premature in its assessment.   The Dakota Stables, while holding on to its name, was converted to an automobile and taxi-cab garage.   Edison Monthly advised that electric vehicle mechanical and battery parts could be obtained there.

But while electric automobiles were commonplace, the Dakota Stables was embarking on an untested venture—the gasoline-powered cab.  On April 10, 1907 The Horseless Age reported that the Dakota Stables was testing a new-fangled concept by Frayer-Miller Automobile Company—a “four cylinder air cooled gasoline cab which follows very closely the general arrangements of the ordinary hansom.”

The Dakota Stables tested the new "gasolene hansom" -- The Motor World, April 11, 1907 (copyright expired)

The magazine noted that the Dakota Stables had been using the vehicle “on trial for some two months” and added “as far as we know, this is the first gasoline cab to be used in this country.”  The following day The Motor World said that the new gasoline cabs “radiating from the Dakota stables” had proved so satisfactory that “the makers are preparing to put out the vehicle in large quantities within a short time.”

It was most likely an electric cab, not the Frayer-Miller model, that caused calamity on the night of January 16 that year.   Cabbie Harry Green was heading to the theater district to pick up a Broadway actress.  “Inside of the machine was the actress’s maid,” reported the New-York Tribune the following day.

As Green entered the intersection of Broadway and 53rd street shortly before midnight, James Cody attempted to cross the street.  He walked directly into the path of Green’s taxi.  According to the Tribune, “Green swerved his car to one side, but the wheels skidded and the machine struck the man with great force.  He was hurled about fifteen feet, and then the machine ran over him.”

Green stopped the car and a crowd immediately gathered around the wounded man.  “The maid ordered them to lift him into the automobile.”  The take-charge maid helped carry the man into the hospital, where he died on the operating table.  “Upon learning of the death, the maid left the hospital, refusing to give her name of the name of her employer.”

Green telephoned the Dakota Stables to report the accident to his employers; then called the police.  He waited there until the police arrived and arrested him for homicide.

In September 1910 plans were filed by architects Radcliffe & Kelly to professionally convert the old stable to an automobile garage.  The $12,000 project included changing the façade at the first floor “by installing show windows and the interior remodeled.”

But only a year later reports of demolition arose again.  On May 13, 1911 The Sun said “The old Dakota Stable property…is to be reimproved, according to a story heard yesterday on the West Side.”  The newspaper said the property “would make an ideal site for an apartment house.  This is an apartment house district, and although the nature of the improvement was not announced, it will very likely be a high class apartment house in keeping with nearby structures.”

This time the newspapers got it right.  By February 1912 the site of the Dakota Stables was a vacant lot.  Adjacent lots were acquired to accommodate the massive apartment building that replaced it; now renovated as the Hotel Beacon.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Self Promotion! Dates of June Events

I promised a reader not long ago that I would publish a schedule of upcoming talks, tours, and such.

True to my word, below are the book events I will be doing in June:

Tuesday, June 16: 6:30 p.m.

The General Society of Mechanics & Tradesmen of the City of New York
20 West 44th Stret
New York, New York  10036

Wednesday, June 17:  4:30 p.m.

Village Alliance Annual Meeting
Amalgamated Lithographers Local 1
113 University Place, 4th Fl
New York, NY  10003

Monday, June 22: 6:30 p.m.

 Mid-Manhattan Library
455 Fifth Avenue
New York, New York  10016

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Sternberger House -- No. 837 Madison Avenue

On April 24, 1884 John D. Crimmins sold Mayer Sternberger the lot at No. 837 Madison Avenue, between 69th and 70th Street.   The $24,000 price Sternberger paid for the plot (almost $600,000 today), reflected the upscale tone of the neighborhood.  The mansions appearing on Madison Avenue vied with those of Fifth Avenue, just a block away.

The wealthy merchant commissioned the firm of Thom & Wilson to design his new home.  The architects turned to the recently-popular Queen Anne style to produce a five-story confection.  The asymmetrical design—nearly required in the style—melded brick and stone in a feast of angles and shapes.  A generous bay culminated in a deep balcony; a slightly projecting bay above it morphed into a gable that thrust through the cornice into the fish-scaled mansard roof.  Thom & Wilson treated each set of openings differently.

As Sternberger’s house rose, department store owner Isaac Stern began construction of his mansion next door at No. 835.  Stern’s architect, William Schickel, created a harmonious Queen Anne structure.  But the completed Sternberger house would be more fanciful than its slightly wider neighbor.

The Sternberger house (left) was less uptight than its next door neighbor.

Soon after the house was completed, Mayer Sternberger died.  His widow, Henrietta, sold it in 1886 to Georgiana E. Arnold.  The new owner, like Henrietta, was recently widowed.  Richard Arnold had died earlier that year.  A partner in the Arnold, Constable & Co. department store, he had amassed a large fortune.

Following Georgiana’s period of mourning she resumed living quietly in high style.  On March 19, 1892 she placed an advertisement in The Sun that read “Lady leaving for Europe desires situation for her coachman; can thoroughly recommend him both as coachman and useful man in house; sober, willing, and obliging.”

Like most socialites, she immersed herself in charitable causes as well.  She was a founder and continued supporter of the Babies’ Hospital on Lexington Avenue at 55th Street.

A devoted Episcopalian, Georgiana was a member of the fashionable Fifth Avenue St. Thomas’s Church.   When, in 1895, former pastor Frederick Courtney revisited New York from Canada with his wife and daughter they were her house guests.   It was somewhat of a social coup, at least among wealthy EpiscopaliansCourtney had risen to the rank of Lord Bishop of Nova Scotia.

On the afternoon of January 31 that year Georgiana Arnold gave a reception for the Courtneys.  “The Vassar Students’ Aid Society, of which Mrs. Arnold is an honorary member, was present in a body.  Many members of St. Thomas’s Church, of which the Bishop was at one time pastor, were also present,” reported The Sun.

Georgiana’s connection with the church was furthered when, in 1899, she married the Rev. C. Harvey Hartman, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Dover, New Jersey.    Hartman’s church was 31 miles west of New York City, necessitating the couple’s dividing their time between the Madison Avenue house and Dover.

It was in New Jersey that Georgiana died on May 18, 1903.  Services for the wealthy and devout socialite would be complex.   A funeral was held in the Dover church on Wednesday, May 20.  The New-York Tribune reported “At the end of the services the body was taken to Mrs. Hartman’s home, No. 837 Madison-ave., this city.”  The following day another funeral service was held in the house at 1:00; then the body was removed to St. Thomas’s Church for a 2:00 service.

“A special train carried the body to Woodlawn,” reported the New-York Tribune.

A year and a day after Georgiana’s death, on Thursday May 19, 1904, the Madison Avenue mansion was sold at auction.  It was not until June 21 that the buyer, Allister Greene, was identified by newspapers.

If Greene lived in the house at all, it was not for long.  By 1907 No. 837 Madison Avenue was home to the family of the esteemed homeopathic physician Walter Gray Crump.  He was a member of New York University’s medical staff and First Vice President of the Obstetrical Society.  Both an obstetrician and a gynecologist, Crump’s medical papers were widely read.  He tested his theories in controlled clinical experiments and routinely announced his findings at medical conventions.

In 1907 the New York City sanitation workers went on strike.  New York City had recently prided itself on the cleanliness of its streets—a stark contrast to the conditions a few decades earlier.   Now citizens were faced with rotting garbage and stench.  The unpleasant situation turned fearful when Walter G. Crump added his opinion.

For years the theory that “foul air” contributed to disease held sway.  Now Crump saw dead dogs and cats in the gutters and was positive they had died from “the poisonous fumes from the decomposing garbage.”  He suggested that the sanitation workers did not realize the danger their strike presented, and that the normal citizen did not know the danger he was in.  He announced “no one can realize what a serious thing this is unless he understands the situation thoroughly from a medical point of view.”

The third-floor balcony is protected by a fanciful railing.  Disparate carvings over the windows here depict a child's face, at the left, and a basket of fruit to the right.  The complex iron ornament above the gable suggests the cresting that once lined the roof.
By 1910 Crump was attending surgeon at six hospitals.  But his surgical career nearly came to an end in November that year.  He was operating on a charity case in Flower Hospital, removing an abdominal abscess.  During the procedure matter from the infected area splashed into his right eye.  “When Dr. Crump got home that evening he complained of extreme pain in the eye,” reported the New-York Tribune.

An eye specialist, Dr. Helen Cooley Palmer, and several nurses hurried to the Madison Avenue house.  For two weeks they remained there day and night, tending to the severe infection that threatened Crump’s sight.  A team of three other specialists consulted with Dr. Palmer.   Finally on November 17, 1910 the New-York Tribune reported “At his home last night it was said that while he was not altogether out of danger the attending physicians were hopeful of his ultimate recovery.” 

While her husband continued his medical practice, Eudora Leighton Crump’s social life included membership in the Rubenstein Club.  Founded in 1887 by William Rogers Chapman, the club was a women’s choral group that met at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.  Their concerts there raised money for charitable causes.

One of these, in April 1917, was for the benefit of the New York Medical College and Hospital for Women.  Society pages reminded readers that “Tickets may be obtained from Mrs. W. Crump, 837 Madison avenue.”

In 1934 Albright College bestowed an honorary Doctor of Science degree on Crump.  But his interests and influence went well beyond medicine.  Crump was a trustee of Tuskegee Institute and Howard University and was active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Eurodra L. Crump died in the house on October 12, 1936.  With his son, Dr. Walter Gray Crump Jr. living and practicing in Darien, Connecticut, Walter now lived on in the mansion alone with his domestic staff.
Nine years later, in March 1945 Dr. Crump, now 75-years old, became ill.  He was taken to Flower and Fifth Avenue Hospital where on May 1 he died.   By now the Madison Avenue neighborhood had radically changed.   The Stern mansion next door had sprouted a two-story storefront in 1921 and the houses to the north were replaced by a towering apartment building.

But Crump’s death was not the end of the road for the surviving Victorian rowhouse—at least not yet.  Walter Jr. maintained it as the family’s New York residence.  It was the scene on December 17, 1949 for a debutante dinner for daughter Constance Eudora Crump, who was studying at Smith College.

When Crump sold the house in April 1951 to real estate operator Frederick Brown, The New York Times noted “One of the last of the old brownstone residences along Madison Avenue between Forty-second and Seventy-second Streets still in the private-home category has just changed hands.”

No. 837 Madison Avenue would quickly fall out of the “private-home category.”  Brown resold the house a month later to attorney Irving Kirschenbaum, who sold it again in December to The 837 Madison Avenue Corporation.”  The syndicate announced its plans “to convert the structure into a store and small apartments” on December 21.

The stoop was removed and a storefront carved into the English basement level.  Amazingly, the entrance doors remained—normally converted to a window in similar renovations. Throughout the 20th century the ground floor shop saw a series of upscale home decorating stores.

Today Thom & Wilson’s delightful Queen Anne façade survives much intact above the storefront—a striking reminder of when this stretch of Madison Avenue boasted high-end residences.

photographs by the author