Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The 1826 Willletts Street Methodist Episcopal Church -- 7 Bialystoker Place

With the end of the Revolutionary War and a renewed sense of normalcy, New York City again looked northward for expansion.  James de Lancey Jr. had been banished from New York as a Loyalist and his expansive country estate was confiscated and later sold as building lots.   By the 1810s and ‘20s, Grand Street, once a wide drive through de Lancey’s property, was becoming lined with Federal-style homes.

The residents of this new neighborhood required schools, shops and churches.  In 1826 the handsome Willett Street Methodist Episcopal Church was completed just steps from Grand Street.  The undressed schist of the façade had been quarried nearby on Pitt Street.   Simple and refined, its perfectly-symmetrical temple-inspired front featured three doors and corresponding openings, each trimmed in contrasting stone.  A striking lunette window enhanced the low-pitched pediment.

Religion for the congregants of the Willett Street Methodist Episcopal Church was not taken lightly.  Four years after the building was completed a 19-year old man entered its doors.  According to his obituary in 1874, William F. Gould’s life would forever change.  The Minutes of the Annual Conferences of the Methodist Episcopal Church noted that when he found the Willett Street church “he had become deeply convicted of sin, and was led to embrace the Saviour by faith in the Willett-street Methodist Episcopal Church, New York city.  His conversion was clear and powerful, giving indubitable evidence of a thorough and radical change of heart.”

The Willett Street church had a burying ground in the adjoining yard.  The 1881 pamphlet The Cemeteries of New York and How To Reach Them explained that “In early days every church in New York had a graveyard connected with the church building.  In 1822 there were 23 graveyards below the City Hall.” 

But the city’s desperate need for land and the threat of disease led to the 1851 city ordinance that prohibited any burials south of 86th Street.  The trustees of the church, therefore, agreed to move their dead to Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn.  The transfers began in 1854 and continued for two years.  What the families of deceased loved ones were unaware of was that the final resting spot was more ornamental than respectful.

A reporter from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle interviewed a watchman at the plot who admitted that the “bones and coffins” were buried in long trenches.  Above, the headstones were nicely arranged--“put up to look good.”

No doubt highly involved in the removals and re-burying of the graveyard denizens were undertakers G. W. Relyea and his son, Peter Relyea.  The men lived steps away from the church, at No. 3 Willett Street, and Peter was one of its sextons.

The 49-year old Peter Relyea was contacted on April 21, 1865 by the Board of Aldermen and given a nerve-wracking commission.  He was put in charge of President Abraham Lincoln’s funeral procession through the streets of Manhattan.  He had three days to build the elaborate catafalque that would carry the assassinated President’s remains.  Peter Relyea’s hearse for the occasion was so large and so elaborate that it required 16 horses.

Twelve pallbearers carry Lincoln's coffin to Relyea's elaborate creation -- Harper's Weekly May 13, 1865 (copyright expired)
The immense pressure and the sleepless nights (he told reporters he and 60 employees worked day and night without sleep to design and construct the catafalque) would be worth it.  Not only did he receive the staggering sum of $9,000, he would use the honor as a marketing tool for the rest of his career.

Peter Relyea's business card would forever note "Undertaker for President Lincoln"
Peter Relyea’s life could continue to be far more colorful than that of the average undertaker.  He was sued by Margaret E. Bonifice three years later following the elaborate funeral of her father.   While he supplied “a certain number of carriages and horses” to transport family and guests from Manhattan to the cemetery and back; a problem ensued on the return.

The driver of the carriage in which Margaret Bonifice rode made an unscheduled stop.  Her complaint read in part “the driver of the carriage wherein was the plaintiff, stopped at a hotel, and left his horses unhitched; and while he was absent they ran away and throwed the plaintiff out of the carriage and injured her.”

Relyea was back in the news in 1878 when he walked into Police Headquarters and told Inspector Dilks that he knew the identity of one of the grave robbers of millionaire Alexander T. Stewart.  The investigator chided Relyea for waiting so long to inform on the criminal.  Not intimidated, “Mr. Relyea replied that he had a business to attend to, and that he could not afford to neglect it for the purpose of going about the country playing detective,” reported The New York Times.

In the meantime, the Willett Street church ministered to the neighborhood and offered occasional lectures and musical programs.  In September 1868 Rev. Antonio A. Arrighi delivered an address on “Late In Italy.”  The Times said “The church was thronged by an attentive audience.”   The lecture apparently poked some fun at the Italians.  “He gave a graphic description of the process of eating macaroni by the lazzaroni, which excited much mirth.”

In 1877 the 50-year old building received a make-over.  On November 5 The New York Times reported that “Large congregations attended yesterday at the exercises in the Willett-Street Methodist Episcopal Church, which has been recently remodeled and improved, and which has just been reopened for divine worship.”  Special appeals were made to the congregation “to aid in defraying the expenses of the recent improvements, and was liberally responded to.”

In December 1883 Rev. John E. Searles returned to the Willett Street church as its pastor.  He commented on the changes since he first took the pulpit in 1843.  “Since I came here first both the church and those who meet within its walls are changed.  Those who formed the congregation 40 years ago have since then passed away.  The building itself has been enlarged.  I used to stand in a pulpit made like a box, so that when I sat down no one could see me.”

The minister noted “In the old times the population hereabout was quite different” and he blamed the dwindling membership on a “growing indifference to Christian duty.”  In realty, the Grand Street area was changing rapidly.  What had been a quiet residential neighborhood was now bustling with commerce.  Already a large immigrant population had pushed the former residents northward and tenement buildings were replacing private homes.

Peter Relyea was one of the old congregants to surrender to the changes.  In 1894 he sold No. 3 Willett Street for $16,000 and moved to Brooklyn.  With its congregation dwindling, by the turn of the century, the Willett Street Methodist Episcopal church was in financial trouble.   What had been a solely Christian neighborhood was rapidly filling with those of the Jewish faith.

On May 19, 1902 The New York Times noted “Once the church had a large congregation, but to-day it has a hard struggle to maintain itself amid the encroaching foreign population.”  Pastor J. L. Smith tried a desperate scheme.   For the church’s 83rd anniversary, he sent messages to all the old members who had moved away to attend the ceremony.

Former congregants responded—some from the Bronx and Brooklyn and others as far away as Philadelphia.  At the end of the day “it was resolved that each member of the organization should provide himself with a toy savings bank shaped like a jug.”  The members were to deposit a coin into the bank now and then throughout the year.   Then, “at the end of the year the church is to hold a grand jug smashing contest, and turn over the funds to the pastor,” reported a newspaper.   The somewhat far-fetched idea was hoped to “help keep up the church.”

The jug smashing fund-raiser was not enough.  On May 20, 1905 The Christian Work and Evangelist reported “After an existence of eighty-one years, during the early part of which it was the place of worship of many of New York’s wealthiest families, the old Willett Street Methodist Episcopal Church was sold late week to the Congregation Anshai Chesed Ballystok, and soon will be used as a synagogue.”

The journal got the spelling wrong, but was otherwise accurate in its reporting.  The congregation Chevra Anshei Chesed of Bialystok had been organized in 1865 by a group of Polish immigrants from the town of Bialystok.   With their merging with the Congregation Adas Yeshurun (whose members also came from Bialystok), they needed a larger place of worship.

Alterations were completed within three months and the new synagogue was dedicated on August 20, 1905.  But it was not without incident.  The Sun reported that “The new synagogue itself is small, but nearly 3,000 packed themselves inside of it, while others filled the adjacent streets and he fire escapes and windows.  The interior of the building was hung with flags and banners, while ribbons of bunting festooned the gallery.”

The celebration had started at 3:00 when the congregation marched from its former synagogue at No. 84 Orchard Street, led by a band of 75 boys from the Hebrew Orphan Asylum.  Behind them 300 girls dressed in white bore flags.  “A string of carriages, many blocks in length, bore the aged and infirm members of the congregation, while the rest marched on foot.”

But once they were in the new building, near tragedy happened.

The following day the New-York Tribune reported “A piece of bunting caught fire from an unprotected gas burner at the dedication festival of the congregation of Beth Hakneseth Anshei Bialystok, at No. 7 Willett-st., yesterday afternoon, and instantly the entire audience, which numbered about three thousand, was in an uproar.”

Captain Joseph McGlynn, in charge of the police reserves that day, ordered the choir to start singing as he headed for the burning drapery.  But six-year old Gertrude Rosenblum got there first.  The plucky little girl climbed onto a chair and pulled the flaming cloth down, burning her hand in the process.  A grown-up stomped out the fire.

But panic had already set in.  “Those in the gallery came piling down the stairs upon those on the floor below,” reported The Sun, “and in an instant the house was filled with a fighting, frightened mob.  Outside, the crowd took up the cry ‘Fire!’ and there was a rush to the scene.  The police, fifty of whom surrounded the place, were swept aside, unable to check the rush.”
Little Gertrude Rosenblum tried her best to calm the hysterical mob.  “The crowd looked back, saw the little girl swinging the blackened stick in her hand and sat down.”  It took 200 additional police to restore order and Captain McGlynn cleared the street each way for a block.

The Sun said “Those who wanted to leave the church were allowed to do so and in ten minutes the meeting was in full swing again.”

What started out in chaos and terror ended with joy.   Immediately after the service, Ida Gottlieb and Benjamin Goldberg drove up in a closed carriage.  The couple insisted on being the first to be married in the new synagogue.  They were greeted with cheers “that took the nerve of the bride, while her husband-to-be turned the color of a Chinese laundry check,” said The Sun.

The newspaper added “To be the first married in a new synagogue is accounted a high honor and the privilege is usually well paid for.  After the ceremony was over yesterday one of the members said that the parents of the bride and bridegroom would probably contribute $500 to the synagogue.”

Eventually the stretch of Willett Street was renamed Bialystoker Place.  Throughout the 20th century the synagogue survived even as the neighborhood’s Jewish community slowly abandoned the Lower East Side.   In 1988 the congregation restored the sanctuary, which is noted for its vibrant and colorful decoration. 

According to Gerald R. Wolfe in his 2013 The Synagogues of New York’s Lower East Side, “Among the synagogue’s restored treasures is its nearly three-story-high hand-carved wooden Aron Kodesh, which is flanked by brilliantly colored stained glass windows of comparable magnitude and majesty. The Italian master restorer and decorative painter, Paolo Spano, performed the extensive restoration of the Ark.”

The nearly 200-year old fieldstone structure survives essentially unchanged since is 1905 change-of-hands--a remarkable relic from a time when the Lower East Side was a new suburb of New York City.

photographs by the author

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Lost 1883 Hoyt Mansion, No. 934 5th Avenue

The mansion looked slightly out of place on the east side of the Park -- sketch from "Our firemen : a history of New York Fire Department" 1887 (copyright expired)
A young and ambitious Alfred Miller Hoyt left his native city of Manhattan to study at Kenyon College.  There surrounded by the farmlands of Ohio he met Rosina Elizabeth Reese and the pair was married on October 20, 1858 in Lancaster, Ohio.

The Midwest appealed to Hoyt and he briefly went into the dry goods business in Ohio, then worked in the lumber regions of Michigan.  But eventually he returned to New York where he and his brother formed the commission firm of Jesse Hoyt & Co.   By the time the Civil War drew to a close, the brothers had each amassed a fortune. 

When Alfred retired in 1881 he had established his own banking firm, A. M. Hoyt & Co. and was also a trustees in the Bank for Savings in the City of New York, a trustee in the Continental Trust Company, a director in the Fidelity and Casualty Company, a director in the Merchants’ Exchange National Bank, and a trustee of the New York Produce Exchange Safe Deposit and Storage Company.  He also had interest in the Consolidated Ice Company and the Bowling Green Safe Deposit Company.

Alfred and Rosalina Hoyt were socially prominent and Alfred held memberships in an exhausting list of the most respected mens' clubs in town—the Metropolitan, the Union League, the Harvard, the University, the Ardsley, the Riding, the Racquet and Tennis, the Grolier, the Seawanhaka-Corinthian Yacht Club, and the Century Association.  He was also active in operations of the National Academy of Design, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Geographical Society, and the American Museum of Natural History.  

Now retired, Hoyt laid plans for a new home along Central Park where New York's millionaires were just beginning to venture.  The Hoyts would be among the first of the wealthy families to venture as far north as 75th Street.   By the 1890s the migration would be in full swing; but in 1881 the Hoyts’ building site near the corner of 75th Street was still somewhat undeveloped other a few brownstone townhouses erected a decade earlier.   

Hoyt commissioned the firm of McKim, Mead & White to design his residence..   It was a relatively early commission for the three--Stanford White had just joined the firm in 1879.  And yet the resultant townhouse smacked of the style of Clarence Fagan True who would be busy filling the Upper West Side with similar structures through the turn of the century.

As Beaux Arts and Italian Renaissance palaces clad in limestone or marble crowded around it, the Hoyt mansion looked rather out of place--as though it belonged on the other side of the Park.  Built of buff-colored brick, limestone and terra cotta it rose over an English basement guarded by a stone wall with an attractive lacy iron gate.  Construction began in 1882 and was completed a year later.  The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide called it "plain but elegant."

Like so many of Clarence True’s rowhouses, it featured rounded bays, a central section of brick sitting on a variegated base, a highly-decorative terra cotta top floor, surmounted by a tiara-like balustrade.  A Juliette balcony with a waist-high ornamental railing added a touch of Venice.  Clever manipulation of the design created the illusion of symmetry at first glance; but a closer view revealed that the southern bay was significantly wider and the doorway slightly offset.

When the Hoyts and their servants moved in to No. 934 5th Avenue, at least three of their five children were with them.  Alfred W. Hoyt was attending Harvard, his brother John Sherman Hoyt was still a student at Columbia College, and Rosina was still unmarried.

The house, as well as their Southampton estate, was the scene of society teas and dinner parties given by Rosina and the Hoyt name appeared in the society pages often.   As the turn of the century approached and the 5th Avenue neighborhood filled with costly mansions, the Hoyts remained busy in political as well as social endeavors.  Both Alfred and Rosina signed the Woman Suffrage Amendment petition in 1894.

In June 1903 Alfred Miller Hoyt was taken ill.  A few days later, on June 18, he died in his bed at No. 934 5th Avenue.   After the appropriate mourning period, the family reentered the social scene.  

In January 1908 Rosina gave a dance at the elegant Sherry’s in honor of her granddaughter, Rosina Hoyt Otis.   Her father, Dr. William Kelly Otis, had died at the age of 52 just four months earlier.  Tragically, the debutante's mother, Florence Cecilia Otis Hoyt, three months after the event.  Rosina Otis was taken into the Fifth Avenue mansion.  There were now three Rosinas in residence.

Before the decade was out mourning crepe would reappear on the door.  On November 20, 1911 48-year old bachelor Alfred W. Hoyt—now head of the family banking firm—died in the house after battling typhoid fever for two weeks.  Like his father he held multiple directorships including a seat on the board of the Belnord Realty Company that built the Belnord Apartments at 86th Street and Broadway, and the Fidelity and Casualty Company.

Following Rosina Hoyt Otis's marriage to Edgar Farrar Bateson in November 1914, the two Rosina Hoyts—mother and daughter—remained on in their beloved house catered to by a sizable staff.   Young Rosina immersed herself in club activities becoming secretary of the Garden Club of America and hosting the meetings of the Colonial Dames Sewing Class in the house in 1914.  

By now Alfred and Rosina’s grandchildren were reaching adulthood and a year later the house was the scene of a wedding reception for son Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth Sherman Hoyt, following her marriage to Thomas H. Frothingham of Philadelphia in St. Bartholomew’s Church.  Rosina’s buffet lunch was catered by Sherry’s and among the socially-prominent guests included Percy R. Pyne and his family, Mr. and Mrs. George B. Post and daughter, and the John R. Suydam family.

On October 19, 1920 the mansion was boarded shut.  photograph by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York, http://collections.mcny.org/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult&VBID=24UAYWYS49JY&SMLS=1&RW=1366&RH=629#/SearchResult&VBID=24UAYWYS49JY&SMLS=1&RW=1366&RH=629&PN=2

The two women lived on in the mansion until February 26, 1922 when Mrs. Rosina M. Hoyt died upstairs in her bedroom.   Daughter Rosina received the house, as well as half of her mother’s estate.  Mrs. Hoyt expressed her appreciation to her faithful servants in her will.  Longtime coachman, Hugh McGuire, received $10,000.  Chauffeur Herman Hartmeyer and butler Axel Swenson both received $5,000.  And every employee of within the household who had been in service for over three years received $2,000—about $21,500 today.

Rosina sold the house to George E. Mitchell, nicknamed “Sunshine Charley” who had been elected president of National City Bank (now Citibank).  The millionaire banker demolished Alfred Hoyt’s architecturally-incongruous mansion and commissioned architects Walker & Gillette to design a $500,000 Renaissance-inspired limestone mansion on the site.   The mansion exists, complete with Mitchell’s furnishings and artworks, as the Consulate General of France.

Mitchell replaced the Hoyt mansion with a more geographically-appropriate structure -- photo by te author

Saturday, June 27, 2015

J. C. Cady's 1887 Nos. 57-61 East 90th Street

In 2015 work continues as the three houses are combined into one.  The stoop of No. 61 originally rose to what is now a window at far right.
Josiah Cleaveland Cady was 47 years old when his architectural firm, J. C. Cady & Co. started work on a string of eight speculative homes in the rapidly developing Upper East Side.  Stretching from No. 57 to 71 East 90th Street, between Madison and Park Avenues, they would target affluent families.

Completed in 1887, the handsome brownstone-fronted houses were designed in an elegant take on the Romanesque Revival style.  Cady forewent the weighty medieval elements of squat pillars, craggy stone and heavy carvings in favor of an undulating façade (the original row was formally symmetrical), planar stone layered with rough-cut bands, and a handsome arcaded parapet.

Rosina Volhart was the owner of No. 57 in 1892.  She sold it in November that year for $25,000—about $670,000 today.  But if Rosina thought she had seen the last of the high-end house, she would be frustrated.  The deal apparently fell through and on June 30, 1894 the Real Estate Record and Builders’ Guide reported that she once again sold the residence; this time “at about $23,500.”

It was not over yet.  Two years later she started foreclosure proceedings and on August 17, 1896 The New York Times reported that she had re-purchased the property at $15,399.  She finally found a stable buyer in the Theodore Hachert Ward family.   Ward, his sons Edward, Frank and Patrick, and his wife Margaret would remain in the house at least until 1903.

In the meantime, the other houses along the row became home to well-heeled residents.  Hugo Sohmer lived in No. 61.  The German-born piano maker had founded Sohmer & Company in 1872 and by 1898 his firm was the leader in marketing player pianos and had produced the first modern baby grand piano.

But perhaps the row’s most colorful homeowner was Charlotte King Palmer.   Prior to 1910 she was an actress, appearing on stage as Charlotte Catherine Palmer with well-known actors like Lew Fields and De Wolf Hopper.  In addition to New York, she acted in London and Paris.

She left the stage in 1910 when she married the wealthy James C. Parrish, Jr., described by The New York Times as “former Harvard athlete and a relative of the Vanderbilt family.”  The marriage was ill-fated and ended in divorce in 1916.   Charlotte King Palmer moved into No. 59 East 90th Street a rich and thoroughly-modern divorcee.

On Monday evening, November 15, 1920 Charlotte left the house to attend a dinner party given by “the motion picture actress” Mrs. Sidney Drew.   She later told reporters she “had spent several hours dining and dancing in the Mont Matre in Fiftieth Street near Broadway.”  

In 1920 wealthy women enjoying a night on the town dressed the part.  Charlotte left the 90th Street house wearing a sable opera cloak and she dripped with jewelry, including a $300,000 necklace composed of 210 pearls with a large pear-shaped pearl clasp.

In her absence, at around 8:30 p.m., three men wearing black made their way into the house.  They first surprised Charlotte’s butler, Alfredo Sazone, in his room.  After he was bound and gagged, they went to the maid’s room, waking Margaret Creevan and tying her up and blindfolding her.  The servants were taken to Charlotte’s bedroom where they were locked in closets.  They would remain prisoners in the cramped spaces for nearly 13 hours.

At around 1:00 that morning, Charlotte arrived home.  Her friends waited at the curb until she entered the house, and then drove away.   She noticed nothing out of the ordinary and proceeded to her bedroom.  When she turned on the light, she was that “the covering on her bed had been disturbed.”

The New York Times explained “She had removed her opera cloak and thrown it across a chair and was about to remove the necklace and the rest of her jewelry when she decided to call her maid for an explanation of the disturbed bed.”

Charlotte stepped into the hallway only to find three men standing there.  She demanded to know who they were and what they were doing in her house.

“Don’t become excited, lady,” said one man with a French accent.  “We are Central Office detectives.  We were called to this house several hours ago by your servants, who reported that you had been robbed.  We waited for you to return.”

Charlotte was suspicious and she ran for the stairs.   She tripped and tumbled to the landing, briefly losing consciousness.  When she came to, one of the men was ripping the pearl necklace from her neck and another plucked the diamond studded hairpins from her hair.  When Charlotte began screaming, she was gagged.

She told detectives, “They took all my jewelry from me before one of them lifted me in his arms and carried me to the bathroom on the top floor.  They were very rough at first because I continued in my effort to resist them.  I was placed in a chair, and although I complained that I thought my feet were broken in the fall, the man who spoke with a French accent commanded the man who carried me to bind my feet at the ankles and also to bind my arms at the wrists.”

As the ordeal dragged on, the French-accented thief showed compassion.  He told the man standing guard over Charlotte to remove the gag as long as she remained quiet.  When she said her back hurt, he had pillows brought to her.  Nevertheless, she could hear the burglars ransacking the house.  “I realized they were going to rob me of everything I had,” she later said.

Charlotte remained cool-headed and when she commented on the intruder’s French accent, he asked if she spoke French.  “When I told him I did, we spoke for several minutes in that language.”

As morning dawned, the house had become quiet.  Charlotte heard noises around 9:00 and her butler entered the bathroom, his hands still tied behind his back.  He had managed to force open the closet door, and work the blindfold and gag loose.  Charlotte was able to loosen the portiere cord around his wrists, and he then freed her hands and feet.  The maid was then released from her closet.

Charlotte was unable to walk (it was later discovered she had broken both feet in the fall), so the two servants carried her to the bedroom. They remained there for more than half an hour afraid to move, fearing the burglars were still in the house.

Finally the police were called and detectives arrived to find the house ransacked.  Drawers were removed and overturned; one painting had been taken from its frame but left on the floor, apparently too large to take.    Charlotte’s initial inventory came up with $500,000 in jewelry and $30,000 in furs missing; along with other valuables.  In addition to the diamond hairpins and the pearl necklace, she noticed she was missing a “platinum bracelet, set with diamonds and sapphires; platinum horseshoe brooch, set with diamonds; gold meshbag, set with diamonds; gold purse and a gold pencil.”

Within a week the estimate of the value of the stolen items had risen to $767,000.  The well-publicized crime had unexpected ramifications.  Charlotte’s maid suffered a nervous breakdown from “the harassment” of detectives.  Charlotte received scores of sympathetic letters from well-wishers.  “One was from a foreign war veteran who offered marriage and wrote that he had enough for two to live on.  He mentioned in passing that he was ‘handsome and affectionate,’ and enclosed his photograph ‘to prove it,’” reported The New York Times.

The Federal Insurance Company refused to pay Charlotte’s claim pending its “exhaustive investigation through private detectives to try to solve the mystery.”  Finally on February 2, 1921 she filed suit against the firm.  She was awarded $53,400 on the $767,000 loss.  In the meantime, she was emotionally unable to return home.  The New York Times, on December 10, 1922, said “She has given up her private house at 59 East Ninetieth Street, where the robbery occurred, and is now living at a hotel.”

On August 18, 1921 Charlotte leased the house for tree years to musical comedy star Wilda Bennett.  The actress agreed on a rent of $1,665.  It would end in an ugly court case with the two women trading insults and accusations.

When Bennett broke the lease and then failed to pay the quarterly rent due on June 1, 1924, Charlotte sued.  In court Bennett said she moved out “because her life had been threatened and the strain of living there resulted in a nervous breakdown.”

Her counter-claim intimated that Charlotte King Palmer was a loose woman.  She told the court that after she moved in she discovered “at least six male persons had keys to the premises with which they could enter at any time.”  Her claim asserted “She was thus placed in a most delicate position.”   She sued Charlotte for $4,500 for “breach of quiet enjoyment and damages for false representation.”

Wilda Bennett insisted she received blackmail letters and that to protect her safety and sanity, she was obliged to purchase a police dog and put gratings on a window.  And, she said, she was promised the house would be fully furnished with “high class furniture,” and instead she had to spend $2,500 on her own. She counter-sued for that amount as well.

Charlotte’s attorney did not directly deny the existence of house keys among several of New York's male population.  But he countered “Granting that the counter claim is not merely idiocy, just what had the keys to do with the receipt of blackmail letters!”

On May 13 the judge ruled in Charlotte’s favor and dismissed Bennett’s counter suits.

But that would not be the end of the feud between the two former friends.  On March 27, 1927 The Times reported that “A judgment for $4,000 against Wilda Bennett, actress, was filed in the Supreme Court yesterday in a suit of Mrs. Charlotte King Palmer for damages to an apartment she sublet to the actress in 1921.”   Charlotte had claimed that Wilda had ruined her “high class furniture.”

Throughout the remainder of the century Nos. 57 through 61 East 90th Street were each divided into apartments; but their outward appearance remained relatively unchanged, despite Nos. 59 and 61 receiving an unhappy coat of paint.  The rest of the row was not so fortunate and became nearly unrecognizable as part of the original group.

Then in 2008 a most amazing transaction occurred.   Mitchell Blutt purchased all three homes.   His intention was to restore the facades and create a single, expansive mansion of 17,000 square feet.  Neighbors were outraged as his plan, which included additions to the rear.  A hearing of the Landmarks Preservation Commission resulted in changes to the plans and eventual approval.  But having received the go ahead, nothing went ahead.  In 2009 the homes were offered for sale as a unit at $20 million; or individually.

The sweeping split stoop shared by No. 57 and 59 survives.

Work finally got under way and in 2015.  The paint has been removed from the brownstone as engineers John V. Dinan Associates, Inc. work on creating the massive single private mansion.

photographs by the author