In the first years of the 20th century residents of the Upper West Side were embracing apartment house living like no other Manhattanites. Not only were vacant lots being bought filled with large multi-family structures; but mansions and rowhouses—most no more than 20 years old—were rapidly being demolished. In 1909 plans were laid for Harperley Hall, the first apartment building on the Upper West Side to operate under the cooperative system.
On June 13, 1909 the New-York Tribune reported that Harperley Hall, “a new corporation” had purchased the 100-by-150 foot plot at the northwest corner of Central Park West and 64th Street. “On the plot will be erected a twelve story apartment house. This is a co-operative undertaking, and will represent an investment of about $1,200,000.”
The name of the corporation came from three of its directors—Alfred Wilkinson, John Wilkinson and Henry W. Wilkinson. Their impressive pedigree extended centuries back into British peerage. The family’s extensive estate near Lanchester, England included a 17th century manor house was known as Harperley Hall. It was described in the 1879 Directory of Durham and Northumberland as “a plain mansion situated in an extensive park, [which] commands a beautiful view of the surrounding country.”
Henry Wilhelm Wilkinson not only lent the name of his family’s estate to the new building, he designed it. While other apartment houses were being designed in the ebullient Beaux Arts style—dripping with festoons, scrolled keystones and gushing ornamentation—Wilkinson turned to the less expected Arts & Crafts style.
The style represented a rebellion not only against overblown decoration and Victorian excess, but against the loss of craftsmanship caused by the Industrial Revolution. Harperley Hall would reflect the movement in earthy tiles embedded in the beige brick façade, crisp lines and Stickley-like balconies.
On July 17, 1909 the Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide reported that the estimated cost for the structure was $500,000. Around the same time the New-York Tribune noted that among the tenant-owners were Mrs. Mary Linton Bookwalter, Loudon Charlton, Professor Wendell T. Bush, Mrs. James Oliphant and Mrs. C. M. Hutchinson.
The architectural style was not the only thing to set Harperley Hall apart from other apartment buildings. The New York Times announced on May 9, 1909 that it “promises to be unique among structures of that class, in that it will contain no two apartments of exactly the same ‘layout.’” Each owner consulted with Wilkinson to decide “how he will divide this space, as well as all details as to the arrangement of rooms.” The newspaper added “There will be no such thing as a ‘typical apartment’ in the building.”
In fact, the owners not only consulted with Henry W. Wilkinson, but with another director and owner, Mary Linton Bookwalter. She had studied art in Europe before returning to New York to study architecture. The interior designs of the Harperley Hall apartments were done by Bookwalter and she reportedly scrutinized the work of the builders.
The New York Times reported that in addition to six duplexes facing the Park, there were to be five apartments per floor, including one “bachelor suite of living room, bedroom, bathroom, and kitchenette.” As the building rose in March 1910 The Twentieth Century Magazine wrote “These apartments are to be real homes, for each one is planned with respect to the tastes and characteristics of the individual owner, and from the big entrance court to the last detail of the summer garden on the roof everything in the power of the architect has been done to achieve the simplicity and quiet which the occupants of the homes desire.
“In fact the architect himself, Henry Wilhelm Wilkinson, has an apartment in the building. The exterior of the building is in a gray and green scheme with windows admitting a flood of sunshine and air, and many of them open on balconies wide enough to be really useful.”
The reporter was taken with the ample closet space. “And there are closets, huge closets, for every apartment, the largest offering the bliss of fourteen closets, while even the smallest one has a closet like one of our grandmother’s storerooms as well as a basement trunk room.”
As the building neared completion, accolades rolled in. One critic, however, was a bit more judgmental. The “Personal News and Trade Gossip” column of the Real Estate Record & Guide on November 19, 1910 pointed out, “A feature of the façade of the great apartment house on Central Park West, called ‘Harperley Hall,’ and one that is noticed by every architectural critic, is the cornice, which is strongly reminiscent of the scaffolds commonly used in the erection of tall buildings. Doubtless its form was suggested to Mr. H. W. Wilkinson, the architect, by one of the hanging scaffolds used on the Metropolitan Tower or some other high construction.”
Henry Wilkinson took one of the duplex apartments, as did American landscape painter Dwight William Tryon. The Twentieth Century Magazine pointed out that the artist’s apartment “has for its chief feature the big studio with its great north light.” Writer Wallace Irwin reduced the size of his living rooms in order to accommodate a large study. Other modifications were made by impresario Loudon Charlton, who made the music room the central space of his apartment; and by Professor Wendall T. Bush of Columbia University who focused on his library.
|The newly-completed building was depicted in Architecture & Building in November 1910 (copyright expired)
Upon Harperley Hall’s completion in 1911 Architecture and Building commented on its amenities. “Of the housekeeping apartments there are six types, ranging from 6 to 11 rooms in a suite. The non-housekeeping apartments contain from 2 to 4 rooms, and each has a kitchenette. Even the electric plate warmer finds a place…On the fifth floor there are 4 guest rooms with baths, which may be rented by the tenants for their guests’ accommodation.”
In the basement was a kitchen run by the building management. Although all tenants could order meals, it was designed for the convenience of the non-housekeeping, or “bachelor,” apartments. Also in the basement were “a main laundry, fully equipped, with mechanical dryers, and an open-air drying yard is also provided on the roof.” Tenants in the large apartments enjoyed a laundry tub in the kitchen, so that small washings could be done within the apartment.
Architecture and Building approved of the fuel-burning fireplaces. “A thoughtful idea on the part of the designers was the placing of an open fireplace in each apartment, in which coal or wood can actually be burned. This is a delightful departure from the usual stereotyped form of gas log.”
|Certainly Mary Bookwalter did not approve of the inclusive of what were probably family pieces--a Victorian armchair and settee--in the Arts & Crafts interior of the apartment pictured in Architecture & Building in November 1910 (copyright expired)
At least one critic credited Mary Bookwalter for the successful design. On November 12, 1911 The New York Times wrote “Towering above Central Park and the Century Theatre is Harperley Hall, one of the new studio and apartment buildings in a city which houses itself in such quarters. It records the latest triumph of a woman who saw in New York her finest opportunity. Her professional name is Mary Bookwalter. In private life she is Mrs. Ackerman.”
The writer insisted “To-day Harperly [sic] Hall, which she designed and whose building she practically supervised, is the proof of New York’s approval of the woman who knows how and when to seize an opportunity.”
Harperley Hall would be home to a love-struck couple whose Romeo-and-Juliet story enchanted New Yorkers. Thomas H. Wells and Stracia Walsh grew up in Ohio. Wells was the son of a Youngstown steel magnate and he had fallen in love with Stracia while he was still in college. But his parents disapproved and demanded that the courtship end.
Stracia Walsh moved to New York City “to make her own way in the world,” as reported by The New York Times on December 20, 1910. She found a job as a manicurist in the Cadillac Hotel. A few years passed and Thomas Wells finished college and landed a job as a stock broker. Upon his father’s death he inherited just under $1 million.
Around October 1910 Wells, now 22 years old, wandered into the Cadillac Hotel where he saw his former sweetheart. The chance meeting “ended in the courting being taken up where Wells’s parents caused it to be dropped several years ago,” said the newspaper.
Only a few weeks later, at the beginning of December, they were married. The New York Times reported “It’s all true about the marriage of Thomas H. Wells, stockbroker, and Stracia Walsh, manicurist. Moreover, it’s really romantic.” The newlyweds started their married life in Harperley Hall.
Among the original tenants was Almuth Cunningham Vandiver, former Assistant District Attorney. He was married on Saturday, November 30, 1912 to Eleanor M. S. Williams in St. Bartholomew’s Church. “Miss Williams comes from an old family of Long Island,” mentioned The Sun.
The couple would routinely appear in the society columns of New York newspapers. The New York Times, for instance, reported on February 5, 1914 that “Mrs. Almuth C. Vandiver of 1 West Sixty-Fourth Street gave a dinner last night for Mrs. George Gordon Battle, and her sisters, Miss Bagby and Mrs. Bolling, of Richmond, Va. There was dancing afterward.”
The following year Eleanor Vandiver gave birth in the Harperley Hall apartment. On July 11, 1915 The New York Times reported that the Vandivers “are receiving congratulations on the birth of a son on Friday at their home.” The newborn was christened Almuth Cunningham Vaniver, 2d.
An advertisement in the New-York Tribune on September 20, 1914 offered available apartments. A 9-room suite with foyer and three baths could be had for $4000—about $50,000 in 2015. The ad listed conveniences such as “refrigeration, filtered water, vacuum cleaner, perfectly equipped laundry.”
Other residents in the building at the time included Albert Smith Bickmore, noted educator and a trustee of the American Museum of Natural History. He had degrees from Dartmouth, Harvard, Hamilton College, and Colgate University. Bickmore had traveled the world collecting specimens for museums.
The arrival of the Vandiver baby in 1915 was a bright spot in an otherwise blighted year within Harperley Hall. The first tragedy occurred in May when residents Charles F. Fowles and his wife left Europe to return home.
Fowles was born in England where he became a well-known and respected art dealer. He moved to New York where he established Scott and Fowles Co. at No. 590 Fifth Avenue, described by American Art News as “handsome galleries.” The magazine deemed him “most highly esteemed by his friends and associates” and “highly regarded, both for his personal qualities and knowledge of old and modern pictures, especially of the early English, Flemish and Dutch, and the modern Dutch and Barbizon schools.”
On May 1, 1915 the Fowles boarded the luxury steamship the RMS Lusitania for New York. Because of the ongoing war, the ship had been painted a drab gray to help disguise her from enemy ships. But six days later the Lusitania was torpedoed by the German U-boat U-20. It sank within 18 minutes, taking Charles Fowles and his wife to their deaths.
As heartbreaking was the story of the Charles F. Schmidt family, who had moved into Harperley Hall a year earlier. Schmidt was a wealthy banker and commission broker from Hamburg and the couple had a six-year old son. They employed a nurse for the boy, Minna L. Flood, referred to by The Evening World as “the little boy’s negro maid.”
No sooner had the family moved in than the war in Europe interrupted Schmidt’s business. But that was not the only problem they faced. According to The Evening World on October 5, 1915, “Soon after the Schmidts came to this country they separated.”
Charles, it appears, had found another woman. He did not expect, however, that his mistress would reveal everything to his wife in a letter. The letter, dated September 30, 1915, was too much for the abandoned woman to bear.
On October 5 she took her little boy, described by The Evening World as “a very beautiful, perfectly formed blond youngster,” to the Hotel Wellington where she asked not to be disturbed. The following day their bodies were found. The Sun reported “The boy clasped in one arm an air rifle. One arm of the mother was around him as she lay face downward on the bed. Both were in their night clothes. Three gas jets were open, leaving no doubt as to the manner in which both had died.”
The letter from Schmidt’s mistress, written in German, was in Mrs. Schmidt’s sachel. The coroner read the letter then handed it to Schmidt, who had been notified and was sitting on the bed near the bodies.
“When Mr. Schmidt had read it he sat back in his chair and burst into tears,” reported The Sun, “There was no doubt that the contents of the letter had driven the woman to end her life and that of the boy.”
Coroner Riordan was unmoved by Schmidt’s tears. “Now you see why this has happened and why she did it. You see what a lying tongue can do,” he snapped.
Another extra-marital affair caused upheaval in Harperley Hall that year. Andrew A. Albright was president of the Rubberset Company and lived here with his wife and daughter. On the night of November 24, 1915, Albright’s limousine pulled up to the curb of the West 68th Street Police Station and he ran inside.
He told Lt. O’Leary that his wife, his daughter and a maid were in the car; too frightened to go home. He needed police to drive a gun-wielding woman from his apartment. According to The New York Times the following day, he told police that two women “had taken possession and driven out his butler and several maids.”
Joseph Kaufman was employed in Albright’s company and he and his wife had become social with the Albrights. Then Mrs. Albright’s and Joseph Kaufman’s relationship appears to have become more than social.
The Kaufmans had been married only about two years but he had recently left his wife. Earlier on the night of November 24 Mrs. Kaufman received a telephone call inviting her to the Albright apartment. Later, one of the Albright servants, Sarah Burke, admitted to authorities that she had been instructed to invite her.
When Mrs. Kaufman arrived she was told that the Albrights were out of town. The puzzled woman returned home to find her apartment ransacked and “everything belonging to my husband had been removed.”
She was positive that Mrs. Albright had arranged to get her out of the apartment so her husband could get access. Taking her maid with her as “a bodyguard” she packed a revolver and a horsewhip and headed back to Harperley Hall.
Policeman Maguire climbed into the Albright limousine next to the chauffeur. The New York Times reported they “drove to Harperley Hall, where, on the fifth floor, Maguire found the butler and maids gathered in the hall outside the Albright apartment. Within were Mrs. Joseph Kaufman, a pretty young woman of 23, and a woman of middle age, who brandished something long and slender, wrapped in paper, but looking like a horsewhip.”
Mrs. Kaufman agreed to leave, but she insisted on going with Officer Maguire to the police station to explain herself. “Mrs. Albright is at the bottom of all my trouble, and I know she caused this action for divorce. I went right back to her home, but she wasn’t there, and that’s all there is to it,” she said.
Life in Harperley Hall soon returned to normal. In 1916 Henry W. Wilkinson leased his duplex apartment to widowed millionaire Philip Sidney Dyer. Dyer had started out in the lumber business, but in 1879 took a position with Thomas A. Edison in his Menlo Park laboratory. He later spent ten years living in Antwerp as the European representative for the Edison Electric Company. By now he was not only the head of the American Horse Shoe Company, but Vice President of the Sweet Steel Company and of the West Branch Steel Company; a Director of no fewer than five other firms.
Living in the building at the time was popular stage actor Arnold Daly. He was performing in The Master at the Bandbox Theatre on Monday night, January 8, 1917 when he complained of violent pains. He insisted on going on with the performance and the pains eventually abated.
|Arnold Daly -- Theatre Magazine vol. 4, 1904 (copyright expired)
But the following night in his apartment the pains returned around dinner time. Daly was taken to Roosevelt Hospital on orders from Dr. Charles H. Peck who felt an immediate operation was necessary. The Evening World reported the following day that the operation showed “he was suffering from peritonitis following the bursting of an abscess which had formed on the large intestine.” The newspaper added, “Little hope is entertained for his recovery.”
In 1919 Philip Dyer was still leasing the Wilkinson apartment when the 62-year old underwent an operation. Complications developed and a week later, on March 10, he died in the duplex apartment.
A bizarre tragedy occurred at Harperley Hall early on the morning of October 25, 1922. Resident Lloyd Warren was head of the Institute of Fine Arts and was deemed by the New-York Tribune as “one of the wealthiest and best known of American art patrons and an architect of international distinction.” Warren’s brother was Whitney Warren, the internationally-recognized architect and partner in Warren & Wetmore.
On the night of October 24 Warren hosted a dinner part for a group of friends in the apartment. Early the following morning a milkman came across Lloyd Warren’s body, clad in his pajamas, in the delivery alley at the rear of the building. The body was taken to the Warren apartment where police deemed his death a suicide. It was not the sort of publicity wealthy families cared to deal with.
Almost immediately the cause of death was revised; explained by highly implausible theories. Dr. Charles A. Gonzales, deputy medical examiner declared “it plainly due to accident.” He told reporters that Warren had evidently been sleeping on a couch near the window and “might have rolled out of the window from his couch or have fallen through it while sleep-walking.”
Whitney Warren added his theory. “My brother suffered injury while motoring near Rome last summer. Since that he had been subject to fits of vertigo, but these were transient and he treated them as of no great consequence. I am sure he fell from the window during one of these seizures.”
No matter how he died, architect John Gamble Rogers summed up the loss of the 54-year old saying, “Lloyd Warren did more for the advancement of architecture in this country than any other. He was generous to a fault and devoted to artistic ideals. His loss will be felt throughout the world of architecture.”
Dwight W. Tryon’s widow, Alice Beldon Tryon, was 82-years old when she died in her apartment on October 27, 1929, perhaps the last of the original owners. Throughout the decades the commodious apartments would be home to a list of celebrated residents, including portrait artist Helen Watson Phelps and art expert Gaston Levi.
None, perhaps, would boast more celebrity than Madonna who renovated her 6,000-square foot duplex to include her own beauty parlor and a steam room. Other amenities, according to The New York Times on June 14, 2013, included “six bedrooms in four bedroom wings, eight bathrooms and five wood-burning fireplaces. The eat-in kitchen has marble slab counters, and the master bathroom, where the mode is vintage, has twin pedestal sinks, a claw-foot soaking tub and a marble shower.,”
When she moved to a much larger place in 1997 (a 12,000-square foot townhouse), the entertainer listed the Harperley Hall apartment for $6.75 million. When there were no offers, the price was lowered to $6.25 million.
It was not until 2013 that Madonna’s apartment sold—at more than double her original asking price, $32.5 million.
Upscale apartment buildings in Manhattan tend to live out their glory days, then fall into disfavor and neglect if, indeed, they are not demolished altogether. Such is not the case along Central Park West. The wonderfully-unique Arts & Crafts style Harperley Hall retains the exclusive status its original residents enjoyed when they moved in early in 1911.
photographs by the author
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